These days, former professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson definitely counts as a movie star. As well as appearing in seemingly every second movie that comes out, he's been successfully recruited to inject new life into both the Fast and Furious and G.I. Joe movie franchises.
While watching (and thoroughly digging!) G. I. Joe: Retaliation recently (it opens in NZ cinemas on March 28th), I found myself admiring Johnson for having graduated to proper actual movie star status. People still call him The Rock, but he's rarely referred to as a former wrestler nowadays, my opening sentence above excepted.
Although many have tried, The Rock is the only wrestler I can think of that has truly transcended his origins to successfully move into Hollywood. The pomp and pagentry of professional wrestling would seem to be the perfect training ground for a career as an action hero, but so far only Johnson has made it to the big leagues.
Genre cinema old and new is peppered with professional wrestlers attempting to transition into movie stardom. In this blog I'm going to cite some of the more notable contemporary examples (in rough descending order of success) and deliver a verdict on their viability as a movie star by stating whether or not Sylvester Stallone should let them appear in the next Expendables film, which is now in the planning stages.
The Rock is too big of a star in his own right to bother himself with Stallone's action franchise, but the first Expendables featured former WWE superstar 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin in a villainous role and MMA fighter Randy Couture appears in both.
Appearing in The Expendables 3 would lend legitimacy to any wrestler with acting aspirations. Which of these guys deserves a shot?
Wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan (born Terry Bollea) is probably more famous than The Rock in global terms, but although he's appeared in countless films over the years, he's never escaped being associated with wrestling.
He broke out with a supporting role in 1982's Rocky III (as a wrestler named 'Thunderlips') before parlaying that heat into becoming the biggest star of the then nascent WWF. His next shot at movie stardom came in the 1989 wrestling themed movie No Holds Barred, which seemed like a big deal at the time, but that's probably because I was eleven.
Throughout the '90s Hogan appeared in various roles that were either rip-offs of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies (Mr. Nanny) or films that Arnie had turned down (Suburban Commando). And then there was Santa With Muscles.
A reality series; various TV and movie bit parts and a sex tape scandal aside, Hogan has since had to rely upon the world of wrestling for employment. Still, the man's an icon. If not a bonafide movie star.
Should Hulk Hogan appear in The Expendables 3? A Chuck Norris-style cameo might be fun, but his presence may undermine the otherwise beautifully-crafted sense of verisimilitude.
During his long association with the WWE, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura landed a couple of plum roles in '80s Schwarzenegger films (Predator and The Running Man). Nothing he appeared in subsequently lived up to those movies, and he is now better known for his 1999-2003 term as the Governor of Minnesotta.
He was pretty good in the Arnie films, but I don't think any movie fans are missing Ventura. These days he's a prominent political pundit who hosts a TV show called Conspiracy Theory With Jesse Ventura.
Should Jesse Ventura appear in The Expendables 3? No. He seems like too much of a blowhard. An reunion with Arnie would be fun though.
The hulking frame of a professional wrestler has never been better utilised by a Hollywood movie than in Rob Reiner's 1987 classic The Princess Bride, in which legendary 7'4" inch heel André The Giant (born André Roussimoff) plays Fezzik, a giant henchman paired with Mandy Patinkin's Spanish swordsman.
Roussimoff's gentle performance in The Princess Bride is a thing of beauty, and the marble-mouthed man-mountain handles the script's dextrous wordplay with aplomb. Roussimoff did bit parts before and after this but never again played a character as indelible as Fezzik.
Should André The Giant appear in The Expendables 3? He died in 1993. So...yes!
'Rowdy' Roddy Piper has a string of small credits, but hardcore film audiences only associate him with one movie: John Carpenter's 1988 cult classic They Live, in which he plays the lead role of a drifter who uncovers an alien conspiracy with the help of a special pair of sunglasses.
They Live is an enduringly awesome hoot and Piper is great in it. Even though it features a legendarily drawn-out fight scene, you actually manage to forget that Piper's a wrestler while watching the film. He effectively transforms into an anonymous B-movie action grunt. It seems unfair that Piper headed up such a cool film and never got the chance to do so again.
Should Rowdy Roddy Piper appear in The Expendables 3? I think this would be an awesome cameo.
The Hawaiian-born Professor Toru Tanaka was famous for throwing salt in the eyes of his opponents in the ring. Although he acted opposite everyone from Chuck Norris to Pee-wee Herman in a respectable film career that spanned two decades, he's still best known for his villainous turn as Professor Sub Zero opposite Jesse Ventura (and Arnie) in 1987's The Running Man. Here is Sub Zero. Now plain zero!
Should Professor Toru Tanaka appear in The Expendables 3? He died in 2000.
