Athletes often become just as popular as A-list celebrities by dominating their sport. Filmmakers understand their star power and sometimes write roles specifically for them.
Some athletes are lucky enough to be the star of the film like Michael Jordan in Space Jam, but most have to make do with brief, yet memorable cameos.
Here are the top acting performances by athletes:
Derek Jeter – The Other Guys
Jeter was known for his Gold Glove skills and bringing numerous World Series titles to New York City. He has dabbled in acting and has had a few cameos before. His funniest role might have been in ‘The Other Guys’ where a story comes up during a police group session about firing weapons.
Mark Wahlberg recounts the story when he mistook Derek Jeter for someone else and shot him in the leg, ending his season. Mark got the nickname “the Yankee clipper” after ruining the team’s season. Derek makes multiple appearances in the film and each time is funnier than the last.
Brett Favre – There’s Something About Mary
During the start of his peak football career, Favre makes a cameo appearance as himself in an effort to win over the main female character, Mary, played by Cameron Diaz. He briefly wins her heart over Ben Stiller, Matt Dillon, Lee Evans AND Chris Elliott because who can really compete with Brett Favre?
His snarky one-liner in the movie, “I’m in town to play the Dolphins you.. [expletive]” is pretty comparable to his career – fun and straight to the point.
Lance Armstrong – Dodgeball
Armstrong comes across the owner of Joe’s Gymnasium, Peter LeFleur at the airport and acts as a casual fan after seeing him play during the dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas. He finds out Peter will not compete in the final and passes along some life advice. He reminisces on his battle with cancers and how he overcame it to win the Tour de France five times in a row. Peter acknowledges that he has no reason to quit and eventually shows up to win with Average Joes.
Roger Clemens – Anger Management
The “Rocket” was known for his lightning quick fastballs and overall intense persona while on the mound. He has dabbled in movie appearances briefly, with maybe his biggest role coming in ‘Anger Management’ from 2003. He plays himself in the comedy film in a dugout scene with teammate Derek Jeter. There’s a break in the action and he complains about the break in pitching – which is understandable – and Derek Jeter relaxes him with a catchy phrase. It makes you wonder if he did it on the mound in real life.
John Cena – Trainwreck
John Cena is known for his persona in the WWE ring, his impact with nonprofit organizations and even memes, but he has dabbled in showbiz for a while. A lot of his roles are similar but his character in ‘Trainwreck’ adds for a solid comedic presence in a movie that has a little bit of everything. It’s probably impossible to have a part that doesn’t utilize his massive frame and this movie does it well without being too obnoxious.
LeBron James – Trainwreck
Similar to John Cena, LeBron is one of the most polarizing athletes in the world. He has been pretty involved off the court and ‘Trainwreck’ was his first major film. He plays himself but is not the normal LeBron that we see on the court. He is a soft spoken guy who ends up getting involved between the two main characters. The romantic comedy is a nice bridge for him to extend his basketball life to the big screen. He is a very versatile guy and this film shows the other sides of him.
David Beckham – The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Beckham is one of Great Britain’s most recognizable celebrities. Known for his killer soccer skills and his good looks, Beckham has been involved with Hollywood with numerous appearances on talk shows and fashion products. His small cameo as the film projectionist is likely to lead to other similar gigs, as many celebrities and athletes often take smaller roles if they are not already playing themselves. He has numerous soccer films where he plays himself, but he has the talent to do more in the future.
Mike Tyson – The Hangover
Tyson was feared in the boxing ring like no one else before him. He commanded a mixture of respect and fear for any opponent that stepped into the ring. His movie roles have been similar with some added variety. In ‘The Hangover’ Tyson plays a whacky version of himself and adds a little extra goofiness that fits well with the movie. He helps the gang retrace their steps from the disastrous night before and help them figure out where to head next.
