As well as being a certified sport, wrestling is also a form of entertainment loved by people the world over. WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) shows still draw audiences of millions when broadcast on television, whilst competing promotions like Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide and All Japan Pro Wrestling are also attracting big audiences and big money. With its outlandish stage costumes, crazy ring names and die-hard fans, pro wrestling remains a modern day entertainment phenomenon.
However, such is the love for pro wrestling, the stars of the show and their stories have leaked out into mainstream media like TV shows, Hollywood movies and video games. Action films have gained a new roster of stars when established wrestlers want to try their hand at the silver screen, whereas award-winning film directors like Darren Aronofsky want to delve a little deeper into the wrestler’s psyche through the movie medium.
Perhaps the most celebrated wrestling film of recent years is The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Nominated for two Oscars and winner of both a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, this movie raked in the awards and the rave reviews when it was released back in 2008. It tells the sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes tragic, but heartwarming all the same, story of a retired wrestler trying to make amends with his estranged family. Showing a darker side to the ring, it also conveys respect for the wrestling professionals and their work.
A more light-hearted but still critically acclaimed fictional rendering of the wrestling world came in the form of Netflix’s 2 series show, GLOW. Telling the true tale of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling based in Los Angeles during the 1980s, this bold, sassy and brilliantly acted programme perfectly showcases the crossover between entertainment and serious business that permeates pro wrestling. The storylines often focus on the unique obstacles that these women faced when trying to infiltrate a heavily male-orientated sport.
Perhaps the most famous face to bridge the gap between pro wrestling and Hollywood is that of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Born into a wrestling family, Johnson first entered the ring professionally in 1995 when his college football career was cut short. He signed a contract with WWF (WWE) shortly thereafter and went on to have a successful pro wrestling career as ‘The Rock’. Johnson actually had his first acting role in 1999 but didn’t start to become recognised as an actor until his roles in The Mummy franchise a couple of years later. Of course, now he has gone on to take the starring roles in blockbusters like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the Fast & Furious franchise and Baywatch.
Wrestling legend John Cena actually got his first acting break through WWE when they produced the film, The Marine. In this venture, Cena had the starring role and whilst it didn’t do terribly well commercially, it was the start of a filming partnership between Cena and the wrestling promoters. They went on to produce several films together, all whilst Cena continued to battle it out in the ring to a packed and appreciative audience. In recent years, the wrestler turned actor has branched out in his role choice, taking parts in films as diverse as Amy Schumer vehicle Trainwreck, Sisters, the Daddy’s Home franchise and new Transformers blockbuster, Bumblebee.
The final frontier for pro wrestling’s total integration in to the wider entertainment world is gaming. Whilst we already enjoy easy access to cerebral activities like filling in a crossword, brushing up on our blackjack skills or figuring out a puzzle platform game, what about more physical sports? The phenomenal success of the fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter paved the way for pro wrestling games coming to home consoles. When WWF No Mercy was released on the N64 in the year 2000, it was immediately popular and remains one of the best-loved wrestling games to this day. Based on the format of the WWF itself, it features a variety of different playable storylines, exciting gameplay and plenty of characters.
Coming in at a close second in the favourites poll is the newer WWE All-Stars, released in 2011 for the PS2 and Xbox 360. Still featuring the familiar line-up including Hulk Hogan and John Cena himself, the graphics are vastly improved, and the gameplay involves ‘Fantasy Warfare’ mode as well as the ‘Path of Champions’. Receiving good reviews when it first came out, it’s remained a firm favourite due to the fact that it features all the best points of wrestling without any of the less desirable parts.
You can clearly see how the popularity and success of pro wrestling has led to it infiltrating all corners of the entertainment market. And with new content being created and meeting with eager audiences all the time, it looks like the pro wrestling star is about ready to rise again.