×
Back to IndieWire

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s Movie Characters Ranked from Worst to Best

No pain, no gain.

10. “Doom” (2005)


Character: GySgt Asher “Sarge” Mahonin
First-person action sequence: actually pretty awesome

The Rock has a rare quality: Even when the movies he’s in are bad (which is often), he himself is not. Take “Doom,” for instance, which serves as yet another reminder that movies based on video games are almost always terrible. This adaptation of the classic first-person shooter managed to alienate fans of the game (by diverging from its core mythology) while doing little to court viewers who’d never picked up a controller in their life (by simply being bad). But hey, at least the Rock got to use the BFG — known as the Big Fucking Gun among fans of the game, but called the Bio Force Gun here — and eventually acknowledge how bad the movie is on Twitter. — MN

9. “Walking Tall” (2004)


Character: GySgt Asher “Sarge” Mahonin
Type of justice served: Street

The wrestler-turned-actor’s career can be divided into three phases: the era when he was credited as The Rock, a brief period when he went by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the current period of simply Dwayne Johnson. “Walking Tall” belongs to the tail-end of his first phase, when he was still finding his onscreen persona; the result is shaky, with Rocky tapping into his action-hero and leading-man talents in roughly equal measure. This remake of the 1973 film was his first opportunity to prove that he could do more than straightforward action, as well as the first reminder that, usually through no fault of his own, watching him do so is only moderately entertaining. — MN

8. “Hercules” (2014)


Character: Uh… Hercules
Bicep size: Ridiculous

We live in a time of reimagined heroes, and so it was probably inevitable (if welcome) that Johnson would end up portraying at least one of them. He was perfectly cast in this take on the mythological Greek strongman, not that Brett Ratner’s direction gave him much to work with. (At least the casting did: Ian McShane stars opposite the Rock in what must be the most pleasingly strange pairing of either man’s career.) “Hercules” understands the concept that the ideal Johnson performance balances his imposing physical presence with his inherent likability — if he runs for president, can you honestly see him losing? — but in practice the film ends up being about as memorable as the reign of King Eurystheus. — MN

7. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017)


Character: Dr. Smolder Bravestone
“Zathura” references: Zero, and it’s rude

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has the Platonic ideal of a premise for a Dwayne Johnson movie: Wouldn’t it be the most awesome thing of all-time if you — a pissant little nobody — was transformed into a man so rippling that he eventually outgrew being called “The Rock?” Well, yeah, it kinda would. Of course, Johnson subverts his stature by playing a teenage boy who’s trapped in the body of a Samoan demi-god named Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and the actor has a lot of fun in the process. He also has a perfect excuse to marvel anew at his own body (sample line: “I think I just pressed my enormous left pec”).

Johnson is an enduringly winning presence, and it’s hard to dislike anyone who’s willing to be this goofy for our amusement (there isn’t a trace of cynicism in Johnson’s performance), but he’s now played against type almost as many times as he’s played into it. The only interesting future that’s left for him might be in playing more comically jacked normal people. Or who knows, maybe he’ll just become President. Make America Buff Again or whatever. — DE

6. “Central Intelligence” (2016)


Character: Robbie Weirdicht / Bob Stone
Does The Rock get naked and make out with Melissa McCarthy?: Oh hell yeah

Johnson is always at his most infectiously self-amused when playing against type, and he seems to be having the time of his life in this diverting buddy comedy, starring opposite Kevin Hart as a bullied dweeb who grows up to become a sweet — and crazy swole — kind of Ethan Hunt (“you’re Jason Bourne in jorts!”). Subverting the tough guy mystique of his stereotypical roles, Johnson inhabits Bob Stone like some kind of goofy little kid who’s been Freaky Friday-ed into the body of an American Gladiator. He even gets to deadpan lines like: “I can no longer, in good conscience, walk away and jerk anyone off in the parking lot.” You’re never going to hear him say that in the “Fast & Furious” spinoff.

