My favorite movie of all-time, without question, is Rocky. In the third installment of the Rocky series, a pro wrestler named Hulk Hogan played the role of “Thunderlips” The success of the movie would earn Hogan stardom that crossed over into his main profession — pro wrestling — like never seen before.
However, long before “The Hulkster” was “The Ultimate Male,” professional wrestlers have dabbled in the Hollywood scene. For example, did you know that Lenny Montana, who portrayed “Luca Brasi” in one of my other favorite films of all-time — The Godfather — was also a professional wrestler?
Today we are going to look at the top five pro wrestlers who crossed over into Hollywood. Are we looking at the best movies that featured wrestlers? No. Are we looking at the best wrestlers that appeared in movies? Nope. In this list, we are going to look at the five wrestlers who have achieved the most success in the film industry, starting with …
#5. Kevin Nash
As a kid, I remember one of the cool trivia facts I would share with friends at school was that “Super Shredder” in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was actually “Big Daddy Cool” himself, Diesel. It wasn’t a major role and you couldn’t even really tell that Nash was the guy in the role, but the bottom line is, it was a pretty big film and the beginning of a run in Hollywood that few wrestlers have enjoyed.
Getting into some of his more recent work, Nash proved that he has legitimate comedy-acting chops with a role in the Adam Sandler film, “The Longest Yard,” a movie that featured a bevy of pro wrestlers. One could even argue that from a comedic point-of-view, Nash stole every scene he was in.
“Big Sexy” also enjoyed a considerable amount of success when it comes to cameo roles in legitimate films. Nash has appeared briefly in such notable movies as “The Punisher,” “Rock Of Ages” and “Magic Mike.”
#4. Roddy Piper
As best I can tell, “The Hot Rod” might be one of the first big-name pro wrestlers who had a starring role in a major movie with his portrayal of “Nada” in the John Carpenter film, “They Live.” Who could ever forget the infamous line, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass … and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
With an IMDB profile that includes 94 acting credits, Piper has had his share of work in the Hollywood scene. While many of those credits are for professional wrestling events, if you comb through it, he has appeared in a number of studio movies, television series and other film and TV-related projects, but it is his “They Live” gig that earns Piper a spot on any kind of list involving pro wrestlers and acting.
#3. Steve Austin
That’s right folks, “Stone Cold” deserves a spot on this list as much as anyone else. Certainly not for his WWE Studios film, “The Condemned,” which was fine for what it was, but some of his other work earns him my vote for the number three spot on this list.
“The Rattlesnake” started his foray into the acting world with a role on the hit television series, “Nash Bridges” back in 1999. From there, Austin would make a few voice-over cameos as himself, such as his one-time gig in the critically acclaimed animated series “Dilbert,” as well as the once wildly-popular “Celebrity Deathmatch,” where Austin appeared in 16 episodes.
However it was Adam Sandler’s “The Longest Yard” where Austin had his movie debut. While I stand by my claim that the aforementioned Kevin Nash stole the show when it comes to the various wrestlers who appeared in the film, Austin wasn’t far behind (unless you consider Bob Sapp a wrestler, that is.)
After “The Longest Yard,” the next big-time movie that Austin would appear in was Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables.” Austin showed his action-movie acting chops in that film, even if his role wasn’t that big.
It was his comedic sensibility, however, that proved to be the key when it comes to Austin’s acting career, as he popped up in another successful Sandler movie, “Grown-Ups 2” as the bully-type character, “Tommy Cavanaugh.” The scenes Austin had near the end of that movie were absolutely hilarious and proved that when it comes to making people laugh in movies, Austin has to be among the best pro wrestlers to ever get the job done.
With roles in films such as “The Man With The Iron Fists” and “Riddick,” Dave Bautista, better known to pro wrestling fans as “The Animal” Batista, would likely earn an “honorable mention” spot on this list for those alone. However, it is the monumental success of the film “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which as I write this is still number one at the box office several weeks into its’ release, that earns Batista such a high spot on this list.
As noted in the intro, this list is not about the best acting gig for a wrestler, or the best movie that a wrestler appeared in, but rather wrestlers who achieved the most success in films. How can anyone argue that Batista, who is in one of the lead roles of what could end up being the single biggest box office success in motion-picture history, hasn’t achieved Hollywood success that few dream of?
Batista’s role as “Drax” is not only critically acclaimed, but as noted, is one of the key roles in a film that is smashing box office records left-and-right.
After “The Animal” finishes enjoying the success of “Guardians,” he is going to star as the lead heel in a film that I’m actually looking forward to, the remake of the 1980s cult-martial-arts classic, “Kickboxer.” While I don’t personally expect that to be a critical or financial success, I am pretty confident that due to the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Batista will be receiving some pretty big movie offers in the near future, if he hasn’t already.
#1. The Rock
And we get to number one, which is a no-brainer: Hulk Hogan! Just kidding, although with his work in “No Holds Barred” and “Mr. Nanny,” I’m sure “The Hulkster” would debate that his acting chops are as superior as you can get.
Who didn’t love “Thunder In Paradise,” c’mon!
Anyways, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson took the idea of a pro wrestler being taken as a serious Oscar-contender-level actor from a total joke to an actual possibility. Literally no professional wrestler can come close to matching the Hollywood success that The Rock has enjoyed.
Starting with his small role in the film, “The Mummy Returns,” The Rock took the Hollywood scene by storm and made everyone take notice. After that role, an entire prequel was made starring The Rock called, “The Scorpion King,” which earned Johnson the largest pay day for a first-time starring actor in history. He would continue to break records such as these, as Forbes dubbed The Rock as one of the highest-paid actors on planet Earth multiple years in a row.
Originally, it seemed as though The Rock would be pigeon-holed, or typecast as an action-movie star. This era’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Rock, however, decided to switch things up and take some unique roles that diversified his resume and made Hollywood look at him from a totally different perspective.
Beginning with his role as “Elliot Wilhelm,” the gay bodyguard in the film “Be Cool,” The Rock threw the Hollywood scene a curve-ball and proved that he doesn’t have to be just another big, muscled-up dude who carries a gun and shoots bad guys. Nope, The Rock can belt out a tune in the goofiest red cowboy costume you’ve ever seen and still bounce-back and show legitimate acting chops with a role such as “Sean Porter” in the film “Gridiron Gang.”
The Rock has appeared in movie franchises such as “The Fast and Furious” and the “Journey” films, as well as films such as “Pain & Gain” and “Hercules,” rounding out the most impressive wrestler-turned-actor resume in history.
Without a doubt, The Rock truly is “The Great One,” both in the ring and on the big screen.
There are a ton of other wrestlers who have either appeared in movies once or twice, or actually strung together a nice little acting resume. While I won’t list all of them, I do believe a few deserve their credit. Among them are the following names:
The Miz, sorry buddy, you didn’t make the cut!
Which wrestlers do you feel achieved the most success in the film industry? Create your own list or comment on mine by posting your feedback in the “Comments” section below. You can also hit me up on Facebook at Facebook.com/MattBooneWZR and/or on Twitter @MBoone420.