1- Paradise Alley(1978, Sylvester Stallone, Lee Canalito, Armand Assante, Terry Funk) A period piece set in New York during the 1940’s, this movie goes back to the era of wrestlers being shooters, but with all the showmanship wrestling fans love. Three Italian brothers decide the best way to get ahead is through professional wrestling after the youngest, Lee Canalito, pummels a wrestler at a bar. Terry Funk, the muscle for a petty mob boss, hates “Kid Pepperoni” and the stage is set for an ultra-dramatic showdown between the two. In a stylistic, rain-drenched showdown, the two battle tooth and nail in genuine battle containing everything wrestling fans expect, only it’s a shoot fight, not a staged work. Gritty, emotional content, a well-crafted story, and cameos by Ted DiBiase, Bob Roop, Dick Murdoch, Dory Funk Jr., Don Leo Jonathan, Don Kernodle, Gene Kiniski, Dennis Stamp, Ray Stevens, and Uliuli Fifita make this film a must-see. Plus Sylvester Stallone sings the intro...
2-Rocky III(1982, Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan, Talia Shire, Mr. T). While not a wrestling movie, this movie set the tone of excitement for wrestling during the 80’s. Hulk Hogan is the unofficial star of the movie in his role as Thunderlips, the ultimate male who manhandles Rocky for about 5 abusively beautiful minutes. Surging on this movie, Hogan used Eye of The Tiger as his first entrance music and then became the biggest thing in wrestling. While the boxing is the main event, the wrestling in this movie captures the true imagination of viewers.
3- Beyond the Mat (1999). Perhaps the best documentary about wrestling (see below), this movie pulls back the curtain and reveals the tough life of even tougher pro wrestlers. Terry Funk, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Mick Foley, New Jack, and Michael Modest all earn the sympathy and respect of audiences throughout this touching film. Wrestlers have families, and those families care about them? Who knew!
4- Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998, Bret Hart). Another great film portraying one of the most infamous events in wrestling history, “The Montreal Screw Job.” The film is so perfectly timed in the career of Bret Hart that some wrestling fans still think it was a work. Bret shows that even at the top, you have to watch your back, and the life of a champion isn’t any easier than the life of a jobber, it’s just different. This is another eye-opener you can’t miss.
5- The Wrestler (2008, Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei). Mickey Rourke gained mass for, and a new career from, this stunning piece of art realistically exposing the last years of a wrestling career. It is so realistic that some fans suspected the film was based loosely on the then-career of Jake “The Snake” Roberts as depicted in Beyond the Mat. There were parallels at the time, although Jake turned his life around and is truly a great inspiration in and out of wrestling now.
The film itself, documenting the life of Randy” The Ram” Robinson, shows drugs, sex, poverty, self-abuse, and broken families as the ultimate payoff for a short career at the top. Does Randy die in the last scene? It seems likely, but is open to interpretation. As gripping as a wrestling film comes, this is a must-see before chasing down a career in wrestling.
Bonus: Kayfabe the Movie (Pete Smith, Travis Watters, Mike Roselli). Billed as "A fake real movie about a fake real sport", Kayfabe is bafflingly funny and reminiscent of This Is Spinal Tap. After winning a slew of film festival awards and a brief run on superstation, the movie returned to the underground of wrestling films. It's a shame something so unique isn't more well known. If you can find a copy, hold onto it. Or better yet, share the ridiculous story of small-time wrestlers failing through life. Hilarious, mildly offensive, and highly entertaining, Kayfabe is everything that is right with wrestling. More info can be found here:
Terry Funk and Lee Canalito in Paradise Alley