Clubhouse

Top 37 Athletes Turned Actors of All Time

Best Athlete Actors

NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes when athletes retire they decide to hit the big screen and take a shot at acting. There are successful athlete actors and then there are others who are absolutely horrible. It’s very rare to see someone become successful an athlete AND an actor, but there are a few who have accomplished just that. Enjoy!

Honorable Mention: Ray Allen

Ray Allen
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Honorable Mention: Ray Allen

Ray Allen

Ray Allen is one of the best three-point shooters of all time and h also starred in 'He Got Game' alongside Denzel Washington. This was his most famous role and he will always be remembered in the movie as "Jesus Shuttlesworth."

37. Bruce Jenner

Bruce Jenner Olympics
Getty Images

37. Bruce Jenner

Bruce Jenner Olympics

This former U.S. track and field Olympian is now a reality TV star. However, he has also had a few more on-screen roels that do don't always consider. Jenner played Officer Steve McLeigh in the TV series 'ChiPs' and also had guest appearances on 'The Love Boat' and 'Murder, She Wrote.'

36. Joe Namath

Joe Namath
Getty Images

36. Joe Namath

Joe Namath

Broadway Joe did it all. As if upsetting the Colts in the 1970 Super Bowl was enough, Namath appeared on TV and the silver screen with movies like 'The Last Rebel,' 'The Avalanche Express' and 'The Chattanooga Choo' with appearances in 'The Love Boat' and 'The Brady Bunch' as well.

35. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain
Getty Images

35. Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt the Stilt only had one silver screen appearance, but it was a dandy. The towering giant played Bombaata in 'Conan the Destroyer,' which was overlooked, but if you get a chance, check out the acting skills of this NBA legend. Definitely the most underrated on this list.

34. Howie Long

Howie Long actor
Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

34. Howie Long

Howie Long actor

Today we know him as a personality on FOX NFL Sunday, but Long is a Hall of Fame, Super Bowl-winning defensive end who happens to be a Raiders legend. But he also played in several movies, including 'Broken Arrow,' 'Firestorm' and '3000 Miles to Graceland' while appearing in TV shows such as 'King of the Hill' and 'Malcolm in the Middle.'

33. Roosevelt Grier

Roosevelt Grier
Getty Images

33. Roosevelt Grier

Roosevelt Grier

Grier has lived a dream life to this point. He was a star NFL player in the 1950s and 60s, winning the 1956 NFL Championship with the Giants. He then went on to appear and/or star in TV shows like 'The Jeffersons' and 'The Love Boat' and movies such as 'The Thing With Two Heads.'

32. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

32. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Most of us recognize Kareern Abdul-Jabbar as the leading scorer in NBA history but has also done some acting. His most famous film appearance was in 'Airplane!' On top of that, he has played small roles and made guest appearances in 'Uncle Buck,' 'Diff'rent Strokes' and '21 Jump Street.'

31. Esther Williams

Esther Williams
Twitter

31. Esther Williams

Esther Williams

She's known much more widely for her acting career, but Williams was also a world-class swimmer before she hit the silver screen.

30. Terry Crews

Terry Crews
Twitter

30. Terry Crews

Terry Crews

Terry Crews played six years in the NFL after being selected in the 11th round of the 1991 draft. He wasn't very successful, but his acting career took off shortly thereafter. He's been in sitcoms and big movies as the muscle-head dad or just a muscle-head in general.

29. Bruce Lee

13. Bruce Lee - Copy
Twitter

29. Bruce Lee

13. Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee practiced marital arts and was one of the best there was -- famously known for his two-finger pushups. Lee has been i dozens upon dozens of films after his father got him into it. Nobody wanted to mess with Bruce Lee.

28. Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris
Getty Images

28. Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris

Norris was once one of the best martial arts masters in the world. Being skilled in karate, Norris took down the likes of Joe Lewis and Louis Delgado, who he beat for the Professional Middleweight Karate Championship title. Oh yeah, and he's been the though guy in dozens of films.

27. O. J. SIMPSON

O. J. SIMPSON
Getty Images

27. O. J. SIMPSON

O. J. SIMPSON

Simpson was a former Heisman winner and first overall pick in the 1969 NFL Draft. He is also known for his famous role in 'The Naked Gun' trilogy.

26. Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller
Twitter

26. Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller

A five-time swimming gold medalist, Weissmuller also played Tarzan in films rom 1932-48 and appeared in dozens of movies from 1929-76.

25. Lynn-Holly Johnson

Lynn-Holly Johnson
Getty Images

25. Lynn-Holly Johnson

Lynn-Holly Johnson

Before becoming a successful actress, Lynn-Holly Johnson was a figure skater, and a pretty good one. She took home the silver medal at the novice level of the 1974 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Ironically, she made her acting debut in the movie 'Ice Castles' in which she played a figure skater. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for that performance and then starred as Bond girl Bibi Dalh in 'For Your Eyes Only.'

