In case you’d been avoiding the cinema for the last few years, you might be interested to know that at some point, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became one of the biggest movie stars in the entire world. Yes, after becoming a huge star in the world of professional wrestling, The Rock moved on to try and conquer Hollywood. While many pro wrestlers have found limited success in the cinematic world, The Rock managed to rise above the stigma of wrestling and become a legitimate A-list movie star in his own right. And thanks to his insane work ethic, there are roughly seven million movies you can see him in, with more coming out every day. We’re exaggerating of course, but if you did want to see some of the best of The Rock on the silver screen, might we suggest some of the following titles?
WARNING: The following list will contain plot spoilers.
10. Roadblock – G.I. Joe: Retaliation
We’re mostly giving this one a spot because it somehow managed to resurrect the G.I. Joe franchise after the mediocre Rise of Cobra. Not that we hated Rise of Cobra, but Retaliation acts somewhat like an apology for all the missed opportunities of the first film, basically erasing most of the original cast from existence in brutal fashion and rebuilding around The Rock, who plays his role as commanding officer/father figure really well, managing to switch between the detached, controlled soldier he has to be in the field, and the more human figure that can trade quips with Bruce Willis and show emotion over the loss of his fellow soldiers (though not for too long, because this isn’t that sort of movie). For a film based on little more than an old 80’s toy franchise, it has a surprising depth of plot and character, and The Rock is pretty much the perfect face of the franchise going forward.
9. Ray Gaines – San Andreas
The movie that made it clear that Rock had the power to open a blockbuster movie on the strength of his name, San Andreas is pretty much the ultimate summer movie. The plot is laughably thin, but the destruction of a large portion of Calfornia mostly serves as a backdrop for the Rock to pull off impressive feats of strength and action sequences, along with some nominally emotional scenes (“emotional” in the context of an action movie, anyway) with his ex-wife and daughter to give the disaster flick some personal stakes. Sure, it’s not like The Rock’s character actually stops the disaster, or even saves that many people, but he’s just so darned heroic that if feels like he accomplished something, and frankly, as big-budget disaster movies go, it’s definitely one of the better ones. If there’s one thing you can say about The Rock, it’s that despite being a gigantic muscle-bound hunk, he’s also one of the most relatable action stars we’ve seen in the genre, bringing a certain level of humanity to what would otherwise be a very detached role as “generic action hero”.
8. Paul Doyle – Pain and Gain
This movie, loosely based on a true story, is certainly not what you’d expect from something that, on the surface, looked like a fun kidnapping/heist flick starring Mark Wahlberg and The Rock. Instead, the film is a dark tale about the perversion of the American Dream, full of violence and greed. There is humor mixed in, but overall the film is actually very bleak and disturbing. The Rock plays an interesting role as Paul Doyle (actually a composite of three people from the real crimes that inspired the movie), a slightly simple-minded born-again criminal who immediately backslides into a life of drugs and robbery once he gets involved in the kidnapping plot. While he’s truly mostly a side character to Wahlberg’s ringleader, it’s interesting to watch The Rock in a subservient role, given his normally larger-than-life persona that seems to thrust him into leading roles. The movie itself is hit-or-miss, depending on personal taste, but it’s an intriguing departure from Rock’s normal action hero fare.
7. Elliot Wilhelm – Be Cool
While The Rock was still getting his feet wet in Hollywood, he received this opportunity as a supporting character in what was expected to be a fairly big movie, the sequel to the surprise hit Get Shorty, starring John Travolta. Unfortunately, Be Cool didn’t exactly set the world on fire, but it was significant for The Rock, showing not only that he could have range outside of a generic action movie, but highlighting his super-human charisma, even in a lesser role. His character, a gay bodyguard with dreams of becoming a star, isn’t necessarily the deepest, most complex portrayal ever (which could be said about most of the characters in this movie), but it did highlight Rock’s strengths as a comedic actor, who could still play a convincing badass at the same time. We’re not going to say that Rock playing a gay character was a huge risk or big character moment for him, because if anything it was a fairly bad stereotype that existed mostly as a target for homophobic jokes, but it did allow Rock to loosen up and use the charisma that made him a big star in the first place.
6. Detective Christopher Danson – The Other Guys
While we did somewhat enjoy The Other Guys for its twisted look at the guys who don’t get to solve action-packed murder cases and instead deal with relatively hum-drum (but still really important) white collar crimes, we’d be lying if we didn’t say that we would entirely have watched a movie that was just about the high-octane adventures of The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson’s stereotypical action movie detective characters. Which, really, is kind of the point of the film. Sure, it would probably just be a generic action cop movie full of explosions, running gun battles, and a plot so thin you could see through it, but damn it, The Rock and Jackson played their characters so completely over the top that it definitely would have been a fun ride. Maybe one day, we’ll get that movie, although finding a way for both The Rock and Jackson to fit it in, in between the roughly seven dozen movies they’re both making at any given time, might be a bit of a challenge.
