Sports and movies have always gotten along. In fact, we can say that these two worlds are more alike than it could seem at first sight. Discipline, hard work and, of course, the capability of using the body correctly, in order to be the fastest or to express emotion, are necessary to triumph in Hollywood or in the sports field.
That’s why it is not surprising that many athletes are so attracted to pursuing a career in cinema. A lot of them have done it: from basketball players to swimmers, from gymnasts to wrestlers. However, not everyone can say that they competed at the highest level at the Olympics and then made it in the land of stars.
This is our list of Olympic athletes that also tried to triumph in the big or small screen. On this list, you will find athletes that succeed both in sports and the film industry, others that were better competing than playing dramatic roles. But the important thing is that they did it. Here are our top 25 Olympic athletes turned actors.
25. Jason Statham
This English actor is known for starring in action movies such as Snatch, Transporter, Fast & Furious or The Expendables but maybe not a lot of people know that he was also an Olympic athlete. Before starting a career at Hollywood, Statham was part of Britain's national diving team and he competed in the Summer Games of Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona 1992.
Unfortunately for him, he didn’t win any medals. But that doesn’t matter so much because afterwards he was able to find success as a model and actor thanks to other skills he developed practicing kung fu, kickboxing and karate as a child.
24. McKayla Maroni
This American retired artistic gymnast is also an actress, singer and an Internet meme. After winning the silver medal in the vault in the 2012 Olympics, a photo of McKayla showing her disappointment after falling in the second round went viral and she even recreated the famous meme with ex President Barack Obama.
That same year, she also debuted in the small screen thanks to a role in the CW series Hart of Dixie. She then appeared in Bones and made a cameo in Superstore as herself. Last year, she also launched her singing career with her single Wake Up Call.
23. Noel Harrison
Son of the British actor Rex Harrison, Noel Harrison followed his dad’s steps. As his father, he got a career in the entertainment business as an actor and singer. He starred in several movies from 1961 to 1999, and the NBC show The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., but he may have a more successful music career. His song The Windmills of your Mind, which he wrote for the film The Thomas Crown affair won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1968.
However, before all of that, when he was 15 years old, he began ski racing and he became a member of the British ski team. He was giant-slalom champion in 1953, and represented Great Britain at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo and at the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy.
22. Hillary Wolf
Maybe you don’t recognize her but you might know her as Megan, the older sister of Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone franchise. Before that role, Megan had acted in other television films and feature films. She is the only one on the list who was an actor and then turned Olympian.
She gave up acting in 1992, after the last Home Alone movie, but she still was in the public eye for another reason: her judo skills. She won the World Judo Championship for Juniors in 1994 and was part of the team that represented the United States at the 1996 and 2000 Summer Olympics.
21. Kurt Angle
On this list, we’re talking about very successful people. But maybe one of the most successful ones is Kurt Angle. He is a household name for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). He also has appeared in several Hollywood productions and won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in the Men's Heavyweight Freestyle.
He started his acting career in small roles in television movies. But then, he eventually landed parts in big Hollywood movies such as he Last Witch Hunter, and Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Sharknado 2: The Second One or the horror film Pro-Wrestlers vs Zombies.
20. Duke Kanahamoku
Duke Kahanamoku is well known for popularizing the sport of surfing, which was only practiced in Hawaii, at the start of the 20th century. This Hawaiian was also a great swimmer, considered as one of the best throughout history, he competed in the Summer games of 1912, 1920 and 1924 and won three gold medals and two silvers. At age 42, he also joined the US Olympic Water Polo team for the 1932 Games.
But he was also a businessman and an actor. He appeared in minor roles in several films from 1925 through 1955. Some of them were Isle of Escape, The Rescue, Girl of the Port and Wake of the Red Witch, which starred John Wayne.
19. Eleanor Holm
Eleanor Holm certainly had the charisma of a star. She was an American swimmer and competed in 1928 and 1932 Summer Olympics, where she won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke. But while she was at the event, she also was taking screen tests for several studios.
Sadly, she was expelled from the 1936 Summer Olympics team after she was allegedly found drunk on the transatlantic ship that would take the team to Germany. However, she at last found fame while co-starring in a Tarzan movie with Glenn Morris, another Olympian in this list.
18. Glenn Morris
Glenn Morris was a track and field athlete and he competed for the United States at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. He won a gold medal for the decathlon, and even imposed a world record at that time. As a champion, he then tried to have a Hollywood career.
He appeared in an uncredited role in She Married an Artist (1937) at Columbian Pictures and then he became the fourth Olympian to play Tarzan in the film Tarzan’s Revenge in 1938. The film didn’t receive good critics. After that, he took his last role in another film called Hold That Co-Ed and then left Hollywood forever.
17. Shaquille O’Neal
We all know Shaq had a highly successful career in basketball. The fourth time NBA champion, three times Final MVP, and 1992 Rookie of the Year also was part of the 1996 “Dream Team” who took home the gold medal in the Atlanta Olympic Games.
But he also tried to conquer the big screen with the basketball drama film Blue Chips, which saw the light in 1994. He portrayed a talented college basketball player who was part of a cheating scandal. He also starred in Kazaam and Steel but these films didn’t have support from the critics or the audience. He also has done cameos as himself.
16. Ronda Rousey
Rousey was the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo (bronze) at the 2008 Summer Olympics. After that, she pursued a career in mixed martial arts (MMA), and she also was the first female UFC champion and participated in the WWE. However, some people might know her for her roles in several movies and TV shows such as The Expendables 3, Furious 7 and Mile 22.