24. Hulk Hogan

hulk hogan getty
Getty Images

24. Hulk Hogan

hulk hogan getty

Some people loved Hulk Hogan in the wrestling ring but others hated him. His filmography has included the 'Wrestlemania' films, 'Rocky III' and 'The Ultimate Weapon' among many other titles.

23. Alex Karras

Alex Karras
Facebook

23. Alex Karras

Alex Karras

Karras was an American football player for the Detroit Lions before his acting career. His most famous acting role was as George Papadapolis on the TV series 'Webster.' This was just the highlight of his career as he also payed small roles on many other TV series and starred in 'The Street Corner Kids,' 'Buffalo '66' and 'Against All Odds.'

22. Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw
Getty Images

22. Terry Bradshaw

Terry Bradshaw

The 50th greatest NFL player of all time has also been featured many times on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.' He spent 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and won four Super Bowl championships. For his acting career, he made appearances in '8 Simple Rules,' 'Malcolm in the Middle' and 'Failure to Launch.'

21. Rick Fox

Rick Fox
Getty Images

21. Rick Fox

Rick Fox
Getty Images

Besides winning three championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, Fox has had quite the array of acting roles in multiple TV series. Some of his top performances were in 'Love, Inc.,' 'Oz,' 'Dirt,' 'Single Ladies,' 'Box Office' and 'One Tree Hill.' On top of that, he had roles in 'He Got Game' and 'Blue Chips.'

20. Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen
Getty Images

20. Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen

Olsen had a pretty successful career with the Los Angeles Rams, making 14 Pro Bowls as well as the All-Decade teams for the '60s and 70s. His acting career was almost as successful as his football career. His most famous role was playing Jonathan Garvey in the 'Little House on the Prairie' series. Olsen also had key roles in 'Aaron's Way,' 'Fathers and Sons' and 'Father Murphy.'

19. Jason Statham

Jason Statham
Getty Images

19. Jason Statham

Jason Statham

Most of you probably didn't even know that Statham was an athlete on the British National Diving Team. Statham has been featured in a ton of action films with his best appearances coming in 'Crank,' 'The Transporter' films, 'The Pink Panther' and 'The Expendables.' He is currently featured in four films that are in post-production so make sure to watch out for Statham on the silver screen in the next few years.

18. Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

18. Lou Ferrigno

Lou Ferrigno

Ferrigno was a professional body builder and played pro football in the Canadian Football League. His most famous acting role was starring in the TV series 'The Incredible Hulk.' He also made a guest appearance on 'King of Queens' and played himself in the comedy 'I Love You, Man.'

17. Brian Bosworth

Brian Bosworth
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

17. Brian Bosworth

Brian Bosworth

Bosworth only played three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks due to a shoulder injury in the 190s. Since then, he has become a famous actor and Hollywood producer. His most famous acting roles came in 'Stone Cold,' 'Three Kings' and 'The Longest Yard.' He's also been in 'Revelation Road:The Beginning of the End' and 'The Expendables 3.'

16. Stacy Keibler

Stacy Keibler
Getty Images

16. Stacy Keibler

Stacy Keibler

Keibler is one of the few female athletes on the list of successful athlete actors and definitely the most diverse. She became a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader and then began acting in 1998 and was a professional wrestler from 1999-2006. Her most well-known appearances have been in 'WWE Judgement Day,' 'Summerslam' and 'Wrestlemania XX.' She has also had guest appearance on 'How I Met Your Mother,' 'Mayne Street' and 'Samurai Girl.'

15. Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith
Facebook

15. Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith was in the NFL for nine years before he began his on-screen career. When entering his film career, he had numerous guest appearances on TV shows but his most famous appearance was as Moses Hightower in the 'Police Academy' movies.

14. Burt Neynolds

Johnson County War Event in Times Square
Getty Images

14. Burt Neynolds

Johnson County War Event in Times Square

He never made it to the professional league but he did play fullback at Florida State. Reynolds started his acting career in Western movies during the 1960s and then turned into a male sex symbol in '70s and 80s. He is well-known for his appearances in 'Boogie Nights,' 'Evening Shade,' 'Deliverance' and 'The Longest Yard.'

13. Jim Brown

Jim Brown
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

13. Jim Brown

Jim Brown

Brown is ranked as one of the top NFL players of all time by multiple magazines due to his successful career with the Cleveland Browns. He has had a lot of acting roles but his most famous appearances have been in 'The Running Man,' 'The Dirty Dozen,' 'Any Given Sunday' and 'Dream Street.'

12. Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors
Wikimedia

12. Chuck Connors

Chuck Connors

Connors played in both MLB and the NBA in the 1940s before turning to acting. He played Lucas McCain for five years in the TV series 'The Rifleman.' Connors was featured in a total of 20 movies, including 'The Big Country,' 'Last Flight to Hell' and 'Airplane II.' As for TV series, he had roles in 'The Yellow Rose,' 'Werewolf' and 'Murder, She Wrote.'