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

And while the whole thing is a bit too labored and obvious to connect as hard as it could, Johnson leans into the idea hard enough for us to seriously entertain the idea that his character isn’t just a rogue CIA agent, but also maybe a delusional psychopath who’s just a little too obsessed with his old high school man-crush. Aside from “Jumanji,” this is the closest he’s come to reconciling the low-key eccentricity of his supporting roles in “Southland Tales” and “Pain & Gain” with the broad appeal of his movie star brand. — DE

5. “Gridiron Gang” (2006)


Character: Sean Porter
Inspiration level: High

Inspirational Coach Movies are nothing new, but not until 2006 did one of them have the benefit of being led by a former WWE Champion. “Gridiron Gang” essentially takes the “Remember the Titans” formula and swaps out racial tensions for gang rivalries — these athletes aren’t students but detainees at a juvenile-detention facility in Los Angeles, which is to say that coexisting is an even more difficult proposition than usual. (Spoiler: They still pull it off.) Enter Johnson, who’s on a mission to lead the based-on-a-true-story proceedings to heartwarming victory. The script frequently calls on him to deliver lines like “Let’s try the impossible, because the possible just ain’t workin’”; since he’s a team player, he does so with a determined smile on his face that’s infectious despite how familiar it all feels. — MN

4. “The Rundown” (2003)


Character: Beck
Last name: None

The movie that proved The Rock could be a star, “The Rundown” hit theaters a year after “The Scorpion King” (and just two years after The Rock played a glorified extra in a comedy about a tennis instructor/gigolo who commits insider trading), and quickly set the path for its leading man’s big screen persona. Beck — no last name given — is a retrieval expert who dreams of becoming a chef, but the only thing he gets to cook up in this movie is an all-you-can-eat buffet of whoop-ass. Racing into a South American jungle in order to find Stifler and take him back to his father, Beck tries to avoid fighting whenever possible, but only because he’s unfairly good at it. In the film’s opening scene, he demolishes an entire football team to the sounds of Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On,” busting out slow-motion wrestling moves when a simple punch would probably have gotten the job done.

Beck is something of a standard-issue hero type — if also kind of a nag — but The Rock’s subsequent career has made the character more fascinating in hindsight. Beck displays a degree of hesitation (and humanity) that The Rock would later squeeze out of his roles; he’s stiff and reverential, whereas someone like Luke Hobbs is glistening and imperious. It’s a solid, charismatic performance that feels positively complex in the aftermath of “Rampage” and “Skyscraper.” Also, Beck is downright scrawny compared to Dwayne Johnson’s later beefiness, which is pretty hilarious in a movie where many of the other characters are always joking about how jacked he is. — DE

3. “Fast Five” (2011)

Character: Luke Hobbs
Volume of Forehead Sweat: 11

There’s a reason that “The Fast and the Furious” has defied expectations by actually improving with age, and he’s been in the main event of WrestleMania five times. The Rock breathed new life into the automotive series — and, more to the point, his own career — when he got behind the wheel of this increasingly ridiculous franchise, playing a cop who can beat the hell out of our heroes even if he can’t outrace them. The role proved to be such a perfect fit that a spinoff focused on Hobbs is being made — not that every member of the “Fast and Furious” team is happy about it. — MN

2. “The Scorpion King” (2002)


Character: Mathayus
CGI: Better than “The Mummy Returns”

“Catch this.” There’s a truth that only those who watched professional wrestling in the early 2000s can fully appreciate, and it’s this: “The Scorpion King” is awesome. So much so, in fact, that it may even anger some of these fans that box-set editions of the “Mummy” franchise never include this under-appreciated prequel; some of them — and I’m definitely not talking about myself here — may even periodically check to see if an updated edition has rectified this grievous oversight. The Rock impressed enough in his “Mummy Returns” cameo to get a spinoff of his own, proving in the process that he could easily carry a movie of his own. Long live the king. — MN

1. “Pain & Gain” (2013)


Character: Paul Doyle
Amount of cocaine snorted: Seriously, a lot

If anyone ever tells you that Johnson can’t act, simply point them to his performance as a coked-out Christian who knows his own strength but can’t contain it in Michael Bay’s surprisingly great “Pain & Gain.” “Jesus Christ himself has blessed me with many gifts,” his Paul Doyle says after punching someone in the face so hard he accidentally kills him. “One of them is knocking someone the fuck out!” A highly addictive personality prevents the musclebound believer from being his best self, but his downward spiral makes for an incredible watch: Doyle gets a toe shot off while fleeing the police underwater, vacillates between childlike musings and extreme bursts of violence, and snorts enough blow to make Tony Montana blush.

What’s most remarkable about this performance is that it’s only a slight modulation of Johnson’s usual onscreen persona. Nearly all of the Rock’s characters are violent meatheads, but none of them are as tortured — or, it must be said, unintentionally hilarious — as this one. Things go wrong for him as soon as they go right, with Doyle’s ill-gotten gains immediately making their way up his nose; we never have much hope for the character, but Johnson’s performance inspires plenty of hope that more roles like this are on the way.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Film and tagged , ,


Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox

Newswire