Summer is in full swing now and that means blockbuster season at the movies. For wrestling fans, that also means the chance to go back and revisit the history of our favorite sport. WWE has been releasing successful in depth documentaries over the years on superstars of the past and current, as well as memorable promotions that forged a path for many stars over the years.
What constitutes a great wrestling documentary? For one, it can’t be or seem to be a work (ie, Randy Orton: Evolution of a Predator, which mixes real life with storylines), and with WWE owning most of the wrestling footage of North American wrestling since the fifties, the documentary also can’t feel like a piece of propaganda. Most of the films on this list can be seen in the Beyond the Ring section of the Network, or on Netflix, so if any of these pique your interest, they’ll be easy to find.
Die–hard fans will appreciate the no holds barred (no pun intended) looks at the careers and promotions of yesteryear, and newer fans will get a kick out of seeing “Charlotte’s dad,” and other superstars that are trotted out for events like the Hall of Fame.
Besides the films WWE puts out, there are also plenty of non–WWE productions to see that feature topics the WWE don’t own or different perspectives on important events in wrestling’s history. So grab your tickets and your popcorn, grab a comfy seat and one of your cuddly wrestling buddies and let’s review the most influential wrestling films of all time.
20. OMG Top 50 WWE Incidents (2011)
History Lesson – We begin our list with a list compiled by WWE brass, historians, and wrestlers dissecting 50 most shocking moments of the company’s history. This countdown is very well produced and most everything on the list belongs. Number 1 is a little predictable, but considering it is one of the most replayed moments in company history, there’s no “Oh My God” moment more fitting.
The Film’s Significance – The countdown plays like a greatest hits of the WWE from the past thirty years, so if any friend wants to be educated, this would be the list to show them, or just head down memory lane yourself.
Did You Know? – While the WWE might own just about every library of wrestling’s past, this list strictly adheres to WWE lore, but don’t worry, there’s a volume 2, entirely devoted to WCW.
19. CM Punk: Best in the World (2012)
History Lesson – the trials and tribulations of CM Punk from his early days as an outcast kid in Chicago to his stint as a backyard wrestler and journey to the top of the WWE Universe. Unique to this documentary at the time was the usage of non–WWE footage, as we see CM Punk’s wars with Chris Hero and Samoa Joe. Also, Punk had a lot of control over how his story would be told, as we heard more from his personal friends like Lars Fredriksen than random WWE stars.
The Film’s Significance – The guy unlocked every door by kicking it wide open on the way to the now mythical match from Money in the Bank 2011.
Did You Know? – CM Punk’s contract was legitimately up and he was legitimately gone had it not been for conversations with Joey Mercury and Fredriksen.
18. GLOW: The True Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2011)
History Lesson – GLOW tells the tale of the some of the most famous women to have ever laced up a pair of boots. From 1986–1990, GLOW was sports entertainment at its finest. Each wrestler, and referee Steve Blance had their own rap song, and they were never able to break kayfabe. One wrestler, Jailbait, even remarked that she can’t remember what some of the ladies real names were. According to Lisa Moretti (Tina Ferrari in GLOW, and the future Ivory), a lot of the ladies were actresses trying to catch a break.
The Film’s Significance – The film, Lipstick and Dynamite showed that ladies could be beautiful badasses, but GLOW took it the next level and had a whole promotion full of them.
Did You Know? – Mondo Guerrero, a member of the famous Guerrero family trained the ladies how to wrestle.
17. Mick Foley: For All Mankind (2013)
History Lesson – Quite possibly the most likable wrestler of all time tells his life story from growing up in Long Island, New York to competing with Kevin James (the King of Queens) for a spot on the school wrestling team all the way to his current career as an aspiring stand–up comedian. Driven by the moment he witnessed Superfly Jimmy Snuka leap off a steel cage onto Don Muraco, Foley yearned to make fans feel the way he felt that day for his entire career.
The Film’s Significance – You might not find his style your cup of tea, but a man who has bled on every continent and lost part of his ear for the adulation and entertainment of the fans commands respect from each and every wrestling fan.
Did You Know? – Many fans might fondly look back on Hell in a Cell as Foley’s greatest match, but the man himself believes that Mind Games against HBK and the hardcore match against Randy Orton are his finest.
16. Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Greatest Superstar of All Time (2011)
History Lesson – He didn’t single handedly save the WWE, but Steve Austin is the single most important character during the Attitude Era. But before that, Stunning Steve Austin tried to make a name for himself in WCW, before heading to ECW and learning how to be himself, which is an extension of the Stone Cold character.
The Film’s Significance – He is one of the top stars of all time and the highest earning star of all time. But the road to greatness wasn’t paved with gold and the doc serves a lesson to all superstars that you have to work hard to become the biggest star.
Did You Know? – It was his ex – wife at the time who came up with the Stone Cold gimmick by simply giving Austin a cup of tea and telling him to “drink it up before it gets Stone Cold.”
15. Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling (2004)
History Lesson – The early days of women’s wrestling. Similar to Baseball, when the men had to fight in World War II, it was the ladies that stayed back home and found newfound stardom as the stars of the sport. Ruth Leitman’s documentary focuses on six legendary ladies–Gladys “Kill ‘Em” Gillem, Ella Waldek, Penny Banner, Ida Mae Martinez, and of course the last two active ladies from the bygone era, WWE Hall of Famers the Fabulous Moolah and the Great Johnnie Mae Young.
The Film’s Significance – Lipstick and Dynamite is a look at some of the first ladies of wrestling doing what the Divas of today want a chance to do–wrestle, plus, seeing Moolah and Mae as more than just a geriatric comedy act is refreshing.
Did You Know? – Moolah was on a game show called To Tell the Truth, where a panel had to try and guess who the real Fabulous Moolah was, where one of these panelists was Betty White.
14. Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman (2014)
History Lesson – More than just the extremist cult leader behind the hardcore revolution, My Name is Paul Heyman shows younger fans all about the “One Behind the One in 21 and One.” From his start as a ringside photographer to Paul E. Dangerously, to his creative wars with Vince McMahon, Heyman has given so much more to the business than just ECW and has worked with just about everyone in some capacity or another.
The Film’s Significance – Although the film is a WWE produced documentary, Heyman pulls no punches in telling his life story. Old school fans who grew up loving to hate the Psycho Yuppie from Hell, will get a kick out of seeing Dangerously do his thing.
Did You Know? – The first show Heyman promoted was actually an event at New York’s famed Studio 54 and featured the in ring debut of future hardcore legend, Bam Bam Bigelow.
13. Hart and Soul: The Hart Family Anthology (2010)
History Lesson – There’s only one family besides the McMahons that can claim so much influence over the sport. Canada’s favorite wrestling family has endured many hardships over the years, but they have also overcome so much. From Stu and Helen’s eight wrestling boys and four married to wrestler girls; Hart and Soul takes us right up until the early days of Nattie, Tyson, and Harry, collectively known as the Hart Dynasty.
The Film’s Significance – Besides the Hart boys and in-laws, Stu Hart’s list of trainees reads like its own Hall of Fame – Bad News Brown, Chris Jericho, Superstar Billy Graham, and the Junkyard Dog. No respectable fan should go without seeing this doc.
Did You Know? – The Hart basement, known to wrestling fans as the Dungeon would house Terrible Ted, the Wrestling Bear whenever he came to town.
12. Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling (2007)
History Lesson – Even as the WWE claimed lordship over the entire industry, promotions like World Class Championship Wrestling still managed to thrive, and despite the heartache of losing son after son, Fritz Von Erich’s World Class is where you’ll find the earliest days of guys like Austin, Cactus Jack, and of course, the Fabulous Freebirds.
The Film’s Significance – If you’ve ever heard Stone Cold Steve Austin speak lovingly about a Texas wrestling landmark known as the Dallas Sportatorium, then you at least know about the home turf of WCCW, the promotion owned by Fritz Von Erich and where his sons made their names in the business. It has been explained over time from several WCCW alum that the Von Erich boys were so over, it was akin to Beatlemania.
Did You Know? – The famous Von Erich–Freebirds feud started simply because Kerry did want to cheat to defeat Ric Flair, despite the ‘Birds attempts to help Kerry win.
11. Loose Cannon – the Brian Pillman Story (2006)
History Lesson – Loose Cannon tells the story of Flyin’ Brian Pillman, who would morph into the Loose Cannon. Not just the first WCW light heavyweight champion, but a true innovator in the business, breaking Steve Austin out of his shell and becoming the lightning rod of the early Attitude Era. There was no boundary Pillman wouldn’t attempt to cross, which is how the “Pillman’s Got a Gun” came to be.
