Transitioning from athletics to acting can be a bumpy road, but there have been plenty of action stars who used to be athletes over the years in Tinseltown. For every Dennis Rodman and Shaquille O'Neal, you have genuinely prolific former athletes turned actors like Jason Statham and Terry Crews proving you can pivot careers later in life. And these aren't just athletes showing off acting chops, either; these are athletes who use their innate athletic abilities to become action heroes on the big screen.
And before you get all in a tizzy, yes, we are including professional wrestling as a sport on this list. They are athletes. You may not like it, you may argue the merits of it, but until you can pull off the feats that people like Dwayne Johnson, Ronda Rousey, and John Cena could pull in the ring, you can just zip it. Get ready to feel inadequate in multiple ways as we reminisce on some of the action star athletes who were able to succeed at both athletics and acting.
- Photo: Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw / Universal Pictures
What Was His Sport: It's a bit funny to think of Jason Statham as either a professional diver or a model at this point in his career, as he's been kicking around Hollywood for over two decades and continues to show up in action films on a regular basis. But yes, Statham was a fantastic diver who competed for England at the 1990 Commonwealth Games before moving on to modeling.
When Did He Start Acting: We can thank Guy Ritchie for Statham's acting career, as the man's first two acting roles came in Ritchie's early-career crime capers, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
His Action Bonafides: Come on now - you know his Rolodex. The Transporter trilogy. The Italian Job. Crank. The Bank Job. The Expendables trilogy. The Fast & Furious franchise. Statham has spent the past 20+ years almost solely appearing in action film after action film. Even when he dips his toes into comedy with something like Spy, it is still action-tinged comedy. It is his physicality that makes him.Legit action star?
- Photo: Fast Five / Universal Pictures
What Was His Sport: Do you smell what the Rock is cooking? Everyone knows Dwayne Johnson got his acting start in professional wrestling - but not everyone remembers he was an accomplished football player before that. He won an NCAA championship with the Miami Hurricanes back in 1991 before signing with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Sure, he was cut two months into the season - but how many professional football teams have you played for, hmm?
When Did He Start Acting: After some minor television roles brought about by his wrestling stardom, Johnson made his big-screen debut with 2001's The Mummy Returns as the Scorpion King, a role he would play again in the 2002 spinoff film of the same name.
His Action Bonafides: Please. Johnson is one of the best-known actors on the face of the planet. The Rundown. Walking Tall. G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Pain & Gain. Faster. San Andreas. Rampage. Skyscraper. All those Fast & Furious films? The list goes on and on. If the man gets his way, he could be the first action-star president of the United States.Legit action star?
- Photo: Masters of the Universe / Cannon Films
What Was His Sport: Calling Dolph Lundgren an athlete seems just a little bit wrong as he's so much more than that. Between his multiple chemical engineering degrees, a successful stint as a Kyokushin karate fighter, and a lengthy acting career, he genuinely seems like one of the most interesting guys in all of Hollywood. And yes, he holds a 4th-dan black belt in Kyokushin karate. As if being a chemical engineer and Tinseltown star weren't enough for the man.
When Did He Start Acting: After a very small role in the James Bond film A View to a Kill, Lundgren was thrust into the spotlight in 1985 thanks to his antagonist role as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV.
His Action Bonafides: With his massive physique, Lundgren has appeared in action films for decades. Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion, The Punisher, Universal Soldier, Johnny Mnemonic, the Expendables franchise, and Aquaman are just a few of his many credits. The guy just looks like he was created in a lab to appear in action movies.Legit action star?
- Photo: Snatch / Sony Pictures Releasing
What Was His Sport: No doubt there are plenty of American film fans who don't know this, but Vinnie Jones was quite an accomplished soccer player in his heyday. He played almost 200 games in the English Premier League and suited up for some very well-known clubs like Chelsea, Leeds United, Sheffield United, and Queens Park Rangers. He even won an FA Cup with Wimbledon in 1988 against Liverpool.
When Did He Start Acting: Tip your hat again to Guy Ritchie for spotting the nascent acting talent of another former athlete, as Jones's first acting roles came in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.
His Action Bonafides: Splitting his time between action and comedy, Jones has been in plenty of films over the years. His action flicks include pictures like Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish, X-Men: The Last Stand, The Condemned, and Escape Plan. As the former soccer star gets older, will his action roles start to wind down? Doubt it.Legit action star?