Why Dwayne The Rock Johnson is ‘franchise viagra’

Ben Skipper
Yahoo UK Movies Features

On Twitter he’s a bastion of inspiration to millions of followers, in the ring he’s the current WWE Champion and on film he’s an action hero.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson earned the right to be called all of those things, but there’s one mantle he awarded himself – “franchise viagra”. That’s what he told us anyway, and it’s hard to disagree. In the last two years he has barged his way into two near-dead franchises and turned both into huge money-spinners. So, what’s his secret? Well, “I’m six-foot-four, 260 pounds of brown-eyed soul,” he jokes.

Check out our interview with The Rock above.

[Related story: Exclusive G.I. Joe: Retaliation character videos]
[Related story: Fast & Furious 6: First full-length trailer]


First came ‘Fast & Furious 5’ which took over £414 million ($625m) worldwide, compared to £238 million ($360m) for the previous instalment of the series. It also received heftier praise from critics, who lavished acclaim on the series’ most fun outing.  

Last year it was ‘Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’, a sequel to the ‘Journey To The Centre Of The Earth’ remake with Brendan Fraser. With Fraser as its star it raked in £160 million ($242m), with The Rock front and centre it topped the US box office chart, making over £50 million more.

Next up is ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’. The original made a little over £200 million ($302m) in 2009 and was largely panned by critics. Paramount’s decision to delay the release of the sequel from last summer’s crowded release schedule goes to show how badly they want ‘G.I. Joe’ to succeed as a series. And the film’s secret weapon isn’t the additional 3D, it’s The Rock.

None of these films are the most thought-provoking pieces of work but they don’t have to be, want to be, or even try to be. Dwayne Johnson knows exactly what he’s good at, what he’s not so good at, and what kind of roles he needs to perform in to fill cinemas around the globe.

It all started with World Wrestling Entertainment, or the World Wrestling Federation as it once was known when a young Johnson walked in to try and emulate his father and grandfather – two Hall of Fame inducted wrestlers themselves.

First known as Rocky Maivia he was a flop, but after an injury side-lined him he returned microphone in hand as The Rock and the rest is pay-per-view-selling history.

Wrestling is the subject of a lot of ridicule - ridicule there’s no point in dwelling on, but what can be said about it is that as a mad and thoroughly American form of entertainment, it certainly gives a wannabe actor some of the tools to be a success.  

Week in and week out The Rock, like many before and since, face live crowds both on and off television and perform either by putting their bodies on the line in matches or cutting promos to ridicule bad guys or make the crowd hate them.


And you better believe the crowds once hated The Rock. It doesn’t matter what the scenario is, talking at length in front of a crowd of thousands, if not millions, takes bravery, and to keep that crowd in the palm of your hand for years on end takes undoubted skill.

It’s what gave The Rock aspirations of becoming a movie star and after a few brief cameos he got his first starring role in 2002’s ‘The Scorpion King’, a spin-off from the successful ‘Mummy’ films of the late nineties.

From there he took a break from the busy schedule of the wrestling ring to try and crack Hollywood, which took a while and definitely didn’t go smoothly. Despite perfectly acceptable if not Earth-shattering films like the fun ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and ‘Walking Tall’ he also suffered his fair share of flops.

Video game adaptation ‘Doom’ was one of them, quickly followed by Richard Kelly ‘s ‘Donnie Darko’ follow-up ‘Southland Tales’, a critically-panned  and memorably confusing indie flick.

Johnson’s never say die attitude and incredible charm kept the jobs coming however and eventually it paid dividends. Bigger budget films came his way in the form of comedies starring Steve Carell  (‘Get Smart’) and Will Ferrell (‘The Other Guys’).

There were still missteps here and there however. For example The Rock may never live down ‘The Tooth Fairy’, but before long he landed the role that would propel him to the top.

As Hobbs in ‘Fast & Furious 5’ Johnson played to his strengths. Hobbs was no-nonsense and stood on the right side of the law from Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, who he chased but eventually colluded with to take down a common foe.

Their alliance was brief and the film ended with the series-long main characters on the run once more, but The Rock will be back in the sixth instalment set for this year, this time as one of the top billed stars.

While Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger try to reignite the spark that made them stars years ago, Dwayne Johnson stands tall as this generation’s only true action icon. He’s a star from the same mould as those legendary names and one whose nickname is just as widely recognised.

He appeals to both children and the inner-child of many of the adults who watched his rise to stardom at the turn of the century. Johnson’s electrifying personality and understanding of the inherent madness of his work simply makes people want to watch him do what he does best – perform.

The Rock returned to WWE two years ago as an A-list star and has since wrestled a number of times while maintaining a busy acting schedule. His homecoming is a sign that he made it - he certainly doesn’t need to wrestle any more, but he does it anyway out of passion.

It is this passion that made him a success and drove him to the top. He’s a world-famous star whose work ethic and physique makes everyone else look bad by comparison, but he always wins them back with a grin, a joke and a raise of that famous people’s eyebrow.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is out now in cinemas nationwide