Nine Actors Who’ve Played Professional Wrestlers, Ranked by Acting and Wrestling Ability

As Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White’s The Iron Claw climbs into the Oscar-season ring, we’re breaking down the best and worst performances in the only acting category where it makes sense to compare Oliver Platt, Alison Brie, and Mickey Rourke.
Mickey Rourke and wrestling legend Ric Flair at WrestleMania 25
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Simulating athleticism is the hardest thing about playing a professional athlete, but appearing in a pro wrestling movie or TV series presents a unique challenge for an actor. They have to hit the individual notes required to make their dramatic or comedic performances land—but they also have to plausibly demonstrate a completely different performative skill, one that requires great physical coordination and takes a punishing toll on the body.

Chavo Guerrerro, Jr., the legendary grappler who trained the other stars of The Iron Claw, out this week, said that in order to mold an actor into a believable onscreen wrestler, “You have to introduce them to the pain of wrestling.” The following is a list of actors who’ve made themselves familiar with that pain, ranked by the degree to which they succeeded or failed at pulling off the wrestling part of a wrestler role.

9. Oliver Platt, Ready to Rumble (2000)

Dreadful movie, full of poop jokes and some really bad in-ring wrestling as well. They use an obvious body double for almost all of the action scenes, and don’t try particularly hard to hide it. Even with the double, the wrestling doesn’t look great, particularly the few closeups of Platt running the ropes. This film was clearly a paycheck gig for a great actor, and I hope he enjoyed the deck he built with the money. It also led to a WCW promotion reproducing the film’s climatic stacked cage match on an episode of Monday Nitro, which in turn led to Platt’s Ready to Rumble co-star David Arquette winning the WCW Heavyweight title, a debacle that helped kill WCW for good and handed Vince McMahon a 20 year pro-wrestling monopoly. So this was arguably the most consequential movie in wrestling history.

8. Jack Black, Nacho Libre (2006)

The movie itself is funnier and much weirder than you might remember, but the lucha libre isn’t that great. Despite Jack Black being dedicated enough to the training to split his eye open on a plancha to the floor, he never seems to have gotten the hang of running the ropes, and the action is more Bugs Bunny then Blue Demon. The late great Silver King does bring some gravitas to the role of Nacho’s foil Ramses, and Black hits a surprisingly well-executed La Casita rolling cradle to win his final match, but lucha libre at is best is grace and poetry, and that beauty is never captured in the film.

7. Florence Pugh, Fighting With My Family (2019)

Pugh plays Saraya Knight, aka Paige, in a biopic of the youngest WWE Women’s Champion ever. The film is a pretty typical sports movie comedy with the classic overcoming-adversity storyline. Early 2010s WWE Women’s wrestling wasn’t a hotbed of complex pro wrestling, but Pugh handles the basic stuff she is asked to do solidly. Her suicide dive to the floor doesn’t look great, but honestly, the real-life Paige’s suicide dive to the floor didn’t look great either. In pro wrestling technical execution is not nearly as important as charisma, and there’s a reason why Pugh has become such a big star in recent years; when the script calls for her to go from timid newcomer nervous about her big break to big-time television star and champion, she dials up the wattage and blows away the tepid material she’s been given.

6. Gael Garcia Bernal, Cassandro (2023)

Bernal hits all of the emotional beats in this movie, delivering a moving, understated performance; the wrestling parts are quite a bit trickier. As a luchador, the real-life Cassandro is an incredible combination of explosiveness and grace, like a prima ballerina shot out of a cannon, and it would be nearly impossible for an actor to replicate that. Bernal looks a bit tentative and labored in the close-up grappling, and there’s a pretty clear cut to a stunt double any time he’s called upon to do anything particularly athletic. Still, the way they shot the climactic match was pretty innovative—extreme closeups, changes in film stock, and moments where the crowd goes silent, as if you’re experiencing the match from inside Cassandro’s head. And you have to respect the ageless icon El Hijo Del Santo, who was 60 when this was shot, for doing a credible job playing himself at 27.

