12 Wrestlers Who Became Very Successful Movie Stars

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Hollywood and professional wrestling will forever be intertwined for much of the same reasons Broadway and Hollywood are interlaced. Stage actors make the transition to movies all the time, and vice-versa, so why can't the same be said for professional wrestlers? Pro wrestling, after all, sits in the gray area between sport and entertainment, and it is no coincidence that many of the industry's biggest stars are more "entertainment" than "sport."

Pro wrestling's relationship with Hollywood dates back several decades. While Dwayne Johnson may be considered one of the most bankable movie stars in recent years, studios showed a willingness to cast wrestlers in meaningful movie roles long before his rise. No matter the genre of film, directors and producers can always count on pro wrestlers, real-life superheroes who can entertain at the drop of a hat, to make the most of their minutes. Modern wrestling stars such as John Cena and Batista have followed Johnson's blueprint for success in Hollywood. Here are 12 pro wrestlers who parlayed their in-ring success into successful movie careers.

Andre the Giant

Andre the Giant's movie career may have been short-lived, but it's among the most memorable and impactful. Andre played the role of Fezzik in the 1987 fantasy classic, "The Princess Bride." Fezzik is a giant who, along with his friend Inigo Montoya, teams up with main character Westley to rescue Princess Buttercup. Casting director Jane Jenkins told TheWrap that William Goldman, who authored the original story, initially had Andre pegged for the role. However, Andre would turn Goldman down, instead recommending his friend Arnold Schwarzenegger. English was, after all, Andre's second language. This, coupled with his deep voice, cast doubt in the Giant's mind over his ability to handle any role with substantial dialogue.

However, the movie soon entered development hell, with filming enduring a near decade-long delay. By this point, Schwarzenegger's stock had risen astronomically, and the studio could no longer afford his services. This time, Goldman and Rob Reiner, the film's new director, managed to convince Andre to take the part. Almost 40 years later, it is tough to imagine anyone other than Andre in the role, with lines such as "Anybody want a peanut?" still resonating with fans of the film.

Unfortunately, Andre would pass away six years after the film's release, with his health having been in constant decline due to a lifelong bout with acromegaly. Though he never quite realized his potential in movies, it is fair to wonder how far Andre's charisma and look could have taken him off the back of his performance in "The Princess Bride."

Steve Austin

While it seems like low-hanging fruit to include a big name like Steve Austin on such a list, his extensive acting resume mandates it. The poster child of WWE's "Attitude Era" in the late '90s, Austin quietly put together a solid film acting portfolio. It began with a minor role as Guard Dunham in "The Longest Yard," starring Adam Sandler. However, Austin's start came in television, taking on the recurring role of "Inspector Jake Cage" in the show, "Nash Bridges" for six episodes between 1999 and 2000. Austin also had a memorable two-episode cameo in NBC's "Chuck."

Stone Cold's lot in Hollywood is a fairly simple one: he primarily plays characters that are extensions of the "devil may care" badass that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is, which probably comes naturally. Occasionally, he will play more comedic versions of those characters, which works due to the juxtaposition of stereotypically tough characters having a softer side. Action movies became Austin's specialty for his Hollywood career between 2007 and 2015. He starred in the 2007 WWE Studios film "The Condemned," a no-frills action flick before moving on to "The Expendables" in 2010. The Sylvester Stallone-led ensemble action movie easily became Austin's most financially successful film, as many of his movies were direct-to-video releases. He got to show more of a comedic side in 2013's, "Grown Ups 2," reuniting him with Sandler.


Dave Bautista has become a pillar for professional wrestlers-turned-actors thanks to the overwhelming amount of success he saw as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy" franchise. Bautista is also perhaps not a name wrestling fans of years past would have expected to appear on this list if his wrestling career was any indication. The Animal's innate star quality made him an undeniable choice to lead WWE's "Raw" or "SmackDown" brand in the mid-2000s, but when it came to promos, he never seemed to be quite on the level of contemporaries such as John Cena or Edge. However, Bautista wound up as the "only choice" to play Drax according to "Guardians" director James Gunn.

