Athletes have a long and noble history in film, usually limited to being killed or injured, engaging in violence, or both. Many have made cameos portraying themselves (Brett Favre in Something About Mary or Dan Marino in Ace Ventura come to mind), and others have made appearances in athletic portrayals–Pele in Victory, for example. However, the best of the best can be diverse and go outside those roles to really deliver. Also, by limiting this category to athletes in movies in non-athletic roles, it allows me to complete ignore Space Jam and not decide between Shawn Bradley and Muggsy Bogues.
Of course, many issues present themselves. Who is an athlete? I’ve apparently, in looking over my list, drawn the line between professional body builder and professional wrestler. I’m not sure there is any logic behind it, but Arnold will not be making an appearance. Also, apologies to Shaquille O’Neal, Gheorghe Muresan, Bubba Smith, and the Rock, none of whom cracked my list. I’m also the guy who never punches even numbers on the microwave, so you get a top 11, not a top 10. Here are my top 11 athletes portraying non-athletes in movies.
11. Carl Weathers in Predator. Weathers had a brief career with the Oakland Raiders before turning to acting. My non-athlete role eliminates his turn as Apollo Creed, but he still gets on the list for his fantastic death scene at the hands of the Predator.
10. Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan. Weismuller was an Olympic swimmer in the 1920′s who won 5 gold medals. He then went on to star in 12 Tarzan movies, perfecting the Tarzan yell. He also gets on this list because he is a distant relative of my grandmother, though the connection is as tenuous as the Ferris Bueller 31 Flavors speech. We do look similar in a loin cloth.
9. O.J. Simpson as Nordberg in The Naked Gun. What better way to remember the upcoming anniversary of the infamous Bronco chase than to include Simpson getting repetitively beat up as Nordberg.
8. Vinny Jones as Big Chris in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The Welsh footballer known for his rough ways was a revelation in one of the greatest heist films of all-time. Unfortunately, it also introduced the world to Jason Statham.
7. Roger Clemens as Skidmark in Kingpin. You don’t mow another guy’s lawn! Yes, by including him on this list, I’m saying that a movie about bowling doesn’t qualify as athletic (glares at CRM). Considered holding Clemens out on some vague character clause I wrote, but then I looked at the rest of the list and decided against it.
6. Jim Brown in The Dirty Dozen. I had a long comment where I statistically analyzed Jim Brown’s acting career to show that he was not the best athlete in film history. But I forgot to save the work.
5. Cam Neely as Seabass in Dumb & Dumber. Kick his ass, Seabass.
4. John Matuszak as Sloth in Goonies (plus bonus points for also being Tonda in Caveman). You may have missed that John Matuszak was Sloth, because of the appearance. Or perhaps you didn’t know who Matuszak, a gregarious defensive linemen who played on the 1980 Raiders Super Bowl team, was. Either way, he was involved in two memorable roles of my childhood. And yes, I just called a movie with Ringo Starr and Shelley Long memorable, I didn’t say what kind of memorable.
3. Andre the Giant as Fezzik in The Princess Bride. Andre was a delight as Fezzik, from the rhyming, to the fight on the rocks, to his role wearing the large black cloak as they stormed the castle. And yes, I’m counting a professional wrestler as an athlete.
2. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar as Roger Murdock in Airplane. By putting him second, I don’t have to erect a statue in his honor. I know this may be a violation of my rules about non-athlete cameos, but he was playing Roger Murdock, not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. See, his nametag even says it–Roger Murdock. And you try dragging Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.
1. Alex Karras as Mongo in Blazing Saddles. The knockout of the horse by itself could be enough, but then you have Candygram for Mongo, and the immortal line “Mongo only pawn in game of life.” Oh, and Alex Karras should be in the Hall of Fame, and I’m not talking the movie Hall of Fame.
[photo via Getty]