Shaquille O’Neal’s Acting Career Deserves Another Look

Shaquille O'Neal in Kazaam

Touchstone Pictures

Shaquille O’Neal is undoubtedly one of the best basketball players to ever step on a court, and while the same can’t really be said about what he’s achieved on the movie sets he’s graced with his presence over the years, he’s still amassed a pretty impressive filmography.

The 7-foot superstar has a laundry list of accomplishments and, quite frankly, everyone knows who he is. It’s not even worth my time to briefly introduce Shaq on the off chance you don’t know who I’m talking about; he is literally and figuratively larger than life.

What Shaq did on the court was truly spectacular, but what he’s done off of it (and continues to do) is almost as mesmerizing. That’s not to say he’s mastered every side hustle he’s set his mind to, but it’s hard not to be a bit captivated by the many different off-the-court activities he’s engaged in over the years.

After entering the NBA as the first overall pick in 1992, Big Diesel (as they call him—along with about 400 other nicknames) has held many different jobs. Most people in his position would be perfectly content with being one of the most formidable big men of all time, but Shaq is a bit of a go-getter—one who knows how to get the party started, promote products, and lay down the law.

He’s moonlighted as a rapper with five studio albums, stepped behind the turntables as a DJ, worked as a cop, starred in approximately three million commercials, started a few businesses, and made numerous appearances at WWE events.

Oh, and he’s also dabbled in acting—a venture that’s really worth a closer look.

Shaquille O’Neal: The Actor

Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal

Getty Image

Shaquille O’Neal is no stranger to being in front of a camera.

He was thrust into the national spotlight after emerging as the most dominant player in the country during his time at LSU, and the natural charisma he possesses made his foray into the entertainment industry a pretty natural one.

As I’ve already mentioned, Shaq has rarely encountered a commercial he doesn’t like. If you’ve ever watched cable, you’ve seen him in an ad at some point in time—whether he was peddling products for Pepsi, Reebok, Nestle Crunch, Gold Bond, The General, Buick, Papa John’s, Hulu, Epson, IcyHot, and many more more.

The man really does it all.

While he’s found a home on the small screen, the big man is also no stranger to the big screen. He has dozens of credits to his name, and while projects like Blue Chips, He Got Game, and Hustle were pretty natural fits considering the subject matter, he’s never really been afraid to branch out a bit.

Here’s a look at some of his more notable roles.

Blue Chips (1994)

This was a pretty natural pivot for Shaq, who landed a role as a college basketball player at the fictitious Western University in Los Angeles under the watch of a Bobby Knight clone played by Nick Nolte.

He didn’t exactly steal every scene he was in, but it showed he could hold his own in a movie and likely inspired him to set his sights a bit higher—although those aspirations didn’t exactly pan out as he likely envisioned.

Kazaam (1996)

This was Shaq’s first “big” movie—and boy was it a flop.

Shaq was trying to establish himself as a leading man and was hoping he’d be able to do that with Kazaam, where he portrays the eponymous genie who lives in a boombox while granting wishes to a middle schooler who freed him from the magic lamp where he’d formerly resided.

Unfortunately, Shaq’s inexperience showed, as the movie was critically panned (it boasts a 5% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and failed to break even at the box office. However, he still had the chance to bounce back with another major role the following year.

Steel (1997)

Aaaaaaaaand it flopped.

Steel (based on the superhero of the same name in the DC Comics universe) earned less than $1.7 million on a $16 million budget, and while it got a better Rotten Tomatoes score than Kazaam, 12% still isn’t something to write home about.

If Kazaam marked the beginning of the end of Shaq’s quest to take Hollywood by storm, Steel was the final nail in the coffin—although he did manage to find a pretty solid lane for himself in smaller roles.

Good Burger (1997)

This is probably what Shaq should’ve been doing from the start.

He played himself (which is very common for athletes trying to introduce the world to their acting stylings), but he played himself very well; he’s an NBA player who needed a burger and Keenan and Kel brought it to him!

You could tell he’s still a little nervous on camera but he’s coming along!

He Got Game (1998)

He Got Game is an iconic basketball movie where Shaq was once again granted a cameo (I’d like to use this as an excuse to mention he technically popped up in Space Jam thanks to some footage from a game between the Magic and the Bulls but didn’t receive an official credit).

In the movie, he sort of just shows up on a television broadcast to praise Jesus Shuttlesworth (the main character played by Ray Allen), but the manner in which he delivered his lines showed some solid progress.

Scary Movie 4 (2006)

A hilarious scene from a hilarious movie.

The Scary Movie franchise featured some bizarre scenarios, but having Shaq and Dr. Phil (two noticeably large public figures) square off in a Saw-like life-or-death scenario to start the movie made sense, and it felt like O’Neal felt was finally starting to get the hang of things here.

Grown Ups 2 (2013)

This is unironically one of my favorite movies and one where Big Diesel really gets to show off his personality.

I have to imagine Shaq and Adam Sandler have a great relationship because The Sandman has used him a lot (and continues to do so). Here, O’Neal swaps a basketball uniform for a cop’s uniform, and his personality is really on full display.

Hubie Halloween (2020)

This is a decent movie that features one of Shaq’s best performances to date.

He plays a DJ, yet he plays one with a fake voice, and I’m a sucker for the scene where Adam Sandler’s character realizes that the woman discussing Halloween in a sultry tone on the radio has actually been Shaquille O’Neal the entire time.

There are some good movies here (and some very notable duds), but that’s kind of how acting goes. A lot of people in that line of work will tell you to take any role you can until you reach a point where you can start turning them down, and even though Shaq might not seem that discerning when it comes to scripts, it’s hard to blame him for trying to branch out and have some fun.