With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 out this week, it’s worth taking a look at an unsung hero among the unsung heroes of the universe. Yes, the talking tree is cute and Andy Dwyer has abs and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame now, but the films’ secret weapon has to be Drax. The Destroyer’s beefy arms, big knives and inability to understand metaphors certainly leave an impression, and the role is well-suited to the skills of a wrestler-turned-actor like Dave Bautista, who isn’t exactly going to win an Oscar anytime soon.
It’s a tough transition: some find a niche for their ass-kicking talents, while others flex their comedy muscles. Most of the time, it’s a straight knockout, as the hammy schtick that suffices for “acting” in wrestling just doesn’t fly on the big screen. So in honour of one success story – Bautista is slated to appear in future Marvel films, as well as Blade Runner 2049 later this year – we thought we’d take a trip through some of the best and worst performances by wrestlers in film.
John Cena in Trainwreck
Trainwreck is full of unlikely comic hits. Tilda Swinton and LeBron James give good game, but the true breakout star is John Cena, who turns out to be as good at improv as he is at beating the crap out of people. Judd Apatow’s comedic style, which has defined the last 15 years of blockbuster comedy, isn’t for everyone – that’s why those who hack it often turn up in his movies again and again – but Cena acquits himself admirably. He and Amy Schumer play off each other well, and it’s clear in the film (and behind-the-scenes footage) that the funniest jokes came from the two bouncing off each other.
Cena isn’t a one-trick pony either – his work in Sisters and a brief cameo in the final season of Parks and Recreation suggests that Cena has a bright future ahead of him in comedy if he ever gets tired of knocking people out.
André the Giant in The Princess Bride
“Anybody want a peanut?” There can’t be anyone alive who has seen The Princess Bride and not fallen in love with the rhyming, doggy-paddling, one-man brute squad that is Fezzik. André Roussimoff was scriptwriter and novelist William Goldman’s first choice for the role, which was a perfect fit for the gentle giant. Roussimoff’s intimidating size and gentle nature combine to create one of film’s most memorable henchmen, and his kindness and affability shines in the easy chemistry he has with the rest of the cast.
Gina Carano in Haywire
Carano isn’t the most convincing actress in her film debut – but Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s thriller inspired by the espionage flicks of the ’60s and ’70s, doesn’t need her to be. Haywire is about watching a force of nature tear through some of Hollywood’s biggest male stars, and oh boy does it deliver. Fassbender, Tatum, Banderas and McGregor are all left face down in the dust as Carano’s Mallory Kane fights her way through a conspiracy that the film wisely doesn’t spend much time explaining. Interestingly, her voice was digitally altered in post-production – but those kicks were definitely real.
Ronda Rousey in Fast and Furious 7
To be fair to Ronda Rousey (I certainly don’t want her coming after me), she wasn’t hired to play Hamlet, and the calibre of acting in the Fast & Furious series isn’t exactly high. Unfortunately, while she delivers on the fighting front, she is largely wasted in her one scene with Michelle Rodriguez. Their brawl is vicious and brutal, but her line delivery is the most gut-wrenching part of the sequence – and she doesn’t even get a great death. Hopefully she woke up from on top of that piano and is currently plotting her revenge for Fast & Furious 9, and maybe she can take some acting lessons in the meantime.
Kevin Nash in Magic Mike
Soderburgh’s less successful wrestling discovery. While Nash’s Jackknife Powerbomb has put any number of men and women on their back, it’s hard to imagine his dance moves having the same impact. Thankfully, his character Tarzan is largely sidelined both in the film and onstage at Xquisite, content to lumber around in the background while you focus on Channing Tatum’s abs and try not to think too hard about how someone ends up as a 50-year-old stripper in Florida.
Hulk Hogan in Gremlins 2: The New Batch
During his meteoric rise to the top of the wrestling world, Hulkamania swept through Hollywood, leaving a trail of wanton destruction and horribly-titled movies in its wake. Surbuban Commando, Mr Nanny, Santa with Muscles – the Hulkster’s filmography is a series of cringy action/comedy vehicles playing on his All-American Beefcake persona. While the award for his worst movie appearance would probably go to the one that bankrupted Gawker, his cameo in Gremlins 2: The New Batch is the weirdest. The gremlins have escaped the confines of the film itself, and are currently wreaking havoc in the projection booth (Michael Haneke, eat your heart out). Luckily the snooty cinema attendant has just the idea: ask the burliest member of the audience for help.
Hulk Hogan, and other wrestlers before him, made a play at conquering Hollywood – but none can hold a candle to one ass-whopping, franchise-spawning, smackdown-laying legend. Can you smell what he’s cooking?
The Rock’s ascent to acting stardom is not just impressive for a wrestler – it’s impressive for anyone. Sure, he entered Hollywood at a running start with his role as the Scorpion King, but there can’t be anyone alive who expected that, 15 years later, this meathead would be one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. While Johnson’s early box office returns weren’t as earth-shattering as his punches, his fortunes turned in the late noughties when he ditched “The Rock” from his name and began pitching himself as Dwayne Johnson, family-friendly franchise man.
And now? While Johnson has occasionally stepped back into the ring – most famously to feud with John “Fruity Pebbles” Cena – he is almost certainly known to more people as an actor than a wrestler. This is likely the silver bullet that separates the success stories, like those of Johnson and Schwarzenegger, from other professional piles of muscle that fail to break into Hollywood. It’s a tricky line to walk, but like Schwarzenegger before him, Johnson has wisely avoided stretching the limits of his acting ability and natural charisma, instead taking roles that suit his skillset without becoming typecast as “burly former wrestler”.
Having already taken “silent but menancing” roles in Riddick and Spectre, it’s possible that Dave Bautista will walk straight into this trap, and be doomed to play henchmen until his knees give out. Hopefully the People’s Champ himself can take some time out from his oodles of cash, his alarm clock, and his overly long Instagram captions to help one of his fellow wrestlers navigate the tricky path to Hollywood success.