The Attitude Era (for our purposes, any World Wrestling Federation programming between 1997 and 2001) was a huge part of the WWF's history for a variety of reasons.
For one thing, it was the first time that professional wrestling enjoyed a mainstream audience since the early days of Hulkamania... and arguably it hasn't been seen since.
Another unique aspect of The Attitude Era was the departure of many tried and true formulas, such as edgier, more controversial content, shorter matches and more reality-based storylines.
Finally, The Attitude Era was responsible for WWF winning the Monday Night War against WCW and giving the industry a profile it didn't have before.
While these aren't all matches, per se, these were all huge defining moments for the time. In counting down the Top 50 Attitude Era Moments, Wrestling Merchandise and Memories looked at the following criteria:
How memorable was the moment, years later?
Did it help to elevate the talent(s) involved?
How did the segment perform in the ratings?
Did the moment help define the edgy Attitude Era?
One last note: these are all moments that happened on-screen for a WWF show. No backstage moments or anything that didn't appear on Raw, SmackDown or a pay-per-view.
If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.
Ready? Here we go!
Cactus calls it a career
WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley was a huge part of The Attitude Era and his first send-off was just as huge. On February 27, 2000, Foley (wrestling as Cactus Jack) took on Triple H in a Hell In A Cell match. Cactus lost the match and a result, had to retire from the WWF (even though he came back the next month).
The Giant makes it to The Big Show
On February 9, 1999, fans were finally getting a steel cage match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon. The match was interrupted by former WCW star The Giant, who was hiding under the ring and attacked Austin. Using his real name Paul Wight, he quickly became established as The Big Show.
The Body is back
The main event of SummerSlam in 1999 featured WWE Hall of Famer Jesse "The Body" Ventura making his return to the WWF (as a special referee) after a nine-year absence. What made the return more special was that Ventura was at the time the Governor of Minnesota and a massive mainstream crossover celebrity.
In 1999, WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry had the nickname "Sexual Chocolate" and was quite the ladies man. Fellow Hall of Famer Chyna got even with Henry by setting him up with her friend "Sammy", who was a transvestite. This caused Henry to utter the iconic line "Oh, sweet Jesus - you've got a penis!"
"I did it... for The Rock."
In late-2000, WWF Commissioner Mick Foley set out to see who ran over Stone Cold Steve Austin a year earlier. Foley's unusual investigation led him to determine the hit and run had been carried out by WWE Hall of Famer Rikishi, who claimed he'd run over Austin to help the chances of his cousin The Rock.
A Radical debut
A huge, interpromotional moment happened on the January 31, 2000 edition of Monday Night Raw when former WCW stars Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn showed up at ringside. This was huge because all four had recently asked to leave WCW - with Benoit as the WCW Champion.
Crash enacts the 24/7 rule
Shortly after the diminutive Crash Holly won the WWF Hardcore Championship in February 2000, he declared that he would defend the championship 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This led to a series of memorable "matches" where Crash defended his championship backstage, at the airport and even once at the circus.
Shane McMahon's incredible plunge
At SummerSlam 2000, Shane McMahon was defending the WWF Hardcore Championship against Steve Blackman. At one point in the match, Blackman chased McMahon up a large steel structure near the entrance ramp. After a few kendo shots to his back, McMahon fell backwards a huge height off the structure.
The (first) ECW invasion
Reeling from the competition's WCW vs. nWo rivalry, the WWF decided to get in the game on February 24, 1997, welcoming competitors from ECW onto their episode of Raw from Manhattan. While the cross-promotion was only mildly effective, it did lead to a legitimate pull-apart between Tazz and Jerry Lawler.
Faarooq - out; Rock - in
For months, the Nation of Domination faction was torn between leader Faarooq and The Rock. On March 30, 1998, WWE Hall of Famer Faarooq attempted to kick The Rock out of the group, but members D'Lo Brown, Mark Henry and The Godfather instead sided with The Rock, dumping Faarooq from the group.
Austin's heel turn
In the lead up to their WWF World Championship match at WrestleMania XVII, WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin said he would do whatever it took to regain the championship from The Rock. This beared itself out, with Austin gaining the upper hand from his sworn enemy, Mr. McMahon.
On November 29, 1999, Test was set to marry Stephanie McMahon on an episode of Raw. The ceremony was interrupted by Triple H, who had been feuding with Stephanie's father Vince McMahon. The Game showed footage of an unconscious Stephanie marrying Triple H one night before in a Las Vegas chapel.
Formation of a Foundation
WWE Hall of Famer Bret "Hitman" Hart was tired of being screwed over by fans and the front office when he surfaced on the March 31, 1997 edition of Raw. The Hitman stopped a fight between brother Owen Hart and brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, both of whom were previously enemies, to form The Hart Foundation.
Winner Takes All
Six days after the previous entry, Team WWF (The Rock, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, The Big Show and Kane) took on Team Alliance (Stone Cold Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Booker T and Shane McMahon) in a "winner takes all" Survivor Series 2001 main event, which was won by Team WWF.
