In Hollywood, achieving instant success is a rare feat for actors. Even the most adored stars have to put in a lot of hard work and take on various roles before they become well-known. Sadly, this means that fans often miss out on the smaller, less-known roles they played earlier in their careers. These roles are usually in movies or shows that didn’t receive much praise and quickly faded away from public memory. Sometimes, actors even surprise their audience by taking on roles that are completely opposite to what they’re known for, like a friendly actor playing a villain.
One category of roles that often slips fans’ minds is when their beloved actors portrayed athletes in sports movies. Because sports movies usually have a large ensemble cast, it’s easy for the smaller characters to go unnoticed. Plus, it can be quite a challenge for fans to recall the sports roles played by actors who aren’t typically seen as athletic characters. But hey, let’s not dwell on the why’s and how’s of their forgetfulness. Instead, let’s take a thrilling journey back in time and rediscover some of these epic sports films, and let’s give a round of applause to these well-known actors for their incredible performances.
1. Everyone In ‘Angels in the Outfield’
Angels in the Outfield is a baseball movie from 1994 that tells the story of two sneaky boys who love attending Angels games. One of the boys, Roger, prays to God for the Angels to win, and something extraordinary happens – he starts seeing real angels who help the team in future games.
Although many fans of the film recall big stars like Danny Glover as the Angels’ manager and Christopher Lloyd as the head angel, the cast actually includes more recognizable names than most people remember. Surprisingly, the role of Roger is played by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Additionally, some of the team’s players are famous actors too, including Tony Danza, Matthew McConaughey, and Adrien Brody.
2. Anthony Mackie In ‘Million Dollar Baby’
Anthony Mackie is widely known as Sam Wilson, the current Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although he has appeared in numerous films, this role is what truly stands out for him. Prior to joining the superhero franchise, Mackie showcased his talent in a range of movies, including the critically acclaimed war drama The Hurt Locker and lighthearted romantic comedies like What’s Your Number.
Back in 2004, Mackie had a supporting role in the boxing film Million Dollar Baby. This outstanding movie featured a stellar cast including Hilary Swank, Clint Eastwood, and Morgan Freeman. It was highly praised and even received several Oscars, with Swank and Freeman taking home awards for their exceptional performances, and Eastwood earning recognition for his directing skills. Although Mackie delivered a great performance in his minor role, it unfortunately got overshadowed by these award-winning leading roles.
3. Vince Vaughn In ‘Rudy’
Vince Vaughn, known for his comedic performances in movies like Dodgeball and Wedding Crashers, has also showcased his versatility by taking on dramatic roles in True Detective and Hacksaw Ridge.
Although Rudy, released in 1993, is widely regarded as one of the most inspiring sports films, many fans may not recall that Vaughn was part of the cast. In the film, he played the character Jamie O’Hara, a Notre Dame tailback. However, Vaughn’s role in Rudy was relatively minor, which could explain why his involvement is often overlooked.
It’s worth noting that Vaughn’s appearance in Rudy occurred early in his career, and he was credited as “Vincent Vaughn” rather than his now-familiar nickname.
4. Jason Bateman In ‘Necessary Roughness’
Jason Bateman got his start in acting at a young age, appearing on Seasons 7 and 8 of Little House on the Prairie. Since then, he has become well-known for his roles on TV shows like Arrested Development and Ozark. In between his TV work, Bateman has also dabbled in comedy films such as The Switch and Horrible Bosses.
It might come as a surprise to those familiar with Bateman’s more recent uptight characters that he once played an athlete in the film Necessary Roughness. The movie revolves around the Fightin’ Armadillos football team as they try to rebuild after a scandal. In this less-traditional role, Bateman portrays a performer not typically associated with physicality.
Unfortunately, Necessary Roughness didn’t receive a warm reception due to its heavy reliance on sports movie clichés. As a result, not many people are aware that Bateman was involved in the film.
5. Robert Downey Jr. In ‘Johnny Be Good’
Robert Downey Jr. is widely recognized for his portrayal of Tony Stark in Marvel’s Iron Man and the Avengers movies. Alongside these iconic roles, he has also found success in other blockbuster films like the Sherlock Holmes series. Additionally, Downey received recognition for his controversial performance in Tropic Thunder, earning an Oscar nomination.
