Many wrestlers have been able to make a jump into acting. Sasha Banks looks to be a fresh example of someone who has a big future ahead on the big screen. Charlotte, Alexa Bliss, The Miz, Shane McMahon, and more have also showcased their thespian abilities in recent years.
Below, we look at five wrestlers not named Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who starred in movies. The legend has a sitcom about his life. He can sit this article out.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
“The Texas Rattlesnake” made his attempt at acting in earnest around 2004. He had booked the gig in Adam Sandler’s The Longest Yard. This first movie role came years after being a standout guest star on Nash Bridges. Austin was pushing 40 and pretty fresh off his last match against The Rock at WrestleMania 19. It was a logical next step for one of the biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan had done it, same as The Rock. Stone Cold belonged right there in the conversation with those two.
“My approach and the way I look at acting is more power to all the people who are from an acting studio and whatever,” said Stone Cold Steve Austin in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel from around that time. “I’m gonna be exactly what I am and not stray too far from that. That’s what got me over in wrestling and where I am now.
“When you go back to my career in pro wrestling, and especially with WWE, I was never the biggest wrestler, the best looking, the most technical. I was not on the best anything list. But if you put it all together, I was someone who drew a lot of money. I can take that formula and apply it here [to acting]. Until someone proves me wrong, I have a strong feeling about that.”
Steve Austin, the movie star, never reached anywhere near the heights of Steve Austin, the professional wrestler. That doesn’t mean, however, that his acting career was a failure. Stone Cold racked up a second career’s worth of credits, including The Expendables, Damage, Grown Ups 2, Chuck, Born to Fight, Recoil, and more.
2. Randy Orton
Although Randy Orton has starred in multiple films produced by WWE Studios, he has never fully attempted to jump into acting. He also appeared in Changeland, written, directed by, and starring Seth Green. It’s clearly not something at the forefront of Orton’s mind, but he has shown some ability for it.
Orton spoke about the differences between wrestling and filmmaking/acting around the time that 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded came out, saying, “In the WWE ring, with viewers at home, I’m working toward five, six or sometimes even seven cameras at a time. At any time, one of those cameras could pick me up. I’m also working to the people that are sitting up in the rafters — well, there’s no such thing as a cheap seat, but I’ll say cheap seat for now — because I want them to see every little thing I’m doing.
“So things in the ring are definitely bigger,” Orton continued. “So that you can see them. But the movie world is completely different, and you have to hone things down because when that camera is so tight on you and so intimate and right up in your face, it’s going to catch every little thing that you give it, and it’s very easy to overdo it. The best advice I got is that acting isn’t acting — you want to just be, you want to just be real, be in the moment, and react.
“If I’m in there with someone like (costar) Brian Markinson,” Orton kept on, “who has been around and knows the ropes, I need to be able to react off of him. But I was surrounded by great actors, and even some of the film’s lesser-known actors were fantastic for me to work with. They were light years ahead of me as far as knowing what to do in that world. If they were in a WWE ring, they’d be lost, and yeah, I’d have to help them, but here I needed their help. I approached it like that, very humble, and just said, ‘Hey guys, I’m a first-timer, so please help me.’ And, of course, they want the movie to be as good as possible.”
There’s definitely a lot of ground to make up between wrestling and acting. It’s not a one-to-one comparison. There’s a lot more flowing freedom in wrestling. You don’t have to cut and reset or reshoot. You can improvise and react. Examples of that happening are fewer than not in filmmaking. There’s a lot more preparation needed. Randy Orton must have adapted to the process after 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded, as he pulled down a starring role in The Condemned 2 and a guest-starring spot on the USA series Shooter, as well.
3. Rowdy Roddy Pipper
Two movies stand out above all else on Roddy Piper’s filmography. The first, for me, is Hell Comes to Frogtown. That’s because it’s a ridiculous movie about a man who is imprisoned by way of an exploding chastity belt and forced to save people from mutant frog creatures. The best movie he ever made, however, was They Live. There’s no competition. It’s a sci-fi classic filled with iconic lines.
The most iconic of which, “I have come to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum,” was improvised by Piper. He used his long honed promo abilities, according to the film’s director John Carpenter.
Carpenter spoke about this further, saying, “That’s his line. Wrestling is an unbelievable business, but the big thing to sell a match in the medium is television. They do these interviews, so the thing to do is to come up with a memorable line about an upcoming match. So he had a bunch of lines that he’d written down over the years that he might have used or not used. One of them was, ‘I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.’ I think it was from a match with ‘Playboy’ Buddy Rose. I liked the line, so I just used it. He gave me a sheet of his wrestling quotes. He was a really inventive guy.”
