In tribute to the 30-man wrestling spectacular The Royal Rumble tonight, here’s my Top 30: Wrestlers in Movies!
Tonight is the Royal Rumble, and the beginning of the Road to Wrestlemania – and that’s a good enough reason for me to final be able to write a wrestling article! As you may know, I’m a big fan of pro wrestling, everything from the soapy storylines of WWE to the hard hitting Japanese output. I listen to podcasts, scour websites for the backstage gossip, and endlessly debate my favourite wrestlers with anyone who will listen. So here is a list of my favourite wrestler performance in films, and remember, it’s my favourite, not best or most succesful, but my favourites…
Sort of. You see, 30 wrestlers is a lot. Like A LOT. I needed a bit of help, so…
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, The Snooty Ushers proudly present the brand new SENIOR WRESTLING CONSULTANT of this website…he’s a former usher AND a former wrestler… JONNY HOGARTH!”
Thanks for the help Jonny, he will be chipping in with some thoughts on this list.
A few rules I made up: it has to be a proper feature film, it’s open to anyone who has ever wrestled professionally, and (to stop this list being dominated by The Miz’s awesome back catalogue) one film per wrestler. Also, I’ve listed the wrestler under the name they were credited as in the film.
One last thing, I’ve not included any women wrestlers, because Trish Stratus in Bounty Hunters is worse than no 30 on the list, if you can believe that, and there really aren’t any other options. Eve Torres in the Scorpion King 3 and Summer Rae in The Marine 4 are two gems I’ve missed. Maybe when Sasha Banks makes a film. So, here we go:
30. Triple H (Jarko Grimwood, Blade: Trinity)
So we start out with a decent turn in a pretty poor film (but it’s better than The Chaperone). HHH plays a vampire henchman with a vampire dog.
Jonny Hogarth, Senior Wrestling Correspondent: HHH is James Maughan’s favourite wrestler, that’s all I’m saying.
29. Mr Kennedy (Carter Holt, Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia)
Yup there was a sequel to Behind Enemy Lines. Then there this third one. At the time he was Mr Kennedy, is currently Mr Anderson, and is Ken Anderson some of the time, and he was alright in what is a decent (if low budget) army thriller. Oh and yup, there’s even a fourth.
JH, SWC: He likes to say his surname…
28. Edge (Lachlan, Highlander: Endgame)
A tiny cameo, but “looks like you’ve lost the edge” is the highlight of the film.
JH, SWC: The most decorated wrestler in WWE and retired as the World Heavyweight champion says it all about the R-Rated superstar.
27. Chris Jericho (Frank Korver, MacGruber)
Another small role, but Jericho helps MacGruber collect together a group of mercenaries (also wrestlers Big Show, Mark Henry, Great Khali, Kane, and MVP) who meet a comedic fiery end.
JH, SWC: Jericho was once good, but now is a out of touch overly sensitive wrestler/podcaster/singer/actor/writer.
26. George “The Animal” Steele (Tor Johnson, Ed Wood)
George Steele doesn’t really have an acting career – but he was great playing Johnson, the wrestler who appeared in many of Ed Woods films, getting the Swedish accent spot on.
JH, SWC: He used to wrestle during the summer then go back to his full time job of teaching.
25. Ox Baker (Slag, Escape From New York)
A memorable fight scene as Snake is put in a gladiatorial battle with this monster. Baker was one of the most hated wrestlers ever, starting a riot when he repeatedly “heart punched” a local hero.
JH, SWC: A name on this list that many will not know he played the crazy man act inside and outside of the ring.
24. Tommy “Tiny” Lister (Winston, Jackie Brown)
Another small role, but Tarantino picked the right guy for the role as Winston, the bondsman’s huge assistant.
JH, SWC: Can this one even count? Technically Tom Lister only wrestled after the film No Holds Barred came out
23. Tyler Mane (Sabretooth, X-Men)
X-Men isn’t as good as the sequel, but as the muscle for the bad guys Mane is pretty good. Like plenty of the people in this list, he has great fight scenes (with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine).
