He’s a physical force who may not be the greatest actor in the world, but knows his audience and knows how to market himself as a star. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has become a modern staple in cinema and with his new movie “Skyscraper” hitting theaters this weekend I decided to put the spotlight on this wrestler-turned-actor’s cinematic career and pick out the highlight performances he has brought to the big screen. Whether it’s a side character or the star of the show these are the performances that helped make The Rock a household name outside of the WWF/WWE. From his big-screen debut in 2002 to “Rampage” in 2018 Johnson has been featured in over 30 films even working behind the scenes to make these projects a success. So as his latest offering approaches let’s take a look at his best so far. These are my picks for the Top 10 Dwayne Johnson Movie Performances.
For this list I looked at the 30-plus movies where the actor formerly known as The Rock performs in as a fictional character. Thus, this list excludes any appearances as himself or any documentaries. This also is not a list of Johnson’s best MOVIES, but rather a look at his most iconic characters and performances that helped define his career and further solidify him as a mainstay in the public eye as a star of the big screen. These characters can appear in multiple movies and sequels. As long as they played a part in The Rock’s big screen reputation they were fair game.
What is your favorite performance and/or character from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Skyscraper” this weekend.
10. Beck, “The Rundown”
Johnson’s second starring role in a film after “The Scorpion King”, “The Rundown” was probably ahead of its time in 2003 putting Dwayne Johnson at the forefront of the action as Beck, a retrieval expert and bounty hunter who is sent to retrieve his bosses son, played by Sean William Scott, as his final mission. While his role in the “Mummy” franchise put him on the map this was the role that made Johnson a bankable star showing off his ability to mix his physique and a sense of humor to carry a film on his shoulders. Johnson brings many of the laughs and provides the best action in the film that at the time was a box office failure but has sense gone on to earn a bit more respect as Johnson’s star power has grown. Beck still holds up great today as one of Johnson’s more subtly enjoyable characters and served as the debut for many character archetypes that the actor would incorporate into future roles, essentially providing the blueprint for everything he has provided to us sense. If not for this role The Rock may have never truly become the star he is today which is why it’s a great place to start this list.
9. Chris Vaughn, “Walking Tall”
The Rock’s follow-up to “The Rundown”, “Walking Tall” is a 2004 remake of the 1973 original loosely based on the real-life story of Sheriff Buford Pusser. The Rock plays a fictional interpretation of Pusser named Chris Vaughn who returns to his small town in Washington after time in the special forces to find that the heir of a local mill has corrupted the town by opening a casino and has power over the police. Vaughn runs for and successfully earns the position as sheriff and goes to war with the casino owner and now-former police to claim back his town’s pride. “Walking Tall” went on to become a mild box office success and further solidified Johnson as a bankable star as he drives every scene and provides the gusto and attitude perfect for a soldier done wrong who will do anything to right the wrongs in his community. While his portrayal of a sheriff on the warpath might be a little over dramatized, Johnson sells every moment bringing to life a man who is believably inspired enough and physically capable enough to do what has to be done. It might not be a magnificent work of art, but “Walking Tall” is a decent watch driven heavily by Johnson’s charismatic and amped up performance.
8. Sean Porter, “Gridiron Gang”
As a former college football player and one time prospect in the Canadian Football League the roll of a football coach might not seem like much of a stretch for Johnson but his appearance as Sean Porter in the 2006 flick “Gridiron Gang” is so much more than just a simple team leader. Johnson takes on a more dramatic role in this story as he tries to lead a group of juvenile delinquents in a better direction by coaching them as part of a football team. Throughout the film Porter spouts words of wisdom aimed at the effort, teamwork and rivalries among the juveniles in the hopes of uniting them in victory to teach them that the walls that separate them in life are manufactured by their own attitudes. Having dealt with personal roadblocks in his own life, Johnson seems to dig deep to bring out the best in this film teaching us all that second chances are never beyond our reach. He’s the glue that holds his teach together and the….um….rock that keeps them grounded and while his performance may be cliché he sticks the landing in one of his earliest dramatic roles on the big screen.
7. Dr. Smolder Bravestone, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
One of four player avatars in the video game world of Jumanji in 2017’s massive sequel hit “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, Johnson’s Smolder Bravestone is the muscle of the group and the kind of character players pick when they want to utilize the easiest mode possible. Johnson’s performance is made all the more charming and hilarious by the fact that his real world counterpart is a hypochondriac and a nerd, the exact opposite of Bravestone himself. As one of Johnson’s most popular roles to date Bravestone challenges the former wrestler to channel two different personalities at once and he, along with the other members of the cast, pull that off in style. It’s amusing to see Johnson surprised about his own physique and his comedic chops are in full swing as he sells every joke and every jaw drop as he has to adapt to his own body to fit the circumstances of the character. As the leader both on and off the screen in helping drive this adventure home, Johnson provided a performance that has earned him a whole new slew of fans and forced him to lean on more than his physique to get the job done.
6. Agent 23, “Get Smart”
Johnson has sold himself as both a comedic actor and a symbol of peak physical perfection and both play a part in this scene stealing role from the 2008 film adaptation of the classic Mel Brooks TV show “Get Smart”. Johnson plays Agent 23, a buff and capable spy who finds himself, along with the rest of CONTROL, compromised by a double agent who exposed everyone’s identities. Agent 23, like Johnson himself, is seen by many, including Maxwell Smart, as the symbol of the perfect agent and 23 seems to know this as well presenting himself as a humble hotshot with a little too much pride in his own capabilities. Later on however we discover that Agent 23 was actually behind the plot the whole time and was, in fact, the double agent. Johnson not only sells the comedy, but also sells his ruse to both the characters and the audience as he puts all that confidence to the ultimate test by hiding in plain sight. Agent 23 proves to be not only a great villain, but a great character overall that adds some depth to his fellow agents by making them feel inferior while also being insanely charming and likable even when we find out the truth.
