How Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson went from WWE wrestler to Hollywood's box-office champ

The rock san andreas Jasin Boland/Warner Bros.The Rock sets out to save his family from a massive earthquake in ‘San Andreas.’

After the global box-office success of “Furious 7,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returns to theatres this weekend in “San Andreas,” another high-octane adrenaline rush which sees Johnson saving lives as a first responder at the expense of the largest earthquake of all time.

Though the film has been getting mixed reviews, estimates are predicting the film will have an opening north of $US40 million.

Since 2002’s “The Scorpion King,” The Rock has become a box-office pariah proving he could win over audiences as a single dad in “Tooth Fairy” or as a heavy-hitting action star in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” and the “Fast and Furious” saga. His movies combined have made over $US5.2 billion worldwide.

But before he was rocking the box office, he was just a wrestler, best known for his signature move “The People’s Elbow.”

Frank Pallotta and Mallory Schlossberg contributed to an earlier version of this story.

Before he was 'The Rock,' Dwayne Johnson was born May 2, 1972, in Hayward, California.

Source: Biography

Wrestling is in Johnson's blood. His father, Rocky 'Soul Man' Johnson, was a member of the first African-American tag-team champions and his grandfather, Peter Maivia, was one of the first Samoan wrestlers.

Johnson's wrestler father, Rocky, on the right.

Source: YouTube

Johnson didn't go straight to wrestling. His first sport was football. After starring in high school he played in college for the Miami Hurricanes. Over his tenure at the school, Johnson started just once but appeared in 39 games and had 77 tackles, and he was a part of the 1991 national championship team.

Source: ESPN

The University of Miami was also where he met first wife, Dany Garcia. The two separated after 10 years but have stayed close. 'Since our divorce, we've become pretty good at working together, and we are also raising our beautiful 11-year-old daughter, Simone,' Johnson has said.

Source: Huffington Post

If it wasn't for serious injuries to both his shoulders and back, Johnson could have perhaps continued his football career in the NFL.

Instead he ended up playing in the Canadian Football League, making just $250 a week and eventually getting cut. 'The dreams I had, they're dashed,' he recalled later. 'There is no more football. My relationship was crushed. That was my absolute worst time.'

After Johnson stepped away from football, he looked into the family business of wrestling. After spending time in the WWE's minor leagues, he debuted on TV at the 1996 Survivor Series. His wrestling name was 'Rocky Maivia,' which combined the names of his father and grandfather.

Source: YouTube

The first third-generation wrestler in WWE history, Johnson is considered by many to be one of the greatest to ever enter the ring.

Source: WWE, Bleacher Report

During his many years at the WWE, Johnson created and became known for signature moves like 'The People's Elbow' and 'The Rock Bottom.'

Johnson proved his prowess in the ring by winning the WWE heavyweight title six times and securing the tag-team title five times.

Source: Biography

His popularity as a wrestler put Johnson on Hollywood's radar. This included getting a call from New York about hosting 'Saturday Night Live.' After he was asked to host, Johnson says, 'I fell out of my chair.'

Source: YouTube, YouTube

The wrestler's stint on 'SNL' (as seen below playing the monkey-human hybrid Papa Peepers) was a ratings success. Most importantly, the gig showed Hollywood that Johnson wasn't just another wrestler -- he could really act.

Source: YouTube

Johnson made his feature film debut in 2001's 'The Mummy Returns,' playing a villainous ruler. He reprised the role in 'The Scorpion King.' He made $5.5 million, the most any actor has made for a first leading role.

Source: MTV

Despite the large paycheck, it wasn't until 'The Rundown' in 2003 people began to see Johnson as a legitimate action hero. 'The Rock has a flair for action and comedy,' Rolling Stone wrote. 'He's a real movie star.'

Source: Rolling Stone

The film also included a brief cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which many critics like Roger Ebert saw as the passing of the action-movie torch. 'Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger's long run as an action hero is hard to say,' Ebert wrote. 'But on the basis of 'The Rundown,' he has a good chance.'

Source: Roger Ebert.com

As Johnson's film career began to take off, he dropped 'The Rock' from his name. ''The Rock' was a name, a character I created in TV,' he said. 'When I made the transition into film, I knew eventually I was going to be billed as my given name.'

He showed his range by acting in family films like 2007's 'The Game Plan' and comedies like 'The Other Guys' in 2010. 'I felt there were bigger and better opportunities,' Johnson said. 'I also felt there was franchise potential, hopefully multiple franchises in every genre -- whether drama or comedy or action-comedy.'

Johnson finally found his franchise when he appeared in the fifth instalment of the popular 'Fast and the Furious' series, 'Fast Five,' alongside Vin Diesel. 'I've known Vin for a long time and we've always talked about doing something together,' Johnson said. 'This felt like the right opportunity to create a formidable adversary for him.'

Source: Screenrant

'Fast Five' was also an opportunity for Johnson to work again with Universal, the studio where he started his career. 'They were the first studio to believe in me when I was making the transition ... into acting and helping me create opportunities,' Johnson said.

Source: Collider

The film went on to make $676 million worldwide. Johnson appeared in 2013's sequel 'Fast & Furious 6,' and he is set to reprised his role again in this spring's 'Furious 7,' which is now one of four films to make over $1.5 billion.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Since then Johnson has appeared in two more sequels, 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' and 'Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.'

Throughout Johnson's career, the one thing separating him from many is his work ethic. The actor put on '12 to 15 pounds of muscle' for 2013's 'Pain and Gain.' Between himself and costar Mark Wahlberg, the actors were eating 17 meals a day.

Source: Yahoo

In a recent interview with 'Muscle and Fitness' magazine, Johnson explained his current diet consists of seven meals a day -- four of which consist of cod.

Even though Johnson's acting career is going strong, he has returned to the ring for events like Wrestlemania. 'I'm back, not for money, not because I like being on the road, but because I love the business,' he said.

Source: Huffington Post

One of these events was WWE's Royal Rumble. Johnson had teased that he was going to appear at the event, and then he showed up in the middle of a wrestling match to help Roman Reigns win the prize.

Johnson's next big film out this weekend is earthquake movie, 'San Andreas,' in which he plays a first responder. The film has been referred to as 'the West Coast version of 'The Day After Tomorrow.''

In addition, Johnson will take his talents to TV with coming HBO series 'Ballers,' which will follow current and retired football players. Johnson will definitely empathise with these characters, given his initial football career.

Now that you've seen Dwayne Johnson's career trajectory ...

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