The Mother Brain Files: WWE Gone Hollywood

The Mother Brain Files: WWE Gone Hollywood
By Mother Brain

When Vince McMahon took over his father’s wrestling organization in the early 80s, he wanted it to be less about wrestling and more about being an entertainment spectacle. He accomplished those goals early on with the signing of Rocky III star Hulk Hogan, the cross promotion with MTV by involving 80s music icon Cyndi Lauper into a bombshell storyline to fuel the Hogan/Roddy Piper feud, and the eventual creation of what would be known as Wrestlemania. Vince wanted his superstars to be larger than life not only in the ring but also on television, toy shelves, comic books, and even music!
So it was only inevitable that movies were the next important step in making WWE the top entertainment organization around. Over the years, various wrestlers from Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper to The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and John Cena have caught the acting bug. Many failed. Some played caricatures of themselves. Only one became truly successful.

WWE’s first movie producing effort came in 1989 with the action comedy, No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan. The film was a quasi-reflection of Hogan’s incredible popularity in the 80s where he plays a good-natured wrestling champion named Rip who gets forced into facing an overzealous TV producer and his brutal competitor named Zeus. It was made at the time when Hogan toyed around leaving the wrestling business in hopes of becoming the next Stallone and Schwarzenegger in movies; however, the WWE stigma did more harm than good to his film career. To promote the film, Vince hired Hogan’s opponent in the film, Tiny ‘Zeus’ Lister, to wrestle in WWE so they can have fiction and reality blur to draw a lot of buzz. Even though the movie more or less broke even due to distribution fees, No Holds Barred became more of a cult laughing stock than a serious movie. Just watch the “dookie” scene and you’ll see what I mean.

As time passed, WWE’s popularity dropped once Hogan retired not once but twice in the 90s. Despite top early 90s stars like Ultimate Warrior and Bret Hart toying with the idea of doing movies for the company, they could not bring mainstream success to the company and therefore the idea of WWE making movies around their stars was out of the question. Yet, the wrestling boom of late 90s turned many top stars into big time celebrities. Now with WWE becoming a publicly traded company, a new movie division was put into the works: WWE Films.

The new studio’s first major effort was capitalizing on The Rock’s glorified cameo from The Mummy Returns. While his first starring role, The Scorpion King, was nothing more than a 90 minute audition tape, it was The Rock’s next movie, The Rundown, in 2003 that showed what can make WWE Films special. The combination of Rocky’s charisma on screen, an impressive cast that included Seann William Scott and Christopher Walken, and a talented director in the form of Peter Berg equaled a 3 star production that critics praised. That excitement and enthusiasm carried over into the company’s remake of Walking Tall which again was another entertaining effort by the Great One himself.

But by 2005, The Rock decided to drop his wrestling name and quit the wrestling business to make movies full time. So WWE Films had to capitalize on projects involving their current roster as well as legends like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Their first sole producing efforts came in 2006 with the horror flick, See No Evil, starring Kane and the Commando knock-off, The Marine, starring the company poster boy, John Cena. Both films had small budgets, fewer stars, and hack directors (one of which is a porn director!) which resulted in small box office returns. Even Steve Austin’s R-rated running man-knock-off, The Condemned, did little to put him in the a-list like The Rock.

As WWE turned to the PG direction of their programming, so did their movie division. But after the failure of John Cena’s action programer, 12 Rounds, WWE Films took a turn to the bizarre. Not only did they plan on making films outside the action genre but they were also going to give their films a quick theatrical run and a short turnaround time for home video release. Now the quality of the films were really going to suffer as the company produced two made for DVD sequels with less-than-popular stars: Behind Enemy Lines 3 starring Mr. Kennedy and The Marine 2 starring Ted DiBiase Jr. Ironically enough, Kennedy was fired shortly after his film’s release while DiBiase’s planned babyface turn to coincide with his movie’s release never happened.

The crop of movies that did get the short theatrical run were lackluster efforts that made less than $1 million domestically: John Cena’s wrestling drama, Legendary, the Big Show’s comedy, Knucklehead, and Triple H’s action comedy, The Chaperone. All these films received lousy reviews and did nothing to make these wrestling superstars into movie stars. Yet, on the bright side, all these films were shot in New Orleans due to tax incentives for film productions and they all helped to improve the city’s struggling economy post-Katrina.

Is there hope for WWE Films’ future? Very little. Coming up next is the Randy Orton bully dramaedy, That’s What I Am. It’s the first WWE movie where the wrestling star won’t be heavily promoted due to the presence of a-list star, Ed Harris. Other than that, the future projects include mostly action and comedy flicks starring John Cena, Triple H, and Edge. But for WWE Films to be successful, they need to pick quality scripts, a-list directors, and only bank on those who have the most natural talent for the silver screen (i.e. The Rock), not the less-than-charismatic superstars in the ring who get shoved down the fans’ throats (i.e. John Cena and Triple H). Also the straight to DVD route only cheapens the product more than enhancing it. Knucklehead making less than $1000 at the box office is not success. That’s far worse than Eddie Murphy’s Pluto Nash and that’s as much of a masterpiece as Plan 9 From Outer Space!

What the company got right with The Rundown was the backing of a major studio and quality talent surrounding a singular WWE superstar. None of these current crop of films have that and even when they do (i.e. Legendary) the star can’t rise above the experienced actors. Maybe I should submit a few interesting concepts to them someday and show these corporate suits how it’s really done.

Mother Brain
About Mother Brain 151 Articles
"Staten Island, NY native Andre´ Joseph had a love for movies from a very early age. He began his career making short films with family and friends on home video. He attended the New York Film Academy summer program in 2001 where he first gained experience working with 16 millimeter film and later graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emerson College in 2006 where he received a degree in Visual and Media arts. He also interned in television production with VH1 Classic in the summer of 2006. In 2008, Andre´ formed his own New York-based independent film production company, AJ Epyx Productions, LLC. The company’s first feature film, Priceless, which Mr. Joseph wrote, starred, and directed, opened at Tribeca Cinemas in October 2008 and was selected for exhibition at the NY International Independent Film & Video Festival in March 2009. His second feature film, Dishonorable Vendetta, was the official selection at the NewFilmmakers NY Winter Series in 2015. Most recent projects include the dramatic short film Night Stream which was nominated for 4 World Music & Independent Film Festival awards including winner for Best Supporting Actor, the comedic short film Tempted which was the official selection at the Garden State Film Festival, and the short dramedy The Dinner. When not making films, Andre´ co-hosts the movie review web series The Cinefiles for the geek culture site, This is Infamous. He enjoys weight lifting, running, yoga, comic books, wrestling, football, basketball, and an extremely eclectic taste in music."


    • yeah, I can see how The Rundown and Walking Tall could throw you off, the quality of the films were much different then the newer ones. I agree with Mother Brain that they should just stick with quality scripts and directors and not water down the product this way.

  1. Legendary was actually pretty good. It was a drama that bombed. It was also a film where john Cena supposedly starred but it was more like a supporting role and it had Patrica Clarkson and danny glover in it. Should give it a try. I can give WWE credit for at least trying something different for a change.

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