Who Was the First Athlete to Star in a Movie?

Movies and sports have a long-standing relationship. From inspiring sports dramas to athlete biopics, the two industries have often intertwined. However, it may come as a surprise that the first athlete to star in a movie was not an actor-turned-athlete but rather an athlete-turned-actor.

The First Athlete to Star in a Movie

The title of the first athlete to star in a movie goes to Charles Paddock. Paddock was an American sprinter who competed in the 1920s and won two gold medals at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.

After his success on the track, Paddock turned his attention to Hollywood and began working as an extra in films. His big break came when he was cast as himself in the 1924 film “The College Hero.” The movie was a hit, and Paddock’s natural charisma on screen led to more roles.

Athletes Who Followed Paddock’s Lead

Paddock paved the way for other athletes to make their mark in Hollywood. One of the most notable examples is Johnny Weissmuller, who won five gold medals in swimming at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics before starring as Tarzan in several films.

Another athlete-turned-actor is Jim Thorpe, who won two gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics before transitioning to football and later acting. Thorpe starred in several films throughout his career, including “King of the Wild” and “Trail of Vengeance.”

The Impact of Athletes on Hollywood

Athletes have had a significant impact on Hollywood over the years. Their natural athleticism and physicality translate well on screen, making them compelling performers. Additionally, their fame from sports often brings a built-in audience to their films.

In recent years, we’ve seen several athletes make successful transitions into acting. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for example, was a professional wrestler before becoming a Hollywood superstar. And former NFL player Terry Crews has become a fan-favorite in comedies like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”


Charles Paddock may not be a household name like some of the athletes who followed in his footsteps, but his contributions to both sports and Hollywood cannot be denied. As the first athlete to star in a movie, he paved the way for others to follow and helped cement the relationship between sports and entertainment that we still see today.