No Holds Barred featured

No Hold Barred (1989)

No Holds Barred poster

Tagline: No Ring. No Ref. No Rules.
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Writer: Dennis Hackin
Starring: Hulk Hogan, Joan Severance, Kurt Fuller, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Mark Pellegrino, Bill Henderson, Charles Levin
15 | 1hr 33min | Action, Comedy
Budget: $8,000,000 (estimated)


Make no mistake about it, No Holds Barred is an abomination of a movie. In cinematic terms, it is bereft of even the smallest redemptive quality. It is a steaming quagmire of puerile stereotypes, incredulously dire acting and a narrative that even an infant would get tired of thanks to the almost ceaseless flatulence-based jokes that attempt to pass for comedy. Woeful leading man? Check. Imbecilic antagonist? Check. Belching waitress; cross-eyed, tobacco chewing hicks; a henchman who shits in his pants and squeals ‘dookie’ like a mentally challenged infant? Check, check and double check.

Not content with action that offends on a purely juvenile level, the movie is also hugely misogynistic, promoting flagrant sexism and violence against women, with characters who are either wealthy and snobbish or poor, incredibly dumb and irredeemably disgusting. Then you have Hulk Hogan as Rip, a protagonist who spends the majority of the movie cracking heads and electrocuting people to death. The only reason he comes across as the hero is because his nemesis is so incredibly bereft of personality, growling and crossing his eyes like a backwoods killer after a full frontal labotomy. We all know that wrestling is the stuff of fantasy but compared to this it is a work of formidable social relevance.

You’re not leaving here until you pull my finger!

No Holds Barred was World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon’s first foray into the movie business, and the sting of its critical backlash left him licking his cinematic wounds for more than a decade. Vince is an incredible business man and has since forged a rather lucrative direct-to-DVD movie legacy, but in spite of conquering the wrestling territorial system and making Wrestlemania and the now WWE a global force, he will also be remembered as a media giant whose immense wealth has left him somewhat detached from reality, blowing millions on dubious ventures such as the scripted XFL football league and the mercifully short-lived World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF). Yes, McMahon truly believed that millions of men across America were willing to pay hard-earned cash to see a bunch of greased-up muscleheads simply pose.

Ironically, it is this detachment from reality that makes No Holds Barred such a perversely engrossing watch; that, and the scintillating Joan Severance as Hogan’s main squeeze, Samantha, who in her Vogue prime had to be a contender for the most beautiful woman on the planet. This movie is so far beneath her radiance that you have to question her motivations. I’m sure she received a considerable wad of cash for her hardship but was it really worth it?

Joan Severance
Joan Severance. Just because…

The movie’s plot seems straight out of McMahon’s real-life corporate bubble, as a vicious magnate tries to steal Rip from under the nose of his network competitor. In all likelihood, the movie is a thinly-veiled dig at media Mogul Ted Turner, who got into the wrestling business for the sole purpose of competing with his long-time adversary, but narcissism knows no boundaries, and narcissism mixed with cocaine is enough to delude anyone into thinking that what is up on screen is not yourself, but someone else entirely.

Like any savvy business man, the movie’s suited tyrant Brell (Kurt Fuller) feels that the best way to compete with his adversary’s successful, wrestling-based business model is to hang out in the kind of dives that exist only in the warped recesses of someone like McMahon’s imagination. In his world, bars inhabited by your average Joe are crammed with beer-bellied hog farmers and strange little midgets, human pigs who guzzle from beer barrels and wrestle for fun in makeshift rings constructed from yards of rope and car tires. As for the bar’s locals, they think it more than appropriate to spray-tag messages like V.D. Room on the walls of the slop-ridden shitholes that regular people call lavatories. Is this really how Vince views his audience? Do the world’s elite genuinely view us as shit-kicking cattle holed up in a pen of repugnant puerility? This movie certainly does, though the irony is up onscreen for all to see. Only a blowhard of the highest order could have conceived such a creative travesty.

zeus no holds
Media tyrant Brell and prized asset Zeus partake in a ‘who can go cross-eyed for the longest’ contest.