Gunn had the idea of giving each of the "Guardians" characters comedic elements but specifically credited Bautista for making the Drax character his own. Gunn tweeted (per Digital Spy) that Bautista stood out primarily because "No one else who auditioned was that humorous." As a result, Bautista's breakout performance on the big screen also yielded his most successful character. At this point, it is fair to question whether his Hollywood career has begun to outshine his wrestling career. He has also starred in many films since the original "Guardians" movie, such as "Stuber," "My Spy," and "Dune." Bautista has said he plans to "retire" the Drax character after "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3." which is currently slated for a 2023 release.

John Cena

John Cena, one of the three most successful professional wrestlers currently in Hollywood, shunned a second career in acting for the longest time. Cena, an iron-clad force in WWE as the top babyface and company cash cow often criticized The Rock for leaving the wrestling business hanging during their feud. While Cena may have had a point about the optics of The Rock's departure from wrestling, the former Doctor of Thuganomics always had an affinity for the big screen. Months after graduating from college, Cena moved to Southern California to become an actor, and his involvement in wrestling came as a result of a happy accident. However, Cena would dabble as an actor during his peak wrestling years, starring in "The Marine" and "12 Rounds." Nowadays, he is creating his own movie legacy while following in the footsteps of the man he once criticized.

With his in-ring career winding to a close, Cena began taking comedic roles with studios outside of WWE. His minor role in Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck" is a memorable one, and led to future co-starring roles in movies such as "Blockers," "Vacation Friends," and "Daddy's Home 2." Cena put his comedic range on full display when he starred in "Playing with Fire," a kids' movie that deviates slightly from the crude adult humor he showcased in previous works. In recent years, however, Cena's acting career seems to have hit a new gear. He landed a role in 2021's "F9," the ninth installment in the "Fast & Furious" franchise as main character Dominic Toretto's (played by Vin Diesel) brother, and played Chris "Peacemaker" Smith in director Gunn's "The Suicide Squad" in 2021. Cena has since reunited with Gunn to portray the "Peacemaker" character in a spin-off show of the same name.

Hulk Hogan

The movie role Hulk Hogan is arguably best known for, "Thunderlips" in "Rocky III," originally got him fired from the WWF. Hogan recounted the story on an episode of "The Steve Austin Show" (h/t SEScoops). Vince McMahon Sr., who owned the company at the time, strictly forbade his talents from appearing in movies. This mindset would quickly change when McMahon sold the company to his son Vince McMahon Jr. in late 1982 — but not before the elder McMahon could relieve Hogan of his duties. "Rocky III" proved to be a seismic hit for fans of the franchise. For the younger McMahon who sought to make wrestling as big as possible, Hogan's momentum from appearing in the movie made him an easy choice to push up the card.

From there, McMahon decided to dabble in the movie business himself, casting top star Hogan in the 1989 film, "No Holds Barred," produced in-house under the moniker Shane Distribution Company. Like "Rocky III," "No Holds Barred" is also remembered by fans of the '80s, but not for the strength of the film. In fact, the WWF's debut foray into movies proved to be a colossal flop, though this would not deter McMahon, whose vision for WWE Studios would eventually manifest itself. 

As for Hogan, his status as an '80s cultural symbol rings true in both films, though he would go on to star in a slew of other movies throughout the '90s such as "Suburban Commando," "Mr. Nanny," and the direct-to-video pilot movie "Thunder in Paradise," which spawned a 22-episode television series from the creators of "Baywatch." He also had a cameo as himself in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch."

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

It is safe to say Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson changed the game for professional wrestlers looking to foster a career in acting, as he is far and away the most successful wrestler in Hollywood. On the 2020 Forbes list of highest paid actors, Johnson was number one actor, reporting that he makes more than $20 million per movie before accounting for his various business ventures and side projects.

