For anyone who has followed the career of Dwayne Johnson since his rise to professional wrestling super-stardom in the 1990s, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since a then-twenty-nine-year-old Johnson, also known by his ring name The Rock, made his feature film debut in 2001’s The Mummy Returns and then his film starring debut in the Mummy Returns prequel spinoff film The Scorpion King.
Although Johnson, like every other film star who’s enjoyed Johnson’s subsequent longevity, has certainly had his fair share of cinematic failures, with flops like Baywatch and Doom and Tooth Fairy, Johnson’s run as an above-the-line film star, if not a superstar, has placed him within the rarefied status of being one of Hollywood’s most consistently bankable stars of the past twenty years.
However, it now seems like Johnson’s time as a Hollywood superstar might be coming to an end, as evidenced by the disappointing box office performances of his most recent films, especially his last starring vehicle, the would-be blockbuster DC superhero film Black Adam, which was a commercial and critical failure.
Now fifty-one, a perilous age for any Hollywood star, especially a predominately action-oriented star like Johnson, Johnson is now fighting the same battle for commercial relevancy that was experienced by Clint Eastwood in the late 1980s, Sylvester Stallone in the 1990s, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 2000s. At fifty-one, can Johnson repel the challenge of Hollywood’s newest line of Hollywood action stars, the younger generation that Johnson, himself, represented twenty years ago?
Dwayne Johnson Is Black Adam
Like all aging Hollywood film stars, especially action film icons, Dwayne Johnson is presently struggling against Hollywood’s most immutable truth: every film star is only as good, so to speak, as their last film.
By this standard, excluding Johnson’s cameo appearance in Fast X, Johnson’s career is presently defined by his titular starring role in Black Adam, which has been labeled a box office bomb, as even though the film grossed nearly $400 million at the worldwide box office, the film’s reported production cost of approximately $260 million prevented the movie from hitting its box office break-even point. Given that the franchise-conscious Johnson expressed a strong desire to turn Black Adam into a film series, the film’s failure was especially damaging to Johnson's career.
Moreover, with the lackluster commercial and critical reception for Fast X seeming to hasten the demise of the long-running Fast & Furious film series, this leaves the Jumanji film series as Johnson’s only active and consistently popular film series. Indeed, Johnson hasn’t had a true box office hit since 2019’s Jumanji: The Next Level, which grossed nearly $800 million at the worldwide box office against a reported production cost of $132 million.
Although Jumanji: The Next Level was preceded by another box office hit, 2019’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, which grossed approximately $760 million at the worldwide box office against a reported production cost of $200 million, with the Fast & Furious series now seemingly on its last legs, where is Johnson’s next reliable source of box office revenue going to come from, beyond possible future Jumanji films?
Has Dwayne Johnson Become Overexposed?
Perhaps no other Hollywood star in history has been as visible as Dwayne Johnson over the past decade, both in film and television, especially through Johnson’s gigantic social media platform, which has accumulated over 380 million followers.
With his film and television production company, Seven Bucks Productions, Johnson produced and starred in the HBO comedy-drama series Ballers and the autobiographical sitcom Young Rock. However, has Johnson’s focus on television detracted from his film career in terms of making Johnson too accessible, and has the public grown tired of Johnson’s seemingly inescapable media presence?
Regardless of how much audience fatigue has figured into the steady decline of Johnson’s popularity, the box office performance of his films over the past decade reveals that Johnson’s film successes have grown incrementally smaller and smaller, while his failures, such as Black Adam and 2021’s Jungle Cruise, have grown larger in scale, especially in relation to their mammoth production costs.
Moreover, Johnson’s screen persona has become increasingly one-dimensional over the past decade. Instead of taking more creative risks, as an actor, Johnson has seemingly cocooned himself within the increasingly predictable, static confines of his blockbuster film space, which is now being threatened.
Is Dwayne Johnson Still Having Fun?
After The Scorpion King, Dwayne Johnson’s next starring film role came in the acclaimed 2003 action-comedy film The Rundown, which represents a major turning point not only in Johnson’s career but also in Hollywood history.
In one of the film’s early scenes, Johnson’s bounty hunter character, Beck, enters a nightclub in search of a target and walks past Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tells Beck and Johnson to simply have fun, which represents a clear passing of the proverbial action star torch from the then-fifty-six-year-old Schwarzenegger to Johnson, who was thirty-one when the film was released.
Today, Johnson can look behind him, figuratively speaking, and see the advance of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, Jason Momoa, Chris Pratt, and others. As Johnson moves through his fifties, will he step aside, so to speak, for these actors, as Schwarzenegger did for Johnson, or will Johnson fight to maintain or reclaim his now fading standing as Hollywood’s, if not the world’s, top action film hero?