Professional wrestlers don't get a lot of credit when they make the jump from performing for live crowds to performing for the stage. However, some of them have put up solid performances in some absolutely fantastic movies. Really, they've always been actors, the only thing that's changed is the medium.
This list is for great movies that contain former professional wrestlers in significant roles. As such, cameos like the "Macho Man" Randy Savage's turn in Spider-Man or similar roles are not included. Even the best movie about wrestling, The Wrestler, doesn't make the cut as the actual wrestlers in the movie have much smaller parts. However, for those who put in a bit more time on screen, here are the top 10.
10. They Live
There may be no cinematic partnership more perfect in the world than director John Carpenter and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. The film is an endlessly entertaining romp as Piper tries to prevent an alien invasion that nobody else even knows is taking place. Piper gets to go just as overboard as his classic wrestling character, though he trades the kilt for jeans. The movie is a bit nuts but that doesn't harm the quality, as it's truly a great movie. The line about chewing bubble gum and kicking ass is one of the most quotable in movie history. For that reason alone, They Live makes the list.
9. Magic Mike
It's difficult to say if anybody really expected Channing Tatum's film about male strippers to be any better than most of the movies about female strippers. Although, when you have Steven Soderberg directing you, there's a pretty good chance you'll turn out alright. Amongst the numerous actors who run around with no shirt on is one guy who was mostly used to that. The role of Tarzan was played by "Big Sexy" Kevin Nash. He was a former WWE Champion before dipping his toe in acting. He's had several notable roles over the years, but this was by far the best of his films.
8. The Rundown
After getting noticed for his cameo in The Mummy Returns and filming the spinoff The Scorpion King, The Rock left professional wrestling to pursue a movie career full time. His first movie out of the gate is still one of his best. The Rundown allowed Dwayne Johnson to be the action hero tough guy that he was obviously going to be cast as, while still showing that he had some range. He could be funny too, and he was. There've been some rumblings about potential sequels recently. We'd love to visit this character again.
On WWE TV, John Cena is the all-American superhero who is fun for the whole family. His character in Trainwreck was not that. Amy Schumer's comedy about why monogamy sucks was hilarious and a large part of that was because of John Cena playing one of her boy toys. Cena basically played an over-the-top douchebag version of himself, which is what made it so funny. The role was the last thing you'd expect him to play and he nailed it. Cena looks to just be hitting his stride now when it comes to acting, so we're keeping our eyes on him for the future.
Before there was a Hulk Hogan, there were a couple of guys who paved the way for him, and one of those guys was Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Jesse was a solid wrestler throughout the late 70s and early 80s, but most that know him from the wrestling business probably know him from his years of work on commentary. It was there that he created his voice, a voice that he then carried over into film. Ventura stayed in supporting roles overall, but his largest role was also in his best movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Predator. It's by far the best of Schwartzenegger's 80s action work, and Ventura does a great job in it, right up until he gets murdered by a big game hunting alien.
5. Fast Five
The Fast and the Furious franchise is an odd film series. While it never had any problem making money, few would argue that the early entries are actually all that good. Then, around about the fifth entry in the series, they became a whole lot better. Is the entire reason the movies are now worth watching because they added The Rock? We're not saying that's the case, but we're not saying that isn't the case either. Fast Five is probably the highlight of the entire series and we will say that Dwayne Johnson's performance is a shot in the arm that the franchise was in need of.
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
A funny thing happened to Dave Bautista during his last run in the WWE, just before Guardians of the Galaxy came out. He was booed out of the building. The issues that caused that were almost entirely not of his making, but if that run had occurred after this movie came out, he probably would have received a very different reaction. The success of Guardians was a bit of a shock to a lot of people considering its comic basis wasn't as well known, but the movie was excellent and Bautista is fantastic in it. While comedy has always been a part of pro wrestling, that was never really Bautista's deal. Maybe it should have been.
3. The Princess Bride
Andre the Giant is one of the most beloved men to ever step foot in the squared circle. The Princess Bride is one of the most beloved movies ever made. If you somehow think this a coincidence, then you're not paying attention. Andre just makes the fairytale aspect of the movie come to life like nobody else. Probably because the man himself is as unbelievable as any bedtime story. Today the movie would have used green screens to make some other actor appear huge. Thank God we didn't miss out on an opportunity to see Andre look even bigger than he actually was.
2. Ed Wood
George "The Animal" Steele retired from wrestling in 1988, but he didn't make his acting debut until 1994. In point of fact, Ed Wood is the only movie Steele ever made, which means he's got a perfect record when it comes to his choices of roles. Fittingly, Steele plays Tor Johnson, a Swedish actor and wrestler. Even more fittingly, the two actually shared a remarkable resemblance with Steele getting mistaken for Johnson in his early career on a fairly regular basis. Tim Burton's biopic of film director Ed Wood is a stellar piece of filmmaking. Seeing a guy who used to eat turnbuckle pads co-starring is just a bit of added fun.
1. The Godfather
We finish up this list with one of the greatest movies ever made, and the least generally well-known wrestler on this list. Still, if you need to cast the role of Luca Brasi, a mobster's personal muscle, who better to cast than a former wrestler, who was, at the time, a bodyguard for a mobster. Lenny Montana wrestled throughout the old territory system as The Zebra Kid throughout the 1950s. He won numerous championships, mostly throughout the southern US. When mobster Joe Colombo visited the set of The Godfather, Montana was along with him, and the producers realized they needed him to play the enforcer. From there, Montana left wrestling to become a full-time actor.