People are calling it the saddest movie of 2024, but why?

If you've been spying promo pictures of Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White with bulging muscles and coiffed mullets, we dare say you're just as intrigued as we are about what it all means. The Iron Claw is A24's latest film release, and immediately set tongues wagging upon its recent release - both due to the cast and its rave reviews.

But what you might not know is that when you walk into the cinema to watch Efron, White and Harris Dickinson do their thing on screen, you might just leave two hours later sobbing.

Watch the trailer for The Iron Claw. Post continues below.

Video via A24.

Because while, on the surface, this film looks like a macho-bravado romp, The Iron Claw is based on an incredibly sad true story, centred around the real lives of the Von Erich family.

Warning: spoilers and tears ahead.

The true story that inspired The Iron Claw.

Back in the 1970s and '80s, a family emerged in the wrestling world that would go on to become notorious - not for their success in the sport, but for their heartbreaking loss.

Known by his stage name, Fritz Von Erich, Jack Adkisson was an American professional wrestler who gained popularity throughout the '50s after he developed a signature move known as 'The Iron Claw', which involved squeezing this opponent's head.


In 1950, Fritz married his wife Doris, and the couple went on to have six sons - however, the family courted blow after blow, and today, only one of their sons survives. The loss of the Von Erich boys prompted the public coining of the phrase the 'Von Erich Curse', which would follow the family for many painful years.

Fritz Von Erich in 1963 via Getty Images.


Tragedy first struck the family in 1965, when Doris and Fritz's firstborn son, Jack Jr, died at just six years old, after he was accidentally electrocuted and fell into a puddle, drowning.

In 1976, their second son, Kevin (played by Zac Efron in the film), made his professional wrestling debut shortly followed by third son David (Harris Dickinson) in 1977, with both brothers following in their father's footsteps after years of rigorous training. Both Kevin and David - who took the family stage name Von Erich into the ring - made quite an impact on the sport throughout the late '70s and '80s, taking home heavyweight championship titles and world-renowned accolades.

David's career was cut tragically short when, in 1984, he was found dead in his hotel room in Tokyo. He was in town on tour for the All Japan Pro Wrestling tournament, where he was set to defend his United National championship belt. The official cause of death reported that he died after his intestines ruptured in his sleep.

Not long after his brother David's death, Fritz's fifth son, Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons), emerged as a new wrestler on the scene - although it was clear he never felt comfortable walking in his siblings' footsteps, amid reports Mike wasn't physically suited for the sport, and yearned to be a musician.

Despite his pleas to become a cameraman at his father's wrestling company, Mike began wrestling professionally. In 1985, he developed toxic shock syndrome following shoulder surgery. He never fully recovered and sank into depression, and a life of addiction. In 1987 he died by suicide.


Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White), Fritz's fourth son, was arguably the most successful of the brothers, but after his foot was badly damaged in a motorcycling accident, he was never able to return to full form. Ultimately, he had to have his right foot amputated which led to an addiction to painkillers. In 1992, Kerry died from a self-inflicted gunshot.

The youngest Von Erich brother, Chris, isn't portrayed in The Iron Claw, but according to an interview the only surviving brother, Kevin, did with the Dallas Observer, the youngest Von Erich was born with asthma, and the medication he took it made his bones brittle. Despite joining the wrestling circuit, Chris was plagued with health complications including many painful bone breaks. Chris placed an incredible amount of pressure on himself to be as successful as his brothers, which only led to a severe case of depression. In 1991, he too died by alleged suicide.

After the truly gut-wrenching loss of all his brothers, Kevin Von Erich quit wrestling in 1993 and moved to Hawaii with his wife and four children, ending a long and tormented period of life. But in a 2005 interview with Texas Monthly, Kevin said, "I wouldn't want anyone to feel sorry for me."

The cast of The Iron Claw.

Retelling such a devastating true story requires nuance and a talented cast with the ability to honour the original brothers. The films writer and director Sean Deakin brilliantly cast the leads with actors who were able to give the perfect amount of heart to the characters.


Dickinson, Efron, Simons and White in The Iron Claw. Image: A24.

Elsewhere in the cast is Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, and Lily James as Kevin's wife Pam.


In preparation for the film, Efron, White and Dickinson had to go through gruelling training regimens to get themselves fighting fit to portray pro wrestlers.

"You think you're getting the hang of it, and you speed up a few times and your confidence gets built up," Efron said in an interview with USA Today.

"Then you slam into one of those things just an inch too high and your rib is like gone. You can't breathe for a couple days."

The cast not only underwent major physical transformations as they stepped into their characters, but also developed a strong connection to the legacy of the Von Erich brothers. The night before the Dallas premiere of The Iron Claw, Efron was able to sit down with the real Kevin Von Erich for a heart-to-heart chat.

Efron and Kevin Von Erich at Los Angeles The Iron Claw premiere. Image: Getty Images.


"We went out to the patio, sat forehead to forehead, and talked about life for an hour and a half," he told Variety. "And he told me that he did enjoy the movie. I can't really put into words how that feels. It's far and away the most important review to me on so many levels. It meant the world, and everything just came full circle."

Taking on such a heavy subject matter was not lost on the cast, with White saying that it brought them together.

"I do feel like it was some sort of trauma bonding that happened," he said in an interview with PEOPLE

"We were all insecure and nervous about learning this new thing. And we were comfortable letting each other know how overwhelmed we were at the beginning."

The Iron Claw is in cinemas now.

Feature Image: A24.

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