Athlete cameos are, unquestionably, the champagne of fleeting celebrity appearances in film.
No other brief appearances come close to touching pro athlete cameos in terms of sheer, per-pound entertainment.
For example, I can think of maybe three general celeb cameos off the top of my head that were impactful enough to remember. When I think of athlete cameos, I can think of three in the movie Space Jam alone.
With that said, the following are the 25 best athlete cameos in movie histor. They are the cream of the crop and feature a wide spectrum of acting chops ranging from Actually Good to This is a Car Wreck I Can't Look Away From.
But they are all very, very good in their own weird and unwieldy ways.
Larry Bird in 'Space Jam'
Mostly known for this cameo due to Bill Murray’s timeless line “Larry isn’t white. Larry is clear.” But a strong showing in its own right.
Crowning Moment: “I’ll take some of that."
Tom Brady in 'Stuck on You'
I can’t find good video of Brady all ugly'd up in Stuck On You, probably because everyone involved in this movie continues to do everything in their power to act like it never happened.
Crowning Moment: Brady grease face.
Hines Ward in 'The Dark Knight Rises'
The briefest and darkest sports cameo I can remember. I don’t know why or how Hines Ward came to be in The Dark Knight Rises, but I’ll never forget the emotional shift of going from “Hey, that’s Hines Ward!” to “Oh, all of his teammates just died” over the course of six seconds.
Crowning Moment: Ward’s subtle “What the hell, guys?” pose after turning around.
Darius Miles in 'Van Wilder'
An oft-overlooked but very good athlete cameo from Van Wilder. Darius Miles didn’t say much, but his one line during Wilder’s halftime speech was all that was needed.
Crowning Moment: “You invite them freak honeys from Mt. Holy Oak?"
Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 'Talladega Nights'
“Stiff," “wooden" and "very bad” are all descriptors that fit Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s quick entry and exit from Talladega Nights. Which is why it’s good.
Crowning Moment: Obvious attempt at energy when delivering “You’re a dirty liar!"
Rex Ryan in 'That’s My Boy'
Like you, I never saw That’s My Boy. But I have seen YouTube videos of Rex Ryan’s cameo in the film and can confirm his on-camera presence as a lawyer and Boston sports fan is as strong as it is ironic.
Crowning Moment: “Just the right amount of scruff."
The gift that kept on giving from the Major League franchise. Former major leaguer turned broadcaster Bob Uecker and his deadpan delivery as Cleveland Indians play-by-play man Harry Doyle gave us the most enduring moments from the entire film.
Every SportsCenter anchor to ever read a highlight for a wild pitch has uttered the words “Just a bit outside.” It is a vital part of the culture.
Crowning Moment: “A juvenile delinquent in the offseason."
Dan Marino in 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'
Laces out, Dan.
Crowning Moment: Marino pointing out Einhorn’s secret.
Brett Favre in 'There’s Something About Mary'
The cameo that guaranteed Matt Dillon will never go a day in his life from now without a stranger asking him why Brett Favre is here.
Crowning Moment: Favre’s twang on the end of “I’m in town to play the Dolphins, ya dumbass."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in ‘Airplane!'
Not a true cameo, but leaving out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s deadpan masterwork as Roger Murdock in Airplane! would be disrespectful and wrong.
Crowning Moment: “Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.