The Ten Best Wrestlers Turned Actors

Dave Bautista stars in House of the Rising Sun, on DVD July 19th, so we got to thinking...

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Wrestling… you gotta love it. Larger than life heroes, villains and athletes competing in front of roaring crowds wearing crazy costumes and bearing dramatic pseudonyms like “The Giant” and “The Rock.” One of America’s most popular entertainments, it was only a matter of time before the stars of the ring became the stars of the screen. With Dave Bautista starring in House of the Rising Sun, on DVD July 19th, CRAVE Online thought we should take a look back at the best wrestlers to make the transition acting. Here then are our picks for the Ten Best Wrestlers Turned Actors.




One of the first wrestlers to really break out in film, Toshiyuki “Harold” Sakata had a fairly long film career but there’s one acting job that made him an icon to this day… an “Odd” job, if you will. Harold Sakata played the classic role of Auric Goldfinger’s henchman in the 1964 James Bond classic Goldfinger. Sakata almost had to wrestle Milton Reid, a fellow wrestler-turned-actor, for the coveted role, but Reid had already appeared in Dr. No, and died on-screen, so the match proved unnecessary. Armed with his razor-sharp bowler and even steelier gaze, Sakata proved one of the great Bond adversaries during a climactic tussle in Fort Knox next to a ticking atomic bomb. Sakata, a former Silver Medal-winning Olympian, had a long but not illustrious cinematic career after Goldfinger, often retaining the moniker of “Oddjob” to boost his visibility. His best-known films afterwards were 1974’s Impulse, opposite William Shatner, and the 1977 comedy The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.




Former WCW and WWE champion William Scott “Bill” Goldberg was pretty danged famous in the ring, sporting wrestling’s longest undefeated streak: 173 wins, one loss. A two-time world champion, Goldberg made his acting debut as Lou “The Pariah” Maguire in a 1998 episode of The Love Boat: The Next Wave but it wasn’t until 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return that Goldberg would make a name for himself as an on-screen performer. Often playing “the tough guy” in films like Universal Soldier and Half Past Dead 2, Goldberg made a bit of a name for himself in movies like The Longest Yard (which also co-starred fellow wrestlers “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kevin Nash) as a particularly funny tough guy, resulting in his biggest film role to date in Santa’s Slay, in which he portrayed a particularly homicidal version of Kris Kringle. When Goldberg shouts that he’s “just trying to spread a little yuletide FEAR!!!” you really believe him. Bill Goldberg currently hosts the television series Garage Mahal on the DIY Network, but still acts regularly.



Tor Johnson was not what you’d call a “good” actor. In fact, he was usually pretty darned awful. But somehow the 400 lb. “Super Swedish Angel” amassed a pretty impressive film career, starting as early as the 1930’s with uncredited appearances in such classics as Shadow of the Thin Man, The Canterville Ghost and Road to Rio. But it wasn’t until Edward D. Wood Jr. – the so-called “Worst Director Ever” – cast him as ‘Lobo’ in 1955’s Bride of the Monster that his career really took off, leading to several starring roles in such other Z-Grade classics as Plan 9 from Outer Space, The Unearthly and The Beast of Yucca Flats. Despite his minimal acting talent his unmistakable presence was iconic enough for Tor Johnson to be a horror legend to this day, but it wasn’t until George “The Animal” Steele (born William James Myers) played Tor Johnson in Tim Burton’s biographical film Ed Wood that the real Tor Johnson – a lovable family man and friend – was introduced to the world for the first time. A great icon who inspired a great performance: that’s a tie right there.



Six Time WWE world champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin got his acting career started with the recurring role of Detective Jack Cage on the good but short-lived television series Nash Bridges, but it wasn’t until his breakout role in WWE Studios’ 1997 action movie The Condemned that he earned leading man status. In that cross between The Most Dangerous Game and The Running Man, Austin played a heroic death row inmate forced to fight for his life, his freedom and for ratings in a death match with such other cinematic badasses as Vinnie Jones and Nathan Jones (no relation). Austin didn’t show much range in the role but carried the film ably on his broad shoulders as a tough guy with a bit of a conscience. A powerful on-screen presence, Austin’s never had the perfect vehicle to promote him as a true action hero but a memorable turn as one of the bad guys in The Expendables did cement him as one of the tough guy elite.



WWF Hall of Famer, former Navy Underwater Demolition Team member and future Minnesota Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura is one of the most recognizable wrestlers-turned-actors in the world. So it’s strange that he hasn’t actually done much acting. Ventura burst onto the scene with his unforgettable role as Blain in Predator, in which he not only got to take Ol’ Painless out of the bag but also got a number of iconic lines like, “I ain’t got time to bleed” and “This stuff will make you a god damned sexual tyrannosaurus. Just like me.” The mustachioed tough guy was a charismatic presence on film, leading to other memorable roles in the genre classic The Running Man and the not so classic Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe. Lovable and, given his political career, highly respectable, Jesse Ventura is a cinematic legend despite hardly ever getting a starring role.



