Originating from wrestling royalty before achieving unmatched Hollywood stardom, there is no one else on Earth quite literally bigger than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
When his dreams to play in the NFL were crushed, Dwayne Johnson took up his family’s profession in the wrestling ring and made his WWE (then WWF) debut in 1996, where he slowly evolved into “The Rock.” After winning multiple world championships and battling the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H, and The Undertaker, Johnson got bit by the acting bug through TV guest roles in shows like Star Trek: Voyager and That ‘70s Show (where he played his own father, the late Rocky Johnson).
In 2001, Dwayne Johnson played a supporting role in the blockbuster tentpole The Mummy Returns before starring in his own spin-off, The Scorpion King, in 2002. These early box office wins catapulted The Rock to fame, and today Dwayne Johnson is one of the highest-paid movie stars in the industry.
From the ring to the silver screen, Dwayne Johnson knows how to put on a good show. To celebrate his career, here are the 32 greatest movie moments with the man called “The Rock.”
32. Learning to Fly (The Tooth Fairy)
Because of his imposing physique and hardened persona honed from wrestling, Dwayne Johnson predictably started out his movie career in brawny action flicks. After leaving behind “The Rock” to become Dwayne Johnson, he spent several years starring in a string of family friendly fare like 2010’s Tooth Fairy.
While Tooth Fairy is maybe no one’s favorite movie, Johnson still entertains as a minor league hockey player who is magically assigned to become an actual tooth fairy. In one early scene, Johnson shows off his knack for comedy as a tough guy caught completely off guard by the dynamics of flying. That he’s doing it with tiny fairy wings on his back just makes it even funnier.
31. A Punny, Drunken Cruise (Jungle Cruise)
So much of Jungle Cruise’s appeal rests on the complimentary charisma between Dwayne Johnson and co-star Emily Blunt, who are indeed fun together as an onscreen pair. But a moment early in the movie allows Johnson to shine on his own as rum-drinking riverboat tour guide Frank Wolff. In between swigs from his flask, Johnson dishes out the best – and by that we mean the worst – wildlife puns he can muster. While Frank’s affluent customers are having none of it, everyone else watching Jungle Cruise is surely having the ride of their lives.
30. “If It Works It’ll Be a Totally Boss Story” (Central Intelligence)
In 2016, Dwayne Johnson struck up a long friendship and collaboration with comedian Kevin Hart through the action-comedy Central Intelligence. Johnson co-stars as Robbie, a highly skilled CIA agent who recruits an old high school buddy, Calvin (Hart), for a very sensitive assignment.
Part of a long line of memorable “buddy cop” blockbusters in Hollywood, Central Intelligence shines brightest in a mid-movie set-piece when Johnson takes on an entire office full of bad guys. At its climax, Robbie – with Johnson inexplicably playing the deadpan half of this duo – tells Calvin he has a plan to get them out of trouble. “It might get us both killed,” Robbie warns, “but if it works, it’ll be a totally boss story.” Despite Calvin insisting it is “not cool,” Robbie goes along with it anyway, leading to one of the movie’s most explosive moments of awesomeness.
29. The Scorpion King Earns Respect (The Scorpion King)
Dwayne Johnson’s breakout performance as a screen actor came in 2001’s The Mummy Returns as the evil Scorpion King. While the movie’s wretched VFX that renders Johnson into an oversized scorpion monster could have ended his career early, it still found a way to entertain audiences – at least enough to let Johnson lead his own spin-off prequel, The Scorpion King, released in 2002.
Johnson's budding star power is clear as Mathayus, who in the beginning is just a tribal mercenary and among the last of his bloodline. Of all the movie’s most memorable scenes, there is Johnson's fight against the Nubian King, Balthazar (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), which ends with Mathayus earning Balthazar’s respect. By this point, Johnson’s onscreen magnetism wins over moviegoers too, including anyone who can't fathom that a pro wrestler could be a movie star.
