The 22 Highest-Grossing Movies Starring Athletes

Gabrielle Olya
·8 min read

ESPN’s Michael Jordan docuseries, “The Last Dance,” kept audiences glued to their screens in May, with the final two episodes attracting more than 5 million viewers each, Deadline reported. And this isn’t the first time Jordan has brought eyeballs to the screen for something other than his athletic skills — let’s not forget that the NBA great starred in the classic kids film “Space Jam” back in 1996.

Jordan isn’t the only athlete to try out acting while still pursuing a pro sports career — and some of these players have landed roles in incredibly popular films. GOBankingRates rounded up some of the highest-grossing films with athletes acting in them and ranked them from lowest- to highest-grossing. Box-office figures are from worldwide earnings and are not adjusted for inflation. Take a look at these movie star athletes, some of whom are becoming pretty high-grossing actors.

Last updated: Oct. 27, 2020

'Steel'

  • Starring athlete: Shaquille O’Neal

  • Box office: $1.71 million

Shaquille O’Neal is no stranger to the big (and small) screen. He has 44 acting credits to his name, including a total of three movies on this ranking. At the time “Steel” came out in 1997, O’Neal was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers.

'Black & White'

  • Starring athlete: Allan Houston

  • Box office: $5.54 million

NBA player Allan Houston has starred in four films during his time off the court, most recently 2004’s “Laws of Attraction.” Houston was playing for the New York Knicks when “Black & White” was released in 1999.

'My Giant'

  • Starring athlete: Gheorghe Mure?an

  • Box office: $8.07 million

“My Giant” marked Gheorghe Mure?an’s acting debut. The NBA center took off the 1997-98 season, which likely gave him the downtime to film the Billy Crystal comedy.

'Double Team'

  • Starring athlete: Dennis Rodman

  • Box office: $11.44 million

Dennis Rodman dabbled in acting throughout his NBA career and has continued to act since retiring from the sport. In 1997’s “Double Team,” Rodman — who was at the time playing for the Chicago Bulls — starred opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Rodman is set to star in the upcoming film “Mission: S.O.P.”

'Kazaam'

  • Starring athlete: Shaquille O’Neal

  • Box office: $18.94 million

“Kazaam,” released in 1996, marked Shaquille O’Neal’s second major film role.

'He Got Game'

  • Starring athlete: Ray Allen

  • Box office: $21.57 million

Ray Allen starred as Denzel Washington’s basketball-playing son in Spike Lee’s 1998 film “He Got Game.” And Allen wasn’t the only pro athlete in the film — it also starred Rick Fox and Jim Brown.

'The Marine'

  • Starring athlete: John Cena

  • Box office: $22.17 million

WWE star John Cena might almost be as well-known for his acting as he is for his wrestling. He has 49 acting credits, including 2006’s “The Marine” — his first big acting role.

Cena has a number of films in the works, including “F9,” “The Suicide Squad” and “Project X-Traction.”

'Blue Chips'

  • Starring athlete: Shaquille O’Neal

  • Box office: $23.07 million

“Blue Chips” was Shaquille O’Neal’s first acting role and also his biggest box-office success to date. O’Neal was playing for the Orlando Magic in 1994 when the film was released.

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'Kingpin'

  • Starring athlete: Roger Clemens

  • Box office: $25.02 million

Baseball pro Roger Clemens scored a few acting roles during the ’90s but has mostly played himself. When he starred in “Kingpin” in 1996, he was playing for the Boston Red Sox. Clemens retired in 2007.

'The Princess Bride'

  • Starring athlete: Andre the Giant

  • Box office: $30.88 million

Andre the Giant mostly stuck to the wrestling ring, but the WWE star did have a couple of acting roles that only someone of his stature could have played. In 1976, he played Bigfoot in “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and in 1987, he played Fezzik in “The Princess Bride.”

'The Dirty Dozen'

  • Starring athlete: Jim Brown

  • Box office: $45.3 million

NFL great Jim Brown made his big-screen debut in “Rio Conchos” in 1964 and starred in “The Dirty Dozen” three years later. While filming the movie, the former Cleveland Browns player announced that he was retiring from the NFL to pursue acting full time, even though he still had a year left in his contract, The New York Times reported.

