From WWE to world’s biggest movie star: How Dwayne Johnson made the epic transition
On Dwayne The Rock Johnson’s birthday, revisit his journey from the WWE to becoming one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson turns 48 on Saturday. When you Google him now, he’s described as an actor, but it was only a few years ago when Johnson was making a transition into the movies, after a long and successful career as a WWE wrestler. Many, like John Cena and Dave Bautista, have tried to follow in his footsteps, but the sort of success that Johnson has achieved remains unparalleled.
“The Rock is definitely emerging. You can’t take your eyes off him on the screen,” Universal Pictures’ president of production, Mary Parent told Entertainment Weekly in a 2001 interview, hot on the heels of The Rock’s acting debut, in The Mummy Returns. Universal was so sure of his potential as a movie star that the studio greenlit a spin-off for his character, The Scorpion King. Years later, the studio would turn to The Rock for help, when it needed to revive the spluttering Fast & Furious franchise.
“They were the first studio to believe in me when I was making the transition … into acting and helping me create opportunities,” Johnson said in an interview to Collider. “I always knew I wanted to do film,” he had told EW. “And not only did I want to do film, I wanted to make an impact. And not only did I want to make an impact, but I wanted to make a long-term impact.”
And make an impact he did. In 2018, Johnson banked $124 million pretax, the largest-ever acting earning ever reported by Forbes. He also has a smart business brain. Johnson charges millions separately just to promote his films to his legions of online followers. That’s because he always had a plan. Johnson always wanted to be a box office draw. He wrote on Instagram, “That was my goal at 29-years-old and I was prepared to work my ass off but I also knew, I gave myself a 10-12 year plan. But life is so unpredictable. I was really nervous because I also knew historically it didn’t matter. Whoever was successful in another arena, just because you were a successful professional wrestler did not mean, in any uncertain terms, that you were gonna become a box office draw or a legitimate movie star. There were no guarantee.”
He knew that being a successful wrestler didn’t guarantee a successful career in the movies. He said, “Even though I wrestled for 20-50,000 people, I wanted it to feel intimate and the connection to feel real. So, I found my power space in professional wrestling and when I had a goal to transition into acting, I knew then as I was transitioning when I was 29 making The Scorpion King, I knew then that in order for me to be a good actor and to have a career that had real longevity, and not just in it for 2-3 years, become this hot new actor, make a couple of action movies, maybe a comedy or two and then disappear, I didn’t want that.”
But by any standard, Johnson has had a very successful career as a movie star. He’s one of the few remaining actors who can guarantee strong box office openings, and regularly appears in original, big-budget films.
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