As Dave Bautista joins Netflix’s Unleashed, we look at the sports stars who are winning on film

·7-min read
 (Getty Images for SXSW)
(Getty Images for SXSW)

Dave Bautista is set to join the cast of a new Netflix crime drama, currently titled Unleashed.

The Guardians of the Galaxy actor is in talks to play a police officer who works with dogs to fight crime. After his canine partner dies on the job, Bautista’s character vows never to work with a hound again. That is, however, before he is partnered with Zeus.

Unleashed will be executive produced by Jim and Brian Kehoe, the duo behind the forthcoming animated series Futha Mucka, which will star Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson.

Bautista has been extremely busy recently, with roles in the upcoming sequel Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, and in M Night Shyamalan’s Knock at the Cabin, which has reportedly wrapped filming. He is also currently shooting Dune: Part Two.

Bautista comes in a long line of athletes who have made the move into film, and for some – such as Arnold Schwarzenegger – the change over was so successful that most people today regard the sportsmen primarily as actors.

Bautista himself started out in the WWE arena before moving into acting in 2006. He began his second career with cameos in films Relative Strangers and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? and then later in Aussie soap Neighbours and American action-comedy Chuck.

His big break in film came in 2011, when he starred in Brian A Miller’s House of the Rising Sun, which confirmed the wrestler’s acting capabilities. Since then he’s had roles in some of Hollywood’s biggest films including Guardians of the Galaxy, Spectre, Blade Runner 2049, Avengers: Infinity War and Dune. Most recently he returned to play Drax the Destroyer in Thor: Love and Thunder.

So do sportmen do it best? We look at the other athletes who went from champion to Hollywood star.

Conor McGregor

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The Irish mixed martial champion is the newest member of this vocational club: on Thursday it was announced that UFC fighter Conor McGregor will make his acting debut in the forthcoming film Road House, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal.

The forthcoming film is a remake of the 1989 action classic of the same name, which starred Patrick Swayze as a bouncer at a roadside bar. In Prime Video’s new remake, Gyllenhaal will take up Swayze’s role, playing a UFC fighter who becomes a bouncer at the titular bar in Florida Keys.

McGregor will join a cast that includes Billy Magnussen (Velvet Buzzsaw, No Time To Die), Daniela Melchior (The Suicide Squad), Gbemisola Ikumelo (Sex Education, A League of Their Own) and Lukas Gage (The White Lotus). Doug Liman (Locked Down, American Made) is set to direct and Anthony Bagarozzi (The Nice Guys) and screenwriter Charles Mondry are behind the script.

The fighter, who was listed in Forbes as the number one highest earning athlete in 2021 after he sold his whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve, has supposedly been courted by Hollywood for a while but was waiting for the right role.

According to Deadline, insiders said that when McGregor found out that there was interest in seeing him play in Road House, he watched and enjoyed the 1989 original and then agreed to come on board after meeting with producer Joel Silver. So will McGregor make it in Hollywood like some of his contemporaries? There’s certainly a well-trodden path to follow.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Arnold Schwarzenegger has packed a whole lot into his 75 years on planet Earth. He is probably best known today as the actor-turned Californian Governor (he won two terms: first in 2003 and then in 2007) but he started his career as a bodybuilder. In fact, he competed in Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting contests and was the youngest ever Mr Olympia (the international bodybuilding competition) winning when he was just 23 years old.

Dwayne Johnson

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, is known to younger audiences for his roles in the Fast and Furious franchise, Moana, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Shazam! and Jungle Cruise, but to others, he is still best-remembered for finding international fame as a WWE wrestler. WWE has its wrestlers putting on shows in front of huge crowds, which makes the often subsequent move into acting unsurprising.

Out of the WWE alumni, Johnson is the most prominent cross-over: he became a legend in the WWE arena and has since made as much as $800 million (in part because of a lucrative stake in tequila brand Teremana Tequila). He will now be playing the titular role in the forthcoming DC superhero film Black Adam – a covetable role for any actor in Hollywood.

John Cena

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Yet another WWE champion who made the cross-over to the big screen, today John Cena is just as well known for his roles in The Suicide Squad, F9 and Dolittle as he is for his moves in the ring and feud with Dwayne Johnson.

Jason Statham

Commonwealth Games moments: Jason Statham dives in 1990 (BBC)
Commonwealth Games moments: Jason Statham dives in 1990 (BBC)

Jason Statham used to dive for England. Yes, you read that right. The actor, who is now best-known for playing the tough guy in Hollywood’s biggest action-thrillers, spent 12 years on Britain’s National Swimming Squad. In 1990, when he was 22 years old, he even competed for England at the Commonwealth Games.

Gina Carano

 (Getty Images for Disney)
(Getty Images for Disney)

Gina Carano had just one loss out of eight matches during her career as a mixed martial artist. She headlined major MMA events and even became known as the “face of women’s MMA” before moving into film. She has since starred in Haywire, Fast & Furious 6 and Deadpool.

Vinnie Jones

Vinny Jones in 1997 (Getty Images)
Vinny Jones in 1997 (Getty Images)

Watford-born Vinnie Jones spent the first half of his life as a professional footballer, playing for clubs including Wimbledon, Leeds United and Chelsea. He became famous for his aggressive style of play, an image he carried through into his acting career: the same year Jones retired from football, he played enforcer Big Chris in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Since then he’s had roles in more than 80 films including X-Men: The Last Stand, Kill the Irishman and The Big Ugly.

Kevin Garnett

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Kevin Garnett, who is widely viewed to be one of basketball’s best power forwards of all time, played 21 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 2016. His first acting role was as a version of himself in the Safdie brothers’ 2019 Uncut Gems, where he hugely impressed audiences with his on-screen presence.

According to Variety, Garnett signed with entertainment group Village Roadshow Pictures shortly after, hopefully indicating that there will be more heart-pumping drama from the basketball player soon.

Tony Bellew

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

English boxer Tony Bellew had a stonking record of 30 wins, three losses and one draw out of 34 fights, before retiring in 2018. His first acting role was in 2015, in Ryan Coogler’s Creed. He’s yet to make major inroads into the acting world, but his performance as ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan set the stage for what could be a successful career.

Ronda Rousey

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Ronda Rousey is a UFC champion and arguably one of America’s most successful athletes. In 2008 she became the first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo, earning bronze. Three years later she began her MMA career. In 2015 she was voted by an ESPN fan poll as the best female athlete of all-time. But, she didn’t stop there.

After retiring from MMA she signed to WWE, while at the same time, she started to have roles in films and TV, including in The Expendables 3, Furious 7, Entourage, Mile 22 and 2019’s Charlie’s Angels.

LeBron James

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Admittedly, it’s unlikely that legendary sportsman LeBron James will ever be best-known as an actor – he’s just too big in the basketball world. But the Los Angeles Lakers star has made dozens of cameos on screen and then starred as himself in 2021 Space Jam: A New Legacy. The Space Jam sequel featured the Looney Tunes crew, who were returning to film for the first time since 2003.

In 2020, James founded production company SpringHill Company with American businessman Maverick Carter, which amalgamated several previous entertainment companies owned by the duo. SpringHill Company has reportedly signed some start-out deals with both Universal Pictures and Disney Television Studios branch ABC Signature, which means that LeBron James is likely to have Hollywood credits – but as a producer – on films and shows coming to a screen near you soon.

Next up, the player is producing the forthcoming Canadian documentary film Black Ice, which is set to premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in September.