Wrestlers crossing over to the silver screen isn’t entirely new. Gorgeous George made the leap with Alias the Champ back in 1949. Since then, Hulk Hogan rose to wrestling superstardom in part based on his star turn in Rocky 3, and later tried to parley his wildly successful run in wrestling into movie stardom with pictures like No Holds Barred, Suburban Commando, and Mr. Nanny. The Rock made good on Hogan’s dreams, making full fledged transition from one of the top wrestling stars of the Attitude Era to a legitimate big time movie star—one of Hollywood’s most prolific and most recognizable personalities today.
It may be the success achieved by The Rock, or Vince McMahon’s ambitions of achieving greater mainstream, crossover recognition for his endeavors, but WWE has gotten itself into the film business. There’s WWE Studios which, after an initial run as a more traditional studio, has transitioned more purely toward straight to DVD niche releases, and affording vehicles for established WWE talent to try out their acting chops. Additionally, the company seems more intent on allowing, if not outright encouraging its performers to branch out into the movie business. John Cena is just the most recent star to go all in on this approach with his recent spree of movie appearances. He went so far as to explain in an interview with The Nerdist’s ID10T podcast that he pursues this line of work less for his own ambitions than as a way of further WWE’s reach through him.
This article takes a look at ten upcoming movies that will feature current and former WWE stars, and five that are reportedly in the works.
15 Upcoming: Duke Nukem With John Cena
When it comes to the modern wrestling landscape, no star can compare to John Cena. No, he may not be the best in ring performer of his generation, but there’s little question he was and continues to be wrestling’s biggest star post-Attitude Era. Moreover, he’s a crossover star who may not have attained Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin’s celebrity, but has nonetheless achieved a comparable level of familiarity—synonymous with the WWE brand, even to people who don’t consider themselves wrestling fans. Moreover, Cena’s ability to handle the media has made him one of the greatest ambassadors the company has ever had, and helped transition him to the movie business.
One of Cena’s upcoming projects is a movie version of Duke Nukem, based on an iconic video game series and character from the 1990s.
Nukem was an early favorite of the first-person shooter genre that caught fire based in no small part on his foul mouthed antics and extreme violence. It will be interesting to see how that gimmick transitions to a live action film, particularly as Cena probably wouldn’t sign on to a project that didn’t let him hold onto some semblance of the PG image he has cultivated to star in this era of WWE programming.
14 Upcoming: Making the Fun: The Story of Funko With Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder is a cult favorite wrestler who managed to explode his popularity in the early 2010s via his pioneering usage of social media and self produced YouTube show. After a brief push, as high as the United States Championship, Ryder has mostly been relegated to the lower card. Chris Jericho, for one, has suggested he’s exactly the kind of talent who would do well to leave WWE to thrive elsewhere, where he can get over and use his creativity and marketing savvy to build his brand to new heights. The general consensus from those close to Ryder, however, is that he’s committed to WWE for the company being a passion of his since childhood, and the only place he really wants to be.
Those who discuss Ryder’s passion for WWE often bring up his collection of WWE action figures, which he started when he was a kid, and which he has chased obsessively in adulthood, with the financial resources of a WWE Superstar, including tracking down rare, limited edition dolls. Given Ryder’s idiosyncratic passions, it may be little surprise he was conscripted to be a part of Making the Fun: The Story of Funko, a documentary focused on toy collectors.
13 In The Works: Pandemonium With Several WWE Personalities
In recent years, word broke about a biopic centered on WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. A movie like this makes a lot of sense, given McMahon is such an icon of his specific business, and a celebrity of great enough importance and long enough standing to have transcended wrestling into the public consciousness. More than a faithful retelling of McMahon’s life, though, rumors abound about the working draft of the screenplay taking some pretty wild liberties with the truth. Those liberties include McMahon not so much signing away top wrestling talents from other territories in the 1980s as discovering them the reimagined origin stories, and recognizing their potential to thrive as wrestlers.
We’ll see how the final project shakes out, but for now there is buzz around the project, including persistent rumors that A-lister Bradly Cooper was offered the part of McMahon himself. Cooper would be a fine fit, given not only his own stardom, but the physicality he’s displayed in films like Wedding Crashers and Limitless, not to mention his capacity to portray a big personality as he did in his breakout role in the Hangover series. WWE studios is actively involved in this project, and there’s little doubt quite a few familiar faces from WWE’s past and present will appear in the movie.
