2023 gave us many cinematic gems that received much love and recognition. “Barbie” subverted our perceptions about a plastic doll, whereas “The Zone of Interest” showed a new perspective on genocide. The likes of “Oppenheimer” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” provided cerebral and spectacular theatrical experiences. But, Sean Durkin’s “The Iron Claw” (2023) unfortunately stayed under the radar during the award season. Regardless, it is worthy of every bit of its praise. With a spectacular acting ensemble and a sensible direction, the film rises above conventional wrestling films and becomes a harrowing exploration of masculinity.

Spoilers Ahead

The Iron Claw (2023) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

What is ‘The Iron Claw’ about?

“The Iron Claw” is a biographical sports drama that follows the Von Erich family, primarily comprised of professional wrestlers. The film plays out like a classic tragedy set-up, where one tragic event follows another that leads to the family’s heartbreaking fate. We see the family patriarch, Fritz Von Erich, grooming his sons to win the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. It is a tale as old as time: a parent forcing their unfulfilled goals & ambitions onto their children and making them live under that enormous and unjust burden. Through this narrative, the film explores the themes of power, control, fame, and masculinity.

The Iron Claw (2023) True Story Explained

The narrative of “The Iron Claw” begins in the 1970s. We see Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) inside a boxing ring, beating his opponent. He uses his trademark ‘Iron Claw’ move to win the fight. At the time, he and his family used to live in a mobile home. It’s clear that they have financial troubles. Still, Fritz buys a Cadillac. His wife, Doris (Maura Tierney), sees it as an unreasonable expense. Since they have four sons, they needed a house more than a car for him to showcase his status. Still, Fritz saw it as a part of being a star wrestler. So, he considers it justified.

A few years later, by 1979, things got better for their family. Fritz retired as a professional wrestler and owned the World Class Championship Wrestling company (WCCW). He once dreamed of winning the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. So, he pushes his children to achieve that title for the family. Fritz and Doris have five sons. The oldest son, Jack Jr, died at a young age. The next two, Kevin (Zac Efron) and David (Harris Dickinson) wrestle at the WCCW. While Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is a discus thrower who aspires to win an Olympic medal, the youngest son, Mike (Stanley Simons), is an aspiring musician.

What is the Von Elrich curse?

Unlike other sons, Mike isn’t agile or athletic. So, Fritz tests his limits and forces him to push further. Kevin asks Doris to tell Fritz to go easy on Mike. But Doris doesn’t entertain his concern, perhaps because she knows there’s no point telling Fritz anything. At the time, Kevin was the Texas Heavyweight Champion. After one of his fights, he meets Pam (Lily James) and soon starts a relationship with her. On their first date, she learns how protective he is of his brothers. He talks about his older brother’s death and the ‘Von Erich’ curse. His original family name was Adkisson, which Fritz changed to Von Erich. Kevin believes it to be the reason behind their conflicts.

The curse becomes evident through Fritz’s stubbornness, who insists that Von Erich should take their family name to the next stage. He books a fight between Kevin and World Heavyweight Champion Harley Race. Kevin wins it by disqualification, which brings him into the big league. But during the fight, he takes a long time to get up after a move. Fritz finds it disappointing. But he appreciates David’s showmanship, who enters the ring to make a case for their family. Meanwhile, the US decides to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics. So, Kerry returns home to his family.

What happens between the Von Erich brothers?

Once Kerry returns home, Fritz pushes him to also be a wrestler. While Mike continues making music, his brothers start wrestling in the ring. A couple of years later, they defeat the Fabulous Freebirds to win the Six-Man Tag Team Championship. Suddenly, after this fight, Fritz announces that David will fight the current NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Ric Flair. It comes as a surprise for Kevin, who was considered to be the obvious choice. Alas, for this world championship, David needs to go to Japan. Before that, Kevin gets married to Pam.

The Iron Claw (2023) Movie Ending Explained
A still from The Iron Claw (2023)

During Kevin’s wedding, he realizes that David is severely ill. He tries to stop David in that condition. But, David insists he go and not disappoint his father who offered him this big responsibility. Unfortunately, a week before his match against Rick Flair, he dies of enteritis in Japan. After David’s death, Fritz lets a coin flip who gets to fight instead of David. As a result, Kerry replaces David to fight Flair. He beats Flair and wins the coveted World Heavyweight Champion title. While Fritz can’t be happier, Kerry feels a heavier burden on his shoulders. He gets drunk, goes out driving, and gets into an accident. Because of it, he loses his right foot.

Does David wrestle again?

After his tragic accident, Kerry cannot fight for the time being. Meanwhile, Kevin and Pam have a baby. Because of the recent tragic events in their family, Kevin chooses Adkisson as the child’s last name. Since Kerry is unfit, Fritz forces Mike to participate. Kevin starts training Mike despite knowing his limitations. During a match, Mike badly injures himself and goes into a coma. All these tragedies take a heavy toll on Kevin’s mind. So, he distances himself from Pam and his child.

Mike suffers brain damage, which makes it difficult for him to wrestle or even play guitar. Still, Fritz has no compassion for his son. He presses Mike to return to wrestling. Due to that immense pressure, Mike takes his own life. Kerry insists he starts wrestling again with his prosthetic foot. Nevertheless, David gets to fight Flair in the NWA championship. During the match, he ignores the referee and uses the ‘Iron Claw’ move for longer than permissible. So, he gets disqualified.

The Iron Claw (2023) Movie Ending Explained:

Kevin returns to his married life with Pam and their two sons, Ross & Marshall. Fritz tells Kevin to run their WCCW organization. He realizes the financial burdens and their waning popularity. So, he proposes to sell it to an interested party. Predictably, Fritz refuses to let go of control of his family name over it. Meanwhile, Kerry returns to wrestling with his prosthetic foot. Before Christmas, he gifts Fritz a gun. But Fritz isn’t nearly as enthusiastic about it as he is. Kerry plans to spend Christmas with his partner. However, before leaving, he feels crushed by the feeling of being a failure.

Late at night, Kerry calls Kevin to speak about his anguish and that he has contemplated suicide. He hangs up before Kevin can know where he is. So, Kevin calls Fritz to take care of his responsibility as a father toward his son. Fritz remains as apathetic as before and tells Kevin that they need to work out these things between themselves. Kevin asks Fritz to take care of Kerry until he comes home the next day. However, the next day, Kevin finds Kerry having shot himself to death. So, he gets justifiably furious at Fritz for being heartless and irresponsible.

What happens to the Von Erich family?

After Kerry’s death, Kevin sells WCCW to Jerry Jarrett despite his father’s opposition. Doris finally decides to leave Fritz on his own, and she begins painting again. Pam has another child with Kevin. After experiencing a series of deaths, David is heartbroken. So, he weeps, thinking of his lost brothers while his sons ask about it. Kevin says he misses having brothers. His sons say that they will be his brothers and he can play with them. After this bittersweet moment, the film reveals some details about the Von Erich family’s legacy.

The Von Erichs were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. They are still considered one of the greatest families in the history of wrestling. Kevin and Pam are still married. They bought a ranch and started living there with their extended family.

Read More: 10 Best Pro-Wrestling Movies, Ranked


The Iron Claw (2023) Movie Links IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Cast: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Holt McCallany, Harris Dickinson, Lily James, Maura Tierney
Genre: Drama/Action/Biography/Sports | Runtime: 2h 12m
Where to watch The Iron Claw

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