16 Professional Athletes In Film: The Good, The Bad, and The Cringingly Reprehensible

Athletes love the spotlight—something that is given by the fact that they compete whilst being spectated by millions.

Given the aforementioned fact, it seems obvious that many athletes would try and garner more publicity via Hollywood’s legendary silver screen. And—as one would have guessed—many athletes have done so.

This list will be going over some notable films that athletes have appeared in—the good, the bad, and the cringingly reprehensible.

Before beginning, it must be noted that this list only covers films. So, such TV series as “The Rifleman” starring Major League Baseball pitcher Chuck Connors will be excluded.

Pittsburgh Steelers in “Dark Knight Rises”

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, among other Pittsburgh stars all cameo in the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy. Essentially, they star as Gotham City’s football team who are playing another Sunday afternoon matchup—a game that is interrupted by the villainous Bane.

In the end, this appearance can be described as unrealistic—Hines Ward outruns the ground collapsing while Mike Wallace, who is one of the NFL’s fastest men, stands idly by on the sideline.


Michael Irvin in “The Longest Yard”

The trendiest thing in Hollywood over the past 20 years has been to recycle old film ideas due to a seeming lack of quality original ideas. Hence, Adam Sandler takes the starring role in the 2000’s remake of the film once-starring Burt Reynolds.

In this movie, Sandler plays a washed up quarterback who—after a reckless stunt—finds himself in prison. And, it is his job to captain a football team of rowdy inmates—one of the latter is played by the great playmaker, Michael Irvin.


Gheroghe Muresan in “My Giant”

Gheroghe Muresan—standing at 7’7—is a man of considerable verticality. That being said, it seems appropriate for him to star in a film called “My Giant”. Co-starring with Billy Crystal, Muresan portrays the title character.

Latching onto the 1990’s trend of basketball players taking on movie roles, those making the film forget what the makers of “Space Jam”, “Kazaam”, and “Steel” forgot—that basketball players are athletes for a very good reason. Although, some of their on court flops could be considered Oscar-worthy.


Derek Jeter in “The Other Guys” and “Anger Management”

The New York Yankees legend, Derek Jeter is among the Big Apple’s most popular athletes. And, it is likely that a person who would inflict serious injury upon the topical sportsman would be quickly loathed as a metropolitan anathema.

Well, such a thing does happen in the 2010 comedy hit called “The Other Guys”. A movie with many memorable lines, Jeter’s one line that made it to the theatrical release was among them.

In a flashback, Jeter holds his leg after being accidentally shot by a police offer being portrayed by Mark Wahlberg—a widely known Red Sox fan. After bracing his leg, he yells out:

“Ah, you dick! I’m Derek Jeter, you shot me!”

Jeter also cameos in the Adam Sander film, “Anger Management” with then- Yankee teammate Roger Clemens.

Brett Favre in “There’s Something About Mary”

The most famous man from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Favre manages to forcibly direct the spotlight on himself in this mid-1990’s comedy hit. Starring Ben Stiller and Cameron Diaz, Favre makes a cameo toward the film’s end, where it is revealed that he was Diaz’s former boyfriend.

Favre’s barely believable romantic gaze into Diaz’s eyes highlights his appearance in the film, where he promised to “always be true” to Diaz’s character, Mary.

Oddly enough, Cameron Diaz has dated another falling star athlete who overstayed his professional sports welcome—Yankees’ third baseman, Alex Rodriguez.

Wayne Gretzky, among others in “Mighty Ducks” series

The Mighty Ducks series is one of the most beloved kids sports film franchises of recent memory.

Featuring the name of a real NHL franchise, the film series also boasts many NHL appearances, such as: Wayne Gretzky in the second film, Mike Modano in the first film, Basil McRae in the first film, Cam Neely in the second film, among many others.


Michael Jordan in “Space Jam”

Michael Jordan’s acting career is not limited to Hanes commercials. And, his acting ability shows that the great basketballer—like any other human—has weaknesses. Such weakness is later evidenced by his career as a basketball executive.

