- Athletes like Terry Crews, John Cena, and Dave Bautista successfully transitioned from their sports careers to become popular movie stars.
- Former NFL player Jim Brown left football at the height of his career to pursue acting, showcasing his talent and star power.
- Chuck Norris, known for his martial arts skills, used his background in the sport to become a successful action star in movies like The Delta Force.
Becoming a professional sports star takes an incredible amount of determination, effort, and time, and to follow up this achievement with a successful career as an actor shows real talent and versatility. There were some athletes turned actors who utilized their sports skills for a career in movies and television, such as Chuck Norris, who brought his martial arts talent to a career as an action star. While others moved away from their former profession entirely to pursue a career in comedy or dramatic roles.
There were plenty of athletes who surprisingly were able to utilize their clear talent and channel that energy into a successful Hollywood acting career. Some athletes turned movie stars had already reached the greatest heights of their professions before they decided to switch gears and pursue a new role as a movie or television star. One example was the football player Jim Brown, who was ranked among the best athletes the sport has ever seen and used his star power as a sports icon to forge a new identity as a successful actor.
10 Terry Crews
Former NFL player
Before taking up acclaimed sitcom roles such in Everybody Hates Chris and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, as well as memorable parts in White Chicks and Idiocracy, Terry Crews had an impressive career as an NFL player. As a football player for the Los Angeles Rams, the San Diego Chargers, and the Washington Redskins just to name a few, Crews was a man of many hidden talents as he often supplemented his income by painting commissioned portraits of his teammates (via Jimmy Kimmel.) After retiring from football in 1997, Crews shifted to acting and found success in the world of comedy.
9 John Cena
Former WWE wrestler
John Cena first gained recognition in Hollywood for his impressive debut as John Triton in The Marine, however, before this, he already made history as a world-champion WWE wrestler. Regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, Cena followed in the footsteps of Dwayne Johnson to become one of Hollywood’s most sought-after stars after transitioning out of the WWE. With comedy roles in Trainwreck, action parts such as in Fast X, and even acclaimed voice performances in the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Cena has now firmly cemented himself as a mainstay in the world of movies.
8 Dave Bautista
Former WWE wrestler
The incredibly likable Dave Bautista is mostly widely known today as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although before this he rose to fame as a WWE world champion. With an impressive wrestling career in World Tag Team, Wrestle Mania, and the Royal Rumble, Bautista also began acting in 2006 and slowly became a major movie star. With impressive roles in Blade Runner 2049, Dune, and even voice work in The Boy and the Heron, Bautista’s acting career has been on a continued upward trajectory and does not show any signs of slowing down.
7 Kali Reis
Former professional boxer
Kali Reis was a former boxer who despite being involved in a serious motorcycling accident in 2012 that briefly halted her career (via Girlboxing) managed to become world champion in two different weight classes. In 2021, Reis made her acting debut as the star of the thriller movie Catch the Fair One for which she received widespread critical acclaim. Reis has recently starred alongside Jodie Foster in the fourth season of the anthology crime series True Detective where her superb performance along with the season’s strong writing has helped recapture the spirit and power of the show’s first season.
6 Jim Brown
Former NFL player
Perhaps with the greatest running back in NFL history, Jim Brown broke multiple records in throughout his sports career before retiring at age 30, at the height of his career, to pursue acting full-time. Having already taken up minor roles in movies like Rio Conchos and The Dirty Dozen, Brown was cast as a leading man in The Spit and 100 Rifles and continued an acclaimed career on television in the 1980s. While Brown’s acting career never quite reached the heights of his football achievements, he demonstrated himself as a capable actor with serious star power.
5 Chuck Norris
Former martial artist
While certain people may be more familiar with Chuck Norris memes than his actual career, this martial artist and actor followed his impressive Karate Championship career with major roles as an action movie star. After training celebrities in the ways of martial arts, Norris was invited by Bruce Lee to play a villain in The Way of the Dragon in 1972 and he continued with a career as a major star in movies like The Delta Force and Code of Silence. Jokingly known for enormous feats of strength and endurance, in recent years Norris leaned into his reputation as a beloved internet meme.
4 Carl Weathers
Former NFL player
While the late actor Carl Weathers may be best known onscreen as professional boxer Apollo Creed in the Rocky franchise, he was almost a celebrated athlete in his own right who had an acclaimed career as a professional NFL player from 1970 to 1974. While still playing football, Weathers took up uncredited roles in blaxploitation movies before finding mainstream success with Rocky and later appearing in Predator, Happy Gilmore, and his final role before Weathers’ death in 2024 as Greef Karga in The Mandalorian. With an impressive football career behind him, Weather found even greater success as an actor.
3 Jason Lee
Former professional skateboarder
Before making a name for himself with movies like Mallrats and Alvin and the Chipmunks, as well as TV success as the sitcom lead in My Name Is Earl, Jason Lee was a major figure within the world of professional skateboarding. Lee’s skill as a skater was documented in the iconic skate video Video Days which was directed by Spike Lee and was an important document of the sport. While Lee retired in 1996 and switched his focus to acting full-time, he is still the co-founder of Stereo Skateboards and has been a playable character in the Tony Hawk’s games.
2 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Former WWE wrestler
Today Dwayne Johnson is one of the biggest action movie stars in Hollywood, but he first rose to prominence as a WWE wrestler under the name The Rock. An integral part of the WWE’s popularity during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Johnson transitioned into acting with as The Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns in 2001. This led to him leading a spin-off movie The Scorpion King in 2002 where he cemented himself as a leading man. Since then, Johnson has led numerous action and comedy movies and even excelled with voice work in movies such as Moana.
1 Arnold Schwarzenegger
Former professional bodybuilder
By age 20, Arnold Schwarzenegger had won the title of Mr. Universe and soon made a name for himself as one of the greatest bodybuilders ever. After Schwarzenegger retired in 1977, he gained worldwide fame as an actor, first in Conan the Barbarian and later as a character in the box office smash success The Terminator. As one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s, Schwarzenegger led numerous action movies before temporarily retiring to pursue a political career and become Governor of California. Schwarzenegger has since returned to acting and currently stars in the Netflix series FUBAR.