The Rowdy One put together a huge filmography before he passed on. He was featured in countless films and television shows. One of his more famous roles came on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where he played a satirical take on Mickey Rourke’s character Randy the Ram from The Wrestler.
You can learn more about the life and acting career of Roddy Piper in our article entitled Roddy Piper: From The Streets to the Big Time.
4. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels only gave acting a shot after he had officially laced up his boots for the last time (Crown Jewel? Never heard of it!). He made an appearance on Baywatch and Pacific Blue, but neither are worth seeking out. However, Michaels made his first impression splash on the big screen when he was cast as Doug in The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. It’s a quiet performance from a usually loud performer. He serves his role perfectly as a supporting cast member.
Shawn Michaels spoke about how this was a great first project for him as an actor, saying, “It was a nice, feel-good story. I guess I’m getting soft in my old age and still enjoy those types of movies. It was one of those things where you think to yourself about your first experience in an area that you never experienced, it would be nice if you could do something where you would be comfortable, and that’s exactly what this was. Being a really good script and being in a role where I could easily relate to it, all those things coming together made it an easy choice to make.”
Not all of Shawn’s film appearances have gone as smoothly as that. One of his other acting credits is Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars, where HBK plays a character named Incredible Master Yoga. It does not look good, to say the least. With that said, Shawn Michaels was pretty great opposite The Miz and Becky Lynch in The Marine 6: Close Quarters, and he also managed to get some buzz for his performance in a 2019 film called 90 Feet From Home.
“This isn’t a pretty film,” said Brett Bentman, the director of 90 Feet From Home. “And I don’t mean that it does not look fantastic – I mean, there’s no bow at the end to wrap it up with and make you feel good. There’s real sadness here. Shawn’s performance is perfect. He gives us the range of outrage to sympathy, which is what we needed to succeed. The performance should open some doors for Shawn in the acting community.”
5. Dave Bautista
Dave Bautista has made a concerted effort to secure himself a diverse acting career. He has made sure to work with various directors he trusts, who all have a vision of their own. Due to that, Bautista has been able to work with Sam Mendes, James Gunn, Zack Snyder, The Russo Brothers, Dennis Villeneuve, and more. He’s racked up quite the impressive filmography of small, supporting roles, as well as starring vehicles like Stuber or My Spy. There’s a shared sentiment that Dave Bautista has carved out his place as the best genuine actor to come from professional wrestling.
Bautista recently appeared on Season 4 of the HBO series Room 104, where he played a former wrestler named Raw Dog Avalanche with a tortured past. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes me emotional,” Bautista said of the role during a conversation with CNET for the I’m So Obsessed podcast. “I was blown away. It was just so deep. I also looked at it as a huge opportunity for me to really stretch myself as an actor and prove myself as an actor. Because that’s really what I want — I want to be respected as an actor.
“I love dramatic acting, and when I think about myself as an actor and who I aspire to be, it’s a dramatic actor,” he adds. “I want that level of respect.”
At this point, Dave Bautista has shown himself capable of great range. He’s played comedic, dramatic, and brutish. He performs every role he steps into at a high level. He’s made a name for himself in the film world with his role as Drax the Destroyer in the now-legendary Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’ll forever be a part of the biggest film franchise in the history of the entire medium, as well as one of the best character actors working today.
Other Wrestlers Who Have Made the Jump Into Acting
These are not the only other five wrestlers to make the jump to acting besides The Rock. Hulk Hogan wasn’t mentioned. Neither was Terry Funk, who had a phenomenal performance in 1989’s Road House alongside Patrick Swayze. This list was not presented in order of importance or anything of the sort. These were my five choices. An unfortunate casualty is The Miz, who kept WWE Studios and The Marine franchise afloat at one point.
Will there ever be another massive movie star like The Rock? Or another performance-driven character actor like Dave Bautista?
John Cena seems to be the latest making a full go of it, and things are going well. He’s got The Suicide Squad and the spinoff series, as well as several credits he’s already had released or finished like Playing With Fire and Blockers.
Kevin Nash has also appeared in various movies through the years. Bret Hart also went viral for a movie he did.
There will always be a crossover from wrestling to film and television. It’s the way of the entertainment world. If someone is a hot commodity in one field, they’ll get their shot at another. The previously mentioned men are some of the best to cross over from the squared circle. Only time will tell who joins their ranks in the coming years.
If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on other wrestlers who made their way into acting:
- Captain Lou Albano – His Wild Wrestling and Acting Career
- 8 Times Wrestlers Made Cameo Appearances in Music Videos
- Hulk Hogan in Rocky: How Sylvester Stallone Helped Shape WWE