Wrestling isn’t a sport. It’s sports entertainment, a term first coined by WWE to effectively sum up what is essentially the perfect fusion of theatre and athleticism. Performers take to a giant stage – or ring - and act out a semi-improvised play of sorts, full of twists, turns, and grandstanding spectacle designed to keep the audience entertained. They also often play out fully-scripted scenes backstage, involving dialogue and the occasional bit of wrestling as part of ongoing fictional feuds with fellow grapplers. And all while often wearing little more than a pair of boots and some very tiny shorts.
It’s a physically demanding profession, and one that also requires charisma and the kind of stage presence that can have fans eating out of the palm of your hand. In many respects, playing the part of particular character – be it a Face (good guy) or Heel (baddie) – is the perfect preparation for a career in the world of TV and film, and that’s certainly proven to be the case for some stars.
But for every notable former grappler turned Hollywood A-lister, there are plenty who would have perhaps been better served by staying in the ring – here are 12 Wrestlers That Made Great Actors (And 7 That Were Terrible).
19 Good: Dave Bautista
Dave Bautista is something of a one-off in this list, in that he’s arguably way more popular as an actor than he ever was as a wrestler. In the 2014 edition of WWE’s annual Royal Rumble, for example, his victory in the 32-man elimination event was greeted with a chorus of boos by fans, many of whom were unhappy that it was Bautista, rather than man-of-the-moment Daniel Bryan (who wasn’t even allowed to compete!) who came out on top.
Fast forward to the present, however, and Bautista has emerged as something of a force in Hollywood, helped by his standout turn reprising the role Drax The Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2. But that’s really only the tip of the iceberg. Bautista also impressed as a Jaws-eque henchman in the James Bond outing Spectre, was one of the few positives to come out of Kickboxer Vengeance, and could be set for even bigger things with roles in Blade Runner 2049 and alongside Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan 2: Hades.
Not bad for a wrestler once dubbed “Boo-tista” by some incredibly witty, placard-holding WWE fans.
18 Bad: The Undertaker
As The Undertaker, Mark Calloway has carved out a wrestling career to rank among the very best. There isn’t a WWE fan alive who doesn’t smile at the mere mention of signature moves like the Tombstone and the Chokeslam.
As an actor, however, it’s an entirely different story, with Calloway’s strong, silent, and slow approach to almost every scene proving somewhat less effective on the screen compared to in the ring. His filmography amounts to pretty much one role as Hutch, the silent alien assassin on the trail of Hulk Hogan’s Kit Ramsey in the frankly ludicrous Suburban Commando, co-starring Christopher Lloyd. Cast as much as a comedic fall guy as he is villain, anyone hoping to see Calloway in a series of amusing Home Alone-style shenanigans was left disappointed by a performance that redefines the word wooden.
It’s not been much better on the small screen either, with Calloway’s biggest credit to date being a two-episode stint as Soul Chaser Demon on Poltergeist: The Legacy. It wasn’t that much of a stretch from his role as The Undertaker, yet he still came up short.
17 Good: John Cena
John Cena, WWE’s all-American three-quarter-length-trouser loving wrestler, always looked destined for a career away from the ring as a pumped-up version of Mark Wahlberg, and that’s largely proven to be the case. The Marine, 12 Rounds, and The Reunion showcased Cena’s obvious aptitude as an action movie star, but it’s the film choices he has made since which really set him apart from the crowd.
The Judd Apatow/Amy Schumer comedy vehicle, Trainwreck, is the most obvious example, with Cena showcasing some excellent comic timing alongside an innate ability to pull off self-depreciating humor in arguably his best film performance to date. Throw in some memorable guest appearances on Saturday Night Live and Psych, and Cena has proven himself to be so much more than just an internet meme and Star-And-Stripes-endorsing grappler.
There could be even better to come too, with Cena set to star alongside Will Ferrell and his on-screen idol Wahlberg in Daddy’s Home 2.
16 Good: Bill Goldberg
Bill Goldberg has proven as divisive a figure in the film world as he was in the ring, with some hailing the WCW and WWE grappler a fine addition to the category of wrestler turned actor, and others viewing him as little more than a ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin rip-off.
You can certainly make a case for the latter, with Goldberg’s performances in The Longest Yard and Universal Soldier: The Return being hardly anything to write home about. But there has been plenty of evidence to back up the more positive opinion, with Goldberg’s Oscar-winning turn – if there was an Oscar for ‘Best Wrestler Turned Actor’ -- coming with his inspired performance as a Not-So-Jolly St Nick in the Christmas-themed horror comedy Santa’s Slay.
