Most of us know of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s blockbusters, Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live, and Dave Bautista‘s recurring role as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. However, plenty of other wrestler movie appearances often fall under the radar.
Here is our selection of wrestler movie appearances you may have missed!
“Wrestlers are larger than life and more charismatic than most movie stars.”
Abdullah the Butcher
Known worldwide as “The Madman from the Sudan,” Windsor, Ontario native Abdullah the Butcher has left his indelible bloody mark in wrestling history and is one of the most unusual-looking individuals to ever step inside the squared circle.
“Abby,” as he is affectionately called, has wandering eyes that lock in on an opponent, not in simple observance but like a flesh-eating monster assessing his prey.
Then his gnarly scarred forehead greets you.
It appears like it’s pulsating. It’s like a fleshy tome wanting to impart stories of unimaginable ring carnage.
Are you a gambler who enjoys poker? Well, those flesh pockets can safely hold your chips until needed, too.
Creating chaos in every territory and promotion that dared book him, he was a strong draw anywhere he appeared. He never worked for WWE, yet is a 2011 inductee in their Hall of Fame.
Although wrestling is an athletic exhibition and not a shoot-like legitimate combat sport, fans still often wonder how a pro wrestler would fare against a martial artist in an actual fight.
We have repeatedly seen this confrontation in mixed martial arts companies like UFC and in films.
But perhaps none have been as irreverent and hilarious as Abdullah the Butcher’s appearance as “The Black Retainer” in one of Shin’ichi “Sonny” Chiba’s lesser-known films, Hoero! Tekken (Roaring Fire) from 1981.
Fun fact: Sonny Chiba (born Sadaho Maeda) is credited with over 200 roles.
Roaring Fire (1981)
Sonny Chiba is mainly known for his martial arts and action flicks, beginning his acting career in the ’60s in Tokusatsu films (Japanese term for genre films with heavy special effects).
His standout movies include The Street Fighter (1974), The Killing Machine (1975), his five “Battles Without Honor Or Humanity” actioners, Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977), and Hunter in the Dark (1979).
His most famous role is in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 1 & Kill Bill 2 (2003 and 2004,) where he plays Hattori Hanzo, a retired swordmaker and sushi chef.
In Roaring Fire, Sonny is Mr. Magic/Interpol inspector. He also choreographed the action sequences. Abdullah the Butcher plays a former enemy later turned ally who helps the hero, Hiroyuki Sanada, face his foes.
In wild action sequences, Abby teams with Sanada. After toppling over three towers of empty brew bottles that shatter every which way, we see him standing above the commotion. In classic Abby fashion, he’s grinning maniacally from ear to ear with a cigar hanging from his mouth.
Abby (believe it or not, an amateur martial artist himself) jumps down into the foray and becomes a one-man wrecking crew. Nothing and no one can stop him.
It’s an urban back alley battle royale with Abby cleaning house.
Unlike a previous comical poolside scene, which featured Abby’s voice, he falls victim to lousy dubbing here– as is the norm with many low-budget martial arts films.
So leave your brain at home and enjoy this mindless melee.
“Little Tarzan, leave them to me! The Black Retainer!” is the less-than-profound dialogue that ensues.
Abby also plays a surly inmate in Caged Men (1971), where he isn’t allowed to shine like in Roaring Fire.
He, of course, appears in the mockumentary I Like to Hurt People (1985) as himself, which we at Pro Wrestling Stories discuss here.
For many years, Jesse “The Body” Ventura was on shaky ground with his bosses at the then-WWF and later WCW.
Ventura was one of “the boys” who dared speak up and pushed for the need for a union in wrestling that would seek health care and retirement benefits for all performers.
But the top money earners weren’t having it. So, Ventura was ratted out to management.
Years later, in court, when suing Vince McMahon’s then-WWF over unpaid royalties, he found out that Hulk Hogan was allegedly the whistle-blower. And many agree that without Hogan, who was arguably wrestling’s biggest draw at the time, there could never be a union.
