Pop 5: Wrestlers in Movies

bill bodkin looks at the best sports entertainers in thespianic endeavors…

pop5wrestlers

Pro wrestlers have been a part of our cinematic experiences for decades. From Hulk Hogan’s famed cameo in Rocky III to the critically acclaimed film, The Wrestler, pro wrestlers have been in some really good movies and have delivered pretty damn good performances. And as a lifelong wrestling fan, this writer can admit that pro wrestlers and good performances usually don’t go hand-in-hand. Yes, any Hulk Hogan or John Cena film is usually a completely unwatchable train wreck and those pulpy lucha-starring B-Movies, while perfect for pop counterculture fashion and art, are not actually good films.

We bring up wrestlers and movies because in 2013 the combination will be popping up all over the silver screen. This weekend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the one wrestler who’s had a successful crossover career, is receiving rave reviews for his role in Snitch. He’ll also be in the new G.I. Joe film, Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain and Fast & Furious 6. He’s not alone though. Former MTV reality star and WWE superstar The Miz will be in the straight-to-DVD film, The Marine 3. World Wrestling Entertainment is also involved in the production in release of the new Halle Berry film The Call and new the Colin Farrell/Noomi Rapace thriller Dead Man Down.

So we decided to look at five great performances by pro wrestlers in modern cinema. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the following performances which barely missed the cut — Ernest “The Cat” Miller in The Wrestler, Hulk Hogan in Rocky III, Jerry “The King” Lawler in Man on the Moon, Dave Bautista in The Man with The Iron Fists and of course, Terry Funk in Roadhouse.

5. Dylan Keith Summers as The Necro Butcher in The Wrestler

If you want to capture the insanity of independent pro wrestling in the United States, especially the East Coast, you need The Necro Butcher. Dylan Keith Summers is perfect in The Wrestler portraying, well himself. We first encounter Summers going over his death match with Randy the Ram (Mickey Rourke) in the backstage area of a local Combat Zone Wrestling show in South Philly (which is filling in for New Jersey). Summers comes off as a very polite, mild-mannered and easy going dude. Then when he hits the ring he becomes the half-crazed Necro Butcher — a wildman with shaggy hair, a cannabis tat on his arm and cut-off jeans who wrestles barefoot and has a penchant for stapling dollar bills to his body. He’s the perfect character to express how wild and weird and utterly violent the world of wrestling is. His reputation as a complete badass gives the film a lot of street cred with wrestling fans as well. Physically, his performance is gut-wrenching, for those who are squeamish, you’ll need to look away as he and Rourke smash each other with barbed wire, light tubes, forks, cheese graters and ladders.

4. Jesse “The Body” Ventura as Blain in Predator

“I ain’t got time to bleed.” “This’ll make you a God damn sexual Tyrannosaurus Rex…like me!” “This makes Cambodia look like Kansas.” All classic lines from The Body…and he’s barely in the film for more than 20 minutes. Predator is one of the best movies in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s canon if not one of the Top 25 movies of that decade, at least in this writer’s opinion. The Body, who starred with Arnold in Running Man, is an inspired choice for the role of a sawed off commando with a mini-gun. Despite being past his wrestling prime, Ventura still was a physical specimen who’s imposing presence fit perfectly with Arnold, the native American mystic warrior Billy and a diesel Carl Weathers. And in the long line of wrestlers playing imposing figures, Ventura not only pulls off the physical aspect but his wiseass nature makes him more believable.

3. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Agent 23 in Get Smart

The Rock is one of the most charismatic pro wrestlers, probably in the history of the industry. And frankly, most of his movie roles have been these lame family comedies or the blunt force, yell a few lines and shoot things tough guy roles. That’s not what makes The Rock great — he’s funny, he’s engaging and yes, he’s a really good action star. This was evidenced perfectly in the big screen adaptation of Get Smart. The Rock held his own with Steve Carrell and Anne Hathaway and was able to play a :::SPOILER ALERT::: convincing bad guy. These are the roles The Rock should be cast in for the rest of his career — but all those muscles will get in the way. However, as long he is able to pick a role like this up every few films, that’ll be a good thing.

2. Roddy Piper as Nada in They Live

Let me make one specific distinction her — this is the best film with a pro wrestler as its main star…yet when you get to #1, you’ll see why, The Rowdy Scot comes in #2. But let’s get down the nitty gritty…this movie is AWESOME. Directed by the legendary John Carpenter (Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China) One of the all-time great late night classics, They Live is the story of a transient badass (Piper) who stumbles upon a conspiracy that aliens are living amongst people and communication subliminal messages through mass media. Piper, has always been known for his sarcastic demeanor, and he’s able to bring his smart-alecky persona to a role that could’ve been severely over-the-top. I mean, no one can get away with “I’m here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m fresh out of bubble gum” but Hot Rod. Also, They Live features one of the best knock-down, drag-out fist fights in movie history.

1. Andre the Giant as Fezzik The Princess Bride

I told you so. No matter how good any wrestler has been in any movie…Andre the Giant trumps them all. As the giant Fezzik, the companion of the Spandiard Inigo Montoya, Andre brings the perfect sense of gentleness and humor to the role — he’s literally a gentle giant. I mean, he is the brute squad. And that’s why Andre works so well — with his height and weight, he should be this massively intimidating character, but when he speaks he has such a wholesome, loveable and gentle nature that you can’t help but love him. And that loveableness only bolsters the greatness of The Princess Bride. While there’s plenty to quote from Wesley, Buttercup and Inigo and plenty of scenes to remember, Andre’s presence is always one of the top characters people remember. He’s such a vital part of the movie — if he hadn’t been involved, the film would’ve suffered for sure.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites