WWE Goes to the Movies: Wrestlers on the Silver Screen
Professional wrestlers are trained to perform, not just mastering a suplex or submission move, but also how to electrify an audience. Wrestlers have to put on a show in more ways than one, if they’re a ‘babyface’ they need the fans to love and adore them, cheering for their every move and hanging on their every word. If they’re a ‘heel’ then they should revel in the boo’s, know exactly what buttons to push and have mastered the sinister smirk or arrogant grin.
This set of skills means that they are often perfect for film roles. Whether it’s their humour, star persona or just their sheer bulk, a lot of wrestlers end up getting starring roles on the big screen. This is proven to the point that the WWE even have their own film studio, teaming up with major profile distributors to put their stars in the limelight in films like Walking Tall, Fighting With My Family and the See No Evil movies. So here’s my picks for some of the best WWE talent who have made it onto the big screen, either as bulky extras or straight up lead stars.
As a former professional football player and certified wrestling badass for both WCW and WWE it’s no surprise that Goldberg landed some of the roles he did. He’s had a few TV appearances with a recurring role on The Goldbergs and NCIS: Los Angeles and a few smaller parts in films like The Longest Yard remake from Adam Sandler and the Van Damme vehicle Universal Soldier: The Return. It’s his starring role as a demonic Santa Clause in Santa’s Slay that had me loving him in films, I mean he even uses his trademark spear in one of his kills, what’s not to love?
This wrestling veteran turned politician and former Governor of Minnesota has had a few starring roles in his career. Two of them were actually with another actor turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will crop back up in this list later. Ventura played Captain Freedom, a ten time former champion in The Running Man and Blain Cooper, a badass mercenary in Predator. Since then he’s also starred in smaller roles in Demolition Man and Batman & Robin.
Better known by his ring name Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller this wrestler also worked across WCW and WWE after being asked to join by WCW executive Eric Bischoff. He may not have been one of the heavy hitters in the wrestling industry, probably because of the gimmicks that were forced on him, but he did manage to land one of the main roles in an Oscar nominated film, The Wrestler. Ernest plays The Ayatollah, the in-ring rival from Rourke’s heyday, who agrees to one final match with the aging star.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
He may have started out as ‘Stunning’ Steve Austin, but this Texas Rattlesnake became one of my ultimate favourites when he transformed into ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. He had the attitude, the moves and the charisma to be the ultimate Attitude Era antihero. He’s another The Longest Yard alum but his roles in Damage, The Condemned and The Expendables brought him closer to the front of the screen. He may not have gotten past the Direct-to-Video releases but I’m always happy to see him on the screen, “and that’s the bottom line cause Stone Cold said so”.
As a founding member of D-Generation X Helmsley is another wrestler who made a huge name for himself during the Attitude Era. His push has continued and he’s been everything from a sell out corporate heel to a rebellious anti-authority babyface. He may be semi-retired now but he’s still a huge part of the wrestling industry, working behind the scenes of WWE and founding NXT. I’m not going to claim he has some amazing film roles, but he sure makes an impression in the ones he does have. The Chaperone is a bit of a mess, and Inside Out isn’t great, but I will forever defend his insane turn as vampire Jarko Grimwood with his vampiric pomeranian Pac-Man from Blade: Trinity. Is it a good film? No. Is it all types of entertaining? Yes!
Mick Foley is a man of many personas, the sock wielding Mankind, the sadistic Cactus Jack and the free loving Dude Love. It made sense then that a man with multiple characters could transition into movies, yet it’s only in recent years since his retirement that this seems to have happened. He only seems to have had small roles but they’ve all left an impression. From being the referee in The Peanut Butter Falcon, to a shady organ dealer in 12 Hour Shift and a cameo in Wrestling Rom-Com Chokeslam. Foley is an all round amazing man and I adore him, so he had to make the list!
The Big Red Monster has such an intense backstory to his characters I’m actually surprised there hasn’t just been a movie made based on his legend. The storyline had him being the half brother of The Phenom himself, The Undertaker, and involved arson, murder and an insane asylum. Plus they lived in a funeral home, I mean it damn near writes itself. Instead, we get Kane starring in the See No Evil series with two films so far. As Jacob Goodnight, the eye gouging, hook wielding killer Kane poses an imposing figure and brings the level of menace we expect from our stalker/killers in these types of films.
Whether you know him as Kevin Nash or Diesel, this member of the New World Order has been on the circuits a while and is a WWE Hall of Fame inductee. He made his acting debut in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze as Super Shredder, a jacked version of the villain and has since done pretty damn well in the acting business. His first major role was at The Russian in The Punisher, it may have been a silent role but it had one hell of an impact. He’s Tarzan in the Magic Mike series, showing off a very different set of moves, and makes a smart decision as Francis the bouncer in John Wick.
