When Athletes Become Action Stars

It’s a common practice now for famous athletes to look for work in movies. After all, they need something to do once they retire from sports at the ripe old age of 30. Sometimes athletes will try to make a break into the world of comedy, which almost always ends badly (see Shaq in Kazaam). The more common–and more sensible–route is to go into action films. After all, the athletes already have the muscles, plus their inability to speak more than one sentence coherently at a time doesn’t hurt them when scripts are compounded entirely of one-liners. Here are some of the best and worst examples of athletes in action films.

The Rock as The Scorpion King
The Rock, a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson, is probably the most successful example of an athlete transitioning into film. It seems his stardom has advanced to the point where many viewers don’t know he got his start as a pro-wrestler whose whole schtick revolved around raising an eyebrow and yelling “Do you smell…” His first big break was The Mummy Returns, where he played the ludicrous villain The Scorpion King. Somehow, this character was so successful that it spawned a spinoff featuring The Scorpion King’s life before he’s killed in The Mummy 2. Weirdly, this then led to a prequel, which is technically the prequel to a prequel. The Scorpion King, to be fair, was a horrible, horrible film, but it did have one of my favorite punchlines. A soothsayer tells The Rock something like “I prophesize that your kingdom will fall,” to which The Rock replies “I prophesize you’re dead!” before impaling him with a spear.

Hulk Hogan in Three Ninjas High School at Mega Mountain
Maybe some of my readers are too young to know that Hulk Hogan was once something more than a reality TV star. Once upon a time, he was an extremely popular pro-wrestler, so popular in fact that he inspired “Hulkamania,” which sounds like the name of an eating disorder. He also made oodles of kids movies in the 90s, including Three Ninjas: High School at Mega Mountain, a movie I barely remember but have a hankering to Netflix soon, especially if the clips below are an indication for how ridiculous the entire film is.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar In The Game of Death
Anyone with a brain knows that former basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar is about as cool as it gets. If his distinguished sports career wasn’t enough, throw in how he’s now a writer for the Huffington Post and has already made waves by writing up a very scathing review of the HBO hit Girls. I happen to be a fan of Girls but even his dismissal of one of my favorite shows doesn’t diminish him at all in my eyes, and for one big reason: the dude once fought Bruce Lee! This occured in The Game of Death, essentially Bruce Lee’s final film (avoid the sequel that was poorly schlocked together after Bruce Lee’s death). The premise of the film is that Bruce Lee and his cohorts have to ascend a large tower, encountering new foes on every level. Whose waiting on the last level? Kareem!

What are your favorite examples of athletes becoming action stars?


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