Vinnie Jones – She’s the Man
One of English soccer’s bad boys, Vinnie Jones has played numerous tough guy roles over the years. He rose to prominence in the 2006 film ‘She’s the Man’ acting as the soccer coach for the local college. His no nonsense attitude can be seen on camera as well as it was seen on the soccer pitch years ago. His character was not a fan of the shenanigans going on in the film and just wanted to take care of business on the field. He gave the film a much needed villain that turned into a good guy.
Mike Ditka – Kicking & Screaming
Mike Ditka is known for being one of the best Tight Ends in the history of the NFL and coaching what is argued to be the best defense to ever play in the NFL. He brought his talents to the big screen with Will Ferrell in the 2005 kid’s comedy movie where he plays Ferrell’s co-coach. He takes on the challenge of motivating little kids in soccer. His frustration with the kids is believable and realistic for someone who worked with professional athletes.
Michael Jordan – Space Jam
Although technically not a “cameo”, we couldn’t leave this off. Arguably the greatest basketball player to ever play the game, Jordan starred in the 1996 kid’s film ‘Space Jam’. He played himself as the savior on the team full of Looney Toons characters that would take on the Monstars. The movie took place during his peak reign as one of the most dominant athletes on the planet from any sport. Jordan was able to play a character true to his real life personality in a movie that combined comedy, sci-fi, and sports.
Ronda Rousey – Entourage
Rousey took the sports world by storm with her dominating MMA performances and her ability to knock people out quickly and severely. She played the love interest in the ‘Entourage’ movie in 2015, acting as her natural tough self. The film and show featured plenty of celebrities in the past, and she was a main side character of the movie star crew in the film. She was not asked to do much besides be real, and she was able to add some variety to a relatively simple character.
Terry Bradshaw – Failure to Launch
Known for his dominant quarterback skills with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, Bradshaw has been a symbol of athletes to transition to acting for some time. He has been on on-air TV personality for years and his most mainstream role may have been as Al in the 2006 romantic comedy ‘Failure to Launch’ where he plays the father of a son who cannot seem to move on with his life. Al along with his wife hires a woman to date their son played by Matthew McConaughey in hopes to get him to move out.
John McEnroe – Mr. Deeds
He plays himself as tennis’ bad boy and he meets up with recently made billionaire Longfellow Deeds. They end up wanting to get in some trouble and mischief late at night in New York City. They egg cars and cause some minor damage to property on the streets. He was a former number 1 tennis player and his athleticism was put on display and exaggerated as he was able to jump clear over a car in the film.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin – Grown Ups 2
Steve Austin might be more recognizable with “Stone Cold” attached due to his popularity in the WWE, and he has had a few roles in films over the last few years. He has played plenty of tough guy roles, but his character in ‘Grown Ups 2’ showed his acting versatility with a character that has a soft side. He intentionally loses a fight in order to help a dad impress his son. He later does go on to knock out several people charging him at a party.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – Airplane!
While he has made numerous television and movie appearances, he may be best known for his role in Airplane! He plays to co-pilot Roger Murdoch and is seen in the cockpit during a few scenes. He plays himself, and snaps at a kid who claims that he really is Adbul-Jabbar and that he is his favorite player, but his dad doesn’t think he works hard enough. He breaks character and responds as if he would respond to the statement in real life.
Bob Eucker – Major League I and II
A former major league baseball player of six seasons took on a Hollywood role as Harry Doyle, the loveable announcer for a struggling Cleveland Indians team. Known for his catchy and honest one-liners, his character often shows the harsh reality of being a fan of a terrible team. He plays the role perfectly, with his whacky personality shining through with his real life knowledge of the game. He played for the Cardinals, Braves, and Phillies during his time as a professional catcher.
Ray Allen – He Got Game
Another non-cameo, Allen is known for his knack to hit clutch three-pointers, his leadership ability, and his quiet and respectable demeanor on and off the court. He plays the role of Jesus Shuttlesworth in Spike Lee’s late 1990s sports drama film. Allen plays the top rated basketball recruit in high school and navigates around the challenges that go with it. He experiences temptation, financial issues, and the stresses of playing basketball at a high level that all factor in his character’s life.