28. Black Adam Rises (Black Adam)
In a role spiritually reminiscent of his Scorpion King, Dwayne Johnson also played the DC Universe’s resident anti-hero, Black Adam, a slave who is gifted – or perhaps, cursed – with the powers of gods. In his origin story, Black Adam spends thousands of years in slumber before reawakening in the modern day to protect his people of Kahndaq.
While Black Adam got pummeled by middling reviews and opened to a lukewarm box office in October 2022, it isn’t without some great moments. Without a doubt, Johnson is at his best when Black Adam is summoned back to the world. After Black Adam makes mincemeat out of faceless mercenaries, he flies out of his tomb and swats helicopters out of the sky, all to the ominous sounds of the Rolling Stones’ enduring hit, “Paint It, Black.” It may be as subtle as a sledgehammer, but Black Adam shows Johnson is still a force to reckon with.
27. A Friend to Mankind (Beyond the Mat)
Before Dwayne Johnson was a film star, he was “The Rock,” one of the biggest names in pro wrestling. In 1999, the riveting documentary Beyond the Mat took its cameras deep behind the scenes of WWE (then known as WWF). Filmed circa 1998, Johnson was involved in an onscreen storyline (yes, like a soap opera) with Mankind, a masked maniac played by Mick Foley.
Hoping to calm his children from the trauma of seeing their dad get beat up, Foley reintroduces his kids to The Rock, who drops his brash in-ring persona for this real-life meeting. The Rock enthusiastically asking the Foley children about their trip to Disneyland is a beautifully sweet moment in this otherwise cartoonish masculine environment. The moment gets even better when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (also The Rock’s most infamous in-ring rival) joins in for a friendly hello.
26. Don’t Fear the Reaper (Doom)
Released in 2005, Doom did nothing to end the infamous “video game curse,” a long period in which video game stories failed to successfully make the leap into other mediums. (Especially movies.) Despite the combined might of Lord of the Rings’ Karl Urban, Oscar-nominee Rosamund Pike, and Dwayne Johnson (still billed as “The Rock” on the poster), Doom didn’t excite gamers in the way the actual games did.
Still, Doom has a few things going for it. That includes a pre-Fast & Furious Dwayne Johnson unafraid to be fully evil and dangerous. In Doom, Johnson co-stars as “Sarge,” the leader of an elite squad of marines tasked with investigating a situation at a lab on Mars. Naturally, there's a zombie outbreak (gamers were really mad about this, actually), but Sarge’s brutal strategies make it really hard to get behind him. So when Sarge is infected and becomes a monstrous zombie, it is all too easy to cheer for Karl Urban, who faces him in a one-on-one fight.
These days Dwayne Johnson is resistant to playing bad guys, but once upon a time, he did it a lot and actually did it pretty well.
25. The Meme (Race to Witch Mountain)
Nothing about Race to Witch Mountain, an overproduced Disney sci-fi adventure movie from 2009, is all that memorable. But the movie inexplicably inspired one of the longest-running internet memes of all time. The movie stars Dwayne Johnson as a Las Vegas cab driver who helps two alien teenagers escape government agents trying to hunt for them.
In one of the movie’s earlier scenes, Johnson’s character is shocked to find the kids in the backseat of his car. The scene itself isn’t terribly funny or exciting – it’s functional, for plot reasons. But leave it to the internet to make something special out of it anyway. Just hit up your local search engine for “The Rock Driving Memes” to see how big of a mountain the internet has made from a molehill.
24. Wait, What Is the Rock Cooking? (Pain & Gain)
After blowing up into a bigger movie star after his Fast & Furious debut, Dwayne Johnson still found time to work with interesting directors. In 2013, Johnson joined the set of Michael Bay’s crime comedy-drama Pain & Gain about real-life Miami bodybuilders who carried out a crime spree in the mid-’90s. The movie also starred Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie.
