Those who don’t follow professional wrestling may not appreciate just how tough and grueling it is. It isn’t enough to be on the road 200+ days a year, getting dropped on your head or your back every night, dealing with injuries, losing your spot on the roster, and worse. If you’ve seen films like The Iron Claw, The Wrestler, or the old Beyond the Mat documentary, you know that professional wrestling is grind like no other.
But the other aspect that goes underappreciated is how much wrestling relies on acting. If you have any hope of making it big, it isn’t enough to be able to do a tope suicida or Texas Cloverleaf on the way to a 5-star mat classic. You have to be able to act your role, day in and day out. Often, you have to act live, in front of an audience of thousands, with absolutely no safety not. Not everyone can do it, but those who can have often parlayed that skill into a career in Hollywood. In fact, professional wrestling might be one of the top stepping stones to an acting career right now.
There are so many professional wrestlers in Hollywood, starring in major studio flicks, that you might not even know when you see them. Everybody knows John Cena, Dave Bautista, and The Rock, who are most definitely on this list of the 10 best wrestlers-turned-actors ever. But which one can call themself the undisputed champion? And is there a dark horse contending for the title? Let the Royal Rumble begin!
10. Nathan Jones
Okay, so Nathan Jones might not have had the best wrestling career ever. The Aussie powerlifter had a stint in the WWE, but overall he wrestled for somewhere less than a decade. His big highlight might’ve been teaming up with Brock Lesnar and another wrestler-actor “Big Show” Paul Wight, in the 2003 Survivor Series. But Jones is someone you have definitely seen on the big screen. He’s unmissable in his first major role, cutting defeated in a single stroke by Brad Pitt’s Achilles at the start of 2004’s Troy. He would go on to have roles battling Tony Jaa in 2005 action classic The Protector; he’d battle Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2007’s awesome The Condemened, as well, and Jason Momoa in 2011’s Conan the Barbarian. But you probably recognize Jones best from his role as Rictus Erectus, brother to Immortan Joe, in Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s a role he was so good at, Jones is coming back for the prequel, Furiosa!
9. Hulk Hogan
I tried so so hard to keep Hulk Hogan off this list, but there’s no denying the impact ol’controversial Terry Bollea had as an actor. In the ’80s, when he was stealing the show as “Thunderlips” in Rocky III, delivering a bone-crunching backbreaker that would make Bane jealous, he transcended the sport of professional wrestling. He brought wrestling into the mainstream and out of its self-imposed isolation. The Hulkster would go on to body slam his way through a bunch of awful films, including No Holds Barred (which I recounted lovingly as part of Joblo’s Reel Action), Santa With Muscles, Suburban Commando, and worse…like his atrocious Thunder in Paradise series that makes some of his worst matches look like works of art.
8. Adam Copeland
The Rated R Superstar, Adam “Edge” Copeland, is currently burning up the ring in All Elite Wrestling after a Hall of Fame-worthy WWE career. But during a lot of his time in the ring, Copeland has been very busy as an actor in multiple roles on the big and small screen. A legit talented actor, his big break came when he played Lachlan in 2000’s Highlander: Endgame. The less said the better about his 2002 buddy comedy with Jamie Kennedy, Bending the Rules, or 2021’s air hijacking flick Money Plane. There’s good stuff, I promise, but mostly on the small screen where Copeland was a solid regular on the long-running series Haven, and he killed it as Atom Smasher on The Flash. But Copeland’s best performance by far was as Flatnose on the series Vikings for multiple seasons. He’s due to play Ares in Disney’s Percy Jackson series, too, keeping the good fight alive.
7. Andre the Giant
How great must you be to be considered among the best for your one and only movie role? It speaks to the perfect casting when Andre the Giant played the lovable mercenary Fezzik in The Princess Bride. The Eighth Wonder of the World was truly that, a giant of a man who was soft spoken and warmhearted, traits he brought to that role beautifully. You literally couldn’t imagine anyone else playing it other than Andre, and it’s a shame we never got to see more him as an actor.
6. Kevin Nash
Big Daddy Cool Kevin Nash kinda sneaks up on you…not like he ever could really do that with his 6 foot 10 frame. But his filmography takes you by surprise. The New World Order leader (alongside fellow listmate Hulk Hogan) has an impressive list of credits, including one you might not even know. That was Nash behind the Super-Shredder mask in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, hiding that pretty bearded face! Nash’s big break was in 2004 when he played a Russian giant battering Thomas Jane in The Punisher. Always a gifted funnyman on the mic, it gave Nash the chance to show his physical and comedic chops, skills he would display later in all three Magic Mike films, as well as the first John Wick (he was the rare baddie who lived through it!), and as wrestler Bass Reeves in the DOA video game adaptation.
5. Roddy Piper
This list is probably going to cause some folks to want to hurl me through a glass window, but I don’t care. The next two on this list could probably be swapped, but I’m going with Rowdy Roddy Piper at number five! Piper is one of the all-time great wrestling talkers. You can see that gift put to its best use in his iconic role as John Nada in John Carpenter’s They Live. Who else could make a line like ““I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum” work other than the Hot Rod?
4. Jesse Ventura
“I ain’t got time to bleed.” “Sonuva bitch is dug in deeper than an Alabama tick.”
Yeah, that’s right, #4 is Jesse “The Body” Ventura. The ex-Minnesota governor, author, and former WWE Hall of Famer hasn’t acted in ages, but his filmography speaks for itself. He channeled a friendship with fellow bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger into memorable roles in Predator as the gatling gun-wielding Blaine Cooper and as Captain Freedom in The Running Man. And while some would rather I not mention his lead role in 1991’s Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe, I won’t do that because that movie’s a super duper guilty pleasure. With roles in Ricochet, Repossessed, and the classic Demolition Man, Ventura is more than worthy of being so high on the list.
3. John Cena
John Cena has come such a long way from where he started. From his first major role in WWE’s The Marine, to his first dramatic role in Legendary, to leading global blockbusters and the hit Peacemaker series, Cena has put his “hustle, loyalty, respect” credo to the test. His charisma and likeability were undeniable, but he had to work at being a better actor. So that’s what he did. So what if he still only has his “Five Moves of Doom” after two decades of wrestling? Cena had a whopping six movies in 2023 alone, including Barbie, Fast X, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Hidden Strike alongside Jackie Chan!
2. Dave Bautista
Undeniably the best dramatic actor who ever performed a spinebuster and played a muscle-bound deacon (if you can find Deacon Bautista footage, here it would go), Dave Bautista had the fastest rise to Hollywood prominence that I’ve ever seen. With roles in The Scorpion King 3 (somehow he never battled The Rock!), The Man with the Iron Fists, and Riddick, it was his role as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy films that made Bautista a star. But it’s his dramatic work in Blade Runner 2049, Hotel Artemis, and more that cemented him as a legit actor, while hit films such as Dune and Glass Onion prove that Bautista can pretty much do anything he sets his mind to.
1. Dwayne Johnson
The Rock’s acting career mirrors that of his WWE run. In both cases, what started out as pretty cringy and unwatchable blossomed into greatness. Dwayne Johnson is one of the biggest stars in the world, with multiple hit films to his credit such as Fast Five, San Andreas, Rampage, Jungle Cruise, and Black Ad...well, maybe not that last one. His voice alone is enough to put butts in seats, as it did with Disney’s Moana. Johnson’s carefully crafted persona has rubbed some people the wrong way, but he’s so charming, funny, and commanding that we’ll pay to see him in pretty much anything. And if he goes through with a teased run for President, whose to say he won’t put the smackdown on the White House, too?