According to the show Mad Men, the Japanese have a saying: A man (mad or not) is whatever room he is in. And sometimes that room isn’t even a room. Sometimes it’s a wrestling ring or Disney’s Jungle Cruise.
Yes, with the major upcoming release of Netflix’s Red Notice, we are talking about one of the film’s big stars, Dwayne Johnson. More specifically we’re discussing if it’s possible to identify the exact point when The Rock, a professional wrestler who acts, became Dwayne Johnson, one of the biggest celebrities on the planet. I call this point the Rock/Johnson Line. It is a dumb thing that I invented, but that doesn’t mean I can’t dedicate a significant amount of time investigating it.
Johnson isn’t the first professional wrestler to make the leap to film. Well-known racist and union buster Hulk Hogan got his Hollywood debut in Rocky III. The late Rowdy Roddy Piper notably starred in John Carpenter’s classic They Live. Kevin Nash was Super Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 before going on to be Tarzan in the Magic Mike series. Then there is John Cena, who is following in Johnson’s footsteps to legitimate mega stardom.
While it’s currently expected that Johnson will return to the ring to put over current WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns due to their familial connection, it’s safe to say that Johnson’s wrestling career is behind him. Johnson hasn’t competed in an official match since 2016 when he squashed his opponent in six seconds. Prior to that, his last bout was a 2013 loss to Cena. So let’s take a look and see when The Rock’s in-ring career took a backseat to Hollywood.
The Rock began his career with the then-WWF in 1996. But before he became the “Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment,” he was the unpopular babyface Rocky Miavia. Thankfully, he would turn heel and align with the Nation of Domination.
According to internet wrestling database Cagematch.net, this moniker lasted until November 1997. This was when “The Rock” was born. After the change, The Rock would have his busiest year yet from an in-ring perspective. In 1998 The Rock competed in 202 of his 852 total matches, an incredible number of bouts and a clear example of how demanding the WWE schedule can be.
From here The Rock’s annual match count continues downward:
Then Johnson was absent from the mat for a seven-year stint, returning in 2011 to tag with Cena before defeating him the following year and then working a program with CM Punk.
Here’s all The Rock’s matches charted.
So how does this correspond with The Rock’s transition into Dwayne Johnson? Well, let’s compare it to his filmography.
Johnson’s first real acting credit is playing his father, also a legend in the ring, on That ’70s Show in 1999. But here he was still credited as The Rock. This would be the case on and off throughout Johnson’s roles in the Mummy franchise and Doom, but let’s consider these earlier acting credits as “The Rock” just the pupa stage before emerging fully formed as global phenomenon Dwayne Johnson.
Since wrestling matches, movies, and TV appearances aren’t a one-to-one-one comparison, I’ve tallied the total runtime for Johnson’s TV and movie appearances by year. I did not evaluate his time on screen for each project because that would be a lot of work and maybe impossible depending on how accessible these shows are. Instead, I just totaled up the full runtimes. Here those are year over year.
Here is where I ran into a problem. While I have the runtimes for Johnson’s film and TV projects, I do not have the lengths of all his matches. Cagematch.net doesn’t include the duration of untelevised matches — known as dark matches. To work around this, I calculated the average length of all The Rock’s televised matches from 1999, the year when he and the WWE were at their hottest. This worked out to an average match length of 8 minutes and 12 seconds.
With the lengths of time in-ring and on screen approximated, it was now time to compare the two and see where our trending lines meet. At whatever spot our data points converge, that would be the Rock/Johnson Line.
Bingo. If you look right around the start of 2009, where our trend lines converge, that’s when the tides turned. That’s when The Rock became Dwayne Johnson. But what happened around 2009 to mark this switch?
He did star in Race to Witch Mountain, which appears to be his first lead role in a film where he was billed solely as “Dwayne Johnson.” But was that movie so popular as to rebrand Johnson?
Looking at another appearance that year, I noticed something else that could have signaled a change. This year, 2009, also marked Johnson’s third appearance hosting Saturday Night Live. The one key difference? This was his first SNL hosting gig where he dropped The Rock moniker in exchange for Dwayne Johnson.
There you have it: The Rock/Johnson Line.