Quick note from RD: Folks coming to WrestleCrap.com of course know about No Holds Barred, the rather infamous 1989 film starring Hulk Hogan. One of the first inductions I ever penned over twenty years ago covered it and we all had (I hope) a good chuckle at it. With the passage of time, there has been I think a transition for the film into the status of cult classic, which is somewhat amazing considering most folks viewed it originally as a total piece of crap.
In the back of my head, I’ve always thought I should do a more in-depth induction. One day while pondering that yet again, I found a thread on Bryan’s F4WOnline forum where a gentleman named Greg Grant dove headfirst into a discussion of how the film was originally scripted versus what actually came out on film. As I read it, I was absolutely fascinated and laughing my head off. Therefore, I contacted Greg and asked his permission to share it with everyone here. Thankfully he agreed and thus I am thrilled to present this to y’all.
Before we get too far in, let me note this is a VERY in-depth analysis, clocking in at over 36,000 words. That’s half the size of my first book! Therefore, we are going to break this up a bit and post parts over the next few days.
Without any further adieu…
Hello my name is Greg, and today I want to talk about a little movie called “No Holds Barred” (1989) starring Hulk Hogan, and do a deep dive into the script and the film, and point out the differences between them and discuss why they might have happened and, most importantly, laugh at the whole thing, because 2020 has been brutal and we could use a bit of laughter. Please join me on my journey.
Per Hulk Hogan, a script was commissioned by New Line Cinema for him, which he then promptly junked. While New Line Cinema does figure into story, I have yet to find evidence of a substantial involvement on their part until after the picture was completed. I know IMDB lists them as a production company for the movie, but I think it probable they had limited financial commitment contingent on the film being made rather than running day to day. Instead, it seems certain film folk were introduced to Vince and Hogan to make the picture (casting, cinematography, directing and the like), but it appears Hogan and Vince ran the show on the set, with a few producers who have little to no credits to their name. As for the script… well, that’s where it gets interesting. In his first ghostwritten autobiography, released in 2002, Hogan has claimed that after finding the script to be unacceptable, Vince McMahon and him locked themselves for three days in a Florida hotel room and rewrote the whole thing from scratch. Per Hogan, they hit a snag when Hogan developed writer’s block of his climactic battle to end the film. He then went to the toilet, sat down, and started dreaming, and in his dream he saw exactly how the final battle would take place (referencing certain key details of the battle in his book). He then sprung from his porcelain throne, rushed into the hotel room and started telling Vince exactly how the scene were to unfold. Hogan neglects to tell us whether he wiped first. Hogan, seized by his fever dream, could only tell Vince of the greatness of his vision when his eyes were closed, and thus per his book, Hogan – eyes wide shut – stumbled about the room, dictating all of this to Vince, who furiously typed it all down. The end.
What are we to make of this tale? Well, for starters, there is a curious further caveat made by Hogan in his book about the script, with him claiming the no-good Writers’ Guild only allowed the original writer to take credit and thus while Hogan and Vince really wrote the script, only the no-good writer of the original no-good draft got to take the prize for Hogan’s double-plus-good eloquence. This explains away the IMDB, film and screenplay credits, but calls into question the whole tale.
In the interest of fairness, and because the story of Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon locking themselves in a hotel room for three days and binging through a 72 hour odyssey of script doctoring is pretty amazing, I have attempted to test the chronological plausibility of it, which is difficult because Hulk Hogan does not indicate when he wrote the script, at all, in his book or in his subsequent statements. However, I have Hulk Hogan’s match schedule from 1988, a full listing of all WWF matches for that year, and a March 2, 1988 draft of the “No Holds Barred” screenplay. The draft I have already has the climactic battle between Hogan and the main bad guy as exactly envisioned by Hogan in his dream-state-toilet-stupor per his telling of the story. Therefore, Hogan had to have penned the work over three days in a Florida hotel room prior to March 2. And there is a gap in Hulk Hogan’s match schedule between the February 18, 1988 bout against the Honky Tonk Man in East Rutherford, New Jersey and the February 26, 1988 bout against Butch Reed in Hollywood… Florida. And while Vince McMahon’s schedule is more elusive, there is also a gap between the Madison Square Garden TV Taping on February 22, 1988 and the aforementioned Florida card in the WWF match listings. Therefore, both Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon have four days of overlap of no discernible wrestling activity in February of 1988, ending with a wrestling show in Florida. It is therefore plausible that Hogan and McMahon secluded themselves into a hotel room and reworked the script.
