(An article from our archives for your pleasure today)
Wrestling involves a great degree of acting, so it comes as no surprise that a number of wrestlers have attempted to make it in the movies over the years. With the formation of the WWE film division a few years ago WWE chairman Vince McMahon is determined to crack the big screen as well as dominating the small screen. Since the Hollywood success of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a number of top wrestling stars have tried to follow in his footsteps and this shows no signs of letting up anytime soon with John Cena working with Die Hard 2 director Renny Harlin on the upcoming 12 Rounds, with no doubt countless other wrestler starring vehicles to follow.
No matter how talented in the ring a wrestler is if they don’t have the charisma to hold an audience’s attention in interviews and promos then they’ll never become a breakout star, so one would think that as the charismatic stars become the big names in the industry and branch out into movies that they’d be able to translate their ability to captivate a live audience onto the big screen, but that isn’t always the case.
In honour of Mickey Rourke’s currently filming role as a washed up grappler lured back to the ring for one last fight in Darren Aronosfky’s The Wrestler, here we take a look at the Top 10 performances by wrestlers who’ve tried to lay the smack down on the movie industry over the years. While someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has had success in a number of films, we’re picking one performance per wrestler and I’m sticking to mainstream US wrestlers who’ve starred in (relatively) mainstream films.
#10 – BILL GOLDBERG as SANTA CLAUS
SANTA’S SLAY (2005)
In the squared circle, Bill Goldberg went on a history making undefeated streak, but his film career has been more of a losing streak, when your career highlight is The Longest Yard you know you’re in trouble. In 2005 after roles in Universal Solider: The Return and Ready to Rumble, Goldberg was given his own starring vehicle with killer Santa horror Santa’s Slay. The plot is contrived and the acting lamentable but Goldberg brings a suitable amount of menace to the role of Santa and looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. Produced by Brett Ranter, Santa’s Slay is a ridiculously over the top genre film but it’s black humour carries it through and it’s opening scene in which Santa slaughters a family of ‘famous’ faces over Christmas dinner, including Sonny Corleone himself James Caan is worth checking this film out for alone.
#9 – JOHN CENA as JOHN TRITON
THE MARINE (2006)
Wrestler turned rapper John Cena also turned his hand to acting in 2006′s The Marine. Arguably wrestling’s breakout star of the new millennium, Cena looked to cash in on his popularity in the ring by releasing a rap album, with mixed results and in 2006 a film, again, with mixed results.
The Marine is the sort of film you’d expect to be produced by a wrestling organisation, aimed purely at the demographic who tune in to Monday Night Raw each week; a testosterone fuelled explosion fest. Cena plays Marine John Triton who gets caught up with former T-1000 Robert Patrick’s bad guy Rome, fisticuffs, explosions and dialogue so bad it gives you a migraine ensue, but that’s the point. The Marine does exactly what it says on the tin, the film equivalent of Ronseal, it’s big, dumb and completely unashamed. And for the most part it seems to have worked, at present The Marine is the most successful of the WWE produced films released so far.
Amazingly Al Pacino was reportedly approached to play Rome, but surprisingly (sense the sarcasm) declined, someone had been hitting the crack pipe pretty hard to think that Pacino was a realistic target. When Tony Montana declined, they went after the next best thing; Robert Patrick. John Cena obviously enjoyed his time on the set of The Marine as he will soon be returning to the big screen in the upcoming WWE film 12 Rounds.
#8 – ‘STONE COLD’ STEVE AUSTIN as JACK CONRAD
THE CONDEMNED (2007)
The Marine was originally written with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin in mind for the lead role, but when Austin and the WWE parted ways, they had to rethink their casting strategy. In 2007, Austin eventually got his own WWE films starring role in the shape of The Condemned.
While The Marine may have been more commercially successful, The Condemned is arguably the better film. It might be buried beneath a hale of gunfire and pyrotechnics but The Condemned actually boasts a level of social commentary on the power of reality TV and how far is too far. Effectively a cross between Battle Royale and The Running Man, but not as good as either – but let’s be honest, what is as good as The Running Man!? The Condemned sees ten convicts bought by a rich TV exec and dumped on a remote island where they are strapped with bombs and left to fight to the death, last man or woman standing goes free.
As Jack Conrad, Steve Austin’s main rival comes in the form of everyone’s favourite football hardman Vinnie Jones, who must be wondering what happened to what at one time seemed like a promising film career. Austin may effectively be playing the same character he played for years on WWE TV but he does it with relish and at least he’s good at it.
