Special Report

Athletes Who Hit It Big in Hollywood

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Professional sports are one of the nation’s most popular forms of entertainment. Much like the movie industry, a charismatic personality can boost an athlete’s popularity. In a business where athletes can earn millions of dollars in endorsements each year — on top of their six- to seven-figure, or more, salaries — keeping a visible profile is highly desirable.

Some athletes who are especially comfortable living in the limelight try their hand at acting. Acting, of course, requires a different type of performance and skill set than sports. For this reason, many who attempt it find that working in cinema simply isn’t for them. Some, however, find great success in acting and, on occasion, develop an entire second career out of it.

24/7 Wall St. has identified the 30 professional athletes who have had the most success in Hollywood. Some are still best known for their athleticism, while others are remembered for their work in television and movies. All have demonstrated a great talent for entertaining.

Click here to see the athletes who hit it big in Hollywood.

Nearly one-third of the athletes on this list originally played professional football. NFL players such as Fred Williamson and Terry Crews have had success in translating their magnetism to movies. Their athletic stature has also worked well when portraying numerous memorable movie characters.

Professional wrestlers also are well represented, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena, and Hulk Hogan – among others – making the list. Wrestling combines athleticism and showmanship to create a unique form of entertainment that isn’t found anywhere else. Many of the sport’s top performers are perfectly suited for an art form that often requires those two talents.

To determine the athletes who hit it big in Hollywood, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed performers who had competed athletically at a professional level and starred in a feature film listed on IMDb.com. The ranking is determined by the sum of the votes the athlete received for all the films for which he or she is credited as being in a top-billed role. Each athlete’s “most popular movie” is the film with the most IMDb votes that the person has a top-billed role in.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

30. Bob Uecker
> Sport: baseball
> Total movie roles: 6
> Most popular movie: “Major League: Back to the Minors” (1998)

Bob Uecker, former catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Braves, and Philadelphia Phillies, has made a career out of poking fun at his less-than-stellar tenure in baseball on talk shows and commercials. He appeared in the Major League movies and starred in the 1980s television series “Mr. Belvedere.”

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Source: Courtesy of American International Pictures

29. Roosevelt Grier
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 14
> Most popular movie: “The Thing with Two Heads” (1972)

Roosevelt Grier was a member of the “Fearsome Foursome” defense for the Los Angeles Rams in the 1960s before developing a lucrative career on television that included appearances on series such as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “The Wild Wild West,” and “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

28. Sonja Henie
> Sport: figure skating
> Total movie roles: 13
> Most popular movie: “Sun Valley Serenade” (1941)

Sonja Henie was the premier female figure skater of her day, winning a gold medal for Norway at the 1928 Olympics at the age of 15. She repeated that accomplishment in the next two Winter Olympics. After she turned professional in 1936, Henie was signed by movie studio 20th Century-Fox for a series of highly successful light comedies that featured her skating prowess.

Source: Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment

27. Rick Fox
> Sport: basketball
> Total movie roles: 24
> Most popular movie: “Navy Seals vs. Zombies” (2015)

After winning three NBA titles, former Los Angeles Laker/Boston Celtic forward Rick Fox shifted to the entertainment arena. Among the films he appeared in is “He Got Game.” He also was in the long-running television series “Oz.”

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

26. Howie Long
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 6
> Most popular movie: “Firestorm” (1998)

Howie Long, who won a Super Bowl as a defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Raiders, has appeared in films such as “Broken Arrow,” “3000 Miles to Graceland,” and “Firestorm.”

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

25. Buster Crabbe
> Sport: swimming
> Total movie roles: 101
> Most popular movie: “Flash Gordon” (1936)

Buster Crabbe won the gold medal in 400-meter freestyle swimming in the 1932 Olympics, and he leveraged that recognition into cinematic success. Crabbe starred in one film as Tarzan, and also appeared in Westerns in the 1930s and 1940s. But his best-known role was as the space-traveling heroes Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

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Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corporation

24. Brian Bosworth
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 18
> Most popular movie: “Stone Cold” (1991)

Known as “The Boz” for his outsized personality and mohawk haircut, Brian Bosworth, two-time All-American linebacker from the University of Oklahoma, signed what was at the time the largest rookie contract in NFL history with the Seattle Seahawks in 1987, $11 million over 10 years. He never panned out in the NFL. He went on to star in the movie “Stone Cold” and made the remake of “The Longest Yard” in 2005.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

