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Top Athletes Who Became Movie Stars

There are many accomplished athletes who were top notch in their field. Their talents and skills in the sports arena were so extraordinary that they were praised and put on a pedestal. Some of these athletes ventured to use their fame and try their hand at acting. Although their athletic skills are excellent, not all of them could catch a break and become a superstar in the movie industry. For example, Dan Marino and Rick Fox explored TV and film but they turned out to be terrible actors.On the other hand, some other athletes are now successful TV actors, like reality show star Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner, who also appeared on Love Boat and Murder She Wrote.  But, then there are some who have managed to crossover and make it big on the big screen. Here are 15 of your favorite athletes turned box office stars. 

15. Terry Crews

Terry Alan Crews is a former American professional football player, artist, and an actor. Crews played as a defensive end for the Western Michigan University Broncos and won an All-Conference honors and the Mid-American Conference Championship in 1998. In 1991, he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL Draft. He also had career stints with the San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins, and Philadelphia Eagles. He make 57 tackles in his 32 game career. Crews had always wanted to act, so when retired in 1997, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream. His first role was in a show called Battle Dome in 1999. He also appeared in several commercials and music videos. His breakthrough role was in Friday After Next. From then on, he starred in several successful films that include White Chicks, The Longest Yard, and  The Expendables. He mostly played comedic roles. He also appeared in several successful sitcoms. Crews is also an artist at heart. He created portraits and lithographs of several fellow NFL players while still playing football. The commissions he earned became his primary income to feed his family. He now owns a design company.

14. Dave Michael Bautista, Jr.

American born Dave Michael “Batista” Bautista, Jr. is a professional wrestler, bodybuilder, and movie actor. Bautista was born in Washington and had quite a rough childhood. His mother is Greek and his father is Filipino. He said that he had a hard life back then, exclaiming that three murders were committed on his family’s lawn and by the age of thirteen he was already stealing cars. But he said that his parents instilled in him the value of hard work. So he worked as a bouncer until he was arrested for beating up two patrons. He also worked as a lifeguard, but it was bodybuilding that transformed and saved him. When he tried to join  the World Championship Wrestling, he was told that he would never be successful in the wrestling business. So he went to the World Wrestling Federation, where he trained with Afa Anoia in a wrestling school. He made his debut under the name of Leviathan and later won the Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) Championship. In 1992, Bautista began his televised WWE career and assumed the moniker Deacon Batista. Bautista won his first World Heavyweight Championship in Wrestlemania 21’s main event which had 1.09 million pay per view buys. Back then this was the highest PPV buys for any non-boxing event worldwide and is still now one of the top five highest grossing PPV events. He holds the longest reign as the WWE’s World Heavyweight Champion. He also won several other championships such as the WWE Championship, World Tag Team Championsip, WWE Tag Championship, and was winner of the 2015 Royal Rumble. He also tried his skills once in MMA fighting and won via TKO in the 1st round. Bautista starred in several huge films such as The Man with the Iron Fist as Brass Bodyand in the commercially successful Guardians of the Galaxy I & II  as Drax the Destroyer.  He also appeared in Spectre as Mr. Hinxand played villain Tong Po in Kickboxer.

13. James “Jim” Brown

Born in Georgia, U.S.A in February 1936, James Nathaniel “Jim” Brown was a professional American football player and movie actor. With 106 touchdowns in his entire professional career, he is considered as one of the greatest football players in history. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player several times. In 1964, he won the NFL Championship with the Cleveland Browns as a fullback. Brown carried the ball 2,359 times for 12,312 rushing yard averaging to 104.1 yards per game. He is the only player in NFL history who has an average of more than 100 yards per game. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and College Football Hall of Fame in 1995, and is also listed on the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. The Sporting News in 2002 recognized him as the greatest professional football player of all time.  Brown started acting in the 1960s while still playing football. His first movie was an action film called Rio Conchos which is not well received by the viewers and then he starred  a war film called The Dirty Dozen. He finally retired from football at 30. Brown appeared and starred in over 40 films including The Running Man, 100 Rifles, and Draft Day.

12. Gina Carano

Now turned actress, American born Gina “Conviction” Carano was a Muay Thai Champion,  and MMA fighter. She was the first American woman to earn that title in Thailand and after winning several Muay Thai competitions with a record of 14-1-1, she transitioned to MMA fighting. Carano is considered by many not only as the pioneer of female mixed martial arts but also as one of the best female fighters in the world. She also has an attractive face and charisma, which was quite unusual for female fighters back then. Thus in 2006 she was referred to as the “Face of Women’s MMA.” After experiencing her first and last devastating loss from her fight with Cris Cyborg, Carano retired from MMA fighting for good with a 7-1 record and transitioned to being an actress. She started off with some TV stints, such as Fight Girls where she served as a mentor to aspiring fighters and American Gladiators where she appeared as “Crush”. She was also featured in the movie Blood and Bone.  Her first leading role was in the spy thriller movie Haywire in 2009 where Carano did her own stunts. From then on, she went on to play several major roles in huge films such as ExtractionFast and Furious 6 and Deadpool.

11. Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith

Born on February 28, 1945 in Texas, U.S.A, Charles Aaron Smith was a professional football player and actor. He dreamt of playing college football for the University of Texas but was barred from doing so because of interracial segregation back then in the south of the U.S. So he played for the University of Michigan where he became a successful and popular football player. He was also given the accolade of “All-American honors in 1965 and ’66 consecutively. His last game at Michigan was the hyped up game against Notre Dame which ended in a 10-10 tie. The event  was named “The Game of the Century” because both teams were undefeated. Smith was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988. Smith played as a defensive end for the Baltimore Colts in the NFL for nine seasons. He was on the winning team when the Colts won the Super Bowl V in 1970. He also played for the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers. He was able to go to two Pro Bowls, was chosen All-Pro one year, and All-Conference two years. When Smith retired, he first started to appear on TV shows and small films. While most other athletes’ turned actor played heroes or action stars, Smith was known for playing comedic roles. His most popular role was in the Police Academy Series where he played Moses Hightower. He appeared in over 20 films from 1979 to 2010.

10. Carl Weathers

Born January 14, 1948, in New Orleans, Louisiana, Carl Weathers is an actor who was also a professional football player. Weathers was a linebacker for San Diego State University and then played professionally for the Oakland Raiders, where he played eight games in 1970-71. He also joined the Canadian Football League’s BC Lions from 1971-73. Every off-season, he attended drama classes at San Francisco State University and finished with a BA degree in 1974. He then retired from football and pursued his acting passion. He starred in over 30 films from 1975-2017. His most famous roles were Apollo Creed in the movie Rocky and Col. Al Dillon in the movie Predator. He also appeared in several TV shows.

9. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Born as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York City, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a former professional basketball player, activist, author, and actor. Alcindor started playing basketball at Power Memorial High School. At a young age, he already had a height advantage measuring 6’8”. He broke records in high school and at UCLA where he contributed to his team’s 88 wins. While in college, he was bestowed the honor of Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament for three consecutive years from 1967 to 1969, along with Player of the Year for two years during that same period, and was also the first to be honoured as the Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969. He is also the only three-time recipient of the Helms Foundation Player of the Year. In 1968, Alcindor converted to Sunni Islam and later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971. The game between Alcindor’s team, the UCLA Bruins, vs the Houston Cougars became the Game of the Century and was the first college game to be broadcast on television. Alcindor suffered an injury during the game: a scratch on his retina, which surely contributed to the Bruins’ loss. Abdul-Jabbar first played for Milwaukee Buck in his pro career, where he led the Bucks to win the NBA Championship in 1971. He transferred to the Lakers in 1975. He also started to wear protective goggles to protect his eyes. He helped the Lakers win eight finals and five NBA Championships in the 1980’s. In his entire pro career, he won six NBA MVPs and was a 19-time NBA All-Star. He is considered the best college basketball player and one of the greatest NBA players. He is also the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with a record of 38,387 points. His signature shot is the Skyhook. He retired from basketball in 1989 His film debut came before that in 1978 in the movie Game of Death, where he played Hakim, a character who had to face Billy Lo who was played by Bruce Lee. Abdul-Jabbar played in several other movies such as Airplane!, Fletch, Forget Paris, and Troop Beverly Hills. He also appeared in several TV series such as 21 Jump Street and Diff’rent Strokes.

8. Mickey Rourke

American-born Phillip Andre “Mickey” Rourke, Jr. is a retired boxer, screenwriter, and actor. Rourke took self-defense training as a teenager at the Boys Club in Miami, where he also learned boxing. He won his first boxing match at age 12. He continued training and sparred with Luis Rodriguez, a former World Welterweight Champion. He said that he suffered a concussion after his sparring match with Rodriguez. In 1971, he suffered another concussion in a boxing match, so he temporarily retired from boxing after following his doctor’s advice to take a break. He has an amateur boxing record of 27-3, with 17 KO wins. His debut as an actor was in Steven Speilberg’s 1941.  But it was his role in the movie Body Heat that got him noticed. He gained his sex symbol status when he starred in the erotic drama 9 ½ weeks. He decided to return to professional boxing in1991 and had a record of 6 wins, 2 draws, and no losses. He suffered several injuries including a broken nose, broken ribs and temporary memory loss. Rourke starred in several successful films such as The Wrestler, Diner, Sin City, and Desperate Hours. Over the years, he has received has been nominations  and has won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Awards.

