A Special Feature by Dom Smith.
Wrestling is a funny thing. It’s a soap opera, and it translates very well on to the big screen… mostly. What I wanted to do here was to discuss how some wrestlers have made the transition to film, and how it went.
But I also want to discuss, in brief what watching wrestling has meant to me – escapism. Wrestling, or Sports Entertainment as it is most commonly referred to now, is an ultimate form of escape. It is theatre, and it is film, compacted into a few hours of television each week, telling stories of heroes and villains.
There is a huge audience for wrestling (bigger than you think), and it caught me at a young age. As any readers of Late Reviewer might know from my previous article on The Crow, that I used a couple of things to escape stress and anxiety of every day life and physical pain from growing up with Cerebral Palsy.
Wrestling was one of those escapes – watching Mick Foley (Mankind, Cactus Jack, Dude Love), who didn’t look like everyone else, didn’t act like everyone else, and had a character who was, tough as effing nails, really helped when I was growing up a goth weirdo with wobbly legs.
I felt like I could do anything because of Mick Foley and the wider WWE Universe around him. These days it’s different of course – I am a grown up, and I have created a life for myself. Also, I don’t get thrown off cages or piledriven into canvases.
But I do triumph through pain, and that is a story told by the likes of Bray Wyatt (in WWE), Josh Alexander (in IMPACT) or Darby Allin (in AEW) even in 2022. I know a lot of people relate to that, whatever they are going through. Wrestling, like film is ultimate escapism, and I encourage you to try it sometime.
Dwayne Johnson mastered the move from WWE to Hollywood, but here are five films by other wrestlers which I think you should seek out, and five you should avoid. There are some weird picks in here, I know, but I wanted to shake it up, and spark some controversy!
FIVE TO SEEK OUT
Mr Nanny (1993), starring Hulk Hogan
There is a wider conversation and debate here around Hogan’s ethics and morals for another time. I realise that some less than reputable information has come to light about The Hulkster in recent years.
However, if we can separate the art from the artist for the sake of this article, then this is a really fun 90s comedy romp, and Hogan subverts his macho image well, in something that really was all about family fun, and did, albeit slightly, challenge people to think about gender roles in certain jobs.
Hogan is a talented performer, and this is a great celebration of his acting chops, outside of a wrestling ring.
Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies (2014), starring Kurt Angle, Matt Hardy, Shane Douglas and Hacksaw Jim Duggan
Okay, all right. Hang on. I know there are blockbuster films in my AVOID list, but hold up… WRESTLERS VS ZOMBIES?
If you’re a fan of wrestling, horror and good ol’ fashioned fun, then this is for you. Kurt Angle and Roddy Piper put in particularly legendary shifts here, with some quality lines, and (mostly), top-notch wrestling choreography.
This is well worth a couple of watches.
Predator (1987), starring Jesse Ventura
So, while Arnie obviously shines here, a special mention needs to be given to former Navy Seal, turned Pro Wrestler turned Governor who plays Blain.
Jesse Ventura takes part in some pure, unadulterated sweaty action, and his ‘Sexual Tyrannosaurus’ line is truly powerful stuff.
Ventura is a real action hero, and his friendly rivalry with Schwarzenegger as portrayed on screen is classic in every sense of the word.
The Wrestler (2008), starring Ernest Miller
This film follows the story of professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (played exceptionally well by Mickey Rourke) after the lights have dimmed from his days at the top of the business.
He’s working a minimum wage job, taking steroids and snorting cocaine, and it’s a much more real, and raw presentation of pro wrestling than many would expect. Ernest Miller is an antagonist to Rourke, with an equally raw, and heart-wrenching story.
I would say that The Wrestler is possibly the most honest representation of the wrestling industry ever brought to screen. Ron Killings (R-Truth), and many more also feature as supporting characters, giving this movie even more credibility in the eyes of pure fans.
Blockers (2018), starring John Cena
John is a Hollywood sweetheart, and a pretty damn good actor too. If I could, I’d stick his turn as Peacemaker in here as a proud television triumph. In the movie sphere though, he works Blockers as a anxious dad who is super over protective and just generally OTT.
The family comedy is a tried-and-tested trope, of course, but Cena puts a new, welcome spin on it, and makes the role more fun than you might expect.
