20 Former Athletes Who Achieved Gold In Their Transition To Hollywood

Ashley Hunte
A football on a football field.
Unsplash | Dave Adamson

What does acting and professional sports have in common? If you're any good, people are going to know your name. So it's not too much of a stretch to think of athletes who decide to transition into acting.

There are a lot more of them than you'd think, too. Here are just a few actors who started their careers with sports.

Jason Statham

Jason Statham in The Meg.
The Meg | IMDb

Known for action movies like The Meg, The Transporter, and his role in the Fast & Furious series, it's hard to believe he was anything but an actor. But at one point (before all that), he was a professional diver (and model). I'm honestly shocked.

Terry Crews

Terry Crews looking shocked.
Giphy | Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Probably best known today for his role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as being the host of America's Got Talent (and being in The Expendables, alongside Statham), Crews started his career as an NFL linebacker. Can't say I'm surprised, though.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

The Terminator saying his iconic line, "I'll be back."

I promise this isn't just a list of people who were in The Expendables and its sequels. But yeah, the Terminator himself (not to mention former Governor of California) is a former bodybuilder (which is totally a sport). But I didn't need to tell you that.

Burt Reynolds

Burt Reynolds smiling and then driving away in a convertible.

Reynolds' career spanned decades, and included both shows and films, like The Longest Yard. But he was also briefly a college football player back in the day.

Wyatt Russell

Wyatt Russell as the "new Captain America."
Giphy | Disney+

Being the son of acting powerhouses Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, it's unsurprising that he's made a name for himself in the acting world, recently appearing in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, among other roles. What's a little surprising, though, is the fact that he was once a professional hockey player.

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell saying "I'm gonna have a beer" after putting sunglasses on.
Giphy | The Fast Saga

Hey, speaking of Kurt Russell...

Being a son of Bing Russell, owner of a minor league baseball team, Kurt tried his hand at baseball, however briefly. Luckily, it looks like acting ended up being more his speed.

Jim Brown

Jim Brown in 100 Rifles
100 Rifles | IMDb

Considered one of the best football players ever (even I know who he is, and I don't know anything about football), Brown's career also included a lot of movie roles from the '60s, all the way to the 2000s.

John Cena

John Cena looking at the camera with a shocked expression.
Giphy | WWE

The man, the meme, the legend himself, John Cena is probably one of the best professional wrestlers out there. And based on his growing filmography, it seems like he's not doing so bad for himself as an actor, either.

Mahershala Ali

Mahershala Ali going up to accept a SAG award.
Giphy | SAG Awards

Mahershala Ali originally attended Saint Mary's College on a basketball scholarship, but was definitely better suited for acting. I mean, he is a two-time Academy Award winner.

John David Washington

John David Washington in Malcom and Marie.

Known for starring in films like Tenet, Malcom & Marie, and BlacKkKlansman (and also being the son of Denzel Washington), John David was also a professional football player, playing professionally for the short-lived UFL.

Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers in Arrested Development.

Probably best known for playing Apollo Creed in the Rocky movies, Carl Weathers was also a football player, having been in both the NFL and CFL.

Dolph Lundgren

Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV

Like Weathers, Dolph Lundgren was also part of the Rocky series, appearing in both Rocky IV and Creed II. The fact that he's also an expert in Kyokushin karate kind of makes sense, then.

And big surprise, he was also in the Expendables series.

Vinnie Jones

Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Guns.
Summit Entertainment | IMDb

Before starting his acting career with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and then going on to appear in a number of other movies and television shows, Vinnie Jones was a professional footballer. That's British for soccer player, btw.

Ronda Rousey

Rhonda Rousey yelling.
Getty Images | Harry How

Like many (and I mean many) of the other actors in this list, Ronda Rousey appeared in both the Expendables and the Fast & Furious series. And as a WWE wrestler and UFC fighter, it's safe to say she's pretty tough.

Johnny Weissmuller

Johnny Weissmuller in Tarzan Finds a Son!

Olympic Swimmer Johnny Weissmuller was in a number of black and white movies in the '20s, '30s, '40s, and '50s, appearing as characters like Tarzan and Jungle Jim.

Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista waving while eating something.
Giphy | My Spy

Another actor who got his start in the WWE, Dave Bautista is probably better known for his acting nowadays. He is one of the titular Guardians of the Galaxy, and more recently appeared in Dune.

Dwayne Johnson

The Rock at a press event.
Getty Images | Kevin Winter

Probably one of the most famous people to come out of the WWE, you've absolutely seen something with The Rock in it. Interestingly, he was a football player before he turned pro wrestler (and then pro actor) having had a brief stint in the CFL.

Joel McHale

Joel McHale looking confused.

Okay, so maybe he never went pro, but Community actor Joel McHale was on his college football team. Needless to say, comedy was more in his wheelhouse.

Sonja Heine

Sonja Heine and the other stars of It's a Pleasure
IMDb | It's a Pleasure via IMDb

Way, way back in the day, Sonja Heine was an Olympic skater turned actress. She appeared in many films from the '20s to the '50s, and was at one point one of the highest paid actresses of her time.

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith with another character in Police Academy.
Warner Bros. | IMDb

Bubba Smith is probably best known for his NFL career, though he does have plenty of acting roles under his belt too. He's probably best known for his role in the Police Academy series.