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14 Unexpectedly Good Athlete Movie Cameos

Updated July 24, 2021 1.7k votes 207 voters 36.7k views14 items

List RulesVote up the athletes who nailed their cameos.

Any athlete can play themselves, but it is the athletes who can act that get our attention. Sometimes, the mere sight of a famous athlete is enough to get a laugh, especially when you never thought you'd see that person on the big screen. Sometimes, a cameo gives an athlete the ability to flex their acting muscles, causing audience members to question if there is anything they can't do. Can you even imagine being good at two things as difficult as professional sports and Hollywood acting?

Maybe it's Cam Neely or Roger Clemens playing angry tough guys in films like Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin. Maybe it's Lawrence Taylor or John McEnroe poking fun at themselves in Adam Sandler movies like The Waterboy and Mr. Deeds. Maybe it's Dan Marino or Reggie Jackson being key parts of the plot in films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Naked Gun. Whatever the case, here are the athlete cameos that shock you with their surprisingly high quality.

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  • Alex Karras, the bruising defensive tackle who spent his entire NFL career with the Detroit Lions, was an interesting person. He participated in pro wrestling for a bit as a young man. He wrote both a memoir and a novel. He was one of the subjects of two George Plimpton-penned books. And the man loved to act. He was even one of the main characters in the popular 1980s sitcom Webster!

    But if there is one role that enshrined Karras in the hearts of filmgoers of numerous generations, it was that of Mongo in Blazing Saddles. The 1974 Mel Brooks classic is filled to the brim with memorable characters, but none more so than the man strong enough to punch out a horse. Technically, Mongo is more than a mere cameo, but there was no way Alex Karras didn't deserve some recognition. 

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  • Come on, you know Dan Marino. Even if you can't tell a defensive end from a punt returner, you know Dan Marino. His nickname is "Dan the Man"! He has been in the cultural consciousness since he started playing college football more than four decades ago. He was even in a Hootie and the Blowfish music video. The guy may have never won a Super Bowl, but he is still considered to be one of the best quarterbacks to ever lace up his shoes.

    When Ace Ventura: Pet Detective was in production with a script centered around the abduction of the Miami Dolphins' mascot, well, there was no way you could get that movie made in the 1990s without Marino making an appearance. And when Jim Carrey and Marino are being held at gunpoint near the end of the film, watching the two pleading with the villain to shoot the other one is actually pretty funny.

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  • It is difficult to overstate how big Mike Tyson was in his heyday. He singlehandedly brought boxing back to the mainstream in a big way as he took down every man who dared to oppose him. Often considered one of the greatest heavyweights to ever put on the gloves, "Iron Mike" reigned as the undisputed heavyweight champion for three straight years in the late '80s. Nowadays, he is most often remembered for his very controversial personal life and for biting Evander Holyfield's ear during a match in 1997.

    If a cameo appearance is capable of stealing the entire show, it would be Mike Tyson in The Hangover. Sure, Tyson has appeared in numerous television shows and movies as himself since becoming a star, but his Hangover cameo was on another level. We're sure Phil Collins appreciated the inevitable boost in sales of "In the Air Tonight" on the back of Tyson air-drumming it during his signature scene.

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  • Playing 21 seasons in the MLB is no small feat. But the accolades Reggie Jackson racked up during his decades-spanning career elevate him to one of the game's all-time greats. "Mr. October" proved to be one of the best post-season hitters in the history of professional baseball, slugging his teams to five World Series championships between 1972 and 1978. 

    After retiring, Jackson gave one of the most memorable cameos of the 1980s in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! The Leslie Nielsen-starring farce is a true comedy gem, and the climax of the film sees Jackson brainwashed with the task of taking out the Queen of England as she is in California, taking in the glory of an Angels game. That is Reggie Jackson about to shoot the Queen! Come on, that's awesome and wild and weird and dumb.

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