The Wrestler
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDarren Aronofsky
Written byRobert Siegel
Produced by
CinematographyMaryse Alberti
Edited byAndrew Weisblum
Music byClint Mansell
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures (United States)
Wild Bunch (Internationally)
Release dates
  • September 5, 2008 (2008-09-05) (Venice)
  • December 17, 2008 (2008-12-17) (United States)
Running time
109 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[2]
Box office$44.7 million[2]

The Wrestler is a 2008 American sports drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky and written by Robert Siegel. The film stars Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Rourke plays an aging professional wrestler who, despite his failing health and waning fame, continues to wrestle in an attempt to cling to the success of his 1980s heyday. He also tries to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter and to find romance with a woman who works as a stripper.[3]

The film received universal acclaim and won the Golden Lion Award at the 65th Venice International Film Festival, 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. The success of the film revitalized the career of Mickey Rourke, who went on to receive a BAFTA award, a Golden Globe Award, an Independent Spirit Award and an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Tomei also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.


Professional wrestler Robin Ramzinski, better known by his ring name Randy "The Ram" Robinson, rose to fame in the 1980s. Now past his prime, Randy wrestles on weekends for independent promotions in New Jersey while living in a trailer park and working part-time at a supermarket under Wayne, a demeaning manager who mocks Randy's wrestling background. As a regular at a strip club, Randy befriends a stripper named Cassidy who, like Randy, is too old for her job. After winning a local match, Randy agrees to a proposed 20th-anniversary rematch with his most notable opponent, "The Ayatollah", which Randy hopes could return him to stardom.

Randy intensifies his training, which includes steroid injections. After wrestling in a hardcore match, Randy suffers a heart attack backstage and undergoes coronary artery bypass surgery. His doctor informs him that he nearly died and has to stop taking steroids, and also warns Randy not to wrestle anymore, as his heart can no longer handle the exertion. Reluctantly, Randy decides to retire and begins working a full-time shift at the supermarket's deli counter.

At Cassidy's suggestion, Randy visits his estranged daughter Stephanie, whom he had abandoned when she was a child, but she rebuffs him. While helping Randy buy a gift for Stephanie, Cassidy reveals that she has a son. Randy makes romantic advances toward her, which she rejects on the grounds of her job. Later, Randy gives the gift to his daughter and apologizes for abandoning her. The two bond over a visit to a beachfront boardwalk, where he often took her as a child, and 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, has sex with a prostitute in the women's restroom, then wakes up in her bedroom the next morning. Exhausted, he sleeps the entire day and misses his dinner with Stephanie. He goes to her house to apologize, but she angrily tells him that she never wants to see him again.

At the deli counter, a patron recognizes Randy as the wrestler, though he denies it. The customer persists, which agitates Randy, who then cuts his own hand on the slicer and promptly quits on the spot, going into a rampage in the store while insulting Wayne and the customers. Spurred by the fan's recognition of him and with nothing left, Randy decides to return to wrestling and reschedules the rematch with The Ayatollah. He reconciles with Cassidy, who has also just quit her job, though she begs him not to wrestle because of his heart condition and pleads with him to cancel the match. However, Randy disregards her advice, explaining to her that the only place he belongs is in the ring with his fellow wrestlers and fans who love and respect him.

As he wrestles, Randy begins to feel chest pain and becomes unsteady. Noticing this, The Ayatollah urges him to initiate the pin and end the match. Randy refuses, however, and climbs the top rope for his signature finishing move, a diving headbutt called the "Ram Jam". He looks over and sees Cassidy has left. As the crowd cheers his name, Randy, with tears in his eyes and smiling from his fans' cheers, leaps from the top rope.


Rourke's performance in the film gave renewed interest to his career.

Professional wrestlers who appeared in the film include: Robbie E, Necro Butcher, Nick Berk, The Blue Meanie, Sabian, Nate Hatred, Ron Killings, L.A. Smooth, Jay Lethal, Johnny Valiant, Jim Powers, Austin Aries, Claudio Castagnoli, Larry Sweeney, Paul E. Normous, Romeo Roselli, John Zandig, Chuck Taylor, Nigel McGuinness, D. J. Hyde, Kit Cope, Drew Gulak, Bobby Dempsey, Judas Young, Pappadon, and Jay Santana.



