Well, it has been over a week since the Olympics ended, and I’m sure some people are very happy about that. We don’t have to worry about tape delays, strange sports, or bathroom vandalism until 2020. I’m sure most people were ready for the games to be over, along with the endless coverage that came with them. However, for those of you that aren’t quite ready, boy do I have the solution for you. I’ve had a lot of free time this summer, and have watched a lot of movies on cable. Between all these movies, as well as all the Olympic programming, I got to thinking: How do actors get cast in athletic roles? Are they actually athletic? Are some actors more likely to be cast in athletic roles than others? Naturally, I had to put my research skills to the test, and take to the blog.
The result? A tournament of champions, to decide the most Olympic-worthy movie star on the planet. It’s going to be a March Madness-style bracket, where I decide the regions, the seedings, and the victors. I’m sure I’m biased. I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of my choices. But that’s life.
- No professional athletes who also happen act. Big apologies to The Rock, but that would be too easy.
- The nominations are based on an actor or actress’s whole body of work. Simply getting one role as an actual Olympian isn’t (necessarily) enough to get you a nomination.
- Ability in Olympic events is considered. Being a star quarterback in multiple movies isn’t enough to get you nominated, because football isn’t an Olympic sport. But if you run a lot? Congrats! (S/O Tom Cruise)
Region 1: Athletic Characters
In this region, we have actors who play a plethora of athletic roles/characters, who I believe may genuinely succeed in the Olympics.
#1 Seed: Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise’s history of running in all his roles is well-documented. The question of if he was actually athletic has long been debated. I just think he’s demonstrated too much on camera to not be a one seed. His time in the Mission: Impossible series (as well as a host of underwhelming/underappreciated action flicks) put him through a gauntlet of athletic challenges, including climbing a hotel, and he sprints EVERYWHERE. Plus, his display of superiority on the beach volleyball court in Top Gun should get him to the Olympics by itself. While it may be tough building up chemistry in the sand with someone other than Goose (RIP), if Maverick could get back in the air, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind slamming down a few more spikes in the name of America.
#2 Seed: Jennifer Lawrence
I understand that we are ignoring rule 2 a bit with this nomination, but oh well. J-Law, or rather Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, is as big of a lock for gold as anyone on this list. While watching the archery competition last week, I noticed a number of athletes who shrunk in the spotlight. The commentators discussed how the moment was too big for some of the competitors. Know who won’t wilt under pressure? J-Law. The Olympics would be like a vacation compared to literally fighting to the death with 20 other teenagers. I’m sure she’d willingly volunteer to go win gold.
#3 Seed: Michael B. Jordan
While not quite as one-dimensional as J-Law, Michael B. Jordan also stakes his claim to this tournament through his performance in Creed. However, he’s displayed athleticism in a number of other roles. He’s had super powers twice (Chronicle and the absolutely horrific Fantastic Four), and was basically superhuman in his role as Vince in the television series Friday Night Lights. True, his FNL performance doesn’t get a ton of weight because it was a television performance in a non-Olympic sport, but its still worth mentioning. He doesn’t have the depth of some of the other competitors, but I bet he’ll be fired up to be here.
#4 Seed: Maggie Q
Event: Tae Kwon Do, Table Tennis
One of the bigger surprises (to me) on this list, Maggie Q again displays a number of Olympic-specific skills in her roles. She is described as a “martial artist assassin” in multiple roles, most notably in Live Free or Die Hard. She impressed Jackie Chan to the point where she was cast in Rush Hour 2 as well. In a deservedly less heralded performance, Maggie Q also showed off some crazy ping-pong ability in Balls of Fury. While the movie was pretty terrible, the stakes of her final match were also life-and-death, so I have to give her some points there.
Honorable Mentions: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Barry Pepper (Saving Private Ryan)
Region 2: Athletes in Comedies
In this region, we have actors and actresses who have played athletes in comedies.
#1 Seed: Adam Sandler
Events: Golf, Basketball, Rugby
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Sandler’s roles across his body of work have long included athletes, or at least characters that are incredibly athletic. Happy Gilmore is certainly the movie that lends itself most to Sandler’s Olympic prowess, as Sandler’s titular character takes the PGA tour by storm, and could probably win a gold medal as long as he keeps his composure (I doubt the USOC would want to send him to a foreign country after the #Lochmess last week). Beyond golf, though, Sandler has shown the ability to knock down jumpers with ease in roles in The Longest Yard and Grown-Ups, which could land him on Team USA for his ability to space the floor. He also dominates the gridiron in both The Waterboy and The Longest Yard, and while quarterbacking doesn’t do much in the Olympics, his style of play would translate well onto the rugby pitch.