5. Hercules, “Hercules”
Honestly this is a role that Johnson seems born to play. Few other actors have ever been able to capture the image of this ancient divine hero like Dwayne Johnson who took on the role in 2014 in one of two films that year focusing on the character. While many have tried to capture the essence of this legendary man of muscle Johnson is one of the few, if not the only one, who perfectly captures the physique of the role and his acting earned him praise as the film went on to be a box office success, more than doubling its budget. Johnson dedicated himself fully to the role, working out for 8 months in a grueling training regiment and embracing solitude for 6 months, and it payed off. Layering Hercules with a somewhat anti-social perspective on humanity as a God still unsure of the reality of his powers and heritage Johnson is the best thing about this adaptation of an overtold legend and brings a new approach to the character that feels fresh and fitting of Johnson’s rare attributes as both a performer and a bodybuilder.
4. Paul Doyle, “Pain & Gain”
Speaking of bodybuilding, that’s what this 2013 dark comedy is all about. Johnson plays Paul Doyle, a cocaine addict and convict who has turned to Christianity. Doyle is one of three muscular men who team up to extort a member of a gym they believe is a crook. Plans go horribly wrong in comedic fashion and Johnson’s Doyle helps provide a lot of the effective comedy that comes along with the chaos. Playing off of his physique and his character’s newfound faith Johnson provides some of the best lines in the film and is somehow incredibly believable and incredibly ridiculous at the same time as a drug addicted, Bible thumping hypocrite of a man seeking his share of “the American Dream”. As that dream comes to fruition however Doyle has to decide between his faith and debauchery and it all seems so out of character for Johnson that it’s actually fantastic to watch. Johnson is good at playing hot heads and individuals who know what makes them the hottest catch in the place, but when this approach is leveled out with a sense of morality and conscience in a film about robbery, kidnapping and murder it’s the perfect cocktail for one of this actor’s most fascinating and entertaining roles to date.
3. Mathayus, “The Mummy Returns” and “The Scorpion King”
While by far not one of Johnson’s most polished or layered performances, Mathayus was the role that started it all for this former wrestling star putting him on the map as The Scorpion King in the second “Mummy” reboot film and “The Scorpion King” standalone spinoff. Johnson got to experience only brief screen time in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns” but the debut of Mathayus in that film led to the standalone project a year later that made Johnson a star of the big screen overnight. Johnson takes a villain and turns him into a likable protagonist who embarks on an epic question for vengeance thousands of years before the rest of the franchise. Johnson holds his own spectacularly with a performance that, if nothing else, shows just how far this actor has come in the years since. While not as perfected or charismatic as other characters on this list, Mathayus is a role that introduced throngs of moviegoers to Johnson as a big screen star and proved that he could carry a project on his shoulders to the tune of $165 million at the box office. As the role that kicked his film career off in epic fashion it’s only fitting it nears the top of this list.
2. Maui, “Moana”
One of The Rock’s most recent roles and the only vocal performance on this list, Dwayne Johnson targeted a younger audience with his frankly flawless take on Maui, a demigod who helps the titular Moana on her mission to return a heart to the goddess Te Fiti to save the oceans and the islands of the world. A shape shifting egomaniac Maui sports a physique and tattooed body similar to Johnson’s own. Johnson even gets to try out his vocal chops for the role in one of the catchiest songs of the film “Your Welcome”. Johnson injects heart and personality into Maui presenting him as a loner who warms up to his partnership with Moana especially since it was his own actions that led to the movie’s main conflict. Maui includes many of the character and personality traits Johnson is known for in his live-action roles but somehow his performance as a voice actor feels more refined and sincere than almost any other big-screen appearance in Johnson’s career. This role elevated Johnson from an action icon to a family friendly superstar and even two years later it’s still among not only his best but most beloved and popular roles ever, but there is one more role that could never be anywhere else but atop this list.
1. Luke Hobbs, The “Fast and Furious” Franchise
The “Fast and Furious” keeps adding big name after big name in action to up the ante with each new entry. In 2011, with one of the series’ most respected entries “Fast Five”, we saw the debut of a character that has since become a franchise staple, Agent Luke Hobbs. Dwayne Johnson joined the cast in the role adding to the already abundant masculinity of the series as a no-holds-barred hot shot DSS Agent on the hunt for Demonic Toretto and his crew. Hobbs comes to respect his foes and even joins them in later films becoming a bigger part of the adventure with each new movie. A spinoff film featuring Hobbs as a main character along side Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw is in the works which is a testament to the character’s popularity with fans. Not only is Hobbs Johnson’s most well known and iconic role, it’s a performance that shows off literally everything Johnson has had to offer over the years from his comedic timing to his physical appearance, charm, attitude and personality. Hobbs could have easily been an add on character speaking to the desperation of the franchise to do something new, but Johnson not only owned the character and made him a permanent piece of the franchise but elevated Hobbs to top billing status as a modern anchor of one of the most celebration action franchises of the past two decades.