The first scene of Randy working the deli counter was improvised. When real customers kept walking up to the counter during filming, Darren Aronofsky told Mickey Rourke to take their orders while the camera would continue rolling. Also improvised were all of the backstage locker room scenes.
The video game Randy and his child neighbor play in both the trailer and the movie was created especially for the film and was fully playable. The game features similar graphics to the original WWF WrestleMania (1989) Nintendo game.
Hulk Hogan claimed on The Howard Stern Show (1990) that he was offered the role of Randy "The Ram" Robinson. Hogan claims he turned down the role because he felt he wasn't the right man to portray the character. Darren Aronofsky publicly disputed this, stating that Hogan was never considered, and that Mickey Rourke was his only choice for the role.
The scene where a fan hands "The Ram" a prosthetic leg and "The Ram" then hits his opponent with it is based on an actual event from an ECW show where a fan repeatedly yelled "use my leg" and eventually tossed his prosthetic leg to Tommy Dreamer, who in turn used it on his opponent.
Only two days after its completion "The Wrestler" was screened on Venice Film Festival and walked off with the Golden Lion award for Best Picture. Mickey Rourke also would have walked off as Best Actor if the Venice jury chairman, director Wim Wenders, had had his way but Wenders' vigorous campaigning could not topple a longstanding festival rule which insists that one film is not allowed to win both awards. Rourke happily contented himself with finally being the star of a prize-winning picture.
Contrary to prior reports that Mickey Rourke didn't get paid at all to appear in this film (which would have been a violation of union rules), a profile of Darren Aronofsky in the March 17, 2014, issue of the New Yorker mentioned that Rourke did end up being paid a hundred thousand dollars for the role, and he asked to receive some of that salary in cash in a brown paper bag.
Although Darren Aronofsky wanted Mickey Rourke for the lead role, Rourke was initially hesitant to be in the film because he wasn't a fan of the script nor did he like pro-wrestling. However, after Aronofsky let Rourke rewrite much of his dialogue, Rourke agreed to be in the film.
During his boxing career, the song played over Mickey Rourke's entrances was "Sweet Child O' Mine", by the band Guns N' Roses; his character in this film uses this same song when entering the ring in his last fight.
This movie, and Mickey Rourke's status as lead actor in it, was used in a story angle by the world's most well-known pro-wrestling company, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, previously known as the World Wrestling Federation or WWF). The story angle reached its climax at The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania (2009), where Rourke himself made an appearance at the event (not as a wrestler however).
Randy "The Ram" Robinson shares characteristics of the two biggest wrestling icons of the 1980s: Hulk Hogan and Randy 'Macho Man' Savage (Randy Savage). The look of The Ram, with the long blonde hair and tremendous physique as well as the steroid use, is obviously Hoganesque, while the "Ram Jam" (a flying double forearm smash off the top rope) is inspired by Savage's "Flying Elbow" even down to the pose before executing it. The Ram's feud with "The Ayatollah" also mimics the feud that Hogan had with Khosrow Vaziri (aka "The Iron Sheik") that made him a venerable superstar and the face of 1980s and early 1990s wrestling.
A retired wrestler Bret Hart, a seven-time world champion in WWF and WCW, liked the movie but at the same time was disturbed by its unbalanced portrayal of life as a professional wrestler. While appreciating the "clairvoyant performance" by Mickey Rourke and the "astutely layered vision" by director Darren Aronofsky, Hart felt the film's dark misinterpretation merely shows what many people outside the business think the sport is. He also criticized that the film helps to reinforce some opinions that anyone can walk in the ring and wrestle. Hart says he trained almost daily during his career.
The main climatic scene featuring the rematch between Randy "The Ram" Robinson and The Ayatollah was taped at two Ring of Honor events on March 14th and 15th, 2008. Several Ring of Honor wrestlers also have cameos in the movie.
During the strip club scene in which Ram (Mickey Rourke) is showing Cassidy (Marisa Tomei) some of the scars he has accumulated throughout his career and she tells him, "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" - this is a direct and word for word reference to the Old Testament biblical verse of Isaiah 53:5. Chapter 53 of the book of Isaiah is the last of four songs about "The Suffering Servant" and it tells the story of a "Man of Sorrows".
Infinity Ward, the video game developer whose known for creating the "Call of Duty" series, was informed and honored from the mention of their title after an employee of the company went to an early screening of the film.
Throughout most of the movie, "Metal Health (Bang Your Head)" by Quiet Riot is The Ram's theme intro. "Sweet child o' mine" by Guns 'n' Roses was played as Ram made his entrance before the final match though.
At one point Nicolas Cage was set to star in the movie. He was seen at a Ring of Honor wrestling event in NYC doing research for the part. However, Cage dropped out of production because he felt he didn't have time to prepare for the part and Darren Aronofsky preferred Mickey Rourke for the lead role.
Darren Aronofsky revealed that Belgian directors Dardenne brothers (Luc Dardenne and Jean-Pierre Dardenne) were a very strong influence for the style of The Wrestler. And while promoting Black Swan in 2010, Aronofsky told Alistair Harkness from The Scotsman that he changed his entire directing style for The Wrestler after seeing their work for the first time.
On February 9, 2008, as a part of Combat Zone Wrestling's regular February event, filming took place in the New Alhambra Arena for the movie, which included many CZW alumni, along with Dylan Keith Summers (a.k.a. "Necro Butcher").
Ernest Miller, who plays the Ayatollah, was himself a professional wrestler. Known as Ernest "The Cat" Miller, he wrestled in World Championship Wrestling from 1997 until the company folded in 2001 and then later on in World Wrestling Entertainment.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
When Randy the Ram gives his speech prior to the match that closes the movie, the audience is in love with their hero and gives him a huge standing ovation. The reality was that when they first attempted to film the scene, the Ring of Honor audience began catcalling the monologue. It wasn't until Darren Aronofsky addressed the audience and explained how important the scene was that they got on board, giving themselves a "We fucked up" chant before setting into the rabid Ram love-fest seen in the final film.
The movie ends with Randy coming off the top rope with the Ram Jam before going to black, and playing Bruce Springsteen's song as the credits roll. When the match was filmed at a March 2008 Ring of Honor event, Ram nailed the move and scored the pin. The reason for the cut to black was to allow the audience to decide if he lived or died.