But, Jordan makes his film debut in the 1990’s hit, “Space Jam”—a fantasized “Looney Toons” tale of Jordan’s retirement and subsequent return to basketball.

Cliff Thompson and Connie Madigan in “Slap Shot”

“Slap Shot” remains one of the most outrageously funny sports comedies of all time. Featuring the fictional Hanson brothers– a trio of inept hockey players with an appetite for violence—the film features two actual hockey players whose aptitude for the sport got them spots on NHL rosters.

Cliff Thompson stars as the Chiefs’ bus driver, and Connie Madigan plays a hockey player who returns for one last bid at a minor league championship.

Dick Butkus in “Gus”

A film featuring a semi-anthropomorphic mule that can play football, “Gus” is the story of how an otherwise putrid football team started to win due to the heroics of their mascot.

Appearing in it is Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus—one of the nastiest linebackers in NFL history. Also, Johnny Unitas makes a cameo as an announcer.

Other than that, there really isn’t much else to say about this film—a concept that was undoubtedly recycled when the “Air Bud” meta-series was released.


Shaquille O’Neal in “Steel”, “Kazaam”, and “Blue Chips”

There was a time in the nineties when Shaquille O’Neal seemingly owned the world. And if it weren’t for a certain number 23-wearing Chicago Bull, he might be considered the most dominant player of his time.

Unfortunately, Shaq’s dominance on the court doesn’t translate to the void where his acting talent should be located. Starring in three films during the nineties, Shaq’s trio of motion pictures was critically panned—with “Blue Chips” receiving slightly better reception than “Kazaam” and “Steel”.


Dan Marino in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”

A film that highlights Jim Carrey’s ability to take his eccentricities to astronomical levels, “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” chronicled the fictional Miami Dolphins’ stolen mascot saga.

Ultimately, Marino’s role can be most remembered from the famous line, “Laces out, Dan!”— a line said by the film’s villain, who felt victimized by a fictionalized Marino Super Bowl blunder.

Jim Brown in “Dirty Dozen”, among others

The most beloved athlete in Cleveland sports history, Jim Brown has a supporting role—most notably—in the famous war film, “the Dirty Dozen”.

In it, Brown portrays Robert T. Jefferson—who dies as a result of his sense of duty.

Brown is also featured in the film “Black Gunn”, where fellow NFL Hall of Famer Deacon Jones joins him on the silver screen.


Alex Karras in “Blazing Saddles”, among others.

The late Alex Karras—one of the NFL’s premier tough guys in an era when toughness was mandatory—has appearances in several films. However, the most notable film that Karras makes an appearance in is Mel Brook’s comedy “Blazing Saddles”, where he plays Mongo.

As assumed by his character’s name, Karras plays the simpleton tough guy in Brook’s comedy. However, Karras’ acting career is one of the most prolific among professional athletes—also appearing in: “The Great Lester Boggs” and an episode of “M.A.S.H”.


Ray Allen in “He Got Game”

Probably the most acclaimed performances from an athlete in Hollywood history. To this day Ray Allen says he still gets called Jesus Shuttlesworth and as an added bonus we’ve embedded the entire movie so you can watch it now as a refresher.


Carl Weathers in “Rocky”

Before Carl Weathers strapped on his gloves as the iconic heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in 1976’s Academy Award-winning Rocky he ripped it up for four seasons in the NFL with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.


Cam Neely in “Dumb and Dumber”

Is there a more quotable movie than DUmb and Dumber? I think not and one of the most famous lines from the 1994 is “Kick his ass, Sea Bass!” NHL Hall of Famer Cam Neeley hocked a loogie on Harry Dunn’s burger and forever became one of our favorite athelet actors.


Lawrence Taylor in “Any Given Sunday” and “Waterboy”

The greatest defensive player in NFL history proved that he has some serious acting chops and range by starring in the comedy Waterboy and the drama Any Given Sunday in back to back years.