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One thing to consider when listing the 15 best wrestling movies of all time is that there a lot to choose from if you don’t narrow things down. There are plenty of great documentaries worth your time — HBO’s” Andre the Giant” and “Beyond the Mat” are two that come to mind. Amateur wrestling has some gems like “Foxcatcher” and “Vision Quest.” Movies starring current or former pro wrestlers abound, from “The Marine” to “The Princess Bride” to “They Live.”
We’re going to focus on films where pro wrestling itself is the story, and that narrows our choices down quite a bit. Most of these movies fall into the “kid with a dream” trope, but there are some outliers, a cartoon, and even a film widely regarded as a masterpiece. There are certainly motion pictures that wrestling fans will defend regardless of quality, or flicks that we blame for taking down entire companies (looking at you, “Ready to Rumble”). Personal taste also varies wildly, especially among wrestling fans. We will be using Rotten Tomatoes scores and critical reviews as loose guidelines for our rankings, while also mentioning some films that no good wrestling movie list should miss.
One simply cannot make a list of movies about wrestling without mentioning “No Holds Barred.” Retro Pro Wrestling mentions in their review that the movie was “released at the height of the Hulkamania boom in order to … propel its lead actor Hulk Hogan to Hollywood megastardom.” Set in a kayfabe world where the WWF is a legitimate competition, the story follows Hulk Hogan as Rip Thomas, although you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the two characters. Rip is a needle mover, and he’s the nemesis of rival network head Tom Brell, who tries to persuade Thomas to defect to Brell’s struggling network. After bribery and intimidation fail, Brell concocts a plan to stage his own, more extreme wrestling show — the “Battle of the Tough Guys,” headed by Zeus, played by Tiny Lister of “Friday.” A romantic side plot is added and Rip is eventually coerced into the reason we’re all here, a No Holds Barred match against Zeus.
This is by no means a great film, but it isn’t a bad way to spend an evening, and a time capsule of WWF at the time, with cameos from Stan Hansen, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, and Ax from Demolition, among others. There was even a co-branded pay per view around the movie, the aptly named “No Holds Barred: The Match / The Movie.” The full movie was screened, followed by a pre-taped tag team cage match featuring Hulk Hogan and Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake versus Zeus and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The match ended with Hogan landing three leg drops on Zeus to get the pin.
A more recent addition to the list, “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies” is exactly what it says in its tagline: “Good Old American Violence.” The movie opens with Shane Douglas accidentally killing another wrestler in the ring during an indie show. That wrestler’s brother decides vengeance can best be exacted by raising an army of the undead to take Douglas out, and books a show at an abandoned prison to trap Douglas and his pals. What follows is fun, by-the-book zombie movie violence with great cameos, good camera work, solid effects, and cheesy dialogue. It all works when it comes together, and with spooky season coming up it’s a great addition to any wrestling fan’s Halloween viewing schedule.
While it holds a pretty lousy audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and zero critical reviews, “Pro Wrestlers vs Zombies” is still a decent zombie movie with a lot of fun, gory moments. The cast is what’s going to send wrestling fans hunting for this one, though: Matt and Reby Hardy, Kurt Angle, Roddy Piper, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Shane Douglas and more all play themselves and seem to have had a lot of fun with the film. The use of indie wrestlers as the zombies allowed the performers to use their signature moves. Bleacher Report mentioned this in their review, saying “when the Rock shoots movies, you don’t see him pile driving his opponents.” In an interview on The Ringer’s “Book of Wrestling” podcast, director Cody Knotts said he “loved the Attitude era … absolutely loved when wrestling was raw and real, instead of just calling itself ‘Raw,'” and his love really comes through in this low budget gore fest.
The movie that some people indirectly blame for the downfall of World Championship Wrestling, “Ready to Rumble” was made during WCW’s latter days. Starring David Arquette and Scott Caan and featuring a number of recognizable Hollywood stars, “Ready to Rumble” is the story of two sanitation workers/pro wrestling fans and their quest to rehabilitate the image of their hero, Jimmy King (Oliver Platt). Jimmy loses his title due to the machinations of the Vince McMahon-like Titus Sinclair, and Arquette and Caan’s characters spend the movie getting King sober and back on top of WCW. The movie features cameos from a ton of WCW stars, including Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page, and Sting. Roger Ebert said “The movie is best when it deals with professional wrestling and worst (which is most of the time) when it prefers a wheezy prefab plot to the possibilities of its subject.”
In real life (or at least as real as WCW was at the time) the release of the movie paralleled a storyline with DDP, in which David Arquette, playing a self aggrandizing version of himself, became WCW champion. That run culminated in an Arquette heel turn on Page in a triple cage match at WCW Slamboree, one of the more hated booking decisions in late WCW history. Arquette later stated on Stone Cold’s podcast that he “didn’t think it was a good idea” to put the belt on him, but Vince Russo convinced him otherwise.
