You can blame (or thank, depending on your point of view) Vincent K. McMahon for movies like Mr. Nanny and Abraxas. Both starred wrestlers — Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura respectively — and while WWE chief McMahon didn’t write or direct either of the films, he understood the promotional importance of allowing his wrestlers to make the leap from the ring to the big screen.
It wasn’t always that way however.
Although wrestlers have been appearing in movies for decades—wrestler Lenny Montana played The Godfather’s Luca Brazzi and Tor Johnson, the Super-Swedish Angel, made 31 movies including the legendary Plan 9 From Outer Space — initially the powerful McMahon family actively tried to keep their wrestlers off the screen.
For instance, the elder McMahon, Vincent J., who originally hired Hulk Hogan, refused him permission to appear in Rocky III.
He resolutely believed wrestlers should fight, not act. It wasn’t until Vince Jr. stepped in and gave Hogan the go-ahead that the heyday of wraslin’ movies began in earnest.
After that, many of McMahon’s bigger-than-life wrestlers tried their hands at Hollywood stardom, including Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, who headlines this weekend’s The Tooth Fairy.
Most of the movies in the wrestler genre aren’t great—filmjunk.com called Hulk’s Santa with Muscles a “crapterpiece”—but there are a couple of notable exceptions.
One of the more prolific wrestlers-turned-actors, Canadian-born Rowdy Roddy Piper has dozens of movie credits, but his high point came in 1988’s They Live, where he delivered the now classic line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” It’s his “Hasta la vista, baby!,” and is one of the great action quotes of the decade.
And while it is unlikely that WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin could ever receive any kind of acting award unless he did his trademarked Axe Handle Elbow Drop on the entire Academy, he has held his own in The Longest Yard and The Condemned, and has three films coming out in 2010.
Recently Triple H, Stacy Keibler and Goldberg have all tried for acting careers, and why not? McMahon calls his wrestlers “entertainers” and The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky asked rhetorically, “Why aren’t wrestlers in SAG? If you really think about it, the Screen Actors Guild should organize them.”