Wrestling is amazing. It’s the primal joy of seeing two massive dudes smack the hell out of each other, right in front of you. It’s the simple spectacle of structured violence that is the basis that so much genre cinema thrives on.
Since the two things a wrestler needs most are impressive physicality and basic charisma, it’s no surprise so many of them have ended up in the movies. But as similar as the two art forms are, there’s also a world of difference. It’s one thing to be able to entertain a few thousand people live, it’s completely different thing recreating that with a camera close up on you over multiple takes. Plenty of grapplers have given awful performances on screen, but here are 50 of the best appearances by wrestlers in movies. There are the big names you’d expect, but there’s also weird Japanese and Mexican movies, jobbing guys who got their one shot at fame, and even respectable art house flicks. Ring the bell…
50: The Rock – Snitch
Snitch isn’t really a successful film. It’s based on an interesting true story, about a working class father who infiltrates a drug ring in order to save his son from prison, but despite including a rather stinging critique of American drug policy, the film itself is a rather uneven mix of Lifetime Original Movie and bland action film. What carries the movie though is The Rock at the centre of everything, deviating from the standard action hero archetype and really trying to play a real person (his man-mountain physique probably stops him from ever being 100% convincing as a regular Joe, though…). It’s good to see Rocky flexing his acting muscles, as well as just his bisceps.
49: Brodus Clay – No One Lives
The first of two appearances by cult Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi, Midnight Meat Train), this WWE Studio thriller featured Brodus ‘The Funkasaurus’ Clay in a small role. Clay doesn’t do much before being killed off early, but his character provides the most entertaining moment of the film after he’s died. When his family of ne’er-do-wells find Clay’s corpse in the woods after psycho Luke Shaw has killed him, they carry him back to their secluded property in order to give him a proper burial. Little do they know that Shaw has gutted rather rotund Clay, and is hiding inside his dead body, meaning he jumps out when they least expect it and gets the rest of his crew.
48: John Cena, Brodus Clay, Michael Cole, Kane, AJ Lee, Santino Marella , The Miz, Triple H and Vince McMahon – Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery
I’m not going to pretend that this is a secret masterpiece or anything, but I think it deserves a place on this list just for the fact it’s actually a real thing that actually exists in the real world. Really.
47: Tyler Mane – X-Men
A journeyman wrestler in the later 80s and early 90s, most notably competing under the name ‘Big Sky’ in WCW, Tyler Mane eventually moved into acting, where his 6ft 8 stature lead him to end up playing a lot of imposing henchmen and the like. His most famous role came in Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film. Liev Schreiber would go on to give the character more depth in the first Wolverine solo film, but Mane makes a damn scary member of the Brotherhood of Mutants.
46: The Fabulous Freebirds – Highlander
The beautifully overblown 80s fantasy movie opens with Christopher Lambert’s Connor McLeod skulking around Madison Square Garden, watching a six-man tag match between the legendary faction The Fabulous Freebirds and the team of Greg Gagne, Jim Brunzell and The Tonga Kid. It’s great to see a big 80s wrestling match like this captured and edited on film, as opposed to cheap television video stock, and it makes a great little thematic prologue to the titanic battles that will come later in the film.
45: Sgt. Slaughter – GI Joe The Movie
Wrestlers are often described as real life cartoons, but patriotic hero (and occasional Iraqi sympathizer) Sgt. Slaughter actually became a cartoon character when he was immortalized in the GI Joe animated series and toyline (ok, there was also Hulk Hogan’s Rock N Wrestling, but GI Joe was way cooler than that). The Sarge even leant his voice to the series, and his appearance in the 1987 animated movie.
44: Nathan Jones – Troy
After spending seven years incarcerated in his native Australia for armed robbery, the 6 ft 10, 300 lb Nathan Jones eventually found his way to WWE via the world of powerlifting. He got an almost instant push due to his monstrous size, but left wrestling after a year or two, not being able to hack the gruelling travelling schedule. He soon found his way into cinema, and has squared off against both Jet Li and Tony Jaa onscreen. His most high-profile cinematic appearance comes in Wolfgang Petersen’s Trojan War epic Troy, where he’s memorably dispatched by Brad Pitt’s Achilles in the first reel.