12 Upcoming: Fighting With My Family With The Rock And Zelina Vega
Paige may not play a starring role on screen for Fighting With My Family, but will have the unique honor of being the main character for the upcoming feature film, inspired by the documentary by the same name. Paige comes from one of England’s best established wrestling families, and the story depicts her growing up in the business, starting in the ring as a teenager, up to her start with WWE.
Though the film will feature characters based on Paige and her family, as well as wrestling luminaries like Jake The Snake Roberts, there are relatively few wrestlers cast in major roles. The Rock was a lead producer for the project, though, who even appeared in front of live crowds before footage for the film was shot at WWE events. Accordingly, Rock also has a small part in the film, playing himself. In a scene WWE has leaked to promote the film, he greets a starstruck Paige and her brother their first time backstage at a main roster live event.
Recent NXT call up Zelina Vega is also listed as a cast member, likely as a stand in for one of Paige’s opponents.
This project has grown particularly interesting for its real world implications. After Paige had difficulties with WWE management over Wellness Policy issues, surgery, and her relationship with Alberto Del Rio, many believe the company kept her on, and has even continued to feature her after she announced her retirement from the ring, on the basis of helping this movie succeed.
11 Upcoming: Mile 22 With Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey has exploded onto the WWE scene as not just any pro athlete or celebrity turned wrestler, but a legitimate game changer. Her popularity and credibility from UFC, pair brilliantly with her genuine enthusiasm about WWE (even before she started negotiations with WWE, her book documented her childhood love of pro wrestling). Her first venture into the ring at WrestleMania 34 was an overwhelming success, and WWE ushering her into a championship program with Nia Jax this summer seemed strongly indicative of the company seeing that as legitimate money match, and wanting to get Rousey right back into the spotlight.
In between the peak of her fame as a mixed martial artist and signing with WWE, Rousey got her acting career going with appearances in films from the Fast and the Furious and Expendables franchises, in addition to a more comedic spot in the Entourage film.
Before starting with WWE full time, Rousey had her other projects under way. Not least of all was a role in upcoming Mark Wahlberg action flic Mile 22, which, in addition to Rousey and Wahlberg, also features John Malkovich. The picture is due out this summer, and given Rousey’s increased visibility with WWE, there’s little question we’ll see promotion for it on episodes of Monday Night Raw to come.
10 In The Works: Holly, Jingles and Clyde With Goldberg
One of the biggest surprises about Goldberg’s late 2016 to early 2017 run with WWE was that he came back after over a decade away from the ring, closing in on fifty years of age, and still managed to look like a beast. He’s in the WWE Hall of Fame now, and presumably done in the ring at least as far as full fledged matches go, though WWE may still bring him back for a guest spot here and there. Goldberg should be just fine without the company, though, given the way in which he diversified his career portfolio after having left the first time. His work included serving as an MMA commentator and a number of brief acting roles that included comedic, sports, and action oriented spots.
Goldberg’s next project is Holly, Jingles and Clyde, a holiday film which IMDb describes as featuring hapless elves trying to save Santa’s daughter. There’s no word yet on Goldberg’s role, though he’s listed for the role of Gus, and so is not one of the title characters. A project like this might seem like a step down after Goldberg winning a world title in WWE just a year and a half ago. However, given how family oriented the big man is, and how adamant he was in interviews about using his wrestling fame to connect with kids and do charity work, a project like this one may well be right up his ally.
9 Upcoming: Blood Brother With R-Truth
The action adventure genre is strong fit for WWE Studios, given the volume of muscular, athletic talent they have at their disposal to plug into even small roles. That’s not to mention the significant crossover between the audience for the WWE product and this style of film. As such, it’s little surprise that WWE would pursue the project known as Blood Brother and cast popular veteran star R-Truth in major role.
R-Truth is deceptively long tenured WWE wrestler, who first appeared with the company in the late 1990s, went on to further his name on the independents, including capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship while he was with Impact Wrestling. He returned to WWE in 2008 and has been there ever since, mostly working as a mid-card face, but occasionally ascending to fringe main event status, including a memorable heel run in 2011.
