Since the boom of the Rock n’ Wrestling Connection, WWE has forever been linked to pop culture. It seemed a natural fit at the time as both mediums rely on charisma and showmanship to entertain the masses. This relationship blossomed from that day and has led to continued appearances by celebrities in wrestling. They even created their own company eventually, WWE Films.
This crossover into wrestling, with celebrities, has had its ups and downs. Wrestling fans are very protective of the product and there have been some A-listers that have not understood the industry. On the flip side, there have been some that have knocked their appearances out of the park.
Now, the door does swing the other way and there have been many wrestlers who have ventured into the entertainment industry. This has been a much harder transition as many wrestlers, while incredibly talented, are not the best actors. There have been many movies with wrestlers as the lead, that have been horrendous.
The track record of wrestlers in the movie is not great but there have been many over the years that have broken the mould. Some wrestlers have made the transition perfectly. Below we will look at the ten best appearances by wrestlers in the movies that aren’t part of WWE Films.
Batista – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
During his time in WWE Batista became one of the most popular champions in the company. Throughout this time his promo skills were not the greatest but he was still able to remain at the top of the card. When his career, in the ring, was winding down Batista expressed interest in entering the movie business.
Big Dave had started with small roles in movies where he was called upon to play the bruiser. His acting ability left little to be desired and it didn’t look like he’s acting career was going to take off. That sentiment all changed when Batista was able to snag the role of Drax the Destroyer, in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Batista was fantastic in the Marvel movie. He showed a dramatic side that had not been seen before. His comedic timing was also superb and unexpected. His scene-stealing jokes were hilarious and for him to best Chris Pratt during the movie is saying something.
Jesse Ventura – Predator (1987)
Ventura was one of the most charismatic wrestlers of his era. During the 70s and early 80s, the future governor was a terrific heel for the AWA and WWE. Following early retirement, Ventura transitioned seamlessly into the broadcast booth and this skyrocketed his career. He was so successful that he was able to land some major roles in the movies.
The most famous of Ventura’s venture, see what I did there, into Hollywood was his turn as Blain in Predator. As a movie Predator is incredibly underrated and this trickles down to the excellent performance from Ventura.
Sure, Jessie “ The Body” isn’t going to win any awards for Predator but he was perfectly over the top in the film. He provided some comedic relief during the movie and his one-liners are some that still get repeated to this day. It was the perfect role for someone from the world of wrestling.
Steve Austin – The Condemned (2007)
“Stone Cold” was the most popular wrestler to ever grace a WWE ring. During his reign at the top of the company, WWE reached heights that they will never reach again. He continued his tear throughout the company for years but when he began to wind down his in-ring career a move to Hollywood seem to be in the cards. His popularity was so high that it would be easy to stick him in any role and cash in.
Most of his initial endeavours outside of the wrestling world involved supporting roles. It wasn’t until he got his first lead, in the Condemned, that the world got to see that the Rattlesnake has some chops.
The Condemned is your run-of-the-mill action movie, but that doesn’t mean it is terrible. The movie understands that it is an action movie and it provides exactly that. This is the reason why Austin’s performance was great. Austin is not the greatest actor in the world but he understood how to play the no-nonsense badass to a T. It was fitting that his first lead role was such a close one to the character he played in WWE.
Hulk Hogan – Rocky III (1982)
The impact that Hulk Hogan has made on the wrestling world cannot be understated. He spearheaded the nationalization of WWE and helped to bring wrestling into the mainstream. A-listers and media outlets clamoured to be involved with WWE and their incredible success followed.
Now, how did WWE choose Hulk Hogan as their man to lead the company? Outside of Hogan, there were a few other wrestlers who could have taken the mantle. What pushed him over the top had to have been his fantastic turn as Thunderlips in Rocky III.
As Thunderlips, Hogan showed charisma and showmanship that was exactly what Vince was looking for. The role was not far from the character that he already played but being in a big-budget movie showed that Hogan was ready to take the lead. If he had not crushed his turn as Thunderlips who knows what could have become of Hulk Hogan.
John Cena –Trainwreck (2015)
John Cena is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of WWE. Being consistently pushed by WWE, above any other wrestler, drew much hatred from fans and critics alike. He was also one of the best performers on the roster and his place at the top of the company was justified.
What caused friction with most WWE fans was the squeaky clean image of Cena. He was always the smiling babyface and in a world of anti-heroes, this caused a lot of frustration from the fans. His character remained the same for several years and when it was said Cena was going to Hollywood fans were worried. His limited range in WWE was ok but Cena may get slaughtered by movie critics… after limited success with his roles in WWE Films.