43: Hulk Hogan – No Holds Barred
Until The Rock started billing himself as Dwayne Johnson again, Hulk Hogan as Rip “The Ripper” Thomas was the go-to image of movies starring wrestlers. Hogan’s first star vehicle, and the first real American attempt to build a film around a wrestler and his persona, it’s a very silly, goofy movie. It’s seemingly set in a world where TV execs will gladly put no rules bar fights on primetime TV, Hulk Hogan can wear wrestling gear to business meetings, and bad guys pee themselves. It’s not a good film, by any stretch of the imagination, but we can’t deny that there’s definitely a fun, nostalgic charm to the whole thing.
42: Stone Cold Steve Austin – Damage
Considering that during the WWF’s hallowed ‘Attitude Era’ Stone Cold was actually a bigger star than The Rock, it’s somewhat of a surprise that he never followed in the footsteps of Dwayne Johnson in movie success. He was equally as charismatic in the ring and had a persona that would be easily transferable to your bog standard action vehicle. But for some reason it wasn’t to be.
His first starring role was in The Condemned, a not-very-good rip off of The Running Man, full of horrible shaky-cam action and bad performances. That film’s failure meant that Austin’s leading man future would unfortunately be straight to DVD (though he did have supporting roles in things like The Expendables and Grown Ups 2). But then a strange thing happened. His first DTV movie, the bare-knuckle fighting movie Damage, was really rather good. It’s based around the really cheesy conceit that he’s fighting to earn enough money to pay for a little girl to have a heart transplant. The fights are pretty prosaic, but Austin genuinely does really well in the quite scenes, still being a Texas rattlesnake at heart, but a much more quiet and morose character than the hellraiser he was back in his wrestling heyday.
41: Terry Funk – Roadhouse
Hardcore wrestling legend Terry Funk appeared in a couple of movies in the 80s – including two with Sylvester Stallone, the wrestling drama Paradise Alley (which makes sense) and the hilarious mawkish arm-wrestling film Over The Top (less so). His most notable role however was popping up in the delightful Patrick Swayze zen-bouncer movie Roadhouse.
40: Kevin Nash – Magic Mike
Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper drama was somewhat of a treat for admirers of male bodies, with hot young things Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, and Matthew McConaughey all getting down – and grizzly old Kevin Nash, too. It’s hard to really embarrass a guy who used to unironically call himself Big Sexy, but his awkward shuffling at the back of the assorted routines is not great at all (though considering Nash wasn’t cleared to wrestle CM Punk back in 2011, it’s impressive that he took on a physical role of any kind). His casting is quite effective though – while all the attention is on the sexy young Tatum, Pettyfer etc, there’s a certain tragedy to someone still doing this particular job at Nash’s age. It’s something you can imagine Mickey Rourke’s Randy The Ram ending up doing (more on him later), and earlier this year it emerged that former WCW star Buff Bagwell was supposedly offering his services as a gigolo.
39: Abdullah The Butcher – Roaring Fire
This super-obscure Sonny Chiba film, which features an appearance from ultraviolent old schooler Abdullah The Butcher, a man whose head was busted open so many times and scarred so deep his party trick was balancing poker chips upright on his brow. Just having this massive, terrifying Arab-American wrestler running around this Japanese karate film is jaw-dropping. Just watch these clips, and tell me you don’t instantly want to see this film right now. Go on. You can’t can you?
38: Chris Jericho, Kane, MVP, Mark Henry, The Great Khali and The Big Show – MacGruber
Will Forte’s severely underrated MacGyver-spoofing Saturday Night Live spin-off has one of the cleverest – and funniest – uses of wrestlers in a film I’ve ever seen. In order to take down international supervillian Val Kilmer, Forte’s MacGruber put together a team of the most awesome badasses he can find – all of which are played by some WWE’s biggest stars of the time. After recruiting them all in a brilliantly clichéd ‘putting the team together montage,’ he accidently blows them all up with homemade C4.