My inclusion of this film may rub some of you up the wrong way, and that’s fine. There are tonnes of these lists, and I’m trying to do something different, y’know? Trust me, it’s worth a watch, and the supporting cast (Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz) do a cracking job too. Give it a chance.
FIVE TO AVOID
See No Evil (2006), starring Kane
Unfortunately, these days Kane (Glenn Jacobs) is more known for his questionable politics than his legendary career as a masked demon with WWE. This film (which actually had a sequel in 2014) is another not-so-great part of The Big Red Machine’s legacy.
The delightfully-named Jacob Goodnight (Jacobs) takes the eyes of his victims (who he believes to be sinners), and does a good job lurching around being big and scary.
However, there’s not much in the way of substance or plot in this middling horror.
I would not say any of this to Mayor Jacobs face though. Ever.
Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014), starring Dave Bautista
I am expecting a bit of hate mail for this one. Why have I put Blockers over Guardians? Everyone puts Guardians! TRY SOMETHING ELSE, YOU MARKS (wrestling term, wrestling article)!
This is purely a case of Dave Bautista being a better actor than this role allows.
He is most known for this, I would argue, but you should check out Dune, Blade Runner 2049 and/or Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery for a better example of what Big Dave can do on the big screen.
Guardians is an okay Marvel franchise, sure. But if we are talking about a quality performance, then those other roles far eclipse his second-fiddle comedic alien, Drax The Destroyer.
Black Adam (2022), starring Dwayne The Rock Johnson
I know The Rock worked really hard to get this made, and I respect that. To be fair, it’s probably one of DC’s best attempts at the superhero genre (make of that comment what you will).
But Hollywood’s nicest dude has better runs in Skyscraper and Red Notice with their slightly comedy, slightly action-y vibes. The plot here though, is mostly just confusing.
Like Cena, when Johnson does family comedy it works really well, and he is an absolute darling, so him trying to be an anti-hero here just doesn’t translate for me.
Let me know what you think in the comments… IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU THINK IN THE COMMENTS.
Santa’s Slay (2005), starring Bill Goldberg
Admittedly, this one is pretty funny, and that’s why it’s in here. Bill Goldberg is utterly ridiculous as Evil Santa, and on the whole, this is so so bad, it is really (kinda) good.
Santa’s Slay is packed with gory kills and terrible acting. So, as we are approaching the Christmas period at time of writing, if you are looking for something to get merry to (and by that I mean drink a lot while laughing your stockings off), then this one is for you. For whatever reason, it has become a cult classic among wrestling fans.
Oh! it’s on the AVOID list, isn’t it? Sorry about that. If you’re into quality films, then absolutely steer your demonic reindeer clear of this.
Watch it though. Go on.
The Waterboy (1998), starring the Big Show Paul White
Paul White’s Captain Insano character is a bully, who bothers Adam Sandler for still living in his mother’s basement at 31-years-old. Sandler stutters, and is referred to throughout this film as “mentally challenged”.
As a kid with Cerebral Palsy, I admit to finding it amusing, now as an adult with CP, I see a lot of issues with this film! Still, my first crush (Fairuza Balk) is in it, so it still has a special place in my… heart.
Look, right, I’m not trying to cancel Adam Sandler or anything, this was 1998, and to be fair, he remains one of the most notable comedic actors of our generation, but he’s played this type of role to death (see Little Nicky, and more recently Hubie Halloween), and we all know he can do (much) better work without stereotyping for the sake of appearing funny (Hustle).
Hang on, I’m supposed to be talking about Big Show aren’t I? He was fine. Not as fine as Fairuza Balk, but still fine. Sorry, Balk is an amazing actress (The Craft, American History X), but typing this out is like being transported back to my teenage bedroom. I better finish this up…
Interestingly, Paul White’s character (Captain Insano) was brought back for a promo in AEW just a few weeks back (in 2022), which may, or may not be a testament to how beloved it was. It was a small cameo, and still better than White’s go at TV with Netflix’s The Big Big Show.
Has Dom missed anything obvious? Will you die on Suburban Commando’s hill? Be sure to get in touch with Late Reviewer, and maybe there’ll be enough for a follow-up piece.
Dom Smith writes about wrestling for Soundsphere, and talks about it for Gimme A Hull Yeah. Please feel free to come along and smash that like button on the various wrestling-themed interviews he’s sharing across those channels…