Rip’s evil nemesis, Zeus (Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister), spends the entire movie looking like he’s severely constipated while simultaneously sounding like he’s taking a giant dump (some range, eh?), and the notoriously ruthless and backstabbing businessman Terry Bollea (Hogan’s real name) does his usual ‘say your prayers and take your vitamins’ Hulkster schtick, performing press-ups in skimpy, tie-dyed underwear and wooing the impossibly glamorous Samantha by turning a stick-up in a local cafe into a full-on food fight. All he has to do is wiggle his eyebrows suggestively and Samantha falls headlong for the movie’s puerile revenge fantasies and straight into Hulk’s ’24-inch pythons’. In your dreams, brother!

Hogan may have exhibited considerable charisma in the ring, but here he seems to have left most of it back in the locker room. When tasked with ad-libbing pro-America rhetoric for an audience of easily pleased patriots, he’s quite the personality, but stick a script in front of him and he flounders big time. The Hulkster is a terrible actor, unable to communicate anything even remotely genuine, and unlike grappling counterpart Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live, he fails to project any kind of movie star presence, every last one of his scenes hitting the mat harder than Andre the Giant after a pound of somas. Inevitably, Samantha is kidnapped by Brell and his cronies, and when Rip’s annoying groupie brother is sent to the hospital by the relentless Zeus, Rip has to call on the power of his Hulkamaniacs and become the kind of immortal hero who exists only in his mind.

Most Absurd Moment

Absurdity is this movie’s lifeblood, but one moment stands a muscled torso above the rest. Refusing to sign on with the maniacal, blank-cheque wielding Brell, Rip is kidnapped by a crook posing as a limousine driver and driven to an abandoned warehouse for a beating. Locked in the vehicle, resistance seems futile, but Rip has the considerable advantage of being able to leap three inches from a seated position with such power that he crashes through the sunroof and lands on the car bonnet ready for battle.

This is where the power lies!

Most Disgusting Character

Take your pick! Whether it’s the snivelling Brell, the throbbing Zeus or Hogan’s insufferable kid brother, Randy, you’re going to need your sick bucket close at hand. But perhaps the most offensive of all is the pot-bellied owner of the hick bar in which Brell film’s his latest TV show, a tough man contest designed to entice Rip into the ring with the movie’s seemingly invincible, monobrowed villain. Whether it’s spitting tobacco, guzzling beer or taking giant dumps in the shithouse, this is a vulgarian of monumental proportions.

Most Absurd Dialogue

Scaring a henchman half to death with a tepid and unconvincing growl, Rip pauses, his nose twitching as he detects a strange, yet familiar smell.

Rip Thomas: What’s that SMELL?

Limo Driver: Dooo… dooo… doookie!

Rip Thomas: [disgusted] “Dookie”?

No Holds Barred logo


The cinematic equivalent of joke shop shit in a can, No Holds Barred is a puerile misrepresentation of humankind, one which only serves to highlight the wealthy elite’s utter disdain for the common man. So why the high rating, you ask? Well, like a particularly messy car wreck, this is one you won’t be able to look away from, and as a fan of the female form I decree that the divine Ms. Severance deserves a star all of her own.


  1. I think Hulk Hogan was better suited for cameo roles, although I get a demented delight in this film and Hulk’s “Santa With Muscles” as well. I learned a few years ago that Joan Severance & Robin Leatch were longtime partners. Looks like Mr. Leatch enjoyed both his rich and famous lifestyle along with his Joan Severance package. Was the XFL really scripted? I do know of two players who from that league who ended up in the NFL, Rod “He Hate Me” Smart and redeemed QB Tommy Maddox.


    1. Hello again!

      Not exactly sure about the XFL, but knowing Vince McMahon’s business model it will at least be semi-scripted. Hogan was a master at ad-libbing promos but put a script in front of him and its a whole different prospect. Ironically, today’s wrestling is scripted by ex-Hollywood writers. 😁


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