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How exactly did Dwayne Johnson become the highest-paid actor in Hollywood?


When you really consider and break down the modern legacy of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, it’s difficult to comprehend just how he became such an industry icon. From his days as a wrestler in the WWE to his life as one of the highest-earning Hollywood stars of contemporary cinema, Johnson has been a magnetising figure of public adoration with an enigmatic, pungent smell of lingering success. 

Standing as a figure of all-American strength, both in his towering physical stature and suffocating optimistic positivity, Johnson’s early life followed this trend, playing college American football for the University of Miami’s national championship team. Finding great success in the sport, it wasn’t until he was cut from the team of the Calgary Stampeders two months into the season that he decided to step away from the sport and pursue wrestling.

Donning the wrestler name of ‘The Rock’, Johnson became a sporting sensation within just two years of joining the WWE in 1996, transforming into one of the most popular wrestlers in the company’s history, thanks to his electric personality. This peaked from the mid-1990s till the start of the new millennium, as The Rock took the entertainment business to new heights, armed with the curious catchphrase, “If you smell what the rock is cooking!”. 

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Having helped the WWE to reach farther afield, Johnson turned to the wider entertainment industry in 2001, appearing in The Mummy Returns as the Scorpion King, a movie notorious for its remarkably bad CGI that has aged like cream cheese on a summer’s day. The film undoubtedly sparked a fiery new desire in Johnson, however, with a spin-off one year later putting the wrestler in the starring role as the titular Scorpion King once more. 

Speaking to fans on social media in 2020, Johnson discussed the trajectory of his career, explaining his move into screen acting as he stated, “Even though I wrestled for 20-50,000 people, I wanted it to feel intimate and the connection to feel real. So, I found my power space in professional wrestling and when I had a goal to transition into acting”. 

Astute and intelligent, Johnson had a rounded view of his career from his 20s, further explaining, “I wanted to have a real, long-lasting career that had weight and had value. And I wanted to become a real box office presence. I wanted to have a real box office cache…That was my goal at 29-years-old and I was prepared to work my ass off but I also knew, I gave myself a 10-12 year plan”. 

As the actor himself clearly recognised, his rise to stardom would not be instant, nor easy, with his 21st century filmography proving this beyond doubt, puffing through video game adaptations such as Doom, as well as a random screen comedian in such movies as Tooth Fairy. Even still, Johnson recognised that to be the best, he must integrate himself with modern media through more ways than just cinema, with his modern career littered with countless cameos and TV appearances. 

When Johnson wasn’t pedalling for box-office success, he was working to support his newfound screen personality, appearing as a guest star on Hannah Montana and Saturday Night Live, as well as being a comedy voiceover on Family Guy, all whilst making regular appearances in the WWE that made him such a star. 

Through such steely determination and effort, Johnson eventually achieved his adolescent dream in 2020, becoming the highest-paid Hollywood actor for two years in a row, thanks to his newfound success in the Fast & Furious franchise among other successes. 

If the career of this towering Hollywood superstar tells us anything it’s that Johnson was never trying to become a traditional industry actor, he was trying to become an internationally-recognised brand. 

Uninterested in simply dominating cinema, Johnson has pervaded every inch of modern culture, appealing to younger audiences with appearances in Disney’s Moana and the video game Fortnite: Chapter 3, whilst featuring in music videos for Taylor Swift and Tech N9ne, each culminating in Johnson achieving his very own TV show Young Rock in 2021 that looks at the history of the actor to bring light to how he became such a household name. 

An ode to the modern American dream, Johnson has demonstrated how you can build a brand from your own inflated personality and dominate the world of modern entertainment as a result.

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