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Dwayne Johnson Isn’t Your Average Superstar: How The Rock Has Built a Career With Smart Choices

The wrestling champ has blossomed into American cinema's biggest action star — here's how he got there.

“Furious 7”

Going All In on Franchises

If there’s one arena in which Johnson has found most of his success, however, it’s in the ever-expanding franchise space. In 2011, Johnson joined up with the “Fast and Furious” franchise just as it was making its own left turn into a fresh space: heist movies. Johnson’s casting as hard-nosed FBI agent (and eventual “family” member) Hobbs may have been the best move of his career, placing him in the center of a series that was about to take off in wild fashion. Johnson has returned for each subsequent “Fast” film and rumors of a spinoff for Hobbs and Jason Statham’s character only continue to persist.

To date, Johnson’s four “Fast” movies all place in his top 6 box office returns, with “Furious 7” holding tight as his biggest earner to date. With “Fate of the Furious” continuing to dominate, the eighth movie in the series will likely soon become Johnson’s best performer to date (current tally on Johnson’s “Fast” movies is fast approaching a staggering $4 billion worldwide).

Dwayne Johnson

“Furious 7”

Universal Pictures

Johnson’s foray into franchises hasn’t been limited to just “Fast” features, and his upcoming slate includes franchise hopefuls like his “Baywatch” comedy, the action-driven “The Janson Directive” and a new take on “Jumanji” that seems primed to kickstart a series. His 2015 disaster blockbuster “San Andreas” is bound for a sequel, and a third “Journey” is on the way. (There have, of course, been some creative missteps, including a stalled out “G.I. Joe” series and an iffy “Hercules” outing, though both did well at the box office.)

Disney is already building a series around Johnson, with their “Jungle Cruise” action adventure (yes, a spinoff of the theme park ride) and the actor is even getting into the superhero world, as DC recently cast him as Black Adam in their planned “Shazam!” feature, with an eye to crafting Johnson his own feature should the first one pan out (read: money).

Plenty of talents go whole hog on franchise work, and a box office still hungry for superheroes keeps actively encouraging it, but Johnson appears to be carefully picking his roles, and making space for films that fit his sensibilities, not the other way around. The “Fast and Furious” films and “Baywatch” both offer up diverse casts, certainly an appealing element for the ethnically diverse Johnson (his dad was Black Nova Scotian, his mom Samoan). He also takes on opportunities that put him back with people he likes working with, like “Rundown” director Peter Berg (who has executive produced “Ballers”) and Brad Peyton, who directed Johnson in “Journey 2” and “San Andreas,” and is on board for both sequels.

Johnson has also apparently gotten very comfortable pulling double duty on his projects, and he’s credited as producer on eight of his upcoming films (previously, Johnson only produced “Snitch” and the second “Journey” feature), which puts him into a wholly new arena: not just a big star, but also a big player.

Getting Subversive Behind the Scenes

After “Baywatch” and “Jumanji” open later this year, Johnson already has a very full slate, a new take on “Doc Savage,” a planned “Big Trouble in Little China” remake, the secretive hostage thriller “Skyscraper” and the wrestling comedy “Fighting With My Family.” The actor, it seems, is never content to slow down. One way to guarantee you never stop working? Literally just keep working.

READ MORE: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dwayne Johnson Reveal Hilarious ‘Millennials: The Musical’

But while such a huge array of projects, including so many that seem to play to his strengths, might hint at the possibility that Johnson is getting into a rut, his upcoming slate is actually filled with slyly subversive options. “Jumanji” won’t be a straight remake of the original, instead the film will play on video game culture, casting most of its stars as literal avatars for people who get tangled up in the consuming jungle-set game. “Doc Savage” comes from filmmaker Shane Black, who has always managed to bring his unique comedy and worldview to instant classics like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “The Other Guys.”



Even Johnson’s next feature, the Brad Peyton-directed “Rampage,” sounds wild, even as it reteams the star with his very frequent director, as a recent Instagram for the star laid out an insane plot for the video game adaptation.

His post detailed the film’s plot, now in production, with Johnson writing:

“I head up an anti poaching unit out of Rwanda. My best friend is a rare albino gorilla named, George. Very bad people infect George, an alligator and a wolf with a serum. All three animals grow at an unprecedented rate. Their size, speed, agility and violent aggression is off the charts. They go on a deadly rampage and want to destroy the world. George not happy. Me not happy. When animals like you, they lick you. When they don’t like you, they kill you. I will hunt down the bad people who did this to my best friend. And when I find them, I will not lick them.”

Sounds about right.

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