Wrestling documentaries are something that never could have happened a couple of decades ago. Before the Monday Night War blurred the lines, the business kept to kayfabe big time, insisting on maintaining wrestling as real and refusing to let guys break character and such. Naturally, that changed with the War and the rise of “tweeners” and such, plus the enhanced media buzz breaking more of the lines to let fans see the truth. Thus, we had a lot more looks at wrestling, some negative but pushed as really showing the business off.
The big change was when WWE won the War and acquired the libraries of WCW and ECW among others. It took a bit to crack the code but soon, WWE realized the massive potential they had in their library to sell DVDs and Blu-Rays of wrestlers and promoters and give us some great stuff. True, some can be rather self-serving; the Dusty Rhodes doc, for example, skips over his stuff as booker for WCW and you get the feeling a lot of guys agreed only if they had some rough stuff of themselves skimmed over as well. So yes, you do have to separate ones that are pure promo pieces with more serious fare as well as understand how time can change some perceptions (quite obviously the Chris Benoit: Hard Knocks doc is much harder to watch today) and enjoy them.
The best wrestling documentaries/biographies don’t just employ the people involved in these angles and such to discuss them. They go deep and showcase what made this stuff so special in the first place and how it impacted the business. WWE has really raised the bar in the last several years to know fans want a lot more warts and all presentations and improved its production wonderfully. But we also have some great independent productions that utilize the freedom of not being under WWE’s corporate umbrella to showcase better stuff. As we recently did a list going into documentaries on all wrestling topics, this list will focus exclusively on wrestler biographies, whether produced by WWE or an independent party.
15 Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection (2008)
One of WWE’s first DVD hits was a 2003 set on Flair that presented his best matches. This 2008 release goes much more in-depth to discuss Flair’s lengthy career and his great charisma and skill. From his start as a “black market baby” to breaking into the business, discussing his rise to fame as NWA champion and how he handled that massive pressure, Flair carries it off with that great persona of his, detailing how he became such an icon in the business. Obviously, it leaves off some of the personal and business struggles of more recent years but for anyone who wonders why Flair is so revered in wrestling, this is a key example.
14 McMahon (2006)
This 2006 DVD can be pretty self-serving but it also offers a fascinating look at what makes Vince McMahon tick. His family show up a lot (Linda is truly funny and bright here) and make it clear even they are unsure where Vince the man ends and the “Mr. McMahon” character begins. They really are up front on how “Vince screwed everyone” with his expansion and note how he goes too far on things like Katie Vick. A great bit is HHH laughing on how Vince is the worst guy to get in the ring with but thinks he’s a fine worker and they cite the XFL as more a noble failure while still noting Vince’s own ego ruining a lot of things.
Kurt Angle basically sums it up best as Vince “will never let you have the real story” and that’s what makes this doc so terrific to watch. Maybe it won’t let you understand Vince totally but it does offer a compelling look at what makes him so impossible to look away from.
13 The Road Warriors: The Life & Death of the Most Dominant Tag-Team in Wrestling History (2005)
As a long-time Legion of Doom mark, this 2005 set was just what I wanted. Animal and Paul Ellering are the focus of course as they discuss how the Road Warriors formed and took the wrestling scene by storm. Younger fans really don’t get how huge a deal these guys were, no-selling, tearing through opponents with sheer brutality, the face paint and leather, it was truly a shift that changed the business forever. We see how it all came together with fun talk from various opponents on how brutal these guys were in the ring and Ellering really a genius manager for them. Of course, we have the low points of Hawk’s addictions tearing them down and costing him his life. But in the end, it’s the good more than the bad that shines as this does true justice to how huge the Road Warriors were and why they remain revered today.
12 Eddie Guerrero: Cheating Death/ Stealing Life (2004)
This is more than a bit bittersweet to watch today, of course. This was made when Eddie was on top of the wrestling world as WWE Champion in 2004 and you can see how happy he is. It goes into how wrestling was in his blood and he couldn’t keep away from it, breaking out with his great skill in ECW and WCW and setting his mark well. But it doesn’t shy from his addictions and how it nearly cost him everything, hitting rock bottom and then pulling himself back together. It’s fun seeing Vickie before she became a TV character and Eddie’s kids, all bound together celebrating his life. A sad sight given how he would die only a year later but still amazing to see him at his best and why we all miss him so much.
