Professional Wrestling Traits that Transfer to Action Movies

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema
April 17th, 2012

Professional Wrestling Traits that Transfer to Action Movies

--Given the dramatic nature of professional wrestling, it is no surprise that many memorable wrestlers have made the transition to action movies. Although wrestling and movies may seem markedly different on first glance, they place similar demands on performers. As a result, the big screen is littered with crossover performers: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Cena, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and Hulk Hogan. Wrestlers that make a successful career in film have mastered the abilities that are required of both movies and choreographed fighting.

Dramatic Abilities
By nature, professional wrestling is a dramatic spectacle. Wrestlers are required to create a character and build it throughout their careers. Many develop catch phrases, create signature moves and wear special costumes in support of their characters. Many wrestlers are known as much for their performing abilities as for their skill in the ring. When they transition to action movies, wrestlers are often able to perform physically without falling out of character.

Action movie characters are often less nuanced than roles in other genres; wrestlers, with their over-the-top acting style, are particularly well suited to the action genre. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a notable example. After building a popular in-ring character, he parlayed his acting abilities into a lucrative film and television career. With movies like "The Rundown" and "Fast Five," he worked elements of his wrestling persona into the on-screen character.

Physical Demands
During filming, actors must perform consistently in physically demanding, high energy sequences. It is not uncommon for a single scene to require multiple takes; when the script involves running, fighting or stunts, the actors must be able to keep pace without tiring. Before a movie begins, most actors go through a challenging training regimen to prepare their bodies for the stresses of working long days on action scenes.

Professional wrestlers, who spend a great deal of their career focused on physical performance, are prepared to handle the stresses of long shooting days. Because their training involves maintaining their muscle mass, exercising frequently and performing in matches, wrestlers are a natural fit for action movies. Their bodies are accustomed to working in charged, high-octane environments. When it comes to physical demands, wrestlers are a natural fit for action movies. John Cena, who played the starring role in the action movie "The Marine," used his existing physical abilities to lend a realism to his performance.

Professional wrestling is highly choreographed. Before a match, a coordinator works with the wrestlers to plan an outline, focusing on signature moves, high points and important moments. From there, the participants can improvise within the framework, playing off of each other to add drama and excitement. Often, they communicate with each other during the fight using hand signals or verbal cues.

The ability to follow choreography and work with other wrestlers translates directly to movies. Acting requires both memorization and improvisation; actors must follow the instructions from a director and add their own touch to the scene. Since wrestlers are comfortable following direction and rehearsing a set of moves, they are often successful in the transition to movies.

Stunt Work
Stunts are integral to the production of an action movie. Many actors opt out of stunts because they are not trained to execute them safely. Instead, the director brings in look-alike stunt people to perform the more dangerous moves and action sequences. The stunt actors are able to perform complex, dangerous scene work in a way that looks realistic but poses minimal bodily harm.

When a wrestler works on an action movie, they come with an existing knowledge of stunt work. Before they step into a performance ring, wrestlers undergo extensive training in stunt safety. They learn how to execute a hold without causing harm, how to hit the mat after a fall, and how to take a punch. In an action movie, many wrestlers-turned-actors are able to handle their own stunts, lending a feeling of realism to the film.

Audience Curiosity
In professional wrestling, the performers are larger-than-life. Their in-ring personas are big and dramatic, unlike anything the audience would see in their everyday activities. The spectacle of a wrestler playing a more realistic character sparks curiosity in moviegoers. It is a natural formula for both action and comedy, as evidenced by Hulk Hogan's performances in "Mr. Nanny" and "Thunder in Paradise." Action movies give wrestlers the chance to show off their physical abilities and their acting skills, and audiences get to see their favorite performers in an unexpected setting.