Movie Stars Best Known for Sports Roles

Laura Depta@lauradeptaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2016

Movie Stars Best Known for Sports Roles

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    Sylvester Stallone is definitely most well-known for his sports movie roles and obviously one in particular.

    Stallone's name will always be synonymous with Rocky Balboa, but he's not the only actor closely associated with sports movies. For instance, when you hear "Emilio Estevez," what's the first thing you think of?

    Now, many actors have played iconic sports roles, but guys like Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro probably aren't best known for their sports movies. And while Will Ferrell has done a lot of sports films, he's ultimately a comedian, right? Old School and Wedding Crashers had nothing to do with sports (unless crashing weddings is a sport—debatable).

    Of course, it all depends on the age and personal preference of each individual moviegoer, but these 15 actors and actresses gave some of their most iconic and memorable performances in sports movies—to the point that many people might think of those films first upon hearing their names.

    As an important note, this is not meant to take away from what any of these actors have done in other genres. For instance, have you seen Michael B. Jordan in Fruitvale Station? Crushed it.

Paul Newman

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    When folks think "Paul Newman," they likely think "westerns," but they might also think "sports movies."

    Though the late actor made a name for himself in westerns such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, his sports movies—more specifically, movies on the sports periphery—earned him much acclaim. 

    For instance, he won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a pool hustler in the 1986 film The Color of Money. He was also nominated for his role as an ex-football player in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

    In addition, Newman played a boxer in Somebody Up There Likes Me, a baseball player in the 60-minute television special Bang the Drum Slowly and a hockey player/coach in the hilarious Slap Shot

    Finally, the actor was a race car driver in real life, and he played one in 1969's Winning and the animated film Cars.

Michael B. Jordan

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    One of Michael B. Jordan's first major roles was the teenage drug dealer Wallace in HBO's The Wire. (Why didn't you just stay at your grandma's house, Wallace?) He also graced the silver screen in Fruitvale Station and Fantastic Four.

    Still, some of Jordan's most famous roles have been in the sports arena. He played high school quarterback Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights, Apollo Creed's son Adonis in Creed and bonus—did you know he was also in Hard Ball with Keanu Reeves?

Hilary Swank

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    Hilary Swank won an Academy Award for Boys Don't Cry, so to say she's best-known for a sports role might be a stretch. Then again, she also won for her role as a female boxer opposite Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby.

    Fans of the Karate Kid franchise will also remember her as the female lead, Julie Pierce, in The Next Karate Kid.

Ralph Macchio

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    Speaking of The Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio will forever be linked to that franchise. He played Daniel in Parts I, II and III. And to those who don't think The Karate Kid qualifies as a sports movie, Macchio told Dan Patrick, yes, yes it does.

    Macchio also appeared in a 2006 film called Beer League about a ragtag group of softball players. And in real life, he's a longtime New York Jets fan, per Chris Strauss of For the Win.  

James Earl Jones

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    Yes, James Earl Jones did the voices for Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise and Mufasa in The Lion King. Still, the guy has been in a lot of sports movies over the years. He has played (to name a few):

    • A writer/baseball fan in Field of Dreams
    • A Negro League catcher in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings
    • The neighbor with the big, scary dog in The Sandlot
    • A boxer in The Great White Hope

    Is he better known for Star Wars or his sports resume? Depends on who you ask.

Dennis Quaid

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    It would be hard to think of Dennis Quaid and not have at least one sports movie pop into your head—probably more than one. Quantity alone gets him on this list. 

    Quaid's roles have covered several sports, including football (Everybody's All-American, The Express and Any Given Sunday), baseball (The Rookie), cycling (Breaking Away), track (Our Winning Season), surfing (Soul Surfer) and even soccer (Playing for Keeps).

    On why he's done so many sports movies, Quaid told ESPN's Page 2, "Drama is inherent in sports, and I think that's what draws me to these films."

    Quaid's brother Randy has also appeared in quite a few sports movies, so perhaps it's a family thing.

Woody Harrelson

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    Early in his career, Woody Harrelson became famous for the TV series Cheers, and years later in 2016, he is most recently well-known for his role as Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games franchise. 

    But in between, the man made a lot of sports movies, perhaps most notably White Men Can't Jump with Wesley Snipes. And he covered a lot of sports. Besides basketball in White Men Can't Jump and Semi-Pro, Harrelson also appeared in Wildcats (football), Kingpin (bowling), Play It to the Bone (boxing) and Surfer, Dude (surfing).