11 The Last of McGuinness (2013)
Nigel McGuinness seemed destined for stardom with a great run in Ring of Honor and later seemed to get a good push as Desmond Wolfe in TNA and WWE interested in him as well. But then an old bicep injury caused him to contract hepatitis B and force him to retire. This details McGuinness on his final tour of the U.K. in 2012, showing his battle against a body giving way and how much it hurts to quit a business he loves when he still feels he has so much to offer. The movie is emotional showing McGuinness’ personal life but also showcasing how the intentional blading in wrestling is exposing other workers to the same health risks that cut his career short. Whether you admire Nigel himself or his message, a great film to honor a guy whose career was cut short but his message deserves to live on.
10 Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe (2014)
The 2005 “Self-Destruction” documentary was a massive hatchet job of the Warrior but this more than makes up for it. Indeed, it openly addresses how much in poor taste that earlier doc was and this instead honors Jim Hellwig, a much better picture than most give him. He appears on camera a lot to discuss his career, the ups and downs of his life, how it felt to be pushed into the big spot of WWE only to lose it. It’s stunning to realize these were shot just days before the Warrior’s sudden death and a sense of regret fills everyone (even Vince McMahon) as they note the tragic irony of him finally getting his due from the company just before he was gone.
His wife gets a lot of talk as the Warrior is pushed more for his drive and ability than his wilder stuff. For those who dismissed the Warrior as a joke, this film ably shows the massive star he was as well as a great guy and redeems his legacy wonderfully.
9 Jake Roberts: Pick Your Poison (2005)
Always one of the most charismatic men wrestling has ever known, The Snake is in fine form in this 2005 release. We get a good overview of his career with a nice highlight of how he invented the DDT and everyone raving about his promo skills. There are fun stories of the antics of his snakes and such but the big focus is on Jake’s personal demons as he’s up front on his problems. An interesting observation is how so often Jake could be one of those guys drunk or high as hell and yet appear totally normal, making it harder for him to face his problems. He’s frank on his ups and downs and sad to know he’d fall back into his addictions after this release. However, you can’t deny the amazing skill on the mic or in the ring Jake had and being so open on his issues makes this a must-watch on multiple levels.
8 Bret Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be (2005)
I maintain that Vince McMahon intentionally made that “Screwed” DVD as one-sided as he could, knowing that Bret’s pride would get him to agree to take part in a doc to get the real story out. If true, it worked well as Bret is terrific going over his entire career from Stampede to WWE and such in a fine manner. He can be rather boastful in places but that’s expected as we still get the emotion of his talk about Owen and how much it meant for him to be WWF champion. Naturally, Montreal is a focus as Bret and Vince go back and forth about it, showing that as much as both wish it had gone differently, each is still sure they were in the right about it. His talk on how bad his WCW tenure was sums up the feelings of a lot of fans and the issues of his retirement and stroke. Overall, a great doc as to why the Hitman remains so popular with fans and his career more than just that infamous screwjob.
7 Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen (2007)
The greatest wrestling stable of all time get their due in this terrific 2007 release. It traces the origins of the group from Flair rising as NWA champion to Arn, Ole and Tully all hooking up and details how huge they were. It shows the rough side as their free spending helped put Jim Crockett more in the hole but still amazing to see how they ran roughshod over opponents with the additions of Lex Luger and Barry Windham. A funny highlight is Paul Roma actually claiming Flair was jealous of him and Steve McMichael is surprisingly put over well as perfect for the Horsemen mentality. They discuss how big a deal it all was and how Eric Bischoff basically crushed it despite the fan love. The mentions of Chris Benoit and Nancy may be bitter to see now but this is still a fine tribute to the quartet every heel group of the last three decades has emulated but remains one of a kind.
6 Brian Pillman Loose Cannon (2006)
I was worried about this being too sensationalistic but instead this 2007 release wonderfully captures the life of one of the most controversial figures in wrestling history. Pillman’s wife is focused on a lot as the set features his upbringing, health problems and how he broke out huge with his fantastic high-flying style. We do get talk of his addictions and such but it comes alive when it gets into Pillman’s “Loose Cannon” act and how even his fellow workers were baffled by his behavior. Bischoff claims to have been in on it but Teddy Long speaks for many by saying Bischoff was conned with everyone else. It’s truly amazing to see how Pillman blurred the lines at this time in wrestling, leading to bigger fame only for a near-fatal car accident to ruin it all. That led to further addictions that cut his life too short and so many sorry to see him go. But this is more a celebration than anything else, giving this fantastic figure a good spotlight for those who try to understand him. As Arn Anderson sums up “he was either the craziest smart man I ever knew or the smartest crazy man I ever knew” and this set leaves you to figure out which one is right.