JH, SWC: He once appeared in an episode of Party of Five
22. Paul “The Giant” Wight (Captain Insan-o, The Waterboy)
The Big Show “only” plays an over the top wrestler here, but he does it really, really well!
JH, SWC: He once threw a triple whopper at someone’s car.
21. Pat Roach (1st Mechanic, Raiders Of The Lost Ark)
Roach has a total of 4 roles in the original Indiana Jones films, the only actor other than Harrison Ford to be in all three. My favourite, obviously, is the mechanic who fights Professor Jones around a plane and meets a sticky end!
JH, SWC: Standing at 6ft5, it’s no wonder Roach got the role as a film heavy. A British wrestler from the World of Sport days, but will always be known as bomber from TVs Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
20. Brian Glover (Harold Andrews, Alien 3)
Alien 3 was nearly one of the greatest films of all time, but it all fell apart and became the mess that we saw. Glover is great as the prison warden, a proper no-nonsense hard man, when – like Pat Roach – he was one of the nicest guys in the world.
JH, SWC: Another World of sport wrestler making the list wrestling under the name of Leon Arras. A match he had against Les Kellet is available on YouTube and I highly recommend you don’t watch any of these films and watch that instead. You can call it Jonny’s Wandering Around World of Sport, and Laycock you can shove your Negotiating Netflix where the sun don’t shine jabroni.
19. Rob Van Dam (Bobby Kalinowski, Wrong Side Of Town)
Wrong Side of Town starts as a pretty rubbish, low budget action thriller. It’s the sort of film you might imagine JCVD or Steven Seagal making at the beginning of their careers. But it gets a bit better when RVD starts punching, kicking, and shooting the bad guys, it’s surprisingly entertaining. And RVD is the lead role, a big step for a man with no experience, so he gets extra bonus points from me, although unsurprisingly the DVDs now have Dave Bautista featured rather prominently on the cover.
JH, SWC: 420!
18. Kevin Nash (The Russian, The Punisher)
The Punisher has had problems when transferring to the big screen – you could argue that the 1989 Dolph Lundgren film is actually the best version – but Thomas Jane fought a huge blonde haired assassin played by Nash, and he was very good!
JH, SWC: Never has a man done so much with so little talent is what many wrestling fans would say. However, it’s hard to argue the sheer coolness of Big Daddy Cool.
17. Ernest Miller (Bob “The Ayatollah”, The Wrestler)
Obviously this film had to make it onto the list! When “The Ram” needs an opponent for his last match, “The Ayatollah” is perfect. The wrestling character a facsimile of The Iron Sheik, but Bob is happily retired, selling cars. He is everything that Randy Robinson should have been. Ernest “The Cat” Miller is brilliant in his few scenes, so natural, a proper acting performance!
JH, SWC: He got his start in wrestling by being Eric Bischoff’s karate instructor.
16. Lenny Montana (Luca Brasi The Godfather)
In case you’re wondering, and avoiding spoliers in a 40 year old film, Luca Brasi is the one sent on a secret assignment who ends up… having a Sicilian message sent about him. The Godfather is a masterpiece (the acting’s great, but I’ll tell you what’s even better – a lot of people are shocked when I say this – the camera angles) and Montana (who became a proper actor after his wrestling career wound down) is great in this strong and silent role.
JH, SWC: Wrestled in the 50s, 60s, and 70s in the old territory system in America
15. Alex Karras (Mongo, Blazing Saddles)
As the big hulking simpleton (with a nice line in philosophy), Karras is brilliant in one of my favourite comedies AND one of my favourite westerns, so maybe this is higher than others would have him. Meh, it’s my list.
JH, SWC: Many American footballers players become wrestlers after their career has ended. But Karras started wrestling before he joined the NFL.
