With the muscle mass he has now, it’s hard to believe that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s first career as a professional football player didn’t pan out.
But even if injury hampered his NFL career back then, things are looking pretty good nowadays for Johnson. He’s the highest-paid actor in the world—unless you count his pal Kevin Hart—and probably more in-demand than anyone else in Hollywood. (He’s apparently too busy to film G.I. Joe 3, for one thing.) The star of Fast 8, Jumanji, and Central Intelligence has been box-office gold over the years, and much of that success has been earned in number sports-related projects throughout his career.
The transition into sports roles was natural for the former Miami Hurricanes defensive lineman. At 6′ 5″, 260 pounds, the goliath of muscle and strength looks natural playing the part of an athlete. Whether it’s as a former football player trying to find his footing or the meanest, toughest hockey player to take the ice, Johnson brings his full personality to an athletic character.
Here is a look at The Rock’s best sports roles:
HBO got into the Dwayne Johnson business with this Entourage-styled comedy about the financial side of the sports world. Johnson is in fine form in the starring role as Spencer Strasmore, a former star with the Miami Dolphins turned money manager, his muscles bursting their way out of his perfectly tailored suits as he bumps elbows with professional athletes and sports figures like Ndamukong Suh, Julian Edelman, Victor Cruz, Jay Glazer, Giancarlo Stanton, Sean Payton, and Jason Pierre-Paul. The show, co-produced by May 2016 Men’s Fitness cover star Mark Wahlberg, follows Johnson’s character as he navigates financial deals, helps players with off-the-field controversy, suffers from concussion-related issues, and parties with gorgeous supermodels.
The Game Plan, 2007
Even though Johnson’s real-life professional football plans didn’t pan out, in this film he plays quarterback Joe Kingman, the “toughest player” in football who has “crazy strength and ridiculous agility” as the star of the American Football Federation. It wasn’t too much of stretch for Johnson to play a jacked football player, and in the film he flashes some of his now ubiquitous comedic chops—and singing talent—when an eight-year-old girl shows up on Kingman’s doorstep saying she’s his daughter. Johnson’s character deals with sports agents, endorsement deals, self-centered teammates, and financial planners, something he later explored in Ballers. This was another major hit for Johnson, making nearly $150 million on just a $22 million budget.
Gridiron Gang, 2006
Johnson stars as the football coach for a group of teens at the Kilpatrick Detention Center, bringing his inspirational and motivational side to the big screen. The Fast 8 and Jumanji star put the pads on himself in one of the most memorable scenes of the film, challenging one of his players to take him down; Johnson uses some of his famous WWE-era taunts to motivate his running back before getting plowed to the dirt. The film made nearly $180 million at the box office, some early proof that Johnson could carry a movie himself. No wonder her’s the highest paid actor in Hollywood.
The Tooth Fairy, 2010
Johnson traded his football cleats for some skates in this film to play hockey star Derek Thompson, a chiseled, hard-hitting player who earns the nickname “The Tooth Fairy” for his punishing knockout hits on his opponents. Johnson trades on his “Rock” persona to play the so-called “meanest man in hockey,” crushing kids’ dreams right to their faces and ruining fairy tales for kids—which, of course, forces him to serve time as an actual tooth fairy. Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise—but with Johnson’s high-wattage charisma and total commitment to the part, it becomes believable. The squarely family-friendly flick made over $112 million at the box office on a $48 million budget, another hit for Johnson.
Pain & Gain, 2013
Johnson and Mark Wahlberg teamed up for this hilariously criminal dark comedy based on the true story of the “Sun Gym gang” scheme of robbery, violence, and extortion in Miami. Johnson steals every scene he’s in as the character Paul Doyle, a dimwitted ex-con who’s got religion and a drug addiction. Johnson, Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie are jacked and fitness-obsessed as they go through a wild ride after kidnapping a rich gym member. Johnson beats down dudes in prison (even legendary wrestler Kurt Angle), throws knockout punches, rides around in convertibles, and hits the gym like crazy. This passion project for director Michael Bay more than tripled its $25 million budget.