The excellent wrestling show Heels has just wrapped its season finale on Starz, marking the latest in the lineage of fictional wrestling. You know, if you ignore the fact that wrestling in itself is fictional or, what those in the know call “kayfabe.” Pop cultural depictions of wrestling run the gamut from Ready to Rumble to Nacho Libre to wrestling episodes of shows such as Futurama and That ’70s Show. Some of them are fun, entry-level portrayals of sports entertainment, while others show the grittier realities of wrestling.
Interestingly, perhaps some of the best-known examples center on women’s wrestling, which has historically been devalued in wrestling proper. It’s no coincidence that GLOW, Fighting with My Family and the reality shows Total Divas and Total Bellas aired to coincide with the “women’s wrestling evolution” when women’s wrestling was taken more seriously. Now that ~women are equal~, there seems to be the perception that we no longer need women’s wrestling’s fictional counterparts, with GLOW being canceled last year and no renewals of the Total franchise as yet. Of the spate of new and current wrestling shows, including Heels, Young Rock, and the VICE docuseries Dark Side of the Ring, they are all about men. Maybe it’s time for another (fictional) women’s wrestling evolution…?
In the meantime, here is an incomplete ranking of those we already have…
Is it any wonder that the Jenji Kohan-produced, Liz Flahive, and Carly Mensch-created Netflix show based on the ’80s women’s wrestling outfit Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling would top the list? GLOW excelled because it was about the characters behind the wrestlers and, at the end of the day, that’s what wrestling is all about.
6. Young Rock
This meta-depiction of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s life, told from Johnson’s perspective as he looks back on his life while running for president in 2032 aired on NBC earlier this year and has already been renewed for a second season. I would not put it past Johnson to use Young Rock as a gauge for a real presidential run and, like Fighting with My Family (see below), which he also produced, there’s a healthy dose of revisionist history (check out his dad Rocky Johnson’s Wikipedia page…). But it’s all done in good fun which makes for an enjoyable watch.
5. The Wrestler
Darren Aronofsky’s award-winning 2008 film The Wrestler gives a bleak but realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be an aging wrestler. It was prescient at the time, premiering less than a year after the double murder-suicide of Chris Benoit and the conversation around head trauma, drug use, and supporting wrestlers after their bodies can no longer keep up.
4. Fighting with My Family
As with everything else she’s in, Florence Pugh is the best part of this biopic about wrestler Paige’s life based on the 2021 documentary of the same name about her famous UK wrestling family. Produced by Johnson, who also stars as himself, it very much leans into the gospel according to World Wrestling Entertainment, which the film depicts Paige’s journey to get to. Left out are the more problematic aspects of her family, personal issues, and her untimely neck injury and retirement at age 25.
This new Starz show follows brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they try to run their father’s wrestling company after their father’s suicide a year prior. Though it’s got wrestling darling (who hasn’t wrestled in seven years) CM Punk in a cameo, Heels at once requires its viewers to be wrestling fans to understand its basic premise while simultaneously getting all the inner workings of the industry wrong.
2. Main Event
Granted, this is a kid’s movie that is quite sweet and enjoyable. It also boasts wrestlers such as The Miz, Sheamus, Keith Lee, Kofi Kingston, and Mia Yim. But it’s also produced by World Wrestling Entertainment and, like a lot of their filmic output, it’s not entirely convincing.
1. Nacho Libre
It’s Jack Black. We’re putting this first because Jack Black is hilarious. That is all.