To wrestling fans, professional wrestlers are like real life super heroes and super villains. Fans are aware it’s entertainment, but they are willing to suspend disbelief to be entertained. Even though the outcomes are scripted, no one really knows what’ll happen next. Even the wrestlers themselves aren’t always in on the finish. Wrestlers portray some pretty outlandish characters inside the ring, but who they are outside of it is often even more outlandish. As athlete’s do, they’ll grow too old for the job, but often that doesn’t stop them from putting their health and safety on the line. Even when the industry has chewed them up and spit them out many wrestlers keep at it, despite losing all their fame and fortune. The business is unique in it’s own right. It’s full of massive egos that regularly clash with each other, and the outcome is often on display for a viewing audience. It’s hard not to take it personal when you’re told to lose for a living.
The Monday Night War
In the mid 90’s and early 2000’s wrestling was more popular that it has ever been. Part of the reason for that popularity was undoubtedly the competition between WCW and WWE (formerly WWF). Prior to this time, WWE was the top dog in sports entertainment, but then WCW was acquired by billionaire Ted Turner who would do anything in his power to topple WWE president Vince McMahon’s giant company. This documentary is as much about business as it is about wrestling. These two companies went head to head for television and brand supremacy every Monday night. It mirrored an in ring wrestler rivalry, but this rivalry wasn’t scripted. Each company used ruthless tactics against one another to protect their livelihood and destroy their competition. It’s produced by WWE, but they do a surprisingly good job of giving both sides of this now classic feud.
I’m From Hollywood
Andy Kaufman was one of the most eccentric individuals the world has ever seen. His comedy act was unlike anything ever before, and it led to him becoming a huge television star. He was achieving mainstream success in the entertainment world, and his fame was on the rise. That is, until he started wrestling. Kaufman had been obsessed with professional wrestling as a child and that obsession did not end in adulthood. He was so obsessed he continued wrestling even though it hurt his career. In addition, he was hated as a wrestler. He casts himself as a bad guy that had no issue terrorizing wrestling fans in the Mid-south territory where he competed. His feud with Jerry Lawler cemented Kaufman as a villain in Memphis, and their rivalry would go down in history. This film shows what it means to be a wrestling heel, and how real wrestling can be to some people. See a full review here.
ESPN 360: Scott Hall: The Wrestler
At the beginning of this documentary Andy Tenant, ESPN executive producer, says, “This guy is the Mickey Rourke character from the movie.” The movie he’s referring to is Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar nominated, “The Wrestler.” That film is not based on a true story. However, when you hear the true life story of Scott Hall it might as well be. Hall was a huge star in the wrestling world in the mid to late 90’s. His character, Razor Ramon, was as popular as any WWE character at the time. Then he joined WCW and became a leader in their group the NWO, one of the most popular wrestling stables in history. But Hall did not handle fame well. He developed a serious drug problem. And when the fame went away the drugs did not follow. As he aged his health and ability reduced. His relationship with his family degenerated. This documentary is only about twenty minutes long, but it is an excellent depiction of the tragic events of one man’s life and career.
Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows
This film tells the story of the infamous Montreal Screw job. It is a rare look behind the scenes that shows not all wrestling rivalries are fake. Bret Hart is the main subject. The cameras follow Hart as the WWE superstar is wooed by rival organization WCW. He eventually agrees to sign with them when he’s offered a huge contract that WWE could not compete with. Hart was the WWE champion at the time. His last night with WWE was at a Pay Per View event that took place in Hart’s home town of Montreal. Despite WWE president Vince McMahon’s urging, Hart refused to drop the belt. The events that follow are infamous among wrestling fans. This film is full of rare footage that exposes all sides of this conflict, and it also shows the tremendous fall out that effects both parties to this day.
Beyond the Mat
This film is a comprehensive look at what wrestling was in the late 90’s. It has several riveting story lines. Jake “The Snake” Roberts is perhaps the most engrossing character. We follow this once famous wrestler as he struggles through high school gyms and other small venues on the independent wrestling scene. Roberts is a long time crack addict, and the stories he tells are truly tragic and fascinating. There is a particularly engrossing scene showcasing a reunion between Roberts and his long estranged daughter. Another story line involves the rising independent wrestling promotion ECW, as it uses extreme violence to gain the attention of wrestling fans. In addition, we meet two struggling independent wrestlers as they finally get their audition for the major promotion WWE. There are more characters in this film than I have time to mention here, and all of them are captivating. There is no other film that better captures the darkness that takes place behind the scenes in professional wrestling.