Why Hulk Hogan’s movie career failed

With WrestleMania 39 kicking off April 1st and Polygon collaborator Abraham Josephine Riesman’s new book Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Fall of America set to enter the ring on March 28, we’ll be spending the week grappling with pro wrestling — and things have settled.

Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea is one of the most recognizable cultural figures of all time, and not only thanks to the fame accumulated as head of the World Wrestling Federation in the latter half of the 1990s. 1980. His iconic physical features during that golden age – golden hair and mustache, sausage tan, ketchup and mustard color scheme on shirts His easily torn shirt, biceps and chest make him a danger to doorways across America – has cemented his place in history as more of a mascot is human.

So when it came time to cash in on that fame in a series of movie roles that would take Hogan out of the squared circle and put him in front of the Hollywood camera, a big experiment occurred. Can Hogan, the pro-wrestling star known for infuriating crowds and then dropping a meaty thigh into his opponent’s throat, can turn his popularity into a movie? The answer will soon reveal itself in an extremely negative response. Hogan was never quite meant to be on the red carpet, and the results of trying to get him there show the limits of transferring a very specific character to another medium.

In a way, this was his first shot in the movies that proved to be the best exercise in his potential, a scene that took place several years before he became a puppet character. most recognizable of professional wrestling. In 1982, Hogan was working for the American Wrestling Association, first as a heel and then as a beloved face, a representative of the development of professional wrestling as are great performances by heroes and villains that have usurped every claim of the vehicle as a true sports competition. It was here that he appeared in stone III, itself a glorious contest film that replaces the previous tough drama, as “Thunderlips,” a professional wrestler who faces a famous boxer in a competitive match. exhibition. This would be the biggest movie Hogan has ever been in, and perhaps that made it possible to earn some of Hogan’s best traits while not being forced to compete with him as a superstar.

In the film, Hogan is clearly an outlier from his normal human form – he gets Sylvester Stallone rips off in a positive way and throws him around the ring with confidence. For the most part, Hogan delivers dialogue and insults to standard professional wrestling, gritting his teeth, baring his teeth, and eventually getting thrown out of the ring by Stallone. But he’s never short of presence, a sort of charisma that means you’re squirming in the backseat, even on screen. If you can deal with the fact that his deliveries are sometimes difficult, you can make Hogan happen.

Professional wrestling and Hollywood are not exactly strangers. Mr. T, who plays Stallone’s arch rival in stone III, went on to team up with Hogan in the first WrestleMania main event. And today’s movie theaters are no shortage of “sports entertainers” — Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, John Cena and Dave Bautista, to name just a few, have all made great leaps and bounds in success in the film industry. film career. But they all require a bit of finesse, a balancing act that is meant to leverage the inherent physicality and visceral appeal a wrestler brings with the finer points of storytelling and character work. object. At best, you’ll get something like Johnson in fast year or Cena in peace or Bautista’s low performance in Type at the cabin.

A black and white photo shows Hulk Hogan in an early wrestling ring, calling out the crowd to make noise.

Photo: Image of Acey Harper/Getty

In their worst case scenario, you run into someone like Hogan who can’t quite transform his particular brand of charisma from the ring to the screen. In the ring, Hogan is very proficient. His movements are wide and oversized, making him a real-life action figure. And although history reveals that his movements are rather limited, his expressions – all gestures of happiness, betrayal and (usually) victory – make him very happy. when watching, even if it plays like camping. Turning that into a movie character was to put a square peg in a round hole, and the filmmakers would try it over and over again.

His first lead role was in 1989 Not to deal, a WWF-produced film starring Hogan as a professional wrestler named Rip Thomas, with every aspect of his personality based on the Hulk. While it looks like it will play to Hogan’s strengths in the most obvious way, the film struggles in all directions. Hogan never really gets emotional testing him, and when he tries to come up with anything other than excessive brutality, it feels out of place. Jokes, often minor jokes that can amuse children in the front row, are similarly disorienting.

It doesn’t help that the plot plays out like a couple of wrestling situations strung together: A mean guy named Zeus wants to get into a fierce fight with Hogan, a man who’s always devoted himself to being Good role model for children. Zeus beat up Hogan’s brother and now Hogan wants revenge. That revenge comes in a big event, where Hogan wins. It’s all the simple stuff that would culminate in a pay-per-view match at Madison Square Garden, but in a movie that just stretched audiences’ patience.

Zeus (played by actor “Tiny” Lister) will continue to wrestle in a few WWF matches, with film promotion evolving into a sort of side career for the big man. Hogan, on the other hand, would see Hollywood in action throughout the early 90s, starring in movies and TV series like suburban commando, nanny, Thunder in heaven, Secret Service ClubAnd Muscle Santa. Half of it is built around a single joke – Hulk Hogan is huge, so what if he does (insert light family activity here)? The other half are historical adventure roles, with Hogan filling whatever muscle mold the movies demand. They all play as abandoned Arnold Schwarzenegger carriages (suburban commando actually), and Schwarzenegger has an aspirational appeal that Hogan lacks.

With Hogan’s only standout performance being when he played himself a brief, loud cameo in Gremlins 2: New batch, it was clear that his attempt to become a Hollywood attraction was doomed. It was an autumn that coincided with Hogan himself in the professional wrestling world, as the number of WWF events that saw the heat of the late ’80s cooled down in the mid ’90s. It wasn’t until Hogan reinvented himself as the “Hollywood” villain Hogan in 1996 during the World Championship Wrestling Tournament that he returned to the limelight and a similar level of cultural popularity.

Hogan was never a bad actor in the way we usually define it. Bad acting often appears as a void on the screen, taking away whatever potential a role has and painfully disintegrating it before our eyes. It is rigid, bland and monotonous. Hogan, on the other hand, has a knack for the part of a WWF commercial or a big game being completely wasted in a 90-minute movie. During a match, the pained expression of receiving a physical blow, or the climactic gesture of the finger in the face of an opponent to let them know that Hogan and the 20,000 Hulkamaniacs screaming in the stadium won’t take it. can hold. Bullshit heel again, makes sense. It is Hogan in its purest form.

But Hogan doesn’t work if Hulk Hogan isn’t Hulk Hogan, even if, as we saw in Not to deal, he is almost Hulk Hogan. It’s not just a fish that’s stranded — it speaks different performance languages. IN suburban commando, there’s a scene where Hulk’s character (an interstellar warrior who lands on Earth and befriends a family) becomes confused by the actions of a mime actor. When the mime pretends to be trapped in an invisible box, Hogan becomes nervous and ends up punching the mime to the ground to try to get out.

It’s a pretty succinct metaphor for Hogan’s entire acting career. Away from home in the ring, he struggles with a type of performance completely foreign to him. There, he applied his talents in the only way he really knew – physically and in an outsized, out-of-the-ordinary style. For better or worse, Hulk Hogan is at his best when he’s Hulk Hogan.

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