Good day, grapple fans. It’s WrestleMania weekend, so you know what that means: wrestling, wrestling, and, yep, more wrestling. But, among the suplexes, slams, and other shenanigans taking place in New Orleans and beyond, you may want to take a break, kick back, and watch some movies. Starring wrestlers. Because, let’s be honest, you can never truly escape wrestling.
The storied legacy of wrestlers becoming actors – even if it’s only a one-time thing – ranges from the downright terrible to the ‘Hey, he’s not actually that bad.’ Many have taken their squared circle talents and translated it to movies to mixed effect. But we’re here to celebrate the great and the good. Here are the 10 best wrestlers-turned-actors.
10. 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
By all metrics, Stone Cold Steve Austin should’ve become one of the most bankable wrestlers-turned-movie stars. That didn’t happen. What did happen though was a series of appearances in middling-to-decent action movies that made the most of the Rattlesnake’s take-no-trash style and icy stare.
Acting debut: The Longest Yard (2005)
Best movie: The Expendables (2010)
Defining moment: Stone Cold being trapped in a battle royale-style game with Vinnie Jones and 8 others in The Condemned is way more fun than it should be. Fortnite, this ain’t.
9. Hulk Hogan
You think wrestling, you think Hulk Hogan. You think Hulk Hogan acting and you think, well… The Hulkster’s acting prowess may not live up to some of the more esteemed names on this list but his Rocky 3 debut was solid enough, as was the entertaining efforts to turn him into a gigantic movie star in the early ‘90s. If nothing else, Hogan was entertaining every time he popped up on screen.
Acting debut: Rocky 3 (1982)
Best movie: Rocky 3 (1982)
Defining moment: It has to be all of Mr. Nanny. It’s a perfect mirror of Hogan: OTT, brimming with muscles and not much else and, despite all that, you can’t keep your eyes off it.
8. Randy Savage
While the Macho Man may have only appeared in a couple of noteworthy movies over the years, not many single performances will top Savage’s rage in the cage facing off against Spidey. It’s a crushing shame, then, that Savage, often considered one of the most charismatic wrestlers of all time, didn’t show off his acting chops more often.
Acting debut: Baywatch (1996)
Best movie: Spider-Man (2002)
Defining moment: Not many will forget Peter Parker’s first tussle in a hurry. Playing the role of Bonesaw McGraw, Savage was a huge part of the success of the movie’s first act.
7. Andre the Giant
If you didn’t know him by the time he was slammed by Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3, you sure knew him by the time he took to the silver screen as Fizzik in The Princess Bride. The man mountain overcame what was, let’s face it, not the look of a Hollywood star to become one of the most beloved characters in a film filled with them. That’s a giant feat in and of itself.
Acting debut: The Six Million Dollar Man (1976)
Best movie: The Princess Bride (1987)
Defining moment: Andre’s deadpan poetry in The Princess Bride is a masterclass in comedy from both himself and Mandy Patinkin.
6. Roddy Piper
Now this was a man who could act. The dearly-departed Hot Rod often left an indelible impression inside the wrestling ring but it was arguably outside it where he delivered some of his finest performances. He will be fondly remembered for his role as Nada in They Live, as well as a host of other scene-stealing cameos.
Acting debut: They Live (1988)
Best movie: They Live (1988)
Defining moment: “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Yep, Roddy coined that.
5. Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash, bizarrely enough, started acting before he got his big break in wrestling – and it shows. Carrying with him a presence that many of his acting and wrestling peers simply can’t hold a candle to, his menacing demeanour has carried him through some of the most eclectic and strangely entertaining wrestler cameos in recent memory.
Acting debut: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (1991)
Best movie: Magic Mike (opens in new tab)(2012)
Defining moment: Having a gun put to his head by John Wick (opens in new tab). It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
4. Jesse Ventura
You might not know Jesse Ventura by name, but you’ve definitely seen his work. One of the best talkers in the game in the late-‘70s, Ventura went on to reinvent himself as a companion piece to many an action movie. Predator and The Running Man formed the Mega Powers of his (unfortunately) short acting career, with a handful of cameos elsewhere.
Acting debut: Predator (1987)
Best movie: The Running Man (1987)
Defining moment: “I ain’t got time to bleed,” deadpans Ventura’s character in Predator. He sure loves oozing cool, though.
3. John Cena
Like many a wrestler who goes dreaming of Hollywood, John Cena’s acting career started off rocky. The Marine was awful, 12 Rounds was even worse but somehow – some way – Cena has reinvented himself as one of the best up-and-coming (relatively speaking: he’s 40-years-old) comedic actors of his generation. As his filmography will attest, he’s only going to get better from here.
Acting debut: The Marine (2006)
Best movie: Blockers (opens in new tab) (2018)
Defining moment: Carrying matches his Big Match John’s forte. Carrying an entire animated picture by himself? That’s a whole ‘nother problem. But it’s one Cena pulled off in some style in the Oscar-nominated Ferdinand.
2. Dave Bautista
Not much was expected from Dave ‘Batista’ Bautista when he took a sabbatical from the WWE to pursue an acting career. It’s safe to say he’s exceed every expectation – and then some. Featuring in the movie of the generation Avengers: Infinity War (opens in new tab), as well as everything from Spectre to Blade Runner 2049 (opens in new tab), Batista is making a habit of proving everyone wrong.
Acting debut: Smallville (2006)
Best movie: Guardians of the Galaxy (opens in new tab) (2014)
Defining moment: Tucked away in the opening moments of Blade Runner 2049 comes Big Dave’s best straight-up piece of acting, playing a replicant with a shadowy past. More of that, please. He’s not just a bruiser.
1. The Rock
How could it not be The Great One at numero uno? Suffering a shaky start to his Hollywood career with a dual-stinkathon by turning up as The Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King, Dwayne Johnson went on to be the guy, appearing in everything from Fast and the Furious to the upcoming Shazam, and one of the highest-grossing actors of all time. Not bad for a wrestler, eh?
Acting debut: That ‘70s Show (1999)
Best movie: Fast Five (opens in new tab) (2011)
Defining moment: Sure, we know Dwayne Johnson is a bonafide action hero, but did you know he had a set of pipes on him? Showcasing his vocal range, as well as his razor-sharp comedic talent, his turn in Moana (opens in new tab) solidified the Brahma Bull as one of the most versatile actors around.