37: Tor Johnson – Plan 9 From Outer Space
Often regarded as the worst film ever made, the magnum opus of the notorious Ed Wood is far from it. The worst film in the world is a boring one and Plan 9 is far from boring, if just because of its fascinating ineptitude. Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson, who also appeared in Wood’s Bride Of The Monster, played the detective investigating the alien antics and resurrections in a role that’s overshadowed his unmemorable in-ring career. Like Wood, there’s that bittersweet irony that had he starred in better but unremarkable films he’d have been long forgotten, but because of Plan 9’s incompetence, he lives on today in the hearts of cult film fans.
36: George “The Animal” Steele – Ed Wood
When Tim Burton brought the legend of Edward D Wood Jr to the big screen in 1994, with his reputation as ‘The world’s worst ever director” now firmly established, he turned to another wrestler for the role of Tor Johnson. WWE Hall Of Famer George “The Animal” Steele took the role, and brought a kind humanity to Johnson that many of those who worked with him were quick to put on record.
35: Goldberg – Santa’s Slay
The Jewish Bill Goldberg starring as a demonic evil Santa Claus doesn’t really suggest that this festive horror comedy is going to be anything but awful. Yet it’s genuinely a surprisingly enjoyable little film, which embraces its ridiculousness and just has fun with it. Plus there’s scene where Goldberg kicks a little yappy dog into a log fire.
34: Jesse Ventura – The Running Man
Wrestler, actor, Navy veteran, political commentator, and former Governor of Minnesota, Jesse The Body has rarely had lead roles but has had some great supporting parts. In The Running Man, his second collaboration with Arnold Schwarzenegger, he had a great little turn as Captain Freedom, the champion assassin of the futuristic game show turned media celebrity. He even has his own cheesy electro theme music by Axel F composer Harold Faltermeyer.
33: Andre The Giant – Conan The Destroyer
So you’re making a sequel to Conan, and you need someone who can look like they can be a legitimate threat to Schwarzenegger. There’s not many people on the planet who can do that, but director Richard Fleischer managed to find two – the 7ft 4 Andre The Giant and the 7ft 1 former NBA star Wilt Chamberlain. There’s a great on-set photo of Andre and Chamberlain hoisting up Schwarzenegger, which is just about the only picture ever taken that makes Arnie look like the little guy.
32: Kane – See No Evil
In wrestling continuity, Kane is supposedly the badly burned, abused brother of The Undertaker who wears a mask to cover his hideous scarring and is sometimes portrayed as a literal demon from hell. It’s surprising it took him so long to be cast in a horror movie. See No Evil is a pretty standard slasher movie, with Kane playing a pyscho madman who stalks teens doing community service through an abandoned hotel, but it’s greatly enlivened by some crazy moments (a girl who talks too much being force-fed her phone, a dog cocking its leg directly into a dead guy’s eye socket), and Kane’s generally batty persona. Even better are the interviews on the DVD, which Kane stays in character for and storms off halfway through.
31: The Rock – The Scorpion King
Schwarzenegger first made his mark as an action star playing Conan The Barbarian. If you’re trying to establish The Rock as the new Arnie, why not just copy his lead? After making his big screen debut in the opening scenes of The Mummy Returns (and popping up as an awful CGI scorpion monster during the finale), Rocky got his first starring role in this prequel to The Mummy films, which was basically just The Rock does Conan. Is it the best swords-and-sandals movie ever? No. Is it a damn fun one, starring The Rock? Hell yes.
30: The Big Show – The Waterboy
Paul Wight, aka The Big Show, aka ‘The World’s Largest Athlete” pops up as Captain Insane-o, the wrestling hero of Adam Sandler’s idiotic manchild. Considering that Big Show isn’t really known by wrestling fans as being that great on the mike, he does a great job of belittling Sandler when he discovers that he’s not actually a small child calling into a TV show to speak to his favourite grappler, but instead a grown adult who should know far better.
29: The Rock – Walking Tall
A remake of the 1973 film on the same, which itself was based on the story of true-life Tennessee folk hero Buford Pusser, Walking Tall is as generic an action movie set up as you can imagine. The Rock plays a US Special Forces sergeant who returns to his small town home to discover that an evil new casino owner is filling the town with drugs. With the local authorities turning a blind eye due to how much money the casino is bringing into the local economy, he decides to run for sheriff and clean up the town – no matter how much the evil casino man threatens to escalate things. And escalate things he does. It’s a simple nuts and bolts action drama, but it’s the sort thing The Rock is so naturally good in you can’t help but enjoy it.