Thus, the movie world was an option for the charismatic Mr. Ventura.
The Running Man (1987)
Jesse made a pretty good splash in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in two films.
One was The Running Man, an American dystopian sci-fi action thriller loosely based on the 1982 Stephen King novel written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym.
Arnie plays Ben Richards, a wrongly accused man in a totalitarian regime forced to play an elaborate government-controlled game show where “Runners” are pursued to the death by “Stalkers.” The lucky survivors of this ordeal are granted their freedom and a condo in Hawaii.
The master of ceremonies in all this mayhem is none other than Richard Dawson.
Dawson hosted The Family Feud from 1976 to 1985. He earned the nickname “The Kissing Bandit” on the game show because he’d regularly kiss the female contestants on the lips and be touchy-feely with them on camera. (Yikes!)
In The Running Man, Ventura plays a character similar in personality to his wrestling persona. When he speaks, you darn well better listen.
As announcer Captain Freedom, he is a retired ten-time former Running Man Stalker Champion and even has a gory and very violent confrontation with Arnie in the film.
A bonus is “Professor” Toru Tanaka appearing as well. He is one of the Stalkers named Subzero, who uses a lethal hockey stick that cuts through steel and dangerous exploding pucks and waits for the Runners in his deadly hockey rink-like lair.
The movie reportedly made $38 million at the domestic box office and had a budget of $27 million. Not too shabby. The movie and the book that inspired the film predicted deadly reality TV, propped up by a collapsed economic system fueled by gambling, greed, and bloodlust.
In our world, this all got watered down in shows like Survivor, American Ninja Warrior, American Idol, and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Predator was a much bigger hit for Ventura.
The blockbuster sci-fi action thriller reportedly raked in close to $100 million at the box office, with an estimated budget of between $15 to 18 million.
Here he plays the crude-talking tough guy Blain Cooper alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger again who enjoys chewing tobacco (spitting it on an unsuspecting Al Dillon, played by Carl Weathers) and calls himself a “Godd*** Sexual Tyrannosaurus.”
His weapon of choice is uber destructive (which he nicknames “Ol’ Painless” in the film) and he mows down anything in his path with gusto.
If you haven’t experienced Predator, you’re missing out.
“He’s a cop whose beat spans two galaxies! Abraxas! Two super beings in an all-out fight over a small boy and one large planet Earth. Their fight will decide our fate!”
– Abraxas’ official trailer
Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1991)
When RiffTrax (former stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000) mock your movie, it’s a dubious achievement. And the Canadian-produced Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe from 1991 promises much but delivers very little.
On the bright side, it’s got Jesse “The Body” Ventura as some intergalactic police officer named Abraxas who is a “Finder” and has been one for 10,000 years.
He spends much of the film babysitting a kid called the “Culmator” who has acquired, wait for it… the “Anti-Life Equation.” And this transpired after his rouge partner Secundus impregnated a woman just by caressing her abdomen.
Pretty interesting, I guess.
Ventura disappointingly tries to play a more cerebral and introspective character, although his fan base wants to see him being a badass.
I remember renting this movie back in the day, and even as a teenager, I was very underwhelmed; it’s a little on the bland side. Still, it’s worth checking out just as a curiosity for Ventura completists.
Not even Jim Belushi as the clueless school principal could save Abraxas from VHS movie hell.
Jesse also appears in Batman & Robin (1997), Repossessed (1990) with Linda Blair and Leslie Nielson, and a brief appearance in Demolition Man (1993) with Sylvester Stallone.
In Woodshop (2009), Ventura plays an ex-Army Ranger, now a woodshop teacher with a very abrasive personality.
While Ventura remains popular, his movie career seems to have stalled in recent years.
“I’m the REAL Giant!”
– “Big” John Studd
3. Big John Studd
John William Minton hailed from Butler, Pennsylvania.