His critics were silenced when his fantastic role as Steven in Trainwreck hit the silver screen. Cena played a truly strange character that was easy to hate. His possessiveness and clingy nature were not something that we were used to seeing and it showed that Cena could act. It was after this that Cena got more prominent roles in Hollywood and his career took off.
Roddy Piper – They Live (1988)
Hulk Hogan was the face of WWE and brought them into the mainstream, but all of that would have not been possible if Roddy Piper were not around. Piper was the most hated man in the wrestling world and was the perfect foil for Hulk Hogan. It was Pipers’ feud with Cyndi Lauper that sparked the Rock N’ Wrestling connection and further down the line Wrestlemania.
After his few years at the top Piper decided to call it quits and try his hand in Hollywood. This career was a bust, with Piper coming back to the world of wrestling quickly.
His time in the movie business was a big let down but it was not without its great performances. Naturally, we are talking about his role as Nada in John Carpenters They Live. Piper’s role called for an over-the-top performance and that is exactly what we got. The movie was never meant to be a fully serious story and Piper added the perfect amount of tongue-in-cheek acting to it. His famous bubble gum line is still one that is repeated in pop culture today and that is a testament to his hilariously over-the-top rendition. Piper was iconic in this role, one that no one could top in any future WWE Films.
Ernest Miller – The Wrestler (2008)
Before entering the squared circle Ernest Miller was an accomplished karate champion. Winning the karate world championship three times Miller was a very respected martial artist, and then he went to WCW. Miller was never the most important part of the roster and he floundered his entire time with WCW. Sure, he became a fairly entertaining comedic act but this was a severe disservice to his talent.
When he left WCW he spent some time in WWE but there, like WCW, was a waste of his time. Luckily, his time was better spent after he left WWE and entered the acting world.
Miller had successful roles in many action movies throughout his acting career but no movie will carry more weight than his turn in The Wrestler. As Randy “ The Rams” long-time nemesis, The Ayatollah, Miller was fantastic. Being the heel of the feud an outsider may think that the Ayatollah is a bad person. Miller consistently shows a level of humanity throughout the movie. His compassion for Randy is heartwarming and Miller showed that he can hold his own against more seasoned actors. One of the best Wrestling Films about Wrestling, and one WWE Films could never beat.
The Rock – The Rundown (2003)
During the Attitude Era, The Rock was one of the hottest acts. His star was on a meteoric rise in the company and his popularity was soon reaching outside of the business into mainstream media. With his tremendous charisma, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking.
In the beginning, The Rock was brought in as a side character in many movies, and he did a fantastic job in any role he was handed. But there can be no doubt that the best performance that he turned out was as a bounty hunter, Beck, in The Rundown.
The buddy-action movie was fantastic and The Rock played the straight man to Sean William Scott perfectly.
This was the first major lead role for The Rock and while it was not as successful as most would have hoped, the critical response was great. The was the first time that The Rock showed he was leading man material and his career would take off after this. Rock never did anything with WWE Films, and that might’ve actually helped him as he had plenty of stinkers before he hit the big time.
Kevin Nash – Magic Mike XXL (2015)
Depending on who you talk to Kevin Nash is either a very beloved wrestler or one of the most hated. His aloofness to the professional wrestling industry is frustrating at times but that cannot take away from the influence he has had over the industry.
When his knees began giving out on him Nash decided to walk away from wrestling and into the world of acting. He was never the best character in wrestling, his range was just not there. This meant that his roles were mainly supporting ones that didn’t involve much speaking.
His supporting roles niche was upgraded significantly when he got the role in Magic Mike. Being a large man, in good shape, Nash was perfect as a background dancer for Channing Tatum and company. He didn’t get much in the way of lines in the first movie but when a sequel came out we all got to see that the man can act. Showing a much darker side to his Tarzan character we can see the regret and melancholy behind his eyes. Nash was able to explore a depth of the character that no one had thought possible. Nash was never the best actor for WWE Films, but his roles outside of the company have always been memorable.
Andre the Giant – The Princess Bride (1987)
Before wrestling became a national phenomenon there was one larger-than-life individual who caught the attention of the world. Andre the Giant was a literal giant who drew thousands of people wherever he went. He was an instantly recognizable figure and was a huge star in professional wrestling.
Andre was perfect to play the role of giants/ creatures of myth. There was not much thought that he would be able to play anything outside of those roles but when The Princess Bride creators cast him as Fezzik that all changed.
Andre was amazing in his role as the giant henchman in The Princess Bride. He brought a child-like charm to the infectious role. His back and forth with Inigo throughout the movie showed a comedic timing that no one could have predicted. Looking back it was an odd casting choice initially, but there could have been no one better to play the gentle giant, and his legacy lived on in the WWE Films for decades later.