23. Esther Williams
> Sport: swimming
> Total movie roles: 27
> Most popular movie: “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (1949)

Esther Williams was a teenaged swimming champion who hoped to compete in the Olympics in 1940, but World War II forced the cancellation of that Olympiad. An MGM talent scout discovered her, and MGM, the movie studio known for musicals, created a genre within a genre called “aqua musicals” that starred the photogenic Williams. Some of her films included “Bathing Beauty” and “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

Source: Courtesy of Cannon Film Distributors

22. Lou Ferrigno
> Sport: bodybuilding
> Total movie roles: 37
> Most popular movie: “Hercules” (1983)

Body-builder Lou Ferrigno gained fame on the small screen in his role as “The Incredible Hulk” in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He also appeared on the television show “The King of Queens.”

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

21. Jim Brown
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 42
> Most popular movie: “100 Rifles” (1969)

Jim Brown was at the height of his Hall of Fame NFL career as a running back with the Cleveland Browns before he shocked the sports world in 1966 by retiring from the sport and going into movies. Among Brown’s film credits are “The Dirty Dozen,” “Ice Station Zebra,” and “100 Rifles.” He also appeared in the television series “CHiPs,” “T.J. Hooker,” and “Knight Ridder.”

Source: Courtesy of Compass International Pictures

20. Chuck Connors
> Sport: baseball, basketball
> Total movie roles: 76
> Most popular movie: “Tourist Trap” (1979)

Chuck Connors was a familiar face to television viewers in the late 1950s through the 1970s for his appearances in mostly Western fare such as “The Rifleman” and “Branded.” The Brooklyn-born athlete played baseball for his hometown Dodgers and was also a professional basketball player with the Boston Celtics.

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Source: Courtesy of American Transcontinental

19. Fred Williamson
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 91
> Most popular movie: “Quel maledetto treno blindato” (1978)

Fred Williamson was known as “The Hammer” for the ferocious hits he delivered as a defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in the NFL. He transferred that macho persona to motion pictures. He appeared in “blaxploitation” films, such as “Black Caesar” and “Hell Up in Harlem,” in the early 1970s.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

18. Tony Danza
> Sport: boxing
> Total movie roles: 29
> Most popular movie: “Angels in the Outfield” (1994)

Tony Danza is famous for his starring roles in the long-running television sitcoms “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss.” He also appeared in the remake of the movie “Angels in the Outfield.” Prior to his entertainment career, Danza was a professional boxer who had a 9-3 record before he opted for acting.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

17. Johnny Weissmuller
> Sport: swimming
> Total movie roles: 34
> Most popular movie: “Tarzan the Ape Man” (1932)

The rugged Johnny Weissmuller popularized the Tarzan character from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels in films in the 1930s. He was already a national figure after winning a total of five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, becoming swimming’s first major star.

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Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

16. Shaquille O’Neal
> Sport: basketball
> Total movie roles: 18
> Most popular movie: “Kazaam” (1996)

Few NBA stars are as recognizable as Shaquille O’Neal, also known as Shaq. In addition to his frequent film cameos, the entrepreneurial basketball player has starred in movies such as “Kazaam” (1996) and “Steel” (1997).

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

15. Ray Allen
> Sport: basketball
> Total movie roles: 2
> Most popular movie: “He Got Game” (1998)

Basketball player Ray Allen developed a reputation as one of the game’s all-time greatest shooters over his 18 seasons in the NBA. While Allen has not starred in many films, his performance in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game” (1998) was praised by critics such as Roger Ebert, who noted Allen was “that rarity, an athlete who can act.”

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Source: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

14. Hulk Hogan
> Sport: wrestling
> Total movie roles: 23
> Most popular movie: “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain” (1998)

The iconic Hulk Hogan was one of the best known wrestlers in the World Wrestling Federation throughout the 1980s. Hogan began acting in feature films while his wrestling career was still active, appearing in the 1982 movie “Rocky III.” Hogan’s other credits include “No Holds Barred” (1989) and “Mr. Nanny” (1993).

Source: Courtesy of Lionsgate

13. Steve Austin
> Sport: wrestling
> Total movie roles: 14
> Most popular movie: “The Condemned” (2007)

“Stone Cold” Steve Austin became involved with acting after he retired from wrestling. He’s appeared in such feature films as “The Longest Yard” (2005), “The Condemned” (2007), and “The Expendables” (2010).