The Film’s Significance – Brian Pillman passed away too soon and is seldom spoken about in terms of how important he is to wrestling history. Pillman might not have been the first light heavyweight or the first outlaw, but he changed the perceptions of what a cruiserweight could be and then what a wrestling outlaw could be.
Did You Know? – Pillman crafted the Loose Cannon character and told so little people about it, that many of his friends, including Mick Foley and Jim Ross were legitimately afraid Brian went crazy.
10. Forever Hardcore (2005)
History Lesson – Jeremy Borash (yes the former WCW / current TNA employee) takes an unrestricted look at the history of ECW through the eyes of Terry Funk, Shane Douglas, the Sandman, Sabu, Raven, Joey Styles, and several others; basically whoever wasn’t contracted by WWE at the time this film was made. These men track the history of the cult promotion from Tod Gordon and Eddie Gilbert’s Eastern Championship Wrestling all the way to the end of the phenomenon.
The Film’s Significance – It’s a documentary / shoot interview that takes a non–WWE look at a lot of the history we already knew and fills in the ton of gaps that WWE’s Rise and Fall of ECW had.
Did You Know? – Years before the Montreal Screwjob happened, the birth of ECW was also a closely kept inside secret between Gordon and Heyman, only telling Shane Douglas the night of the event where Douglas tosses the NWA belt to the floor, screwing an entire company’s history.
9. The Nature Boy Ric Flair (2008)
History Lesson – Being raised in Minnesota meant Ric Flair was just another of the great wrestlers trained by Verne Gagne. However, Ric Flair was more than just a great wrestler, as for over 40 years, the Nature Boy was the best, and inspired and continues to influence just about every superstar who laces a pair of boots to this day. Every facet of his career is dissected, from the early days as Ricky Rhodes (a relative of Dusty) to the Horsemen, to his first WWE run (still the greatest Royal Rumble ever), and his final match with HBK.
The Film’s Significance – Every fan and superstar might have their favorite guy, but everyone must pay homage to the man; there is barely anyone who doesn’t know that Ric was the best.
Did You Know? – 40 years of memories almost never were – the Nature Boy almost quit Gagne’s intense training camp.
8. Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)
History Lesson – Paul Jay’s documentary was filmed at a unique time in Hart’s life, during his big heel run in the WWE and the Montreal Screwjob. It’s spoken about ad nauseam on so many other DVDs, but with Hart wearing a wire when speaking to Vince the day of Survivor Series, Shadows is the only flick where wrestling’s most infamous moment unfolds before our very eyes.
The Film’s Significance – What began as a look at the legendary Hitman, became the true story of what happened in Montreal, the unintended comedic scene of Hart’s wife trying to tell Triple H what comes around goes around. The guy is poised to become the most powerful man in wrestling, so where’s your karma now?
Did You Know? – She married one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, had eight boys who all got into the business, four girls who married wrestlers, but the Hart matriarch, Helen actually doesn’t like wrestling.
7. The True Story of WrestleMania (2010)
History Lesson – The most anticipated day in the year of wrestling, WrestleMania wasn’t always a sure fire thing. Vince nearly bankrupted himself to bring Mania 1 to the masses. Wrestlers, historians, WWE front office employees, and McMahon himself dissect the history of WrestleMania, leading up to the 27th edition.
The Film’s Significance –If you don’t know, there aren’t enough words in the English language to explain it you.
Did You Know? – The biggest testament to WWE’s set designers has got to be WrestleMania XXIV at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, where the arena itself is not a nice place. WWE created one of the best looking ‘Mania sets ever for the event.
6. The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA (2006)
History Lesson – Owned and led by Verne Gagne, the American Wrestling Association did all they could to stay in business once the WWE began to buy up territories, Gagne refused to sell. Long before ECW ceded from the NWA, the AWA already went outlaw in the 60s. The company and the Gagne family refused to be bought out by the WWE and became one of the most beloved regional promotions in the process. Gagne also trained many superstars in the Minnesota cold and they all eventually worked for him as well – the Road Warriors, Ric Flair, and Ricky Steamboat to name a few.