28: John Cena – 12 Rounds
The WWE has repeatedly tried to make John Cena – the Hulk Hogan of the Facebook generation – into a mainstream action star, but they’ve never really succeeded. If it was still the 80s, his combination of generic good looks and impressive beefcake would have probably made him a megastar, but the world has moved on. He’s starred in a series of competent-but-forgettable action vehicles that have made little impression, but his stand out film by far is 12 Rounds, a rather blatant rip-off of Die Hard With A Vengeance. It’s elevated by being helmed by Renny Harlin, a reliable action movie old hand (he also made Die Hard 2), and a good villain in the form of The Wire and Game Of Thrones’ Aiden Gillan. With decent parts around him, Cena makes a solid leading man, and the film is a very enjoyable old school action throwback.
27: Ox Baker – Escape From New York
Two-thirds of the way through his journey across dystopian Manhattan, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) finds himself in the middle of a ring in a modern day gladiatorial contest. His opponent is played by 6 ft 5 old school AWA and NWA brawler Ox Baker. It’s only a small scene, but The Ox makes a memorable impact, with lots of grunting and snarling and even more facial hair.
26: Randy Savage – Spider-Man
Despite being probably the second biggest WWF star of the era, Macho Man Randy Savage never got the push into films that Hulk Hogan did. His only notable cinematic moment wouldn’t come until 2002 when he appeared in Sam Rami’s first Spider-Man film. Savage played a small but important part in the Spidey mythos: the wrestler who a young Peter Parker beats but fails to receive the prize money for. Originally named Crusher Hogan, Savage creates a new character called ‘Bonesaw’ who is basically just Randy Savage obsessed with saws.
An interesting post-script to this was when Savage recorded his debut rap album (yes, Savage did record a hip-hop record), and had a song calling out Hulk Hogan, mocking his terrible straight to video movies and boasting that he “got [him]self a feature role in Spider-Man,” despite the fact he’s only in the film for about five minutes.
Given that this is a very long article, we’ve had to do that rare thing where we split the piece across more than one page. We don’t do this often, it just tends to make pieces like this a bit more manageable.
We shall now get out of your way and let you get back to the wrestlings. Thanking you.
25: Adrian Street – The Canterbury Tales
British wrestler Adrian Street revolutionised ‘heel’ (bad guy) wrestlers in the 70s when he developed his ‘exotic’ persona, an overtly flamboyant, effeminate and implicitly homosexual gimmick. He wore make-up, glittery attire, bleached his long hair and minced his way into the ring, instantly riling less liberal audiences and was strangely progressive in his own way. Somehow, this kid from a Welsh mining town managed to get the attention of notorious Italian arthouse director and enfant terrible Pier Paolo Pasolini, and who put him in the opening scenes of his adaptation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. It’s probably the most unexpected casting of a wrestling in a film, unless Chris Jericho gets cast in the Dardenne Brothers’ new film or something.
24: Batista – The Man With The Iron Fists
A kaleidoscopic homage to old Shaw Brothers kung fu movies, Wu-Tang Clan member the RZA’s directorial debut is a stone cold cult film in waiting. It’s also the big-screen debut of Batista, following a couple of straight to video appearances that he did after leaving WWE in 2010. Unlike his revelatory role in Guardians Of The Galaxy, he doesn’t get to say much, just playing an unstoppable monolith named Brass Body, but he’s still got a striking screen presence covered in gold body paint.
23: Rowdy Roddy Piper – Hell Comes To Frogtown
A downright bizarre post-apocalyptic movie set in a world atomic fallout has drastically reduced the amount of fertile men and women, making anyone who can conceive a valuable commodity. Piper plays Sam Hell, a super-fertile wandering nomad who captured by a group “warrior-nurses,” who manage to track him down by following the trail of pregnant women he leaves in his wake (yes, really). They then attach an exploding codpiece to his nether regions and send him to rescue a group of fertile women captured by mutant frog people in the eponymous Frogtown. It’s kind of out there, really.