No one questions reigning WWE champion John Cena’s credentials in the ring: since his debut in 2000 the man has won seventeen championships. Most people haven’t even won seventeen Call of Duty multiplayer matches. His film career got off to a somewhat rocky start in the fairly forgettable The Marine, but Cena got up before the count and went on to star in the actually-rather-excellent 12 Rounds and the creepy-but-not-his-fault Legendary. Although like most of his wrestlers-turned-actor brethren Cena has yet to stretch his acting muscles, he brings an everyman quality to his roles that eludes many of the others, giving him a better-than-average chance at earning proper leading man status. Cena last appeared in the family drama Blood Brothers. His next move, or rather next movie, is unknown.



After the unexpected Z-Movie stardom of Tor Johnson, Hulk Hogan became the next big wrestler to make a run at leading man status. This time, however, the transition seemed obvious. The former WWF champion earned a fiercely loyal fan base – called “Hulkamaniacs” – for his charismatic appearances in the ring and his wholesome image, which he used to promote patriotism, vitamin use and the saying of prayers. Hogan made his film debut as “Thunder Lips” in Rocky III and soon segued into minor TV parts before his first starring role in 1989’s No Holds Barred, which found the superstar playing a version of himself competing in a new, and decidedly more dangerous breed of wrestling (no holds, as a matter of fact, were barred). Afterwards Hogan focused on comedies that played up his jovial nature and enormous physique, including Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny. Although he never starred in a particularly strong movie after No Holds Barred, Hogan’s notoriety earned him the syndicated television series Thunder in Paradise and a slew of Straight-to-Video work including Santa with Muscles and 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, alongside his reality TV series Hogan Knows Best and a string of cameos in the like of Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Muppets from Space. Not a great actor, perhaps, but a great screen presence.



Roddy Piper may never have become a world champion, but the WWE Hall of Famer won 34 ther championships over the course of his career and became famous as the host of Piper’s Pit, a wrestling program which often devolved into Piper just beating the hell out of his guests. Roddy Piper’s acting career started with a bang: he starred in two cult classic films in 1988, John Carpenter’s They Live and the less-remembered Hell Comes to Frogtown. In They Live, Piper was cast as a working stiff who uncover a vast alien conspiracy to destroy the lower- and middle-classes, which perfectly suited his wrestling persona. He also deserves special credit for writing one of the best lines of dialogue in movie history: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… And I’m all out of bubblegum.” The kookier Hell Comes to Frogtown was not as big a hit, but the bizarre sci-fi story of the last fertile man on Earth, who must save a harem of fertile women from a frog monster before his junk explodes, has a delightful charm to it. Piper’s film career went downhill from there, but he still picks up work in Straight-to-Video fare like Green Lantern: Emerald Knights and occasional guest spots on TV shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.



Andre Rene Roussimoff, aka “Andre the Giant,” a one-time WWF Champion and WWF World Tag Team Champion, was, and still is, one of the most famous wrestlers who ever lived, and was the first person inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. His acting career, compared to many of the other wrestlers on this list, was fairly short, mostly consisting of tiny roles in movies like Casse-tete chinois pour la judoka and Conan the Destroyer, in which he played the evil god “Dagoth.” He also appeared in  a variety of television series including The Six Million Dollar Man, in which he played Bigfoot, and The Greatest American Hero, in which he also played a monster. But Andre the Giant is best remembered today for his biggest and most sympathetic role as Fezzik the Giant in Rob Reiner’s classic fantasy The Princess Bride. Quite the charmer, Fezzik stole the hearts of millions as the sportsmanlike bad guy who sees the error of his ways, and proved that he had quite a gift for rhyme. (“Yes, yes… Some of the time.”) Before his tragic death in 1993, Billy Crystal had intended to co-star with Andre the Giant in his comedy My Giant, which Crystal would eventually make with NBA star Gheorghe Muresan in 1998. Although he had only one real acting role, Andre the Giant made the most of it and cemented his place in movie history.



Was there every any doubt? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has inarguably made the most successful transition from the wrestling to motion pictures of anyone else on our list, and to a ridiculous degree. The winner of 16 WWF/WWE championships was one of the most popular wrestlers of the last few decades, but he had an awkward start in the acting business with minor roles on 1990’s TV series like Star Trek: Voyager and the short-lived TV adaptation of the Sanda Bullock movie The Net. Johnson got his big break 2001 with a cameo appearance as the evil “Scorpion King” in Stephen Sommers’s The Mummy Returns, along with a less-publicized minor role in the insider trading/tennis/gigolo movie Longshot that same year. From there he moved on to starring roles in 2002’s The Scorpion King, which confusingly rewrote his character as a dashing hero, and such action flicks as Doom, Walking Tall and The Rundown, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger himself passed the torch and told Johnson, “Have fun.” Since then Johnson’s career has varied from serious roles, like The Gridiron Gang, to comedic fare like Be Cool and family films like Race to Witch Mountain. This year found Johnson co-starring in the blockbuster Fast Five, cementing his superstar status. Charming, funny, tough and supremely talented, Dwayne Johnson is, to date, the best actor to come out of the wrestling arena.