The Most Awesomely Bad Performances By Athletes

Charles Barkley, Space JamWarner Bros via Everett Collection

Going back to the earliest days of both movies and television, producers have been enamored with putting sports celebrities on screen. They’re some of the most recognizable people in the country and bring along a built-in audience of fans from their athletic exploits.

Of course, there is one issue that’s a little hard to get around… most of the athletes that have been tapped to appear in movies can’t act. We’re taking a look at the most awesomely bad performances by athletes in movies… from ones that are just laughably amateurish to the truly unwatchable; the work by this group would make Lee Strasberg cry.

Shaquille O’Neal, Kazaam

In interviews, O’Neal can be utterly charming and he frequently looks like he’s having a good time. Absolutely none of that translates to the big screen, however. The 7-foot-1 basketball player is a genie who emerges from a boombox and tries to help a kid (Francis Capra) who’s got father issues. You’d think that a movie with a genie would be at least fun, but it has way too many dark moments and O’Neal’s mugging doesn’t help any. The movie was so bad that director Paul Michael Glaser hasn’t got behind the camera since.

Charles Barkley, Space Jam

It’s easy to point out that Michael Jordan is bad in the 1996 mix of animation and live action since he was the star of the show (along with Bugs Bunny, of course), but really, what did we expect? Jordan acted about as well as he ever did in his commercials and the rest of the NBA players, from Larry Bird to Patrick Ewing are equally awful. Barkley, however, as we’ve now learned from his work as a studio host for TNT has enough personality that he could’ve done better than the stiff performance that he gave.

Dan Marino, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

It’s always amazing when athletes can’t even play themselves convincingly. In Jim Carrey’s breakout hit, Marino — along with a dolphin — is the subject of a kidnapping scheme. Marino’s a good looking guy, but that’s about the best thing that we can say about his abilities as an actor. When you’re outdone by a sea mammal, things are pretty bad. Of course, as much as we don’t like his acting, we still like him better than the movie’s Mrs. Finkle, the character who famously said, “Dan Marino should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell.”

O.J. Simpson, Capricorn One

Back before the Juice had his troubles with the law, he had quite the acting career. Most people remember his turn as Leslie Nielsen’s partner in the Naked Gun series, but at one point, Simpson was legitimately trying to act. That’s what puts his turn in Capricorn on the list. Playing a duped astronaut, along with James Brolin and Sam Waterston, who is unwittingly part of a fake mission to Mars, Simpson is all caged fury at the outrage of it all. At least the movie has some pretty rad late ’70s hairdos going for it.

Wilt Chamberlain, Conan the Destroyer

At least there was logic to Chamberlain’s casting in the rushed sequel to Conan the Barbarian… if you’re looking for someone even more physically imposing than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wilt certainly fits the bill. The towering Chamberlain plays a guard named Bombaata who is supposed to help Conan on a quest before killing him. Let’s just say that doesn’t work out too well for The Stilt. Considering his claims of prodigious sexual conquests, we’re sure that Chamberlain had fun shooting the movie… and, really, he doesn’t look any more ridiculous than Grace Jones.  

Dennis Rodman, Double Team

How many people can say that they were in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme and they were the worst actor on set? Rodman, at the height of his fame for his outrageous behavior, made the Muscles from Brussels look like Robert De Niro in comparison. The plot of the movie runs along the lines of most other JCVD flicks, with Rodman playing an arms dealer. The Worm is tasked with saying such classic lines as, “You look like trouble. I like trouble.” There are a lot of explosions and Van Damme does his requisite butt-kicking, even taking on a tiger, but Rodman spends the movie seemingly smirking at the thought that someone’s paying him to do… well, whatever it was he was doing.

Mike Tyson, The Hangover

Yes, The Hangover is a very funny movie and, yes, the scenes with Tyson are hysterical. Those two facts do not make Iron Mike a good actor. The former heavyweight champion just plays a slightly less scary version of himself and you get the impression that the mixture of awe and fear on Bradley Cooper’s face wasn’t a stretch with the real Tyson standing in front of him. As comical as it was to watch — due largely to Tyson’s public persona — his reaction at the video of Zack Galifianakis peeing in his pool is on the level of a third grade school play. Just, um, maybe don’t tell him we said so.

Howie Long, Firestorm

The longtime Los Angeles Raiders defensive lineman did a credible job as one of John Travolta’s henchmen in the John Woo actioner Broken Arrow. That’s where Long’s acting career should’ve ended. Instead, he signed on to play the lead in a movie about the leader of a team of wild firefighters who has to rescue people trapped in a fire started by an escaped killer played by William Forsythe. The fact that someone actually bought that pitch is irrelevant and it’s hard to fault Long for taking the payday, but the preposterousness of the plot is matched only by the football star’s terrible line delivery. The best part of the movie is that it’s mercifully short, clocking in at just 89 minutes.

Terry Bradshaw, Failure to Launch

Let’s forget for a second the stretch of casting Bradshaw and Kathy Bates as Matthew McConaughey’s parents. Let’s even put aside the fact that the movie’s awfulness has more to do with the nonexistent chemistry between McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker than anything the four-time Super Bowl winner did. The question that truly needs to be addressed is who the heck thought the idea of having Bradshaw naked in the movie was a good idea? God love him for being down for it, but the image of the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s naked rear-end is one of those things that you can’t unsee. Bradshaw got his start in acting doing cameos in his buddy Burt Reynolds’ films and luckily, he doesn’t go too far out of his way to get parts. Why people feel the need to occasionally give him one is a whole other question.