More Than Muscle: 9 Essential Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson Performances
Dwayne Johnson has been a larger-than-life presence in moviegoers’ lives for so long it’s hard to remember a time before we could collectively smell what The Rock is cooking. But the professional wrestler-turned-actor’s career started in earnest only a little over 15 years ago, and with the exception of a few projects, it feels a bit like he only really came into his own - combining charisma, physicality and sensitivity - in the last decade. Johnson turns 47 on May 2, so to commemorate his birthday, Moviefone is taking a look back through his remarkably diverse filmography to find nine roles that marked notable achievements, highlighted turning points in his career, or otherwise showcased his expanding skill set as an actor.
"The Scorpion King" (2002) - While still working as a successful full-time wrestler, Johnson contributed a cameo to 2001’s “The Mummy Returns,” a heel turn that introduced him to moviegoers really for the first time. Two years later he reprised the role of Mathayus in a prequel where he tapped into the undeniable presence that would later catapult him to superstardom.
"The Rundown" (2003) - Especially in his early acting days, few filmmakers utilized Johnson better than Peter Berg in this funny, fast-paced action adventure about Beck, a mob enforcer-turned-aspiring chef forced to chase his boss’ estranged son (Seann William Scott) through the jungles of Brazil and across the path of a wild-eyed crime lord (Christopher Walken). A blink-and-you’ll-miss it, symbolic passing of the action-hero torch from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Johnson feels especially prescient now.
"Be Cool" (2005) - F. Gary Gray’s attempt to recapture the magic of Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Get Shorty” mostly failed, but one of its bright spots was Johnson’s turn as Elliot Wilhelm, a gay bodyguard with dreams of movie stardom. Johnson gets to show a few different shades of his personality in the film but if nothing else the performance marks his sadly only appearance in a pair of chaps, a sartorial choice he should definitely revisit.
"Gridiron Gang" (2006) - Johnson started taking some risks during this early period of his career, but this sports drama established his bona fides as a role model on screen and off, playing Sean Porter, the head of a correctional facility for teens who decides to start a football team to inspire them to work together and feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
"Fast Five" (2010) - In spite of a number of career false starts and choices that even he would admit didn’t work out well (“Race to Witch Mountain”), Johnson rebounded in 2010, becoming “franchise Viagra” as he stepped into the “Fast and Furious” franchise as Luke Hobbs, a character whose physicality rivaled that of star Vin Diesel, but as he eventually would prove, whose charisma and leadership reshaped the ensemble from a group of outlaws into an unconventional but uniquely gifted group of globe-trotting adventurers.
"Pain & Gain" (2013) - Michael Bay’s adaptation of this incredible true story about a feckless group of bodybuilders trying to stage a kidnapping is, like a few other films on this list, not particularly successful as a whole, but Johnson’s Paul Doyle is an insane train wreck of energy whose fall from redemption is both perfect for Bay’s brand of bombast and exemplary of Johnson’s fearlessness to take on new kinds of characters.
"Ballers" (2015-present) - Somehow in the middle of making all of these tremendously demanding blockbusters, Johnson took on the challenge of starring in and producing four seasons (and counting) of this sports agency dramedy, where he plays former athlete Spencer Strasmore, now trying to help young talents find their feet professionally and receive the kind of financial guidance they never had.
"Moana" (2016) - In Walt Disney Studios Animation’s wonderful adventure about a young woman who befriends a disgraced god in order to save her people’s land, Johnson beautifully plays the self-aggrandizing Maui, not only lampooning his own irrepressible charm but contributing to some of the singing. By then a massive worldwide star, Johnson had found a lane for himself that was not just popular or comfortable but one that encouraged him, as much as he encouraged himself, to challenge fan perceptions and the limits of his own talent.
"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" (2017) - In what could easily have been a mindless, money-grubbing reboot of an iconic property, Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone, a predictably swole super-soldier with the insecurities and neuroses of a teenage boy. As fun as the film is, it underscores Johnson’s sweetest spot as an actor, relying on his enormous presence on screen but undercutting that as a character who is anxious, nervous, or a little goofy. It’s a winning combination that he explored in “Central Intelligence” but absolutely perfects here.