Cracking Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s box office power

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson hangs on for 'Skyscraper', a potential box office dud in a career of explosive success
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson hangs on for ‘Skyscraper’, a potential box office dud in a career of explosive success

The Rock will not be broken by a Skyscraper.

The beefy big screen star was back in theaters this past weekend with his Die Hard-esque action flick (check out our review here). And while it’s too soon to tell, it’s not looking like this one will reach the heights of his previous top-billing efforts in recent years.

Dwayne Johnson’s box office power seems to have only gotten higher and higher in the past decade. And he’s done it by (strategically?) mixing it up every time. One moment he’s in a comedy (Central Intelligence), then the next an action film (Hercules). From ensembles (Fast & The Furious franchise) to solo efforts (Rampage). The Rock’s career is a brilliant mix of choices, shifting from starring roles to smaller parts that often allow him to be play it less serious and more for laughs (Get Smart, The Other Guys).

Is this part of some coordinated effort? I can’t say. But to really look at The Rock’s box office muscles, one really needs to focus on his solo efforts. The Fast & The Furious movies, for example, don’t tell you much. That’s a franchise that was doing big business long before he became a part of it (and honestly, will likely continue to do so if he choses to move on). Other movies such as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which included stars such as Kevin Hart and Jack Black, are discounted because of all that added star power.

For the purpose of this analysis, I focused strictly on films where The Rock was the single deciding factor. Where the weight was carried on his shoulders, relying heavily on his star power to bring in audiences. Then, using only readily available data, I looked at how the box office performance measured up against production costs. (NOTE: This does not include marketing costs, which would inflate a film’s cost, but these numbers are not readily available.)

With those factors in mind, a few things become clear – The Rock’s films have routinely increased in profitability. Although production costs have increased, the box office numbers have also risen, and far more dramatically. This means a more healthy profit margin (again, based ONLY on the available data which aren’t always exact and don’t factor in marketing costs). Another interesting shift in recent years is his foreign box office, which has dramatically increased in the last decade (more on that later).

This makes The Rock a relatively good bet in the largely unpredictable movie business.

The Rundown is arguably The Rock’s first major starring role. Unfortunately, Peter Berg’s 2003 action comedy didn’t do very well, and based on the data likely cost more than it made back. Of Dwayne Johnson’s solo efforts, it’s one of only two financial disappointments (the biggest being the box office disaster that was Southland Tales). The Rundown largely gets hit because of its big budget. But going forward in our ranking we found that many of his films at the time came in with much lower budgets, and made modest gains at the box office.

A gear change comes with the Disney reboot of a 1970s classic, Race to Witch Mountain. Although not a block buster by any means, the reported $65 million it cost to produced appears to have been easily covered when it broke $100 million at the box office. It would later rake in another $40 million in DVD sales.

It’s The Rock’s family-friendly fare that would see his box office take go up a few notches.

The Game Plan and Tooth Fairy had fairly modest budgets, and each earned more than $100 million worldwide. However, Game Plan proves to be the biggest winner of this collection, with it’s reportedly low production budget of $22 million and its box office grosses of $147 million worldwide. It later pulled in more than $50 million in DVD sales. Tooth Fairy did only slightly more than $112 million at the box office, and just some $24 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales.

It’s here we see a rather significant shift in The Rock’s box office numbers. In 2011 he joined the Fast & The Furious franchise with Fast Five. This leads to his solo efforts gaining far more in foreign box office receipts than domestically. 2014’s Hercules earns more than $72 million in the U.S., but amasses a reported $172 million overseas. This means Hercules is likely The Rock’s first solo action film to pass $100 million in profits.

Dwayne Johnson’s films continue to rake in the sales after that.

This leads to what’s proven to his his biggest hit: San Andreas.

The Rock, with the lovely Carla Gugino, in 'San Andreas'
The Rock, with the lovely Carla Gugino, in ‘San Andreas’

2015’s ground-shaking, Irwin Allen-inspired disaster roller coaster ride reportedly cost around $110 million to produce. It went on to pull in more than $473 million worldwide at the box office, and scored The Rock’s biggest opening weekend at more than $54 million. (It would also go on to pull in another $43 million and change in DVD and Blu-ray sales, according to available data)

Chomping on its hind quarters is Rampage, released earlier this year. It had a slightly higher production cost ($120 million), and did a little less at the box office worldwide ($425.7 million).

Coming in third is Dwayne Johnson’s family-friendly 2012 sequel, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. The production costs on that were apparently just under $80 million, and it scored a worldwide take of $335 million. It pulled in an additional $30 million-plus through DVD and Blu-ray sales.

All film careers have their ups and downs. What appears to make The Rock work so well for Hollywood are a few things. One is clearly his worldwide appeal, which clearly comes in large part because of his involvement in the Fast & The Furious franchise. His films break the bank overseas, which has become a bigger and bigger factor for movies to see real profits. He also tends to mix it up, jumping from tent-pole projects to comedies to ensembles, keeping his audience entertained and diverse. This also allows him to work with other actors that help broaden his fanbase.

As a brand, there’s no denying he has a lot of appeal.

Skyscraper does continue The Rock’s trend toward doing films with bigger budgets. Since he broke the $100 million mark, each film has incrementally increased in cost. Skyscraper reported cost about $125 million. It’ll be weeks before we know for sure if it fails to keep his successful trend moving upwards.

One thing for sure, however. Success or failure, it’s not likely to impact his career’s upwards trajectory.

Well, not yet.


Here’s our ranking (NOTE: These are all estimates and reported budgets based on available information, so the totals may not necessarily be 100% accurate):

San Andreas (2015)
Budget – $110m
Dom – $155m
For – $318.8m
WW – $473.9m
(#1 opening weekend)

Rampage (2018)
Budget – $120m
Dom – $99m
For – $326.6m
WW – $425.7m
(#1 opening weekend)

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
Budget – $79m
Dom – $103.8m
For – $231.4m
WW – $335m
(#3 opening weekend)

Hercules (2014)
Budget – $100m
Dom – $72.6m
For – $172m
WW – $244.8m
(#2 opening weekend)

The Game Plan (2007)
Budget – $22m
Dom – $90.6m
For – $57m
WW – $147.8m
(#1 opening weekend)

Tooth Fairy (2010)
Budget – $48m
Dom – $60m
For – $52.4m
WW – $112.4m
(#4 opening weekend)

Race to Witch Mountain (2009)
Budget – $65m (est)
Dom – $67m
For – $39m
WW – $106m
(#1 opening weekend)

Snitch (2013)
Budget – $15m (est)
Dom – $42.9m
For – $57.8m
WW – $42.9m
(#2 opening weekend)

Faster (2010)
Budget – $24m
Dom – $23m
For – $12m
WW – $35.6m
(#7 opening weekend)

Gridiron Gang (2006)
Budget – $30m
Dom – $38m
For – $3m
WW – $41.4m
(#1 opening weekend)

Walking Tall (2004)
Budget – $46m
Dom – $46m
For – $10.7m
WW – $57.2m
(#2 opening weekend)

The Rundown (2003)
Budget – $85m
Dom – $47.7m
For – $33.1m
WW – $81m
(#1 opening weekend)

Southland Tales (2007)
Budget – $17 (est)
Dom – $275,380
For – $99,360
WW – $374,740
(#33 opening weekend)

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