Former pro wrestlers are dominating our movie screens this month. Dwayne Johnson is coming in hot in “The Fate of the Furious,” which came out in April, and we’ll get him in a starring role when “Baywatch” comes out May 25. He’s tag-teaming the start of the summer blockbuster season with Dave Bautista, who’s in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” This month will show the WWE star-making machine at its strongest, with its two current cultural contributions anchoring the beginning of the summer movie season.
Johnson is not only the planet’s primary predator of cod, he’s also the WWE’s most prominent contribution to the cinema, an icon of the big screen who transcended his already remarkable achievements in the ring to become a bona fide movie star (but that’s literally another story). But Bautista is right on his heels — he’s got a steady gig as the emotional heart of a slice of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus a role in the new “Blade Runner” — so it appears that the WWE may have a second superstar on the way. But even though Johnson and Bautista are racking up blockbusters and critical accolades, it’s incredibly hard to build a film career, even starting with wrestling’s boost. As for the general on-screen contributions of current and former wrestlers, well, they wind up with an extremely wide range of outcomes1:
It’s no secret that the WWE loves when its personnel branch out into broader entertainment — just see the organization’s internal film studio or the acting lessons it gives to talent that gets film work — but many wrestlers are invited to Hollywood only to be typecast as strongmen and muscle. I pulled everyone listed in the laboriously maintained and notoriously thorough WWE personnel and alumni Wikipedia entries2 and checked each one to see if they had an IMDb link. Of the roughly 1,000 people associated with the organization, roughly half did. But of those, less than 50 had notable feature film work3 — often bit parts as tough guys and mooks — and after cross-checking those credits against Rotten Tomatoes and the box-office database The Numbers, I found that just over 20 wrestlers had substantial4 credits in feature films that were reviewed by critics or made it to theaters.
And of course, only one of these people is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a man whose career achievements we could praise all day. He’s a legend in the flesh. But Bautista is right there with him when it comes to average film quality, and he’s catching up in terms of box-office take. Here are some of the busiest and best-known wrestlers from our data set, along with how their work has fared on the big screen5:
It looks like Bautista is merely a metric ton of cod away from being able to stand tall with The Rock, while John Cena clearly still has some fish to fry.