While the film may not be to everyone’s taste, Goldberg excels in a role that is physically demanding and requiring of someone capable of eliciting fear alongside a fair few laughs. The former NFL star pulls it off with aplomb and rightly earns a positive place on this list.
15 Bad: Ric Flair
Ric Flair loves to remind wrestling fans that he’s the Nature Boy, often accompanying said declaration with a loud “WHOOOO!” for extra effect. But while the cut and thrust of WWE comes naturally to Flair, it’s proven to be an altogether different story when it comes to acting.
Flair’s filmography to date pretty much amounts to three major roles. First up, he appeared as himself on an episode of Baywatch back in the mid-90s, where he just about pulled off the tricky task of looking natural on a show about bikini-clad supermodels who also happened to be lifeguards. Flair then had to wait until 2009 for his next meaty role – playing the part of Allied Commander Douglas Hill in the cut scenes for the computer game Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Uprising. In this instance, the only real blessing was that players were able to skip the majority of Flair’s screen time and head straight to the action.
Last and sort of least, Flair made his cinematic debut in Magic Mike XXL playing a role charmingly credited as “Leather Faced Old Man”. He did a little better with that one, but there’s not been a whole lot to “WHOOOO!” about since.
14 Good: Randy Savage
With his gravelly voice, commanding presence, and penchant for rapping, the late, great Macho Man Randy Savage had a better chance of movie stardom than most. Aside from a turn essentially playing himself in the David Arquette wrestling comedy Ready to Rumble, Savage was largely restricted to voice-over work, where his familiar raspy tones were in big demand. While issues away from the ring may have contributed to Savage largely steering clear of film and TV work, he did play an important role in one blockbuster of recent times – Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man movie. Taking on the role of Bonesaw McGraw, Savage fares well, with his character involved in the incident that essentially sets in motion the sequence of events that end in the death of Peter Parker’s uncle, Ben.
Otherwise remembered for playing himself in a series of guest spots on various TV shows down the years, an action movie fronted by Savage would have been an intriguing prospect. One to file under “what if”, perhaps.
13 Bad: Edge
Having been forced to retire from wrestling due to injury, Edge turned to acting from the mid-2000s onwards, with mixed results.
On the small screen, it’s gone pretty well, with Edge landing a main part on the Canadian supernatural drama series, Haven, for which he was even nominated for a Golden Maple Award for Best Actor in a TV series broadcasted in the U.S. He’s even gone on to guest star on The Flash as Atom Smasher and in the History Channel original series, Vikings.
His filmography is a little less impressive, though, with Edge putting in a so-so cameo in the already average Highlander: Endgame before his first and so far only starring role in the WWE-produced buddy cop effort Bending The Rules. Cast alongside Scream actor and comedian Jamie Kennedy, the movie scored 36% on Rotten Tomatoes and has been pretty much erased from history/memory by movie fans since.
12 Good: Steve Austin
He may not have scaled the heights of some of his WWE contemporaries, but Stone Cold can at least lay claim to delivering plenty of what endeared him to wrestling fans in the first place: entertaining adventures about a bald, ass-kicking Texan on the warpath.
Austin has played villains in blockbuster hits like The Longest Yard and The Expendables, and proven himself more than capable of headlining an action movie himself, as anyone who saw immensely enjoyable B-movie efforts like The Condemned and Damage will attest. More recently, he managed to show-off some comedic skills in the Adam Sandler vehicle Grown Ups 2, and while his film work has largely dried up in recent years, Austin now has his very own WWE-backed podcast, which has proven to be a hit with fans.
It all amounts to a solid acting career for arguably one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time.
11 Good: Kevin Nash
A very capable basketball player as well as a pro wrestler, Nash was always a big character in the world of wrestling, and someone many felt confident could take that same charisma into the world of film and TV.
He’s done exactly that too, starting with a largely forgotten turn as Super Shredder in 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze. Though the film wasn’t especially well-received by fans and critics alike, it did suggest that Nash was capable of making the transition from wrestler to actor. That move has only really be confirmed in the last 15 years, though, with Nash stepping out of the ring and into a series of memorable secondary roles in films like Thomas Jane’s version of The Punisher and The Longest Yard.
It’s got even better for Nash since then – he landed a memorable cameo as Francis in the first John Wick film and has won serious acting plaudits for his performance as Tarzan/Ernest in two Magic Mike movies.
10 Bad: Robert Jeep Swenson
Robert “Jeep” Swenson’s career as both a wrestler and actor was cut tragically short in August 1997 when the wrestler and budding actor passed away after suffering heart failure at the age of just 40. A much-loved character in the ring, Swenson’s short-lived film career essentially falls into the category of so-bad-it’s-good, with the bulging-biceped grappler appearing in a series of absolute stinkers that nevertheless make for amusing viewing today.
