The world may not agree on just how “real” professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment” may be, but when the masses love or hate one performers above the rest, mainstream fame is usually within reach. Not every pro wrestler who has pursued a Hollywood acting career has found success, but that might not be as bad as it sounds. Some of the greatest legends of wrestling found their way into Hollywood films… and still, nobody noticed.
Here is our list of the 10 Wrestlers You Didn’t Know Appeared in Movies.
Sure, Hulk Hogan made more appearances in Hollywood films than nearly any other wrestler before or since, but one of his strangest roles unfortunately slipped by plenty of younger moviegoers. The original Gremlins is a classic, but its sequel is a whole lot… weirder. Director Joe Dante was offered the job with the promise that he could do just about anything he wanted with The New Batch. As a result, audiences were stunned to see the film begin to burn up in the theater, apparently the work of the film’s maniac monsters. Luckily, Hulk was sitting in the same theater, intimidating the Gremlins until they returned to the regular programming. The cameo was strange and unexpected, but sadly, was replaced in the home video release, depriving thousands of Hulkamaniacs from seeing it for themselves.
He may not have gained the mainstream fame of Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage, but there aren’t many Hall of Fame wrestlers who can hold a candle to Terry Funk. So it’s no surprise he took his signature hardcore attitude onto the big screen, appearing in movies like Road House and Over The Top. It’s hard to believe that the towering beast could ever be beaten in a fight by Patrick Swayze or Sam Elliott, but since he’s as famous for his love of a good time as he is for his fighting, we’re willing to bet he simply let the movie stars win.
Beginning his wrestling career as The Zebra Kid, the Brooklyn-born Lenny Montana found success due mainly to his 6-foot-6-inch frame. But when wrestling dried up for Montana in the late ‘60s, his size was put to another use: recruited to work as an enforcer for New York’s Columbo Crime Family. After a stint in prison, Montana acted as a bodyguard for the family, which is what brought him onto the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. The massive but softspoken enforcer was immediately cast as Vito Corleone’s top hitman, Luca Brasi. Even with a small part in the movie, Montana would enjoy a long acting career as a direct result.
Captain Lou Albano
It’s one thing to turn wrestling success into a career in Hollywood, but doing it without most people noticing is something else. No wrestling fan of ‘50s and ‘60s will forget Captain Lou Albano, since he racked up wins and legendary status as both a wrestler and manager – and his long beard, facial piercings, and Hawaiian shirts didn’t hurt either. Despite that fame, Lou Albano’s acting chops made him almost unrecognizable as the slick Sicilian Frank “The Fixer” in Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys. And even fewer fans realized the once-crazed wrestler would entertain kids every week as Nintendo’s mascot in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! Now THAT’s range.
It’s hard to think of a pro wrestler who has found more success than Kevin Nash. Winning almost two dozen world championships and founding the nWo, the man formerly known as ‘Diesel’ found legitimate fame in films and TV, most recently appearing in the Magic Mike films as “Tarzan.” But Nash’s fans may have caught his big screen debut earlier than they thought. When the villain Shredder ingested the mutating ooze in the second Ninja Turtles movie, it was Nash who brought the gigantic “Super Shredder” to life. Let’s be glad that none of his other roles required the actorto bury himself under a dock for no reason whatsoever.
The 1990s were a serious turning point for the WWF, as the Attitude Era saw the company target new adult audiences – and their new ‘Divas’ more than did the trick. No female wrestler was more popular than Rena Mero, better known as Sable, and one of the first female performers to show off her athleticism along with good looks. When Sable left the WWF in 1999, she turned to films… but we doubt that beating up former SNL cast member Chris Kattan in Corky Romano was the kind of Hollywood roles she had in mind. As satisfying as it was to watch her fight, the flop must have opened her eyes. She returned to wrestling shortly after.
Big John Studd
It takes a special kind of villain to bring a stretcher to the ring so his opponent can be carried out when the fight is over, but Big John Studd lived up to his name, going toe-to-toe with the massive Andre the Giant. A monster heel that big would be hard to miss, but there are some wrestling fans who never saw one of his best roles: the bruiser Jack Daniels in Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. The film was a bomb, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to watch Studd throw Mickey Rourke out a window. Since Rourke would play a pro wrestler twenty years later (in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler), we like to think Studd taught him a few tricks of the trade.
George ‘The Animal’ Steele
When Jim Myers started wrestling in his free time, it was only meant to help him pay bills when we wasn’t working as a high school wrestling and football coach. But when wrestling took off, Myers took the name of ‘The Animal,’ and wrestled for the next several decades. In a strange twist of fate, Steele also landed a role in Tim Burton’s biopic of the enigmatic director Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp). Steele was recruited to play the part of Wood’s friend and collaborator Tor Johnson – himself a Swedish wrestler turned film actor.
Although he began his wrestling career as a nerdy hero, the legendary Ox Baker soon became one of the most well-known villains of the 1960s. Famous for his heated interviews and his signature move – The Heart Punch – it was only a matter of time until Ox made it into film. Escape From New York became a cult classic thanks to director John Carpenter’s dystopic Manhattan prison, and Ox was definitely in top form when taking on Snake Plissken in a fight to the death. With a catchphrase as simple as “I love to hurt people,” there’s no doubt that he enjoyed the chance to do just that to star Kurt Russell.
Diamond Dallas Page was one of the biggest names to ever come out of the WCW, but his wife and on-screen manager Kimberly was just as memorable. But wrestling fans would be forgiven if they didn’t catch her surprise cameo in Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin. Stepping into the spotlight thanks to a wardrobe malfunction at a speed dating event may not have been the return to fame she was hoping for, but it definitely makes her brief appearance hard to forget.
So what do you think of our list? Did we miss any of your favorite memorable performances from wrestlers-turned actors? Let us know in our comment section and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel for more videos like this one.