#2 Seed: Wesley Snipes
Events: Basketball, Baseball
Though Snipes has only a couple movies that lend themselves to actual Olympic skills, his overall body of work is pretty impressive. His role in White Men Can’t Jump gives me hope that maybe this hustler can turn his life around and throw up some lobs to teammates DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus Cousins for Team USA basketball. If not, his turn as speedy centerfielder Willy Mays Hayes could be vital, as Team USA will be in search of superstar talent when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020. As far as actual athletic ability goes, Snipes towers over most of his comedic peers.
#3 Seed: Vince Vaughn
Events: Handball, Gymnastics
If we are going to bring US Handball up to an elite level, we need to start with some elite talent. For that, we turn to dodgeball superstar Peter LaFleur. Are the sports different? Sure. But in Dodgeball, we witnessed Vaughn’s character overcome the odds and win a high stakes, sudden-death matchup with White Goodman while blindfolded. Plus, Vaughn dominates the rings in Old School while smoking a cigarette. In both instances, he does something detrimental to his ability to compete, yet still succeeds. Imagine if we got him on an Olympic training program.
#4 Seed: Amanda Bynes
I feel like this one needs little explanation, but I’ll enlighten you. As Viola Hastings, Bynes dominates men’s soccer at an elite boarding school, and is so good that no one ever realizes she’s a girl. Based on the intensity of the soccer rivalry in the final match, it seemed as though the school was surely a pipeline to either Division I or professional soccer. Hastings may be relegated to the Women’s National team at the Olympic level, but I don’t think she’d mind providing a boost to the defending World Cup champions.
Honorable Mentions: Will Ferrell (Old School, Blades of Glory*), Rhys Ifans (The Replacements)
Region 3: Real Athletes
In this region, we have actors who have notably played real athletes in biopics or “based on a true story” films at least once.
#1 Seed: Mark Wahlberg
Simply put, Marky Mark is a stud. I in no way, shape, or form doubt his real-life athleticism. It is put on display in his films, and mostly in ways that could lead to tangible results in the Olympics. His role as Mickey Ward in The Fighter stands out, as “The Pride of Lowell” puts on an impressive display once he gets his training squared away. Wahlberg also displays skills in the ring at the end of Four Brothers, though it is far less official, as he takes down the primary villain in a bare-knuckles brawl to the death in the middle of an icy landscape. As protagonist Bob Lee Swagger in Shooter, Wahlberg takes on the role of probably the most accurate (fictional) marksman in US history, with the exception of maybe Daniel Jackson in Saving Private Ryan. And in Invincible, Wahlberg plays real-life Vince Papale, a gritty Philadelphian who made the Eagles during an open tryout in the 70’s. Papale’s style of play would have definitely translated to the rugby pitch, making Wahlberg one of the most well-rounded Olympians in this field.
#2 Seed: Russell Crowe
Events: Boxing, Miscellaneous
Crowe is the rare athlete on this list whose best event is truly an enigma. He lands in this region because of his sterling performance in the movie Cinderella Man, an inspirational drama about down-and-out Depression-Era boxer Jim Braddock. After some encouragement and tough love from Paul Giamatti, Crowe’s Braddock finally fulfills his potential and wins back his championship belt. While Cinderella Man is one of my favorite boxing movies, and Crowe-as-Braddock is a worthy contender in this Olympic tournament, there is another Crowe role that bumps his seeding up tremendously. The role? Gladiator, of course. Back before million-dollar contracts, endorsement deals, and meme culture, athletic competitions often involved the phrase “to the death.” Chariot races, jousting, gladiator combat– all had a high likelihood of fatality. And, in his role in Gladiator, Russell Crowe was dominant in the arena. I’m not sure where exactly these skills of hand-to-hand, last-man-standing combat would fit in the modern Olympics. Judo? Fencing? Wrestling? All possibilities. All I know is that if his boxing prowess wasn’t enough, surviving under the enormous pressure of gladiatorial combat earns Crowe his high seed.
#3 Seed: Jack O’Connell
Events: Track & Field, Diving, Soccer
The dark horse in the competition, Jack O’Connell is probably unknown to most of my readers, at least by name. However, while his IMDb page is scant, about 75% of his major roles have been professional or Olympic athletes. He most notably played Olympic runner/war hero Louis Zamperini in 2014’s Unbroken, and his feats of athleticism in that film were pretty impressive. Prior to that breakout role, though, O’Connell also starred as an Olympic diver (Dive) and professional soccer player (United). Neither role garnered much acclaim or notice, but that’s what heavy-hitting journalism is all about. O’Connell also starred in the critical hit ’71, in which he did not portray an Olympic athlete, but was instead a soldier who was literally on the run the entire film. If hide-and-seek was an Olympic sport, he may just have been a #1 Seed.
