Professional Wrestlers have been jumping from the ring to Hollywood productions for years now, with performers like The Rock, one of the biggest figures of the WWF Attitude Era, becoming one of the highest-paid action stars around.
Nowadays we don’t get surprised when Batista appears in a Marvel Movie or John Cena has his own DC Super Hero Show, but there was a time when pro wrestling stars couldn’t translate their skills from the ring to the big screen in a way that mainstream audiences would have liked.
If you were a kid in the 80s, maybe seeing your favorite WWF SuperStar in a movie made you excited, and you could stay and watch the whole film without even realizing how bad it was.
So, now it’s a good time to revisit some of the “Golden Era” pro wrestlers that made a good effort in a Hollywood production, these are the
Best Appearances By Wrestlers In 80s Movies
No Holds Barred (1989) – Hulk Hogan as the protagonist Rip Thomas
The Hulkster’s first starring role in a full-length feature didn’t exactly make his acting skills shine. The red and yellow giant acts the same way on the big screen as he does in the ring, and that doesn’t translate that well if we’re supposed to take this 80s action flick seriously.
However, given that this was still the 80s, compared to the corny underground fighting movies that were coming out at the time, No Holds Barred isn’t “bad”, and since Hulk-A-Mania was still a thing, we can overlook Hulk Hogan performing as he did in WWF’s house shows since kids in the late 80’s still were awed to see their hero in the cinema.
I have to say that Tommy Lister Jr. shines a lot more in his role as the unstoppable monster “Zeus”, but he was already a professional actor before playing the villain of the movie, and became a part-time wrestler afterward.
Body Slam (1986) – Roddy Piper as Rick Roberts, and Captain Lou Albano as a manager
First, let’s get this out there, Body Slam is a bad movie, even compared to other mid-80s direct-to-video releases. But Roddy Piper shows that he can actually act in front of a camera in a different way than his in-ring persona.
He’s soft-spoken, calm, and says his lines like you would expect from a decent actor of the time, and in this actual wrestling cameo he does what he does best.
Lou Albano acts exactly the same way as he did in live professional wrestling shows and tv promos, but since this is a wrestling movie and his role is that of a heel manager, he does a very well and believable job that just fits the setting of the movie.
There are other professional wrestlers in supporting roles and even legends like Bruno Sammartino and Ric Flair show up in cameos, which makes this “bad” movie stand out for any fan of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era.
It’s something you should watch at least once, if only to remember what it was like growing up during the WWF Golden Years.
My Breakfast with Blassie (1982) – “Classy” Freddie Blassie as himself
In this mostly improvised parody of the film My Dinner with Andre (1981), Andy Kaufman, the star of the 1978 TV Show “Taxi”, goes to have breakfast at a restaurant with WWE Hall of Famer and one of the best heels ever, Freddie Blassie.
The timeline of this movie is after Kaufman, the self-proclaimed “Intergender Wrestling Champion” had received a piledriver twice by Jerry The King Lawler at a Show in Tennessee, and was wearing a neck brace.
In the conversation that takes place, Blassie seems genuine, talking about his wrestling career and experiences performing around the world. He looks like a grandpa telling his grandson stories and is interesting to hear about what he lived through in the 60s and 70s and all the injuries he had to endure.
At times Blassie seems to be thinking about what to say or remembering the script instead of recalling his experiences, but all in all, it is refreshing to see him outside his in-ring character.
The movie is kind of believable when just Blassie and Kaufman talk to each other, but when the actors portraying guests at other tables interrupt them, things start to get weird.
You can find the full movie on youtube and watch it if you’re interested in old-school wrestling.
Ninja Strikes Back (1982) – Harold Sataka as “The Ninja”
This movie is a French production that wanted to cash in on the popularity of Bruce Lee, and the main actor is a copycat that goes by the name “Bruce Le”.
This film makes this list since the Japanese wrestler turned actor Harold Sakata, famous for his role as Oddjob in the James Bond Movie Goldfinger, appears as a heavy villain that fights using a golden glove with sharp fingertips. And yes, he does throw his hat as a weapon in a scene.
It is a low-budget average Kung Fu flick that tries to copy many of the scenes of past Bruce Lee movies. But Sataka, who has portrayed a silent henchman in most of his acting career, is a mob boss here and has several lines of dialogue, in contrast to the past characters he was given.
You have to be a huge fan of Bruceploitation films to be able to sit through the entirety of this movie, but it’s something I would have watched on TV as a kid when I was obsessed with Ninjas and Martial Arts.
Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985) – Steve Strong as The Mask
This film is presented as a documentary, but it has a script, just like most modern Reality TV.
