Dwayne Johnson has come a long way from being The Rock, to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to just Dwayne Johnson. Starting out as “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment” to now one of the most highly sought-after actors in Hollywood, Dwayne Johnson basically built his career from the ground up after his film debut as that hideous half-man/half-scorpion monster in The Mummy Returns. And while he may not be this generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, he still has a wide assortment of movies that has solidified him as one of the most bankable and likable movie stars in Hollywood today.
But what are Dwayne Johnson’s very best movies? One would think it wouldn’t be that difficult to narrow them down to ten, but you’d be surprised. From action comedies, to kids' films, to sports pictures, Dwayne Johnson is always finding new ways to surprise and entertain viewers. And with his most recent movie, Jumanji: The Next Level, he does just that with a spot on impersonation of Danny DeVito, which just proves that the man can act. So while Dwayne Johnson likely won’t be going up to the Oscar podium anytime soon to accept a best actor award, it still says a lot that a man so massive can also be this talented. Here are the Rock’s ten best movies. Can you smell what Dwayne Johnson is cooking?
10. Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw (2019)
Honestly, if I wanted to, I could probably fill most of this list with The Fast and the Furious movies, but in the interest of showing how versatile Dwayne Johnson is, I’ll save it to just this movie and one other in the franchise. What makes Hobbs and Shaw so special is just how much of Dwayne Johnson’s personality shines through in this picture. From the action-packed climax in Samoa to the general humor of it not taking itself too seriously, Hobbs and Shaw may not be the best movie in The Fast and the Furious series, but it’s definitely one of the best Dwayne Johnson movies.
What makes Hobbs and Shaw work is just how ludicrous it all is. I can’t think of another movie where Dwayne Johnson quotes Nietzsche with a straight face and then flexes his bicep, but you better believe it’s in Hobbs and Shaw. And the action is second to none. Chain linking cars together to take down a helicopter shouldn’t work, but it does. The chemistry with Jason Statham also works much better than it should. Their machismo bantering doesn’t really get tiresome at all throughout its entire runtime. Plus, I just love how Dwayne Johnson used the success of this movie as a platform to add fuel to fire of his feud with Tyrese Gibson. That’s probably the most WWE thing Dwayne Johnson has ever done since he’s broken through in Hollywood. And I expect nothing less from a man who made his name in pro wrestling.
9. The Rundown (2003)
I sometimes wonder if The Rundown (ironically titled “Welcome to the Jungle”, internationally) would be just as good if Dwayne Johnson wasn't in it. But then I realize, no. No, it wouldn’t. Because only The Rock could balance this kind of action and humor. Playing a bounty hunter who kicks a lot of ass but also gets his ass kicked, this early work from Johnson really played to his comedic chops. It didn’t hurt that the setting of Brazil was also unique at the time, as Dwayne Johnson definitely seemed out of his comfort zone in the jungle.
But it’s the explosive, dual shotgun wielding climax of The Rundown that really makes this a Dwayne Johnson movie for the ages. Slow motion walking while being shot at, kicking down boards, sending people to their doom. Yep. Watching the finale of The Rundown really gives you a sense of what Dwayne Johnson's career could have been like if he just remained a one-note action hero. But the Rock had other ambitions, and we're all the better for it. I can’t say that I blame him for not wanting to be typecasted.
8. San Andreas (2015)
Dwayne Johnson is like Super Mario in his assortment of professions when it comes to his roles. He can be a sports agent, a bounty hunter, heck, he can even be the tooth fairy. In this disaster epic, he plays a first responder during a seismic earthquake that rocks California. He also plays a divorcée who spends half the movie trying to rescue his ex-wife and his estranged daughter, leaving countless people to die below. Some might call Dwayne Johnson’s character selfish. But I just think he’s playing a small cog in the even bigger wheel that in the disaster picture.
Either way, Dwayne Johnson is not overshadowed by the disaster itself since he has charisma for days. Delivering one-liners in the midst of an earthquake is no small feat. Neither is parachuting into a disaster, but Johnson somehow manages to pull both off and make it all believable. Hell, he even makes it look fun. This is yet another film where I wonder whether it would be just as good if The Rock wasn’t in it. But then I remember John Cusack in 2012 and I count my lucky stars that Dwayne Johnson decided to become a movie star.
7. Central Intelligence (2016)
“Saving the world takes a little Hart and a big Johnson.” That was the tagline to 2016’s Central Intelligence. And, well, that’s just what we got. Bringing the unlikely duo of Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson together for the first time was this buddy comedy that might not have made everybody laugh, but it certainly made enough people laugh that it scored bank at the box office.
Starting off as an overweight loser who becomes a CIA agent later in life, Central Intelligence is further proof that Dwayne Johnson doesn’t take himself too seriously. In fact, Kevin Hart plays the straight man in this movie, and Dwayne Johnson actually plays the goof. It’s not the most original movie in the world, but it’s fun enough that it can be watched over and over again. Plus, you can tell that the Rock is really having a good time in this one, and when Dwayne Johnson has a good time, it’s infectious.
6. Gridiron Gang (2006)
Is Gridiron Gang a great movie? Eh…not really, if I’m being completely honest. It’s like a cross between Dangerous Minds and Remember the Titans. Dwayne Johnson plays a correctional officer who thinks it’s a better idea to get juvenile delinquents on the football field rather than behind bars. It’s a little sappy and it’s kind of dumb, but you know what? I like it. And there's a reason I have it among Dwayne Johnson's best movies.