After being trained by Killer Kowalski, he would debut as The Mighty Minton in 1972 with NWA Hollywood.
He later worked in various territories and the WWWF as Chuck O’ Connor. He was Executioner #2, one-half of the Masked Executioners, alongside his mentor Killer Kowalski. Captain Lou Albano successfully led them to championship gold in May of 1976.
Texas in 1977 is where he picked up the name “Big John Studd.
In Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, Studd and Ric Flair were victorious over Paul Jones and Ricky Steamboat and became the tag team champions on October 30th, 1978.
Studd later formed a team with strongman Ken Patera and won the titles in January of 1979 to become a two-time tag champion.
Although he also had successful AWA runs, he is remembered chiefly for his run in the WWF that started in November 1982.
The WWF booked him as an unstoppable force, and he challenged Bob Backlund for his title on numerous occasions. And even though he took their matches to the limit, they repeatedly ended in disqualifications or count outs, and Studd was unsuccessful in dethroning the company’s “Golden Boy.”
His subsequent feud with André the Giant and the “Bodyslam Challenge” that culminated at WrestleMania 1 led to even greater success.
Studd indeed gave him and champion Hulk Hogan a run for their money, facing both on numerous occasions and drawing very well.
Later, he’d continue targeting André by teaming with King Kong Bundy as part of the “Heenan Family” stable of wrestlers. Unfortunately, this was a powerful but underachieving tag team now largely forgotten.
“Big” John Studd was not what you’d call a great worker, but he was a believable giant heel in an era where few big men could even adequately apply a headlock. Studd wasn’t just an immovable mass of flesh.
He ended his tenure in the WWF in 1989 as a babyface.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (1991)
With Big John Studd’s massive size and imposing look, it was only natural for someone to hire him for the big screen.
Starring Mickey Rourke (future Golden Globe Winner for his portrayal of Randy “The Ram” Robinson in the 2008 film The Wrestler) and Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man action movie is not a classic by any stretch.
It was a catastrophic financial disaster. It reportedly grossed only $7 million at the domestic box office with an estimated budget of $23 million.
Studd as the imposing Jack Daniels and his wild but short-lived fight against Micky Rourke is one of the best parts of this forgettable 1991 mindless romp.
It was even nominated for Worst Picture at the 1991 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.
“Hurry up, Harley. It’s going to be bloody, but quick!”
In the pro-wrestling-inspired bar fight, Studd busts out a relatively subdued promo (unlike his work in wrestling) promising severe bodily harm to Mickey Rourke’s character.
Then all heck breaks loose. Studd doesn’t raise his character above your typical thuggish bar baddie, but he didn’t need to either. Sadly, he would pass away four years after the film’s release.
Studd had roles in various other films but was usually typecasted as a big brute with a bad attitude and had very few lines. Still, work is work.
He also appeared alongside André the Giant, “Hard-Boiled” Haggerty (Don Stansauk), Chief Jay Strongbow, “Wildman” Jack Armstrong, and Gene LeBell in Blake Edwards’ Mickey & Maude (1984).
In The Protector (1985) with Danny Aiello, he faces off against Jackie Chan in the men’s room but not before snorting tons of white powder and playing with a stuffed teddy bear.
In Double Agent (1987), Studd plays, you guessed it- a big dude with a bad attitude and no dialogue wanting to squash the protagonist.
In the even more obscure film Caged in Paradiso [alternate title Maximum Security] (1989), he appears in an odd role as a forest dweller/survivalist.
That same year saw the release of probably the sorriest excuse of a film Studd has ever been in. Hyper Space (1989), which also has Professor Toru Tanaka, is a bottom-of-the-barrel sci-fi action train wreck.
In The Marrying Man (1991), a beardless and mostly silent Studd plays a mafioso’s henchman in several scenes. He even gets in a brawl with Alec Baldwin towards the end.
