Lately, MMA Fighters, martial artists and, above all, professional wrestlers have been a highly sought-after commodity in big budget and independent film alike. Audiences want the hulking star quality of these giants of the ring more than ever before. It’s tempting to say that the desire to watch wrestlers act is a new thing, but it’s actually a tradition that goes back to the early days of silent cinema, when strongmen would portray larger-than-life figures in biblical epics.
Wrestlers have an essence you can’t fake, no matter how toned an actor may get, he’ll never have that twinkle in his eye that comes from throwing grown men through tables, or bench pressing hundreds of pounds. The wrestler is a personality that will seemingly never go out of fashion, as he provides a service the world will always have need of: to watch men grapple half-naked with each other and know that they will always get up for more.
Here are the 12 Best Performances By Wrestlers in Movies.
Dave Bautista – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang had an appealing, offbeat charisma, but it’s pro-wrestler Dave Bautista’s green (OK, turquoise, but the green skin is canon) giant who walks away with the film. After winning bit barts in the excellent B movies like The Man With The Iron Fists and Riddick, Bautista turned a host of good choices into an official winning streak with Drax The Destroyer.
Bautista’s expressive facial features do a lot of work for him, so he rarely needs to overplay his hand with big shows of emotion, even though his character’s history is one of the more tragic in the Marvel Universe. That subtlety will undoubtedly serve him well a bond villain in the upcoming SPECTRE. Bautista plays every bit of writer/director James Gunn’s preposterous verbal humour straight, getting more laughs with his sincerity, anger and confusion than the more obvious anachronisms dropped by Chris Pratt’s Starlord.
Bautista’s never been anything less than fun to watch, but in Guardians of the Galaxy, the role was equal to to his menacing appeal.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Fast Five (2011)/Fast & Furious Six (2013)/Furious Seven (2015)
The fact that The Rock spent most of The Mummy Returns as a terrifying CGI scorpion-man who’s freshly emerged from the Uncanny Valley, yet still caused such a fuss among young viewers when he appeared in the trailers, spoke to the world’s eagerness to anoint Dwayne Johnson a superstar.
He had it all: beautiful complexion, handsome face, overactive eyebrows and, wonder of wonders, he could actually act when they finally gave him the opportunity. He’s been winning over audiences left and right ever since, but he never felt more at home than when he joined Vin Diesel’s crew as part of the Fast & Furious series.
The Rock’s incalculable size and no-nonsense methods put up a front of unknowability in his character, but after three films he’s let audiences in just enough to love this brute with a heart of gold.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin – The Condemned (2007)/The Expendables (2010)
There’s a reason a generation of kids wore the words “John 3:16” on their t-shirts throughout the late ’90s. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was an insanely popular wrestler, and someone with an avuncular manner that was easy for kids to gravitate towards. It was only natural he’d try to channel that into an acting career.
The only problem was he should have been playing Miller-swilling truckers, not deadly he-men. However, he does his best in The Condemned, a low-rent remake of legendary exploitation movie Terminal Island. His drawling speech patterns are calming, even as he’s threatening to kill people.
The same trick worked in his bit role in The Expendables, where he effortlessly comes off as one of the few people who knows what movie he’s in. Someone oughta give the kid another shot one of these days.
John Cena – Trainwreck (2015)
John Cena’s been put to work in a handful of action movies and he’s certainly been entertaining enough, but the pathos he generates as Amy Schumer’s long-suffering, short-term squeeze in Trainwreck is remarkable. The giant Cena looks like he’s trying to find ways to shrink every part of himself as he realizes he and Schumer aren’t a good match, and he communicates real pain and humiliation.
It’s a shockingly candid and engaged performance from the star of, uh, 12 Rounds. Here’s hoping he keeps going on this track, shamelessly emasculating himself for comic gold, not that it isn’t a blast to watch him tear up faceless henchmen in action movies.
Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff – The Princess Bride (1987)
“Anybody wanna peanut?” There have been lovable wrestlers before and there have been charming wrestlers, but the most cuddly and huggable wrestler will always be Andre “The Giant” Roussimoff.
He already looked like he’d stepped out of a fairy tale, so the only logical step for him was to star in a movie based on one. As Fezzik the… err… giant, he cuts a preposterously adorable figure, even as he’s kidnapping women for ransom. The Princess Bride boasts many unforgettable performances, but it’s safe to say that Andre The Giant is the heart and soul of the piece.