Gridiron Gang is one of the few instances where Dwayne Johnson is genuinely acting and not relying on his charm. I mean, he is charming in it, of course, since Dwayne Johnson can’t help but being charming. But it’s a rare glimpse of what Johnson could do if he just sticks to drama. Going back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger comparison, the Austrian actor didn’t come close to trying straight up drama until much later in his career with Maggie. This just shows that Dwayne Johnson has always been willing to take risks, even if he doesn't always stick the landing. I can't fault Dwayne Johnson, though. He's the one highlight in this rather lackluster sports drama.
5. Pain and Gain (2013)
Honestly, Pain and Gain might be Dwayne Johnson’s funniest movie, which is saying something given that this is a Michael Bay film. In it, Dwayne Johnson plays an ex-convict who has found Jesus and doesn’t want to use his massive muscles to hurt anybody. But things quickly go awry when Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie’s characters hatch a scheme to kidnap a rich guy (played by Monk’s Tony Shalhoub) and rob him of his loot. The second half of the film is The Rock’s downward spiral back into his old criminal ways, but it’s funny throughout. Who knew watching restraint could be so hilarious?
What works so well for The Rock here is that he’s being so gee-gosh earnest in the role. You feel that the dude obviously doesn’t want to go astray, but it’s hard to stay straight. Especially when you have drugs and strippers so easily at your disposal. It’s a dramatic turn that could have been a one-note joke, but Dwayne Johnson knows when to downplay his charm enough to come off as sympathetic and even a little sad. Seriously, watch this movie again. It’s some of Dwayne Johnson’s best acting work to date.
4. Rampage (2018)
Best video game movie ever! And while I know that’s not saying much given what we’ve had to suffer through in the past, Rampage is genuinely fun, and it mostly has Dwayne Johnson to thank for it. Playing a primatologist (yes) this time around, Dwayne Johnson just wants to love and care for his albino silverback gorilla. But when the gorilla, named George, gets gassed in the face one night from some weird space canister, he grows to a massive size and just keeps on growing over the passage of time. And while the gorilla grows, The Rock is all like, "he’s still my friend," and it’s really ridiculous. But get this. Dwayne Johnson actually sells it.
Rampage is thoroughly enjoyable throughout, and probably one of my favorite big monster movies. Growing up, I used to love Rampage, and I really had no idea how they could adapt the plot of three big monsters basically going from level to level punching down buildings, but this movie pulls it off, and Dwayne Johnson is its center. Who knows how he does it, but Dwayne Johnson can even make a video game movie not only watchable but actually fun. God bless this man.
3. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Okay, seriously, what can’t Dwayne Johnson do? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle really shouldn’t work, but it does. The original Jumanji, while great when it came out, doesn’t really hold up today. It’s a board game that goes haywire, so to speak, and bad stuff occurs. It also stars Robin Williams. But not only does Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle work; it’s actually superior to the original. And this time, it’s definitely a team effort as you could argue that Jack Black is the real star of this sequel/soft reboot. But Dwayne Johnson, who plays a nerd that get turned into a stud as an avatar in a video game, manages to play second fiddle while still being the hero at the same time. That takes massive, massive skill.
Dwayne Johnson is very silly in this movie, but he's also very much a badass. That said, it’s his ability to make us believe that he’s really some geek in the outside world that really sells it. His performance as Danny DeVito in the sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, might be the even better performance, but Welcome to the Jungle holds up as the better Jumanji movie. It surprised me with how good it was, and that's not easy to do.
2. Moana (2016)
Moana is just a great story overall. It’s about a young woman who feels drawn to the ocean and goes on an adventure after a selfish demigod named Maui steals the heart of Te Fiti. That demigod just so happens to be voiced by Dwayne Johnson himself. Personally, Moana holds a special place in my heart since my daughter and I have watched it so many times together. We’ve actually seen a lot of movies together, but Moana is the one that I never tire of, and it’s all because of the Rock, who actually has a great singing voice.
As an animated Disney musical, Moana may not be your typical Dwayne Johnson movie, but The Rock is all over this movie. From the Polynesian backstory, to the fun vibe, to Dwayne Johnson’s personality, which shines through—Maui even gives the People’s eyebrow in his big musical number, "You're Welcome"—Moana would be the quintessential Dwayne Johnson movie if not for the number one pick.
1. Furious 7 (2015)
Yep. No doubt about it. Furious 7 is the very best Dwayne Johnson movie ever, bar none. What’s the plot? Who cares? Cars go fast, stuff explodes, and the Rock breaks out of his cast by flexing! Everything you love about Dwayne Johnson is laced in this picture’s very DNA.
Why Furious 7 exemplifies everything there is to love about Dwayne Johnson is because Johnson is larger than life, and in The Fast and Furious series, and Furious 7 specifically, The Rock is allowed to be as big and as bodacious as he wants to be. The Rock’s wrestling roots truly shine through in this movie. He mouths off to Jason Statham’s character, Shaw, as if he’s about to challenge him to the title belt, and he even gives him a Rock Bottom! Hell yeah. If you love The Rock, then it doesn’t get much better than this.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.