When it comes to his acting career, The Rock did a ton of learning on the job as he took on the mantle of being a central character from the very beginning. His first role saw him play the eponymous character in 2001's "The Mummy Returns," and 2002's "The Scorpion King" saw him thrive playing a similar character in his first leading role. By 2003, Johnson's time as a full-time wrestler had come to an end, and his movie career found a new gear as a result. He starred in the 2004 remake of "Walking Tall," showcased his versatility in comedies such as "The Game Plan, and hit a new level of popularity for his role in the "Fast & Furious" franchise as DSS Agent Luke Hobbs. 

"The Great One" put his producer hat on in 2019, collaborating with comedian Stephen Merchant on "Fighting with my Family," which depicts the career of former WWE superstar Paige on her road to WWE. The movie received positive reviews and served as a tasteful tribute to Johnson's former profession.

The Miz

The Miz may not draw as much box office money as the likes of Johnson, Cena, and Bautista, but his penchant for the profession has seen him have a successful career as a B-movie leading man. While Cena may have starred in the original "Marine" movie and Ted DiBiase Jr. in the sequel, The Miz starred in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth installments of the franchise. Reviews of the films were mixed at best, but critics praised The Miz's acting ability. He also starred in WWE Studios Christmas movies such as "Christmas Bounty" and "Santa's Little Helper," cementing himself as a go-to option for low-budget movies under the WWE banner.

As an actor, The Miz has been far more impressive on television, the world from which he came to pro wrestling. The Miz's first appearance on any form of screen came in 2001's "The Real World: Back to New York," where he got plenty of experience having a camera in his face. Acting is also a tremendous part of The Miz' on-screen persona with WWE. After returning to WWE following the production of "The Marine 4: Moving Target," The Miz channeled The Rock, incorporating his budding acting career into his wrestling character. Elements of The Miz's "A-Lister" character are still present in his current form, and had it not been for his involvement with reality shows such as "Total Divas" and "Miz & Mrs," The Miz would likely continue to supplement his income working on WWE films. He has, however, expressed interest in playing Johnny Cage in a "Mortal Kombat" movie.

Kevin Nash

Kevin Nash's movie career flies somewhat under the radar, as "Big Sexy" has never been one to brand himself as an actor, nor has he ever had a starring role. Instead, Nash takes on smaller parts, whether acting in a supporting role or participating in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. Nash appeared sporadically in movies and television throughout the '90s with his first appearance coming as Super Shredder in 1991's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze." From there, Nash would garner minor roles in movies such as "The Punisher," and would join Austin in "The Longest Yard." Additionally, he played an unnamed mover in Happy Madison's "Grandma's Boy," and played the role of Odin in the direct-to-video flick "Almighty Thor."

Unlike many aspiring wrestlers-turned-actors, Nash never logged more than the occasional minor appearance, though he always found a way to maximize his screen time. He played "Tarzan," a male exotic dancer in 2012's "Magic Mike," and recently played Ed in 2020's "Chick Fight." At 6'10, Nash is easily castable as an enforcer, but his acting work consists primarily of comedy, which is more representative of who Nash is. His role in TNA's Paparazzi Productions gave him a platform to work as more of a comedic character, and fans began to see him as more than one of the three founding members of the nWo in WCW. 

Nash recently told Steve Austin on "The Broken Skull Sessions" that he would love to do more in television and film, so wrestling fans have likely not seen the last of the man formerly known as "Diesel" on the big screen.

Roddy Piper

"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass ... and I'm all out of bubblegum" is perhaps one of the most iconic lines a pro wrestler has delivered in a film, and it came courtesy of Roddy Piper in 1988's "They Live." Piper quietly put together an extensive acting resume taking on the lead role in numerous action B-movies and later doing voice work. Such B-movies included "Immortal Combat," "The Bad Pack," and "Hard Time," just to name a few.

