Most great athletes get to enjoy careers filled with fame and fortune. They spend their playing careers in the limelight and are never far from the public eye. Yet for some of these athletes, this level of fame is not enough. The lights in their respective arenas are not enough to satisfy them and instead they turn to the bright lights of Hollywood. Some of these athletes turn to film after their playing careers are over while others somehow find the time to juggle starring in movies and playing competitive sports.
This list shows ten athletes who made their mark on the big screen. Some of these athletes appeared in cameo roles while others were required to carry the movies they were cast in. Some of these movies were successful and critically acclaimed while others were disasters at the box office. Some of these athletes have been in several movies while the careers of some were mercifully short. While the performances of most of the athletes on this list were not worthy of a Razzie award, it is safe to assume they will not be walking the Oscar red carpet.
10. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Airplane (1980)
One of the many personal benefits of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar being traded to the Los Angles Lakers from the Milwaukee Bucks was his presence in Los Angeles helped facilitate his acting career. While winning several NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kareem also made several acting performances often playing himself in cameo roles. He made his film debut in the 1972 film Game of Death opposite Bruce Lee. Kareem is often criticized for being an aloof player. His most famous acting performance came in the 1980 comedy Airplane where he played himself pretending to be co-pilot Roger Murdock (which is as strange it sound) and showed that he could make fun of himself.
9. Mike Tyson – The Hangover (2009)
Mike Tyson‘s career has been one long roller coaster ride. He was the youngest Heavyweight champion before losing in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. He has been in prison and bit off the ear of an opponent. He has routinely been the butt of many jokes on late night television and also been celebrated for being one of the most interesting characters in sports. It was only a matter of time before Tyson appeared on the big screen. His most famous performance was as himself in the 2009 comedy The Hangover. One of the more memorable moments in The Hangover was the sight of Mike Tyson singing along to Phil Collins‘ In the Air Tonight before delivering a knockout punch to Stu (Ed Helms).
8. Dan Marino – Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Dan Marino has made several cameo appearances in a variety of TV shows and movies. The great Miami Dolphins quarterback usually plays himself as he did in Michael Bay‘s 2003 Bad Boys and the 1994 film Ace Ventura : Pet Detective, both of which were set in Miami. In Ace Ventura, Marino co-stars opposite Jim Carrey and Courteney Cox as the subject of an abduction. While his performance in the 1994 block buster was cheesy, it has not prevented him from making several more cameo appearances and unlike others on this list, he has avoided the ignominy of receiving a Razzie nomination.
7. Brett Favre – There’s Something about Mary (1998)
Throughout his illustrious NFL career Brett Favre has always been in the limelight and at the center of some drama. His theatrics on the football field and the constant speculation regarding his retirement meant that he was never too far from the camera. Unfortunately for Favre all the time spent in front of the camera did not translate into acting chops. Favre made an unspectacular cameo appearance in the 1998 box office comedy, There’s Something About Mary where he played a former love interest of Cameron Diaz. The role was originally intended for San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young who turned down the opportunity. While his big-screen performance left much to be desired, Favre has been a feature of the Wrangler jeans commercials.
6. O.J. Simpson – The Naked Gun Trilogy (1988-1994)
O.J. Simpson was one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL. He was a Heisman trophy winner at USC and the first running back to ever rush for 2000 yards in the NFL and he did it when teams only played 14 games back in 1973. Simpson had a prolific acting career as well and has appeared in several films, none more popular than The Naked Gun trilogy where he stars opposite Leslie Nielsen. In the trilogy, the great running back plays the bumbling detective, Office Nordberg and often gets himself in awkward situations throughout the three films.
5. Bubba Smith – The Police Academy Franchise (1984-1994)
The 6 ft 7 Bubba Smith was the first overall pick of the Baltimore Colts in the 1967 draft from Michigan State. He played in two Super Bowls, winning one, and made two Pro Bowls in his NFL career and was known as a fearsome pass rusher. After his playing career, Smith took up acting and was cast in several roles, but none as memorable as Lieutenant Moses Hightower in the Police Academy series. In this series, Smith plays the gentle giant who left the life of a florist to join the police force. Smith reprises his role in six of the seven Police Academy roles to date.
4. Gheorghe Muresan – My Giant (1998)
Probably no athlete has ever starred in a movie so aptly named than Romanian basketball player, Gheorghe Muresan. Muresan was one of the tallest players in the history of the NBA and in 1998, he starred opposite Billy Crystal in the box office bust My Giant. As Muresan is 7 ft 7 tall, he appeared perfect for the role. However, his acting was far from perfect and to add to the box office failure of the movie, it has also received negative comments from the critics. The movie has a 19% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
3. Michael Jordan – Space Jam (1996)
The 1996 movie Space Jam was a box office success and is the highest grossing basketball movie of all time. Critically, the movie did not fare so well with a 35% approval rating according to Rotten Tomatoes. Michael Jordan stars as himself opposite Bugs Bunny in this movie. The movie’s plot resembles reality as Jordan is trying out baseball after retiring from basketball. While many consider Jordan the best basketball player of all time, there is no clamor to praise his acting performance. While his performance was not as bad as some on his list, he did lack the charisma most associated with him as a player.
2. Shaquille O’Neal – Kazaam (1996)
Any list of hilarious acting performances by athletes would include Shaquille O’Neal. While many have seen him in his cameo appearance in the recent Grown Ups 2 movie, it is O’Neal’s earlier attempts at starring in movies that put him on this list. In the 1994 drama Blue Chips, O’Neal starred opposite Nick Nolte in a movie that has a 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. O’Neal also received a Razzie award as the worst new star for his performance. O’Neal topped his performance in the 1996 box office bust Kazaam which holds a 6% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. O’Neal’s acting performance was criticized and the director, Paul Michael Glaser has not directed a movie since due to negative reviews on his directing.
1. Dennis Rodman – Double Team (1997)
Dennis Rodman‘s forays into the acting world would include appearances on reality shows and animated TV shows. However, his appearances in feature films has marked him as one of the worst athletes to act. In 1997, Rodman starred opposite Jean Claude Van Damme in the action movie Double Team. What followed was a host of Razzie awards for Rodman including Worst New Star and Worst Supporting Actor. Not satisfied with his accolades, Rodman starred opposite Dane Cook in the 1999 action-comedy, Simon Sez. While he did not win a Razzie for his performance, he did receive a nomination for the Worst New star of the Decade.