It follows a new star in the making (The Mask) in his pursuit of the Championship, while the documentary crew asks if under the mask hides the former champion “Mad Dog” Joe DeCurso portraying a new gimmick.
This mockumentary as a whole is worth watching because of the way the wrestlers cut promos, shouting insults at their rivals on camera, turning red with anger, slapping each other on the chest, and end up throwing furniture around, destroying the tv sets to hype up their upcoming matches and show their heated rivalries.
In a time when kayfabe was a thing, this movie is very clearly a comedy with cheesy jokes and funny cheap-sounding effects for the slaps, punches, and slams
It wasn’t that well received among wrestling fans at the time of its release. Still, some of the wrestling moves look pretty good in slow motion or are accentuated with camera work and the way the performers try to sell them.
Nowadays this is a cult movie that we can look back and try to appreciate for what the filmmakers were trying to do.
At times it’s like watching clowns with funny fights in a circus, but many real ring gladiators had a chance to do what they do best, and you should watch it at least once, since it is a piece of history of mid-80s wrestling, for better or for worse.
Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988) – Roddy Piper as Sam Hell
This may not be among the best post-apocalyptic movies to come out during the last century, but Piper’s performance is pretty decent, considering his character spends most of the time talking to giant humanoid frogs, I buy his acting.
This time he doesn’t portrays a wrestler like in his first Hollywood role, but while the film got bad reviews at the time of its release, it isn’t that bad for an 80’s Mad Max rip-off.
Sam Hell is not a hero, just a guy trying to survive in a weird world, getting into weird situations. But at least we get some character development, and it prepared Piper for his future roles on the big and the small screen outside of wrestling.
Worth a watch if you like 80s B-Movies and dig the special costumes of anthropomorphic amphibians. But of course, they’re just there to be blasted with a shotgun by the protagonist at the end.
“Eat Lead, Froggies!”
Escape from New York (1981) – Ox Baker as Slag
In this cult classic by legendary filmmaker John Carpenter, big heel professional wrestler Ox Baker battles the hero in a deathmatch, using baseball bats with nails stuck on the tip as weapons, and trashcan lids as shields.
Baker looks like a big hairy imposing barbarian, and fits right in with the whole theme of the movie, but he moves slow as hell in the fight, surely to protect actor Kurt Russel from being hurt in real life.
Overall the scene works just fine, and by early 80’s standards, it was a good fight scene featuring a scary giant that you wouldn’t want to encounter in a dark alley while walking the streets at night.
Predator (1987) – Jesse Ventura as Blain Cooper
Blain: That SOB is dug in like an Alabama tick
Poncho: You’re hit. You’re bleeding man
Blain: I ain’t got time to bleed
Jesse Ventura’s debut in Hollywood is a very good one. In a team of military macho men, his character as a tobacco-chewing heavy gunner stands out in the little screen time he gets.
He has only a handful of lines, but his few phrases make him sound like a total badass. And it also helps that he carries the bigger and badder fire weapon in the movie, where he only needs to point in the general direction of enemy infantry before lighting them up with his minigun “Ol’ Painless”
Sure, the Predator kills him off not 50 minutes into the story, but at least he gets a shot with the alien’s plasma cannon and goes out in a super memorable way, instead of just being dragged to the deep jungle and getting his neck slit off-screen.
Rocky III (1982) – Hulk Hogan as Thunderlips
The Hulkster’s first tout to Hollywood is short but sweet. Here he portrays the giant muscular wrestling Champion, who makes Rocky look like a kid heightwise when standing next to him.
The match itself starts out pretty one-sided, with the big man just throwing Rocky around like a rag doll.
This movie was made before Hulk Hogan made the jump to WWF and became the face of the company, his performance here is a little more believable and doesn’t have the personality traits of his Hulk-A-Mania persona, which is what lowers the quality his acting performance in No Holds Barred and all the other movies he made in the ’90s, later on, he just can’t stop acting like Hulk Hogan.
Fortunately, this is a classic film from a beloved franchise, and the most famous performer of the 80s can take credit for being able to toss around Rocky Balboa, one of the most iconic characters in cinema history.
They Live (1988) – ”Rowdy” Roddy Piper as Nada
Roddy Piper may very well be the best actor turned wrestler of the 80s. That doesn’t mean he was going to take Hollywood by storm, just that in this film, he actually can act better than other action film stars like Van Damme and Seagal.
In this role as a drifter that arrives in Los Angeles to become an Alien Hunter, the character Nada almost doesn’t speak at first, but you can tell what he is thinking just by seeing his facial expression, like when he first tries on the glasses that let him see subliminal messages in street banners and noticing that some people have “weird” faces.
The real fun begins when he starts gunning down aliens and delivering catchphrases, that’s when this movie becomes gold.
“Mama don’t like tattletales!”