Many critics say that wrestling is just playacting, and in some ways they are right. While it can be highly competitive, even brutal at times, the WWE has never denied some of the more theatrical elements of their sport.
So it’s no surprise that many of their leading fighters have become leading men in Hollywood. With ripped physiques, good looks, and the kind of cocky confidence that comes from wrestling in front of tens of thousands of live fans, these guys are tailor-made for the movies.
Yet few would have predicted just how successful the WWE alumni would become. While the odds of a pro-fighter ever winning an Oscar may be significantly longer than their UFC and MMA odds, they are still highly bankable as box office stars.
In 2020, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson combined rippling muscles with a winning smile and a refreshing sense of self-parody to top the Forbes list of highest-paid actors for the second year in a row.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
In 2019 alone, Johnson banked no less than $89.4million at the box office, and then followed that in 2020 with a further $87.5million, which is impressive in any year but even more so in 2020.
From his screen debut as The Scorpion King in 2002, he has gone on to star in a wide variety of roles, from action star in the Fast and Furious series to comedy lead in films like Jumanji and Central Intelligence, both of which saw him working alongside his friend and comedian, Kevin Hart.
Johnson may have made a career out of carrying blockbuster disaster movies, such as San Andreas, Skyscraper, and Rampage, but he has still found time for softer roles, such as voicing the demigod Maui in Disney’s Moana.
John Cena and Dave Bautista
Of course, Dwayne Johnson isn’t the only former WWE star to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Starring in the biggest and fifth biggest films of all time – Avengers Infinity War and Avengers Endgame – Dave Bautista could claim to be the bigger star.
His role as Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy team is a delightful blend of comedy and muscle. Bautista has also played other iconic roles, including that of a Bond villain in Spectre, as well as mainstream acting roles in Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming Dune remake.
Another WWE star who is not afraid to flex his comedy muscles is John Cena. More than happy to be the butt of the jokes, he has won many fans in films such as Daddy’s Home 1 & 2, Blockers, and Playing with Fire. He also got to show his more serious side as Agent Burns in the Transformers spin-off, Bumblebee.
Other WWE movie stars
Alongside their more famous fellow wrestlers, many other WWE stars have made the transition from canvas to camera, though none with quite the same level of success. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin has several major films on his resume, including a lead role of Conrad in The Condemned, alongside another former sports star, British soccer player, Vinnie Jones.
Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura has also lent his muscles to a number of high-profile roles alongside bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-California-Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has shared the screen with Arnie in classic action movies such as Running Man and The Predator.
Recently, things have gone full circle, with leading Hollywood actors now playing WWE stars. Fighting with My Family saw Florence Pugh, Vince Vaughn and Lena Headey of Game of Thrones fame all taking to the ring in a biopic of the popular female wrestler, Paige. Naturally, Dwayne Johnson was involved once again, not only acting in the film but also taking a producer credit. Just like in the ring, you simply can’t keep The Rock out of the spotlight.