As you may have heard, Skyscaper — the latest star vehicle for the generally unstoppable mega-dose of franchise viagra known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — didn’t fare too well at the box office on its opening weekend. In fact, the film landed below the low expectations analysts had already set, and $25 million on opening weekend is not something that one ordinarily expects from The Rock. He’s risen from rags and wrestling to dazzle audiences with his charisma, muscles, and sparkling smile. He could charm the skin off of a snake, and not in a snake-oil salesman kind of way. He could kick your ass by flexing a muscle across the room, and you’d thank him for the privilege. Still, some folks look forward to tearing an icon down, a move that is, at the very least, premature here.
Presently, a smattering of think pieces (more than) suggest that The Rock is (gasp) overexposed and in danger of wearing out his welcome. Yet one must also consider that the sheer number of The Rock’s financially successful projects vastly outweighs the impact of an occasional misstep — one that isn’t down to one single factor, such as scheduling considerations and the fact that Skyscraper could have been much more fun and simply wasn’t executed well. Was this film as great as The Rundown? Helllllll, no. Would The Rock be able to singlehandedly save the romcom genre? Probably not.
Yet, The Rock’s going nowhere. Multiple visits to Tentpole City remain on his agenda, and he’s still knocking down endorsements that don’t place him in proximity of a permanent revisit to the WWE. So, let’s try and gain some perspective here. The Rock’s career has been through far worse over the years, and he always comes out ahead. Let’s take a trip down memory lane…
Southland Tales (2006)
Over a decade ago, The Rock had already starred in a handful of successful action movies. Then perhaps in a management-guided effort to tweak his image into that of a serious actor, he began appearing professionally in films as Dwayne Johnson. The first such outing under his legal name was an ambitious one, with Donnie Darko director Richard E. Kelly striking out in this follow-up, Southland Tales, which didn’t deliver any substance behind its weirdness, making it a much less beloved yet equally bizarre product as its predecessor.
Although Johnson’s performance as a right-wing movie star, who is swept up in a conspiracy, is wonderfully offbeat and arguably the greatest one of the flick (Justin Timberlake also appears, not making much of an impression while attempting to shed his boy-band image), and The Rock enjoyed top billing, the film didn’t put butts in theater seats, which not only disappointed from a financial standpoint but also because Johnson was clearly attempting to level-up past his action-only image. Alas, there were more rough times to come.
The Tooth Fairy (2010)
Did you know that The Rock starred in a string of kiddie movies? Yes, he did, and this film was the penultimate such example, where he played the punchline of some executive who brainstormed the concept of … wouldn’t it be swell to have The Rock play the tooth fairy? The rest was a history so unsatisfactory to The Rock that he canned his agents, and as he told The Hollywood Reporter, the film made him realize, “I’m not feeling authentic … change has to happen.”
Well, it’s no wonder, I mean, look at that poster. The Rock played a mean-spirited hockey player who was forced to make karmic amends by literally becoming a tutu-wearing tooth fairy. Although the entire film was meant to be a joke, and audiences paid handsomely to see The Rock angrily flex his gluteus maximi, it wasn’t a very funny journey, and he clearly didn’t enjoy the process.
The Rock followed up The Tooth Fairy with a realization that he needed to return to his action roots. He further grasped that franchises were the key to his career longevity. If anyone can come back from this paycheck-only nightmare to become a franchise-saving savior, then dreams really do come true.
The Rock’s career chugged along for years without much disaster, although a popcorn-film dream pairing took him overboard. That is, director Brett Ratner helmed a take on the Greek demigod that no one asked for (even worse, another take starring Kellan Lutz arrived the same year). Enough said? How about The Rock wearing a loincloth and damn lion’s face for a hat. The duo made enough bank for Paramount Pictures, but this is where The Rock began to lose his self-awareness while acting out strongman clichés, while the film weakly aimed at some revisionism to sort-of justify yet another Hercules movie.
Seriously though, this move showed The Rock picking up a horse and tossing it aside with chest-heaving intensity. And all of this was executed without a trace of irony. Although his character was nearly invincible, this display was an indication that The Rock needed to hop back into the Fast and the Furious bandwagon for some juice, stat, and to build up some audience goodwill.
The goodwill remained intact for a few years, but then The Rock began to uncharacteristically lash out beyond the theatrics of his WWE days. Look, the reboot of David Hasselhoff and his sexy band of beach-jogging pals was never meant to be an award-winning movie, but an 18% aggregate score at Rotten Tomatoes wasn’t something that The Rock was prepared to handle gracefully. In fact, he rage-tweeted at critics over the affair, which was a bizarre display to witness for fans and his (one or two) foes alike.
Indeed, perhaps the resulting backlash towards The Rock’s Baywatch-associated defensiveness taught him a lesson. He hasn’t negatively (at least publicly) reacted at all to Skyscraper‘s underwhelming box-office return, but maybe he’s been fumbling around for his franchise-themed security blanket, which never, ever fails him. Really though, a few film “failures” aren’t much for The Rock to overcome, if one considers what he’s been through in his pre-stardom years…
His Own Struggles With Poverty And Depression
The Rock has been open about the lowest points in his life, which all arrived mostly before his wrestling and acting days. He has suffered at least three major depressive episodes associated with his difficult, poverty-stricken childhood, the end of his football career, and the collapse of his marriage. During these trying times, he was “crying constantly” to “a point where you are all cried out.” If you’ve watched The Game Plan, The Rock sheds a single tear toward the end of the film, and it’s heartbreaking to witness. To think of this big fella losing it on a regular basis is almost too much to bear.
Still, and as The Rock often tells his public, he once found seven dollars in his pocket — all the money he had to his name. From there, he dug himself out and became one of the more not pieces of WWE history. And if he can move on from there, against all odds, and carve out a Hollywood shadow that makes it hard to imagine a multiplex without his presence, then, undoubtedly, he can come back from a little Skyscraper slump. This week, The Rock emerged (again) at the top of Forbes’ Highest Paid Actors list. He tweeted about those seven dollars, which have turned into $124 million in 2018 alone.
Yes, he celebrated on Twitter by reminding everyone that he’ll never forget his own humble and (hungry) roots, and he’s still the People’s Champ. As Forbes further notes, The Rock has scored the “largest ever recorded” annual take in 20 years of the magazine’s tracking of the Celebrity 100. The Rock might be momentarily down for the count, but we’re stuck with the guy, almost entirely for the better.