From the Squared Circle to the Silver Screen: The Best Wrestlers Turned Actors
It’s the most exciting time of any World Wrestling Entertainment fan’s year, Wrestlemania. Dozens of the biggest names in the business come together to put on a larger than life spectacle. It’s no secret that professional wrestling is little more than just that, scripted spectacle. Wrestlers put their bodies at risk to entertain and tell fantastical stories. Needless to say, it’s a cruel and dangerous career, leading many to try and bring their acting talents elsewhere. More often than not, that attempt leads to nothing memorable, but here’s a look at some professional wrestlers who were successful in moving from the ring to the screen.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Many professional wrestlers have attempted the jump from ring to film, but without a question, none have been more successful than Dwayne Johnson. ‘The Rock’ went from a nearly fifteen-year career as a despicable heel, a ruthless badass that you love to hate, to being the biggest movie star in the world. The man’s a bellwether for high quality action films, like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and San Andreas. He memorably made his debut in The Mummy Returns in a role that was so popular that it spawned its own spin-off series that’s had more sequels than the series it came from. In recent years he’s taken his considerable talents to the Fast and Furious franchise, which he’s helped take to insane heights at the box office. He’s not only a great action performer, he also has more than what it takes to do comedy, as seen in Richard Kelly’s bizarre magnum opus Southland Tales. He even has a great singing voice, as was proven in Moana. There seems to be nothing that he can’t excel at.
John Cena has been the face of the WWE for the better part of the last decade, and with good reason. Beyond his all-American looks and giant biceps, the man’s a great in-ring performer, and his mic skills are second to none. In recent years he’s transitioned nicely into a secondary role in the company that made his name, using his status to help push newer talent, while he focused on bringing his charismatic talents to the big screen. Cena’s first foray into film was the fairly forgettable, below average action flick, The Marine, produced by WWE Studios. In the years since, fellow WWE Superstar the Miz, has taken over the Marine series (to a truly baffling six entries), and Cena’s popularity among children has boomed. While he has taken the logical next step and lent his voice to a few animated features, he’s also stepped out and taken a few surprising supporting roles in raunchy comedies, playing an overly emotional (and fully nude) boyfriend in Trainwreck, an intimidating badass drug dealer with a secret sensitive side in Sisters, and most recently a dorky father attempting to stop his teenage daughter from losing her virginity in Blockers. He’s genuinely funny in all three of these movies, using his unique physique to his advantage in hilarious ways.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
To call Roddy Piper a good actor would be an insult to good actors, but there is absolutely no question that he had charm for days. With his trademark kilt and his snappy wit, ‘Hot Rod’ was a true performer, and one of the best heels in the history of the WWE. Piper brought his considerable comedy talents and general allure to a variety of schlock from the late ‘80s all the way until his untimely death in 2015. His most noteworthy year was certainly 1988, when he starred in two bona fide cult classics, They Live and Hell Comes to Frogtown. The latter is a goofy fun time in the post-apocalypse, but the former is an ambitious special effects masterpiece, one of many from the master John Carpenter. The film’s anti-capitalism message has never been truer than today, but it’s Piper that makes the film truly special.
André the Giant
While he may have had the shortest onscreen career of any other wrestlers featured on this list, André the Giant certainly had one of the most impactful. All it took was one single film role to capture the imaginations of everybody that saw it the world over. The towering seven-foot, four-inch man plays, appropriately enough, a wrestler by the name of Fezzik in The Princess Bride. He’s a friendly soul unfortunately aligned with the wrong side until he and his friend Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) break away and agree to help Westley (Cary Elwes) on his mission to save Buttercup (Robin Wright) in Rob Reiner’s beloved fairy tale. André is wholly lovable in the film, a gentle giant with a penchant for rhyme, and it’s a performance that’s stood the test of time.
Of all the wrestlers that have made themselves a successful film career, Dave Bautista seems one of the most unlikely. He certainly has the look and had a smoldering intensity with the best of them, but I always found his in-ring ability to be lacking. That’s why it’s so shocking to me that he’s become the wonderful actor that he has. His most noteworthy role so far is that of Drax, the grey and red warrior who has difficulty expressing and understanding emotions, in Guardians of the Galaxy. Bautista’s hilarious in the film and is a true standout even with the already stacked cast. His most recent role was as a protein farming replicant in Blade Runner 2049 who Ryan Gosling’s character has to kill. Despite only being in the film’s opening scene, Bautista nearly steals the movie, effortlessly conveying complex emotions.