Sunday Sermon – Wrestlers in movies; best and worst

Craig Wilson, James Giles & Jamie Lithgow

With the festive season comes a bucket load of movies to watch. For this reason today we look at wrestler’s appearances on the silver screen, both good and bad. Please note that we are likely to ignore WWE Studios films, purely because they are rubbish and go straight to DVD. Even those that have received cinema releases don’t get much coverage in UK cinemas, thus we couldn’t care less about them!

Jamie: The reason I’ve sparked this topic is purely due to cult classic They Live. It came up in a conversation I had the other day with a non-wrestling fan friend of mine. It is that rare film starring a wrestler (Roddy Piper) that is actually pretty good and appreciated by people outside of wrestling circles. Piper is very watchable in the film as a reluctant yet charismatic protagonist.

James: Yeah, he is a bit OTT but it suits the film and the character well. Apparently John Carpenter (who directed) is a huge wrestling fan, so that explains the casting. In fact, I think I remember seeing a Wrestlemania where they showed him in the audience.

As far as who is the best wrestler actor, I think I’d have to say The Rock every time. Even in the terrible things he has been in, like Doom, he was still very watchable himself.

For the worst, then everything and anything Hulk Hogan has been in. Suburban Commando, Mr Nanny, the list is endlessly awful. His only half decent appearance is an in-character cameo in Gremlins II: The New Batch, and only because it fits the surreal tone of the movie well. The WCW produced Ready to Rumble is staggeringly bad too.

My two favourite movies starring wrestlers are actually both documentaries – Beyond The Mat and Wrestling With Shadows. Both are completely essential viewing for any wrestling fan as far as I am concerned.

Craig: I have to ‘fess up; I’m in the fortunate position of being able to say I’ve not really seen many wrestling films. Pretty much as a rule I avoid the ones that are produced by the WWE and I’ve not even seen Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred.

In terms of some wrestling related things I’ve seen, I love the film The Wrestler which, although not a documentary or biopic, is clearly heavily based on tales from several wrestlers, particularly Jake Roberts in relation to Micky Rourke’s character, Robin Ramzinski’s, relationship with his estranged daughter.

In terms of top quality documentaries, it’s difficult to look beyond Wrestling with Shadows and Beyond the Mat. Two very different, but very important, documentaries that look at important parts of wrestling and the sport’s history.

Wait, I’ve seen Hulk Hogan films but I’ve clearly tried to forget them. I’ve seen both Suburban Commando and Mr Nanny but I’ve clearly tried to forget the experience huh.

Jamie: After Roddy Piper’s performance in They Live prompted this discussion my mind also drifted towards Hulk Hogan’s efforts, and as you have both said his movies have been terrible (Gremlins II aside). I will admit to having a nostalgia fuelled soft spot for his TV show; Thunder in Paradise though. It was like Baywatch meets Knight Rider, but a hundred times worse than either.

In terms of wrestlers in starring roles then obviously Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is the stand-out by some distance. I can’t say I’ve seen a great number of his films, and those I have seen haven’t been great, but they have been far above anything (possibly other than They Live) featuring any other wrestler. Like James said, The Rock is very watchable even in crap films. He’s a bit like a poor man’s Will Smith in that sense; he can almost make a poor film worth watching on his own. For example, I enjoyed Gridiron Gang purely because of The Great One.

I have to admit that I’m now struggling to think of wrestlers featuring in starring roles. I’m now leaning towards the Adam Sandler remake of The Longest Yard, which featured many familiar faces including Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, The Great Khali and Goldberg. Rather sadly I quite enjoyed this film; Austin and Nash are half decent in their roles as prison guards. Speaking of Big Sexy we can’t discuss this topic without mentioning Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze. He plays the role of Super Shredder in the final sequence in what was one of my favourite childhood movies.

There are many cameos I could mention but as it is Christmas let’s keep it topical and give Big Show’s brief appearance in Jingle All The Way a mention. I’m not joking when I say that this is one of my favourite Christmas films, it’s one of my favourite Arnie films too. However, to round off I have to mention the most topical film for this discussion. That’s right, a wrestler in the starring role of a Christmas film! Goldberg starred as Santa Claus in the comedy/horror Santa’s Slay. He played Santa in a total nonsense of a film which has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek so is therefore a pretty fun watch. Honestly, this is a great film to watch with a few beers and your mates.

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