14. Harold Sakata (Oddjob, Goldfinger)
Again, a bit of higher rating than many would give, but Goldfinger is my favourite Bond film. I will repeat: meh, it’s my list. The bowler-hatted brute Oddjob is my favourite henchman in all of Bond, more than a match for Bond physically, and Sakata is fantastic.
JH, SWC: He wrestled under the name of Tosh Togo and also won a silver medal for the USA at the 1948 London Olympics in weightlifting.
13. Randy Savage (Bonesaw McGraw, Spider-man)
A small role but perfectly, PERFECTLY, played by the Macho Man. Savage was a long time fan (his very first in ring name was “The Spider”) and obviously had a blast as the wrestler who Spidey has to spend 3 minutes in the cage with.
JH, SWC: Oooooh Yeahhhhh!! He did a rap album called “Be a Man” – it included a track attacking Hogan so it can’t be that bad, can it?
12. Terry Funk (Ruker, Over The Top)
Maybe his role in Roadhouse is better. But Over The Top is fantastic, so that is the one for the Funker. An antagonist to every-man Stallone, Funk is great in this excellent sports-action film.
JH, SWC: The term legend is thrown around too much Funk is the real deal, a crazy wild man of wrestling. As much as I love the film Over The Top Sylvester Stallone punching Funk through a window just would not happen, it still bugs me to this day.
11. Kane (Jacob Goodnight, See No Evil)
I don’t care, I like See No Evil! AndI like Kane in it! It shouldn’t be surprising (Kane has basically been playing a horror film character in WWE for most of the last 2 decades) but he is good as Goodnight! The sequel is a bit on the cheap side, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a third (Three No Evil? See No 3vil? See No Evil 3: See Harder?) There is a truly insane story about what Vince McMahon wanted Kane to do in the film as well.
JH, SWC: Standing at 7ft tall Kane or Glen Jacobs is an imposing figure. Just don’t ask him about Katie Vick.
10. Nathan Jones (Rictus Erectus, Mad Max: Fury Road)
Our best film of 2015, the reboot of the George Miller’s franchise is fantastic. Jones is great in the role, the oldest son of Immortan Joe and leader of the War Boys. If you still haven’t seen Fury Road yet, go watch it (after that Leon Arras v Les Kellett match our Senior Wrestling Correspondent recommended, obviously), it’s brilliant.
JH, SWC: Jones was in wrestling for a cup of coffee, he quit stating that the wrestling life was too tough.
9. Jesse Ventura (Sgt. Blain Cooper, Predator)
A testosterone-filled classic. Ventura gets plenty of one liners, and delivers them with the right mixture of macho and smart. Another 80s pro wrestler who genuinely could have made it as a film star.
JH, SWC: Do you believe in conspiracy theories? Well, the former Governor of Minnesota does. You can catch his cleverly titled Conspiracy Theories with Jesse Ventura at around 2am on TCM. Also starring (as a reporter) June Sarpong – remember her?
8. Hulk Hogan (Thunderlips, Rocky III)
The role that started it all. This role persuaded McMahon to re-sign Hogan and put the title belt on him, and build his entire promotion around him. This led to Real American, Wrestlemania, and the (then) WWF becoming a global juggernaut. Thunderlips is the professional wrestler who takes on Rocky in a charity fight, talks plenty of smack, before letting Rocky in on the secret of showmanship. His cameo in Gremlins 2 came pretty close, Santa With Muscles didn’t.
JH, SWC: I guess we could not list one of his homemade movies on this list could we!
7. John Cena (Danny Fisher, 12 Rounds)
“AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA!” was doing the round as an internet prank last year, but he genuinely seems to be about to become a cross over star, getting noticed with roles in last years’ comedies Trainwreck and Sisters. His “improv” comedy talent seem to be winning him plaudits in Hollywood, but when WWE Studios was trying to make small budget films (bizarrely setting up and shooting films back to back to back in New Orleans) with wrestlers in main roles, he made a decent action star. The Marine was cheesy, but 12 Rounds is better, as Aiden Gillen swears revenge on the cop who accidentally killed his wife. Littlefinger v Cena. Awesome.
