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Dwayne Johnson Refutes IndieWire’s ‘Rampage’ Box-Office Takeaway, But Both Sides Are Right — Analysis

Dwayne Johnson responded thoughtfully to our analysis of "Rampage," and our box-office editor responded in kind.

Rampage

“Rampage”

It would be exciting to be noticed by any major Hollywood player, but even more so from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who is as smart as he is successful. And when he tweets, he deserves an answer.

His tweet responded to my just-published article about “Rampage” and how it positioned him as a contender for the biggest star in movies (particularly in domestic play). He took aim at the headline. So, a response is in order.

The headline (which, as is normal practice, was written by my editor) synthesized the story’s message, which focused on his film’s domestic performance. “Rampage” was #1 for the weekend, and indeed met and slightly exceeded domestic projections. And, as the article pointed out, it deserved credit for an initial gross ahead of equally expensive recent action films like “Tomb Raider” and “Pacific Rim: Uprising.”

Statham The Rock Fate of the Furious

“The Fate of the Furious”

‘Soft,’ in this case, is relative. The context is the high expectations attached to the actor who’s arguably our current biggest star. He came to “Rampage” backed not only by a 17-year film career that’s grossed $2 billion worldwide (adjusted), but also with “Jumanji,” his biggest domestic success to date.

So when “Rampage” grossed $35,753,000 for the weekend, that was good enough for #1 but less than we might have expected. (Of note: “A Quiet Place” bested it Monday and Wednesday). What are fair comparisons? As my article mentioned, “Kong: Skull Island” last year opened to over $60 million in similar pre-summer playtime. Johnson’s own “San Andreas” opened to $58 million adjusted.

Johnson is coming off the amazing run of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which gave “Rampage” an even bigger head of steam. However, its opening gross fell in the “soft” range of other films of a similar budget — “Blade Runner 2049” ($33 million), “The Mummy” ($32 million), and “Alien Covenant” ($36 million).

“Rampage”

Ultimately, we’re not talking about the comp game; it’s prognosticating ultimate results. Johnson is the real deal, a long-term success poised to thrive for years to come. With its strong Chinese debut and other foreign results, “Rampage” should gross enough to make a profit when post-theatrical revenues come in — and that’s where “soft” comes in to play. It’s difficult to parse how the actor who’s considered the biggest box-office draw can star in a film, made in his sweet spot, that still leaves the studios concerned about making a profit. It means future productions may decide that his appeal, however proven, doesn’t mean he can carry a derivative film solely on his name; he needs the backing of a strong ensemble, a franchise, or both. And judging by Johnson’s upcoming slate, he may have already reached the same conclusion.

The performance of “Rampage” will be revealed in the weeks to come; Japan and Germany are still to open. It could turn out its mid-level opening is enough. Or the film might end up doing less than hoped. Either way, it’s not the final answer to the original question: Is Dwayne Johnson our biggest box-office star?

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