The best professional wrestling documentaries of all time
Professional wrestling is perhaps the one enterprise in entertainment where the politics and backstage mechanics are still shrouded in a bit of mystery. Obviously kayfabe is dead and even guys like John Cena will talk about the business openly, but it’s still seated in character. We don’t really know what’s going through Vince McMahon’s head, just like we don’t know what truly spurned CM Punk, or how NXT’s training regimens operate, or what Triple H really thinks. That’s why we’ve seen a number of excellent wrestling-themed documentaries over the years: our curiosity will never be sated.
These documentaries are the cream of the crop -- from journalism, to profiles, to a bunch of wrestlers goofing off with a video camera. Let it serve as further proof that the best stories in the sports world come from the men and women who bleed for this business.
You were a fool to think Hulk Hogan’s TNA run didn’t arrive out of some darkness, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when A&E dug deep to find a man emotionally and financially broken in half. Hogan in 2014 resembles a loose, happy-go-lucky parody of himself, cashing checks on poses, “brothers,” and Silver Domes, but here we see all that scarred motivation. A dwindling fortune, a messy divorce, a whole cocktail of pills every morning. I clown on Hogan all the time for his mascot-level appearances, but Finding Hogan helps you understand the pain.
Scott Hall: The Wrestler
This is perhaps the most excruciating Scott Hall documentary on the market, which is saying something when you’re talking about perhaps the most brutal career trajectory in modern wrestling. Hall was an ideal physical specimen in his prime -- his match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X is an all-time favorite, and to be fair, he has been doing better as of late. But this E:60 short might be the most harrowing thing ever filmed about wrestling.
We go through the usual litany of drugs, sex, divorce, and suicidal thoughts, but much of the film centers on an indie wrestling show that Hall was booked to headline in front of 400 people. A show in which he stumbles out of the curtain in his street clothes, and absolutely sleepwalks through his match. Barely conscious and with absolutely no strength left in his body, he needs help to even walk without collapsing into a pile of old bones and spit. Yet another reminder that this can be a cruel, cruel business.
The Wrestling Road Diaries
And now for something a lot lighter! This fun little indie romp follows around Bryan Danielson (you may know him as Daniel Bryan,) in his last of run of shows before getting signed to the WWE. It’s a shiny, optimistic little movie that captures a certain semi-fame life on the road enjoyed by those both lucky enough to make this business a career, and to avoid some of the sillier, corporate ramifications of being hitched to the big show. The Wrestling Road Diaries obviously becomes a lot more culturally relevant now that Daniel Bryan is arguably the biggest star on TV, but don’t get it twisted: this is mostly a candid, stress-free comedy.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster*
OK, so this isn’t definitively a “wrestling documentary” as much as it is a piece of journalism tackling steroids in American culture, but obviously there’s nothing more American than Scott Steiner’s heart desperately trying to pump blood to the bottom of his feet. This movie has something of a nuanced perspective; it’s not willing to call performance-enhancing drugs the devil outright, because, after all, winning has traditionally taken precedent over health. But don’t go into it thinking it’s an endorsement, either.
Some of the pathos here comes from Mike “Mad Dog” Bell, the brother of the filmmaker and an amateur pro wrestler. He talks fairly openly about his steroid routines, and was found dead shortly after the movie’s release. I think Bigger, Stronger, Faster* is an important watch in the WWE Network era, where all those taut, plastic-looking bodies are only a click away.
Warrior: The Ultimate Legend
This is a documentary you can find right now on the WWE Network. It was actually released something like a couple weeks after Ultimate Warrior’s shocking, somewhat poetic passing on the day after his rallying appearance on Raw. There’s plenty of great archival context and interviews here, but there’s also a camera following Warrior all over the place backstage.
You end up with some unforgettable moments given the context of his death, like finally burying the hatchet with Hogan, or the interview with his two kids after the show. The Ultimate Legend answers a lot of questions that needed answers before Warrior’s ultimate good-bye, and for that reason it’s one of the most uniquely vital wrestling documentaries of all time.
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows
If you’re somehow unaware, the Montreal Screwjob stands as one of the most important moments in wrestling history, because it marked the first time backstage politics were aired big, live, and audaciously. Hart didn’t want to lose the belt to Shawn Michaels, but that didn’t matter, because Vince McMahon went behind his back and hatched a plan where when Michaels put Hart in the Sharpshooter, the ref was going to say he tapped out. This was real, not storyline nonsense. The announcers guffawed, the crowd was incensed, and Hart spat a big giant wad of phlegm at a ringside McMahon. It’s incredible, and Hart would leave the company for years.
So if I told you that this documentary charted the months before the Screwjob, with all that tasty booking gossip put on prominent display, I imagine you’d be all over it. Seriously, this is a must-watch for anyone interested in the evolution of this business.
Best of Raw After the Show
The Best of Raw After the Show does exactly what it says. As the lights come back up and Raw goes off air, the cameras keep rolling and the real, loose fun begins. Think of all the amazing matches, comedy, and general weirdness that have been lost to the post-show over the years? After The Show delves deep into that archival footage across a sprawling three discs. It's inessential, but also the most essential, you know? The goofy fun of wrestling in its purest, Vince-evading form.