World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE) has been providing audiences with the best in wrestling entertainment since 1952. Its business is entertainment, however – not sport. Like all wrestling promoters, WWE hires athletic performers who play characters and engage with audiences through dramatic, comedically-driven and choreographed storylines. However, these professional wrestlers are still extremely talented performers and highly trained athletes who flawlessly perform dangerous choreography while acting live on an open stage (the ring).
WWE is a smart business, and it stands to reason that these expert entertainers would do a good job of translating their powers to the big screen. Indeed, they’ve made the conscious effort to branch out into other forms of entertainment, including music and movies. One of their subsidiaries is WWE Studios, a movie production company that has a major role in making a surprisingly wide range of feature films. Many of these films star WWE contracted wrestlers alongside major Hollywood actors who have been acclaimed for their performances in other films.
For the outliers who don’t know much about the biz, it might come as a surprise to learn that WWE isn’t all about slam-downs and choke-holds. They’re also about making action-packed movies – from comedies to thinkers to horrors. The following are seven movies you may well have enjoyed, without ever realising they were born of WWE.
7. Inside Out
In 2011, WWE Studios released Inside Out, starring famed wrestler Triple H alongside Michael Rapaport and Parker Posey. This film is a classic shoot-‘em-up picture about one man’s fight to protect the woman he loves and her children from dangerous criminals. A.J. (Triple H) is released from prison and returns to his hometown of New Orleans where his criminal past catches up with him.
Unfortunately, Inside Out didn’t do so well in the opinion of critics and received negative reviews. Triple H (Paul Levesque) may be one of the biggest names in WWE, but his performance was compared to “a steroidal Steven Seagal” by critic Eric Haines in The Village Voice. Maybe Triple H should stick to what he does best.
It seems logical the movies produced by WWE would be all action-packed dramas where the lead characters take charge and do some damage. Some of them are. However, others take on a wackier, more comedic tone to appeal to different audiences.
The best example is Knucklehead, starring WWE wrestler Big Show (Paul Wright), Mark Feuerstein, Melora Hardin and Dennis Farina. Big Show plays Walter Krunk, a very large adult orphan who clumsily destroys the orphanage kitchen. To save the orphanage from closing down, he must raise enough money in only ten days… He does this by, of course, entering an amateur wrestling competition.
5. The Scorpion King
Do you smell what the WWE is cookin’? In 2002 they released The Scorpion King, starring one of the most popular WWE wrestlers of all time, The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). The wrestling icon partnered with Alphafilms to make this movie, which takes place 5000 years before The Mummy and The Mummy Returns (starring Brendan Fraser). The Rock plays Mathayus on the rise to become the Scorpion King.
This film is one of the more successful of the WWE productions, and some could argue it helped along Johnson’s transition from a wrestling character to a full-fledged actor. It spawned video games and two sequels. The movie received mixed reviews, with a 41% aggregate on the tomatometer.
Legendary is the story of Cal Chetley, a bullied teenager who decides to take matters into his own hands when he joins the high school wrestling team. All the while, he tries to reconnect with Mike, his wayward brother. The film was released in 2010 and stars Devon Graye (known for playing the teenaged Dexter in Dexter), Danny Glover, Patricia Clarkson, and John Cena (professional wrestler for the WWE).
The film was a box office flop, so it’s likely you’ve never actually heard of it. WWE produced the film alongside Samuel Goldwyn Films, one of Hollywood’s biggest studios. The big-screen failure didn’t hurt John Cena, however; he remains one of the biggest names in the WWE wrestling world.
WWE broke into the supernatural horror genre with Oculus, released in 2013. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and enjoyed a wide North American theatrical release. The film tells the story of an antique mirror that seems to be the cause of grave misfortune for the family of a young woman (Karen Gillan). The family is haunted by horrific visions and eventually becomes psychotic.
Like The Scorpion King, WWE scored big with the release of this feature that made approximately $44 million worldwide despite a budget of only $4 million. It made back almost the entire budget in its opening weekend. It also received positive reviews (unlike other WWE films). The consensus on Rotten Tomatoes was “emphasis on dread over gore and an ending that leaves the door wide open for sequels, Oculus could be just the first spine-tingling chapter in a new franchise for discerning horror fans.”
2. That’s What I Am
Not every film produced by WWE Studios is a launching ground for wrestlers like The Rock or Triple H. Some also star critically-acclaimed actors in stories that span action, drama, and comedy genres. Like That’s What I Am, released in 2011, starring Chase Ellison as a young boy coming of age and to terms with his identity.
He eventually befriends a strange boy who’s super positive despite being the outcast of the school. He also befriends his teacher (Mr. Simon) played by Ed Harris. In a subplot, Mr. Simon is accused of being a homosexual after a nasty rumour begins to spread throughout the school and community. The film had a very limited release in only 10 theatres and its domestic box-office was only $6,500 in three days.
1. Dead Man Down
WWE may have started off producing small movies featuring mostly their own wrestlers. However, over time, they began to branch out into partnerships with other production studios, various genres, bigger budgets, and more well-known talent. Dead Man Down features some of the biggest stars in Hollywood and is one of WWE’s most financially success films.
Released in 2013, the film stars Colin Farrell, Noomi Rapace, Dominic Cooper, and Terrence Howard. Victor (played by Farrell) seeks revenge for his murdered wife and two daughters in a ruthless criminal empire. He quickly meets Beatrice (played by Repace) who blackmails Victor with a video of him killing a man. Action, violence, and intrigue ensues.
The film received mostly negative reviews from critics, but it made its budget back and more. WWE had to partner with four other studios, including Original Film and Frequency Films, to make this movie a reality.