The most brutal match between The Rock and Mankind took place at the 1999 Royal Rumble match, when the two faced off for Mankind's WWF Title in an "I Quit" match. Rock assaulted Mankind with dozens of chair shots before a pre-recorded voice of Mankind screaming "I quit!" was aired, costing him the title.
Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz
Upstart tag teams Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boyz concluded their best of five series at 1999's No Mercy PPV with the first-ever tag team ladder match in WWF history. The contest, which was won by The Hardyz, helped elevate both teams and accelerated the promotion's tag team competiton significantly.
Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz - TLC
The following year, Edge & Christian, Matt and Jeff Hardy and The Dudley Boyz rekindled their rivalry for WrestleMania XVII, this time in a tables, ladders and chairs match. The bout was even more death-defying than before, with Edge & Christian regaining the WWF Tag Team Championship again.
The Corporate Champion
At the Survivor Series in 1998, a one night tournament was held to claim the vacant WWF World Championship. Vince McMahon appeared to favor Mankind as "his" champion, but before the night was over, McMahon screwed Mankind in favor of The Rock, an homage to the previous year's Survivor Series.
Dead Man Wedding
On April 26, 1999, The Undertaker abducted Vince McMahon's daughter Stephanie McMahon and pledged to marry her in a cult-like ceremony. With Stephanie tied to Undertaker's cross-like symbol, Stone Cold Steve Austin made the save, aiding his sworn enemy to draw the ire of The Dead Man.
Mankind puts butts in the seats
On December 29, 1998 (the match aired on Raw the following week), Mankind defeated The Rock to win his first of three WWF Championships. Ironically, the rating for that evening's Raw was aided by the fact that rival WCW mentioned the title switch on air, sarcastically adding "that oughta put butts in the seats."
Hart and Austin trade places
Going into WrestleMania XIII, Bret "Hitman" Hart was a fan favorite and Stone Cold Steve Austin was a heel. The two had a brutal submission match with the UFC's Ken Shamrock brought in as an enforcer. By the end of the match, Hart was the company's top villian and a blood-covered Austin was the fan favorite.
DX invades WCW
The April 27, 1998 edition of Raw featured an unusual event -- the members of D-Generation X drove an army tank to The Scope in Norfolk, Virginia, where rival WCW was performing that night. DX's purpose was simple: to humiliate the competition on national television, which they succeeded in doing.
Stun the boss
On the September 22, 1997 edition of Raw, history was made when Vince McMahon made the on-air transformation from announcer to owner of the company as he tried to calm down Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin delivered a Stunner to the CEO, marking the beginning of the Austin vs. McMahon feud.
Austin meets Tyson
Yet another Austin vs. McMahon highlight happened on January 19, 1998, when WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson was being interviewed by Vince McMahon about his role at WrestleMania XIV. Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupted the segment and tried to goad the prizefighter into a fight, infuriating the promoter McMahon.
The Montreal Screwjob
One of the most talked-about nights in wrestling history, and in many ways a catalyst for The Attitude Era, Survivor Series 1997 featured Vince McMahon "screwing" WCW-bound Bret Hart out of the WWF World Title, and giving fans a peek into the backstage working of the very competitive wrestling business.
Stooges vs. Posse
On May 10, 1999, WWE Hall of Famers Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco came out of retirement to take on The Mean Street Posse on Monday Night Raw. Although the match itself was largely played for laughs, ratings for the segment proved to be one of the highest-rated EVER, playing up the WWF's entertainment factor.
Return of The Nature Boy
The WWF vs The Alliance feud ended on November 18, 2001, with Vince McMahon's crew winning the war. One night later, McMahon received a huge surprise - his children's shares in the company had been sold to a consortium owned by WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, paving the way for the first brand split.
WWE Hall of Famers Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) and Terry Funk (as Chainsaw Charlie) had a hardcore match while tag team partners and ended up falling into a dumpster. Said dumpster was pushed off the entrance ramp by fellow Hall of Famers The New Age Outlaws, leading to a match at WrestleMania XIV.
During the halftime of the 1999 Super Bowl, the WWF presented a "Halftime Heat" special on MTV, featuring an empty arena match between Mankind and WWF Champion The Rock. The match was a mixture of comedy and brutality, with Mankind pinning Rock thanks to a forklift and winning the championship.
SummerSlam 1997 featured an Intercontinental Title match between WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin and Owen Hart. Austin legitimately injured his neck during a botched piledriver and could barely finish the match. Hart soon capitalized with the line "Owen 3:16 says I just broke your neck."
Congratulations! It's a... hand?
The February 28, 2000 edition of Monday Night Raw provided a very unusual moment. Mark Henry, still Sexual Chocolate at this point, got octogenarian and fellow WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young pregnant. Young went into labor on Raw, and with the cameras filming everything, she gave birth to... a prosthetic hand.
The Summer of Love begins
Stone Cold Steve Austin needed a tag team partner to face WWF Tag Team Champions Owen Hart and The British Bulldog on the July 14, 1997 edition of Raw. While Austin tried to fight both men himself, he was eventually joined by Dude Love - the goofy alter-ego of Mick Foley that had been teased on WWF TV.