One of the movies coming from Netflix’s production deal with WWE films, which was set to give us a Vince McMahon docuseries until recent events, “The Main Event” is a family movie aimed at the younger set of WWE fans. The movie revolves around Leo, an 11 year old kid who is bullied but finds a mask that gives him superpowers. Coincidentally, a touring WWE tournament comes to town and young Leo gets the chance to live out his dreams and maybe save his home from a bank repossession in the process. The movie stars kid actor Seth Carr, Tichina Arnold (from “Martin”), and Adam Pally (of “Happy Endings”) and features cameos from WWE superstars including Sheamus, The Miz, Kofi Kingston, and Keith Lee.
An inoffensive movie that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Disney Channel or Nickelodeon movie night, “The Main Event” isn’t trying to win any Oscars. It is a fun way for kids to imagine themselves in a WWE ring. It has some cool spots and a heartwarming, if predictable, ending. While its rating on Rotten Tomatoes is on the low side, it’s a decent movie for the younger crowd and has a few funny moments. The Cinemaholic calls it “a lowkey superhero origin story” that “knows its audience[.]”
A story of hubris and redemption, “Cagefighter: Worlds Collide” features real life MMA fighter Alex Montagnani and AEW’s Jon Moxley playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Moxley’s Randy Stone, a pro wrestling star, is booked to fight undefeated Reiss Gibbons (Montagnani). Gibbons dismisses Stone but his fight team tells him to take the fight and give his career a boost. One knockout later, Gibbons is defeated by the pro wrestler and his career is floundering. Gibbons goes on a journey to rehab his image, and after numerous setbacks he gets the rematch he needs to get himself back on top.
Film Threat gave “Cagefighter” a 6.5/10, praising the performances of the leads and the use of real footage of MMA and AEW matches. They said it “delivered significantly more than CM Punk in a UFC fight.” A fun blend of mixed martial arts and pro wrestling, “Cagefighter” premiered on FITE TV. It definitely sided with the MMA guy, but pro wrestling was never looked at as a joke, and Moxley’s performance showed his character as being able to stand toe to toe with a “real” fighter. The inclusion of MMA legend Chuck Lidell and AEW wrestler Christian added to the film’s legitimacy.
A subtitled French comedy, co-produced by WWE films, featuring cameos by Eve Torres, CM Punk, and … the Vaudevillains? Yes, it’s a real thing, and it’s pretty good to boot. The story follows a mom recently released from prison trying to reconnect with her son. The kid, now in foster care, is a big wrestling fan but not a big mom fan. This leads mom to become a pro wrestler with a few of her friends at her new cashier job, as one does. They enlist an old school wrestling trainer, have some laughs while learning the ropes, and eventually get to face off against their rivals.
“Queens of the Ring” is a pretty good comedy, not necessarily for kids but probably okay for teens. Common Sense Media said “The enjoyment of this movie is entirely dependent upon how much you’re willing to get into the spirit of the thing.” If you’re willing to buy into the film and read some subtitles, it’s fun and has some laughs, especially during the training sequences. If nothing else, fans will be able to see some cameos from wrestlers who have long since moved on from WWE … and the Miz, who seems to be in every WWE film.
WWE Studios acquired the rights to release and remake “Queens of the Ring” in 2014, per Variety. Then-head of WWE Studios Michael Luisi said “This film gives WWE Studios the opportunity to introduce a feel good story to a broad audience, while serving up a film we know our core fans will also enjoy.”
One of the older films on the list, this dramatic and powerful movie follows Carboni brothers Cosmo and Lenny trying to get out of the slums by way of convincing their beefy brother Victor to become a professional wrestler. There’s no shortage of acting talent in this movie, with Sylvester Stallone and Armand Assante playing Victor’s brothers. Cosmo is a con man and Lenny is a war vet and undertaker, and their attempts to get his brother to wrestle for money pan out at first. A neighborhood gangster then decides he wants in on the action and schedules the newcomer to a vicious bout against a local legend, Frankie the Thumper (played by the legendary Terry Funk). There’s a turn in the mood of the film as well, as Stallone’s con-man character starts to grow concerned for Victor’s safety, while Assante’s war vet leans into manipulation and willingness to exploit Victor.
Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed the movie, his first time credited with either of those roles. The film is based on a book of the same name Stallone also wrote. In an interview with AICN, he talked about optioning the rights to “Paradise Alley,” saying “I optioned the screenplay of ‘Paradise Alley’ to a real … how should I say this … maggot, who put his hooks in so deep I could never get it away from him.” That led to Stallone being unable to get “Paradise Alley” produced elsewhere, motivating him to write “Rocky.” Oddly, because “Rocky” ended up getting released first, “Paradise Alley” was critically panned for being derivative of Stallone’s later work. New Yorker reviewer Pauline Kael said, “Aren’t we even expected to remember ‘Rocky’? Stallone tries to work our emotions in exactly the same ways, and there’s no surprise to the shamelessness this time.”