#7 – TRIPLE H as JARKO GRIMWOOD
BLADE TRINITY (2004)
Triple H’s role in 2004’s Blade Trinity was an important one; it was the first role for a wrestler in a mainstream film since The Rock made the leap from one fake industry to another. As vampire henchman Grimwood, the role may have required nothing more than for Triple H to snarl and look menacing but having played the role of the most hated wrestler in the industry for many years he took to the role like Peter Doherty to a syringe.
Wesley Snipes famously complained about the amount of time the third Blade film devoted to newcomers Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel, maybe if he’d stopped moaning and used his spare time to fill in a tax return he could have saved himself a lot of future hassle. Snipes was right about the amount of screen time given to Jessica Biel’s ass but Triple H makes the most of his somewhat limited screen time, displaying not only decent action chops but also a forte for comedy.
He may have the indignity of being killed by Van Wilder: Party Liaison, but Triple H’s performance and on screen charisma in Blade Trinity lead me to believe that he could forge himself a successful career on the big screen one day.
#6 – ANDRE “THE GIANT” as FEZZIK
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
Andre “The Giant” sadly died of heart failure in 1993, but he left behind a legacy of being involved in some of the eighties most memorable wrestling moments, including his legendary showdowns with Hulk Hogan. Andre’s legacy also includes a surprisingly not abysmal performance in Rob Reiner’s acclaimed 1987 fairytale The Princess Bride.
Andre’s acting skills weren’t exactly tested by the role of Fezzik, a giant Turkish wrestler, though from the accent you wouldn’t know he was Turkish – the concept of accents was clearly lost on the big man. Andre’s performance as Fezzik definitely contributes towards the endearing and enduring Princess Bride’s success. His role as Fezzik helped Andre cement his status as a cult icon.
#5 – HULK HOGAN as THUNDERLIPS
ROCKY III (1982)
Simply put: Hulk Hogan is a legend. The most iconic wrestler of all time, yes even more so than Big Daddy, Hogan is rightly credited with making professional wrestling the global phenomenon it is today. At the height of his success Hulk Hogan pioneered the whole wrestler in Hollywood thing, with great success.
So with a string of starring vehicles behind him such as No Holds Barred, Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny you may be wondering why I’m selecting Hogan’s brief appearance as Rocky’s charity bout opponent ‘Thunderlips’ in Rocky III, before he was even famous, as his best performance… Have you seen his other films!? I heard that the Hulk Hogan back catalogue is used to torture, sorry, ‘interrogate’ prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
There is actually a great deal of humour to be found in watching Thunderlips throw Rocky around the ring, the only real laughs of the film, other than watching Mr. T trying to act. With this film Hogan showed the world the type of charisma and presence that would lead him to become one of the biggest stars on the planet. His life might be a car crash playing out on the soul destroying medium of reality TV these days but in the late twentieth century Hulk Hogan was the man and that all started with Rocky III.
#4 – JERRY “THE KING” LAWLER as HIMSELF
MAN ON THE MOON (1999)
I’ve joked above about some of the wrestlers featured playing characters on the big screen that aren’t too far removed from the characters they play on TV week in week out. That isn’t true of Jerry “The King” Lawler’s role in Milos Forman’s biopic of Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon… Because Lawler actually plays himself.
During the height of Kaufman’s fame he decided to become a pro wrestler and play a ‘heel’ (bad guy) character, to ensure he was despised by the audience, he only wrestled women, the irony of Kaufman’s act was lost on most of America who failed to see he was playing a character. Kaufman was eventually challenged to a match by Memphis wrestling legend Jerry Lawler, during the match Lawler dominated and seriously injured Kaufman and proceeded to attack him further when they both appeared on David Letterman together. As with most of wrestling, it was an all an act and Lawler and Kaufman were actually good friends.
Lawler’s performance in the film is very good but in essence he was just reconstructing what actually happened so it would have been a sad state of affairs if he’d given a sub-par performance. Nonetheless it’s a solid performance in a popular, critically praised film, not something you see a wrestler’s name attached to too often. Rumours flew during filming that Lawler and Jim Carrey who portrayed Kaufman in the film couldn’t see eye to eye which eventually led to an incident between the two that left Carrey with a real neck injury, almost identical to the one Lawler gave Kaufman. Lawler deserves his spot on the list for putting the hurting on Carrey that he deserved for inflicting Fun With Dick & Jane upon us.