22: Lenny Montana – The Godfather
Despite a respectable career, Lenny Montana is far from the most recognizable name on this list. He was one of several guys to wrestle under the gimmick of the Zebra Kid, working his way across various territories in the ’50s and ’60s, and briefly holding the AWA World tag titles with a guy with the brilliant name of Hard Boiled Haggerty in 1960. However he did something that probably no other wrestler can claim to – he appeared in a Best Picture Oscar winning film.
After drifting out of wrestling he ended up working for the Columbo crime family. When the film version Mario Puzo’s best-selling crime novel The Godfather was threatened by the Italian-American Civil Rights League, producer Al Ruddy cut a deal with Joe Columbo, which lead to Montana being cast as Don Corleone’s hitman Luca Brasi. It was a small but notable role, that led to other acting work for Montana, including parts in The Jerk with Steve Martin, Fingers with Harvey Keitel, and the wrestling comedy All The Marbles.
21: Batista – Riddick
After The Man With The Iron Fists, this was the next step on Batista’s surprising journey to becoming a real movie star. He plays one of the bounty hunters chasing Vin Diesel’s titular intergalactic outlaw, and it’s the sort of role wrestlers often get, requiring him just to stand at the back and look mean. Batista does a lot more than he needs to with the meagre material though, turning a one-note heavy into a character with at least two dimensions, who genuinely seems a bit bitter at his job and you’re disappointed when Diesel inevitably kills him.
20: Hulk Hogan – Rocky III
In 1982, professional wrestling was on the cusp of moving from the old territorial era to the modern day, with Vince McMahon Jr just about to turn his father’s WWF into the international multimedia empire we know today. Hulk Hogan’s appearance as “Thunderlips,” a wrestler who is basically just Hulk Hogan with a really stupid name, was a key moment in getting him, and wrestling as a whole, over into the mainstream.
Four years later, Hogan would team with the film’s bad guy Mr. T to headline the first ever Wrestlemania and single to beginning of the modern era of pro-wrestling. Interesting fact: the “wrestling vs boxing” exhibition match in which Rocky and Thunderlips compete was based on a real encounter between Muhammad Ali and Japanese grapping legend Antonio Inoki that took place in Tokyo in 1976.
19: The Rock – Fast Five
When director Justin Lin rejuvenated the Fast And Furious movies, he first did so by bringing back the original cast for part four. But where do you go from there? Add The Rock obviously, as an international detective trying to track down Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. What this basically means is two thirds of the way through the film we get a full on brawl between Vin Diesel and The Rock. It’s pretty awesome, y’all.
18: The Rock – Fast & Furious 6
The Rock returns for part six, and it’s just as awesome, and just when you think it can’t get any better, Vin Diesel and The Rock do the Legion Of Doom’s finishing move The Doomsday Device on a dude.
17: Osamu Nishimura – The Calamari Wrestler
Wrestler Kanichi Iwata (current All Japan Pro Wrestling star Osamu Nishimura) is competing in a championship match when, for reasons that are never fully explained, is suddenly transformed into a giant squid. What follows isn’t a wacky comedy; instead it’s character piece played completely straight. It’s a sweet story of a man trying work out his issues both in and outside the ring, not unlike the original Rocky – only starring a man in an unconvincing squid costume.
16: Jushin “Thunder” Liger – Jushin Thunder Liger Fist of Thunder
For those of you not au fait with Japanese wrestling, Jushin “Thunder” Liger is a legendry junior heavyweight who has competed all over the world and is one of the most innovative wrestlers of the last 30 years. He also dresses like a Power Ranger and takes his character from a tie in with a popular superhero anime. In 1995 he starred in this bonkers tokusatu movie, with lots of men in rubber monster suits brawling across cheap sets. Liger played the title character when he was in his superhero guise, but Japanese actor Masaru Matsuda played the role when he was out of costume, as the usually-masked Liger refused to reveal his real face to the public!