There’s not much Hulk Hogan hasn’t done in his long run career, he was the face of wrestling for a long time, has had television shows, an acting career and his own businesses. His first starring role that put him on the acting map was as Thunderlips in Rocky III, a wrestler who stepped up against Rocky Balboa in a charity match. Since then he had the starring role in No Holds Barred, an amusing cameo in a cinema during Gremlins 2: The New Batch and an impossible to unsee role as Sean Armstrong in Mr Nanny. Like Goldberg he also did a Christmas film, Santa with Muscles, but this was much more about redemption than it is about murder and destruction.
André the Giant
Following Hulk Hogan is one of his most famous feuders, André the Giant, nicknamed ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ and standing over seven feet tall. Known for being a gentle giant and an absolutely wonderful man, André became well known for his acting roles. His role as Dagoth in Conan the Destroyer managed to make Arnold Schwarzenegger look like the smallest man in the room but it’s his turn as Fezzik in The Princess Bride that had the world truly falling in love with him. He became legendary both within the ring and outside of it.
Weeeeeeeeel, it’s the Big Show! As another wrestler billed as over seven foot and with a giant persona Big Show made a huge impression in the WWE. He was another of my favourites from childhood, and I particularly enjoyed his team up with Kane. His first memorable role was as Huge Santa in Jingle All the Way, a cameo that is never not funny in a cheesy holiday film. He’s also starred in The Waterboy, MacGruber (along with many other WWE alumni), Knucklehead and Vendetta since then. He appeared as himself in the brilliant film Fighting with My Family alongside some other notable names on this list and now has his own Netflix show The Big Show Show.
Rowdy Roddy Piper
The Glaswegian-Canadian wrestler who was known for his short temper and quick wit was of course an obvious choice to transition into the film industry. Roddy Piper was one of the most recognisable stars of the early WWF and was known to be one of the greatest heels. His filmography is not short but it is of course the film that gave him the title ‘cult icon’ that really stands out on it. Piper played Nada, a drifter who discovers some truth revealing sunglasses in John Carpenter’s They Live. From his brilliant ‘bubblegum’ line to his intense street fight with fellow wrestler Keith David this is truly one of the best films to star a wrestler and one of the best performances from a wrestler as an average guy thrust into action.
Since beginning his wrestling career John Cena has gone from trash-talking rapper, to all-American good guy and straight into being the face of the WWE. Love him or hate him in the ring, it’s hard to deny that he’s making real steps outside of it with his acting career. It was a shaky start with Cena starring in the usual WWE fare, such as The Marine, 12 Rounds and Legendary, he even had a cameo in the terrible Fred: The Movie, but since then he has found his stride with brilliant comedy appearances in Trainwreck, Sisters, the Daddy’s Home movies and Blockers. He is definitely on his way to hitting the big times and following in the footsteps of other WWE acting legends as he stars in the upcoming F9 for the Fast and Furious franchise and James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad which is already slated to have a TV spin off for his character. As a philanthropist, main star wrestler, lead actor and internet meme, is there anything Cena can’t do now?
Dave Bautista, a six-time WWE world champion, the longest-reigning World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history, and three-time winner of the World Tag Team Championship made a huge mark in the wrestling landscape, and yet, when you search for him online your much more likely to see his acting accolades nowadays than his wrestling ones. His major role, that shot him into superstardom, has to be as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy and the subsequent MCU films. The mixture of comedic and intimidating worked great for the wrestler and has led to numerous other big starring roles. He has been a bond villain in Spectre, a replicant in Blade Runner 2049, a cop in Stuber and a spy in My Spy. His latest role is as a mercenary against a horde of Las Vegas zombies in Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead. There’s more to come too with him being announced for the upcoming Knives Out sequel and Dune adaptation. He is also reprising the role that made him and continuing to disallow anything to go over his head as Drax in Thor: Love and Thunder. He’s got a good career ahead of him and here’s to him getting more roles, just hopefully shirt on ones for his own sake.
I know it’s obvious, but honestly who else could top this list but the man, the myth, The Brahma Bull himself, Dwayne Johnson. Sure there have been successful wrestlers before him that have transitioned into acting, but none with this major level of success and love behind them. Another founding member of the Attitude Era, Johnson has gone on to reach success after success, holding numerous franchise films under his belt and being listed as one of the most influential people in the world. To think it all started with the ridiculously CGI-d The Scorpion King its incredible to see where his career is now. He’s been a main member of the Fast and Furious franchise since Fast Five and has his own spin off with Jason Statham, Hobbs & Shaw. He’s brough Jumanji back into our households and is ready to enter the DCEU with Black Adam. His comedic ability and charisma shine through in Moana, Central Intelligence, The Other Guys and Fighting with My Family and, similarly to Big Show, he’s even got his own sitcom based on his life called Young Rock. There are many reasons that The Rock has managed to be as successful as he is, he’s hardworking, dedicated and high-energy but it’s also because he has won over the people. He has all the time in the world for his fans, is a loving family man and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself. I’m just gonna say it, Dwayne Johnson for president!