First up, he appeared alongside the equally awful Hulk Hogan in No Holds Barred, a movie about wrestling that was co-written by Hogan and WWE owner Vince McMahon. The film, which was also produced by WWE, is completely absurd from start to finish and will have even the most ardent of wrestling fans crying with laughter. Swenson plays the role of wrestler “Lugwrench” Perkins, a grappler competing against Hogan’s character, Rip, in a televised no-holds-barred wrestling competition called “The Battle Of The Tough Guys”. It’s hilarious.
As well as a small role in the Damon Wayans/Adam Sandler action comedy Bulletproof, Swenson’s other notable performance came in Batman & Robin, where he played the faceless, voiceless version of DC Comics’ villain Bane. It was...not well-received.
9 Good: Lenny Montana
One of the lesser-known names on this list, Montana qualifies for the fact that he enjoyed a lengthy wrestling career prior to one memorable turn in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather. In the ring, Lenny went by many different names, including Lenny Passaforo, Chief Chewacki, and The Zebra Kid. Most film fans, however, probably know him as feared mob hitman Luca Brasi, bodyguard to Vito Corleone and all-round enforcer for the Corleone family. Perfectly cast in the role, Montana’s silent, looming presence made for some truly iconic moments in a movie rightly regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.
It was also a role that helped Montana carve out a film career in the years that followed, with other notable roles including the part of Con Man in the Steve Martin classic The Jerk. Not bad for a wrestler who never competed in the WWE or WCW.
8 Good: Terry Funk
Much like Steve Austin, Terry Funk has played it pretty safe when it comes to movies, taking on roles as henchman and rednecks and pulling them off with relative ease. Roadhouse is perhaps the best example of this, with Funk playing a fellow bouncer turned villain who tries, on several occasions, to make Patrick Swayze’s life hell, but always ends up worse off for it.
His next most notable role came as an arm-wrestling southern type in the Sylvester Stallone cult favourite Over The Top. While the film is fatally flawed in countless respects, Funk more than delivers on his end of the bargain.
Though he’s also appeared in films like the 2005 Johnny Knoxville sports comedy The Ringer, ultimately, Funk’s most notable performance came in the wrestling documentary Beyond The Mat. The film not only showcases the incredible wear-and-tear inflicted on Funk over the years but undoubtedly served (at least in part) as the inspiration for Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler.
7 Bad: Hulk Hogan
The early '90s was a strange time for fashion, music, and most of all, cinema. Back then, someone, somewhere decided Hulk Hogan had what it took to become a bonafide movie star, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. What started with the briefest of cameos as Thunderlips in 1982’s Rocky III eventually culminated in a starring role in 1989’s WWE-produced No Holds Barred. Playing the role of wrestler Rip Thomas – they couldn’t call him Hulk Hogan for legal reasons – the man christened Terry Gene Bollea struggled to deliver even the simplest of lines without sounding wooden and confused.
Though Hogan was capable of playing up to his wrestling persona in movies like Gremlins 2: The New Batch, other roles proved trickier to master. He underwhelmed in comedies like Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny, delivering monotone lines and forced, unfunny slapstick comedy skits before finally heading to the smaller screen. It was here that he had some limited success with the TV series Thunder In Paradise, but his onscreen career is largely remembered for a string of duds, including Santa With Muscles and Three Ninjas: High Noon On Mega Mountain.
6 Good: Andre The Giant
A true one-off as a wrestler, actor, and human being, Andre The Giant is beloved by WWE and movie fans alike. In the ring, he was the man dubbed The Eighth Wonder Of The World and a wrestler that famously grappled with Hulk Hogan in the early glory days of Wrestlemania.
To film fans of a certain age, however, he will always be known as Fezzik, the giant from The Princess Bride and one of a trio of bandits that kidnaps Buttercup early on in the film, though the men eventually emerge as the heroes of this wildly inventive take on classic fairytale tropes. Andre The Giant’s film and TV career amounted to a lot more than just The Princess Bride, though. As well as guest starring on The Six Million Dollar Man (as Bigfoot!) and The Fall Guy, Andre also put in a memorable cameo appearance as Dagoth in Conan The Destroyer.
Born Andre Rene Roussimoff, Andre passed at the age of just 46 in January 1993, but left behind a wrestling and acting legacy few in his field could match.