5. Driver – Faster
Not enough people watched this decent little film, which featured The Rock doing the one thing that you would think might hinder him as an actor: not talking. Instead, he spends much of the film as a looming avatar of vengeance, driving the plot while remaining mostly outside of it, as everyone else in the film reacts to his path of destruction. It’s a surprisingly serious role for The Rock, with none of the eyebrow-raising, joke-making, charismatic characteristics he shows in the majority of his films, just a quiet air of menace, and somehow, he manages to pull it off. The film itself is a fairly straight-forward revenge plot, right down to the surprising twist at the end, but it’s all handled very well, and The Rock’s attempts at a more serious, less “larger-than-life” role helps carry the movie into something a little bit better than you’d expect.
4. Hercules – Hercules
Let’s be clear, Hercules is not a particularly good movie, but it is some dumb, fun, summer popcorn fare. In fact, the movie does have an intriguing premise, as a sort of “real” version of Hercules, where the titular hero isn’t actually the demi-god of legend, but simply a good fighter with some great PR, which helps to keep his group of mercenaries in high demand. And frankly, if there was ever a role that someone like The Rock was born to play, it’s probably the mighty Hercules, as The Rock seems right at home in the traditional lion-headed cape. If anything, his role as Hercules could be seen as an evolution of his first starring role in The Scorpion King, only with a slightly better script and a much larger budget. In addition, he is helped by a strong supporting cast, as The Rock always seems to have more fun when he’s got personalities around him to bounce off of. While the movie’s only moderate success suggests that there won’t be any sequels in the near future, we were pleasantly surprised with this movie, and would recommend it for anyone who wants to sit back and watch The Rock kick a lot of ass for a couple of hours.
3. Agent 23 – Get Smart
The Rock’s supporting turn as the consummate secret agent in this remake of a well-loved TV show managed to hit all the right notes, because of course The Rock is the perfect secret agent. He’s charismatic, he’s suave, and he could kill you with a paper clip if he wanted to. In a world where everyone always wonders who will play the next Bond, Agent 23 basically is Bond, seen from the perspective of the “lesser” secret agents who have to work with him. The nice twist is that there doesn’t actually seem to be any jealousy of 23’s obvious superiority, Steve Carell’s Maxwell Smart sees 23 as a friend and inspiration, which helps sell the ultimate betrayal even more. Arguably, Rock’s character work is kind of wasted on the sudden heel turn at the climax, because it turns a subtly complex supporting character into a generic villain with a bomb. We will, however, give Rock credit for being willing to be the sort of villain that could be defeated by a simple kiss.
2. Beck – The Rundown
Back when The Rock was just getting into movies, this ridiculously underrated movie was the one where he first clicked as an action star. While The Scorpion King was hurt by terrible dialogue and Walking Tall felt like it was edited with a hacksaw, The Rundown balanced humor and action in a way that really allowed The Rock’s charisma to shine through. His role as a world-weary hitman who wants to get out of the business and open his own restaurant was played far better than such a cheesy concept would seem to indicate, and when asked to share the screen with a comic foil in Sean William Scott, The Rock more than holds his own, as they somehow have fantastic chemistry together. In addition, this movie showed that The Rock was never afraid to make himself look silly in order to get a laugh, a departure from other stoic, emotionless action heroes that plague cinema screens at times. His other early films helped get his foot in the door, but his role in The Rundown was the first time we really felt like he might actually succeed at the whole acting thing.
1. Hobbs – Fast And Furious franchise
While saying that he “stars” in the franchise might be exaggerating just a little (especially his glorified cameo in Furious 7), The Rock’s presence as DSS agent Luke Hobbs beginning with Fast Five basically catapulted him from “decent mid-level action star” to “Hollywood A-lister”, setting him on the path to becoming the #1 box office star in the world. His initial appearance in Fast Five is arguably his strongest (although he’ll likely see an expanded role in the films going forward), playing a federal agent tasked with bringing down Dom’s gang. Obviously, the audience doesn’t want him to succeed because we’re on the side of Vin Diesel’s crew, but it’s not like he’s a bad guy, either, leading to a fairly nuanced portrayal as Hobbs walks the line between interfering obstacle and heroic badass. The Rock does a great job in what could have been a thankless role, as a guy who’s trying to enforce the law against the heroes of the movie, which eventually develops into an alliance and friendship born out of mutual respect in future films. Plus, over the course of the franchise, we got to see The Rock in some kick-ass fight scenes against Vin Diesel and Jason Statham, which is arguably worth the price of admission.