7. Randall Craig “Tex” Cobb

Born December 10, 1953, Randall Craig “Tex” Cobb is a former professional boxer and actor. Cobb was also a power puncher, a brawler and considered to have the toughest chin of all time. His first martial art was Karate. He started training at 19 and lived in a dojo, where he cleaned mats for his stay. He craved full contact combats after earning his black belt so he trained in kickboxing. He won his first nine kickboxing bouts, all via knockout.  He started fighting as a professional boxer in 1977. He won his debut fight by knockout and went on to win 13 consecutive fights similarly until 1979.  He has a pro boxing record of 42 -7-1-1. with 35 wins by KO. Cobb started acting in 1979. His first movie was The Champ. Most of his roles were either as a villain or a minion. He starred in other films, such as Blind Fury, Ace Venture: Pet Detective, Police Academy 4, The Golden Child, and Ernest Goes to Jail. He also appeared on several television series such as Miami, Texas Ranger, and X-Files

6. Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Douglas “The Rock” Johnson is a Canadian-American producer, movie actor, and professional wrestler. Johnson was a successful college football player while attending University of Miami on full scholarship. He later signed a deal with the Canadian Football League but was cut off early in the 1995 season. He then pursued a career as a professional wrestler like his grandfather (Peter Maivia) and his father (Rocky Johnson). He made his debut in the WWF (now WWE) as Rocky Maivia, a combination of his grandfather’s and father’s monikers. He was disliked by the fans at first because of his cheesy his character.  He won the Intercontinental Championship in February 1997 from Hunter Hearst Helmsly. He successfully retained the title four times but he was not successful in capturing the audiences’ hearts when they are all chanting, “Die, Rocky, die!” Dwayne later joined the group the Nation Domination and took over the leadership. He then took over the persona of the The Rock. At that time he started to insult the audience and the WWF television interviewers. After the group split, he joined elite group The Corporation. His antics and charisma led to his popularity rising and he called himself the “People’s Champion.” Johnson took a break from wrestling to shoot his debut appearance in the movie The Mummy Returns. The movie’s success led to Johnson’s first leading role in the spin-off The Scorpion King. He received $ 5.5 million, making it to the list of 2007 Guinness of World Record as the highest paid actor in a first starring role.  The Rock returned to the WWE in 2011, creating a lot of buzz. During The Rock’s promo on Raw, about 7.4 million people watched the segment.  The Rock’s acting career flourished. He went on to star in several major films such as The Fast Five, Hercules, Central Intelligence, and Baywatch.

5. Bruce Lee

Who hasn’t heard of Bruce Lee? Lee Jun-fan or Bruce Lee, as most people know him, is so famous that he became a household name and the epitome of modern martial arts. Born in Hong Kong, Lee was a philosopher, filmmaker, actor, and martial artist. He is widely accredited as the most influential martial artist of all time; a pop culture icon who helped introduce martial arts to Western films and changed how Asians were viewed in Hollywood. Lee started training in martial arts when his father enrolled him in a martial arts school so Bruce could protect himself in gang fights. They lived in a rough neighborhood back then and Lee was involved in a lot of street fights. After losing in several fights, he studied with the famous Yip Man’s Wing Chun. Wing Chun had a large impact on the development of Lee’s martial arts skills and also influenced Lee’s own founded martial arts, the Jeet Kune Do. Lee was introduced to films at a very early age by his father who was a Cantonese opera star. He first starred as an infant in Golden Age in 1941 and by age 18, he had appeared in over 20 films. Although he abandoned his acting career when he moved to the US, his constant martial arts exhibition attracted TV producer William Dozer. He landed the role of Kato in the Green Hornet TV series. This TV show, which was a success, helped him land his first leading role in The Big Boss. The movie was a huge success which made him famous. It was followed by the movie Fist of Fury, which broke box office records. His next film was The Way of the Dragon and Game of Death. His most successful movie was Enter the Dragon. This movie cemented his legacy as a martial arts legend.