4. Terry Funk
If there ever was a role tailor-made for a wrestler, it’s got to be Terry Funk as Frankie “The Thumper” in the 1978 sports drama Paradise Alley directed by and starring Sylvester Stallone.
His ornery, irascible wrestler persona was sincere yet unfiltered. It came to life in Paradise Alley, set in Hell’s Kitchen (West Side of Midtown Manhattan), New York, during the 1940s.
In this gritty-looking film, three brothers try to escape their financial woes by getting involved in professional wrestling.
They soon discover that getting into the sport means opening the doors of a seedy underbelly in the vein of boxing. And on the way to the top, they deal with gaudy crime lords, con artists, and various other sleazy lowlifes.
According to Terry Funk’s autobiography, Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore, co-written by Scott E. Williams, Funk got the part of Frankie The Thumper because he took the news of Sylvester Stallone wanting to do a movie on pro wrestling seriously. Sly was looking for a wrestler to play a lead part in the movie.
“I sent them a tape of me cutting a five-minute promo on Stallone,” Funk explains in his book.
“Talking about him coming down from New York and just my normal BS.”
Funk claims that he was getting paid $7,500 a week, about $35,330 in today’s dollars. He also took care of the choreography for the action scenes, and he guided Lee Canalito, who plays Lenny Carboni/Kid Salami, on how to work in the ring.
A slew of wrestlers made cameos in the movie, including Bob Roop, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ted DiBiase, Ray Stevens, and fan-favorite behind-the-scenes tough guy Meng/Haku.
Ted DiBiase talks about working on Paradise Alley in the recommended wrestling documentary, 350 Days:
Terry Funk had to cancel a Japan tour with Giant Baba’s AJPW to do Paradise Alley and remembers getting in serious trouble for not going.
Critics largely panned the film with scathing comments like:
“The climactic wrestling sequence is so derivative of Rocky you almost start humming Gonna Fly Now. But Rocky did what every good fairy tale does: it temporarily suspended disbelief, made the implausible plausible. That works only if there is a high degree of consistency in plot and characterization, and Paradise Alley doesn’t have it,” wrote John Gault for Maclean’s on December 4th, 1978.
However, others like Gene Siskel in the Chicago Tribune praised the film’s “rich characters” and declared it “one of the most colorful films of the year” and called it a “thoroughly engaging film.”
Funk graced the screen in other films as well.
He doesn’t fare too well facing Lincoln Hawk (Sylvester Stallone) in Over The Top (1987). Still, the ageless Funker seems to have always been “middle-aged and crazy” and did a phenomenal job as a Brad Wesley’s henchman “Morgan” in Road House (1989), starring Patrick Swayze.
5. Andre the Giant’s Lesser-Known Movie Appearances
André the Giant’s role as Fezzik in the romantic, fantasy romance film The Princess Bride (1987) is well documented.
According to Michael Krugman’s book André the Giant; A Legendary Life, he also had an uncredited role as the horned god Dagoth in the sword and sorcery film Conan the Destroyer (1984), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Grace Jones, and Wilt Chamberlain.
Also, English wrestler and actor Pat Roach was the sorcerer Toth-Amon/Man-Ape in the crystal palace for said film.
Roach also played the German Mechanic and Giant Sherpa in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the Thugee Overseer (AKA Chief Guard) in Indiana Jones, and the Temple of Doom (1984), and the Gestapo Agent in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). He is also in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Behold André the Giant as Dagoth:
We hope we inspired you to seek out some of these great films to enjoy your favorite wrestlers chewing up the scenery.
These stories may also interest you:
- 5 Wrestlers Besides The Rock Who Starred In Movies
- Mad Max – 9 Undeniable Times Its Movies Inspired Pro Wrestling
- Rocky and WWE: 5 Ways The Movie Inspired Wrestling
- 3 Wrestling Documentaries That Hit The Mark
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