With that in mind, let us delve into the March 2, 1988 draft of the script.
No Holds Barred: The Script: Act I
A black void, with announcers talking over it as we hear the chants of wrestling fans, and the sound of a rasping breath. We are told the breathing is powerful. Erm, okay. Cut to a locker room, where there stands a gleaming white porcelain sink full of water, a cross hung from a gold chain drops into the still pool of water, it hangs from the neck of a man we do not yet see. He takes off the cross with his hand, we are told it is strong. The hand, uh, hands it off to a younger hand. And then a third hand belonging to an older black man (that’s what the script calls it) joins and the three hands clench in fists, entwined in the chain of the cross. The powerful man scoops up the water from the sink and drenches his face with it. And then we see the face, and the chest, shoulder and neck of the one and only Ripper, and now Ripper shakes his head, slinging water in every direction, as announcer talk about him defending his Championship and calls out his name. And then Ripper comes out, with his entourage, while his “anthem” blares “proud and triumphant.”
Ripper is accompanied by his eighteen year old brother Randy, and the owner of the older black hand, one Charlie, whom the script identifies as Ripper’s trainer. Four Security Guards have to push back the “mass of frenzied humanity” as Ripper walks down that aisle to face his challenger: Jake Bullet. The two men have a match, after Bullet jumps him right at the bell. As Bullet pounds on Ripper, we cut to a competing network’s corporate HQ, where Tom Brell, President and CEO of UTN is watching six different TV programs on six different monitors, with each monitor having a logo of the network Brell is watching. Ripper’s match is on National Television Network. Brell’s United Television Network is showing a home shopping phone-in show and it is shlocky, we are told. Brell is gleefully anticipating Bullet “taking care of the competition.”
Let’s stop right here for a moment, because if you had watched a film, things feel different in the script. We can discuss later, but one item has to be pointed out: the WWF does not exist in this universe, in this draft, at all. Ripper is the world champion of, uh, something. He’s simply the Champ. It is not said of what fed and indeed, no feds seem to exist.
In the arena, Randy is hollering for Ripper to fight back and shoots him The Sign. And the script takes the trouble to explain it, as in how many fingers bent and how bent are they and where is the thumb. It is a combination of “Hang Loose,” “I Love You” in the American Sign Language and “Hook ‘Em Horns,” and the script makes it 100% clear that it is always – ALWAYS – done with the left hand. This is a setup for something that will pay off in Act III. The level of detail going into the sign is pretty unusual for a screenplay, so this must have had direct input from someone having a given vision of what it should look like precisely and dictating it.
As Ripper sees The Sign and fights back and wins the match with the “double-hammer axe smash.” Back at UTN’s “Nerve Center” room, Brell is pissed and smashes his fist into the “remote control unit” and the six monitors go blank. Now, as the monitors go blank, the digital displays stay on (what?) and they display the ratings. As in, instant capture of ratings by the six special monitors in the special room where UTN execs watch things. Which is pretty amazing in-universe tech and is not explained, but something which is retained in the script and the film, where it becomes part of Act III without any explanation. Ripper’s show on NTN gets the best ratings, UTN’s show’s ratings are in the toilet. Brell chews the scenery a bit and demands his people come up with solutions which he will review tomorrow.