15: Jerry “The King” Lawler and Jim Ross – Man On The Moon
In what is still one of the post-modern moments in the history of wrestling, outsider comedian, provocateur and all-round genius Andy Kaufman decided to proclaim himself “Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World”, and start fighting women on the 80s Memphis wrestling circuit, generally just acting like a massive jerk. This provoked the ire of Memphis wrestling icon (and current WWE commentator) Jerry Lawler, resulting in an on-air brawl on Late Night With David Letterman and Lawler supposedly breaking Kaufman’s neck with a piledriver.
Of course it was all a work, though they managed to keep that hidden until over a decade after Kaufman’s death from lung cancer. When Jim Carrey played Kaufman in the 1999 biopic Man on The Moon, Lawler would play himself in the recreation of the incident, with his co-commentator Jim Ross also appearing calling the action.
14: Don Frye – Godzilla: Final Wars
When Toho Studios chose to final put Godzilla to rest (at least until Gareth Edwards resurrected him this year), they enlisted cult director Ryuhei Kitamura to give him one big send off. The resulting film is all over the place; with alien invaders controlling nearly every monster Godzilla ever fought to take over the Earth, but the one thing no one expected an American wrestler to steal the show.
Don Frye was a successful MMA fighter before spending four years as a bad guy in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and here plays a veteran of the Earth Defence Force (a sort of anti-kaiju SWAT team) and is the only man tough enough to stand up to the aliens. He’s the most memorable thing in the film, and somehow is more imposing than all the rubber-suited monsters around him.
13: El Santo – Many, many movies
It’s impossible to write about wrestlers in movies without mentioning El Santo, the greatest Mexican wrestler who ever lived. It’s tempting to call him the Mexican Hulk Hogan, but in truth he was far more famous and popular in his homeland than Hogan was in American. As well a being a wrestling superstar and a national hero, Santo also appeared in over 50 movies, always as himself.
He played a famous wrestler who was also a superhero or sorts, battling mad scientists, monsters, aliens and vampire women. He remained masked throughout all his films (he only removed his mask once in public, a week before his death) even when he wasn’t in his wrestling gear, and the sight of him strutting around in a tweed jacket, turtleneck and wrestling mask never stops being entertaining (especially as none of the other character bat an eyelid). All his films are pretty interchangeable, but it’s definitely worth catching a few to indulge in the craziness of it all.
12: Blue Demon & Mil Mascaras – Champions Of Justice
The greatest Mexican wrestling movie of all time didn’t actually feature El Santo however. Intended to be an Avengers-style team up of the biggest names in Lucha Libre, Santo was unable to appear due to scheduling conflicts, meaning that the Champions Of Justice were headlined by two other Mexican wrestling stars, Blue Demon and Mil Mascaras (“The Man Of A Thousand Masks”). What follows is a non-stop cavalcade of craziness, as the Champions Of Justice ride around on Mexico on motorbikes in their masks and capes, fighting an evil scientist who has developed a process to make dwarf wrestlers super-strong (but he never thinks to try it on regular sized humans), getting into car chases, fights with harpoon wielding frogmen, and jumping out of planes. Oh, and they keep stopping off to judge beauty contests too, for some reason.
11: Andre the Giant – The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner’s adaptation of William Golden’s tongue-in-cheek fantasy novel has rightly become a classic. It’s full of wonderful touches and scenes (Inigo Montoya, Peter Cook’s cameo, the framing story) and Andre’s turn as the friendly giant Fezzik is just as important as any of them. Andre himself made such an impression on Billy Crystal that he later he wrote, produced and starred in the comedy My Giant, inspired by his time with him, in which Crystal plays a huckster who befriends 7ft 7 NBA player Gheorghe Muresan and tries to get him a role in a Steven Seagal move. But don’t hold that against Andre.
10: Hulk Hogan – Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Hogan’s finest celluloid performance came with this his cameo in Joe Dante’s wonderful sequel to the original Gremlins. Desperate for a follow-up to the ultra-successful first film, Warner Bros. eventually convinced Dante to come aboard by basically giving him carte-blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted to with part two. The resulting is one of the most out-there and anarchic Hollywood movies ever made.