"Hot Rod" was considered to be one of the most charismatic performers of his era, so the transition to acting came naturally. While Hogan soaked up most of the acting attention coming off his appearance in "Rocky III" and his starring role in "No Holds Barred," Piper racked up a cult hit with John Carpenter's "They Live," with his lead performance receiving positive reviews

Piper tragically passed away on July 31, 2015, but not before having one of the most complete movie careers in the history of pro wrestling. Two of Piper's movies were released posthumously, the first of which titled "The Bet," featured fellow retired wrestlers such as Diamond Dallas Page and Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

El Santo

Though El Santo might not be as well known as Cena or The Rock north of Mexico, the late Lucha Libre icon had a highly successful and highly unique movie career. While many wrestlers took up the roles of specific characters from movie to movie, El Santo often played himself on a series of adventures that would be akin to Superman starring in movies about himself. This comparison holds water because Santo was seen by many as a real-life superhero in his native Mexico.

The concept of Santo as a pseudo-fictional character, as noted in "Mondo Lucha A Go-Go: The Bizarre and Honorable World of Wild Mexican Wrestling," started in 1952 when artist José G. Cruz penned a Santo comic book that ran for 35 years. By 1958, Fernando Osés, a fellow wrestler and actor, had invited Santo into the filmmaking business. Unwilling to star in movies at the expense of his wrestling career, Santo juggled both careers simultaneously, usually portraying a fictionalized version of himself moonlighting as a superhero. "Santo contra los Zombies" (or "Santo vs. The Zombies") in 1962 was his first movie. From there, Santo went on to total 52 movies throughout his illustrious career, sometimes enlisting the help of fellow Mexican legends such as Blue Demon and Mil Máscaras. Santo's most successful film, "Las Momias de Guanajuato, or The Mummies of Guanajuato" featured all three working together to stop Satan, a wrestler who sold his soul to the Lord of Darkness for fame.

Triple H

While Triple H's movie career can be summed up as "short and sweet," it would be fair to say he made the most of his minutes on the big screen. He first starred in "Blade: Trinity," the third and final installment in the "Blade" trilogy, starring Wesley Snipes. He played Jarko Grimwood, a brutal and violent vampire who served as a henchman for the main antagonist. In a promotional interview for the film (via tribute.ca), Triple H said he actually planned to turn to movies sooner. "Vince McMahon actually came to myself and The Rock and was actually talking to us at that time about breaking into Hollywood," Triple H said.

Unfortunately, "The Game" would tear his quad shortly after McMahon's revelation, setting him on the road to recovery instead of the road to Hollywood. Though his focus remained solely on wrestling, Triple H received another acting opportunity in 2011 when he played Ray Bradstone in WWE Films' "The Chaperone." The film was panned by critics. Triple H also starred action movie "Inside Out."

Jesse Ventura

Jesse "The Body" Ventura has played a variety of different roles in life — professional wrestler, color commentator, bodyguard, author, Navy SEAL, podcaster, and even Governor of Minnesota. Ventura also forayed into the world of acting near the end of his pro wrestling career, starring in the classic 1987 action movie, "Predator," alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ventura, who was good friends with Schwarzenegger at the time, also starred alongside the Austrian actor in "The Running Man," which also came out in 1987. With both movies combining to make just shy of $100 million at the box office, Ventura appeared to set himself up for a landmark career in the movies.

Political pursuits throughout the mid-late '90s ultimately put Ventura's budding acting career on hold, with the former wrestler resigning himself to minor roles and cameos in the years to follow. However, he landed his first and only lead role as "Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe" in the 1991 movie. The film was seldom seen, but Ventura's acting career surely lives on through his role as Blain Cooper in the original "Predator" film, which has since become a full-fledged franchise with five staple films. The fifth, "Prey," came out in 2022, which Ventura has praised on his Twitter account.