How The Rock went from failed football player to the highest-paid actor in Hollywood

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  • Published: 
  • Kirsten Acuna

The “People’s Champion” known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson quickly climbed his way into movies and is now dominating Hollywood.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been on an incredible run of late, making him one of the most bankable stars ever.

Franchises like “Fast and the Furious” and “San Andreas” are the latest hits that have brought his lifetime worldwide box-office gross to over $5.9 billion, and coming up he’s got “Baywatch” and “Jumanji.”

He’s also stepping into the superhero world in the near future, as he’s signed on to be Doc Savage.

That’s not even mentioning his other endeavors like a YouTube channel, a production company, and endorsement deals.

Johnson became the highest-paid actor in the world last year, according to Forbes, surpassing Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr.

With “The Fate of the Furious” hitting theaters on Friday, and looking to make box-office dollars as over-the-top as its stunts, here we look back on the incredible career of “The Rock” from a failed football run and WWE to bona fide movie star:

Frank Pallotta and Mallory Schlossberg contributed to an earlier version of this story.

Before he was “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson was born on May 2, 1972, in Hayward, California.

Before he was "The Rock," Dwayne Johnson was born on May 2, 1972, in Hayward, California.playBefore he was “The Rock,” Dwayne Johnson was born on May 2, 1972, in Hayward, California.

 (YouTube screengrab)

Source: Biography

Wrestling is in Johnson’s blood. His father, Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson, was a member of the first African-American tag-team champions, and his grandfather Peter Maivia was one of the first Samoan wrestlers.

Johnson's wrestler father, Rocky, on the right.playJohnson’s wrestler father, Rocky, on the right.

 (YouTube screengrab)

Source: YouTube

Johnson didn’t go straight to wrestling. His first sport was football. After starring in high school, he played in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Over his tenure at the school, Johnson started just once but appeared in 39 games and had 77 tackles, and he was a part of the 1991 national championship team.

Johnson didn't go straight to wrestling. His first sport was football. After starring in high school, he played in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Over his tenure at the school, Johnson started just once but appeared in 39 games and had 77 tackles, and he was a part of the 1991 national championship team.playJohnson didn’t go straight to wrestling. His first sport was football. After starring in high school, he played in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Over his tenure at the school, Johnson started just once but appeared in 39 games and had 77 tackles, and he was a part of the 1991 national championship team.

 (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Source: ESPN

The University of Miami was also where he met his first wife, Dany Garcia. The two separated after 10 years but have stayed close. “Since our divorce, we’ve become pretty good at working together, and we are also raising our beautiful 11-year-old daughter, Simone,” Johnson has said.

The University of Miami was also where he met his first wife, Dany Garcia. The two separated after 10 years but have stayed close. "Since our divorce, we've become pretty good at working together, and we are also raising our beautiful 11-year-old daughter, Simone," Johnson has said.playThe University of Miami was also where he met his first wife, Dany Garcia. The two separated after 10 years but have stayed close. “Since our divorce, we’ve become pretty good at working together, and we are also raising our beautiful 11-year-old daughter, Simone,” Johnson has said.

 (Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Source: Huffington Post

If it wasn’t for serious injuries to both his shoulders and back, Johnson could have perhaps continued his football career in the NFL.

If it wasn't for serious injuries to both his shoulders and back, Johnson could have perhaps continued his football career in the NFL.playIf it wasn’t for serious injuries to both his shoulders and back, Johnson could have perhaps continued his football career in the NFL.

(Tim DeFrisco/Getty Image)

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Instead he ended up playing in the Canadian Football League, making just $250 a week and eventually getting cut. “The dreams I had, they’re dashed,” he recalled later. “There is no more football. My relationship was crushed. That was my absolute worst time.”

Instead he ended up playing in the Canadian Football League, making just $250 a week and eventually getting cut. "The dreams I had, they're dashed," he recalled later. "There is no more football. My relationship was crushed. That was my absolute worst time."playInstead he ended up playing in the Canadian Football League, making just $250 a week and eventually getting cut. “The dreams I had, they’re dashed,” he recalled later. “There is no more football. My relationship was crushed. That was my absolute worst time.”