The Film’s Significance – Quick, think of a big name from the mid–seventies to early nineties, they most likely either got their start or spent a stint with the AWA. Two of the industry’s greatest speakers, Paul Heyman and Bobby Heenan; and the two biggest stars of the eighties, Flair and Hulk Hogan; those four names don’t even crack the iceberg.
Did You Know? – When WCW brass was looking for a non–wrestling guy to run their business they chose Eric Bischoff. The joke was on them–Bischoff spent some time working for Verne.
5. Rise and Fall of ECW (2004)
History Lesson – “E-C-W, E-C-W!” Those letters still mean something to this day. Was it a cult, a commune, a promotion, a revolution? Extreme Championship Wrestling was all of these things and more. From 1992-2001, ECW had introduced American fans to lucha, hardcore, great chain wrestling, hot women, strong style, and rebel factions – the Attitude Era actually began in ECW. Sadly, bad financial decisions and talent raids by both WCW and WWE led to the end of the promotion that to this day has a tremendous following.
The Film’s Significance – You don’t hear fans chanting WCW or WWE, do you? The reason fans chant NXT or even TNA is because they used to chant ECW. How many promotions do you know of that were resurrected because of the kind of love that fans showered on it?
Did You Know? – Similar to Vince McMahon pouring his heart, soul, and bank account into the first WrestleMania, Paul Heyman did the same for the first ECW PPV, Barely Legal.
4. Rise and Fall of WCW (2004)
History Lesson – While the WWE was expanding nationally in the 80s, if you happened to have cable back then, wrestling fans also got treated to another company, the NWA and once it was bought out fully by Ted Turner, WCW. Always the better in ring product, WCW was always mired by people who either wanted to expand too far, too fast (Jim Crockett) or by people who simply had no idea how to run a wrestling at all (Jim Herd, who was Pizza Hut’s Regional Mgr. in St. Louis before becoming the head of WCW).
The Film’s Significance – While there could be an entire Ken Burns style documentary series on World Championship Wrestling and its predecessors, the WWE presented a pretty great film on their biggest rival, who nowadays they treat as if it was only Nitro.
Did You Know? – According to the documentary, there was never a period of time where WCW wasn’t tumultuous backstage, with network brass always trying to figure out what to do with a product that they didn’t want but made them money.
3. Triple H: Thy Kingdom Come (2014)
History Lesson – He might be polarizing to the IWC, but Triple H is quite honestly what he used to say he is, “that damn good.” He was Michaels’ and Nash’s favorite WCW guy (as Terra Ryzing), and rose from there to becoming the heir apparent to the WWE, but it’s not just because he married the boss’ daughter, it is because the Game is a student of the game and worthy of being the King of Kings.
The Film’s Significance – The story of Triple H is so important to the fabric of the WWE that even The Undertaker (who never breaks character) speaks about the career of the Cerebral Assassin.
Did You Know? – For his part in “the Curtain Call,” about a year’s worth of plans were scrapped in order to punish Triple H.
2. E:60 Behind the Curtain (2015)
History Lesson – Any wrestling fan worth his salt knows full well the best wrestling matches are on NXT. ESPN’s E:60 Series takes a look at the behind the scenes process of how to make a WWE Superstar. Featuring Xavier Woods, Corey Graves, and Adam Rose, the docu–series gives an in depth look at how Triple H runs NXT, which is a glimpse into his own future as the boss of all the WWE.
The Film’s Significance – This is the most inside any outsider has even been in seeing how the creation of their favorite superstars works.
Did You Know? – ESPN has two segments that didn’t make air on their website, one featuring the Gorgeous One, Tyler Breeze; and another with Big Cass, Colin Cassady.
1. Beyond the Mat (1999)
History Lesson – Barry Blaustein takes one of the most inside looks at the business in what is also one of the best documentaries you’ll ever see, let alone best wrestling movies. Focusing on the lives of Mick Foley in the middle of his rise to the top, Terry Funk, who was contemplating retirement #432, and Jake the Snake Roberts, sadly in the middle of one of his benders; Blaustein’s film seems unauthorized, but WWE did allow him access.
The Film’s Significance – For the first time on film, we get to see how these men have suffered for their art, just to entertain us.
Did You Know? – Beyond the Mat shows the aftermath of one of the most played shots in wrestling history, Foley being tossed off of Hell in a Cell, when Foley leaves Blaustein an incoherent message.
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