 4. Chuck Norris

Carlos Ray “Chuck” Norris is an American-born screenwriter, producer, actor, and martial artist. He is as legendary as Bruce Lee. He is also the favorite subject of some internet memes, most of which exaggerate his fighting skills.  Norris’ childhood was ordinary. He was extremely shy, very introverted and not athletic. When he served as an Air Policeman for the US Air Force in South Korea in 1958, he started training in Tang Soo Do. This is where he found his passion for martial arts and now holds a 9th degree black belt in this discipline.  So he trained in other disciplines that include Judo (black belt), Brazilian Jui-Jitsu (3rd Degree Black Belt), Karate, (5th Degree Black Belt), and Taekwondo (8th Degree Black Belt) where he became the first Westerner to receive this level from the Grandmaster. He also created a new form of martial art called Chun Kuk Do, taking the basics of Tang Soo Do and integrating all of the combat forms he knows. He was inducted into the Martial Arts History Museum’s Hall of Fame in 1991 and received the Golden Lifetime Award given by the Karate Hall of Fame in 2000. He also held the Professional Middleweight Karate Champion title for six years. Norris’ acting debut was in the movie The Wrecking Crew. It was his role Bruce Lee’s nemesis in The Way of the Dragon that launched him into stardom. His first starring role was in the movie Breaker! Breaker! in 1977. He also starred in several huge films such as The Delta Force, Code of Silence, and Lone Wolf McQuade.

3. Jackie Chan

Also from Hong Kong, Chan Kong-sang or popularly known as Jackie Chan, is a singer, stunt man, film director, philanthropist, producer, actor, and also a martial artist. When his family emigrated to Australia, Chan was not performing well at school. So his father decided to send him back to Hong Kong to enroll him in the China Drama Academy where he excelled in singing, acrobatics, and martial arts. He also ended up being one of the school’s best students and became part of the performing troupe with fellow martial artists Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. Chan also trained in Judo, Karate, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, and Hapkido where he attained a black belt. He first started in film by doing stunt work for a few years and later starred in low budget films which were titled similarly to Bruce Lee’s previous films, by using words such as dragon, fist, and fury in the titles. His breakthrough movie was Drunken Master which was then followed by the Police Story franchise, The Tuxedo, Rush Hour 1 & 2, Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights. These films were very successful, and cemented his stardom in Hollywood. Chan was also able to get away from the shadow of his predecessor, Bruce Lee, creating his own legacy and name. He is famous for his comedy-action films and for utilizing common props such as chairs, lamps, and ladders in his fight scenes. 

2. Jean-Claude Van Damme

Another legendary man in this list, Belgian Jean-Claude Camille François Van Varenberg, aka  Jean-Claude Van Damme, is a director, producer, screenwriter, martial artist, and an actor.  Van Damme started training in Shotokan Karate as early as ten years old. At age 12, he joined the National Center for Karate and trained for four years which led him to earn a spot in the Belgian Karate Team. He later trained in full contact karate and kickboxing. He earned his black belt in Karate at age 18. At 16, he took ballet lessons, which he did for five years. He also started bodybuilding to improve his physique. He later trained in Muay Thai and Taekwondo. He started his competitive career at 15,  ending with a total record of 48-4 in his karate career. He also garnered an 18-1 record in his kickboxing fights. When he retired in 1982, he went to the United States with a friend with the hope of becoming an action star. He first started out as an extra eventually starring in his breakthrough movie, the Bloodsport, which became an instant box office hit. It was followed by his other successful films: Kickboxer and Lionheart. His most successful films were Universal Soldier with Dolph Lundgren,  Hard Target and Nowhere to Run

1. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Born on July 30, 1947, in Thal, Austria, Arnold “The Austrian Oak” Schwarzenegger is today an actor, author, politician, philanthropist, activist, businessman and a former bodybuilder. Schwarzenegger started weight training at 15 and began to compete at 17. He also studied psychology in order to learn the “power of mind over body”. While going to the gym, he frequented the nearby local cinema to see the bodybuilding idols like Steve Reeves and Reg Park. He was so dedicated to training that he broke into the local gym on weekends to train. When he was serving in the Austrian Army, he went AWOL from his basic training in order to participate in a bodybuilding competition where he won the Junior Mr. Europe Contest. As a result, he was punished and spent a week in military prison. He went on to participate in several competitions. At the age of 20, he won the Mr. Universe title, becoming the youngest person to hold this title. In 1968, he emigrated to the U.S. to fulfill his dream of becoming famous. At 23, he won his first IFBB Mr. Olympia title, also becoming the youngest person ever to win it. He won this title seven times. He dreamed to transition from being a bodybuilder to an actor. This dream was realized in 1970 when he was cast as Hercules in Hercules in New York. He won the Golden Globe for New Male Star of the Year award for his significant role in Stay Hungry in 1976. He admitted that it was difficult in the beginning because casting directors and agents thought his body was “too weird”, his accent funny, and his last name too long. His breakthrough role was in Conan the Barbarian. His most successful movie was Terminator 2. He went on to star in several major films such as Collateral Damage, The Expendables, Escape Plan, other Terminator sequels, and Aftermath. In 2003, he served as the 38th Governor of California for two consecutive terms.

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