Halfway into the movie, in one of the most unbelievable (but purportedly true-to-life) moments, Johnson’s Paul Doyle – an amalgamation of several real-life people – cooks on a barbecue griller the severed hands of their victims to remove their fingerprints. The movie temporarily breaks the fourth wall by insisting, via on screen text, that you’re still watching a true story.
Of course, Hollywood likes to exaggerate: What was actually used wasn’t a barbecue grill, but a steel drum with an iron grate laid on top. Also they didn’t just grill the hands, but the feet and skull fragments too. Leave it to Hollywood to get it wrong.
23. Get Your Tail Lights Fixed (Walking Tall)
In 2004, Dwayne Johnson starred in a modern-day remake of the 1973 classic Walking Tall, itself based on a true story of a wrestler turned lawman in Tennessee. Midway through the movie, Johnson’s Sgt. Chris Vaughn is appointed his town’s new sheriff, and wastes no time cleaning up the place of its widespread rot. Shortly afterward, Chris finds a choice opportunity to get back at his old classmate turned corrupt casino owner, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough), by stopping him for speeding and instructing him to get his taillight fixed. Oh, it isn’t broken? It is after Chris swings a giant piece of lumber to it.
How I Met Your Mother and Marvel fans: Spot a pre-fame Cobie Smulders, playing the role of a nameless “Exotic Beauty” (that’s how she’s actually credited) in the passenger seat next to McDonough.
22. Don’t Cry, Don’t Cry (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle)
The 2017 Jumanji sequel/remake updated the original movie’s premise for the 21st century, with Johnson – along with Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black – as the video game avatars of four teens thrust into the virtual world of Jumanji. While Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone is a strong and confident archaeologist, he’s still being “played” by neurotic Spencer (Alex Wolff), which inspires a hilarious moment of realization for both Spencer and Dr. Bravestone. Next time you’re feeling nervous, just tell yourself “Don’t cry." Repeatedly. You’ll be fine. Maybe.
21. "I Am Hercules!" (Hercules)
Before Dwayne Johnson moved mountains to get himself in a superhero movie, Johnson starred in this almost-forgotten 2014 film version of Hercules, based on a graphic novel series from now-defunct Radical Studios. Towards the end of the film, Johnson cements his status as one of the strongest movie stars in existence when his Hercules frees himself of chains to save the beautiful Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) from execution by her own father, King Cotys (John Hurt). It’s simply an awe-inspiring moment of old school cinematic heroism, punctuated by Ian McShane (as Hercules’ ally Amphiaraus) teeing up Hercules to yell out, “I am Hercules!”
20. “Don’t Ever, Ever, Let Them Get into Cars” (Fast Five)
Dwayne Johnson’s debut in the Fast & Furious franchise was both a turning point for the series and his own career. As antagonist Luke Hobbs, Johnson plays a broad-shouldered, highly trained hunter who mercilessly tracks down Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto in Brazil. The movie is chock full of great moments featuring Johnson, especially when he’s paired opposite Diesel (with whom he has absolutely no problems with in real life and they are the best of friends). But the very first thing Johnson says in these movies is still unforgettable. By sternly advising his men to keep Dom’s team from getting behind steering wheels, Hobbs reveals both his strategy to win and his paranoia over losing in one breath.
19. Allergic to Cinnamon (The Game Plan)
Even when he was an undisputed champion wrestler, Dwayne Johnson had an uncanny knack for comedy. That talent translated well into his family-friendly work, such as in the Disney comedy The Game Plan in which Johnson plays a star football player who looks after the daughter he didn’t know he had.
At one point, Johnson’s character, Joe Kingman, accidentally eats one of his daughter’s cinnamon cookies which triggers an allergy. With a swollen mouth creating a hilarious lisp, Johnson’s line delivery is as much a treat as that cookie probably was.