(Associated Press)

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

After Johnson stepped away from football, he looked into the family business of wrestling. After spending time in the WWE’s minor leagues, he debuted on TV at the 1996 Survivor Series. His wrestling name was “Rocky Maivia,” which combined the names of his father and grandfather.

After Johnson stepped away from football, he looked into the family business of wrestling. After spending time in the WWE's minor leagues, he debuted on TV at the 1996 Survivor Series. His wrestling name was "Rocky Maivia," which combined the names of his father and grandfather.playAfter Johnson stepped away from football, he looked into the family business of wrestling. After spending time in the WWE’s minor leagues, he debuted on TV at the 1996 Survivor Series. His wrestling name was “Rocky Maivia,” which combined the names of his father and grandfather.

 (Associated Press)

Source: YouTube

The first third-generation wrestler in WWE history, Johnson is considered by many to be one of the greatest to ever enter the ring.

The first third-generation wrestler in WWE history, Johnson is considered by many to be one of the greatest to ever enter the ring.playThe first third-generation wrestler in WWE history, Johnson is considered by many to be one of the greatest to ever enter the ring.

(WWE via YouTube screengrab)

Source: WWEBleacher Report

During his many years at the WWE, Johnson created and became known for signature moves like “The People’s Elbow” and “The Rock Bottom.”

During his many years at the WWE, Johnson created and became known for signature moves like "The People's Elbow" and "The Rock Bottom."playDuring his many years at the WWE, Johnson created and became known for signature moves like “The People’s Elbow” and “The Rock Bottom.”

 (WWE via YouTube screengrab)

Johnson proved his prowess in the ring by winning the WWE heavyweight title six times and securing the tag-team title five times.

Johnson proved his prowess in the ring by winning the WWE heavyweight title six times and securing the tag-team title five times.playJohnson proved his prowess in the ring by winning the WWE heavyweight title six times and securing the tag-team title five times.

(Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

Source: Biography

His popularity as a wrestler put Johnson on Hollywood’s radar. This included getting a call from New York about hosting “Saturday Night Live.” After he was asked to host, Johnson says, “I fell out of my chair.”

His popularity as a wrestler put Johnson on Hollywood's radar. This included getting a call from New York about hosting "Saturday Night Live." After he was asked to host, Johnson says, "I fell out of my chair."playHis popularity as a wrestler put Johnson on Hollywood’s radar. This included getting a call from New York about hosting “Saturday Night Live.” After he was asked to host, Johnson says, “I fell out of my chair.”

 (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Source: YouTubeYouTube

The wrestler’s stint on “SNL” (as seen below — he’s playing the monkey-human hybrid Papa Peepers) was a ratings success. Most important, the gig showed Hollywood that Johnson wasn’t just another wrestler — he could really act.

The wrestler's stint on "SNL" (as seen below — he's playing the monkey-human hybrid Papa Peepers) was a ratings success. Most important, the gig showed Hollywood that Johnson wasn't just another wrestler — he could really act.playThe wrestler’s stint on “SNL” (as seen below — he’s playing the monkey-human hybrid Papa Peepers) was a ratings success. Most important, the gig showed Hollywood that Johnson wasn’t just another wrestler — he could really act.

 (NBC via Yahoo screengrab)

Source: YouTube

Johnson made his feature-film debut in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns,” playing a villainous ruler. He reprised the role in “The Scorpion King.” He made $5.5 million, the most any actor has made for a first leading role.

Johnson made his feature-film debut in 2001's "The Mummy Returns," playing a villainous ruler. He reprised the role in "The Scorpion King." He made $5.5 million, the most any actor has made for a first leading role.playJohnson made his feature-film debut in 2001’s “The Mummy Returns,” playing a villainous ruler. He reprised the role in “The Scorpion King.” He made $5.5 million, the most any actor has made for a first leading role.

 (Universal via YouTube screengrab)

Source: MTV

Despite the large paycheck, it wasn’t until “The Rundown” in 2003 that people began to see Johnson as a legitimate action hero. “The Rock has a flair for action and comedy,” Rolling Stone wrote. “He’s a real movie star.”