Now a very odd scene. In a High School Gymnasium, young Randy is having a wrestling watch, but he’s showboating a bit too much for the liking of his best pal Craig, and we are introduced to the reason Randy is showboating – girls, who are Randy’s fan club. And I think it best to quote directly from the script on this one, my good brothers: “nine of the hottest High School Sweethearts you’ve ever seen.” Hey, don’t look at me, that’s what the script says. One blonde in particular keeps crossing and uncrossing her legs for Randy and he is mesmerized. Well now, let us hope she is also 18, eh? Also, did Joe Ezterhas read this draft before writing “Basic Instinct?” Randy’s wiener pal Craig keeps telling Randy to get his head in the game or else Randy will lose the match and the meet. Randy is indeed losing, but Ripper appears, looming over the High School Sweethearts (how? what are the logistics of him climbing the bleachers behind nine high school girls?) and seeing his stern face, Randy gets in the game. Ripper shoots Randy The Sign, left handed, and Randy returns it with his left hand and wins the match.
Meanwhile, back at evil lair of Brell, his executives bring him ideas as he pets a priceless geode (yes, that’s in the script) and glowers at a rolled up poster on his conference table. The first executive to speak up is a woman, Ms. Tidings, and she has an idea to colorize some more classic films. A line so on the nose, they actually change it in the final filmed product, because Brell is now an utter expy for Ted Turner, only even more evil in the eyes of Vince McMahon. Naturally, Brell angrily reduces Tidings to tears and tells her to go “take a leak.” Next up is an underling named Orbach, who suggests prime time game shows. Disgusted, Brell jerks open the poster on the table, it is Ripper, showing him in all his glory. Brell tells his execs to get him Ripper. A second underling named Unger says: “But Ripper’s already under contract to another NTN, Mr. Brell.” This is confusing. I think the original line was “But Ripper’s already under contract to NTN, Mr. Brell,” then someone realized that nobody in the film actually says the network Ripper is on is “NTN” in the dialogue. The reader of the script knows it is NTN, but the actual name is not said by any of the character prior to Unger here blurting it out. So probably someone asked to change the dialogue to mention “But Ripper’s already under contract to another network, Mr. Brell” but messed up. Hmm. Maybe someone did write this while sitting on a toilet after binging for 72 hours.
Brell plays with his geode and says, “Contracts are words. Words buy nothing.” One Jr. Exec speaks up and says, “But Mr. Brell, I’m told Ripper’s word is his bond.” This causes Brell to melt down and he smashes the geode on the poster, but instead of damaging the poster, it is the geode that disintegrates. Man, even Ripper’s face on a glossy rolled up paper can destroy rocks. Imagine what he can do in person.
By the way, some of you who have seen the movie may feel I am leaving out a more memorable term of abuse favored by Brell in the movie. It’s not in this draft. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about – in the actual filmed product, Brell would routinely call people “jockass.” That word is not in the draft, at all. So we will discuss that bit of wisdom once we talk the film proper.
After establishing Ripper has a Harley motorcycle, we cut to a gym, where Ripper’s trainer Charlie oversees Ripper training with his brother Randy, who then challenges Ripper to a friendly game of Greco-Roman grappling that Ripper naturally wins (I mean, come on, his face shatters rocks), but with young Randy showing promise. Charlie and Ripper are both right proud of young Randolph and think that in a couple of years he might go pro and give Ripper a run for his money. But first Ripper has to go take care of business with some network execs and talk shop with his network boss. Off Ripper goes, where a receptionist named Liz gets lost in Ripper’s eyes and Ripper gently calls her out on it. This is one of the more interesting points of the script – the sexualization of Hulk Hogan, and it is creepy. Because Hulk Hogan is not one of the von Erichs, right? He’s not there to make teenage girls and married gals squeal as he does his thing. His primary audience are children. Yes, he was “Thunderlips: The Ultimate Male” in “Rocky III,” but that was different. He’s Hulk Hogan, hero to children. And here in the script, you are meant to think women look upon Hulk Hogan the way they would at Rick Rude in his prime. It is a bit disconcerting.