18. The First Egg Heist (Red Notice)
One of the most expensive movies Dwayne Johnson ever starred in – budgeted at a hefty $200 million, for streamer Netflix – Red Notice hardly, ahem, put the world on notice. (It is allegedly one of the most-watched films on Netflix, but streaming metrics are hard to take at face value.)
Regardless, this crime caper featuring Johnson with Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot has some merit as a mindless romp. One of its standout scenes is in the beginning, when Johnson, as an FBI investigator, chases infamous thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds) through an Italian museum. Between some impressive camera work and Johnson wearing an enviable leather jacket he looks almost too good in, what you’ve got is a movie opening that’s worth watching on its own.
17. "Don’t You Quit on Me" (San Andreas)
Over a long career in Hollywood, Dwayne Johnson doesn’t have much of a reputation as a dramatic actor. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown off something heartfelt before. In 2015, for the earthquake disaster film San Andreas, Johnson cries out with palpable ferocity to save his daughter (played by Alexandra Daddario) from drowning in front of him. For anyone who has felt helpless watching the person they love suffer, this moment in San Andreas hits very hard.
16. The Crane Jump (Skyscraper)
When your movie is about Dwayne Johnson fighting bad guys in a mile-high skyscraper, chances are, the man is gonna have to jump. And Skyscraper, directed by frequent Johnson collaborator Rawson Marshall Thurber, does just that with Johnson forced to make a leap of faith from a falling crane onto a ridiculously tall building in Hong Kong. Even if the stunt feels too inauthentic from overcooked visual effects – and certainly pales in comparison to whatever Tom Cruise is willing to do in every Mission: Impossible sequel – Johnson’s star power is still ensured, in his many performances as a man willing to do all it takes to save his family.
15. “Scorchin’!” (Be Cool)
In hindsight, Dwayne Johnson playing a stereotypically gay bodyguard and hitman doesn’t feel right. This 2005 crime comedy is replete with homophobic jokes that were dated as soon as they were written in the script. But all credit to Dwayne Johnson for making a real meal out of the material, and showing everyone in Hollywood that he has plenty more range than the succession of macho action roles he had done until this point. His energetic delivery of “Scorchin’!” is an all-timer, even if it’s not a line you can confidently quote and people know what you’re referencing.
14. “You Are Somebody” (Gridiron Gang)
Ever seen a movie where a hard-edged outsider mentors a class of restless youth? It sometimes seems as if all Hollywood movie stars need to have one of these kinds of movies under their belt. In 2006, Dwayne Johnson had his own with Gridiron Gang, a fictional retelling of a 1993 documentary about an L.A. juvenile detention center that creates a football team to inspire discipline. With these kinds of movies comes inspirational speeches, and Johnson indeed delivers one to fire up his Mustangs to victory. If only we could all have “The Rock” inspiring us every day.
13. How to Use a Stapler (Get Smart)
This one has got to hurt. In this hilarious 2008 comedy based on the classic Mel Brooks television series, Dwayne Johnson stars as Agent 23, a star agent with mysterious allegiances. In one early moment foreshadowing his darker side, Agent 23 puts up with an unruly coworker (played by famed character actor Larry Miller) who left the printer totally jammed. Paying it backward, Johnson abruptly staples a document to his forehead, in a moment that inspires both laughter and shock in equal measure.
12. Standing Up to Superman (Black Adam)
Black Adam did no favors for the flailing DC Universe, but its post-credits scene showed what Dwayne Johnson was angling for the whole time: A showdown with Superman. Featuring Henry Cavill in a surprise, albeit very brief return to the franchise, the post-credits scene of Black Adam is simply superb in its promise of the Man in Black taking on the Man of Steel one-on-one. Unfortunately, the scene is now a case study in not hedging bets too early, in not pursuing franchise plans so narrowly, and in putting too much faith in fans to show up. But it’s still fun to imagine, even if the closest anyone can see it happen now is bashing action figures together.
