There is much to love about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Perhaps not his mediocre tequila brand but definitely his social media presence, cheerful persona, and commitment to making movies and TV shows that are fun and silly in a self-aware kind of way. Yet, despite The Rock’s undeniable greatness and despite the best efforts of other former squared circle grapplers such as Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and John Cena, all of them fall short of displaying the acting range and prowess of Dave Bautista.
Since his breakthrough role as Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Bautista has displayed a knack for not only selecting great roles but also working with some of the best directors around today, such as Denis Villeneuve, Zack Snyder, and now, with Glass Onion, Rian Johnson. Johnson himself, in a recent interview, proclaimed Bautista to be the best wrestler/actor ever, and he isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s Glass Onion that has cemented this status, proving that Bautista is no flash in the pan, but rather an enduring character actor. As we take a look at some of Bautista’s best roles, we’ll see why his acting range and taste in films have made him the best wrestler-turned-actor in Hollywood history.
Breaking Through in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’
This is the role that proved to the world that Dave Bautista could act. As Drax, he developed a trademark deadpan comedic delivery that contributed to what is probably the funniest Marvel franchise thus far. Landing a role in a Marvel movie is no small feat and it’s the kind of gig any aspiring wrestler-turned-actor would kill for. Perhaps the greatest limitation for men like Bautista, The Rock, and Hulk Hogan is that their size and extraordinary physique means they can’t quite disappear into a supporting role in the way that someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman could. So they’re forced to either play their size for laughs or action thrills. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Bautista gets to do a bit of both. He looks like someone who could tumble with the universe’s nastiest goons, but his character is primarily a comedic one. As Bautista will repeatedly prove, he shines even among stellar ensemble casts, in this case alongside Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and the voice of Bradley Cooper.
An Introspective Bruiser in ‘Blade Runner 2049’
It’s no accident that Bautista finds himself working with remarkably talented filmmakers. While The Rock made some effort earlier in his career to seek out more unique independent projects, his extraordinary bankability has turned him into a blockbuster star. Bautista, by contrast, continues to seek out memorable roles in great films. Blade Runner 2049 was his first collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, a rare breed of director who manages to make big budget projects that still feel unique and personal. Bautista’s fight scene with Ryan Gosling is among the most memorable in the film, and his role here is entirely dramatic, with no hint of his oft-used comedic abilities. Blade Runner 2049 is the film that proved that Bautista had range and was not merely the beneficiary of a colorful, well-written character in the Marvel universe.
A Leading Man in ‘Army of the Dead’
While his greatest skill may be as a supporting character actor, Bautista proved with Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead that he can also carry a film as a leading man. This underrated, incredibly fun zombie heist flick utilizes a little bit of all of Bautista’s strengths. One quality that he brings to several of his roles and especially this one is a sort of hidden intelligence that surprises the audience. We don’t typically expect a man who looks like a professional wrestler to be the most intellectual guy around but, outside his more straightforward comedic roles, there’s a wisdom and pain behind Bautista’s eyes that add depth to his characters. While this quality is perhaps best utilized in Blade Runner 2049, it helps build his lead role here into something more intriguing than audiences are accustomed to.
A Supporting Standout in ‘Dune’
Dune is Bautista’s second collaboration with Denis Villeneuve, and it’s another great example of the actor managing to stand out even when swimming in an ocean of talent. There are so many great performances in Dune and so many opportunities for actors to inhabit eccentric and bizarre characters that any supporting actor will certainly have their work cut out for them just to get audiences to remember they were even in the film. Again, Bautista manages to do just that, using his brutality and aggressiveness to full effect.
Cementing his Status with ‘Glass Onion’
Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion cements Bautista as one of the best character actors working today. Aside from having the talent to book a role in a film overstuffed with big names, Bautista’s character holds the unique distinction of appearing both meek and hyper-aggressive. Much like with Drax, Bautista is using his size and presence for comedic effect but doing it in such a way as to keep the audience guessing as to who and what his character really is (which is obviously beneficial to a murder mystery yarn). Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this role is that Bautista could surely cash in on any number of dunderhead action films but instead continues to seek out interesting material.
Johnson’s praise for Bautista is well deserved and overdue. No former wrestler has managed to do so much as an actor despite the constraints of being a hulking, muscular guy. In Glass Onion, Bautista is making us laugh, keeping us guessing, and reminding us again of how special an actor he has become.