In possibly the most audacious piece of fourth-wall breaking in the movie, midway through a scene the film burns up and is replaced by black and white stock footage. We then cut to the cinema you are supposedly watching the film in, where it’s revealed that Gremlins have taken over the projection booth, and are choosing to show old volleyball movies instead. Luckily however, it turns out Hulk Hogan is in the audience with you, and Hulkster turns to the both and cuts a promo threatening the Gremlins, who not knowing what they would do if Hulkamania did indeed run wild over them, put the film back on. This scene was replaced with a different one for the VHS release of the film, incidentally.
9: The Rock – Southland Tales
Okay, so Richard Kelly’s apocalyptic sci-fi follow up to Donnie Darko is messy. But that’s not to saw there aren’t some wonderful bits in there to enjoy, even if none of them actually add up to anything. Not least The Rock playing a amnesiac action film star with a neurotic twitch, on the run from the government. It’s a bizarre, unexpected, not quite successful but unforgettable performance, kind of like the film itself.
8: Ernest ‘The Cat’ Miller – The Wrestler
Unsurprisingly considering the subject matter, Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated comeback features a host of real-life wrestlers. A lot of the film was shot at Ring Of Honor shows and a lot of that promotion’s roster can be seen in the background (including current WWE superstars Cesaro and R-Truth). Indie hardcore grappler Necro Butcher also gets a spotlight during a sickening no disqualification match with Rourke’s Randy the Ram.
The guy who gets the biggest role though, surprisingly, is Ernest “The Cat” Miller, who mostly played a short lived comedy character in WCW dancing in the ring more than he wrestled. Miller plays “The Ayatollah,” an old school Arab themed bad guy in the vein of The Iron Sheik, Rourke’s old rival from his ’80s heyday. Miller actually gives the Ayatollah, or Bob most people call him in real life, a real dignity as a happy guy who now owns a car dealership, contrasting with Rourke’s washed up and desperate Randy The Ram.
7: The Rock – The Rundown
The Rundown might just be The Rock’s greatest action film. On paper, it’s a standard buddy movie, with mercenary The Rock and rich kid Shaunn William Scott getting stuck in Latin America and end up having to battle evil diamond harvester Christopher Walken. But it’s just loads better than it has any need to be. The comedy is genuinely funny, the cast is great and the action is tight and genuinely exciting. Chalk this down to director Peter Berg, a smart guy whose films are always a lot clever than they first appear (apart from maybe Battleship), but it’s also one of the first films where The Rock felt like a true leading man, especially in the fantastic finale, where his character, er, learns to love shooting people with guns again.
6: Kevin Nash – The Punisher
The Tom Jane version of the Marvel vigilante is a weird, uneven film but has moments of genius, none more so that the brief appearance on Kevin Nash, the early 90s superstar formerly known as Diesel. Main bad guy John Travolta does the whole “Get the best assassin we got to get this guy” bit and calls in “The Russian,” played by Nash.
Nash only appears in this one scene, to have a wordless smackdown with the Punisher, and it would be a standout scene in any action movie you care to mention. It runs through several cliches (there’s “big guy who don’t react when you hit him,” and “violent action scene contrasting with ironic classical music soundtrack,” and also “there’s music playing so side characters don’t hear the fight and joke about in the other room obliviously”), but it’s just so effective, and well-staged, and funny, and brutal. It’s superbly edited, has great sound design and every little body movement and facial expression is spot on. Nash just pops up, has this fight, and then dies.
5: Jesse Ventura – Predator
Jesse Ventura’s most iconic screen role is without a doubt his turn in John McTiernan’s muddy soldiers versus invisible alien hunter classic. Despite being part of a squad that includes such badasses as Arnie, Apollo Creed and Commando’s Bill Duke, Ventura still manages to come off as possibly the coolest, carrying a gigantic gun called ‘Ol’ Painless’ and describing himself as a “god damned sexual Tyranosaurus”.
4: The Rock – Be Cool
The belated sequel to Get Shorty, which attempts to skewer the music industry like the original did Hollywood, is generally a pretty wretched film. A cast of past their prime great actors (Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Harvey Keitel) sleepwalk through a laboured plot while some moonlighting musicians (Andre 3000, Christina Milian, Steven Tyler) show why they should stick to singing.
