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Dwayne Meets World – The Journey Begins
Some would say the only way to meet someone who didn’t know the name Dwayne The Rock Johnson would be to travel off-world, and even then you might bump into a Mandalorian or two who’s familiar with the most electrifying man in Hollywood. That’s because, through a string of movies and superhuman work ethic, the ‘Jumanji‘ superstar has managed to become more than just a movie actor. Like Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Leonardo Dicaprio, and others like them, he’s managed to become a larger-than-life, a cultural icon, whose brand transcends the space-time continuum. Combined, his films have gone on to gross billions of dollars, both domestically and worldwide.
In addition to his box office successes, Johnson’s presence isn’t too big for the small screen, as he’s starred in and produced a string of successful TV shows such as the reality game show, ‘The Titan Games,’ HBO’s ‘Ballers,’ and the currently airing ‘Young Rock,’ a sitcom which offers a comedic insight into Johnson’s early years, from childhood to adulthood, to mainstream audiences. And if The Great One isn’t providing you with countless hours of nonstop entertainment, he’s helping you get fit and look good doing it with Project Rock, a clothing and product line that specializes in fitness he’s fashioned through a partnership with Under Armor.
One of the things that separate Johnson from his box office contemporaries, however, is his origin story, which has taken on a mythic quality. Unlike the Denzel Washingtons and Brad Pitts of the business, who came onto the scene as actors on screen before going on to become even bigger actors on bigger screens, Johnson’s trajectory had a slightly different path. Before he was the Dwayne Johnson we’ve all come to know, before he was even The Rock, he burst into the scene as 25-year-old Rocky Maivia; the first-ever third-generation wrestler to perform for the WWE. Debuting in 1996 at WWE’s traditional pay-per-view, ‘Survivor Series’, Rocky Maivia enthusiastically made his way towards the wrestling ring surrounded by a choir of screaming, applauding wrestling fans all celebrating his historical introduction into the world of wrestling entertainment.
Although he won his first match and had a modestly successful in-ring run, eventually fans revolted against the wrestling prodigy. Rocky Maivia was seen as too clean-cut, an unpalatable babyface character without an edge to him or a unique, identifiable personality that made him stand out among a growing roster of colorful wrestling personalities. Soon, the cheers and applause that once ushered Maivia to a WWE ring transformed into deafening boos and ‘Die, Rocky, Die,’ chants that begged Maivia to go away and never come back.
As much as fans’ reactions displeased the WWE’s golden child, it was a blessing in disguise that would later have profound effects on both his and the world’s future, as it led him to become one of the most notable superstars of the twenty-first century. Because of fans’ newfound hatred towards Rocky Maivia, their reaction prompted Dwayne Johnson, along with fellow WWE writers and collaborators, to do a complete revamp of the character. In 1997, Rocky Maivia had abandoned the smiles and the crowd pandering, and the character became an arrogant, bitter, and sometimes ruthless antagonist that gave the fans the same attitude and vitriol that fans served him, only a hundredfold. During this phase of his wrestling career, Dwayne Johnson’s character had dropped the moniker Rocky Maivia, and simply became known as The Rock.
Eventually, The Rock’s bad guy character evolved even further into a Versace-wearing, a Rolex rocking celebrity with an undeniable star power that began to dwarf even some of his peers. The flexibility and variety of this newfound role allowed Dwayne Johnson’s personality to shine through, especially on the microphone, where every night he would verbally assault the crowd and his opponents with lines so creative and entertaining that the crowd couldn’t help but to cheer at their own expense. Because of Johnson’s God-given aptitude for entertainment, The Rock, who was a character the fans loved to hate, became a character that fans simply began to love. This forced The Rock to become a good guy in the WWE once more, while also catapulting him to a level of stardom beyond the world of wrestling that hasn’t quite been seen since. So much so that The Rock began to already feel like a movie star that just happened to do professional wrestling before his big break.
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Dwayne Johnson Rocks Hollywood
Whereas some stars seek out Hollywood fame and glory, Hollywood sought out The Rock. By 2001, the WWE could no longer keep Dwayne Johnson to themselves once he was cast in his first feature-length film, ‘The Mummy Returns’, starring Brendan Fraser. The success of ‘The Mummy Returns’, which pulled in $435million against a $98 million budget, led to Johnson’s first starring role in the movie’s spinoff, 2002’s ‘The Scorpion King’. The Scorpion King’s modest box office success showed that Dwayne Johnson, fairly new to the world of cinema, had enough name recognition to potentially drive a film’s financial performance, increasing Hollywood’s faith in him as a permanent part of its spotlight. Loyal to the WWE, Johnson would continue to wrestle under The Rock moniker while continuing to expand his Hollywood profile with films such as ‘The Rundown,’ ‘Walking Tall’, and ‘Be Cool.’
