Over the last decade or so, more and more professional athletes are migrating to Hollywood. Some are content with cameos on popular TV series, others prefer bit parts in comedy blockbusters, and then, there are these guys.
Out of every sport, wrestling seems like the kind of day job that lends itself to the kind of theatricality needed to make it big in film and on TV. After all, more than pile drives and pins, cage matches, and tag-team showdowns, professional wrestling is all about the drama. And if you can deliver complicated storylines focused on feuds, friendships, and hostile takeovers all while wearing ill-fitting spandex and sequined leather chaps, you can probably do anything.
We took a look at the biggest wrestling personalities who’ve pivoted their smack-talking skills and over-the-top personalities to successful careers in Hollywood and decided to rank them based on box office draw and how interesting their acting choices have been. Here’s who’s had the best post-wrestling career on screen so far.
10. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
Best Performance: Bonesaw McGraw in Spider-Man (2002)
When a man’s Wikipedia page sports job descriptors like “professional wrestler,” “rapper,” and “baseball player,” is it really that much of a stretch to think he can probably act too? Randy Savage made a name for himself in the ring with his iconic, raspy delivery of catchphrases, his physicality, and his love of classical music. But he took that eccentricity and intensity and parlayed it into a successful career on screen too, voicing characters on shows like King of the Hill and patenting a slogan for Slim Jims that somehow made the idea of tasteless dried meat appealing. His best turn though had to be in Tobey McGuire’s first Spider-Man outing, where he played the savage, flamboyant antagonist in a cage match gone very wrong.
9. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Best Performance: Dan Paine in The Expendables (2010)
The cacophonous melody of shattered glass. The leather vest. The bald head. Steve Austin was a stone-cold baddie on WWE, ushering in an era of profanity and violence the league hadn’t risked exploring before but eventually, his career in the ring was sidelined by injury — and by the fact that he’d peaked by turning a Biblical passage into a T-shirt-selling empire. TV and film were the next best thing and though Austin gave some physically impressive performances in a handful of B-movies, his best roles were in bigger-budget fare. He played a worthy adversary to Slyvester Stallone in The Expendables before being set on fire, and he proved he had some surprising comedic chops in a couple of Adam Sandler flicks.
8. Ronda Rousey
Best Performance: Kara in Furious 7 (2015)
Ronda Rousey is an Olympic medalist. She’s the first woman to ever be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. She holds the record for the longest stint as a WWE Champion. In other words, she’s the real deal and her aptitude for trash-talking served her outside the ring too. She earned early film credits by playing ingenue mercenaries and self-sacrificing special ops agents. She even had a stint on Fox’s drama-heavy 9-1-1, but her best role might just be the ass-kicking foe of Michelle Rodriguez in Furious 7.
7. Big Show
Best Performance: Captain Insano in The Waterboy (1998)
Big Show was a hulking figure in the world of wrestling. His sheer size amazed fans, his brutish backstabbing terrified opponents. But, oddly enough, his acting career has benefitted from the man also known as Paul Wight showing off his softer, more humorous side. He fronted a sweet family sitcom loosely based on his own life over on Netflix and he’s played his bulk for laughs in movies like McGruber and Jingle All The Way. Still, nothing tops him dissing Adam Sandler live on television as the uber-masculine Captain Insano — even if we did come away feeling pretty sorry for Bobby Boucher.
6. Rowdy Roddy Piper
Best Performance: Nada in They Live (1988)
Roddy Piper — a Canadian wrestler posing as a quick-tempered Scottish rogue — is infamous in the sport for perfecting the antagonistic role that so many other men and women on this list would one day trade on. He favored bagpipes and kilts and over-the-top feuds so it should come as no surprise that his film career was equally niche. While we’re partial to his turn as a deranged wrestler on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, his greatest role is undeniably that of Nada, a homeless drifter tasked with saving the world from aliens looking to enslave the human race in the cult classic They Live. After all, who else on this list utters a more iconic line than “I have come here to chew bubblegum, and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” No one, that’s who.
5. Kevin Nash
Best Performance: Tarzan/Ernest in Magic Mike XXL (2015)
One of the founding members of a group known as the New World Order, Kevin Nash is an OG figure in the world of wrestling, a man whose rivals are some of the biggest names in the sport today — think Hulk Hogan and Bill Goldberg. But no feat in the ring can compare with Nash’s acting credits in both Magic Mike movies. Not only did Steven Soderberg deem him talented enough to play a reserved male stripper named Tarzan, but he was also so good in the role, Channing Tatum gave him even more to do in the sequel. Magic Mike XXL proved Nash could do comedy. He imbued Ernest with heart, playing up the dichotomy of his massive size and his character’s desire to just be a family man. And that stage routine where he pretended to be a leather-shorts-clad Michaelangelo? Truly inspired work.
