Professional wrestling is a form of sport/entertainment that is often misunderstood, whether it be the wrestling itself which can be determined as being real, fake or choreographed depending on your perspective, or the truly insane stories that revolve around it from real-life tragedy and struggle to scripted madness like witnessing a man drown his boss in beer (something that really happened). It’s a form of entertainment, and indeed a livelihood for those involved in it, that many compare to living the carny life, the touring circus of professional wrestlers living extraordinary lives at a simply mind-boggling pace, their bodies being in the equivalent of a 30mph car crash every night for sometimes upwards of 40 years.
It is no surprise then that the insanely popular industry – there have been close to 80,000 fans at almost every WWE Wrestlemania event for the past 10 years – has been mined by creatives in the film industry to bring to the silver screen some extraordinary tales of wrestlers, real or made up, in an attempt to capture some of the absurdity, passion and/or struggle each man, woman and everyone in between must go through to forge a living from a rags or riches profession. In this list, we’re counting down the 10 best big screen representations whether they be live-action drama or real-life documentary, and we’re basing our choice on a number of factors including entertainment, artistry, importance to wrestling and their overall piercing of the zeitgeist.
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Honourable Mentions: No Holds Barred; Walk Like A Panther.
10. Ready to Rumble (2000)
A wrestling movie more associated with WWE’s old (and now defunct) rivals WCW than Vince McMahon’s band of merry men and women, Ready to Rumble was a turn of the century Hollywood attempt at cashing in on the immense popularity of professional wrestling in the late 90s, an era when wrestling was watched by more than 10 million people each week. And to do it, they told a story of a couple of fans doing everything in their power to get their hero’s title back.
It’s not that Ready to Rumble is good, and it certainly didn’t help WCW when the movie’s star David Arquette became WCW Heavyweight Champion in an attempt to push the film at the box office and thus trashed the belt’s reputation, but it is certainly memorable, and there aren’t too many actual movies about wrestling so here we are…
9. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012)
You know that Netflix show you love? Well, it’s based on an actual thing, and the documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (2012) is the quite simply mind-boggling story of an “of its time” brand of wrestling show, warts and all.
Featuring appearances from some women who later wrestled for the WWE, most notably WWE Hall of Famer Ivory, the triumph of the documentary was similar to that of the resulting TV series ‘GLOW’, in that it managed to present a genuinely endearing family at the heart of a sexist, ridiculous and ultimately doomed late 80s wrestling show.
8. Nacho Libre (2006)
Nacho Libre is to representing professional wrestling accurately what Air Bud is to representing basketball accurately or Most Valuable Primate is to representing Ice Hockey accurately, but it sure is a lot of fun.
Starring Jack Black hot off the heels of his now iconic performance in School of Rock, and directed by Jared Hess who had recently shot to fame after writing and directing cult hit Napoleon Dynamite, Nacho Libre was primarily a comedy – and arguably a problematic one at that, given its representation of Mexican culture – but it was one that managed to cause many a laugh while simultaneously capturing the passion and infectious atmosphere of wrestling as a whole, all the while maintaining the spectacle and mythos surrounding Mexican Luchadores in particular. The wrestling couldn’t decide if it was real or fake, but as far as mainstream wrestling movies go, this one is right up there.
7. 30 for 30: Nature Boy (2017)
An ESPN made-for-tv documentary, the channel’s ’30 for 30′ series chronicled the life, success and tragedy of one of the wrestling industry’s greatest ever wrestlers in their documentary Nature Boy.
Discussing everything from the 16-time world champion’s childhood to his sleeping with over 1,000 women, right through to his many marriages and the death of his son, Nature Boy pulled no punches in presenting everything about the wrestling icon in an honest and heartbreaking fashion.
This is one of those documentaries where, if you know the man or the character, you can’t help but to be enthralled as his truth unravels in front of you.
6. Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)
If ever there was a wrestling version of “who shot JFK”, Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows was the hard-hitting documentary that revealed the truth… or at least the most accurate version of events we’re ever likely to see.
Originally taken inside the walls of the then WWF to film Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart’s day-to-day wrestling life, the documentary crew behind Wrestling With Shadows soon became embroiled in one of the most controversial wrestling moments of all time, the Montreal Screwjob, an event in which Bret Hart was told he would win his hometown WWF Championship match but was wrongfully judged by WWF referee Earl Hebner to have tapped out to his own move in a political manoeuvre by backstage officials to ensure rival Shawn Michaels would end the night as champion ahead of Hart’s departure to rivals WCW.
Being to date the only evidence of any of the backstage goings on at the fateful Survivor Series event, Wrestling With Shadows documents everything from the Hitman’s pre-match nerves to his post-match fury, offering an unrivalled insight into a moment in time that is likely to never be replicated again.