John Cena got his start in entertainment the same way Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson did: wrestling. From the mid 2000s to the late 2010s, Cena earned thousands of fans as a photogenic, charismatic, and endlessly marketable star of the ring. He became such a huge part of wrestling, in fact, that he was utterly impossible to ignore. Hollywood was an obvious next step.
By the mid 2010s, Cena was taking more and more time off wrestling to pursue acting. His roles started off small, such as his short (but memorable) appearances in "Trainwreck" and "Sisters," both of which debuted in 2015. These minor roles quickly led to larger lead parts: 2018 saw him star in both "Blockers" and "Bumblebee." Cena’s forward momentum eventually landed him a part in 2021’s "F9," the latest entry in the "Fast and Furious" franchise, and the role of Peacemaker in 2021’s "The Suicide Squad." No doubt Cena’s star will continue to climb even further into the stratosphere.
With his ever-growing catalog of cinematic roles, Cena has created more than a few memorable onscreen moments. These are the very best, from cartoon catastrophe to some very unorthodox partying.
The Marine (2006): John Triton’s midair escape
"The Marine" is far from John Cena’s most endearing cinematic contribution, and the reviews definitely reflect that. The film is also not warmly regarded by wrestling fanatics, as it caused Cena’s wrestling persona to change. But, with all of that said, the film is still a fascinating time capsule of filmmaking in the 2000s.
From the editing to the soundtrack, this film is dripping with the year 2006. At this point, that adds to its charm. "The Marine" was also one of the first major releases from WWE Films after its creation in 2002. Cena plays John Triton, the titular marine, who’s just looking to rejoin civilian life after his honorable discharge. This is made difficult when Triton is forced to rescue his wife from jewel thieves. Said thieves are led by former T-1000 Robert Patrick, who quickly learns he’s messed with the wrong guy.
Triton is described in the trailer as a "one-man strike force," and he definitely lives up to that moniker. Just about any of his incredible feats of strength and agility could be justifiably put on this list. But the most memorable (and most illogical) is definitely Triton’s midair jump from an exploding car careening off a cliff.
"The Marine" is a cheesy, contrived, nonsensical mess. But those qualities have led to its cult status — and at least one entertainingly bonkers scene.
Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery (2014): Stopping a boulder
Few animated franchises boast the impressive longevity of Scooby-Doo. From the original 1969 Hanna-Barbera series to its live-action films to countless animated reboots, the Mystery Machine is truly indomitable.
But to survive this long, a franchise has to take some strange detours. One of Scooby-Doo’s strangest is its 2014 crossover with World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE. WWE is the world’s largest professional wrestling company, led by Vince McMahon. It’s been home to the likes of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and, of course, John Cena.
This animated film concerns the Scooby crew going on a road trip to WWE City to see that year’s WrestleMania event. But, as is the norm for the gang, they’re soon swept up into a mystery revolving around the WWE locker room. To say it’s a cheesy and surreal film would be a definite understatement, but it’s not without some great moments. The most memorable is definitely seeing John Cena, in all his cartoon glory, saving the gang from a giant boulder with nothing but his own brute strength.
"Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery" is far from animated excellence, but any film with a scene like that has at least one thing going for it.
Trainwreck (2015): Fight in the movie theater
2015 was a breakout year for John Cena as an actor, both in terms of quality and output. It’s when John truly changed from wrestler-turned-actor to no-hyphens-needed actor, especially in the comedy genre. Cena, ironically best known for his rather stiff and authoritarian delivery, saw fit to lean into this for his cinematic roles. It turned out to be a great idea.
The first film on this upswing would be "Trainwreck," a romantic comedy directed by Judd Apatow. The film stars Amy Schumer as Amy Townsend, an emotionally detached and promiscuous writer in her first serious relationship with a surgeon (Bill Hader). Early on in the film, Amy is seeing an airheaded gym rat named Steven, played by Cena. It’s very clear that the relationship is predicated on Steven’s looks, as it’s established that Amy is extremely shallow.
Despite only having a few short scenes in the film, Cena manages to steal the show. His best moment arrives when the couple goes on a date in a movie theater. They proceed to annoy another couple. This leads to Steven attempting to threaten the other man with violence … but it sounds like he’s threatening him with sex. The scene feels like a solid mix of scripted material and improvisation, with Cena himself being the true highlight.
Sisters (2015): Meet Pazuzu
Cena continued his streak of small but memorable roles in "Sisters," which stars Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The film concerns a pair of sisters looking to send their childhood home off in style — meaning a gigantic party. This starts off poorly, as it appears that their guests, mostly former classmates, have matured beyond wild, debauched ragers. The siblings are able to turn this around, however, by getting their friend Dave (John Leguizamo) to invite his drug dealer, Pazuzu.