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

12. Roddy Piper
> Sport: wrestling
> Total movie roles: 48
> Most popular movie: “They Live” (1988)

Canadian-born Roddy Piper, also known as Rowdy Roddy Piper, was known as a kilt-wearing villain on the professional wrestling circuit. He also appeared in action films, including “They Live.”

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Source: Courtesy of Relativity Media

11. Gina Carano
> Sport: mixed martial arts
> Total movie roles: 11
> Most popular movie: “Haywire” (2011)

Gina Carano blazed a trail in women’s mixed martial arts and was one of MMA’s most recognizable fighters. Her MMA career led to a motion picture career. In addition to action films like “Fast & Furious 6,” she has appeared in the movies “Deadpool” and “Scorched Earth.”

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

10. Terry Crews
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 47
> Most popular movie: “Norbit” (2007)

Terry Crews is a cast member of the long-running television show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” He also appeared on the show “Everybody Hates Chris.” Before his entertainment career, Crews played six years in the NFL as a linebacker.

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Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

9. O.J. Simpson
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 22
> Most popular movie: “The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988)

O.J. Simpson had a storied college football career at USC, where he won the Heisman Trophy. In the NFL, he set the single-season record for rushing yards gained (2,003) in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills. After he retired, Simpson had a very successful career in movies, appearing in The Naked Gun comedy film series and disaster films such as “The Towering Inferno.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

8. Michael Jordan
> Sport: basketball
> Total movie roles: 2
> Most popular movie: “Space Jam” (1996)

One of the greatest basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan has won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award five times. He had a major box office hit in 1996 with “Space Jam,” which grossed more than $230 million worldwide.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

7. Bubba Smith
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 28
> Most popular movie: “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment” (1985)

Bubba Smith was an intimidating defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers in the late 1960s and 1970s. The 6-foot-7 Smith was most famous for playing the character Hightower in the Police Academy movie series.

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Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

6. John Cena
> Sport: wrestling
> Total movie roles: 22
> Most popular movie: “Blockers” (2018)

Professional wrestler John Cena has made a name for himself in action films like “The Marine” (2006) and “12 Rounds” (2009). He received kudos for his acting ability in the comedy “Trainwreck” that was written by comedian Amy Schumer. Cena has appeared on the TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Source: Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

5. Jason Lee
> Sport: skateboarding
> Total movie roles: 43
> Most popular movie: “Mallrats” (1995)

Jason Lee was a professional skateboarder who helped popularize the sport before retiring in 1995. He turned to entertainment and starred in the title role of the television series “My Name is Earl” that ran from 2005 to 2009. Lee also appeared in films such as “Chasing Amy” (1997) and “Mallrats” (1995).

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Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

4. Carl Weathers
> Sport: football
> Total movie roles: 33
> Most popular movie: “Predator” (1987)

Carl Weathers played two seasons with the Oakland Raiders as a linebacker before he switched to motion pictures. He first played bit parts in “blaxploitation” films before starring in the role that would make him famous — boxer Apollo Creed in the blockbuster “Rocky” in 1976.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

3. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
> Sport: wrestling
> Total movie roles: 46
> Most popular movie: “Furious 6” (2013)

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who asked wrestling fans, “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?” during his WrestleMania days, has become box-office gold for his work in action films like the “Fast & Furious” sequels, comedies such as “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” and the HBO series “Ballers.”

Source: Courtesy of Screen Gems

2. Jason Statham
> Sport: diving
> Total movie roles: 44
> Most popular movie: “Snatch” (2000)

Before he was an action-movie hero in such films as the Fast & Furious franchise, Jason Statham was a world-class diver. He earned a place on the British National Diving Team and finished 12th in the World Championships in 1992.

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Source: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
> Sport: bodybuilding
> Total movie roles: 52
> Most popular movie: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

Body-building icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, who won five Mr. Universe titles and seven Mr. Olympia crowns, drew worldwide interest to his sport, especially after he appeared in the movies “Stay Hungry” (1976) and “Pumping Iron” (1997). Schwarzenegger eventually became an action-movie juggernaut with roles in “Conan the Barbarian” (1982) and the blockbuster “The Terminator” (1984).

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