11. Surviving Cobra (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)
Shortly after Dwayne Johnson juiced up the Fast & Furious series, there was hope he could do the same for G.I. Joe. While Jon M. Chu’s 2013 sequel didn’t deliver all the goods, it still had Dwayne Johnson play around in a sandbox universe practically built for him. In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Johnson is in rare form as Roadblock, an intimidating new member of the elite G.I. Joes. In the movie’s first act, the Joes are betrayed and forced to go on the run. Johnson, with co-stars Adrienne Palicki (as Lady Jaye) and D.J. Cotrona (as Flint), survive the surprise attack by hiding in a well. If Retaliation could be defined by one image, it’s Johnson staying still as bullets rain around him underwater. Simply awesome.
10. Leading the Haka (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw)
Some eight years after beefing up Fast & Furious in 2011’s Fast Five, Dwayne Johnson got his spin-off with Hobbs & Shaw, co-starring Jason Statham back in the role of series villain turned anti-hero Deckard Shaw. At the start of the movie’s climax set in Samoa, Johnson’s Hobbs leads his fellow men in a haka – a traditional Samoan warrior dance – to intimidate their enemies, who are led by Idris Elba’s part-cyborg terrorist Brixton. What follows is a rousing battle fought with antique clubs and knives versus guns and gadgets, but Johnson has never looked better than summoning his ancestors for inspiration.
9. Finally… The Rock Returns (Fighting with My Family)
The 2019 biographical drama Fighting with My Family, helmed by Dwayne Johnson’s Tooth Fairy co-star Stephen Merchant, tells the real-life story of Saraya Knight, who was better known for her time in the WWE as Paige (played in the movie by Florence Pugh).
Johnson produced the film, inspired by a real-life meeting with Paige at a WWE show. In the film, Johnson recreates a moment between himself, Saraya, and Saraya’s brother Zak (played by Jack Lowden), when the siblings bug Johnson into giving them advice. Johnson briefly turns on his old “Rock” persona and cuts a “promo” (in wrestling terms, a moment on the microphone to clown your opponent). The siblings are just thankful that The Rock gave them the time of day, but for moviegoers, it was a rare moment where Dwayne Johnson wasn’t his movie star self, but his old self, the one who used to lay the smackdown on a weekly basis.
8. Boom Shakalaka! (The Rundown)
The Rundown in its entirety should honestly qualify for our purposes here. While it’s true that Johnson became a movie star through The Scorpion King, his 2003 action film The Rundown made him Hollywood royalty. The movie is just full of incredible moments that foreshadowed Johnson’s career as 21st century’s true box office draw.
If we had to narrow things down to a single moment, The Rundown’s final three minutes where Johnson’s character, a bounty hunter named Beck, enters a zen-like state and clears an entire city block of bad guys takes the cake. Scored to a rollicking soundtrack and directed with John Woo-esque flair – culminating in an exploding bus that just feels too good – The Rundown shows The Scorpion King was no fluke. Johnson really was born for the movies.
7. "You’re Welcome!" (Moana)
While parents might still be haunted by this infectious earworm, it should surprise no one that Dwayne Johnson can actually sing. In his WWE days, The Rock sometimes came out with a guitar, where he improvised songs that typically made fun of his opponents.
Now as a bonafide A-lister, it was actually overdue for Johnson to show off his pipes in a Disney movie. As the demigod Maui, Johnson co-stars as the mentor/guardian to Moana, though Maui is just a bit full of himself. He says as much in his signature song, “You’re Welcome,” where he takes credit for everything beautiful in the world.
Fun fact: The design of Maui was heavily inspired by Johnson’s actual grandfather, the legendary wrestler Peter Maivia.
6. “This Is Brazil!” (Fast Five)
2011’s Fast Five famously pitted Johnson (as DSS agent Luke Hobbs) against another famous bald man with muscles: Vin Diesel, as Dominic Toretto. Halfway through the movie, Luke tries to arrest Dom early, leading to an intense stare-down in the middle of a car meet in Rio. While Luke has all the guns, in this particular environment, Luke sees that he and his men are dangerously outnumbered. “You’re a long way from home,” Dom warns Luke, before informing him just where he is: “This is Brazil!”