5 Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line On The Most Popular Superstar Of All Time (2011)
It’s fitting that one of the single greatest stars ever gets a lavish treatment with a DVD set stretching over two hours and four discs. Austin has gotten the DVD treatment before but this one goes really all out in detailing his childhood, how he basically fell into wrestling and that, from the very start, he had “superstar” written all over him. From the rise of “Austin 3:16” to the neck injury and then the Attitude Era, Austin was taking off and pushed the business big time. We get great talk from The Texas Rattlesnake on so much of his career as well as his personal issues and how it felt elevated to such mega-stardom. A fine look at a man whose legacy truly transformed the entire business forever and yet still the “common man” aspect that got him over in the first place to push him well and elevate wrestling itself to mainstream success.
4 CM Punk: Best in the World (2012)
CM Punk himself worked hands-on for this documentary and it shows with his own unique attitude, beginning by point blank stating he never should have made it in WWE. We get looks at his rise, including Ring of Honor footage and his feud with Samoa Joe and really something seeing WWE give major attention to a company still out there. Punk is just what you expect, completely frank on things, not hiding his issues with how “the title should matter, not the man holding it” and folks (including HHH) openly talking on how WWE never felt Punk was the right guy behind the scenes.
That’s what makes this piece so amazing, it feels like some independent shoot thing but the fact it’s produced and released by WWE makes it astounding. This is pure Punk in all his glory (including how he can be a prick to people) and why he remains one of a kind no matter what he does next. All the better given his leaving the company and what makes him a true rebel against the system.
3 E60: The Scott Hall Story (2011)
This ESPN “E:60” feature plays like a real-life version of the Mickey Rourke movie, The Wrestler. That’s sadly fitting for its subject as we see how the man who was a massive star in the 1990s as Razor Ramon and later forming the New World Order is now a shell of his former self. Even long-time fans may be stunned just how terribly old and ravaged Hall looks as we see him in his prime then cutting to a show at the time (2011) where he’s barely able to get into the ring. We get lots of talk from Hall on his problems and you can see this is a guy who enjoyed the limelight so much, he can’t grasp it’s faded from him, wanting to get clean but pulled back in time and again. It’s a stern and straight-forward look at the horrors of addiction claiming anyone and the dark side of the business but still the hope Hall might be able to turn it around somehow. If nothing else, a harrowing look at a once-mighty guy fallen and the toll this business can take on guys.
2 Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman (2014)
The every charismatic Heyman is virtually hypnotic in this stunning release. It delves into his long career in wrestling from taking photos to a brash and wild manager inciting full riots in Memphis. His talk on his WCW career is interesting as he claims he’s held back by legal issues from going into it more. Naturally, ECW is a focus but we also get great talking heads of people discussing how great his work with “SmackDown!” was and elevating Brock Lesnar among others. Heyman is very frank with talk on things like his clashes with Stephanie McMahon and how bad the WWE revival of ECW was before his return as Brock’s mouthpiece. If nothing else, Heyman holds the camera’s attention throughout, making this a stunning piece on a guy who always seems “on” even when he’s being himself, a figure more than worthy of a doc and why he’s considered wrestling’s mad genius.
1 Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (1998)
Those who believe Montreal was a massive work by Vince, Bret and Shawn often use this as evidence, citing how much of a coincidence it is that Bret just happened to have a movie crew around filming the whole thing. Regardless of whether or not that’s true, this is still a great movie as we see Bret in his private life, handling family and the pride he has in the business. Hearing the secretly recorded talks between him and Vince is fascinating and how he feels as the program with Shawn kicks in. Seeing the behind the scenes stuff from Montreal is fantastic as Bret’s wife yells at Shawn and Hunter who lie about knowing anything on this and we see Vince leaving the locker room after Bret decks him along with Bret looking rocked by it all. How much of it is real may be debatable but there’s no denying you can be a believer watching a man’s career shaken like this yet still determined to fight on no matter what and how the most infamous moment in wrestling history unfolded before everyone’s eyes.