As Pazuzu, John Cena is completely visually detached from his well-established clean-cut look — he sports some truly intense tattoos. Pazuzu proceeds to list off his merchandise, which includes a whole lot of real-world drugs, some comical fictitious ones, and a number of oddly mundane medications anyone can buy at their local drugstore. The scene is capped off beautifully by Pazuzu naming Flintstone Vitamins as one of his offerings, alongside his tidal wave of vices. Cena is best known for his comedically stilted delivery, and this scene serves as a perfect example. It’s also priceless to see Cena, then characterized by his squeaky-clean WWE persona, playing a heavily tattooed drug dealer.
Daddy’s Home (2015): New dad in town
Definitely the shortest of John Cena’s onscreen appearances so far, his role in "Daddy’s Home" still manages to make a memorable impression. "Daddy’s Home" tells the story of Brad (Will Ferrell), a stepfather competing for his step-kids’ love against their biological father, Dusty (Mark Wahlberg). Dusty is the antithesis of Brad in every way, from appearance to attitude. Most obviously, Dusty is a charming, muscular tough guy, while Brad is an emotional wimp with issues standing up for himself.
While not hailed as a comedic masterpiece, "Daddy’s Home" is a charming rainy day comedy elevated by its talented cast. One of the strongest gags occurs at the end of the film, after Dusty remarries. His new wife is also divorced, with a daughter who still seems attached to her biological father, Roger, played by John Cena. Roger immediately intimidates Dusty with his enormous set of muscles and impressive motorcycle. The irony, of course, is that Dusty is now in the position Brad was in when they first met
In one quick scene, Cena delivers one of the film’s funniest moments. The character of Roger gets more development in the less well-received "Daddy’s Home 2," but his last-minute appearance in the first film stands on its own as truly hilarious. Cena’s well-honed timing and delivery are on full display here.
Ferdinand (2017): Bull in a literal china shop
"Ferdinand" follows a pacifist bull, voiced by Cena, who is forced into the world of bullfighting against his will. There have been a plethora of animated films revolving around talking animals, but "Ferdinand" has enough going for it to remain distinct. Cena particularly succeeds at bringing affable and clumsy charm to the role. The animation is also a treat: It’s sunny, elastic, and genuinely hilarious. Ferdinand’s animation is especially good, with plenty of well-honed facial reactions that majorly enhance Cena’s splendid voice acting.
The moment that steals the film is one pretty much anyone could see coming from a mile away: Ferdinand, a bull, finds himself trapped in a literal china shop and must try his best to not break anything. What ensues is a delightfully tense scene in which Ferdniand must catch everything he knocks over en route to the exit. Sadly, due to an ill-timed sneeze, he blasts the china out the window — along with the shop owner!
It’s a wonderfully "Looney Tunes" style moment from a lovable addition to Cena’s filmography.
Blockers (2018): World’s most intense dad
"Blockers," the directorial debut of Kay Cannon, is a raunchy comedy with surprising heart. Cena plays Mitchell, the overprotective father and coach to Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan), who he has molded for success since childhood. Alongside Lisa (Leslie Mann) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), he is looking to thwart their daughters’ prom night sex pact. What ensues is a night full of revelations, puking in limos, car crashes, and legitimately emotional moments. For all its gross-out humor and sophomoric jokes, "Blockers" is a surprisingly tender film about the bonds between parent and child.
Cena not only has amazing chemistry with Viswanathan, but with Mann and Barinholtz as well, which leads to several great scenes. Additionally, Cena is in top form with his comedic delivery in terms of both his reactions and his physical humor. Years of pro wrestling most definitely taught him how to properly milk intense reactions. The crowning moment in this film arrives when Mitchell, in order to get information, has to engage in a butt chug. Seeing the once child-friendly John Cena get something stuck where the sun don’t shine is quite the spectacle.
Bumblebee (2018): "They literally call themselves Decepticons!"
Putting a kid-friendly icon like John Cena in a "Transformers" movie seems like a no-brainer, in all honesty. Happily, Cena makes his appearance in "Bumblebee," the most highly praised entry in the series. "Bumblebee" takes a more minimal approach to the franchise, choosing to focus on Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and her friendship with the titular Bumblebee. John Cena serves as Jack Burns, a military agent dedicated to keeping an eye out for extraterrestrial invaders.
Cena takes to the role with ample gusto, providing many one-liners along the way. Ultimately, he has the distinction of uttering one of the funniest, if not the funniest line, in any "Transformers" film. During a military meeting, Dr. Powell (John Ortiz) makes a case for giving the Decepticons access to their tech and information. Burns insists this is a terrible idea that could lead to widespread destruction. "They literally call themselves Decepticons," he pleads. "That doesn’t set off any red flags?"
It’s a hysterical line delivered perfectly by Cena, which serves as yet another example of his impressive comedic abilities.