From Ring to Reel: The Evolution of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

The greatest success story of our time?
Dwayne Johnson

Let’s face a harsh truth: professional wrestlers are, by and large, really terrible actors. I know that’s a blanket and probably dangerous thing to say, but it’s true. This isn’t to say that inherently all wrestlers are shitty actors, but rather to acknowledge that their brand of entertainment is one step more dramatic than even melodrama, so a little bad acting is par for the course; when you’re performing live for an arena full of people, you have to go over the top to ensure folks up in the cheap seats get the same kind of excitement as those in the front row. It’s the same reason musical theatre kids never really make good pop stars: what’s required for one form comes across as inauthentic in another realm.

Of course, there are exceptions, and no, Hulk Hogan isn’t one of them, but Rowdy Roddy Piper (They Live) was, as is John Cena, who’s recently started to showcase his comedic chops in films like Trainwreck and a stint hosting SNL, but as everyone should know, the real conversation about wrestlers who can legitimately act begins and ends with one name: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

From very, very inauspicious beginnings – remember The Scorpion King? – Johnson has become literally and figuratively the biggest movie star in the world. I remember the first time I knew he was legit: the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool in which he played a gay bodyguard with country music aspirations. I said it then and I’ll say it again now a dozen years after the fact: dude deserved an Oscar nom for his work here, or at least a Golden Globe. Either way, though, that’s when I for one knew we weren’t dealing with the typical acting wrestler.

Johnson’s momentum hasn’t waned in years. In 2017 alone he’s already dominated the box office as a part of The Fate of the Furious and is set to tickle your funny bone this summer in Baywatch, not to mention the Jumanji reboot/sequel coming later this year, and recent word that he and Jason Statham will be getting their own Furious spinoff. In addition to his film work he’s got the series Ballers over on HBO, a couple other television properties in various stages of production, and a lucrative endorsement deal with Ford. Bottom line? Not only is The Rock the most successful guy in the game, he’s also the hardest-working, and this is no coincidence.

In the following supercut from Burger Fiction, the improbable rise of The Rock from wrestling royalty to Hollywood elite is tracked, and the result is one of the most meteoric ascents to stardom we’ve ever known, and truth be told, it’s apex is still ahead.

And look at that, I got through the whole post without making a “do you smell what the Rock’s cooking” joke. Even I’m surprised.

H. Perry Horton: Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist