The Wrestler

The Wrestler Information

The Wrestler is a 2008 sports drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Robert D. Siegel and starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Production began in January 2008 and Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired rights to distribute the film in the U.S.; it was released in a limited capacity on December 17, 2008 and was released nationwide on January 23, 2009. It was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on April 21, 2009 in the United States. It was released in the United Kingdom on June 1, 2009. Aronofsky considers The Wrestler to be a companion piece to his 2010 film, Black Swan, as both films feature a character with a demanding art.

Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler who continues to wrestle matches in an attempt to cling on to his 1980s heyday despite his failing health, while also trying to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter and find romance with a stripper.

The film received universal critical acclaim and won the Golden Lion Award in the 2008 Venice Film Festival in August, where it premiered. Film critic Roger Ebert called it one of the year's best films, while Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive reviews. For his role, Mickey Rourke went on to receive a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe award, an Independent Spirit Award and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Tomei also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.


Robin Ramzinski (Mickey Rourke), better known by his ring name Randy "The Ram" Robinson, is a professional wrestler who became a celebrity in the 1980s. Now past his prime, Randy wrestles on weekends for independent promotions in New Jersey while working part-time at a supermarket under Wayne (Todd Barry), a demeaning manager who mocks Randy's wrestling background. A regular at a strip club, he befriends a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) who like Randy, is getting old for her job. After winning a local match, Randy agrees to a proposed 20th anniversary rematch against his most notable opponent, "The Ayatollah" (Ernest Miller).

Randy intensifies his training, which includes steroid injections. After wrestling in a hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack backstage and receives coronary artery bypass surgery. His doctor tells him that his heart can no longer handle the stress of wrestling so Randy retires and begins working a full-time shift behind the deli counter at the supermarket.

At Cassidy's suggestion, Randy visits his estranged adult daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), whom he had abandoned when she was a child, but Stephanie rebuffs him. While helping Randy buy a gift for Stephanie, Cassidy reveals that she has a son. Randy makes romantic advances on her, which she rejects on the grounds of her job. Later, Randy gives the gifts to his daughter and apologizes. The two bond over a visit to a beachfront boardwalk and they agree to meet for dinner on the coming Saturday. Randy goes to Cassidy's strip club to thank her, but she once more rejects him, resulting in a heated exchange. Upset, Randy goes to see a wrestling match and finds solace in his wrestling friends. While at a bar with them, he gets drunk, snorts cocaine and has sex with a woman in the bar's toilet. He sleeps the entire next day and misses his dinner with Stephanie. He goes to her house to apologize, but she is distraught and wishes to never see him again.

At the deli counter, a patron recognizes Randy as the wrestler, though he denies it. Agitated, Randy cuts his hand on the deli slicer machine and goes on a rampage in the store, before quitting. Spurred by the fan's recognition of him and with nothing else left, he decides to return to wrestling. He reschedules the 20th anniversary rematch with The Ayatollah and turns down Cassidy's attempts at reconciliation, who warns him of his heart condition. He explains to her that he belongs in the ring with the fans who truly love him, unlike the rest of the world.

As he wrestles, Randy begins to feel chest pain and becomes unsteady. The Ayatollah notes this and urges him to initiate the pin. Randy refuses, however, and climbs the top rope for his signature finishing move, a diving head butt called the "Ram Jam". In tears, he salutes the crowd and leaps from the ropes.


  • Mickey Rourke as Robin Randzowski / Randy "The Ram" Robinson
  • Marisa Tomei as Pam / Cassidy
  • Evan Rachel Wood as Stephanie
  • Mark Margolis as Lenny
  • Todd Barry as Wayne
  • Judah Friedlander as Scott
  • Ernest Miller as Bob / "The Ayatollah"
  • Ajay Naidu as Medic
  • Wass Stevens as Nick
  • John D'Leo as Adam
  • Gregg Bello as Larry
Professional wrestlers who appeared in the film include: Robbie E, Necro Butcher, Nick Berk, The Blue Meanie, Sabian, Nate Hatred, R-Truth, L.A. Smooth, Jay Lethal, Jim Powers, Antonio Cesaro, Larry Sweeney, Romeo Roselli, John Zandig, Chuck Taylor, Nigel McGuinness, Pappadon, and Jay Santana.


The Wrestler was written by Robert D. Siegel, a former writer for The Onion and entered development at director Darren Aronofsky's Protozoa Pictures. Actor Nicolas Cage entered negotiations in October 2007 to star as Randy. The following month Cage left the project, and Mickey Rourke replaced him in the lead role. According to Aronofsky, Cage pulled out of the movie because Aronofsky wanted Rourke as the lead character. Aronofsky stated that Cage was "a complete gentleman, and he understood that my heart was with Mickey and he stepped aside. I have so much respect for Nic Cage as an actor and I think it really could have worked with Nic but, you know, Nic was incredibly supportive of Mickey and he is old friends with Mickey and really wanted to help with this opportunity, so he pulled himself out of the race."

Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan claimed on the Howard Stern Show that he was also offered the role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Hogan claims he turned down the role because he felt he wasn't the right man to portray the character. On October 09, 2012 Director Darren Aronofsky responded to Hogan's claim on his personal Twitter page stating, "...the role of the wrestler was always (Rourke) it was never hulk hogan's as he claims on (Howard Stern.)"

The roughly 40-day shoot began in January 2008, with filming taking place throughout New Jersey in Elizabeth, Hasbrouck Heights, Garfield, Asbury Park, Linden, Rahway, Roselle Park, Dover, a supermarket in Bayonne where Rourke served and improvised with real customers, and in New York. Scenes were also shot at The Arena in Philadelphia.

Afa Anoa'i, a former professional wrestler, was hired to train Rourke for his role. Anoa'i brought his two main trainers, Jon Trosky and Tom Farra, to work with Rourke for eight weeks. Both trainers also have parts in the movie.

One scene features a fictional Nintendo Entertainment System video game called Wrestle Jam '88. It starred the characters of Robinson and The Ayatollah. Aronofsky requested a fully functioning game for the actors to play with, with programmer Randall Furino and the film's title designer Kristyn Hume creating a playable demo with a working interface and AI routines that also featured 1980s era-appropriate graphics and music.

To add more realism, the locker room scenes were improvised for Rourke and others to look as if they were actually socializing. Some of the deli scenes were improvised because Aronofsky was actually filming Rourke working there.


Clint Mansell, the composer for Aronofsky's previous films, ?, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, reprised his role as composer for The Wrestler. Slash played the guitars on the score. A new Bruce Springsteen song, also titled "The Wrestler", plays over the film's closing credits. Springsteen wrote the song while on tour in Europe after receiving a letter and a copy of the script from Rourke.

The Guns N' Roses song "Sweet Child o' Mine" is played during Randy's ring entrance at the end of the film. In his Golden Globe acceptance speech, Rourke mentioned that Axl Rose donated the song for free due to the budget, and the film's closing credits thank Rose for this. Rourke had used the same song as his intro music during his stint as a boxer in the mid-90s. Randy even mocks one of Axl Rose's biggest rivals in the popular music scene of the early 1990s: Kurt Cobain.

Also featured in the film are two Ratt songs ("Round and Round" and "I'm Insane"), the Quiet Riot song "Metal Health" (which is Randy's entrance song except for the last match), the FireHouse song "Don't Walk Away", the Slaughter song "Dangerous", the Scorpions song "Animal Magnetism", "Balls to the Wall" by Accept, "Soundtrack to a War" by Rhino Bucket and the Cinderella song "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)." The two Ratt tunes are actually recordings by Rat Attack, a project featuring Ratt lead singer Stephen Pearcy and guitarists George Lynch (Dokken) and Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns). The Madonna song "Jump" is played in the bar scene. The Birdman and Lil Wayne song "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" can be heard in the strip club. Also in the movie is a song called "Let Your Freak Out" by independent Toronto singer/songwriter Deesha which can be heard during the strip club scene where Marisa Tomei's character is having an emotional conversation with Mickey Rourke's character.

In the Toronto International Film Festival interview conducted by James Rocchi, Aronofsky credited the 1957 Charles Mingus song "The Clown," an instrumental piece with a poem read over the music about a clown who accidentally discovers the bloodlust of the crowds and eventually kills himself in performance, as a major source of inspiration for the movie. Aronofsky also said the brief reprise of Senator and Presidential-candidate John McCain's "Bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of The Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" in the movie evolved as improvisation on the set. The Ayatollah wrestling character's persona had developed more than 20 years before but, in part through this musical moment and its connection with the character, came to still feel appropriate to Aronofsky in 2008.


Though initially critical of the film, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) helped promote it through an on-screen angle (a fictional storyline used in wrestling). This involved the heel Chris Jericho criticizing legendary retired wrestlers such as Ric Flair, whom he felt were embarrassing themselves, as well as Mickey Rourke for his portrayal in The Wrestler. At the 15th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Rourke announced he would be competing at WrestleMania XXV, specifically targeting Jericho. The announcement led to a confrontation between the two on Larry King Live, which showed signs of second thoughts from Rourke. On January 28, it was announced through Rourke's spokesperson that the actor would not compete at the event, and he was soon after announced instead as a guest.

Rourke was also invited to the 2009 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony the night before WrestleMania. The angle culminated the following night where Jericho faced Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, and Jimmy Snuka in a handicap match. After his victory, Jericho dismantled Flair and challenged Rourke, who finally entered the ring and punched him out. Flair then congratulated Rourke.


