Mickey Rourke's standout performance as a washed-up pro in Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler has movie fans thinking seriously about the squared circle. Despite its huge ratings, professional wrestling has always operated in the fringe territory between sports and entertainment, with its own code and unspoken rules.
Here are some of the best and worst movies that have tackled the strange world of huge men in tights:
Vince McMahon infamously tried to block this excellent 1999 documentary because he thought it would reflect poorly on the WWF. (It does.) Footage of Mick Foley's kids at a match, crying as they watch their dad get hit in the face with a chair, is hard to watch. But Jake "the Snake" Roberts, an '80s superstar turned crack addict, wrestling in small-town gymnasiums is brutal.
Jim Carrey's biopic of Andy Kaufman reproduces the comedian's infamous run as the "Intergender Wrestling Champion" (he only fought women) and his on-camera dust-up with Jerry "The King" Lawler. Also worth seeing is My Breakfast With Blassie, footage of Kaufman's meeting with Classy Freddie Blassie, which devolves into a gross-out prank. Kaufman's bizarre, pre-Borat humor fits perfectly with the is-it-real, is-it-fake world of wrestling (especially in the '80s, when there was still some discussion -- now even Vince McMahon admits it.)
Well, I suppose this list wouldn't be complete without a nod to Jack Black's "comedy" about wrestling south of the border loosely based on the true story of a wrestling priest. The gags are limp, mostly evolving around the fact that Black is fat, and the best jokes were all packed into the trailer, making the ninety-minute version hard to stomach. (The story of Santo, a real luchador who went from wrestler to movie star and folk hero, is way more interesting -- look here.)
Another documentary, this time focusing on the wild days of women's wrestling in the '40, '50s, and '60s, particularly showcasing the Fabulous Moolah, who reigned as Women's World Champion for 27 years. Composed of archival footage and modern interviews 80-year-old women who used to be called "Kill 'Em" reminisce about their glory days and trade war stories.
Alias the Champ
This 1949 movie starred wrestlers Gorgeous George -- considered the man who invented the spectacle style of modern wrestling -- and Tor Johnson, immortalized in a string of Ed Wood movies. The potboiler plot has George framed for murder (or something), but the footage of old-time wrestlers in the ring is classic.
A young Henry Winkler plays a vain out-of work actor who turns to wrestling to pay the bills and soak up the love of the crowd. Co-starring a blonde curly wig, Herve Villechaize, and Ed Begley Jr., this uneven sort-of comedy was directed by Carl Reiner, fresh off Oh God! Yep, you're getting that Carl Reiner, not The Jerk Carl Reiner.
In 1989, the WWF produced this lost "classic" starring Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and a host of other wrestlers (oh, and Joan Severance). Hogan plays superstar wrestler Rip Thomas, who takes on a scummy TV executive and a giant bad guy named Zeus. (Spoiler alert: Hulk wins.) This is one of those terrible movies that only caused more terrible movies, opening the floodgates to such abominations as Suburban Commando and Thunder in Paradise. There are, actually, good movies about wrestling. This is not one of them.