John Cena, one of the most popular WWE wrestlers of the modern era (if not the most popular), got his first chance at movie stardom when he was cast as the lead in 2006's The Marine, an action film produced by the WWE that enjoyed a theatrical run in most markets.
The film failed to break-out with non wrestling audiences, no small thanks to Cena's flat cinematic presence. He went on to star in 2009's 12 Rounds and continues to appear in WWE-backed films (which generally go straight to DVD or cable TV.), but a mainstream Hollywood career just doesn't appear to be in the cards for Cena.
Incidentally, he's "fighting" The Rock at Wrestlemania 29 on April 7th.
Should John Cena appear in The Expendables 3? No. He's too much of a blockhead.
David Bautista, whose achieved wide wrestling success under the name 'Batista', has quietly been plugging away at an acting career, and he has a very cool-looking role in the RZA's upcoming Shaw Bros. homage The Man With The Iron Fists.
In addition to appearing in Vin Diesel's third Riddick film, Bautista is also about to start filming his most prominent role yet, as Drax The Destroyer in Marvel Comics' upcoming adaptation of their Guardians of the Galaxy comic.
Should David Bautista appear in The Expendables 3? Sly wouldn't be able to afford him at this point. Out of everyone discussed here, Bautista has the best chances of becoming a bona fide movie star.
If any wrestler since Hulk Hogan seemed primed for breakout movie star success, it was 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin, who rose to prominence in late '90s and became well-known outside the wrestling circles.
His first test was a recurring role on Don Johnson/Cheech Marin cop show Nash Bridges. He later played a supporting role the Adam Sandler Longest Yard remake, and got his first proper leading role in the 2007 WWE-backed Battle Royale rip-off, The Condemned, which failed to attract much of a cinematic audience.
In addition to the aforementioned role in The Expendables, Austin has starred in several straight-to-DVD movies since The Condemned, and will be back on the big screen in a supporting role in Sandler's upcoming Grown Ups 2. But a movie star this guy ain't.
Should 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin appear in The Expendables 3? Only if they make him the twin-brother of his character from the first film who comes looking for revenge.
WWE stalwart Kevin Nash aka Diesel has appeared in film and television for most of his wrestling career, and has carved out a respectable niche as tall heavies in films like The Punisher; DOA and last year's Rock of Ages and Magic Mike.
Should Kevin Nash appear in The Expendables 3? He wouldn't appear out of place, but he doesn't have enough of a following to give his presence fanboy meaning.
Even though the John Cena-starring original didn't exactly set the world on fire, WWE Films persisted with two straight-to-DVD sequels to The Marine, both of which replaced Cena with other WWE wrestlers (Ted Dibiase Jr. in The Marine 2; The Miz in The Marine 3), giving them them a mild stink of "Hey let's see if this muscly freak can carry a movie". Which I suppose is WWE Studios' business model.
Despite the presence of the definite article in the title of all three Marine movies, it's a different character in each film. They should've called the sequel The Other Marine, and the third one Yet Another Marine, Not Either of the First Two Guys.
The sequel with-a-different-wrestler strategy has recently been applied to Cena's only other film that saw the inside of a theatre, with Randy Orton cast as the new lead in 12 Rounds: Reloaded, which goes straight to DVD later this year.
And Kane got his shot with See No Evil, a horror film that came out the same year as The Marine, but he's only appeared in tiny roles since.
Should Ted Diabase Jr.; The Miz; Randy Orton or Kane appear in The Expendables 3? No. Except maybe The Miz. He's kinda funny and might play well opposite Dolph Lundgren.
There have been various other low-profile attempts by the WWE to launch its wrestlers as movie stars by backing films starring Triple H; Edge and Big Show.
Little person Dylan Postl wrestles as leprechaun character 'Hornswaggle' in the WWE, and he is starring in an upcoming reboot of the Leprechaun horror franchise backed by WWE films. Makes sense I suppose.
There are numerous examples of wrestlers taking one-off roles in movies, with varying levels of succcess. George 'The Animal' Steele was perfectly cast as Swedish wrestler/movie heavy Tor Johnson in Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1996).
Big time '80s wrestling superstar Randy Savage did a reasonable job (playing a wrestler) in Sam Raimi's original Spider-Man film; and long before Tom Hardy came along, wrestler Jeep Swenson played Bane in Joel Shumacher's ill-fated Batman & Robin in 1997. Both men have since died.
You know which wrestler I always thought would make a great movie star: 'Leaping' Lanny Poffo aka The Genius. He was great. Is he still alive?
Who is you favourite wrestler on the big screen? Which examples have I missed? Would you see a 'Leaping' Lanny Poffo movie?