Despite the large paycheck, it wasn't until "The Rundown" in 2003 that people began to see Johnson as a legitimate action hero. "The Rock has a flair for action and comedy," Rolling Stone wrote. "He's a real movie star."playDespite the large paycheck, it wasn’t until “The Rundown” in 2003 that people began to see Johnson as a legitimate action hero. “The Rock has a flair for action and comedy,” Rolling Stone wrote. “He’s a real movie star.”

 (Universal via YouTube screengrab)

Source: Rolling Stone

The film also included a brief cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which many critics like Roger Ebert saw as the passing of the action-icon torch. “Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger’s long run as an action hero is hard to say,” Ebert wrote. “But on the basis of ‘The Rundown,’ he has a good chance.”

The film also included a brief cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which many critics like Roger Ebert saw as the passing of the action-icon torch. "Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger's long run as an action hero is hard to say," Ebert wrote. "But on the basis of 'The Rundown,' he has a good chance."playThe film also included a brief cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which many critics like Roger Ebert saw as the passing of the action-icon torch. “Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger’s long run as an action hero is hard to say,” Ebert wrote. “But on the basis of ‘The Rundown,’ he has a good chance.”

 (David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Source: Roger Ebert.com

As Johnson’s film career began to take off, he dropped “The Rock” from his name. “‘The Rock’ was a name, a character I created in TV,” he said. “When I made the transition into film, I knew eventually I was going to be billed as my given name.”

As Johnson's film career began to take off, he dropped "The Rock" from his name. "'The Rock' was a name, a character I created in TV," he said. "When I made the transition into film, I knew eventually I was going to be billed as my given name."playAs Johnson’s film career began to take off, he dropped “The Rock” from his name. “‘The Rock’ was a name, a character I created in TV,” he said. “When I made the transition into film, I knew eventually I was going to be billed as my given name.”

 (Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Source: Los Angeles Times

He showed his range by acting in family films like 2007’s “The Game Plan” and comedies like “The Other Guys” in 2010. “I felt there were bigger and better opportunities,” Johnson said. “I also felt there was franchise potential, hopefully multiple franchises in every genre — whether drama or comedy or action-comedy.”

He showed his range by acting in family films like 2007's "The Game Plan" and comedies like "The Other Guys" in 2010. "I felt there were bigger and better opportunities," Johnson said. "I also felt there was franchise potential, hopefully multiple franchises in every genre — whether drama or comedy or action-comedy."playHe showed his range by acting in family films like 2007’s “The Game Plan” and comedies like “The Other Guys” in 2010. “I felt there were bigger and better opportunities,” Johnson said. “I also felt there was franchise potential, hopefully multiple franchises in every genre — whether drama or comedy or action-comedy.”

 (Columbia Pictures via YouTube screengrab)

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Johnson finally found his franchise when he appeared in the fifth installment of the popular “Fast and the Furious” series, “Fast Five,” alongside Vin Diesel. “I’ve known Vin for a long time and we’ve always talked about doing something together,” Johnson said. “This felt like the right opportunity to create a formidable adversary for him.”

Johnson finally found his franchise when he appeared in the fifth installment of the popular "Fast and the Furious" series, "Fast Five," alongside Vin Diesel. "I've known Vin for a long time and we've always talked about doing something together," Johnson said. "This felt like the right opportunity to create a formidable adversary for him."playJohnson finally found his franchise when he appeared in the fifth installment of the popular “Fast and the Furious” series, “Fast Five,” alongside Vin Diesel. “I’ve known Vin for a long time and we’ve always talked about doing something together,” Johnson said. “This felt like the right opportunity to create a formidable adversary for him.”

 (Universal via YouTube screengrab)

Source: Screenrant

“Fast Five” was also an opportunity for Johnson to work again with Universal, the studio where he started his career. “They were the first studio to believe in me when I was making the transition … into acting and helping me create opportunities,” Johnson said.

