Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows

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Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows
Wrestling With Shadows new cover.jpg
10th anniversary edition cover.
Directed byPaul Jay
Produced byPaul Jay
Sally Blake
David M. Ostriker
Silva Basmajian (NFB)
Written byPaul Jay
StarringBret Hart
Vince McMahon
Shawn Michaels
Stu Hart
Owen Hart
Davey Boy Smith
Jim Neidhart
Stone Cold Steve Austin
The Undertaker
Triple H
Edited byManfred Becker
Distributed byVidmark/Trimark
Release date
December 20, 1998 (1998-12-20)
Running time
93 minutes

Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows is a 1998 Canadian documentary film directed, produced and written by Paul Jay. It follows Bret "The Hitman" Hart during his last year in the WWF, from his World Wrestling Federation Championship victory at SummerSlam to his final match with the company and the infamous Montreal Screwjob at the pay-per-view Survivor Series on November 9, 1997.[1][2]


In 1997, Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF) is embroiled in a fierce corporate rivalry with Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling (WCW), which will come to be known as "The Monday Night Wars" among wrestling fans. Amid this rivalry, star WWF performer Bret "The Hitman" Hart finds his loyalties to his employers unexpectedly tested when he is offered a highly lucrative contract with WCW, their chief competitor. Although he is tempted by the prospect of a large salary with another company, he views Vince McMahon as a mentor and father figure, and he feels conflicted about leaving his longtime employer while they're struggling to overcome WCW in the ratings.

In the interim, Hart struggles with developing a marketable public image. While he takes great pride in playing the role of a beloved hero ("face", in wrestling parlance), his superiors at WWF fear that his heroic persona is seen as outdated and old-fashioned by the current generation of wrestling fans, who are increasingly showing a predilection for morally ambiguous antiheroes—a trend exemplified by the ascendance of Hart's rival "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. At the urging of WWF management, Hart reluctantly agrees to adopt the role of an arrogant bully who antagonizes fans and spouts anti-American rhetoric, which greatly conflicts with his desire to act as a positive role model for young fans. He is allowed to continue playing the role of a hero while performing for audiences in his native Canada, where he is widely viewed as a cultural icon.

Despite his initial misgivings about leaving WWF, Hart is ultimately left with no choice after McMahon chooses to rescind an earlier offer of a 20-year contract to stay with the company. But since Hart is WWF's reigning World Heavyweight Champion at the time, his departure forces the company to face the question of who will assume his title after he leaves. As Hart prepares for his final match with WWF in November 1997, it is determined that his last match will pit him against his longtime rival Shawn Michaels in a televised bout at the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec. In a recorded conversation discussing the predetermined outcome of the match, McMahon agrees that the match will end in Hart's disqualification (making it a draw), and that Hart won't be forced to lose to Michaels, whom he is widely known to personally dislike.

When the night of the match arrives, it takes an unexpected turn when referee Earl Hebner prematurely rings the bell while Michaels has Hart in a submission hold, resulting in Michaels being declared the winner—even though Hart never submitted. Immediately realizing that McMahon broke his word, Hart angrily spits in the WWF chairman's face in full view of the audience before storming off-camera. Later, backstage footage shows Hart's wife Julie confronting Michaels and his tag-team partner Hunter Hearst Helmsley, accusing them of knowing in advance about McMahon's plan to change the outcome of the match, which both men deny. Furious at McMahon for betraying him, Hart eventually confronts his former mentor in his office, leading to a physical altercation that ends with Hart punching him.

In the final scenes, Hart spends time at home with his family some time after starting work as a WCW entertainer, while his former rivals Michaels and Helmsley ridicule him in a televised comedic sketch on WWF's Monday Night Raw. While still noticeably bitter about his mentor's betrayal, Hart claims that he is at peace, and ready to begin the next phase of his career. In a voiceover, he expresses pride in staying true to his ideals and refusing to compromise his integrity, but he opines that his in-ring alter ego "The Hitman" was murdered in Montreal, bringing his story to an end.


Wrestling with Shadows is co-produced by High Road Productions Inc. and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).[3] It was released on VHS format to both the United States and United Kingdom in 1999. It has been available on DVD in the UK since 2004. On February 3, 2009, Wrestling with Shadows: The 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition was released on DVD for the first time in the United States. This two-disc edition includes the movie, interviews with Bret Hart and director Paul Jay ten years later and "The Life and Death of Owen Hart" documentary.