It’s a rare moment where Dwayne Johnson is left retreating with his tail between his legs, but as the rest of the Fast & Furious saga proves, Luke is no pushover. He just knows when the time is right to make his moves.
5. Literally Anytime He Does a Wrestling Move (The Rundown, Walking Tall, The Fast Saga, and more)
Even as a Hollywood mega-star, Dwayne Johnson hasn’t shied away from his roots. Not only is he a producer of his own biographical sitcom that goes deep into his wrestling background, he’s also brought a few iconic moves to the big screen.
In the Fast & Furious series, Johnson has done everything from a Kimura Lock submission hold (in Fast Five) to the Road Warriors’ Doomsday Device (in Fast & Furious 6) to even a German suplex (in Hobbs & Shaw). Dwayne Johnson has also performed his own finishing maneuver, called the “Rock Bottom” (basically a downward body slam) in movies like The Rundown, Walking Tall, and Furious 7. Dwayne Johnson shouldn’t reference his wrestling past all the time, but when he does, it’s really special.
4. Jericho’s Nervous Tic (Southland Tales)
One of Dwayne Johnson’s most overlooked performances is in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, a messy but mesmerizing sci-fi political satire set in an alternate United States during World War III. Johnson stars in the film as Jericho Cane, an amnesiac movie star whose movie script might be predictive of humanity’s future. Throughout the movie, Johnson sheds his usual confident swagger for a nervous tic, including a strange habit of tapping his fingertips together. To this day, it’s unclear if Southland Tales is brilliant or stupid, but it nevertheless has Dwayne Johnson genuinely trying strange things as a budding actor. For that reason alone, it’s worth seeking out.
3. Prison Break (The Fate of the Furious)
“I will bang you like a Cherokee drum!” However you want to read the tension between Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw, there is no denying they are immensely fun together. Case in point, a prison break sequence in the 2017 Fast & Furious film, The Fate of the Furious, shows exactly why and how Dwayne Johnson and Jason Satham are complementary opposites. While Statham parkour jumps over rioting prisoners with agility, Johnson powers through them, beating them up one by one and even flexing his big animal-like frame in the process. He shakes off rubber bullets like marshmallows, and tells a nameless goon who has “been waiting for this” to “keep waiting.” May we all have the strength to face danger like Luke Hobbs.
2. Aim for the Bushes (The Other Guys)
The whole point of The Other Guys, a buddy comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, is that they are, well, the other guys. If the movie was just “The Guys,” it would star Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, who cameo as two superstar NYPD officers. The movie’s killer opening – memorably set to Foo Fighters’ “Hero” – intentionally makes the case that they are in their own movie, before pulling the rug underneath everyone. (Johnson and Jackson included.)
If you’ve never seen this before, we won’t spoil the punchline. But here’s some advice: Watch this with a group of people. The collective howl of laughter you’ll share is powerful enough to be a core memory.
1. "Daddy's Gotta Go to Work" (Furious 7)
With almost a dozen movies making up the franchise, The Fast Saga has truly gone places: Amnesias, cybernetic implants, nuclear submarines, falling skyscrapers in the Middle East. There’s almost nothing surprising in the movies anymore. But in 2015’s Furious 7, Dwayne Johnson cemented his cinematic immortality by playing a bedridden Luke Hobbs for most of the film, until the climax summons his involvement. Looking out into the window of a hospital, Hobbs tells his daughter, “Daddy’s got to go to work” before flexing his arm cast off.
Is this when the series jumped the shark? Or was this the last time the movies were incredible? Either way, Dwayne Johnson does something only he, and no one else in Hollywood, can get away with. And that’s why there’s still no one as big as The Rock.