11. Fred Williamson

AFTRA's Inaugural Frank Nelson Fund Celebrity Golf Classic
Getty Images

11. Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson

Fred Williamson played in the AFL during the 1960s and has earned black belts Tae-Kwon-Do, Shotokan Karate and Kenpo. His total number of acting roles is 116 so he has been in quite a few different movies and TV series. Williamson's best appearances have been in 'Starsky & Hutch,' 'MASH,' 'From Dusk Till Dawn' and 'Chine 9 Liberty 37.'

10. André René Roussimoff (Andre the Giant)

Andre the Giant
Getty Images

10. André René Roussimoff (Andre the Giant)

Andre the Giant

Until his acting debut, Andre the Giant was a professional wrestler and he once challenged Hulk Hogan in the WWF Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania. He is mainly known for his role in the 1987 film 'The Princess Bride.' Needless to say, he fit the role of a giant very well. Although he had a few acting roles, he fit his nickname very well. Ironically, Andre passed away in 1993 due to congestive heart failure.

9. Fred Dryer

Fred Dryer
Getty Images

9. Fred Dryer

Fred Dryer

Dryer spent time in the NFL with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams, setting or tying records for most safeties in a game, a season and a career. His most famous acting role was as Detective Sergeant Rick Hunter in the TV Series 'Hunter.' He made other appearances in 'Out of Practice,' 'Justice League' and 'Diagnosis Murder.' Dryer was also "strongly considered" for the role of Sam Malone in the TV Series 'Cheers.'

8. Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro
Getty Images

8. Ed Marinaro

Ed Marinaro

Marinaro had a stellar college football career and was even the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1971 while playing at Cornell. He spent a total of six seasons in the NFL with three different teams. As an actor, his most famous role was as Sonny St. Jacques in 'Laverne and Shirley.' Marinaro was also featured in 'Hill Street Blues,' 'Falcon Crest,' 'Sisters,' 'Champs,' 'Days of Our Lives' and 'Blue Mountain State' just to name a few.

7. Bob Uecker

Bob Uecker
Getty Images

7. Bob Uecker

Bob Uecker

Uecker played six seasons in MLB and later became a sportscaster, comedian and actor. Johnny Carson gave Uecker his famous nickname, "Mr. Baseball." Since 1971, Uecker has been the play-by-play radio announcer for the Milwaukee Brewers. His most famous acting role was as Harry Doyle in the three 'Major League' movies. On top of his movie career, he was also featured as George Owens in the TV series 'Mr. Belvedere.'

6. Jason Lee

Jason Lee
Getty Images

6. Jason Lee

Jason Lee

Many people don't know this, but Jason Lee used to be a professional skateboarder. He was actually the first skateboarder who popularized the 360 flip. However, Lee is most well-known for his lead role in the hit TV series 'My Name is Earl.' He's also had voice appearances in 'American Dad,' 'the Incredibles' and 'Alvin and the Chipmunks.' He's also appeared in 'Raising Hope,' 'Up All Night' and 'Memphis Beat.'

5. Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon
Jayne Kamin Oncea- USA Today Sports

5. Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon

Many people love the show 'NCIS' but have no idea that Harmon played football at UCLA before becoming an actor. Since his short football career ended, he has played numerous roles in various TV shows and movies. His most famous appearance is playing the lead role as Leroy Jethro Gibbs on 'NCIS.' Other features include 'Chasing Liberty,' 'Freaky Friday' and 'The West Wing.'

4. Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers
Getty Images

4. Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers

Weathers played football at Long Beach City College and San Diego State before a short NFL career with the Oakland Raiders and two years in the CFL. He then tried acting, which turned out to be a good move. He was featured as heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in the 'Rocky' movies. On top of that, he had another big role as Chubbs Peterson in 'Happy Gilmore' as well as many other big-name shows and movies.

3. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson
Getty Images

3. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson

The Rock's acting career has been full of ups and downs but this former college football player and professional wrestler always seems to entertain us. He's been featured in a variety of roles, including that of a tooth fairy. The Rock has also been in the 'Fast & Furious' movies, 'Gridiron Gang,' 'Royal Rumble' and 'Hercules' just to name a few.

2. John Wayne

John Wayne
Getty Images

2. John Wayne

John Wayne

The legendary John Wayne (a.k.a. Marion Morrison) was in more movies than you can count, but many don't know he played football as USC before a bodysurfing accident cut his Trojan tenure short. One of his most famous movies was 'True Grit' for which he won Best Actor at the 1969 Academy Awards and a Golden Globe in 1970.

1. Arnold Swarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger
Getty Images

1. Arnold Swarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Do we even need to describe Swarzenegger's all-around success? From fitness to film and even politics, he's a legend. Some of his most memorable feature roles include 'The Terminator' movies, 'Kindergarten Cop,' 'Batman' and 'Jingle All the Way.' We seriously don't have enough room on this page to list all of his acting roles and you could probably name most on that list anyway. Needless to say, he's undoubtedly No. 1 among the athlete actors.