#3 – JESSE “THE BODY” VENTURA as SGT. BLAIN COOPER
Jesse Ventura beat his Predator co-star Arnold Schwarzenegger to Governor status by becoming Governor of Minnesota in the nineties. But before Ventura turned his hand to politics, he was a hugely successful professional wrestler and commentator and for a time, an actor.
Ventura’s most successful film appearances were opposite Arnie in The Running Man and 1987’s Predator. When casting Predator, imposing men of action were sought for the team of soldiers who would battle the Predator, Ventura was hired due to his impressive physique. Ventura’s Blain is one of the more memorable members of Arnie’s team, due to his penchant for chewing tobacco, his colourful use of language, he infamously refers to himself as “a goddamn sexual Tyrannosaurus”, and his weapon of choice; a modified GE M134 minigun he calls “Ol’ Painless”, as seen above.
Blain is rather unceremoniously offed by the Predator when he is shot through the chest by the alien warrior, but not before he’s used Ol’ Painless to mow down a hoarde of jungle guerillas. Jesse Ventura’s performance is without question one of the most successful and memorable appearances by a wrestler in mainstream cinema.
#2 – DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON as BOXER SANTAROS
SOUTHLAND TALES (2007)
At number two on our list is current Hollywood hot property The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson as he now likes to be known. When The Rock debuted in WWE in 1996 he played an ultra-nice clean cut character and the fans hated it. He eventually turned heel and introduced the cocky character who referred to himself as The Rock and his career blossomed.
The Rock had a flair for interviews and was capable of captivating an audience on the microphone, it wasn’t long before Hollywood came calling. Granted his first screen appearance as The Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns was a brief flashback and then some dodgy CGI that superimposed his face onto the body of a giant scorpion, but The Rock had found a new outlet for his talents.
His Hollywood career thus far has been hit and miss, he’s given stellar performances in the likes of Be Cool (he’s the best thing in the film), Get Smart and his first starring vehicle; The Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King. He has also had not-so-stellar performances in the likes of Doom, Walking Tall and The Game Plan, one thing is for sure though whenever Dwayne Johsnon is on screen he always exudes his trademark Rock charisma.
So why have I selected his performance in Richard Kelly’s controversial Donnie Darko follow up Southland Tales as his best performance? This was the point in Dwayne Johnson’s career where it became clear that he wasn’t just a wrestler turned actor; he was now an actor. He’d already achieved infinitely greater success than any of those before him but with Southland Tales, Johnson proved he could hold his own as a credible actor and no longer belonged in the same bracket as the likes of Vin Diesel.
#1 – ‘ROWDY’ RODDY PIPER as JOHN NADA
THEY LIVE (1988)
Somewhat inexplicably when it came to casting the hero in his 1988 cult classic They Live, legendary director John Carpenter cast wrestler ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper. The pair had met at Wrestlemania III, and with regards to the casting, Carpenter has been quoted as saying; “Unlike most Hollywood actors, Roddy has life written all over him”. Piper definitely has life written all over him, his career spans four decades and he’s battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, while still remaining one of the most outspoken and controversial characters in pro wrestling.
They Live was written and directed by Carpenter and is a sci-fi thriller crossed with a black comedy. The film wasn’t a commercial success but as is this case with most films that develop a cult fan base, as time went by the film grew in popularity. Written to play on fears that had developed in the late eighties of a declining economy and the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, in They Live the so-called ‘elite’ ruling class are in fact aliens, managing society through subliminal messages and economic control, the ‘real’ world can only be seen through a pair of sunglasses.
Piper plays John Nada, a homeless construction worker who manages to gain possession of a pair of these sunglasses and see the world for what it really is. When the aliens discover he can see the truth, Nada becomes a wanted man and is pursued by the police, who are controlled by the aliens. After going on a shooting spree at a local bank and wiping out a number of aliens, Nada recruits his buddy Frank Armitage, played by Keith David, to help him put a stop to the alien control, but not before a legendary fight scene between the two.
The social commentary is amped up even further when it is poetically revealed that television is responsible for sending out the signals that cause the subliminal mind control, with Nada and Armitage setting out to destroy the antenna and show the world the aliens that are in their midst.
Piper’s performance in They Live is infamous and the film is one of those cult films that is still referenced in pop culture today, and for that reason takes top spot on the list of the TOP 10 Big Screen Performances by Wrestlers.
What do you think of the list…?
And which criminal omissions have I made…?
Do you agree with my choices…?
And which criminal omissions have I made…?
by Gareth Bunkham