However, it’s interesting to note that Downey’s career wasn’t always in the spotlight. In the 1988 film Johnny Be Good, he played the best friend of Anthony Michael Hall’s character, Johnny. The movie revolves around Johnny, a talented high school quarterback who attracts the attention of college football teams. Despite the presence of talented actors such as Uma Thurman and even Downey’s own father, Robert Downey Sr., Johnny Be Good failed both commercially and critically. Sadly, it is seldom remembered, even by ardent fans of RDJ.
6. John C. Reilly In ‘For Love of the Game’
John C. Reilly, known for his comedic roles, gained popularity for his hilarious performance alongside Will Ferrell in Step Brothers. However, he has also ventured into action blockbusters such as Guardians of the Galaxy and Kong: Skull Island. Additionally, Reilly has lent his voice to various animated characters, including the title character in Wreck-It Ralph.
In a departure from his typical comedic roles, Reilly took on a different type of character in the 1999 film For Love of the Game. Here, he portrays a major league baseball catcher for the Detroit Tigers. Fans familiar with Reilly’s funny antics may be pleasantly surprised to see him taking on the role of a professional athlete with his life seemingly well put together.
7. Felicity Jones In ‘Chalet Girl’
Felicity Jones, known for her roles in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Theory of Everything, has been in the acting industry since the mid-’90s. However, it wasn’t until the 2010s that she gained wider recognition by landing bigger projects.
But before she became a familiar face, Jones appeared in a sports romance film called Chalet Girl, which unfortunately didn’t make a lasting impression on audiences. In the film, she portrayed Kim, a former skateboard champion who found love while working at a ski chalet. Chalet Girl had a disappointing box office performance, earning only around $5 million worldwide despite having a budget of £8 million. It’s no wonder why most people are unaware of the film’s existence, let alone Jones’ role in it.
8. Walton Goggins In ‘Major League: Back to the Minors’
Walton Goggins is an actor known for his impressive range. He can convincingly portray a devoted father like Wade Felton in The Unicorn, as well as transform into the deadbeat conman Baby Billy in The Righteous Gemstones. Goggins is also well-versed in the Western genre, having appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight.
In the earlier days of his career, Goggins took on a role in the third Major League film, called Major League: Back to the Minors. Unfortunately, this film didn’t quite live up to the success and reception of its predecessors. It may be because it was a stand-alone sequel, rather than a direct continuation of the previous films’ storyline. As a result, there hasn’t been much reason to revisit this film, and Goggins’s appearance in it is often overlooked when discussing his career.
9. Nicolas Cage In ‘The Boy in Blue’
Nicolas Cage, known for his extensive filmography spanning various genres, has appeared in over 100 movies and TV shows. From his eccentric portrayal of Dracula in Renfield to his action-packed roles in films like Face/Off, Cage has left a lasting impression on audiences. He has even played himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
However, with such a prolific career, it is only natural that some of Cage’s less remarkable characters have been overshadowed. One such role is his portrayal of real-life sculler Ned Hanlan in The Boy in Blue. Unfortunately, this film did not resonate well with viewers, causing Cage’s performance to fade into the background amidst his impressive body of work.
10. Michelle Rodriguez In ‘Blue Crush’
Michelle Rodriguez is widely recognized for her role as a key member of the Fast and the Furious franchise. She has become a constant presence in the series, earning her fame. Casting directors often turn to Rodriguez when they need a tough and no-nonsense character, as seen in her portrayal of Holga the barbarian in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.
Following her breakthrough in the first Fast and the Furious film, Rodriguez also took on the role of one of the leading surfers in Blue Crush. While it is enjoyable to witness Rodriguez conquer the waves, the movie received mixed reviews. It is understandable that with her involvement in major franchise movies like Avatar, some viewers may overlook smaller projects such as Blue Crush.
11. Keanu Reeves In ‘Youngblood’
Keanu Reeves is truly fortunate to have not just one, but several roles that have defined his career in the film industry. While many newer fans may recognize him as the vengeful ex-assassin John Wick, Reeves has been adored by audiences for decades thanks to his memorable characters such as Neo in The Matrix and Ted from the Bill & Ted series. Apart from these iconic franchises, Reeves has also starred in numerous other successful films like Speed and Point Break.
Interestingly, not many fans are aware that Point Break wasn’t the first collaboration between Reeves and Patrick Swayze. The two actors had previously worked together in 1986’s Youngblood, a film that revolves around a young and talented hockey star named “Pretty Boy” (played by Rob Lowe) who dreams of playing in the NHL. Youngblood marked Reeves’s debut in the film industry. However, due to his relatively minor role in the movie and its lukewarm reception, this particular film is often overlooked when discussing Keanu Reeves’s impressive filmography.