Wrestling and movies have often made strange but comfortable bedfellows in the entertainment world and why wouldn't they? After all, wrestlers are stuntmen at heart - they're mean, moody, often physically dominant and know how to take a beating or make it look like a smaller, less able movie star is kicking their ass.
In Mexico, masked superstar El Santo was a staple of the movie scene for years, facing a variety of outlandish foes including Zombies, Dracula, Vampire Women & The Mummy.
In the late 60's in France, a young Andre The Giant who at 7ft 4" was literally the biggest attraction in wrestling for two decades, appeared in a Kung Fu film, and went on to become a go-to guy for villainous TV and movie roles. Bigfoot in the Six Million Dollar Man? Check! Dagoth in Conan The Destroyer?, Check! WWF World Champion, Check! and of course the immortal Fezzik in The Princess Bride
Away from the bigger featured roles, however, wrestlers became those go-to guys for bad ass bad characters. Former NWA World Champion Terry Funk was someone who parlayed his craft and ring persona into being a regular 80's henchman in movies such as RoadHouse and Over The Top. Ox Baker was memorable as the spiked club wielding Slag in Escape From New York and Tom "Zeus" Lister was an actor who became a wrestler for No Holds Barred and is one of the more recognisable 'bit part monsters' with a pivotal role in The Dark Knight.
More recently that role has been taken by former WWE star Kurrgan A.K.A Robert Maillet, who has had major roles in Sherlock Holmes, Pacific Rim and The Mortal Instruments.
Then there's the 7ft Kevin Nash, at one time the biggest name in the business who has parlayed into a successful second career.
How many guys, well into their fifties and after a heart attack can reinvent themselves as a bad ass character actor? Not many. Nash has appeared in The Longest Yard, The Punisher, John Wick and the Magic Mike movies.
Think back to movies and shows that involve wrestling...there's a lot more than you think. Some suck royally like WCW's attempt at crossover Ready To Rumble, which saw David Arquette actually become the world champion for "real", to short cameos in movies like Highlander, where the Freebirds are in their pomp.
The Ultimate Males vs The Ultimate Meatballs
Arguably the man who first recognised this was Sylvester Stallone, first in making Paradise Alley, which featured a number of wrestlers and was "Rocky in Wrestling" to an extent. He then went the full hog by casting Hulk Hogan as almost himself (he was a villain at the time) in Rocky III.
A star was born, not only for pop culture but for the WWF, which capitalised on the new Hulkamania wave by teaming the two antagonists of Rocky III together at the first Wrestlemania. Mr T was not a wrestler, but it proved that with the right skills and promotional touch, Hollywood and Bodyslams could combine.
Of the 80's henchmen, arguably the most successful was one who most people never realised was a wrestler, or can believe he was today because of where he ended up.
Jesse "The Body" Ventura was a contemporary of Hogan who, if not for a lung issue related to his Navy Seal days, could easily have been the enemy Hogan faced for years. Instead, Jesse became the flamboyant and controversial "bad guy commentator" and gained the attention of Arnold Schwarzenneger who got him on board with Predator.
Here was a guy who was a wrestler, but could ACT. His character Blaine is one of the most quoted of 80's pop culture with zingers sich as "I ain't got time to bleed" and a politically incorrect by today's standard advert for chewing tobacco.
He repeated the trick in Arnie's next film, The Running Man, playing basically himself and became a staple of movies for the next decade, before entering politics and becoming the Governor of Minnesota.
At the time, however, Ventura's crossover was not well received by Vince McMahon, the undoubted ruler of all things wrestling today, and then the most successful promoter. The waters were muddied with the next big and sadly short lived crossover but one that proved it could be done.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper was an almost bizarre casting choice, until you remember the director was maverick John Carpenter and the movie They Live.
Piper brought one of the most honest and impressive performances of the 80's.
He wasn't the best actor, but his character was a normal guy, in a f'ed up situation, and who could kick ass when he was out of bubble gum. The most memorable aspects of They Live are Piper's dark humor and sheer physicality, he and Keith David literally smashed each other up, it's the most brutal fight of it's era and raised the bar for fight choreography. Piper was even able to use the exact same fight 8 years later at Wrestlemania 12.
Piper never recovered in wrestling terms and his career suffered, but he kicked the door open enough for Hulk Hogan to try his hand in a McMahon sanctioned way.