#4 Seed: Matt Damon
Events: Rugby, Boxing
As scene recently on the big screens, one single scene from Jason Bourne could cement Damon’s role on an Olympic team as a boxer. Unfortunately, that’s not how this hypothetical contest works, and bare-knuckle fighting isn’t an Olympic event. Damon did impress, however, as a professional rugby player in Invictus, and so he manages to sneak into the “Real Athlete” region of the bracket. The movie, about the South African rugby team (the Springboks) and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, is a remarkable film about the unifying power of sports.
Region 4: Athletes In Dramas
In this region, we have actors and actresses who have played athletes in dramatic films.
#1 Seed: Sylvester Stallone
Who else could be the number one seed in this region? Stallone’s most famous role is perhaps the most iconic fictional boxer ever, The Italian Stallion, Rocky Balboa. Stallone has been through the ringer over the course of seven (SEVEN!) films in the Rocky franchise, and that alone makes him an Olympic favorite. However, I have journalistic integrity to maintain, so naturally I did more research. Stallone also starred in the World War II drama Escape to Victory, which was kind of like a much darker version of The Longest Yard. In the film, a group of POWs forms a soccer team to take on the German National Team, and Stallone stars as the team’s reluctant goalie. The overarching plot of the movie is that the prisoners hatch an escape plan based on the timing of the game, but it features quite a bit of soccer nonetheless. Finally, I have to give a nod to Stallone’s stunning archery ability that he puts on display throughout the Rambo movies. He’s really just a versatile athlete.
#2 Seed: Kevin Costner
Here’s yet another actor that benefits from baseball’s re-entry as an Olympic sport. Costner plays a grizzled veteran in both the vastly-underrated For Love of the Game as well as Bull Durham, and has what seems to be a pretty incredible Major League career in the former. On top of his baseball ability, Costner plays a washed-up golf prodigy that manages to qualify for the US Open in Tin Cup, and given the number of golfers that sat out in Rio, Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy may have gotten his shot. In the most useful application of his athletic ability, Costner stars as an over-the-hill Coast Guard Rescue Swimmer in The Guardian, brought in to teach life lessons to the latest Academy recruits. He is known through the ranks as perhaps the greatest rescue swimmer ever, with a rumored 200 rescues. Luckily in all these films, Costner’s characters’ athletic prowess exceeds their ability to maintain romantic relationships, because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to sniff this list.
#3 Seed: Hilary Swank
Is Hilary Swank hot? The world may never know. But one thing is for sure: she is one baaaaaad lady. Swank burst onto the entertainment scene with a sterling performance in the oft-overlooked fourth installment of the Karate Kid franchise. Between Ralph Macchio and Jaden Smith, the series witnessed the birth of a female superstar, as Mr. Miyagi took on a new protege in Swank’s Julie Pierce. The film is fantastic– the main conflict is between Swank and the psychotic “school security fraternity” Alpha Elite, which may just be crazier than the Cobra Kai. Though the most impressive athletic demonstration in the film is probably Mr. Miyagi bowling with a bunch of Buddhist monks, Swank’s final showdown with Alpha Elite leader Ned shows she is a more-than-capable Olympian. And all this talk of The Next Karate Kid totally ignores Swank’s more impressive performance as amateur boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby. Before a tragic injury at the end of the film, Fitzgerald is a dominant boxer with a lot of promise, despite a late start to her career. Swank’s roles as a determined fighter could make her a tough out, even as a lower seed.
#4 Seed: Ashton Kutcher
Probably the most shocking entry in this entire contest, Kutcher slides in as a four-seed on the back of his performance as Jake Fischer in The Guardian. I’ll admit, this choice is largely out of bias towards the movie, but I also felt wrong including Costner for his role but leaving out Kutcher. In the film, Fischer is a hotshot trainee in the Coast Guard program that Costner is instructing, and has turned down athletic scholarships to every Ivy League school. After he obliterates every time record that Costner set in the program, and is recognized as the greatest swimmer the Coast Guard has ever seen, it is revealed that Fischer is dealing with the grief of losing three high school swim teammates in a tragic car accident. While he refuses to get back to competition in the movie, I still think Kutcher’s role gets him a spot on this list. The pressure at the Olympics is nothing compared to rescuing people from the ocean. Plus, when he gets into a drunken altercation at a bar in the film, Fischer takes full responsibility. I’m sure the USOC would love to sign him up.
So there they are, your potential Olympians. Stay tuned for results of the first round of the tournament, as the 1-seeds take on the 4-seeds and the 2’s and 3’s battle it out.