Wrestling and movies – there’s always been crossover appeal there. From the likes of Harold Sakata and Peter Maivia playing henchmen in early James Bond films to Robocop showing up at WCW Capital Combat ’90, to names like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Samuel L Jackson getting into scrapes on WWE TV to plug their latest movies. Pop culture history is littered with instances of wrestlers appearing on the silver screen and latterly, movies being hyped on wrestling programming. Now, with Batista being the latest in a long line of pro-grapplers to land a part in major movie (Marvel studios’ summer blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy) I thought I’d have a look at my Fave Five movie roles taken on by pro wrestlers.
I’m talking about supporting roles or blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos here, rather than for instance the movies of The Rock who is obviously a genuine A-list movie star instead of a wrestler who sometimes turns his hand to acting. For the same reason I’ve also ruled out Hulk Hogan’s back-catalogue. Whilst his movie career was admittedly far less polished than The Rock’s, Hogan was (for a time at least) still a leading man with his name above movie titles. Unfortunately though this meant also discounting his memorable performance as Thunderlips in Rocky III. In sticking to this “no leading men” rule I also disregarded Roddy Piper’s starring role in the 1987 John Carpenter sci-fi classic They Live as well as his other less memorable starring roles (although the least said about Hell Comes To Frogtown the better).
For obvious reasons I’ve also discounted any movie specifically based around wrestling (e.g. Ready to Rumble – not least because its crap) or either produced by WWE themselves or marketed towards wrestling fans because of who stars in it. Titles such as Wrong Side of Town starring Batista and Rob Van Dam or River of Darkness starring Kurt Angle, Sid and Kevin Nash are guilty of this and it must be said should be avoided at all costs. In addition, Barry Blaustein’s documentary Beyond The Mat and the critically acclaimed The Wrestler have also been ruled out.
Before we get cracking with my actual Fave Five though, it’s worth giving a brief mention to a handful of other wrestlers that you may have you spotted in the movies. What about Kevin Nash sporting a bleached blonde crew-cut in another Marvel comics adaptation, The Punisher?… Triple H too, he showed up in the third movie in Marvel’s Blade trilogy… Anybody recognise Tony “Ludvig Borga” Halme as a member of Jeremy Irons’ private army in Die Hard With A Vengence?… Then there’s George The Animal Steele’s role as fellow wrestler Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s biopic of Ed Wood… Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross both show up in Man on the Moon, the biopic of Lawler’s Memphis-rival Andy Kaufman… Terry Funk plays an adversary of Sylvester Stallone’s arm-wrestling circuit protagonist in Over The Top… and even though we ruled out Hulk Hogan, that doesn’t mean we can’t mention The Undertaker’s turn as an intergalactic bounty hunter in Suburban Commando…
Meanwhile Kane, The Big Show, Chris Jericho, MVP, Mark Henry and The Great Khali all put in cameo appearances in the action spoof MacGruber as the title character’s team of ex-military bad-asses… whilst The Longest Yardalso features familiar faces en masse as the likes of Goldberg, Kevin Nash and The Great Khali feature in this cons vs guards prison gridiron scrap.
So with those ground rules in place and a brief run-down of also-rans to set the scene, let’s get cracking with my Fave Five: Wrestlers in Movies….
5.) Stone Cold Steve Austin in THE EXPENDABLES
Now I know Austin was the main star in a few low-budget action movies before landing this role as Eric Robert’s muscle and in fairness that should disqualify him from inclusion here just like The Rock, Hogan and Piper’s roles were also disregarded but the fact that Stallone’s star-studded action-caper features such a strong ensemble cast and Austin is way down the pecking order behind the real stars, I felt it acceptable to allow his inclusion; not because he’s one of the most popular and entertaining pro wrestling personalities in history but because his performance herein is one of the few things about this roided-up, fake-cool, biker-bling flick that doesn’t annoy me. Basically playing the badass, old-school Stone Cold with the violence, foul-ass attitude and take-no-shit approach amped up to the max, Austin is easily the best thing about this film….and that’s the bottom line.