Lenny Montana – The Godfather (1972)
Lenny Montana’s fans must have been shocked to see him in a suit and tie attending the Corleone wedding In The Godfather. Thoughbett known as “Luca Brasi” today, Montana was a superstar of the circuit, and appearing in Francis Ford Coppola’s mafioso classic led him to supporting roles in excellent cult movies like Below The Belt and …All The Marbles.
In his short time in The Godfather, he gave the world a shorthand it hasn’t forgotten. Who hasn’t made a joke about their enemies “sleeping with the fishes?” Montana’s guilelessness lends his role an air of tragedy that grabs the audience like a fishhook and never lets them go. Montana sets the tone for one of the great American movies.
Kevin Nash – Magic Mike (2012)/Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Kevin Nash quietly dominated the supporting cast of Magic Mike as the arhythmic Tarzan, the one dancer who can’t dance in Channing Tatum’s male dance revue. He gets a juicier role and a little more shading in the superior sequel Magic Mike XXL.
Nash’s easy demeanor and sun-baked social grace set him apart from the neurotic crew, as do his age and the obvious melancholy he’s hiding behind that mile-long smile. Magic Mike XXL gives Nash a few sentences in which to express a lifetime of almosts and “could have been,” which he nails more fervently than his final, triumphant striptease.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper – They Live (1988)
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was the Bruce Springsteen of pro-wrestling. He had an intensity you couldn’t fake and he genuinely cared about his audience. His role in They Live, John Carpenter’s anti-Reagan slugfest, proved that he believed in his fans.
He picked up a shotgun with the schlubby charm of the everyman and exacted revenge on behalf a people who hadn’t woken up to the injustices perpetrated every day of the year. Roddy’s blunt, plaid accessibility made him the perfect action hero, and it’s a crying shame he didn’t try his hand at acting more often. He gave hope to millions and in They Live he got to do it as a neo-Schwarzenegger, complete with one-liners and a pair of shades. “I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Nathan Jones – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Nathan Jones doesn’t have the public profile of a lot of wrestlers, which made him the ideal candidate to step into the world of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road. The Australian colossus ably steps into the shoes of a gormless murderer and doting son who will stop at nothing to return his father’s “brides.”
Jones puts every ounce of muscle tone to work dreaming up his character, the perfectly named Rictus Erectus, but he does everything with his confused and eager expressions. He’s a 400-pound french bull dog and he doesn’t waste a moment of screen time being anything less than absorbing.
Randy “Macho Man” Savage – Spider-Man (2002)
The only way any one knew Spiderman was a force to be reckoned with? He took on Randy “Macho Man” Savage in the ring.
As Bonesaw McGraw, a wrestler on the type of lower-tier circuit that a teenage Peter Parker can join, Macho Man has the time of his life playing this exaggerated version of an exaggerated version of himself. Within seconds of appearing on screen, he’s given us a catch phrase “Bonesaw is ready!” and bitten into every piece of scenery he could find. That people remember so much about this minutes long cameo speaks to this memorably gleeful turn from a much-missed titan of the ring.
Jesse Ventura – Predator (1987)
Many people don’t know that the former governor of Minnesota, Jesse “The Mind” Ventura once plied his trade as a strongman in the ring. Of course, back then he went by “The Body” and he had the exaggerated physique of a six-year-old’s drawing of a body builder.
Occasionally, he took leave of the sport of champions and tried his hand at acting. This often didn’t go well (Abraxas), but like many a wrestler, all he needed was the right context for his peculiar charisma. As one of a team of mercenaries sent on a jungle search-and-rescue mission, it’s no stretch to say that Ventura steals every second of Predator. Given the best one liners (“I ain’t got time to bleed”), Ventura is a walking, chaw-spitting, macho caricature of himself and he plays it to the hilt.
Terry “Hulk” Hogan – China, IL (2011 – 2015)
“Hulk” Hogan has made his fair share of abysmal movies over the years (he even had his own awful TV show where he solved supernatural mysteries and saved kids from drowning. Seriously.) but he never gave up looking for a role that would fit him just right.
Along came cult animator Brad Neely, who wrote the Hulk the plummest voice-over role anyone could ever ask for in his Adult Swim TV show China, IL. As The Dean of a corrupt and surreal college, Hulk is asked to swing for the fences, threatening everyone and everything that stands in the way of his reputation and the success of his teacher’s methods. Like the steroidal president of the Dead Poet’s Society, he’s everything you’d want from an inspirational educator, except ten times as awesome.
What are some of your favorite performances by WWE superstars? Which performances do you like to laugh with? Who should step out of the ring and in front of the camera next? Let us know in the comments!