"Fast Five" was also an opportunity for Johnson to work again with Universal, the studio where he started his career. "They were the first studio to believe in me when I was making the transition ... into acting and helping me create opportunities," Johnson said.play“Fast Five” was also an opportunity for Johnson to work again with Universal, the studio where he started his career. “They were the first studio to believe in me when I was making the transition … into acting and helping me create opportunities,” Johnson said.

(Universal via YouTube screengrab)

Source: Collider The film went on to make $676 million worldwide. Johnson appeared in 2013’s sequel “Fast & Furious 6” and in last year’s “Furious 7,” which made an astounding $1.5 billion worldwide.

The film went on to make $676 million worldwide. Johnson appeared in 2013's sequel "Fast & Furious 6" and in last year's "Furious 7," which made an astounding $1.5 billion worldwide.playThe film went on to make $676 million worldwide. Johnson appeared in 2013’s sequel “Fast & Furious 6” and in last year’s “Furious 7,” which made an astounding $1.5 billion worldwide.

 (Universal Studios)

Source: Box Office Mojo

Johnson has appeared in two more sequels, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”

Johnson has appeared in two more sequels, "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island."playJohnson has appeared in two more sequels, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.”

 (Paramount via YouTube screengrab)

Throughout Johnson’s career, the one thing separating him from many is his work ethic. The actor put on “12 to 15 pounds of muscle” for 2013’s “Pain and Gain.” Between himself and costar Mark Wahlberg, the actors were eating 17 meals a day.

Throughout Johnson's career, the one thing separating him from many is his work ethic. The actor put on "12 to 15 pounds of muscle" for 2013's "Pain and Gain." Between himself and costar Mark Wahlberg, the actors were eating 17 meals a day.playThroughout Johnson’s career, the one thing separating him from many is his work ethic. The actor put on “12 to 15 pounds of muscle” for 2013’s “Pain and Gain.” Between himself and costar Mark Wahlberg, the actors were eating 17 meals a day.

 (Paramount via YouTube screengrab)

Source: Yahoo

In an interview with Muscle and Fitness magazine, Johnson said his diet contained seven meals a day — four of which consisted of cod.

In an interview with Muscle and Fitness magazine, Johnson said his diet contained seven meals a day — four of which consisted of cod.playIn an interview with Muscle and Fitness magazine, Johnson said his diet contained seven meals a day — four of which consisted of cod.

 (Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Source: Muscle and Fitness

Even though Johnson’s acting career is going strong, he has returned to the ring for events like Wrestlemania. “I’m back, not for money, not because I like being on the road, but because I love the business,” he said.

Even though Johnson's acting career is going strong, he has returned to the ring for events like Wrestlemania. "I'm back, not for money, not because I like being on the road, but because I love the business," he said.playEven though Johnson’s acting career is going strong, he has returned to the ring for events like Wrestlemania. “I’m back, not for money, not because I like being on the road, but because I love the business,” he said.

 (Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images)

Source: Huffington Post

One of these events was WWE’s Royal Rumble. Johnson had teased that he was going to appear at the event, and then he showed up in the middle of a wrestling match to help Roman Reigns win the prize.

One of these events was WWE's Royal Rumble. Johnson had teased that he was going to appear at the event, and then he showed up in the middle of a wrestling match to help Roman Reigns win the prize.playOne of these events was WWE’s Royal Rumble. Johnson had teased that he was going to appear at the event, and then he showed up in the middle of a wrestling match to help Roman Reigns win the prize.

 (YouTube/EverythiingwweV2)

Sources: The IndependentTwitterWWE

Johnson’s newest franchise is thanks to 2015’s earthquake movie “San Andreas,” in which he played a first responder. The disaster movie has a sequel in the works.

Johnson's newest franchise is thanks to 2015's earthquake movie "San Andreas," in which he played a first responder. The disaster movie has a sequel in the works.playJohnson’s newest franchise is thanks to 2015’s earthquake movie “San Andreas,” in which he played a first responder. The disaster movie has a sequel in the works.

