It can be argued that wrestling is more acting than athleticism. Wrestlers have a set character that they stick to, a script, and fictional friends and enemies. It’s why WWE Raw works so well as a TV comedy or drama. It’s also why so many wrestlers try to make the jump from the ring to the big screen to see if they can command a movie the way they command a wrestling crowd. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t always work so well. For every blockbuster starring The Rock are a dozen forgettable straight-to-video action flicks starring whoever WWE is pushing that month. From murderous Santas to Tarzan strippers, here’s a ranking of the 10 wrestlers’ most memorable film roles.
Goldberg in Santa’s Slay
Of all the bad movies on this list, Santa’s Slay is the most notorious. Bill Goldberg stars as Santa Claus in this 2005 dark comedy/horror. Throughout the poorly written movie (his sleigh is driven by “hell-deers”), Santa slides down the chimney and murders unsuspecting families (get the title now?). There’s a whole convoluted plot about Santa being the child of Satan but anyone who watches the movie — generally around Christmas, of course — knows that the fun is in watching Goldberg don a Santa hat while part of increasingly ridiculous murder scenes (involving a menorah, a Zamboni, and a bazooka).
John Cena in The Marine
The Marine was big in terms of WWE Studios and the highest-grossing film from the studios until 2013’s The Call (with Halle Berry!) knocked it out of the top spot. But it was still a terrible flick, and one that you can’t watch without hearing the WWE Universe’s fave “John Cena sucks” chant repeatedly playing in your head.
Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, The Great Kahli, The Big Show, MVP in MacGruber
Including the best (and therefore worst) wrestling cameos in this list would take forever, but I have to mention this entertaining one from 2010’s silly MacGruber featuring a montage of cameos from wrestlers trying too hard to ham it up.
Stone Cold Steve Austin in The Condemned
Steve Austin was a big contender for a WWE breakout movie star — he certainly had in-ring charisma and a knack for cutting memorable promos — but his movies failed to impress. The one that stands out the most (even ahead of The Expendables which had such a big cast that Austin disappeared into the background) is The Condemned. The abysmal movies stars Austin as a prison inmate who gets sucked into a Hunger Games type scenario and has to fight nine other inmates to the death (on live TV) in order to gain his freedom.
Hulk Hogan in Mr. Nanny
Admission: I’m biased because I have a soft spot for all things late ’80s/early ’90s Hulk Hogan — I was an avid viewer of his cartoon and even had Hogan bed sheets — but Mr. Nanny is such a laughably bad movie that it’s one of my favorites. Hogan stars as an ex-wrestler/bodyguard who is tasked with babysitting two bratty kids. It’s completely nonsensical and all the humor is based on the “tough dude vs. children” trope but it’s definitely a contender for the so-bad-it’s-good genre of movies.
Rowdy Roddy Piper in They Live
They Live is a bit of an anomaly on this list, a John Carpenter horror flick that’s not only a good movie but also one where the wrestler that stars is actually an example of good casting — and he’s not even playing a bodybuilding convict! Carpenter himself chose Rowdy Roddy Piper for the role of Nada, a drifter who ends up in an eerie, alien-infested shantytown. The film is a surprisingly solid science-fiction thriller and Piper nails the role.
Kevin Nash in Magic Mike
Kevin Nash has been in a few movies like The Punisher, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, and The Longest Yard (alongside Steve Austin) but his best role — and my predictable personal favorite — is Tarzan the stripper in Magic Mike. By no means is he a particularly talented stripper but he is at least game for the role. So game, in fact, that he’s reprising his role in the sequel.
The Rock in The Fast and the Furious franchise (and everything else)
Of all the wrestlers on this list, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has had the most successful and impressive switch to movies. Beginning with The Mummy Returns/The Scorpion King, he then proved himself in various genres: drama (Gridiron Gang, Snitch) action, (Pain & Gain (his most underrated performance), Walking Tall), family (Tooth Fairy, The Gameplan), and comedy (The Other Guys, Get Smart). Seriously, it was tempting to not just pack this list with The Rock and no one else. But he’s surely best known (outside of the ring, that is) for the last three Fast & Furious movies as Agent Hobbs, where he doesn’t so much have conversations as he has one-liners in between beating the crap out of people.
Batista in Guardians of the Galaxy
It’s a testament to just how good and funny Batista is in Guardians of the Galaxy that he’s included in this list (and so highly ranked) because his semi-recent return to WWE was one of my least favorite storylines of the year. Batista — ahem, Dave Bautista — was a risky choice for the role of Drax the Destroyer (he has barely any film credits and, as we’re learning, wrestlers are pretty cursed when it comes to movies) but he totally pulled off the role, actually adding to the movie’s solid cast rather than distracting from it.
Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride
Even rarer than finding a wrestler who can seamlessly transition from the ring to the big screen is finding a movie, starring a wrestler, that has become a beloved classic. In fact, The Princess Bride might be the only member of this category. This 1987 Rob Reiner film featured Andre the Giant in a substantial role as Fezzik and still holds up today.