Brown has gone on to amass a total of 52 acting credits.

'Airplane!'

  • Starring athlete: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  • Box office: $83.45 million

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a huge basketball star at the time he shot “Airplane!”

“The Lakers had just won the championship, and Kareem was the MVP, so he was a big deal,” his co-star Frank Ashmore told the A.V. Club.

Director Jerry Zucker revealed in the A.V. Club interview that Abdul-Jabbar was paid just $35,000 for his memorable role of Roger Murdock: “I think we offered him $30,000, and then the agent asked for $35,000 because that?s how much this rug cost that Kareem wanted to buy. It was an oriental rug ? an art piece, not one to walk on, I don?t think ? so our initial reaction was, ‘That?s got to be the best line we?ve ever heard from an agent.’ It was like, ‘Boy, this guy?s really creative!’ But then a couple of weeks later, there?s an article in Time with a picture of Kareem standing in front of the oriental rug that he?d bought for $35,000 after we?d paid him.”

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'Predator'

  • Starring athlete: Jesse Ventura

  • Box office: $98.4 million

Professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura made his movie debut in 1987’s “Predator.” He went on to star in several other films, including “The Running Man” and “Demolition Man.” In addition to wrestling and acting, Ventura has also had success in politics, serving as the governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003.

'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'

  • Starring athlete: Dan Marino

  • Box office: $107.22 million

NFL quarterback Dan Marino played himself in 1994’s “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Marino played for the Miami Dolphins for the entirety of his professional sports career, which spanned from 1983 to 1999.

'Trainwreck'

  • Starring athlete: LeBron James

  • Box office: $140.8 million

“Trainwreck” was LeBron James’ first movie role. Up next, the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player is set to star in “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” due out in 2021.

'Dodgeball'

  • Starring athlete: Lance Armstrong

  • Box office: $168.42 million

“Dodgeball” is Lance Armstrong’s one and only big-screen role. The pro cyclist played himself in the 2004 film.

'The Other Guys'

  • Starring athlete: Derek Jeter

  • Box office: $170.46 million

Derek Jeter appeared alongside Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in 2010 action-comedy “The Other Guys.” Jeter — who played for the New York Yankees for his entire career — retired from pro baseball four years after the movie’s release.

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'Space Jam'

  • Starring athlete: Michael Jordan

  • Box office: $230.42 million

NBA legend Michael Jordan filmed “Space Jam” right after the Chicago Bulls’ 1995 playoff loss. The idea for the kids film actually came from Jordan?s agent, David Falk, who pitched it to Warner Brothers as a way to capitalize on Jordan’s popularity both at the box office and for merchandising, Vulture reported.

The long-awaited “Space Jam” sequel is due out in the summer of 2021, but LeBron James will be taking the place of Jordan.

'Dumb and Dumber'

  • Starring athlete: Cam Neely

  • Box office: $247.28 million

Cam Neely has actually played the small role of Sea Bass in three Jim Carrey movies: “Dumb and Dumber” (1994), “Me, Myself & Irene” (2000) and “Dumb and Dumber To” (2014) — but it’s clear that hockey is his true passion. The long-time Boston Bruin player is now the NHL team’s president.

'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum'

  • Starring athlete: Boban Marjanovi?

  • Box office: $326.71 million

NBA player Boban Marjanovi? made his acting debut in 2015’s “We Will Be the World Champions;” his second and only other acting credit is 2019’s “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” Marjanovi? currently plays for the Dallas Mavericks.

'There's Something About Mary'

  • Starring athlete: Brett Favre

  • Box office: $369.88 million

After playing a janitor in the 1996 film “Reggie’s Prayer” and himself in the TV series “Arli$$,” NFL player Brett Favre made a memorable appearance — as Brett Favre — in 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary.” The Hall of Famer was playing for the Green Bay Packers at the time the movie came out.

'Guardians of the Galaxy'

  • Starring athlete: Dave Bautista

  • Box office: $772.78 million

WWE star Dave Bautista is now a full-fledged member of the Marvel Studios universe, portraying Drax in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers” films. He is set to reprise the role for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and has several other films in the works.

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