Scenes where Rourke and Wood's characters try to bond were filmed on the Asbury Park boardwalk.

The Wrestler was written by Robert D. Siegel, a former writer for The Onion, and entered development at director Darren Aronofsky's company Protozoa Pictures. Nicolas Cage entered talks to star in October 2007.[4] He left the project a month later, with Mickey Rourke replacing him. According to Aronofsky, Cage pulled out of the movie because Aronofsky wanted Rourke as the lead character. He said in a 2008 interview with /Film, "[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 [...] 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."[5] However, Cage denied Aronofsky's account in a 2009 interview with Access Hollywood and explained, "I wasn't 'dropped' from the movie. I resigned from the movie because I didn't think I had enough time to achieve the look of the wrestler who was on steroids, which I would never do."[6]

Rourke was initially reluctant when first approached for the lead role, later stating, "I didn't really care for the script, but I wanted to work with Darren and I kind of thought that whoever wrote the script hadn't spent as much time as I had around these kind of people and he wouldn't have spoken the way the dude was speaking. And so Darren let me rewrite all my parts and he put the periods in and crossed the T's. So once we made that change, I was okay with it."[7]

Wrestler Hulk Hogan claimed in 2012 on The Howard Stern Show that he was also offered the lead role, and that he turned down the role because he felt he was not the right man to portray the character.[8] Aronofsky disputed these claims and tweeted that "the role of the Wrestler was always [Rourke's]; it was never Hulk Hogan's as he claims on [The Howard Stern Show]".[9]


The film's shoot began in January 2008 and lasted approximately 40 days,[10] with filming taking place on 16mm film[11] using some areas of New York City but primarily New Jersey locations such as Asbury Park, Bayonne (in a supermarket where Rourke served and improvised with real customers),[12] Dover, Elizabeth, Garfield, Hasbrouck Heights, Linden, Rahway, and Roselle Park.[13] Scenes were also shot at The Arena in Philadelphia.[14]

Afa Anoa'i, a former professional wrestler, was hired to train Rourke for his role. He brought his two main trainers, Jon Trosky and Tom Farra, to work with Rourke for eight weeks. Both trainers also have parts in the film.[15]

One scene features a fictional Nintendo Entertainment System video game called Wrestle Jam '88, featuring the characters of Robinson and The Ayatollah. Aronofsky requested a fully functioning game for the actors to play. Programmer Randall Furino and the film's title designer Kristyn Hume created a playable demo with a working interface and AI routines that also featured 1980s era-appropriate graphics and music.[16]

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 supermarket deli scenes were also improvised because Aronofsky was filming Rourke actually working there.

Marisa Tomei was made to do 36 takes to get her pole dancing right.[17]


Unlike Aronofsky's previous films—which featured original scores by Clint Mansell—The Wrestler has a soundtrack of pre-recorded pop music, most of it glam metal acts such as Ratt.

Clint Mansell, the composer for Aronofsky's previous films, π, 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.[18] 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 entrance at the end of the film. In his Golden Globe Award acceptance speech, Rourke mentioned that Axl Rose donated the song for free due to the film's modest budget, and the film's closing credits thank Rose for this.[19] Rourke had also used the same song as his intro music during his stint as a boxer in the early 1990s. In the film, Randy mocks Kurt Cobain, one of Rose's biggest rivals during the early 1990s.

Also featured in the film are the 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", the Accept song "Balls to the Wall", the Rhino Bucket song "Soundtrack to a War", 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 and Tracii 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 film is a song called "Let Your Freak Out" by 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 U.S. senator and one-time 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.[20]


Fox Searchlight Pictures acquired rights to distribute the film in the United States in October 2008;[21] it received a limited release 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.

Wild Bunch handled the film's international sales. Remstar Media Partners acquired Canadian rights to the movie in September 2008[22] while Optimum Releasing acquired British distribution rights.[23] The company released the film in the UK on January 16, 2009.[24]


Rourke with Ric Flair during an appearance at WrestleMania 25 to promote The Wrestler.