5 Bad: Kane
Glenn Thomas Jacobs struggled to make much of an impact in his first few years with WWE. Several personas were introduced and quickly scrapped as Jacobs searched for his own clear identity, including Isaac Yankem, a deranged dentist character who was painful in every sense of the word. It was only when he became Kane, the masked “brother” of The Undertaker, that he generated some traction, and even then, it was only off the back of another wrestler’s gimmick.
He’s not had much success as an actor either. While Jacobs fared well enough as the monosyllabic Tanker Lutz in the 2010 comedy MacGruber, he’s not been quite so impressive in his other major role as the laughably named Jacob Goodnight in the WWE-produced horror film franchise See No Evil, which has spawned two films to date.
A scare-free, Friday The 13th rip-off of the highest order, Kane is the film’s Jason Voorhees stand-in, and he fails to inspire in either of his two poorly-received outings in the franchise.
4 Good: Jesse Ventura
This might be a controversial choice for some, but in the 1980s, Jesse Ventura provided arguably two of the greatest ever film performances ever by a wrestler. Period.
The first came as Blain Hooper alongside his future fellow Republican politician Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator. A machine gun-toting badass of the highest order, Ventura delivers some of the best lines from Jim and John Thomas’ memorable script. From promises about becoming a “god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus” to the proclamation that he “ain’t got time to bleed”, he’s an absolute joy to behold, and the macho-infused heart of the film.
It got even better with The Running Man, though, alongside Schwarzenegger again, with Ventura sending up his wrestling persona to perfection as Captain Freedom. He’s the champion stalker who watches on as Arnie competes in Running Man, picking off his fellow stalkers to set up a final showdown he would probably rather avoid.
Those two performances alone are enough to earn Ventura legendary status, but throw in minor roles in cult classics like Demolition Man and Ricochet, and it’s enough to forgive his brief appearance in Batman & Robin.
3 Good: Roddy Piper
Another wrestling legend taken before his time, Roddy Piper enjoyed steady work as an actor in film and television over the years, but there’s one movie that fans probably remember him best for.
Written and directed by John Carpenter, They Live told the story of one man’s discovery of a pair of sunglasses that reveal the world we live in is a lie, with our perfect existence actually a front for a world of subliminal messages and some scary looking zombie folk. Piper, of course, stars as that man, John Nada. A guy who “came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass” and is all out of the former. And kick ass he certainly does, with Piper involved in one incredible, one-take fight with Keith David that remains among the most iconic moments in this inspired and inventive cult favorite.
2 Bad: Triple H
It's a good thing he's become the head honcho down at WWE alongside wife Stephanie McMahon, because Triple H, aka Paul Levesque, definitely wasn't going to be able to bank on breaking into the world of acting at any point.
Triple H has tried to make it as an actor on a couple of occasions, to no avail. Things got off to a bad start in 2004 with Blade Trinity, Wesley Snipes’ final outing as the vampire killer. In a film featuring Ryan Reynolds in his pre-Deadpool run of comic book flops and Jessica Biel as an iPod-playlist loving heroine, the film is a real mess. Somehow, Levesque finds a way to bring it down as peg lower as a completely bland henchman who serves as a knock-off version of Donal Logue’s character from the first film.
It only gets worse from there. Next up, Triple H starred in the WWE-produced family comedy The Chaperone, alongside a pre-Modern Family Ariel Winter. Despite a modest budget, the film was a major flop at the box office, garnering less than favorable reviews. His last film, Inside Out, suffered a similar fate, with Levesque criticized for an inert performance in the largely-overlooked crime drama.
1 Good: Dwayne Johnson
Who else but Dwayne Johnson could occupy the top spot? Crowned the highest paid actor in the world back in 2016, Johnson has been the driving force behind the billion dollar resurgence of the Fast & Furious franchise, joining the series from number five onwards and overseeing a change of shift in the focus of the movies, away from street racing and towards all-out action.
Johnson’s recent success isn’t just limited to movies either, with the HBO series Ballers still going strong as it heads into season 3. There have also been the recent box office successes like San Andreas and the comedy Central Intelligence.
And yet, few could have predicted all this in the early years of Johnson’s movie career, when films like The Scorpion King, Walking Tall, and Be Cool hinted at an actor that didn’t necessarily deliver to filmgoers, despite his obvious charisma.
No, Johnson has worked hard to get where he is in Hollywood – and that’s not just in the gym. There could be even more to come too, with Johnson set to star in the upcoming Jumanji sequel, with talk of a comic book movie role to come in the form of DCEU antihero Black Adam. Whatever the Rock has got cooking, it smells pretty good.
Did we leave out any of your favorite grapplers that made a (good or bad) jump into the acting world? Let us know in the comments.
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