It will be interesting to see how Truth transitions to his acting role in a revenge movie about a man who took the wrap for a crime committed alongside his friends, who left him out to dry.
Truth did previously appear in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, but as an independent wrestler. This new role will surely test range more.
8 Upcoming: The Buddy Games With Sheamus
Sheamus has had a successful nearly decade long run on the WWE main roster. The tenure has included reigns with the WWE Championship, the United States Championship, the ECW Championship, and most recently tag title runs with Cesaro as The Bar. He’s skilled in the ring, but also benefits from a unique look with not only his muscles, but his pasty white skin and bright orange hair—particularly since he started styling it into a spiked mohawk. With an appearance like that, it’s not a shocker that The Celtic Warrior would find himself a compelling fit to be cast in movies.
Sheamus has had a number of bit parts, perhaps most visibly as old school character Rocksteady in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. He is listed as part of the cast for Paige biopic Fighting with My Family. The Buddy Games, a comedy about old friends drawn back together for the eponymous games—according to IMDb, a series of physical and mental challenges, is to feature Sheamus in a prominent role. For this film, starring Olivia Munn, Sheamus’s sheer physicality, especially relative to normal sized actors and actresses, is sure to play a major part and draw moviegoers’ eyes straight to him.
7 In The Works: The Janson Directive With John Cena
In the build to WrestleMania XXVIII, an intergenerational WWE dream match came together that most fans never imagined they’d have the opportunity to see. It was contemporary face of the company John Cena against Attitude Era icon The Rock. While the program, and particularly their main event match ultimately underwhelmed hardcore fans, and their rematch the following year did little to better their standing with that audience.
In retrospect, though, the pairing of Rock and Cena does feel special for the magnitude of stars involved and how unlikely it was that the match would come together. It was particularly unexpected for the showdown to take shape after Rock was almost entirely missing from the WWE landscape for seven years to focus on his movie career.
Now that Cena and Rock have both wrestled against and with each other in WWE, it’s only fitting that Cena’s budding acting career should merge with Rock’s path in the movie business.
The Rock is a producer for The Janson Directive, an action movie based on a book by the same author who originated the Jason Bourne character. Cena will play the lead and title character, Paul Janson, in what quite conceivably turn out to be his breakout role.
6 Upcoming: The Marine 6 With The Miz
The Marine move franchise may have started as a vehicle for John Cena to launch his movie career via WWE Studios, and may have featured Ted Dibiase Jr. in its second film. The four films to follow, however, have centered on Jake Carter, a character portrayed by The Miz.
While The Miz is hardly the A-List movie star his WWE gimmick would have you believe, he has positioned himself nicely as one of the company’s most trusted, well-spoken faces to work the talk show circuit, and competent as an actor for the Marine franchise, as well as projects like Santa’s Little Helper, Christmas Bounty, and a number of TV guest spots.
All of this work has helped shore up Miz’s position as not only a main roster mainstay, who is unsurprisingly on track to become the longest cumulatively reigning Intercontinental Champion in WWE history, but also someone who will most likely have a job with WWE for as long as he wants it. The latest media move for Miz is the launch of a new reality series focused on his family life with Maryse—Miz and Mrs.—and there’s little question we’ll see him in more WWE movies, under the Marine umbrella or otherwise, in the years to come.
5 Upcoming: Hotel Artemis With Batista
Batista is unique in the scope of his wrestling stardom. He came to wrestling relatively late in life for someone who would become a bona fide star, starting out in the ring at the age of thirty. His ascent was rapid, though, as he starred in the developmental Ohio Valley Wrestling under the moniker Leviathon, before moving up the main roster and soon enough finding himself a part of Evolution. At thirty six, he worked his first singles match at WrestleMania—the main event, in which he pinned Triple H clean to win a world title. He’d spend the next five years, as well as half-year comeback tour in his mid forties as main event level superstar.
Batista’s ability to succeed wasn’t limited to the wrestling world. He has fought MMA and worked in bodybuilding as well, and used his WWE stardom in particular to work his way into the movie business. He has a unique look and work ethic. Moreover, he discussed in his visit to Edge and Christian’s podcast how simply being a nice guy opened doors that might have otherwise been closed to him. He has landed a range of parts, most famously playing the popular character Drax for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.