Having established ladies dig Hogan, it is only fair to show Hogan dig a lady as well. For Ripper is introduced by the head of the network to his (Ripper) new marketing executive Sam – and get this, it’s a girl. That’s right. Ripper came here to expect to meet a guy named Sam, but it turns out to be short for Samantha. This, in a script written in 1988. Don’t worry, there will be more hackery ahead. Ripper meets his merchandising team who are working on products and energizes them by giving them Ripper Natural Energy Drink, a six-pack to a room full of people. Cheap, that. But also shows Ripper is a man of the people, a theme which will be hit with all the subtlety and nuance of an ATF raid at Waco. Someone aslo shows up to get Ripper to sign all the autographs he needs to sign and he starts doing it. Thankfully some secretary shows up to rescue poor Ripper from doing the work of ten men. Back to Sam, Ripper ogles her as she talks. Then when Sam thinks Ripper is not listening, he recites back to her what she said using big-people smart-words and proposes a further discussion of these talking points in a less formal setting. Today, Sexual Harassment Panda would appear to teach Ripper a lesson and pull the execs present in for allowing it to happen, but ’88 was a different time.
Ripper is then whisked off to see Brell, who shows off his obscenely expensive Louis XIV chairs that are in his office, but Ripper quickly identifies them as not only being Louis XV furniture instead but also fakes.
And now we hit the other theme of the film: Ripper is the most awesome person who ever awesomed and he’s smart, and strong, and honorable and better than everyone and can beat up Superman and outfox Batman. I have read less vain vanity projects made by potbellied middle aged men with buggy whip arms who cast themselves as studs who wear black sleeveless T-shirts to show off their nonexistent guns and write scenes where they get to make out with Playboy Playmates while punching out pedophiles.
Back to the script. Brell offers money to Ripper to jump ship and join his network, but Ripper turns him down because his word is his bond. Bell goes off in an evil speech thinking Ripper just wants more money and literally offers Ripper a blank check, which Ripper shoves down Brell’s throat and tells him that he won’t be around when that check clears. Shaken, Brell calls down to the garage. The limo driver who took Ripper to Brell kidnaps Ripper and drives him to an abandoned warehouse where four bad men armed with pipes, brass knuckles and blackjacks. Ripper explodes out of the limo’s moon roof, lands among the men and puts a molly whooping on them.
He then stalks the driver to… well, hang on, and let me just reproduce the scene as written:
Ripper walks over to the driver’s door. He rips it open. Cowering inside, scared to death, is the Driver.
Ripper hauls him partially out and holds him, trying to decide what to do with him.
Ripper’s nose scrunches up. He looks at the front seat and back at the driver.
RIPPER: What’s that smell?
The driver has shit his pants.
DRIVER (terrified): Dukey.
Ripper has a look of disgust.
End scene. End of Act I.
Well now, we have set up some things nicely. Brell is an amoral prick with a vengeance who will not hesitate to kidnap and assault people who turn him down. Ripper likes women. Ripper’s younger brother Randy has poor impulse control. Charlie trains both men. Sam is there. But there are issues.
Act I as written is bad, but not off putting. It is stupid-bad, but it is also a bit fun. However, some problems emerge. We’re making a film for little kids, Hogan’s core audience. And the violence is cartoonish and Ripper is a superman, but what are we to make of High School Sweethearts who cross and uncross their legs to distract Randy, Liz making googly eyes at Ripper, Ripper being smitten by Sam and Ripper making a man shit his pants? Brell fits into the Hogan-universe, a bad guy executive who wants to buy our hero, but failing that just wants mangle him. So as badly as he is written and dumb as a geode his lines may stand, at least his motivations are clear and in line with Hogan’s core audience, but the rest…? The rest of the script as it currently stands is targeting the fantasies and impulses of teen boys, but it is going about it in a bad fashion as well because the rest of the world is cartoonish and is still aiming at younger than them. Even in the world of cartoons, there is a world of difference between “G.I. Joe” and say, “Exo-Squad” or “BattleTech.” It is very hard to appeal to 7 year olds and 12 year olds at the same time. So the script is already losing focus on the one thing it should have figured out before page one was written. But I am sure things will get better in Act II.
Spoiler alert: They don’t.