In theory, professional wrestlers should be some of the best actors in the world. When people find out that I am a giant wrestling fan, the first thing always said to me is, of course, “You know it’s fake, right?” A little part of me dies inside as I give my stock answer: Yes, I am aware the outcomes are predetermined, but the athleticism and performances are real.
The way these performers get an emotional response out of us fans, both young and old, is exceptional, and some of realest emotions I have ever felt have been watching wrestling. So why is it so hard for them to cross over into film and tv? They do this more often than any other performance artist, multiple times a week. They’re also typecast into the “street tough/thug/bouncer” role more often than not, so it’s tougher to make an impression.
But there has been some that have made the transition well, and some to very great success. With that in mind, we present our definitive list of wrestlers who have found a second calling on the big and small screens.
Say what you will about the See No Evil film series, but I found them to be pretty affecting horror films, and Glen Jacobs was perfectly suited for the role of Jacob Goodnight. The first film was also a big success at the box office, as well. Menacing and powerful, he took what he did on WWE programming and transferred it perfectly to the screen.
Adam “Edge” Copeland was a multiple time champion in the WWE, but anyone with two eyes could tell the guy has tons of charm. After the typical roles in films as a thug or low-level bad guy, he has actually found a place on television, making notable cameos on shows such as Vikings, The Flash (as Atom Smasher), and most notably on multiple seasons of the show Haven. He was even nominated for an award for Best Actor in a TV Series Broadcast in the US at the Golden Maple awards. He and best pal Christian have their own variety show on the WWE Network titled The Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness.
8) Roddy Piper
While Piper appeared in many films and TV shows before his death last year, he will be forever remembered for his role in John Carpenter‘s They Live. John Nada was more than your typical badass, he could be put up there with some of the great 80s action characters, and his performance still holds up today. He also had a pretty great (for me) guest stint as a professional wrestler/weirdo on a couple episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, when the boys decide to host a wrestling show to raise money for troops. Piper deadpanned his way through the episode, and when he passed away, this is what I watched in his memory.
7) The Miz
OK, OK, The Miz hasn’t really been up on the big screen very much — but WWE is doing extremely well in the home video market on his back. He has starred in four different films for WWE, including the last three Marine films. And he may be the only one on the list who has taken what he learned on the film sets and made himself a better professional wrestler. Between the films and the voice work he does in animated films, he is the go-to face for the WWE for promotional purposes, as well (when they can’t get John Cena).
6) Jesse Ventura
I do not like the man personally, but he was one of the first pro wrestlers in the 80s to transcend the business and play roles as an action star. 1987 was his year, as he had memorable roles in both The Running Man and some little film called Predator. Why he never fully built on that momentum is beyond me; he had great screen presence and the look to be an action star for years. Well, at least he is the most successful pro wrestling politician…yikes.
5) Hulk Hogan
Most of his roles are terrible, but there is no denying that the Hulkster is one of the more famous people on this list. Look no further than his star-making turn as Thunderlips in Rocky 3. Hogan was so big that Stallone could not even dead-lift him, so Hogan had to leap into his arms to be thrown into the crowd. That role was one of the reasons Hogan became Hogan; it was his coming out. Sadly, this led to Thunder In Paradise and Mr. Nanny. You win some, you lose some.
4) Andre the Giant
Not a lot to go off of here, but the one role is more than enough. The Princess Bride just would not have been the same film without the gentle giant. He fit in so well on set — he famously said his favorite part of filming was that “Nobody looked at me,” and that he felt treated as an equal. That is a rare occurrence for someone of his stature. The warmth and humor of Fezzik has made him quite a few people’s favorite character from that film. Sadly, we were robbed of any more of his possible roles much too early, as he passed away at age 46.
3) John Cena
This one is also because of his potential. This week, he has a war movie coming out called The Wall, and he starred in a bunch of not-so-great action films like the original Marine and 12 Rounds early in his WWE career. No, this placement is for his comedy chops. Only one other person on this list is has been able to deliver in a comedic role like he did in his extended time, in Sisters and even more so in Trainwreck. In those, he had to hold his own against comedic heavyweights like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Amy Schumer, and in the latter case, stealing the show. That’s not to mention his natural humor on the reality shows Total Divas and Total Bellas. The man has some chops, and he’s just starting to find his footing outside the ring. I would expect to see him blow up soon.
2) Dave Bautista
I never thought I would see a pro wrestler as a Bond villain without it being a cartoon-type thing, but Big Dave pulled it off. Way more than just a brute, he will forever be linked to the role of Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The biggest surprise of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, he flat out steals Vol. 2 with his one liners and bluntness with Mantis. Just his ability to stay sane through the stupid-long process of applying his Drax makeup makes him aces in my book — but he also brings buckets of charm and humor to a role that could have been the weakest link in the Guardians chain, and made it possibly the franchise’s biggest strength.
1) The Rock
I mean, come on. Who else could be number one? Granted, his early career was not exactly stellar. That horrible CGI Scorpion King at the end of The Mummy 2 could have been a killer. But his insane charisma and likability made it inevitable that he would become one of the biggest stars on the planet. The Fast and Furious series has become a billion-dollar franchise with him. He made Race to Witch Mountain a hit. He has his own HBO show, killing it in the ratings. Baywatch looks like it might be the most successful comedy of the summer. Yes, Baywatch. This man can even (kinda) sing, as evidenced by last year’s Disney smash hit Moana. The best part is that, from all accounts, he is actually a good guy, as well. Now he has his sights on DC and conquering comic films. Nobody will ever top this man in crossing over from professional wrestling — but that what makes him special. He is one of a kind.