Professional wrestlers are a strange breed. Technically you could consider them actors — they perform scripted material and try to sell their audiences on the version of reality they’ve designed to fit their storylines — but really, they’re more like soap opera stars, overselling each facial expression and slap to their opponent’s strong jawline. That’s why it’s such a treat to see pro wrestlers perform well outside of the ring. The keyword here, by the way, is “well.” Ready To Rumble and Mr. Nanny have no place on this list, and we shall not speak of them ever again.
When their environments are cleansed of overzealous fans, pyrotechnics, and neon spandex onesies, they can often surprise us with their acting abilities. Such as …
10. Triple H (Blade: Trinity)
Sometimes, when presented with the right opportunity, the superstars of the wrestling world are able to break out of their known personas to deliver enduring, iconic performances. Other times, they just swap their tights for a t-shirt and regurgitate words, like a robot being paid to spell out plot points while uppercutting inanimate objects. That’s basically what Triple H did in the final chapter of the Blade trilogy, as Jarko Grimwood, one of the bad guy vampires who tangled it up with Ryan Reynolds for whatever reason.
Though, to be fair, if you substituted spin kicks for uppercuts, Wesley Snipes did almost the exact same thing. In fact, Triple H is one of the least annoying things about Blade: Trinity, which technically makes his appearance a smashing success.
9. Goldberg (Universal Soldier: The Return)
“Jean-Claude Van Damme vs. Bill Goldberg? Sure, why not?” said some executive in 1999. And voila, a sequel to Universal Soldier was born. Goldberg — who you may remember as “that dude who snorted smoke and tackled everything he brushed up against” — wrestled most of his career without ever saying a word. With all the intelligence of a brick, and the vocabulary of a Pokemon, the acting bar clearly wasn’t set very high.
So no one should’ve been surprised when he showed up in this sequel as little more than a stack of muscles wearing shades, gritting his teeth through cheesy one-liners and using every move in his WCW character’s arsenal, until his ultimately — and comical — demise two-thirds through the movie.
Sure, his role in Universal Solider may not have won him an Oscar, but Tom Hanks never tackled the crap out of an empty elevator, did he? If you look at it that way, this is leagues above Cast Away.
8. The Big Show (The Waterboy)
The Big Show was originally marketed in WCW as Andre the Giant’s son, debuting as simply … The Giant. How creative. Though the two colossal men actually shared no DNA, they did have a few things in common: a propensity for choking the life out of people, an optimal view of what’s in the back of really tall cupboards, and the ability to flex some comedic muscles in feature films. Though it lasts only a couple of minutes, Big Show’s scene in The Waterboy as Captain Insano — a professional wrestler and hero to Adam Sandler’s titular character — ultimately helps set the tone for the rest of the film. In it, he verbally abuses his fan for being too old to watch wrestling, not to mention being a lowly waterboy.
By the way, that tone of his? Aggressively mean-spirited. Which is comparable to those old WCW storylines involving the nWo.
7. Hulk Hogan (Rocky 3)
One of the first major films to feature a professional wrestler, Rocky 3 deserves a lot of credit for allowing Hogan, considered by many to be a sideshow act, to break into the motion picture industry. The Hulkster’s character, Thunderlips, wasn’t much of a stretch–a professional wrestler paid to compete against Rocky in a cross-promotional exhibition match — so he didn’t have to show a lot of acting chops, which likely helped audiences ease into the idea of him as an “actor.” He just had to bring a little bit of flair, a couple of 24-inch pythons, and that majestic mustache of his.
And it worked. Just like that, wrestling stars were suddenly acceptable commodities on the big screen.
6. Jerry “The King” Lawler (Man On The Moon)
Though it’s common for wrestlers to play variations of themselves or their characters (body-slamming heroes, mute villains, etc.) it’s rare that one gets to play themselves in an historical context. Man On The Moon is the story of anti-comedian Andy Kaufman, whose biggest publicity stunt came from a supposed feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler in the early ’80s. In it, Lawler gets physical with Kaufman (played by Jim Carrey in a role that perfectly suited his natural buffoonery,) in and out of the ring.
What’s so impressive is that, at the time of this film’s release, Lawler was fifteen-plus years older than he was at the time of the actual “feud,” performing near-exact recreations of his fights with Kaufman, looking as if he’d stepped into a time machine. Even more impressive? His acting is restrained and understated, which is a magnificent feat for a guy who’s most famous as an announcer who nearly hyperventilates whenever a pair of boobs appears anywhere near the ring.
5. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (They Live)
Opposites: oh, how they attract. They Live drops “Rowdy” Roddy Piper smack dab in the middle of a bleak (and thoroughly absurd) dystopia, chalk full of ugly aliens, government mind control, and magical sunglasses. This sci-fi cult classic, with its gritty aesthetic, couldn’t have been further from the colorfully bedazzled realm of the World Wrestling Federation during its ’80s heyday. Then again, Piper’s messy wrestling style, and in-your-face persona, always seemed to clash with the feather boas and rainbow pants of his in-ring opponents anyhow, so maybe that overall grimness is what helped Piper excel in the role.
Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise. And yes, Piper’s performance is 80% bravado and 20% slurred speech, but They Live also features a five-minute, knockdown drag-out brawl that looks way more painful than your typical cage match. One could easily see a condensed version of this turned into a story arc for Monday Night Raw.
4. George “The Animal” Steele (Ed Wood)
In a strange coincidence (or, more likely, a planned correlation) George “The Animal” Steele plays Tor Johnson, a real-life pro wrestler who became a film star, when director Ed Wood cast him in a couple of his Z-grade horror movies. So, to get this straight: a hairy-backed, borderline insane, bald wrestler gets his big screen break in a movie about Ed Wood, playing a hairy-backed, borderline insane, bald wrestler who got his big screen break in a movie directed by Ed Wood. It feels like something Alanis Morissette might have written in her first draft of “Ironic.”
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re missing out on a weird and wild ride … which is to say, you’re missing out on a Johnny Depp movie. A Johnny Depp movie with George “The Animal” Steele? If you haven’t seen this yet, why?
3. Jesse “The Body” Ventura (Predator)
If someone were to draw up a Venn Diagram with circles labeled “Critically-Acclaimed Movies,” “Action Movies,” and “Professional Wrestling,” there would be only the tiniest sliver of overlap. And that, my friends, is exactly where Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s role as a minigun-wielding special force operative, sent into the jungle to kill a dread-locked, oft-invisible alien hunter, falls into. Playing alongside another future governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger,) Ventura completely sells himself as the tobacco-spitting, manhood-checking, self-proclaimed “sexual Tyrannosaurus,” Blain.
The original Predator is not only the best action movie to be set in the jungle, it also broke new territory with an Us-Versus-It template that hadn’t been seen before, in that type of context. Usually it was just the main protagonist going it solo, but here we saw a whole bunch of muscle-bound badasses spilling testosterone all over the screen. And sure, Arnie might have gotten top billing, but it was Ventura who got the most quotable line in the whole movie: “I ain’t got time to bleed.” Enough said.
2. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (The Rundown)
In the time since “The Rock” left the world of sports-entertainment and dropped his in-ring moniker, he’s turned himself into a marketable action star who can also get away with doing more friendly fare (see: The Tooth Fairy. Except … don’t actually go see The Tooth Fairy.)
Made during his slightly-awkward transition from The People’s Champion to The People’s Thespian, The Rundown is one of his first attempts at a buddy action movie, pairing up with Sean William Scott (or “Stifler,” if you don’t get out much.) Johnson more than holds his own, even while sharing the screen with the incomparable Christopher Walken, a man who chews scenery for breakfast and probably does wacky monologues in his sleep.
Showing off some of his signature bravado, while playing a surprisingly low-key straight man to the kookiness going on all around him, Johnson proved that he was much better than his first box office disaster, The Scorpion King, allowed him to be. The simple fact that he could restrain himself from falling back on his jabroni-beating, eyebrow-raising, elbow-dropping alter ego should’ve extinguished any doubts that The Rock had officially risen above his status as a mere Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment.
1. Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride)
In a movie that featured Cary Elwes (before he started overacting in horror movies), Mandy Patinkin (before he mumbled his way through Homeland,) Billy Crystal in his prime, Robin Wright, Christopher Guest, Fred Savage, and friggin’ Peter Falk, there’s one guy who somehow managed to steal the show: Andre the Giant.
The entire movie is endlessly quotable, but the 7’4″ behemoth literally stood head and shoulders above his cast mates in every scene he was in, perfectly capturing the disparity between his teddy-bear-like aura, and the horrific amount of pain he could inflict upon someone if he had to (or simply felt like it.)
Andre rarely got the chance to do more than toss people around when he was wearing his singlet but, in The Princess Bride, he let the world see the sweeter and funnier side of him. It’s a side that would have done him just fine in the movie biz, if his life hadn’t been cut short by complications due to acromegaly, a disease caused by an abundance of growth hormones, which gave him his immense stature in the first place. Andre, a truly gentle giant, gave a performance that will forever be considered iconic.