JH, SWC: He gets a lot of hate from fans, however I am not one. The man has been at the top of his game for over 10 years now .
6. Steve Austin (Dan Paine, The Expendables)
The biggest star in the history of wrestling (the template of bad-ass v authority figure that fuelled his rise is still used to this very day) has made some entertaining straight to DVD action films, like Damages and The Stranger. The Condemned is pretty good. But his role as the muscle in The Expendables is his best role in his best film. He broke a bone in Stallone’s neck on set, which maybe didn’t help his career, and now he does more reality TV than anything else, but I would love to see Stone Cold go back to working in film, because I think he could go even higher in this list.
JH, SWC: I argued that Austin’s film The Stranger should have been on this list but I lost out. He’s got his own beer called Broken Skull IPA.
5. Jerry Lawler (Jerry “The King” Lawler, Man on the Moon)
So, we have reached the top 5, and we have a rather small role from Jerry Lawler. Not only that, but he is only playing a younger version of himself. So, how does he rank so high?
In the early 80s, comedian Andy Kaufman was going around claim to be the Intergender Heavyweight Champion, wrestling women both in his shows and at local wrestling shows around America. He wanted to move his act into bigger markets, and approached Vince McMahon Sr. to go to New York and work with the WWF wrestlers. McMahon refuses (unlike his son, he didn’t want to mix wrestling and show business) and Kaufman is put in touch with Jerry Lawler in Memphis. Kaufman eventually steps in the ring with a male – Lawler – and gets beaten in short order. Later, the two went on Late Night with David Letterman and on national TV get into a fight. Kaufman went back and worked a few more matches with Lawler, and was making money comparable to the most successful pro wrestlers, that’s how popular the angle was in Memphis.
In the Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon, Lawler plays the feud again, and it’s just as great. Jerry Lawler is probably the ultimate “territory” professional wrestler, and we all know how difficult it is to play yourself on screen convincingly. Commemorating the angle that brought show business and wrestling together deserves to be this high!
JH, SWC: Lawler playing himself in this movie but got into a fight with Jim Carrey during the filming
4. Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Batista was a really popular good guy wrestler, who left the WWE in 2010 after a good run as a heel. When he left, he trained with the Gracies and dabbled in MMA, having 1 fight, which also promoted his first cinema-released film The Man With The Iron Fists, in which he played Brassbody, and he was alright in it. He had previously been in Wrong Side of Town, which as I mentioned earlier, turns into a decent enough film. And in Riddick he was ok.
But in Drax, Dave Bautista smashed it out of the park. The amount of pathos Bautista gives the character is incredible, surpassing anything on this list. He is genuinely funny, and of course physically impressive. He pitches the role perfectly, fitting in with the tone of the film with ease.
A sequel is on the way, but I think Dave Bautista has given one of the best supporting performances in the MCU already.
JH, SWC: Batista (I thought) was destined to do straight to DVD movies forever then somehow he makes Guardians of the Galaxy, and he is brilliant. Fellow wrestler CM Punk is writing a comic book based on Batista’s character Drax. I knew I’d get a CM Punk thing in here somewhere Laycock.
3. Andre The Giant (Fezzik, The Princess Bride)
One of my favourite films of all time,
So I’m going to do this bit in rhyme,
A gentle giant with a heart of gold,
Hogan slamming Andre was a sight to behold,
WM3 broke every attendance record,
And Andre’s heel turn made it work – d’accord?
A few years later he starred in this,
Where he played a giant who kidnapped a princess,
And fought a guy who says “As you wish”
One of many scenes that’s really funny,
But Fezzik wasn’t a bad guy, he only did it for money,
I had to have him in this list to make it believable,
Missing him out would have been inconceivable!
That’s the end, I really mean it.