Jack Black plays a lovable cook in a Mexican monastery in this Nickelodeon produced film, very loosely based on real life monk/luchador Fray Tormenta. As Ignacio, Black is awkward but determined to keep the orphans in his monastery fed. He soon discovers that participating in local lucha libre matches is a way to get some extra money. With a mugger turned tag team partner, Ignacio works to improve in the ring while also trying to earn acceptance from both the lucha libre community and a nun who recently arrived in his monastery.
Charming and funny, “Nacho Libre” is an oddly written but enjoyable movie. With a middling score on Rotten Tomatoes, reviews are mixed at best, but that’s because it’s that unique kind of cringeworthy comedy that simply isn’t for everyone. That being said, as Jonathan Kiefer of the Sacramento News and Review said, “Don’t be thrown by … reviews from people who don’t know how, or are ashamed, to enjoy themselves. ‘Nacho Libre’ is a very funny, very well-realized movie.” It’s fun, (mostly) kid friendly, and has some good in ring lucha moments. “Nacho Libre” was written and directed by the folks behind “Napoleon Dynamite,” so if you liked the style of comedy featured in that movie, you’ll probably have fun watching this one.
“Kayfabe: A Fake Real Movie About A Fake Real Sport” flew under the radar on its release, but it won several awards on the film festival circuit. A mockumentary like “This Is Spinal Tap” or “The Office,” “Kayfabe” follows a group of indie wrestlers as they experience the last few weeks of their promotion. Funny, insightful, and full of inside references for those of us who know way too much about the sport, “Kayfabe” has the cast of characters you’d expect from an early 2000s indie show — former big promotion types, jobbers, stereotypes, hard working rookies, and exhausted veterans. They all come together to tell a pretty great story that any wrestling fan would enjoy, but also give enough background for non-fans to still have a good time.
Per Canvas Chronicle, “Kayfabe” was written by a former part time pro wrestler, and the love and attention to detail shows. This is a small independent production, though, and that shows as well, with some audio issues throughout the movie. But if you’re willing to deal with that, you’ll be treated to the “Clerks” of the independent wrestling scene. It’s well written, has a lot of heart, and has a lot of likable characters. As OWW‘s online review puts it, “The script is actually quite clever, and the characters have been developed by someone who has obviously been around a pro-wrestling locker room or two.”
The only animated film to make our list, “Rumble” is a recent CGI movie featuring the voices of both Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch. It’s the story of Winnie, a kid trying to save her hometown by making sure the local community stadium doesn’t close down, with the twist being that the stadium is home to a monster wrestling promotion. The big draw, Tentacular, is headed to greener pastures and if he leaves, the fans and their money leave with him, so it’s up to Winnie and second generation grappler Rayburn Jr. to save the day.
A kids movie through and through, “Rumble” is colorful and fun with a lot of recognizable voice talent. Aside from the WWE superstars, Will Arnett, Charles Barkley, Steven A. Smith, and Terry Crews lend their voices to the monstrous proceedings. Based on Rob Harrell’s graphic novel “The Monster on the Hill,” “Rumble” is a good kid’s wrestling picture with enough jokes and kaiju fights thrown in to keep adults from falling asleep. It’s floating around 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and the Chicago Reader says “it’s all about the monster fights, and they’re fun,” and specifically mentions the animation of the crowd as a high point. It’s no Kaiju Big Battel, but it’s a fine time.
Luchador films are some of the most amazing and ridiculous products to come out of Mexico’s lucha libre culture. Remezcla has a great primer on the history of the movies, but one of the biggest stars to come out of the lucha craze was El Santo. Starring in over fifty films per IMDb, Santo maintained his secret identity throughout his legendary acting and wrestling careers until a TV appearance just before his death in 1984. One of his more notable films, “Santo and the Treasure of Dracula,” is a great introduction to both the Santo character and lucha films in general. Santo was in a number of “vs. monster” movies, where he did battle with everyone from Frankenstein’s monster to the Mummy.
The plot is absolutely bonkers. Santo plays himself in the film, although he’s also a scientist who invented a time machine. He, of course, plans to use this machine to send his assistant back in time, where she is tasked with securing Dracula’s treasure, which Santo plans to use the riches to build a children’s hospital. The assistant falls under Dracula’s spell, leading into the very different but equally bonkers second act. A mysterious hooded figure has been keeping tabs on Santo and also plans on stealing the treasure. A wrestling match between Santo and the hooded figure’s son ensues, and that leads us into the finale.