Like him or loathe him, Hogan did OK for the time, his movies weren't top draws at the box office, nor particularly good, but they did a job. The Gremlins 2 cameo is easily the best thing he did however and again, it hurt him that he couldn't get away from the Hulk persona enough to act.
Things went quiet for many years then, indeed wrestlers were again relegated to B villain/henchman status with the most notable in that interim period being the ill fated Jeep Swenson's turn as Bane in Batman & Robin (he died shortly afterwards) until WCW's magnum opus came along and nearly tanked that line of work too with only the late, great Macho Man Randy Savage carrying the team as Bonesaw in the first Spiderman.
A New Era
Ready To Rumble is easily one of the worst films ever, I am embarrassed to be a wrestling fan when that movie comes on. Yet at the same time, something strange was happening. For the first time there was some reality coming into the business and indeed a new "attitude era". Suddenly there were a plethora of new, exciting stars with REAL charisma making Wrestling the biggest thing on TV.
The 'Monday Night War' of 1996-2001 saw head to head shows, both drawing millions of viewers and competing with Monday Night Football.
Of that generation of WWE stars, several have made their careers in TV and Movies, either as part of WWE or outside.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, the leader of that era has a modestly successful Direct To Video movie career in the same vein as Segal or Van Damme.
Current and Future head of WWE Triple H's role in Blade Trinity was beefed up cos he was so good, Kurt Angle has appeared in movies such as Warrior, Chris Jericho has been a a rock star and on off movie star, appearing in a hilarious cameo with several of his buddies in McGruber, and is in the latest Sharknado movie and Edge/Adam Copeland is a series regular on Haven and just cast in The Flash as the Atom Smasher.
The Next Big Things?
Above that however are a new class... guys who have REALLY made it into the mainstream and who Hollywood WANT in movies.
Dave Bautista was most likely to fit the henchman stereotype until he knocked it out of the park as Drax The Destroyer in [Guardians of the Galaxy](tag:424073), now he's a Bond Villain and the number one pick to play the Kurgan in the Highlander remake.
John Cena has been the WWE's top guy for 10 years, almost avoiding Hollywood. However, he is now getting those roles and while Trainwreck isn't the best movie in the world, he's just about the best thing in it, playing completely against type but he's someone Disney could look to for a few years as he has a kid friendly image.
Know Your Role Jabroni....If Ya Smell...
Of course, the winner, the guy who has made it above all others, starting with those two catchphrases.
The Rock made his starring debut in Welcome To The Jungle/The Rundown, after his cameo in the Mummy sequel and award for worst CGI in history...and it was not only great fun, but showed some chops. Indeed, Arnie himself passed the torch at the start of that movie, yet few believed Dwayne Johnson would now be the defacto Box Office Champion Of The World.
He first raised the people's eyebrow (get it?) in Be Cool, playing gay, flamboyant and completely against type. Many rolled their eyes at his Disney contract as "Hogan all over again" but it built his so that starting with Fast Five and GI Joe, any franchise he gets involved in is a big deal.
Since then, each movie has become a bigger and bigger deal to the point where he now holds the cards. HBO have picked up his Ballers series after 3 episodes for a full 2nd season run. He can get a remake of Big Trouble In Little China off the ground on his name alone and can make HIS movies, his way.
How Did This All Happen?
Darren Aronofsky and Mickey Rourke deserve a big assist for The Wrestler, which showed not only that wrestlers are 3 dimensional people, but by producing a movie that was a slow three count/screwjob from winning Best Picture and Best Actor at the Oscars, they got people to slowly begin to change their perception in Hollywood. Mickey even showed up at Wrestlemania to knock Chris Jericho the hell out!
Of the current WWE roster, there aren't huge names who scream "Future Movie Star" but the point is you never DO know. WWE has it's own films and that gives its people some exposure, but it's entirely possible a dream role lands in the hands of a Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose or Sheamus, after all he did say he couldn't say he wasn't Darth Vader in Episode 7.
Why do Hollywood want these guys? They are physical, can do stunts and act for their day job, after all Wrestling is basically an episodic soap opera, competing with The Walking Dead, Gotham and Agents of Shield. The secret? WWE is a TV show set in a wrestling promotion!
They fans as rabid as those for Game Of Thrones, a whole internet community who blog, write and become part of the show and recognition from casual fans who may not follow the product, but can identify a wrestler when they see one.
There aren't many downsides in casting a famous wrestler these days.
Which is your favourite wrestler crossover role?