Wrestlers crossing over to Hollywood is not a new phenomenon, although modern stars like Dwayne Johnson and John Cena have had a lot more success than most of their fellow wrestlers-turned-actors. But there just aren’t that many great movies starring wrestlers, at least with wrestlers in the leading roles. For example, former WWE star Dave Bautista proved that he had comedy chops in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and he also had a great (yet brief) serious turn in Blade Runner 2049. However, none of Bautista’s solo movies have really played to his strengths as an actor, and they’ve been largely forgettable.
There have even been a handful of great movies about wrestling, most notably The Wrestler and Fighting With My Family, that featured non-wrestlers playing wrestlers. But for our list of the five great movies starring wrestlers that you need to watch, we decided to stay away from movies about wrestling. And the wrestlers in these movies helped bring them to the next level.
The ironic part of André the Giant appearing as the gentle giant Fezzik in The Princess Bride is that it came several months after André had turned on Hulk Hogan before taking on a villainous role in the main event of Wrestlemania III. André played a heel (bad guy) character in the ring during most of the declining years of his career. But for non-wrestling fans, André Roussimoff’s greatest legacy is his appearance in this movie. He’s so charming as Fezzik that it’s hard to picture anyone else as that character.
Although Fezzik was initially a foe of Westley (Cary Elwes), he turned out to be a worthy friend and ally alongside Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) as they joined forces to save Westley’s true love, Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), from the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon).
Watch The Princess Bride on Disney+.
When it comes to great performances by wrestlers, it’s always a good idea to start with Roddy Piper in They Live. Director John Carpenter cast Piper during a time when he had ambitions of becoming a full-time actor. And this was also the best movie that Piper ever appeared in. Piper plays a homeless drifter named Nada, who inadvertently learns the terrifying truth that aliens have already invaded Earth and passed themselves off as humans while brainwashing people with subliminal messages hidden in media.
Nada is only able to see the truth with a pair of special sunglasses, and he goes to great lengths to convince Frank Armitage (Keith David) and Holly Thompson (Meg Foster) to put on the glasses and see for themselves. This movie is also responsible for Piper and Carpenter’s biggest contribution to pop culture, which is Nada’s now-iconic line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass … and I’m all out of bubblegum.”
Watch They Live on Peacock.
Man on the Moon is a biopic about the late comedian Andy Kaufman, as portrayed by Jim Carrey. During the early ’80s, the real Kaufman got involved with professional wrestling by challenging women to matches before billing himself as the Intergender Wrestling Champion in Memphis’ Mid-South Wrestling promotion. That led to a feud between Kaufman and Jerry “The King” Lawler, which continued after Lawler supposedly injured Kaufman’s neck during their bout.
At the time, wrestling had not yet been exposed as scripted sports entertainment, and many fans assumed that Lawler and Kaufman really hated each other. They didn’t realize the truth until Lawler portrayed himself in Man on the Moon, as the events in the film revealed that Kaufman and Lawler staged their entire feud and they were actually friends in real life. This was only a small part of Man on the Moon, but Lawler certainly knew how to play himself.
Inside the ring, John Cena hasn’t played a villainous character in over two decades. But he’s basically the human antagonist in Bumblebee, even though his character, Jack Burns, isn’t evil. Instead, Burns is understandably distrustful of Bumblebee, an Autobot from Cybertron who basically looks like a giant robot compared to puny humans. And Bumblebee’s arrival on Earth also leads to injuries and potential death for some of Burns’ men in Sector 7.
While the bulk of the movie is about a teenager, Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), and her bond with Bumblebee, Burns has a sizable presence in the story as he openly questions the intent of the Decepticons who are chasing Bumblebee. Eventually, Burns accepts that the Autobot is not his enemy and he even allows Charlie and Bumblebee to escape after the final battle. But not before Burns salutes Bumblebee for saving his life. This wasn’t a performance that would win any Oscars. However, it definitely contributed to the one-and-only great live-action Transformers movie.
Watch Bumblebee on Paramount+.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is one of the best actors to come out of sports entertainment. Johnson has a lot of natural charisma, but he just doesn’t appear in many great movies. In retrospect, it seems obvious that the only medium that can fully capture Johnson’s larger than life persona is animation. In Disney’s Moana, Johnson voices Maui, a demigod who steals the heart of the living island, Te Fiti, and unwittingly unleashes 1,000 years of suffering with his mistake.
Maui gets his chance for redemption when he meets Moana (Auliʻi Cravalho), a teenage girl who is on a quest to restore Te Fiti by recovering her lost heart. Johnson even gets to sing his own spotlight song, “You’re Welcome,” helping his character take his place in Disney lore. Word has it that Johnson will also reprise his role as Maui in the inevitable Disney live-action Moana remake. But that might be a few years away.
Watch Moana on Disney+.
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