Athletes Who Tried To Become Action Stars (And Nailed It)

Over 3.1K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of Athletes Who Tried To Become Action Stars (And Nailed It)
Voting Rules
Vote up the athletes who fit right in as action heroes.

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: 20th Century Fox / Universal Pictures

  • 1
    2,571 VOTES
    Jason Statham
    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 JobCrankThe 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.

    2,571 votes
  • 2
    2,551 VOTES
    Dwayne Johnson
    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 RundownWalking TallG.I. Joe: RetaliationPain & Gain. FasterSan AndreasRampageSkyscraper. 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.

    2,551 votes
  • 3
    1,868 VOTES
    Dolph Lundgren
    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 UniverseRed Scorpion, The Punisher, Universal SoldierJohnny 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.

    1,868 votes
  • 4
    1,537 VOTES
    Carl Weathers
    Photo: Predator / 20th Century Fox

    What Was His Sport: Despite what you might assume, Carl Weathers was a former football player, not a boxer. He spent a couple of seasons with the Oakland Raiders before moving on to the Canadian Football League's BC Lions for a few years. Appropriately enough, he spent the off-seasons getting his bachelor's degree in drama from San Francisco State University.

    When Did He Start Acting: 1975 is when his acting career began in earnest with several television roles and appearances in two Pam Grier-led Blaxploitation films, Friday Foster and Bucktown.

    His Action Bonafides: Weathers would become well-known for his '80s action roles in the Rocky franchise, Death HuntPredator, and Action Jackson. Most of his work since that decade has gone on television, but his role in The Mandalorian shows he still has his action chops after all these years. And his part as Combat Carl in Toy Story 4 shows he isn't above poking fun at himself, either.

    1,537 votes
  • 5
    1,673 VOTES
    Terry Crews
    Photo: The Expendables 2 / Lionsgate

    What Was His Sport: If you took a momentary glance at Terry Crews, what would you guess his sport of choice would be? If you said anything but "football," you're crazy. Crews spent the early 1990s bouncing around the NFL. After short stints with the Los Angeles Rams, San Diego Chargers, Washington Football Team, and Philadelphia Eagles, Crews moved to Los Angeles to try and kickstart an acting career.

    When Did He Start Acting: Much of Crews's early Hollywood career was spent in comedic roles. Friday After NextMalibu's Most WantedWhite Chicks, and The Longest Yard showed off the actor's ace comic timing.

    His Action Bonafides: After getting his feet wet in comedies, Crews transitioned to more action-heavy roles in the late 2000s. Get SmartTerminator SalvationGamer, the Expendables franchise, and Deadpool 2 give the actor some serious action credits, even if he's probably best-known nowadays for his part in the ensemble cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

    1,673 votes
  • 6
    1,722 VOTES
    Dave Bautista
    Photo: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

    What Was His Sport: With muscles like those, football and wrestling are the two safest bets when trying to guess what Dave Bautista's first career was. If you guessed wrestling (or already knew), you win the big prize! A 20-year-long wrestling career saw Bautista become a very popular athlete who has managed to transition into acting later in life.

    When Did He Start Acting: Bautista's first credited acting role was in a 2006 episode of Smallville as Aldar, an alien wrongdoer from the Phantom Zone who fed on bone marrow. You know, just your typical first acting gig.

    His Action Bonafides: A background in wrestling has provided Bautista with a solid base on how to handle himself in action films, and it is clear he has put that to good use over the past few decades, as he has shown up in some of the biggest action franchises on the planet. RiddickGuardians of the GalaxySpectreBlade Runner 2049. With Dune and Army of the Dead just on the horizon, it's obvious Bautista isn't going anywhere any time soon.

    1,722 votes