A Blu-Ray reissue restores the movie, adding a redub, color, and the nudity that was removed from the original cut. “Santo and the Treasure of Dracula” was also featured on the most recent season of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Keeping with our trend of international pro wrestling cinema, “Foul King” is a well received movie from South Korea. It follows the life of Dae Ho, a financial advisor who has become used to the pressures of his job and bullying of his superiors. After getting stuck in a choke hold, Dae Ho joins a local pro wrestling gym and commits to the training. He doesn’t make the cut at first, but after a financial backer insists on a new heel for the school, the Foul King persona is born as Dae Ho learns the heel tactics that make him a superstar. Dae Ho connects with the fans as a nemesis to their chosen hero, and he also uses his newfound confidence in his daily life.
A fun story with a unique twist by letting our hero play the bad guy, “The Foul King” holds an audience rating in the high 70s on Rotten Tomatoes and was very successful on its release. Far East Films had a positive review of the film, calling it “excellent entertainment … infused with an infectious sense of humor[.]” As long as subtitles aren’t an issue for you, you should have a good time with this one.
The mostly true story of WWE’s Paige and her rise to wrestling superstardom, “Fighting with my Family” is a fantastic watch. It’s definitely the best WWE-backed product out there, one that has heart and compassion while giving you a look behind the scenes of the professional wrestling behemoth and the challenge of earning a spot in the promotion. The film was written and directed by Stephen Merchant, who helped create the UK version of “The Office.” It’s got a similarly dry sense of humor, but with enough Americanized aspects to help fans Stateside enjoy the film regardless.
“Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a critical as well as financial success. WWE promoted “Fighting With My Family” heavily during “Raw” and “SmackDown,” helping ramp up anticipation prior to the film’s release. The whole cast is amazing, and while Florence Pugh as Paige carries the bulk of the film on her back, there are enough side stories and group scenes to make sure the movie moves along smoothly while still sticking to a throughline. /Film called it “a special kind of uplifting sports flick, one that even non-wrestling fans can enjoy.” With Paige’s recent debut as Saraya in AEW, fans should have plenty of reasons to want to catch up with her backstory.
Definitely one of the more low-key entries on this list, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” is the name of the pro wrestling persona of Zac, a young man with Down syndrome who wants nothing more than to head to the pro wrestling school of his idol, the Salt Water Redneck. Zac lives in a nursing home, but escapes to chase his dream. He meets up with a crab fisherman named Tyler and the two eventually hit it off, with Tyler agreeing to help Zac achieve his dreams. Chased and eventually joined by an employee of the nursing home tasked with finding Zac, the unlikely trio form a bond around Zac’s earnestness and drive to see his journey through.
As Scream Queens tells it, the movie was actually written for the lead actor, Zack Gottsagen, after the writer/directors of “The Peanut Butter Falcon” met him at a camp for aspiring disabled actors and were inspired. This movie isn’t going to be for everyone, but if a visually stunning road movie like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” is up your alley, it’s worth a shot. Critically acclaimed and “Certified Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, this stylish character driven movie is heartwarming, almost to the point of cheesiness. As RogerEbert.com said of the movie, “Cliches aside, there’s something at work in ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon,’ something eccentric and exuberant.” While the pro wrestling action isn’t as front and center in this movie as it is in the others on our list, the dream to become a wrestler is the force behind the whole endeavor.
In what many consider the best performance of his legendary career, Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson in “The Wrestler.” He was a megastar in the 1980s, and is now performing on weekends while working the deli counter at a grocery store during the week. Randy is old and tired, but he still loves the wrestling business. He forces himself through bloody hardcore matches, taking staple shots and blading for tiny crowds. He’s in love with a stripper, Cassidy, whose age in her own line of work mirrors Robinson’s. After a heart attack that should end his wrestling career, Randy tries to repair his relationship with his estranged daughter, while also attempting to convince Cassidy to settle down. Robinson is offered one last big payday in a retirement match and has to decide what’s important in what is left of his career, and his life.
“The Wrestler” had to be at the top of this list. The best wrestling movie of all time, bar none. Director Darren Aronofsky and screenwriter Robert D. Siegel put together a heart wrenching look at an older performer on the indie wrestling scene, getting many beloved aging wrestlers to play versions of themselves in small parts throughout the film. The Guardian gushes over Mickey Rourke, saying he delivers “a terrifically engaging, likable and even vulnerable performance.”
Make no mistake, this is not a fun watch. This is a serious character study, showing a fictionalized version of many of our wrestling heroes after their time in the spotlight has ended. It can be difficult to sit through, and maybe one viewing will be enough for some people. As a wrestling fan, you owe it to yourself to watch “The Wrestler.”