4.) Sgt Slaughter (voice only) in GI JOE: THE MOVIE
What’s that? Sgt Slaughter voicing the character of…..Sgt Slaughter? (or Sgt Slammer if you’re familiar with the UK’s censored “Action Force” arm of the franchise). Within the context of GI Joe’s international heroes, Slaughter was one of the characters in this hugely popular action figure/animated series of the 1980’s. Seen as a real American hero, Sarge’ was written into the comic book and TV series as the Joe’s training instructor and drill sergeant in their battles against the Cobra terrorist organisation and who better to voice the character than the man himself? When the TV series got the feature film treatment in 1987, Slaughter was right there lending his voice to the animation alongside the likes of Burgess Meredith (“Mickey” in Rocky) and 1980’s icon Don Johnson from Miami Vice. Classic 80’s kids stuff, if you’re a nerd like me.
3.) Jesse The Body Ventura in PREDATOR/THE RUNNING MAN
“I ain’t got time to bleed” – And so was born perhaps the most outrageously macho-bullshit line ever uttered on film. In Predator, Ventura joins a testosterone saturated cast in what is now rightfully acknowledged as one of the most celebrated action movies of all time. As the tobacco chomping, heavy-machine gun blasting, trash talking hard-man Blaine, Ventura damn near steals the movie and some might say even paved the way for every other wrestler turned action movie star, showing exactly how to play it cold-as-ice. Released that same year and again opposite his pal Arnold Schawarzenegger, Ventura stars in The Running Man as Capt. Freedom; a bad-guy “stalker” forced out of retirement to hunt down and kill Arnie’s rampaging character on a TV game show within the film. Made in 1987 but set in a not-too-distant, TV-obsessed, dystopian future, the film highlights an eerie similarity to the sports-entertainment we all can’t get enough of and the reality shows of today albeit with the violence cranked right up. Once again, Ventura shines, playing it very much tongue-in-cheek. Get some beers out, get some mates round and watch these absolute 80’s crackers back-to-back. Tons of fun.
2.) Macho Man Randy Savage in SPIDERMAN
The story goes that when Savage went to screen test for the part of Bonesaw McGraw, he did so never once dropping character. Unleashing a verbal tirade and terrorising practically everyone in attendance at the audition, director Sam Raimi loved the Macho Man’s method act so much he gave him the role there and then. Anyone who knows anything about The Macho Man and the level of intensity he showed in character would find this very easy to believe. As for the movie itself, Savage appears in only one scene but many feel that it’s the best bit of the film. Heading down to the local grapple-auditorium to test out his newfound spidey-senses in combat, the superhero squares off against Bonesaw in an any and all challengers battle plucked from a storyline arc right out of the pages of Stan Lee’s comic book series. Definitely one of the most memorable performances by a wrestler in any movie from everybody’s favourite Macho Man. Just brilliant.
1.) Andre The Giant in THE PRINCESS BRIDE
I know this list is a tad 80’s heavy so far but I couldn’t not include Andre’s role in this fairy-tale-with-attitude classic and I just had to have it at number 1 on the list. It may be billed as a romantic fantasy comedy but with some serious swashbuckling swagger the film gave Andre a memorable role as the loveable giant Fezzick who along with his mish-mash crew get into all sorts of fantasy adventure scrapes in the same mould as Dreamworks’ animated classic Shrek. Andre himself loved this role and indeed the film itself and he also left an impression on co-star Billy Crystal. The two became good friends during the filming of the movie, a friendship which Crystal himself cherished and led to him producing the 1998 comedy My Giant. On the subject of Andre, whilst not an actual movie per se, his cameo in Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘R Good Enough” music video tie-in to Spielberg’s 1985 kids classic features sheer rock ‘n wrestling craziness. Alongside fellow WWF stars Piper, The Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, Freddie Blassie, Wendi Richter and Lou Albano, Andre gets in on the whole pirate theme from the film. If you’ve never seen this slice of 80’s brutality then you’re seriously missing out. Youtube it right now, you won’t be disappointed!
– By Dave Green | @MrGreenKnows
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