15. Jim Thorpe
Thorpe is known as the greatest American football player of his generation. And he certainly was an athlete in all the sense of the word because he also played professional baseball, despite his Native American descent in the time of the racial segregation. He also competed in the 1912 Summer Games and won gold at the pentathlon and decathlon. In Hollywood, he had various small roles in almost 70 productions, often portraying an Indian or an athlete.
14. Alexandre Despatie
The Canadian Alexandre Despatie was part of the Canadian diving team. He was world champion at the 1 and 3 meters springboards from 2005 to 2007, and he also has the record for being the world champion in all three individual categories (1, 3 and 10 meters platform). He won silver at the 2004 and 2008 Summer Olympics. After he retired, he tried acting and got a role in a teen movie called Taking the Plunge and its sequel. It seems that the acting didn’t work because he is now a broadcaster.
13. Cathy Rigby
Cathleen Roxanne Rigby was one of the pioneers in gymnastics in the United States. She competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics and helped popularize the sport across the country. However, she also is known for being a television actress, especially thanks to her role as Peter Pan, which she played for more than 30 years.
12. Michael Jordan
We all know Michael Jordan, the (arguably) greatest player of-all time. He led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships. Of course, he competed at the Summer Olympics, first in 1984 as a college student and then in 1992 as a part of the “Dream Team” in Barcelona, winning gold both times. Can we call Jordan an actor, actor? Maybe not, but he was recruited by Hollywood to star in the unforgettable Space Jam. And that's enough for us.
11. Harold Sakata
Harold Sakata was one of the most well-known American weightlifters. He won a silver medal in the 1948 Summer Olympics Games in the Men's Light-Heavyweight competition. He also was a professional wrestler and his nickname was “Tosh Togo”. Later, he decided to give acting a try and he was the villain in one of the most iconics James Bond movies, 007 against Goldfinger. Sakata acted until he died in 1982.
10. Estella Warren
Warren is a canadian actress and fashion model. She has walked for brands such as Perry Ellis and Victoria’s Secret, and has appeared in several films including Tim Burton's 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes as well as television roles in Law & Order, Beauty and the Beast, among others. But she’s also a synchronized swimmer. She won three national titles and competed at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
9. Rafer Johnson
Johnson won the gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in the decathlon, after he won silver in 1956. He also was the USA team's flag bearer at the 1960 Olympics and lit the Olympic cauldron at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. After he retired from athletics he acted in several films, including two Tarzan movies and the James Bond film, License to Kill.
8. Nat Pendleton
Nat Pendleton not only was an Olympic Wrestler and won silver in the 1920 Games, but he also appeared in 94 movies. He wasn't the star, though. He usually played supporting roles such as the gangsters or policemen. But he didn’t appear only in Hollywood films, he also tried to perform in stage productions. He even made it to Broadway with the plays Naughty Cinderella in 1925 and The Gray Fox in 1928.
7. Caitlyn Jenner
Before transitioning, Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner, was an Olympic athlete who also did her thing in front of the cameras. Jenner did several athletics activities, including track and field and football. She competed in the decathlon in the 1972 Games, but won gold in 1976. Then, Jenner played some guest roles in various television shows, such as The Fall Guy, Murder She Wrote, and The Love Boat. Now, she has a career in reality TV.
6. Bruce Bennett
As you might have noticed by now, a lot of Olympians were recruited to play Tarzan. And Bruce Bennet was one of them. But before making a career in Hollywood, where he did nearly 100 films, he was known as Herman Brix, and he won a silver medal at the 1928 Games for men’s shot, in the track and field portion.
Maybe his most acclaimed role was as Joan Crawford’s ex-husband in Mildred Pierce, but he had other notable films such as The Treasure of Sierra Madre, A Stolen Life, and Nora Prentiss.
5. Buster Crabble
This two-time Olympic swimmer also triumphed as a television actor. He won the gold medal for 400-meter freestyle swimming in the 1932 Olympics Game. After that, he was booked to star in several films and television roles from 1933 to the mid 50s. His most famous roles were the comic heroes: Tarzan, Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.
4. Lebron James
Lebron James is one of the most dominating basketball players of all time. He is a fourth time NBA champion, fourth time Finals MVP and fourth time Most Valuable Player. Of course, he has also led Team USA to success in the Summer Olympics with three consecutive medals, including two golds.
Like Jordan and Shaq, Lebron has also tried acting. So far, he has only played himself but he received good critics for his performance in Trainwreck, the comedy starring Amy Shcumer where he played Aaron’s (Bill Hader) best friend. He also will star in Space Jam 2, his first leading role.
3. Serena Williams
Serena Williams is not only one of the greatest tennis players of all time, she also is a designer, businesswoman and actress. She has 23 Grand Slams, and has won four gold medals at the Olympics: three along with her sister Venus in doubles and one in singles at the 2012 Games.
Williams has appeared in several television shows, such as sitcoms (My Wife and Kids and The Bernie Mac Show) and dramas like ER, The Division, Drop Dead Diva, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She also had cameos in Pixels and The Simpsons.
2. Bob Anderson
From all the athletes on this list, maybe Bob Anderson has been the one who has the most impact on filming. He practiced fencing and won medals in the British Empire Games in 1950, but he didn’t win any in the 1952 Olympic Games. However, thanks to his knowledge with the sword, Bob Anderson won a place in Hollywood as an instructor for many actors, such as Errol Flynn, and in productions as The Lord of The Rings. But he is most known as the man behind the mask of Darth Vader during the lightsaber battles in the original Star Wars trilogy.
1. Johnny Weissmuller
Johnny Weissmuller has the honor of being the first actor (an Olympian) who portrayed Tarzan in the first live-action version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character, which he played in 12 movies. But before that, he was one the best swimmers in the world. He broke several records, including being the fastest to complete the 100 meters (52 seconds). He also competed in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, in swimming but also water polo and won five gold medals.