The Quick Report

The 10 Best Sports Stars Turned Actor

Many athletes have transitioned from sports stars to the small and big screen. However, this group of athletes has done more than cameos. They’ve delivered impressive performances to become bona fide stars.

10. Esther Williams


Esther Williams was a competitive swimmer as a teenager and won three United States national championships. The outbreak of World War II prevented her from competing in the 1940s Summer Olympics. She joined up with Billy Rose’s Aquacade and swam alongside Olympic gold-medal winner and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. There, she caught the attention of MGM scouts and her acting career began.

Williams appeared in several small roles, as well as “aquamusicals” during the 1940s and early 1950s that featured elaborate performances with synchronized swimming and diving. These were later parodied in the “Austin Powers” series. From 1945-1949, Williams had at least one film among the 20 highest-grossing films of the year.

9. Dave Bautista

Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia

Dave Bautista began his wrestling career in 1999 and won the World Heavyweight Championship four times and the WWE Championship twice. Retaining that first title for a record 282 days.

In 2006, Bautista ventured into acting, appearing on an episode of Smallville. His first big film role came in The Man with the Iron Fists. Since then, Bautista has wracked up 101 acting credits, several nominations, and three wins. He has been noted for his work in Guardians of the Galaxy, Glass Onion, and Knock at the Cabin.

8. Jim Brown


Jim Brown excelled at basketball, football, track and field, and lacrosse. He’s considered one of the all-time greatest lacrosse players. An All-American college football player at Syracuse University, Brown was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In the NFL, Brown played for the Cleveland Browns (1957-1965) and made the Pro Bowl invitee every season. He led the NFL in rushing 8 out of his 9 seasons. Brown was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

Brown ventured into acting in 1964 and logged 58 acting credits. He’s known for outstanding roles in the films El Condor, The Dirty Dozen, Mars Attacks!, and several “blaxploitation” films where he portrayed tough characters in the early 1970s.

7. Merlin Olsen

NBC Television via Wikipedia

Merlin Olsen played defensive tackle as part of the “Fearsome Foursome” with the Los Angeles Rams and went to the Pro Bowl 14 times during his 15-year career. He was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1962 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.


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Olsen began his acting career in 1969 with a role in the Western The Undefeated starring John Wayne. His role in the TV series Little House on the Prairie led to a spinoff with Olson taking the starring role in Father Murphy.

6. Johnny Weissmuller


Johnny Weissmuller won five gold medals in swimming at the Summer Olympics in 1924 and 1928. He also won a bronze medal in water polo at the 1924 Olympics. In swimming, Weissmuller held 67 world and 52 national titles, comprised of every freestyle record from 100 yards to the half-mile.

After retiring from swimming, Hollywood recruited Weissmuller to play the role of  Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan in twelve feature films from 1932 to 1948. He also starred in 16 Jungle Jim movies starring as the titular hunter based in Southeastern Asia from 1948-1955.

5. Terry Crews

Gage Skidmore via Wikipedia

Terry Crews played defensive end and linebacker in the NFL for the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Washington Redskins. He joined the Philadelphia Eagles but did not play, then played for the Rhein Fire of the World League of American Football in 1995.

In 1997, Crews retired from football and pursued an acting career. His first role came in the Schwarzenegger-led film The 6th Day in 2000. His breakout role came in Friday After Next in 2002. He has since become a big star with recurring appearances on TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and America’s Got Talent. With 98 acting credits, Crew’s memorable film roles include The Expendables and Idiocracy.

4. Fred Williamson


Fred Williamson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Francisco 49ers in the late 1950s. He was switched to defensive back where he earned the nickname “the Hammer.” Williamson was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers and also played for the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs during the 1960s. He retired from football in 1968.

Breaking into acting on the TV series Ironside in 1968, Fred Williamson became one of the first big male action stars of the “blaxploitation” genre in the early 1970s. Williamson has 134 acting credits, with memorable performances in movies such as From Dusk Till Dawn, M*A*S*H, and Black Caesar. Williamson is still hard at work, with 7 productions at present.

3. Chuck Connors


An incredible athlete, Chuck Connors played major league baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, as well as played in the NBA with the Boston Celtics. He’s one of only 13 athletes in history to have played in both the MLB and the NBA.

A major star of television and film, particularly westerns, Chuck Connors epitomized the “tough guy” persona whether he was playing the hero or the heavy. Connors had a 40-year television and film career and is best known for starring as Lucas McCain in the highly-watched ABC series The Rifleman (1958–63).

2. Dwayne Johnson


Dwayne Johnson played college football at Miami, before going on to become the biggest wrestler in the world known as “The Rock.” Being that professional wrestling has an element of acting to it, he was a natural for the big screen.

Johnson is not only one of the biggest action movie heroes in the world but one of the biggest stars period. He’s won 22 awards out of 77 nominations, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Not limited to tough guy roles, Johnson was nominated for his comedic talent in Ballers.

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1. Arnold Schwarzenegger


Without a doubt, Arnold Schwarzenegger is the most famous bodybuilder of all time. This formerly penniless immigrant from a small European village epitomizes why the United States of America is the land of opportunity. Winning a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture-Male for Stay Hungry in 1977, Arnold was off and running.

With Schwarzenegger’s thick Austrian accent, no one would have ever imagined he would go on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws – let alone governor of California! Undoubtedly one of the most legendary action stars of all time, Schwarzenegger was among Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2004 and 2007.

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