If we're keeping it 💯, one of the best places to find Hollywood talent is in the squared circle that is the WWE ring. You done laughing yet? Thanks. Though it’s still disrespectfully criticized for being "fake," the world of sports entertainment is one of the best training grounds for superstardom. Dudes with square jaws and heavy doses of irrational confidence stand in front of thousands of people on a weekly basis, recite lines from a script, and put on rigorously complicated choreographed fight scenes. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, John Cena, and Dave Bautista are all proof that the transition from the ring to Hollywood is a pretty seamless one. But there’s one man who’s transcended them all.
We're talking about the The People's Champion, the Brahma Bull, the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The man who has been named one of the most influential people in the world by Time. The man who not only holds a Guinness World Record for taking the most selfies in three minutes, but who also collected a cool $5.5 million for starring in 2002's The Scorpion King, reportedly the highest payday ever for an actor in a debut role.
Dwayne Johnson debuted with considerable hype in 1996 as the third-generation wrestler Rocky Maivia (a name that combined the ring names of his father Rocky Johnson and his grandfather Peter Maivia, two wrestling legends in their own right). As a baby-faced good guy with a 100 watt smile and immeasurable charisma, he started out as a fan favorite who didn't really do or say much. He was thrust into the championship limelight early on, winning the WWE's Intercontinental Championship roughly four months into his rookie year. But his success was polarizing; some cheered, but others chanted "die, Rocky, die!" and "Rocky sucks!" The organization used this to its advantage, turning the babyface Rocky Maivia into the heel known as The Rock in the spring of 1997, and Dwayne Johnson was up to the challenge. Soon came the hilarious insults and intense eyebrow raises, and the Most Electrifying Man in Sports was born, helping build the foundation of what became the WWE's most profitable era in its history and ultimately paving the way for The Rock’s worldwide recognition as a mainstream star.
We're not here to talk about that, though. We’re here to talk about a moment.
Our story picks up in the summer of 2001, three-plus years after The Rock's rise to WWE dominance. By this point, his appeal had already begun expanding beyond the ring, as evidenced by his role as the prime villain in The Mummy Returns. That movie crushed, because of course it would, raking in $433 million on a $98 million budget. As if The Rock’s ego wasn’t already swollen in the aftermath, he was also given a spin-off movie, the aforementioned Scorpion King.
Keep in mind though that this film debuted in May of 2001; The Rock had been off of WWE TV since April of that year, and during his huge return to the WWE (which was part of an storyline that had the rival WCW organization looking to "invade" the WWE), The Rock barely had to speak... his presence was present enough for the thousands of fans in attendance and the millions (AND MILLIONS) of people watching the show at home.
Can you hear those shrieks when the "IF YOU SMEEEEELLL" hit in The Rock's theme? Philly might be a rowdy, storied wrestling city, but the reaction for The Rock’s return was bigger than some local appreciation for a simulated sport. This was a true superstar getting thousands of people in attendance on their feet, busting one simultaneous nut at the sight of the biggest bonafide superstar to hit the WWE.
The wild thing? He literally came back, kicked two guys' asses, said nine words, and blew the roof off the spot.
It was at that moment that we all should've known what’s become so clear: The Rock is no doubt the best thing going when it comes to the box office. He's self-proclaimed Franchise Viagra, a mercenary brought in to revitalize everything from Fast & Furious (Hobbs!) to The Mummy, with the receipts to prove that, again, his presence is a present. It was at that moment in 2001 when the microcosm of an arena full of rabid rasslin’ fans spoke for a bigger audience and predicted the next decade and a half of blockbuster cinema.
Don't believe that Hollywood is here for The Rock? Just check out his upcoming projects: dude's dropping the buddy action comedy with Central Intelligence with Kevin Hart today, and the rest of his plate is overflowing. He's linked with Zac Efron for the Baywatch film, has been tapped for the film adaptation of the classic video game Rampage, and is joining Kevin Hart once again for a remake of Jumanji. That's not to mention talk about him joining the DC Extended Universe as Black Adam in Shazam, appearing as Doc Savage, AND starring in the sequel to the smash hit San Andreas. Is there a bank in existence that can hold all of the Ms that The Rock is pulling in—before he hangs up his acting shoes and runs for president, of course.
I’d say I’m surprised—but I’m not. I was watching in 2001.