WWE helped promote the film 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, who 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 25, specifically targeting Jericho.[25] The announcement led to a confrontation between the two on Larry King Live, which showed signs of second thoughts from Rourke.[26] On January 28, it was announced through Rourke's spokesperson that the actor would not compete at WrestleMania,[27] and he was soon after announced instead as a guest.[28]

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.


Film critics

The Wrestler received almost universal critical acclaim. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 98% of critics gave the film positive reviews based upon a sample of 233 reviews, with an average rating of 8.4/10, and gave it a Golden Tomato for best drama of 2008. The critical consensus states that "Mickey Rourke gives a performance for the ages in The Wrestler, a richly affecting, heart-wrenching yet ultimately rewarding drama."[29] At Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 80, based on 36 reviews, signifying "generally favorable reviews".[30] 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."[31]

Todd McCarthy, of Variety, said, "Rourke creates a galvanizing, humorous, deeply moving portrait that instantly takes its place among the great, iconic screen performances."[32] Ben Mankiewicz, from At the Movies, said, "To put it simply, this is the best film I've seen this year."[33] 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."[34] One other French film critic, Philippe Azoury, praised its portrayal of "the American heartland" as what he viewed as a bleak wasteland.[35]

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."[36]

Professional wrestling industry

Roddy Piper was one of several professional wrestlers to voice his approval for the film and was later featured on a Blu-ray extra commenting on its authenticity.

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

Vince McMahon saw the film and he called both me and Mickey (Rourke) and he was really, really touched by it. It happened a week ago. We were very nervous wondering what he would think, but he really, really felt the film was special. Having his support meant a lot to us, especially Mickey.[37]

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."[38] 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".[39]

Former WWE and TNA world 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."[40] 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."[41] 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 on the Blu-ray release of the film.[42]

Controversy in Iran

In March 2009, Javad Shamaqdari, cultural adviser to the-then Iranian 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 Iran in The Wrestler and other Hollywood films.[43]

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2008.[44][45]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role Mickey Rourke Nominated [47]
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role Marisa Tomei Nominated
BAFTA Film Awards Best Leading Actor Mickey Rourke Won [48]
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Nominated
Boston Society of Film Critics Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won [49]
Broadcast Film Critics Association[50][51] Best Song Bruce Springsteen Won
Best Picture Nominated
Best Actor Mickey Rourke Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won [52]
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Actor Mickey Rourke 2nd Place [53]
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei 3rd Place
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Darren Aronofsky Nominated
Detroit Film Critics Society[54] Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Won
Best Film Nominated
Best Director Darren Aronofsky Nominated
ESPY Awards Best Sports Movie Darren Aronofsky Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle[55] Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Won
Golden Globes[56] Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Mickey Rourke Won
Best Original Song - Motion Picture Bruce Springsteen Won
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Marisa Tomei Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Song Written for a Motion Picture Bruce Springsteen Nominated [57]
Independent Spirit Awards Best Feature Darren Aronofsky
Scott Franklin
Best Male Lead Mickey Rourke Won
Best Cinematography Maryse Alberti Won
London Film Critics Circle Film of the Year Won
Actor of the Year Mickey Rourke Won
Director of the Year Darren Aronofsky Nominated
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Actor Mickey Rourke 2nd Place
MTV Movie Awards[58] Best Song from a Movie Bruce Springsteen Nominated
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor Mickey Rourke 2nd Place [59]
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Mickey Rourke 2nd Place
Online Film Critics Society Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Won
Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Darren Aronofsky Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Robert D. Siegel Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society[60] Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Won
San Francisco Film Critics Society Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won
Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Won
Satellite Awards[61] Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama Mickey Rourke Nominated
Best Original Song Bruce Springsteen Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Mickey Rourke Nominated [62]
Toronto Film Critics Association Best Performance, Male Mickey Rourke Won
Venice Film Festival Golden Lion Darren Aronofsky Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Actor Mickey Rourke Won [63]
Writers Guild of America Best Original Screenplay Robert D. Siegel Nominated [64]


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