5. Allison Brie, GLOW (2017-2019)

The original Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion was extreme camp, featuring a sprinkling of trained wrestlers surrounded by mostly models, dancers and stuntwomen. Brie and her castmates do a great job of replicating the over-the-top Eightiesness of their inspiration. The in-ring action was meant to be exaggerated and played to back rows, and Brie especially manifests every big wound-up punch and facial expression. The GLOW cast trained with Chavo Guerrerro Jr. (who has become the go to guy for TV and Film wrestling adaptations) and—particularly by the third season—Brie starts breaking out bigger more complex moves, including a nicely-executed top rope moonsault.

4. Stephen Amell, Heels (2021-2023)

This was an odd two-season Starz series about a family run Georgia indie wrestling promotion. Amell was well trained—he wrestled at a WWE Summerslam event and at the first All In independent show—and his work in the show’s wrestling scenes is technically proficient, if a little dry. What makes real-life Southern independent wrestling so compelling are its rough edges—the way the guys tend to look like truckers with big right hands, their emotional connection with the crowd, how the great matches always feel on the verge of riot. The Heels guys all looked like Crossfit trainers with pretty dropkicks; that disconnect meant the show always felt a bit off.

3. Jean Reno, L’Homme Au Masque D’or (1991)

A 1990 French film version of the Frey Tormenta luchador-priest story, which also inspired Nacho Libre. This adaptation is more melodrama than comedy, and the lucha libre scenes are a lot more realistic. The sepia film stock makes it feel like an unearthed VHS of 80s Lucha Libre, and Reno executes the lucha really plausibly, taking rolling bumps and nicely executing headscissors and armdrags. The climatic battle is against a pre-Yokozuna Rodney Anoi (he wrestled in AWA, Mexico and Japan as Kokina Maximus) and it felt like a lowly priest trying to fell a monster for the kids in his orphanage. I could easily see this match, move for move, selling out a bull ring in Monterrey and leaving every fan in the audience satisfied with their ticket.

2. Lee Canalito, Paradise Alley (1978)

Although this film was Sylvester Stallone’s directorial debut, it isn’t Rocky or Over the Top. Stallone doesn’t wrestle in the movie at all; he’s playing a smooth talking street hustler in 1946 New York City who talks his slow-witted brother Victor (Lee Canalito) into becoming the underground pro-wrestler Kid Salami. Canalito’s IMDB is pretty slim post-Paradise— one episode of Magnum, P.I. and a couple of no-budget indie films—but he was a pro boxer before he made his screen debut in this movie and has real physical charisma.

Insane film, though, with long sections focused on subplots like Stallone trying to train a monkey to dance for money, and a love triangle between Stallone, his other brother (played by Armand Assante in his screen debut) and Anne Archer that features Stallone trying to do ratatat 1940s dialogue while Assante plays a tortured war veteran in a very Method 70s style. The wrestling is treated like a complete shoot, with the drama of the film focused on the beatings Kid Salami was taking against the legends of 70s wrestling like Dick Murdoch, Bob Roop and Crippler Ray Stevens and the physical toll it was taking on him.

The final match is a long brawl in a thunderstorm against Frankie The Thumper, played by Terry Funk, probably the greatest professional wrestler of all time, and someone who can make anyone look great. Every shot by both guys looks brutal, and there are huge slams and suplexes in puddles of water while lightning cracks the sky. It feels like a big 1970s pro wrestling main event, a Terry Funk world-title defense in a rainstorm, and while it’s the only part of the movie that works at all, it really works—as great as any climactic fight scene in the Rocky films.

1. Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (2008)

Incredibly committed performance from Rourke. Not only does he execute the moves he attempts and take the bumps he takes, but somehow he perfectly captures the hesitancy of a man whose body is betraying him even though he’s got the will and the experience to keep going. Wrestlers can and do perform at a high level well past the point where other athletes retire, and Rourke physically conveys that faded greatness. You can see both the timing and charisma that made Randy “The Ram” Robinson a huge star, and you can see every broken bone, slipped disc and popped knee that relegated him to Rahway, New Jersey rec centers. The Combat Zone Wrestling death match against cult icon Necro Butcher is the greatest pro-wrestling match in movie history, and Rourke is incredible as a man out of time, stumbling though glass and barbed wire, out of his depth but still grasping for the last bit of light.