One of the most popular celebrities in the world right now is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is easily the most famous professional wrestler of our current generation. And now he has leveraged that celebrity and notoriety to become one of the most bankable celebrity actors in Hollywood, famous for his starring roles in blockbuster summer films.
What’s fascinating about Dwayne Johnson is that he actually hails from a family of professional wrestlers. Both his father and grandfather were professional wrestlers and his mother was related to a famous wrestling family.
Thus, when Dwayne Johnson made his debut with the World Wrestling Federation back in 1996, he was initially billed as the first three-generation professional wrestler. At that time, he was known by the ring name Rocky Maivia, which was a combination of his father and grandfather’s ring names.
Meteoric success as a professional wrestler
From his opening debut with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Johnson became one of the most recognizable professional wrestlers. After a period in 1996-1997, in which he was known as Rocky Maivia, Johnson reinvented himself as The Rock.
Along the way, he took on a bigger-than-life personality and engaged in numerous feuds with other star wrestlers. From 1997-1998, he was part of a group of wrestlers known as the Nation of Dominance, and from 1998-1999, he was part of The Corporation.
It was at this time that Johnson as “The Rock” really took off. He was entertaining on and off the camera, and loved to insult his rivals. And he joined up with Vince McMahon, becoming one of the most heavily hyped and promoted professional wrestlers in the WWF.
He became a pay-per-view wrestling star, and someone who was constantly the subject of wrestling’s biggest feuds and events, such as WrestleMania and Royal Rumble. From 1999-2002, he became “The People’s Champion,” and that led to more championships and a number of legendary feuds, such as a long-lasting feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and other top wrestling stars.
A wrestling superstar
After 2002, the WWF rebranded as World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and, arguably, that’s when The Rock became even more famous, crossing over into more of the mainstream pop culture. Huge events like WrestleMania became a chance for Johnson to really solidify his star ranking among entertainers. And, in fact, Johnson is typically credited for bringing terms like “smackdown” into the daily lexicon of many Americans.
In 2011, The Rock made his return to WWE, mostly because of a new feud with John Cena that made national headlines. When The Rock wasn’t competing in the wrestling ring, he was making promos and insulting other wrestlers.
That was really the point where people began talking about The Rock as the greatest wrestler of all time. For many, The Rock had become as famous as Hulk Hogan.
In 2012-2013, the story was really how The Rock became the new WWE champion, cementing his status as one of the greatest professional wrestlers ever. At the end of 2013, The Rock had all but retired – but continued to show up as part of WWE events and promotional shows for professional wrestling.
Pop icon status
It’s impossible to overstate how much Dwayne Johnson has crossed over into the pop culture mainstream as the result of his wrestling success. Starting in 1999, Johnson started to show up on the all “Top 10 Celebrities” lists. He lined up special hosting gigs on shows like “Saturday Night Live.”
And mainstream media outlets like VHI and People magazine regularly featured him. He appeared on the front covers of magazines like Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly.
That eventually paved the way for Dwayne Johnson to get his debut in Hollywood. His first appearance in a major film was a cameo role in “The Mummy Returns.” But that led to his first starring role, in “The Scorpion King,” in 2002, for which he was paid an unprecedented $5.5 million. At that time, it was the highest amount of money paid to an actor in his (or her) first starring role. So you can begin to grasp the true star power of The Rock.
A new kind of Hollywood film star
In fact, for many younger Americans, The Rock is a Hollywood film star first and foremost. They may only know a few passing details about his status as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.
In the ten-year period from 2002 (when he debuted with “The Scorpion King”), Johnson appeared in a number of films, including “The Rundown” (2003), “Walking Tall” (2004), “Be Cool” (2005), “Doom” (2006), “Reno 911!: Miami” (2007), “Southland Tales” (2007), “The Game Plan” (2007), “Get Smart” (2008) and “Tooth Fairy” (2010).
The big moment for Johnson came when he got a starring role in “Fast Five,” the fifth film in the “Fast and the Furious” film franchise. In that film, he played the role of DSS agent Luke Hobbs, who is given the role of hunting down the members of the “Fast and the Furious” crew.
That role then led to Johnson appearing in a number of other big-name Hollywood films, including a G.I. Joe film in 2013. He also appeared in “Fast & Furious 6.” Other film roles soon followed, such as “Pain & Gain” (2013) and “Empire State” (2013). In 2016, Johnson appeared in “Central Intelligence” with the comedian Kevin Hart.
He also had a voice role in the Disney smash film of the summer, “Moana.” And, of course, he returned in the seventh “Fast and the Furious” film (“The Fate of the Furious”) in 2017. He will also be appearing in the hotly anticipated 2017 film “Baywatch.”
Future success ahead
It looks like Johnson is going to continue taking on bigger and bigger roles within Hollywood. He is now in pre-production for a sequel to “San Andreas” (2015) as well as a star role as Black Adam in an upcoming DC Entertainment superhero film about Shazam. There’s also talk of a new Disney theme park attraction based on one of Johnson’s characters in the upcoming “Jungle Cruise” film.
There’s work now being done on Under Armour fitness gear bearing Johnson’s name. And, of course, there has been the inevitable talk of spin-offs to the mega-successful “Fast and the Furious” franchise.
In short, we may be seeing the next big iteration in Johnson’s more than 20-year career as a professional entertainer. He’s already proven that he could become the greatest professional wrestler of his era.
Now he’s on a trajectory to become one of the highest-paid and most-famous actors of his generation. If his new film projects with DC Entertainment and Disney are as big as everyone expects, it’s easy to see how Johnson will have solidified his role as one of Hollywood’s greatest A-list actors.