‘My Spy’ and the History of the Tough-Guy Babysitter Movie

A rite of passage for the modern Hollywood muscleman

The long-delayed Dave Bautista vehicle My Spy should have hit theaters on April 17 after several release date shuffles. Coronavirus delayed the film again after most American movie theaters shut down. It finally debuted on Amazon Prime a few weeks ago to mixed results from both critics and audiences.

My Spy is a new take on the old “action star meets precocious kid” formula. Former WWE wrestler Bautista plays JJ, a demoted CIA spy who has to surveill the family of 9-year-old Sophie (Chloe Coleman). Sophie finds out JJ’s identity and makes JJ teach her to be a spy, or she’ll rat him out.

Actor juxtaposition has long been a tried-and-true comedy formula, but this genre of family film reached its heyday in the 2000s, when wrestlers and action stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel traded the explosions and fast cars for tutus and diapers.

Here’s a look at all the other times action heroes became babysitters on film:

John Cena- Playing With Fire (2019)


WWE star Cena continued to flex his comedic chops after acclaimed turns in Sisters, Trainwreck and Blockers. Here he plays Jake, a wildfire firefighter tasked with watching three kids he saved from a fire until he can return them to their parents. Not a lot of people saw it – much like his wrestling persona.

Jackie Chan- The Spy Next Door (2010)


The legendary stuntman plays undercover CIA operative Bob Ho. He wants to give up his life of espionage and settle down and marry his girlfriend (Amber Valletta). When one of her kids downloads top-secret information while Ho is babysitting, he has to defend the house against Russian operatives. Hijinks (and some fun stunts) ensue.

Also starring: Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: The Tooth Fairy (2010), Race to Witch Mountain (2009) and The Game Plan (2007)


Johnson’s film career includes a lot of instances where he acts opposite children or teens, but the three biggest ones were from 2007-2010, all of which offer more creative riffs on the “tough guy acts with kids” formula.

In The Game Plan, he plays a pro football player who learns he has an 8-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. In the Race to Witch Mountain remake, he plays the straight man to two telekinetic kids. And in the Santa Clause riff The Tooth Fairy, he plays a minor league goon sentenced to be the Tooth Fairy for one week while he takes care of his daughter.

All of these films are middling-to-good, but they work because the plots center on Johnson’s charm and incorporate his past as an athlete.

Vin Diesel- The Pacifier (2005)


Diesel declined to appear in 2 Fast 2 Furious so he could reprise his role as Riddick in the box office flop The Chronicles of Riddick in 2004. The Pacifier was the only other big-budget film Diesel appeared in before returning to the Fast family. In The Pacifier, Diesel’s Navy SEAL Shane Wolfe guards a recently killed government scientist’s family.

Tasks include imparting life lessons, changing diapers and fighting a high school gym teacher.

Terry “Hulk” Hogan- Mr. Nanny (1993)


The Pacifier is basically a more heartfelt remake of Mr. Nanny, which is like a lost Home Alone film crossed with a bodyguard movie. Hogan plays Sean Armstrong, a fictionalized version of himself. An inventor hires Armstrong to guard and babysit his two kids while he’s being stalked by a rival inventor. If the rival inventor doesn’t kill him, the kids will. Eat your vitamins and say your prayers.

Arnold Schwarzenegger- Kindergarten Cop (1990)


A Portland, Oregon recreational center recently canceled a screening of Kindergarten Cop because it glorifies the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Maybe it does. Or maybe it’s not a tumor. Regardless, it’s the grandaddy of these types of films.

The Arnold is an undercover LAPD cop looking to put a drug lord behind bars in one of the earliest instances of the “tough guy acts with kids” genre. His leads take him to Oregon, where he must pose as a kindergarten teacher to locate the drug lord’s ex and son. Will he tame an unruly group of kids and learn something about himself in the process? Of course.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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