To make one of the most obvious and overplayed comparisons in the world: pro wrestlers are just like superheroes - colorful, bright spandex-clad heroes and villains who battle over the fate of the world (championship). It's not surprising, then, that these squared circle commanders who live larger-than-life wrestling stories every week would sometimes lend their talents to more heroic television and TV endeavors.
These appearances were sometimes part of a burgeoning acting career, and other times just a chance for wrestlers to flex their creative muscles rather than their piledriving ones. Still, it's always fun to see our go-to grapplers take on a more Hollywood-esque opponent.
Sgt. Slaughter as Sgt. Slaughter (G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, G.I. Joe: The Movie)
In one of those "cross marketing so obvious I can't believe it actually happened" stories, WWE's resident United States Marine Corps veteran and human drill instructor, was turned into a bona fide G.I. Joe character. During the 1980's, The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection was skewing WWF's product towards kids more than ever before. So a toy company capitalizing on that success by incorporating one of WWF's biggest stars into its own action figure and cartoon lineup wasn't a crazy notion; what WAS crazy was that this crossover lasted for years, with Slaughter himself voicing the character (keep in mind Hulk Hogan's own Rock'n'Wrestling cartoon only last 26 episodes). Slaughter even had a featured role in the G.I. Joe animated feature film.
Kane as Titan (Smallville)
The CW and DC Comics have maintained a tight-knit partnership for decades. And for whatever reason (actor physique? "brand synergy"? easiest option?) CW and DC have ended up casting multiple professional wrestlers as super villains
This first one, from 2007, saw WWE's Big Red Machine going up against DC's All-American Boyscout as Kane, playing the alien fighting champion Titan, challenged Clark Kent in a secret underground live-streaming fight club. Yep, the last son of Krypton took on a bloodthirsty, interstellar warrior in someone's caged-up basement… in Kansas. While this one-off appearance did little for Kane's acting career (and veered wildly from the actual comic book character) it did come on the heels of his big screen debut in See No Evil, and played into his strengths of being a big, hulking, serial-killer looking strong dude. (Protip: Skip this and instead check out Kane in See No Evil 2)
Edge as Atom Smasher (The Flash)
When Edge was forced to retire from wrestling, we as fans felt the collective sadness over a true legend having to leave his boyhood dream behind. But Edge wasted little time in transitioning to a post-WWE life. He found success in a variety of TV and small movie roles, but his largest role was an appearance as Atom Smasher in The Flash season 2 premiere. I say "largest" because the character can grow in size and strength. On the other hand, I watch the show regularly and completely forgot Edge made this appearance, so maybe it's *actually* his smallest role to date? (...no, that'd definitely be Highlander: Endgame)
Cody Rhodes as Derek Sampson (Arrow)
In perhaps both the MOST surprising and LEAST surprising addition to this list, Cody Rhodes once played the drug-dealing villain Derek Sampson on Flash sibling show Arrow. It was MOST surprising because Rhodes doesn't necessarily possess the superhuman physique of his contemporaries on this list… but LEAST surprising because this very much felt like a quid pro quo for the way Cody had helped Arrow star Stephen Amell with his in-ring debut at SummerSlam 2015.
It also came in that brief post-WWE window where it felt like the dude had a lot of stuff going on and nobody knew where he'd end up. (Now he just has one thing going on… though I guess it is kind of a big deal.)
Kevin Nash as Shredder (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze)
While trying to find his footing in the professional wrestling business, Kevin Nash made his (very brief) acting debut as Super Shredder at the shell end of the 1991's martial arts masterpiece-ish. You couldn't tell it was Kevin because of the mask, and the appearance lasted all of two minutes, but it's a cowabunga-cool throwback for us shell-raisers.
Kevin Nash as The Russian (The Punisher)
As the only two-timer on this list (and my super-secret 11th entry), Kevin Nash was fortunate that his second comic book adaptation appearance let him show off his face and his physique (though still, no spoken words other than a few grunts and groans). Nash played one of Frank Castle's most notorious, bleach-blonde super villains. And in one of the few highlights from Marvel's 2004 film, Kevin Nash and Thomas Jane (playing Frank Castle aka The Punisher) literally tear down the house in a brutal, scrappy fight scene
Dave Bautista as Drax (Guardians of the Galaxy, GOTG 2, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame)
If you based superhero film success solely on box office, Dave Bautista would conquer the rest of this list multiple-times over. He's recently starred in two of the highest-grossing films of all time - and still found time to lose to Triple H at WrestleMania! But when Bautista was first cast as Drax in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy, his success as Drax didn't feel like a guarantee, and his future was still uncertain. Luckily, Dave nailed the mix of brute strength, dry obliviousness, and fragile heart that a character like Drax deserved (not to mention having the perfect look), and created one of the most memorable MCU characters of all time.
Tyler Mane as Sabretooth (X-Men)
Most people probably have no idea who Tyler Mane is (unless you're a horror movie fan - then he's the dude who briefly ruined Michael Myers). But Mane is one of the earliest squared circle to superhero crossover success stories. He trained with the legendary Stu Hart, and wrestled briefly throughout the late 80's and early 90's before retiring to pursue a Hollywood career.
His run as Sabretooth was brief - lasting only one film (he asked to reprise the role multiple times, but was turned down) - and mostly forgotten, since this film came so early (2000) in the comic book movie boom.
Triple H as Jarko Grimwood (Blade: Trinity)
Speaking of mostly forgotten… Triple H's Hollywood endeavors seemingly started and stopped with the ill-received Blade: Trinity (star Westley Snipes supposedly spent much of his time on-set smoking marijuana in his trailer, forcing the director to use stand-ins and computer effects). At the time it seemed like Triple H might be interested in making the same Hollywood transition that his frenemy Dwayne Johnson was undergoing. In fact, there were mid-2000s rumors that Triple H, with his bright golden lockes and chiseled demigod physique, might be worthy of wielding Mjolnir in a Thor adaption. Instead, he got incinerated by Deadpool, and relegated to direct-to-DVD kids comedies.
Shawn Michaels as Incredible Master Yoga (Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars)
Where do your favorite legends go to kill their legacy? For Ric Flair, it was TNA… for Shawn Michaels, it turns out to be one of those horrible spoof movies I thought we put to rest a decade ago. I know very little about this movie other than what I gleaned from the 2 minute trailer (above) and the IMDB cast/crew listing, so I have a few lingering questions: why is Michaels playing Yoda in a superhero movie spoof? Is the Stark mentioned in the trailer supposed to be Tony Stark - and if so, do all of these superheroes exist in the MCU proper, including the weird Joker knockoff character? Why can I so clearly see the clothespin holding together that cape at the beginning? And who funded this piece of garbage? Still, I can guarantee you two things: A) It's awful and not worth the $3 to rent, and B) Shawn Michaels didn't get paid nearly enough to do this to his own career.
Randy Savage as Bone Saw McGraw (Spider-Man)
This is the entire reason I wanted to write this column - Randy Savage as Bone Saw McGraw, and his infamous "BONE-SAW is RED-EEEEE" deliver has stuck with me since middle school Mikey first saw it back in 2002. While this character was based on Crusher Hogan, and the famous wrestling scene is lifted straight from Amazing Fantasy #15 and Spider-Man's debut/origin story, Bone Saw McGraw is almost entirely a Savage creation. The way the dude moves, the way he cuts a promo, everything, is prime Savage circa 1999. And while this never resulted in a lasting Hollywood career for Randy Savage (he was just a wrestler playing a wrestler who was essentially himself, after all), this scene remains one of the most memorable in the entire Spider-Man franchise.