2. Beyond the Mat (1999)
Sold on the back of footage showing former WWF Champion Mick Foley having his head battered by over 10 steel chair shots from The Rock while his wife and small children cry in the front row, Beyond the Mat (1999) looked to authenticate the pain and sacrifice of wrestling while maintaining a strong respect for the industry.
With a plethora of backstage footage, some of it so honest it got the wrestlers of the time in real-life backstage trouble, Beyond the Mat is perhaps the most unflinching and raw portrayal of the ludicrous wrestling circus that there is, yet it somehow never loses touch of the magic that brings fans back to it over and over again, walking a very fine line with all the grace of one of the industry’s most practised veterans.
1. The Wrestler (2008)
Still the only wrestling film to ever be nominated for Oscars (Actor In A Leading Role – Mickey Rourke; Actress In A Supporting Role – Marisa Tomei), Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler is head and shoulders above all the competition: the ultimate movie about professional wrestling.
Starring Mickey Rourke in an almost true-to-life story of redemption through suffering (something the actor himself knows a lot about), The Wrestler is a phenomenal insight into the after-life of men and women who batter their bodies for decades at a time only to eventually be kicked to the curb when they can no longer contribute, Aronofsky’s focus on the fictional Randy “The Ram” Robinson being a universally identifiable tale of moving beyond that which you were born to do.
What’s more is that The Wrestler does this whilst remaining particularly relevant to wrestling, the lives of its many washed up, down-on-their-luck former superstars seemingly echoed in The Ram’s on-screen journey, the sad reality of the carny lifestyle making for one of the most pressing dramas of the 2000s and a must-watch film for any fan of cinema, whether they’re a wrestling aficionado or not.
Recommended for you: Every Darren Aronofsky Directed Film Ranked
Professional wrestling has grown from its roots as local entertainment toured around like a circus into an international sensation that speaks of good and evil in a language that appears universal. Its popularity as a form of entertainment that can fill sporting venues and sell television rights for billions of dollars, and the tragedy, abuse and controversy that exists beneath the surface, will always provide mineable materials for cinema to interpret and repurpose.
But which professional wrestling film do you like the most? Did any film other than The Wrestler deserve Oscars recognition? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for updates on more insightful movie lists.
Updated 30th March 2023. Originally published 13th May 2019.