The Wrestler has received universal critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive write-ups based upon a sample of 215, and gave it a golden tomato for best drama of 2008. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 81, based on 36 reviews, signifying "universal acclaim". Alonso Duralde, of MSNBC, said, "Rourke's work transcends mere stunt-casting; his performance is a howl of pain that seems to come from a very real place."

Todd McCarthy, of Variety, said, "Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances." Ben Mankiewicz, from At the Movies, said, "To put it simply, this is the best film I've seen this year." Le Monde praised the film for melding European film style with an American plot, and stated that "Mickey Rourke's performance in ?The Wrestler' is a continuous celebration of the burdens and splendors of the profession of performance." (one other French movie critic, Philippe Azoury, praised its portrayal of "the American heartland" as what he viewed as a bleak wasteland).) Although The Wrestler was not technically in Roger Ebert's "Best Films" list, he includes a note at the bottom of his review: "'The Wrestler' is one of the year's best films. It wasn't on my 'best films' list for complicated and boring reasons."

Professional wrestling industry reception

Prominent wrestling figures have commented on the movie. Aronofsky remarked during an NPR interview on WWE chairman Vince McMahon's feelings on The Wrestler:

WWE Hall of Famer Bret "The Hitman" Hart, who was a multi-time world champion in both WWE and WCW, enjoyed The Wrestler and applauded Rourke's "clairvoyant" performance, but called the film a "dark misinterpretation" of the business. He asserted: "Randy "The Ram" Robinson was a main-eventer who sold out Madison Square Garden. So was I... Although the film speaks superbly to the speed bumps all pro wrestlers navigate, I'm happy to report most of us don't swerve off the road quite so severely." WWE play-by-play commentator Jim Ross called it a "really strong, dramatic film that depicts how people who are obsessed with their own lives and their careers can self-destruct".

Former WWE and TNA world heavyweight champion Mick Foley enjoyed the film, saying: "Within five [minutes], I had completely forgotten I was looking at Mickey Rourke. That guy on the screen simply was Randy 'the Ram' Robinson." WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper was said to have been highly emotional after watching a screening of the film. Aronofsky said of Piper: "He loved it. He broke down and cried in Mickey's arms, so he was psyched that this story was finally told." Insights on the film from Roddy Piper and other former pro wrestlers can be seen in Fox Searchlight Pictures's "Wrestler Round Table", which was included in the Blu-ray version of the film.

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008.

  • 1st " Matt Cale, Ruthless Reviews
  • 1st " Ben Mankiewicz, At the Movies
  • 1st " Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out
  • 1st " Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
  • 2nd " Marc Doyle, Metacritic
  • 2nd " Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
  • 3rd " Anthony Lane, The New Yorker
  • 3rd " Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle
  • 3rd " Peter Vonder Haar, Film Threat
  • 4th " Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times
  • 4th " Ben Lyons, At the Movies
  • 4th " David Denby, The New Yorker
  • 5th " James Berardinelli, ReelViews
  • 5th " Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
  • 6th " Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
  • 7th " David Ansen, Newsweek
  • 7th " Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter
  • 7th " V.A. Musetto, New York Post
  • 8th " Premiere
  • 8th " Nathan Rabin, The A.V. Club
  • 9th " Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News
  • 9th " Josh Rosenblatt, The Austin Chronicle
  • 10th " Dana Stevens, Slate
  • 10th " Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
  • 10th " Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News


The Wrestler has been condemned as an "anti-Iranian" film in many Iran newspapers and websites, in response to a scene in which Mickey Rourke violently breaks a pole bearing an Iranian flag in half across his knee. Borna News, a state-run Iranian newspaper, also criticized the heel (bad-guy) wrestler character "The Ayatollah", who is portrayed as a villain wearing Arabic clothings Keffiyeh and Bisht creating a deliberate amalgam of Iranians and Arabs among the audience. On the wrestling ring he wears a skimpy leotard in the pattern of an Iranian flag with the alef character, representing the first letter of the word Ayatollah.

Some Iranian newspapers avoided mentioning the character, presumably to avoid offending Iran's clerical rulers. In March 2009, Javad Shamaqdari, cultural adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, demanded an apology from a delegation of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences actors and producers visiting Iran for what he characterized as negative and unfair portrayals of the Islamic republic in The Wrestler and other Hollywood films. The Iranian gimmick is a reference to the rivalry between Hulk Hogan and The Iron Sheik during the early to mid-1980s.


See List of accolades received by The Wrestler (2008 film) for more information

The film won the Golden Lion at the 65th Venice International Film Festival and was nominated for two Academy Awards.

See also

  • Jake Roberts and Terry Funk, professional wrestlers whose real lives shares major traits with the character of "Randy Robinson"
  • Beyond the Mat, a 1999 documentary featuring Mick Foley, Terry Funk, and Jake Roberts. They deal with and talk about experience with drug addiction, marital infidelity, estranged children, skid-row hardcore matches, blading, "career-ending" injuries, several retirement bouts, etc.

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