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If Dwayne Johnson Is Hollywood’s Biggest Star, Why Did ‘Rampage’ Open Soft?

Johnson's movie-star status says as much about the times as it does about the actor.



Rampage” opened #1 last weekend at just under $36 million, with Dwayne Johnson its only name draw. Is that enough to make The Rock the biggest movie star in Hollywood — or, is his greatest asset the near-complete dearth of actors who can open movies?

Johnson’s marquee value is well documented. Since 2011, he appeared in eight films that grossed over $100 million (nine if you include the animated “Moana”). “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Fate of the Furious” in 2017 each exceeded $200 million. However, times have changed. Once, being a top star meant your movies were always the year’s biggest movies. Now, in an era where animation and comic-book adaptations are the biggest draws, an actor’s own larger-than-life appeal is less important.

“Rampage” should make around $90 million domestic and another $300 million or so additional overseas. Expect it to make $400 worldwide, perhaps a little more. With production and marketing costs topping $220 million, Warner Bros. will make a small profit only after the film hits streaming.

Still, his career doesn’t show the same strengths as, say, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Another oversized personality from the athletics world, his films ranked among the annual top-10 box office lists for years. Some were action, some were comedies, but most were standalone star vehicles. So far, that’s not Johnson.

Even so, $400 million for a routine April release of a non-franchise film is nothing to sneeze at. Let’s look at the case for, and against, Johnson as the biggest domestic star of our time.

Dwayne Johnson

Dwayne Johnson

Erik Pendzich/REX/Shutterstock

The Case For:

Without Johnson, Warners would have been in trouble on “Rampage.” The year has been unkind to big-budget films that didn’t get good reviews like “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” “Tomb Raider,” and “A Wrinkle in Time.” Each of those cost $100 million or more, opened to less than “Rampage,” and failed to hit $100 million total domestic (“Wrinkle” will get close; the other two won’t even make $70 million).

Compared to his movie-star peers, “Rampage” overperformed. “12 Strong” had Chris Hemsworth, “Den of Thieves” Gerald Butler, “Red Sparrow” Jennifer Lawrence. All opened between $15 million-$17 million and grossed less than $50 million domestic. And while “Rampage” wasn’t a franchise title, it repeats the formula, star, studio and director of 2015’s “San Andreas” — and has him dealing with rampaging FX animals that echo his recent smash “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” These days, an expensive action movie can’t count on an opening of even $20 million if it doesn’t offer something extra. The extra here seems to have been Johnson.

Technically, Robert Downey, Jr. is bigger. Based on box office since 2011, the star of the “Iron Man” and “Sherlock Holmes” movies has the lead. He also benefits from his Marvel ensemble work, showing up in “Captain America” and “Spider-Man.” However, in that period Johnson made six films with a domestic gross over $200 million each. Four titles — “San Andreas,” “Central Intelligence,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” and “Journey 2” (along with his voice work in “Moana”) made over $100 million domestic

“Pain & Gain”

The Case Against:

He’s an asset, but has he created the Dwayne Johnson Movie? Before the “Jumanji” reboot, his biggest hits were four “Fast and Furious” films in which Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker were the leads. (In adjusted grosses, his four entries rank among the five biggest of the seven-film series ).Beyond “Jumanji” and the “Fast and Furious” franchise, his top-performing film since 2011 was “San Andreas,” the #20 movie for 2015.

Look at Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg’s films have grossed less than Johnson’s since 2011 — around $1.5 billion total. However, Johnson gets more than half of his $2 billion domestic haul from the “Fast and Furious” series, in which he was not the lead. Less than a third of Wahlberg’s gross stemmed from two “Transformers” entries, in which he received top billing.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby

“The Great Gatsby”

And then there’s Leo. If star power is defined as the ability to get an atypical film made at a high budget, and then elevate interest for general domestic and worldwide audiences, with the result of $300-500 million grosses, then DiCaprio’s draw is arguably greater than any other current actor. Even while making far fewer films, Leonardo DiCaprio continues to elevate his titles to event status. It is hard to imagine his four top films from 2011 on — “The Revenant,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “Django Unchained” — performing as well without him. Nor do any of these films resemble the profile of what’s successful today. Perhaps more than any other working actor, DiCaprio’s presence casts an imprimatur of importance.

That said, since 2011 none of DiCaprio’s films have made $1 billion worldwide, and two of Johnson’s “Fast and Furious” films grossed over $1 billion in foreign alone. But those were ensembles with an emphasis on car chases and stunts, compared to DiCaprio’s acting showcases.

Whatever the wattage of Johnson’s star, he seems to like it just fine, thanks. His crowded slate is filled with franchises (“Jumanji 2,” “San Andreas 2”), a DC Comics superhero launch (“Black Adam”), a Disney theme park ensemble (“Jungle Cruise”) and a Fast and Furious spinoff (“Hobbs and Shaw”). Beyond that, he’s suggested an interest in politics, and might aim at the top job. Take that, Leonardo DiCaprio.

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