In an interview featured on the two-disc special edition, Jay states that the filmmakers had a contract with McMahon to provide not only stock footage, but the waivers for the use of the names and likeness of the other wrestlers featured in the film. After the fallout from Montreal, McMahon feared how he would be portrayed in the film and refused both. The director goes on to state that WCW contacted the filmmakers and not only offered to pay for the lawsuit at an estimated cost of $750,000, but also offered a pay-per-view deal for the film and long-term distribution on the Turner network. Once McMahon became aware of this, the producers received a fax from Titan Sports Inc. saying that they would honor their original contract on the condition that the lawsuit be dropped and they could never sell the film to Turner. Jay said they were told they had a "slam-dunk" case but when asked about the film, they were told they would most likely be in court three to four years and "there would be no film" even if they won. Jay decided to make the film and drop the lawsuit. The director goes on to state that McMahon also used his reputation to kill some of the distribution deals in the U.S. and overseas.


The film was well received at the time[4] and is today considered to be critically acclaimed.[5] It won numerous film festival awards and has aired several times on both A&E and the Documentary Channel as well as on BBC Two in the United Kingdom; after a 1999 airing on BBC Two, journalist Greg Wood of The Independent described it "a story beautifully told".[6]

Wrestling historian Dave Meltzer has stated that Wrestling with Shadows, together with Beyond the Mat, are the two most critically acclaimed wrestling documentaries.[7] The Canadian film study book North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema Since 1980 declared the film to be one of the best National Film Board documentaries of the period and worthy of John Grierson's mission for the NFB.[8] Jordan Peterson has expressed that the film as one of the greatest documentaries that he had seen in his life, stating that it was "one of the best documentaries about anything ever".[9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]


A soundtrack album inspired by Bret Hart's music choices was released on Nettwerk Records under the Unforscene Music imprint on October 19, 1999.[17]

  1. Keith Scott – Hitman Theme Intro
  2. Rascalz – Sharpshooter (Best of da Best)
  3. DDT – Lie Detector
  4. Rob Zombie – Superbeast
  5. Gob – Self-Appointed Leader
  6. Gloritone – Halfway
  7. Bryan Adams – Only the Strong Survive
  8. Sebadoh – Flame
  9. BTK – Peppyrock
  10. Days of the New – Touch, Peel and Stand
  11. Keith Scott – Original score
  12. Moist – Resurrection
  13. Econoline Crush – Sparkle & Shine
  14. S.O.F.T. – Second Coming
  15. Keith Scott – Original score

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Zachary Ingle; David M. Sutera (2013). Gender and Genre in Sports Documentaries: Critical Essays. Ebury Press. p. 81 pp. ISBN 978-0-8108-8788-6.
  2. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/video/movies/100000003336564/hitman-hart-wrestling-with-shadows.htmle[dead link]
  3. ^ "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows". Collection. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 2009-10-31.
  4. ^ Joyce Duncan (2004). Sport in American Culture: From Ali to X-games. ABC-CLIO. p. 409 pp. ISBN 1-85109-559-4.
  5. ^ Veal, Ben (10 June 2013). "Pink and Black Attack: Bret Hart's ex-wife Julie Hart pulls no punches in new book". mirror. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  6. ^ Wood, Greg (7 November 1999). "The sadist, the loving father and a knockout end". The Independent. Archived from the original on 15 January 2015. Retrieved January 11, 2014.
  7. ^ Meltzer, Dave (2004). Tributes II: Remembering More of the World's Greatest Wrestlers. Sports Publishing LLC. p. 16 pp. ISBN 978-1582618173.
  8. ^ Beard, William; White, Jerry (2002-01-01). North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema Since 1980. University of Alberta. p. 39. ISBN 9780888643902. North of everything hitman hart.
  9. ^ Peterson, Jordan B. (13 April 2017). Jordan Peterson - Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (Video) (Film). YouTube: Bite-sized Philosophy. Event occurs at 00:40. Retrieved 2018-01-15.
  10. ^ [1] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  11. ^ [2] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  12. ^ [3] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  13. ^ [4] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  14. ^ [5] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  15. ^ [6] Archived January 20, 2018, at WebCite
  16. ^ [7] Archived January 20, 2018, at Archive.today
  17. ^ "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows - Original Soundtack | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2020-03-06.

External links[edit]