The big reveal in the Fast & Furious 9 trailer was all about John Cena. We knew he was cast in the latest high octane outing for Dom (Vin Diesel) and the family, but we didn’t know that he was playing the other Toretto brother, Jakob – and that the two have a mighty score to settle.
Cena has been juggling acting with his WWE career for the best part of 20 years, building a reputation for both broad comedy and heavier, more serious roles. And he's poised to become an even bigger movie star than before. Footage of him working alongside Idris Elba on James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad means he’s now part of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), so Fast & Furious 9 could be just a stepping stone to even greater things.
Before the ninth Fast & Furious film roars into Cineworld next year, here are six of Cena's most memorable appearances. Hint: they’re not all comedies.
1. Trainwreck (2015)
After trying his hand at playing heavies in the likes of The Marine and 12 Rounds, Cena’s acting future was hazy – until Judd Apatow allowed him to show his comedy chops in rom-com Trainwreck.
His role as Amy Schumer’s muscle-bound, highly-strung boyfriend grants him relatively limited screen time, but he proves to be a scene-stealer, relishing the raunchy laughs and showing a flair for improvisation, as well as having a ball with some of the movie’s best lines. It’s a memorable and impressive performance that put Cena on the road to becoming an unexpected comedy talent.
2. Sisters (2015)
This Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle sees two siblings throw one heck of a party when their parents suggest selling their childhood home. Among the guests is heavily tattooed drug dealer Pazuzu, invited to add a little weed to the proceedings. And underneath all the artwork is Cena, but with a new look and doing something totally different.
This time, he’s playing it straighter than usual: short on words and big on menace, letting his physique do all the talking. Yet again, he showed he could lay on the laughs, big and small.
3. The Wall (2017)
Cena isn’t all about comedy, and Doug Liman’s war thriller gives him the chance to prove himself in something more dramatic. He plays an Iraq War sniper fighting for his life when a mission goes hideously wrong. The movie initially looks to be playing to Cena’s humorous strengths, but once shots are fired, the emphasis shifts and his performance takes on a darker tone. It’s an emotionally challenging role that mixes his comic strengths with a more dramatic approach.
4. Ferdinand (2017)
Cena had dabbled in voice acting in the past – he can also currently be heard in Dolittle – but here he voices the title role, a pacifist bull who prefers sitting and smelling the flowers to fighting. Not a great career move when you’re raised for the Spanish bullring. The film allowed Cena to further diversify his portfolio of performances, and the more than passing resemblance between him and animated bull Ferdinand didn’t do any harm either. The film may not have done too well at the box office, but in terms of expanding his acting horizons, it more than did the job.
5. Bumblebee (2018)
Cena’s first venture into the world of franchises came when he gave the Decepticons a run for their money in this Transformers spin-off. What initially seems like typecasting – an army colonel who sees endearing, shape-shifting robot Bumblebee as a threat to be eliminated – instead turns out to be something more entertaining.
On the serious side, Cena’s character Agent Burns is driven by vengeance, yet he still has all the funniest lines in the film, all delivered in Cena’s typically dry style. A larger than life character in a larger than life film, it works like a charm, and eventually helped propel the movie to positive reviews (a first for the Transformers franchise) and a healthy box office.
6. Blockers (2018)
Returning to comedy, but now elevated to a leading role, Cena’s over-protective dad role in Blockers is one of his best to date. Cena’s character Mitchell is the big softie amidst a group of parents aiming to sabotage their teenage daughters’ plans for their prom night. However, Mitchell refuses to face the reality that his little girl is turning into an adult – the ideal comic set-up for plenty of outrageous laughs.
OK, so not many suburban dads look like WWE wrestlers, but Cena turns that to his advantage, making his character the most emotional of the group and the ultimate caring dad. It’s a performance that’s fun to watch while also striking a more heartfelt note.
Freda Cooper is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team. Follow her on Twitter.