The one highlight however is The Rock, in his first notable non-action role, stealing the film as Vince Vaughn’s gay bodyguard and wannabe actor. One of the few wrestler-turned-actors who can genuinely act, he really revels in being cast against type -particularly in a brilliant audition scene where recites a “monologue” from bitchy cheerleading classic Bring It On, doing both the Kirstin Dunst and Eliza Dushku parts.
3: Batista – Guardians Of The Galaxy
Let’s put this in perspective. At this year’s Royal Rumble, Batista returned to the WWE after four years to win a title shot at Wrestlemania. It was a slot that the fans wanted to go to Daniel Bryan, a 5ft 10 upstart from the indies and the biggest breakout star they’d had in forever. But instead they forced the returning big name on the fans, hoping for some crossover success on his name recognition, and the fans reacted badly. Batista was booed out of the building, and quickly became the most hated man in wrestling.
Fast forward to the end of the summer, and suddenly Batista is a proper movie star, and everyone loves him. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige had spoken about how much effort Big Dave put into winning the part. It seemed like just PR puff, but it turns out it’s all true. He took obscure cosmic character Drax The Destroyer (admittedly brilliantly written by James Gunn) and delivered every scene with perfect comic timing that no one ever knew he had. Everyone knew Batista as the big snarling bad guy – who thought he could be so funny? And lovable?
Obviously, he looked the part, but (ironically for an alien character) he made the part so human. The mid credits scene, where Groot dances to the Jackson Five without him knowing, might just be the great summer blockbuster moment of 2014, and it’s all Batista.
2: The Rock – Pain And Gain
In twenty years time, in some quarters at least, Pain And Gain will be an acknowledged classic. It’s just that it’s a Michael Bay film, and everyone (quite rightly) can’t quite appreciate yet that Michael Bay has made something good. The true story on a gang of bodybuilders turned incompetent criminals, who took a guy hostage in an attempt to make a quick buck, it’s almost the best Coen Brothers movie the Coens never made.
Either by design or by accident, Bay has managed to capture the narcissistic stupidity of three idiots who think they’re in Goodfellas but are really just auditioning for America’s Dumbest Criminals. It’s a brilliantly savage takedown of the American Dream – people who think their lives are so important that they’re the stars of their own movie. Every character gets their own chance to narrate the film, and they all turn out to be horrible, nasty idiots (apart from maybe Rebel Wilson, who’s just very naïve and unlucky).
It’s the role The Rock has been waiting for his whole career – a genuine character with depth and development, but also that allows for him to show off his brilliant comic timing. It’s also one that only The Rock could play. The problem is he just looks like superhero, and when he tries to play average Joes like in Snitch or whatever, but he just can’t be convincing no matter how good his performance is just because he’ll never look like a regular guy. In Pain And Gain though, he’s meant to be a muscle bound jerk. It works perfectly.
1: Rowdy Roddy Piper – They Live
Despite being nearly 30 years old, the satirical bite They Live hasn’t waned a bit. If anything, with social mobility seeming less possible all the time, it’s maybe even timelier. John Carpenter’s brilliant satire stars Piper as a drifter who happens upon a pair of sunglasses that reveals the truth hidden from us plebeians – that the world is actually controlled by aliens, and billboards and advertising are all just feeding up simple controlling messages like “Obey” and “Consume.”
There’s a school of thought that the film would be better is Carpenter’s usual leading man Kurt Russell had taken the lead role. That’s completely wrong. Of course, Russell is a better actor than Roddy Piper, but this film is all about the honest working man. Russell is a good-looking Hollywood star. Piper feels like the sort of guy who would really be in this situation. He is dumb and obvious, and I mean that completely as a compliment. The film needs a simple protagonist, someone who would find out about this alien bourgeoisie conspiracy and wouldn’t take a second to think about the various morality of it all. Instead you need someone who’d be just appalled and want to go and kick their alien asses. Piper is absolutely perfect for the role.
There’s so much to love about They Live – the alien design, the bluesy score, “I came to kick ass and chew bubblegum”, and of course the incredibly long street fight between Piper and Keith David – but at the end of the day, it’ just a brilliant savage satire, and the perfect example of what sly genre cinema can be at its very best.