 (Youtube/MOVIECLIPS Trailers)

Source: Entertainment Weekly

In 2015, Johnson also took his talents to TV with the HBO series “Ballers,” which follows a former pro football player (Johnson) who is now a financial manager and attempts to persuade current stars to hire him. It finished its second season in 2016.

In 2015, Johnson also took his talents to TV with the HBO series "Ballers," which follows a former pro football player (Johnson) who is now a financial manager and attempts to persuade current stars to hire him. It finished its second season in 2016.playIn 2015, Johnson also took his talents to TV with the HBO series “Ballers,” which follows a former pro football player (Johnson) who is now a financial manager and attempts to persuade current stars to hire him. It finished its second season in 2016.

 (Gene Page/HBO/”Ballers”)

In 2016, Johnson also showed his funny side, teaming up with Kevin Hart for the comedy “Central Intelligence,” which became the highest-grossing domestic comedy of the year with over $110 million.

"Central intelligence" (2016) — executive producerplay“Central intelligence” (2016) — executive producer

 (Warner Bros.)

Source: Box Office Mojo

Also last year, Johnson lent his voice in the Disney hit “Moana,” in which he plays demigod Maui.

Also last year, Johnson lent his voice in the Disney hit "Moana," in which he plays demigod Maui.playAlso last year, Johnson lent his voice in the Disney hit “Moana,” in which he plays demigod Maui.

 (Disney)

The next “Fast and Furious” movie, “The Fate of the Furious,” hits theaters Friday.

Source: Box Office Mojo

“Fate of the Furious” is projected to make about as much as “Furious 7,” and could even top its predecessor.

Most people in the theater were trying it out for the first time.playMost people in the theater were trying it out for the first time.

 (Universal)

Source: Business Insider

“Baywatch,” in which he will star opposite Zac Efron, comes out May 26, and may just turn into another franchise.

https://twitter.com/ZacEfron/status/701969540893138944

“Ballers” season three premieres in July 2017.

"Ballers" season three premieres in July 2017.play“Ballers” season three premieres in July 2017.

 (“Ballers”/HBO/YouTube)

On December 20, you can catch him in the reboot “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” — December 20play“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” — December 20

 (Columbia Pictures)

Coming up Johnson also has “Fighting with My Family,” with costars Lena Headey and Vince Vaughn, set for release in 2018.

Coming up Johnson also has "Fighting with My Family," with costars Lena Headey and Vince Vaughn, set for release in 2018.playComing up Johnson also has “Fighting with My Family,” with costars Lena Headey and Vince Vaughn, set for release in 2018.

 (Evan Agostini/AP)

In the film, he plays a former wrestler who makes a living by touring with his family around the country.

The hit-making machine of a man is going to reprise his roles in “San Andreas 2” and “Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon.”

The hit-making machine of a man is going to reprise his roles in "San Andreas 2" and "Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon."playThe hit-making machine of a man is going to reprise his roles in “San Andreas 2” and “Journey 3: From the Earth to the Moon.”

(Warner Bros)

He’ll play the titular role in a movie based on Doc Savage.

He'll play the titular role in a movie based on Doc Savage.playHe’ll play the titular role in a movie based on Doc Savage.

 (Screen Rant)

He’ll enter the superhero film world when he stars in “Shazam!” as Black Adam, and he’ll get a standalone film for that character, too.

He'll enter the superhero film world when he stars in "Shazam!" as Black Adam, and he'll get a standalone film for that character, too.playHe’ll enter the superhero film world when he stars in “Shazam!” as Black Adam, and he’ll get a standalone film for that character, too.

 (YouTube/Getty Images, Victor Chavez)

He’s rumored to star as Jack Burton in a remake of “Big Trouble in Little China.” The Rock never seems to be taking a break, but it also seems as if it’s working out for him.

He's rumored to star as Jack Burton in a remake of "Big Trouble in Little China." The Rock never seems to be taking a break, but it also seems as if it's working out for him.playHe’s rumored to star as Jack Burton in a remake of “Big Trouble in Little China.” The Rock never seems to be taking a break, but it also seems as if it’s working out for him.

 (20th Century Fox)

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