4. Andre the Giant
Best Performance: Fezzik in The Princess Bride (1987)
It’s a rare thing when a wrestler is able to craft an acting career that outlives and outperforms his legacy in the ring. The rest of the names ranking higher on this list have achieved that, but they all follow in the footsteps of Andre Roussimoff, aka Andre the Giant. He may have been Hulk Hogan’s initial enemy in the WWF, but on screen, Andre brought to life a character that would one day become a cultural icon. An unemployed giant recruited to help start a war between two kingdoms, Fezzik evolved from a simple thug-for-hire to a hero in his own right. He was a loyal friend, an intimidating opponent, and a man blessed with the gift of rhyme. The Princess Bride just wouldn’t have worked without him.
3. John Cena
Best Performance: Steven in Trainwreck (2015)
Sure, John Cena’s gimmicks in the ring haven’t aged that well. His hip-hop-inspired costume complete with baggy jorts and gold padlock chains should never have been a look and we doubt his signature “You Can’t See Me” slogan ever really intimidated anyone. Still, if we had to suffer through those early WWE growing pains to enjoy his post-wrestling career, the acting choices he’s been making in the past few years are more than worth it. Now Cena is physically capable of being an action hero — and he’s done a worthy job of it in films like The Wall, 12 Rounds, and The Marine. But what Cena is truly gifted at is comedy, and he shines when he’s able to pair his imposing physique with his impeccable comedic timing. For proof, just look at how he takes bit parts — a tatted drug dealer handing out molly, birth control, and Flintstone gummies from the same tackle box in Sisters, a brawny sensitive boyfriend who sucks at dirty talk in Trainwreck — and turns them into the most memorable parts of a movie. His role in that Amy Schumer-led comedy still rings as his best work to date — no one has ever failed so spectacularly at trash-talking than Steven does during that hilarious movie theater confrontation — but his turns in Blockers and Daddy’s Home also have us hyped for what he’s promising in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. A guy who wears a shiny toilet seat on his head and values liberty so much he’d be willing to eat an entire beach’s worth of penises to get it? That’s the kind of character John Cena was born to play.
2. Dave Bautista
Best Performance: Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
It’s hard to imagine Dave Bautista playing an animalistic baddie in the ring, which feels like one of the highest compliments one can pay to a former wrestler-turned-acclaimed-thespian. We know he did put in time in the WWE. He’s got enough championship titles to prove it, and his feud with Triple H during their Evolution days was one of the most thrilling storylines to come from the league, but when you think of Bautista now, you think of his career on-screen. And for good reason. The athlete has been vocal about how seriously he takes his craft and his choices reflect that commitment — from working with directors like Sam Mendes and Denis Villeneuve to his star-making turn in James Gunn’s weirdly wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy series. He’s done more indie fare with films like Bushwick and shows like HBO’s anthology series Room 104, but he’s also proven he’s capable of taking the lead in the comedy department, acting opposite of Kumail Nanjiani in Stuber and playing a CIA-agent-turned-reluctant-babysitter in My Spy. Still, his most impressive performance can be found in Gunn’s MCU debut where Bautista somehow managed to make a character with the phrase “The Destroyer” in his name one of the more soft-spoken, lovable losers in a franchise filled with idyllic superheroes. Bautista is a master of the deadpan delivery in the first Guardians film, playing the comedic foil to Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill and stealing the show from the wise-cracking CGI raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper — two men with exponentially more acting experience than Bautista. Up next is Army of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s long-awaited zombie action-comedy, another Villeneuve epic in Dune, and the recently announced Knives Out 2. Bautista may not have as many credits under his belt as guys like The Rock or John Cena, but it’s his bold, interesting career choices that make him such a high-ranking contender on this list. Out of everyone, we’re most excited to see where he goes next.
1. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Best Performance: Maui in Moana (2016) and Dr. Smolder in Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017)
This might be a completely unoriginal take but we’d argue that when you’re as successful at what you do as Dwayne Johnson is, people have no choice but to seed you in that number one spot. The truth is, no one comes close to what the artist formerly known as The Rock has done on the big (and small) screen. He’s the most popular wrestler to come from the WWE in its history, so much so that even fans who didn’t tune into his cage matches and Royal Rumbles can recite his signature catchphrase. And that relentless charisma easily transferred to his work in film, helping him headline a lineup of action-packed blockbusters in the early 2010s before transitioning to comedic roles with his Jumanji revival. His HBO drama Ballers proved Johnson has an eye for good storytelling — after all, not every prestige TV series gets such an enthusiastic endorsement from sitting Senator Elizabeth Warren — and his appearance in Fast Five reinvigorated that franchise, inspiring spin-offs centered around Johnson’s government-ops muscle-head and his contentious odd-couple relationships with the criminals that surround him. And while we appreciate the effort he put into his smolder for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, while we get a kick out of his bromance with Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence, and while no one can sell CGI-heavy action epics featuring skyscrapers, San Andreas fault lines, and giant gorillas we need to acknowledge the truly fantastic performance Johnson gave in a modern animated Disney masterpiece. Yes, Dwayne Johnson can play a tough guy out to save the world in his sleep. A lot of people on this list can. But no one, we mean no one, can voice a trickster god who can shapeshift, voyage, and belt out a catchy show tune like this guy. Even Lin Manuel-Miranda recognized that.