He went from being the most electrifying man in Sports Entertainment to becoming quite simply the most electrifying man in entertainment full stop. This year Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson became the highest paid actor in the world, raking in a cool $64.5 million dollars. His nearest American based challenger? Matt Damon, who is nearly $10 million behind (Jackie Chan is #2, but that money is coming through Chinese productions). Last year he was a part of two big movies: the money making machine that is the Fast and Furious franchise, and the surprisingly successful San Andreas – which was basically marketing solely off of his lead. It’s fair to say that it’s been an impressive climb to the top for a guy who was barely scraping by after an unsuccessful attempt to become a professional footballer.
There aren’t too many actors out there who I can say I’ve followed their rise to fame. There are some who can get me into a cinema purely because they’re in the movie (DiCaprio) but Dwyane Johnson is a guy who I’ve genuinely wanted to see succeed. Mainly because of his seven-ish year career in the WWF/E coincided with my burgeoning interest in pro wrestling. I grew up watching him battle Steve Austin and Triple H, and so when he left the ring to pursue Hollywood, I always took a keen interest and hoped for the best. Though to be honest, I never figured he’d end up half as successful as he has become.
He’s been in and out of Hollywood now for around 15 years, averaging a couple of movies a year that has slowly but surely established him as a box office certainty. But despite being a household name thanks to the WWF/E, he wasn’t guaranteed money early on. Despite some decent films like The Rundown (also known as Welcome to the Jungle), he wasn’t bringing people in off of his name power alone.
There were also concerns that he might never amount to his full potential when he went through a phase of doing mostly kids movies like The Tooth Fairy, which hardly added to his credentials as a leading man. But it was all a ploy from ‘The Great One’ to build his repertoire. In those earlier years he ended up doing a range of action, comedy and kid-friendly films that helped him find his footing within the acting world and also prove his range.
When he joined the Fast and Furious Franchise in the middle of the series’ rebirth from street racer franchise to ridiculous action franchise in 2011, that’s when people started to notice him again. The next sequel dropped in 2013, which was one of 5 different movies that starred The Rock that year. If nothing else, he was proving he was one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. Fast forward to the present, and movie companies can bank on a certain measure of success because his name is on it. Just look at the buddy cop movie Central Intelligence, which ended up being one of the most successful comedies this year.
Now obviously part of this honour is timing. Robert Downey Junior made $80 million dollars in 2015 while The Rock was behind co-star Vin Diesel sitting at 11th, but the exciting thing for the Rock is what lie ahead. The Fast and Furious franchise is scheduled for at least another three movies, beginning in 2017, alongside high profile reboots in Baywatch and Jumangi. He’s already contracted with Warner to be a part of their DC Extended Universe as Black Adam, and given both his and Black Adam’s value, it’s unlikely that he’ll only be making one appearance. He’s also contracted on to another couple of ‘Journey’ films, which have carved out a small niche that will keep Dwayne in work whenever he can find time to actually film them.
If there are two things to point at to suggest why he’s made it to the top, they are the following: First of all, is his innate, undeniable charisma (just look at that smile). And secondly, and what the man himself would most likely point to – his work ethic. He recognises that he got into the acting game later than others, and that he needs to make the most of this golden period of popularity. He’s putting in the work to earn his keep at the top of the mountain. He might not be chasing down Best Actor awards but there’s a reason why he has so many movies to work on – because people want him on their movie posters.
Even through this stint he hasn’t forgotten his routes. He kept away from the ring while he was establishing himself, but in recent years he’s made his way back to the WWE, bringing with it the same kind of success he’s found in Hollywood. His in ring return to challenge for the WWE title against CM Punk at Royal Rumble 2013 drew record numbers for a non-WrestleMania show, and ratings on the weekly show when he appears show sharp rises even as the industry is going through a bit of a ratings lull. It’s not just wrestling that sees him on the small screen either – he’s producing and starring in the HBO series ‘Ballers’.
His main challengers to the throne – the Robert Downeys and Tom Cruises of the world, are at the top of the list not because of the quantity of work they put out, but because of the sheer amount of money they demand per film. And while they’ve earned that claim by being box office draws, it is important to note that Dwayne has reached it because of that hard work. His salary demands are no where near as high, though it could be argued that they could be with a recent string of successful box office movies. He’s simply putting out more work than most people, and it’s clearly paying off for him.
It’s hard to make it to the top of any industry. In the late 90s the Rock did just that when he establishing himself as one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time. But it’s even tougher to make it to the top of multiple industries. It only took a matter of years for The Rock to become one of the most recognisable and popular wrestlers of all time, and now he’s one of the most recognisable people in Hollywood. The scary thing is it seems he’s only just beginning. He’s found his footing on the silver screen and is primed to keep laying the smackdown on the box office figures until the end of the decade.