The Heartbreaking True Story On Max About The Most Tragic Sports Family in History

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Published

The Iron Claw is now available to watch on Max, and while I can’t say it’s a particularly good movie, certainly not heartwarming, the performances within it are worth sitting down and paying attention to for two-plus hours. The Iron Claw is a film based on the true story of the Von Erich wrestling family during the 1980s and 1990s.

The plot of The Iron Claw revolves largely around the only surviving brother of the five, Kevin Von Erich, played by Zac Efron. Efron’s performance was so powerful that you would be hard-pressed to recognize him from his roles in movies like Neighbors and Bay Watch. He stars alongside other brilliant actors, including The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Holt McCallany, and Maura Tierney. 

The Most Tragic Family In Wrestling

As the film opens, we see Fritz Von Erich, a retired professional wrestler and the inventor of the signature iron claw move, as the owner of the World Class Championship Wrestling company. His oldest son, Kevin, is rising through the ranks and ostensibly soon to take a world championship title. 

The Von Erich Curse

Behind him is his younger brother David (Dickinson), also a successful wrestler but still new to the ring. David is the first one we see who uses the iron claw move in the film. Their brother Kerry (Allen White) is headed to the Olympics as a discus thrower but discovers the United States will not attend the Olympic games this year in Russia in protest. The youngest brother, Mike, seems entirely uninterested in wrestling, much more concerned with playing the guitar and singing in his band.

The Movie Wisely Focuses On Kevin

Kevin is overshadowed by his brother David early in the narrative as Kevin is less of a showman than David. But there never seems to be any animosity between the brothers in The Iron Claw. Kevin meets his future wife, Pam (played by the lovely Lily James), and it appears as though he’s more invested in loving his family and having children. Like the rest of his brothers, he accepts his father’s commandments as though they were gospel. 

The Iron Claw Softens The Real Life Villain

By the time a preventable tragedy strikes the Von Erichs, again, you can’t help but blame everything on Fritz and Doris (Tierney) in The Iron Claw. The entire household seems obsessed with getting into the wrestling ring, and it all looks like it stems from the father’s persistence and the mother’s refusal to act.

Yes, the actors all give spectacular performances, but the fact that the movie moves quickly from one death to the next, highlighting the severe pressure the sons were under, feels out of touch with what a wrestling movie should have been about. 

A Beautiful Film On Max


There wasn’t much wrestling in The Iron Claw. There wasn’t much love to reveal what kept these boys bonded to their parents so tightly. And there wasn’t much joy. It was dark, painful, and downright devastating. Having said that, Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film at 89 percent, and critics raved about it. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just… ugh… not what I think it could have been. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

Still, it’s worth watching to decide for yourself.