Anybody want a peanut?
JH, SWC: Stories of him drinking 156 beers in one sitting, throwing cans off Hogan’s head because he didn’t like him or being driven to school by the writer Samuel Beckett are just some of many tales about the near mythical Frenchman.
2. Dwayne Johnson (Driver, Faster)
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The biggest cross over star wrestling has ever produced. He started his film career as the Scorpion King, in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King (which is in itself a four film franchise, each starring either a wrestler or MMA fighter). He then made a move into less action focused roles, a move he now blames on bad advice from agents, and showed some of that natural charisma that made him The People’s Champion. I even like his kid’s film roles, the face-off with Stephen Merchant in The Tooth Fairy is just brilliant. He then really hit his stride when he became “franchise viagra”, improving the sequels to GI Joe, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and especially Fast & Furious.
But why does he hit the list at number 2? Which single role gets him this high? Jack Hobbs is badass, but he doesn’t rank higher than Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride.
The reason Dwayne Johnson didn’t make my top 10 actors list is that, for me, the main event of Wrestlemania X-7, Stone Cold Steve Austin v The Rock, is one of the best pieces of entertainment I have ever seen. Everything from the sitdown interviews with JR (Austin’s “I don’t just want to beat you, I need to beat you Rock. I need it more than anything you can imagine” is perfect) to the match itself is a classic, with only a few nitpicks over the ending not making it perfect. Personally, Dwayne Johnson has never topped that performance. But Faster is the closest he gets.
You will also notice that Jason Statham was number one in our Favourite Actors list – and I can’t give this film any higher praise than to say that I don’t think The Stath could have done it any better. Johnson plays The Driver, a getaway driver who is released from prison and goes out to get revenge on the people who apparently double crossed him and his brother a decade earlier. Naturally he is great at the action stuff, but he is paired up with some quality actors (Billy Bob Thornton, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Jennifer Carpenter) and brings goods in the quieter scenes as well. It also has a proper ending for a revenge film, the hero is changed by his actions, he doesn’t just ride off into the sunset. This type of ending is what makes Dead Man’s Shoes one of my favourites, and what gets Dwayne Johnson to number 2 on this list.
JH, SWC: I’m a huge fan of The Rock and all of his films. It’s a badass revenge film with Rock laying the smacketh down on all their candy asses. He can do no wrong in the film world. However he should never have beaten CM Punk at the 2013 Royal Rumble. I didn’t speak for 2 days after that, I was so upset. 2nd CM Punk mention – BOOM!
1. Roddy Piper (John Nada, They Live)
Was there ever any doubt?
Roddy Piper once said to Hulk Hogan “If they didn’t hate me so much, you think they would’ve been cheering you so much?” and if he wasn’t so dedicated (and admittedly well paid) to being the wrestling bad guy, Piper could have been a genuine movie star. They Live will always be a reminder of that.
A sci-fi satire from cult director John Carpenter, Piper plays a drifter who discovers that aliens have taken over the world and is suppressing the populace with subliminal messages. This is shown to him by a pair of sunglasses that reveal the true likeness of the aliens. Keith David joins Piper – after one of the best, and most pointless, fight scenes in film – and the two of them start taking down the aliens.
Simply put, Piper is brilliant in a brilliant film. I’ve never had an easier choice in a list.
JH, SWC: This was a no brainer – what’s not to love about Piper, one of wrestling’s greatest bad guys. He grew up in wrestling and made it to the top but never won the World title. But he didn’t need to, he transcended the business and everyone knew who he was. I came here to chew bubble gum and assist Laycock in this article… and I’m all outta bubblegum.
And that’s my list. Thanks to Jonny Hogarth for his help, and to you for reading, let me know if you think I’m wrong. Enjoy the Rumble!
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s Les Kellet v Leon Arras from World of Sport, as recommended by Jonny Hogarth, Senior Wrestling Correspondent for The Snooty Ushers. Enjoy!