Around 2005, after having accomplished everything that he could in WWE, Dwayne Johnson quietly retired from the wrestling business to focus on his acting career full time. A risky decision that had a monumental payoff down the road. Because of his unique look and massive size, Johnson couldn’t help but stand out in action blockbusters such as ‘GI Joe Retaliation’ and ‘Fast Five’, the latter of which saw its highest blockbuster ever at the time of Johnson’s inclusion into the franchise. Although a team effort, Johnson helped ‘Fast Five’ see a worldwide total of $626.1 million at the box office. Before Johnson gave the franchise a little boost, Fast’s highest-grossing film, ‘Fast & Furious’, grossed a grand total of $363.2 million worldwide. Since Vin Diesel welcomed Johnson into the Fast family with open arms, the Fast & the Furious franchise has scored two billion-dollar films, and even a successful spinoff starring Johnson, Jason Statham, and Idris Elba with Hobbs & Shaw.
Even though Johnson had the body and athleticism of an action hero, he didn’t allow himself to be typecast in action movies all the time, a move that played a huge part in his success. Movies such as ‘The Other Guys’, ‘Pain & Gain’, and ‘Central Intelligence’ allowed Johnson to tap into his comedic talents, which had also served him well during his time in the WWE. Meanwhile, in films such as ‘Gridiron Gang’, ‘Snitch’ and ‘San Andreas’, Johnson displayed his dramatic acting chops for everyone to witness. His role selection was especially important in the development of Johnson’s acting career, as they unveiled the WWE superstar could successfully do more than just beat ’em up films. There were layers to The Rock’s acting that each of his films slowly began to peel off, and the more fans got to know Dwayne Johnson the actor, the more of him they wanted to see, as his charismatic style of performance was almost guaranteed to elevate any material he was given.
What Lies Ahead
Johnson’s momentum isn’t slowing down or showing any signs of peaking. In fact, if anything, it’s barreling through Hollywood at even faster speeds, reaching new heights, Johnson’s just carrying the world along with him for the ride. He has two films slated to be released this year, ‘Jungle Cruise‘ and ‘Red Notice.’ But perhaps his most anticipated upcoming movie is DC films’ ‘Black Adam,’ set to release in 2022, a movie that’s been 15 years in the making, as the role first started orbiting around The Rock in 2007. For years fans have been waiting for Johnson to don the costume, one the vast majority feel was only meant for The Great One, and with more than a decade’s worth of hype behind the role, ‘Black Adam’ is practically an epic Hollywood prophecy come true, destined to be something special.
Possibly the only thing greater than The Rock’s success is his capacity for kindness and good faith. In the 25 years, he’s been a part of pop culture, all of his contemporaries have nothing but kind words for Johnson, both wrestling peers and his fellow actors alike. This is also demonstrated through his charitable endeavors, such as in 2006 when he formed the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, which is dedicated to helping and empowering children with disabilities and disorders. Johnson has said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,” and it’s a philosophy he’s more than lived up to.
His innate compassion, and his ability to stay grounded to Earth despite all of his accomplishments, are just as impressive, if not more so, than the man’s successes. Like many, I was barely a child when I first saw Dwayne Johnson, fully immersed in ‘The Rock’ character, and like many kids my age, I was immediately wowed by how cool and flashy the character looked. He was a comic book superhero come to life, except he seemed more impressive and more powerful than any superhero I’d read in print. Not necessarily because of his physical prowess, but because of his charisma and work ethic. These traits made him the only superhero little five-year-old me thought I could become, and others like me. Through his actions, Johnson continues to inspire his fans, while also giving the people some of the best entertainment storytelling has to offer. It’s been a privilege having a front-row seat to Johnson’s meteoric ascension for many of us, and even at the top Johnson still has nowhere else to go but up.
By Tony Stallings
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Tony Stallings is an avid follower of the entertainment industry who uses his passion for writing to relay meaningful, positive messages and narratives from the world of Hollywood. Tony doesn’t just focus on covering entertainment, but delving into it. He prides himself on focusing on the bigger picture, concerned with how entertainment culture affects and shapes the world at large with utmost honesty. Tony’s dedication to journalistic integrity, reliability and passion is a common bond that he shares with Hollywood Insider, and he’s eager to help people recognize the value of entertainment through their platform.