Wesley Snipes

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    Wesley Snipes was in all those Blade movies, but he was in even more sports movies. Depending on interest, people probably remember him with most clarity for White Men Can't Jump and Major League. Willie Mays Hayes is an iconic sports movie character, after all.

    In addition, Snipes appeared in Wildcats (about a high school football team), The Fan (about an obsessed baseball fan) and a 1998 TV movie called Futuresport. Besides all that, he showed his face in two boxing movies, Play It to the Bone and Undisputed.

Rene Russo

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    Rene Russo is the leading lady of sports movies. She played Kevin Costner's love interest in Tin Cup, Tom Berenger's in Major League and Al Pacino's in Two for the Money.

    Her last sports flick, Two for the Money, came out in 2005, but Russo's status as a sports movie all-star is not in jeopardy.  

Chelcie Ross

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    Chelcie Ross has never played the lead in a sports movie, but he has made memorable contributions to some of the best sports films of all time. 

    His character tried to have Gene Hackman's ousted as head coach in Hoosiers. In Rudy, he played Dan Devine, the coach with all the jerseys on his desk. And in Major League, he was the aging pitcher, Eddie Harris. 

    Ross, once called a "three-sport movie star" by Mark Podolski of the News-Herald, added more to his collection with roles in Trouble with the Curve and The Express

    Ross told Podolski in 2014: 

    Dozens of high school basketball coaches have told me that 'Hoosiers' has become a regular part of their coaching program. High school football teams watch 'Rudy' in preparation for their (weekend) game. Ryne Sandberg, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Tim Raines and Carlton Fisk are among the (ex-)major leaguers who have told me that they love 'Major League.' I'm starting to think we must have done something right.

Mark Wahlberg

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    Yes, Mark Wahlberg has done a lot of movies that are not about sports—although New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady did appear in Ted 2

    Still, some of his most notable roles have been in sports films. He played Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale in Invincible and boxer Micky Ward in The Fighter (which was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award in 2011). 

    Back in 1995, Wahlberg also appeared in The Basketball Diaries, and his 2014 film, The Gambler, dabbles in the world of sports betting. 

    It doesn't hurt that Wahlberg is also a noted sports fan, perhaps increasing the likelihood of folks associating him with the sports world in general. Or, that he "shot Derek Jeter" in the cop film The Other Guys

Carl Weathers

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    Carl Weathers played Rocky Balboa's rival—and later, friend—in Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III and Rocky IV.

    Quick, name another movie Weathers has been in. If you thought "Happy Gilmore," then point proven. The actor played a retired professional golfer and coach to Adam Sandler's character in the movie.

    Weathers also appeared in the less well-known football comedy, The Comebacks, which spoofed sports movies (ironically enough).

Emilio Estevez

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    Emilio Estevez has been in a lot of movies, particularly in the 1980s and '90s. Still, one of his most recognizable roles was that of youth hockey coach Gordon Bombay in The Mighty Ducks franchise.

    The actor is even an avid hockey fan and tweeted this during an Anaheim Ducks game in May, further fueling the fire that Estevez is, in fact, Gordon Bombay.

    He was also in The Breakfast Club, but he played a high school jock, so that counts, right?

Kevin Costner

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    If one actor is synonymous with baseball movies, it's Kevin Costner. He has starred in three iconic films about our national pastime: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game. Beyond that, his sports resume includes the golf flick Tin Cup and the more recent pro football drama Draft Day.

    No disrespect to Dances with Wolves and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, but there is an argument to be made that Costner is more closely aligned with the sports film genre than anything else.

Sylvester Stallone

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    Associated Press

    Sylvester Stallone has certainly appeared in non-sports movies—Rambo and The Expendables, to name two—but his most iconic and enduring character has been Rocky Balboa in the Rocky franchise.

    Stallone and Rocky have become almost synonymous over the years. He starred in the original 1976 film, followed by sequels Rocky II through Rocky V and Rocky Balboa. In 2015, he resurrected the aging boxer in a supporting role in the franchise's latest installment, Creed. The performance earned him a Golden Globe win and an Oscar nod.  

    He was also nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1976 for, of course, Rocky


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