For as long as there have been televisions, professional wrestling has been a source of entertainment for people all over the world. The mixture of athleticism and performance has resonated with audiences for decades. It comes as no surprise, then, that the performers from the wrestling world would utilize their unique experiences to cross over into the world of cinema. In this list, I will explore the very best of the crossovers. Before I do so, a few ground rules: I will only use one performance per wrestler. This will avoid my list becoming a best of “The Rock” compilation because there’s no denying that he is, by far, the most successful. I am disqualifying performances where the wrestlers play wrestlers on screen. That means “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s role as “Bone Saw” in Spider-Man or Jerry “The King” Lawler’s portrayal of himself in Man on the Moon do not count towards this list. Finally I am only picking people who were made famous by professional wrestling and not actors who later became pro-wrestlers. Former WCW Heavyweight Champion David Arquette is therefore excluded from this list to the dismay of many I am sure. So here it is folks, the top 10 performances by a pro-wrestler in a movie.
10. Goldberg – Universal Soldiers: The Return
Bill Goldberg was, at one time, the most popular wrestler in the now defunct WCW. In arenas all over the United-States, the fans were chanting his name in anticipation of seeing yet another slaughter in the “squared circle.” So, of course film executives noticed and wanted to bank on the popularity of the man they simply called “Goldberg.” In 1999, he was cast in the follow up to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s hit Universal Soldiers. It’s in this very forgettable film that Goldberg gave his best performance to date and lands the number 10 spot on this list.
9. John Cena – Twelve Rounds
Love him or hate him, John Cena is one of the most polarizing figures to come out of pro-wrestling in the last 10 years. In 2009, he was tapped to play Danny Fisher in Renny Harlin’s Twelve Rounds. Once again, the film itself wasn’t anything special, but Cena’s performance was surprisingly pretty solid. It was at least better than his previous outing in The Marine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cena in more films one day; but for now, this is the best he’s got.
8. Triple H – Blade: Trinity
While I strongly considered giving him the nod for his epic performance in The Chaperone (not!), Triple H’s best and most well known role was playing Jarko Grimwood in Blade: Trinity. As one of the villains in this film, Triple H managed to play a convincing menace to Wesley Snipes’ Blade. I just wish he had retired from acting right then and there…sigh.
7. Hulk Hogan – Thunder in Paradise
There is no doubt in my mind that Hulk Hogan is a living legend. His impact on the world of pro-wrestling is undeniable. Trying to cash in on that fame, Hulk Hogan starred in a series of movies in the late 80s and early 90s, none of which were particularly memorable. One role, however, was good enough to not only spawn a trilogy of films, but also a TV series. That was Thunder in Paradise series in which he starred as R.J. “Hurricane” Spencer. The films are typical for action films of the time, but Hulk Hogan is so likable in his role that they are not as bad as you would expect. I recommend checking it out.
6. Kane – See No Evil
When I first heard Kane would star in a horror film, I thought it would be a natural fit, and I was curious to see the result. Reminiscent of “Leatherface” in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, Kane plays a quiet killer whose only purpose is to inflict pain on anyone who gets in his way. Overall, he does a convincing job, and I could see him doing more work in horror films down the line.
5. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin – The Expendables
Known to the wrestling world as “The Rattlesnake,” “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was born to be an entertainer. He was the ultimate anti-hero and the catalyst for professional wrestling’s most infamous era, aptly named “Attitude.” When it was announced that he was cast as one the villains in Sylvester Stallone’s action all-star ensemble, The Expendables, the fans knew it was a perfect fit. Living up to his moniker, Austin played a “Stone Cold” killer who was a perfect foil to the Expendables team.
4. Jesse “The Body” Ventura – Predator
Jesse Ventura had a series of short cameo roles in the 80s and 90s playing opposite some of the biggest action stars of the time. While most of them were no more than a scene or two, it was in Predator that Ventura managed to give a convincing performance as Blain, a commando on a mission in Central America. Perhaps it was his past as a Navy S.E.A.L that facilitated his performance, but there is no denying that Ventura looked great in this iconic film.
3. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – They Live
Most of the entries on this list are cameos, supporting roles, or straight to video films. One exception to that rule is “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s starring role as George Nada in John Carpenter’s 1988 Sci-Fi action film, They Live. This film was not only excellent in its own right, but showcased everything Roddy Piper does well. In his “day job” as a pro-wrestler, Piper was not known for his in-ring skills, but rather his ability to captivate the crowd on the microphone—the very skill that he utilizes to its full potential in this movie. It’s a shame Piper was never able to match this performance in the films that followed.
2. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson – Be Cool
There is no denying that “The Rock” is the most successful actor who was made famous by professional wrestling. He is one of the biggest box office draws in Hollywood right now, and there are no signs of him slowing down. It may surprise all of you that he is not number 1 on the list, but as much as I enjoy watching the Rock in every movie he is in, he still hasn’t had that iconic role that will one day define his career; and this list is based on the best performance, not the overall body of work. One difficulty I had with this entry is which performance of his is the best? It could be a list of its own—that’s how good the Rock is. The one I went with is his hilarious role as Elliot Wilhelm, a homosexual bouncer with aspirations to become a country star, who stole the show in 2005’s Be Cool.
1. Andre “The Giant” – The Princess Bride
Sometimes subtlety is the key and Andre “The Giant” played his role as Fezzik in Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride to perfection. He gave an iconic performance as the gentle giant opposite some of the biggest names in film history. Andre seemed suited for the role to the point where I couldn’t imagine anyone else taking his place. That’s why this performance deserves the top spot on this list.
I hope you enjoyed this list as much as I enjoyed creating it. I hope to one day revisit the topic and do a Top 10 worst performances by pro-wrestlers because trust me when I say that there are plenty of options to choose from. In the meantime, check out these films and let me know what you thought in the comments below.
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