Shane McMahon's incredible plunge II
Shane McMahon managed to top his SummerSlam plunge with an even crazier spot at the King of the Ring in 2001. McMahon was being belly-to-belly suplexed by WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle through a glass entrance. He missed the mark twice, dropping Shane on his head before redoing the spot.
Stone Cold hit and run
During the 1999 Survivor Series, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were set to take on WWF Champion Triple H. But backstage, Austin was taunted by The Game and was hit by a mysterious vehicle in the parking lot. As a result, Austin was removed from the title match and spent nearly a year on the injured list.
"A bunch of degenerates..."
In 1997, WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart had labeled Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude as "a bunch of degenerates". On the October 13 edition of Raw, Michaels acknowledged the insult and dubbed his group "D-Generation X", leading to one of the company's longest-running and most successful factions.
In a belt... down by the river...
Another great moment between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock was on December 8, 1997, when Vince McMahon stripped Austin of the Intercontinental Title and awarded it to The Rock. Austin stole the belt back, and the following week on Raw, Stone Cold chucked the title belt into a river.
The Higher Power
In 1999, Shane McMahon seemingly split from his father Vince McMahon to join forces with The Undertaker as The Corporate Ministry. Angered, the elder McMahon sought to destroy the group. But on June 7, 1999, Vince was revealed to be the group's Higher Power, controlling things all along.
The week before the WWF vs. Alliance storyline concluded, respective leaders The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin temporarily put aside their differences in an unusual way - the two had something of a "sing-off" in the middle of the ring, singing tunes such as "Margaritaville" before Austin was Rock Bottomed.
McMahon General Hospital
On the October 5, 1998 edition of Raw, Mr. McMahon was hospitalized due to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Wary of being attacked, McMahon was visited by a clown and sock-puppet toting Mankind and eventually kicked Mankind out of his hospital room. Unprotected, McMahon was then assaulted by Steve Austin.
Nation of Parody
On the December 14, 1998 edition of Monday Night Raw featured D-Generation X parodying rival faction The Nation of Domination, as Triple H became "The Crock", Billy Gunn was The Godfather, Road Dogg was D'Lo Brown, X-Pac was Mark Henry and Jason Sensation was Owen Hart.
Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz
The rivalry between Edge and Christian and Matt and Jeff Hardy was rekindled the following year, with Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley thrown in the mix. At WrestleMania 2000, the three teams competed in a brutal ladder match that ended with Edge and Christian winning their first WWF Tag Team Championship.
The new DX Army
On March 30, 1998, D-Generation members Triple H and Chyna effectively booted WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels out of their group after he dropped the WWF Title to Stone Cold Steve Austin. A new DX army was born that night on Raw, which included X-Pac and The New Age Outlaws.
This is your life!
On September 27, 1999, WWE Hall of Famer Mankind (Mick Foley) attempted to cheer up his unlikely tag team partner The Rock with a "This is your life" sketch that featured terrible comedy and an even sillier punchline. Shockingly, the segment was an 8.4 in the Nielsen ratings, one of the highest ever for Raw.
"That's gotta be Kane!"
After months of speculation that The Undertaker's brother was alive and had been in hiding for years, Kane finally made his WWF debut at the Badd Blood PPV on October 5, 1997. Tearing the cage door of Hell In A Cell of its hinges, Kane confronted his brother and caused Shawn Michaels to win the match.
In a scene that screams "Attitude Era," Sable challenged WWE Hall of Famer Jacqueline to a bikini contest at the July 26, 1998 PPV Fully Loaded. What no one counted on was that Sable's bikini consisted of bodypainted "handprints" over her top, causing Sable to lose the contest but gain a lot of Internet fans.
Raw is Jericho
Following weeks of speculation about what the "Countdown to the New Millennium" meant, the clock finished counting on the August 9, 1999 edition of Monday Night Raw, interrupting a promo by The Rock. The countdown signified the WWF debut of WCW defector Chris Jericho, who delivered an iconic promo.
One giant leap for Mankind
The King of the Ring PPV in 1998 featured the second-ever Hell In A Cell match, this one featuring The Undertaker and Mankind. The match featured The Dead Man tossing Mankind off the top of the cell to the floor, and later chokeslamming him through the top of the cage wall. It remains a WWE highlight to this day.
Truck full of Steveweisers
Another memorable moment in the Austin vs. McMahon feud happened on the March 22, 1999 edition of Raw. Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon and The Rock were gloating in the ring, when Stone Cold Steve Austin drove a beer truck down to ringside, soaking members of The Corporation with Steveweisers.
"I own WCW!"
The March 26, 2001 edition of Raw (and WCW Nitro) was a landmark day in wrestling history, as it announced the WWF's purchase of WCW on a live simulcast of both programs. The story was watered down to further a feud between Vince and Shane McMahon, but it still made for compelling TV.
Austin vs. McMahon
We've talked about Austin vs. McMahon in many of these entries, but perhaps the apex of that rivalry happened on April 13, 1998. Tired of being disrespected by Stone Cold Steve Austin, Vince McMahon challenged the WWF World Champion to a match on Monday Night Raw. While Dude Love ruined the chances of a conclusive finish, the moment set the tone for the controversy and unpredictability of the entire Attitude Era.