Batista’s next major film do out soon is Hotel Artemis. The sci-fi action film stars Jodie Foster.
4 In The Works: Hellevator Man With Mick Foley
Younger fans may understand Mick Foley best as a human teddy bear—a warm, affectionate guy who has played an authority figure on WWE television, played the patriarch on the Holy Foley reality TV series, and is known for dressing up as Santa Claus. There is, however, a reason why Foley is known as the Hardcore Legend. He spent years roaming the globe as Cactus Jack working brutal matches with violent gimmicks that included thumbtacks, fire, and barbed wire. In WCW, he lost most of his ear in a match with Big Van Vader. In WWE, he bumped twice in one match off the top of Hell in a Cell, besides being one half of the only flaming table spot in WrestleMania history.
With this background of carnage, not to mention his offbeat, arguably unsettling look, Foley is a natural fit to wind up acting in the horror genre.
So it has come to past that he’s cast in the title role for this film, which may not be the kind of mainstream release that a general audience will flock to theaters to see, but will likely as not become a cult favorite, particularly among the crossover wrestling and horror fan base.
3 Upcoming: The 27 Club With John Morrison
WWE is the best resourced wrestling company in the world, offering more money, more exposure, and more historical relevance than any other wrestling promotion can compete with. Some hardcore fans, and even purist indie wrestlers may criticize WWE for not engaging with the art form of professional wrestling at its highest level. The resources the company has to offer are too much for most people working in the business to resist, if they arrive at a level at which they can get a WWE contract.
John Morrison is among those talents who has walked from WWE. While some of that may come down to creative frustrations, as the company more than once brought him to the brink of main eventing, only to pull back, it’s also a matter of Morrison having other ambitions. As he explained in his visit to Steve Austin’s podcast, he wanted to act, direct, do stunt work, and have wrestling be just one part of his portfolio. It was difficult to fit everything in under the WWE schedule and the restraints of a WWE contract, not to mention that Morrison wanted the liberty to call his own shots.
Things have largely worked out for him as he has since starred for Lucha Underground and Impact Wrestling, in addition to being more active in the movie business. The 27 Club is his next big project due out—a music-themed horror flic in which a budding musician and young journalist investigate a mystery together.
2 Upcoming: The Peanut Butter Falcon With Jake Roberts
IMDb describes The Peanut Butter Falcon as something like a modern day reimagining of Mark Twain complete with a travel narrative and unlikely adventure along the way. The cast includes such established names as Dakota Johnson. Also on the cast list? Mick Foley and none other than Jake “The Snake” Roberts for this tale about a young man with Downs Syndrome who escapes from a care facility to pursue his dream of pro wrestling.
When it comes to finding recognizable and credible veteran wrestling personalities, it’s hard to top a pair of WWE Hall of Famers like Foley and Roberts, not to mention that their offbeat, gritty personas seem to fit the nature of the story well. Roberts is widely considered one of the all time greatest wrestlers to have never won a world championship. Perhaps most importantly of all, Roberts playing a role in this movie suggests that he continues to have his life together enough to do this work. That’s no small feat after his infamous struggles with alcohol and substance abuse that led him to live with and rehabilate under Diamond Dallas Page in his Accountability Crib alongside fellow trouble wrestling legend Scott Hall. Hopefully this won’t be last we see of Roberts in the world of film.
1 In The Works: A Gorgeous George Biopic With Several WWE Personalities
Most serious fans consider either Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels the greatest wrestler of all time, names like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin show up in converations about the most popuar wrestlers of all time, and when fans go back further in history, the conversation tends to get reduced to names like Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz. However, Gorgeous George was an undeniably important figure in wrestling history. Though his only proper world championship reign came out of the American Wrestling Association, it would be a mistake to dismiss him as a one hit wonder or just one in a cast of main event guys form his era. George was a legitimate crossover star in his day, and an inspiration to many of the more flamboyant heels to follow, like Flair and Buddy Rogersr.
WWE inducted George into its Hall of Fame in 2010, and has reportedly bought the rights to tell his life story in film.
Celebrated screenwriter Josh Gad, whose resume includes Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is working with WWE on the project. Particularly because of WWE Studios’ involvement, we can expect for the wrestling element of George’s career to be emphasized, and for no shortage of current WWE talent to show up in the film, particularly for its ring scenes.
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