How Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson found himself and won us over

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson arrives at the world premiere of "Rampage" at the Microsoft Theater on Wednesday, April 4, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Rampage,” tenuously based on the 1980s arcade game of the same name, is the story of mutated, giant creatures who wreak destruction. Given this premise and the track record of video game-based propertiesyou’d be forgiven for expecting it to be a straight-to-Redbox release. Instead, it’s poised to be the No. 1 blockbuster at the box office this weekend.

The reason is simple: The star of the movie just so happens to be the most popular person on the planet.   

1998: The Rock

After injuries derailed his dream of playing professional football, Dwayne Johnson decided to try following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by becoming a professional wrestler. His timing couldn’t have been better.

Personal nostalgia may tinge this opinion. So many kids go through a wrestling phase. But plenty of metrics suggest 1998 was the pinnacle of the business. The WWF, as it was known at the time, and WCW were engaged in a heated battle for supremacy with both organizations broadcasting live Monday night shows. Even in those pre-DVR days, you could flip channels back and forth and not suffer through a single commercial.

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In an industry where provoking a reaction is paramount, Johnson, aka “The Rock,” proved to be a cut above all his colleagues and competitors when it came to entertaining the crowd.

The Rock proved so popular that by November he was crowned the first (and so far only) black WWF Champion, sparking an extended run at the top of the business. At around this same time, he landed his first TV role with a small part on an episode of “That ’70s Show.”

In the years to come, he snagged his big break in “The Mummy Returns” and headed out to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming a star.

2008: Dwayne Johnson

Ten years after his professional wrestling breakout, Johnson’s acting career was running on fumes.

“My career was a little shaky — really shaky,” he recently admitted in a Rolling Stone cover story.

It started out fine enough with roles in action movies “The Scorpion King” and “The Rundown.” In an attempt to replicate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s path, he jumped to kids’ films, a move that produced some embarrassing results.

His personal life was in even worse shape as he suffered through a bout of depression brought on by divorce.

“Around 2008, 2009 … I was just struggling, man,” Johnson said. “Struggling to figure out what kind of dad am I gonna be. Realizing I’d done a piss-poor job of cultivating relationships, and a lot of my friends had fallen by the wayside. I was just scared. Personally, everything was in a very bad and challenging place.”

After riding his preternatural charisma to fame, Johnson found mostly failure on the conventional path.

2018: Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson

Johnson’s wrestling personality, “The Rock,” was always his greatest advantage. He merged the wrestler and the actor. Instead of trying to fit into a role, he just played himself, inserted into popular franchises that needed a boost.

The turning point was “Fast Five,” the entry that turned the Fast and Furious series from a niche into a worldwide phenomenon. Johnson went back to cultivating his own persona, touting himself in an Saturday Night Live opening monologue as “franchise Viagra.”

At the same time, he made his long-awaited return to the ringThe convergence of Dwayne Johnson and The Rock was complete.

He began to score his own hits with the disaster blockbuster “San Andreas” and last Christmas’ “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which not only survived against “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but grossed an astounding $950 million worldwide.

His popularity has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that he’s publicly flirted with a run for president. Although possible in the post-Trump age, this seems more gimmick than sincere. For instance, Johnson used his latest SNL monologue to jokingly announce a run with VP Tom Hanks, the previous owner of the “most likable guy in Hollywood” title.   

With “Rampage” and this summer’s “Skyscraper” in the pipeline, his bankability seems assured for the foreseeable future. He explained his secret to Rolling Stone: “I have a relationship with an audience around the world. For years, I’ve built a trust with them that they’re gonna come to my movies and feel good.”

“I don’t like a sad ending,” he continued. “Life brings that … I don’t want it in my movies. When the credits roll, I want to feel great.”

It’s a trick he learned from wrestling: Send the fans home happy. This philosophy may not produce true works of art that stand the test of time, but try telling Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that over the roar of the crowd.

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