Total Recall

Rank Dwayne Johnson's 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we look back at the most acclaimed work of the Rampage star.

by | April 11, 2018 | Comments

From the football field to the professional wrestling arena to the big screen, Dwayne Johnson has dominated every field he’s entered — and with his latest outing, the big-screen adaptation of the arcade classic Rampage, roaring its way into cineplexes this weekend, we figured now would be a pretty good time to honor that success by taking a fond look back at what he’s been cooking at theaters since breaking into the movie business. Oil up those pecs, because it’s time for Total Recall!


1. Moana (2016) 96%

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

From his outsized physique to his larger-than-life public persona’s irresistible charisma, Dwayne Johnson is, in many ways, a real-life cartoon — which is just one reason why he was perfect for the role of the demigod Maui in Disney’s 2016 animated hit Moana. Playing opposite newcomer Auli’i Cravalho in the colorful saga of a teenager on a quest to save her people, Johnson gave the production a little extra marquee muscle and a whole lot of charm. It all added up to one of the bigger hits of the year, and the movie the Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Rechtshaffen called “contemporary Disney at its finest — a vibrantly rendered adventure that combines state-of-the-art CG animation with traditional storytelling and colorful characters, all enlivened by a terrific voice cast.”


2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) 76%

(Photo by Frank Masi/Columbia Pictures)

Spanning a slim 32 pages and telling a seemingly self-contained story, Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji book didn’t exactly scream “franchise starter,” even after it inspired a hit Robin Williams-led adaptation in 1995. But studios are hungrier than ever for immediately identifiable source material these days, and if you’re trying to relaunch a seemingly moribund property, there are few stars safer than Dwayne Johnson — so it only made sense that he signed on to star for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the 2017 reboot-type thing that updates the titular enchanted board game as a video game that plops four kids into a death-defying quest (and gives them avatars that look like Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and the Rock). Like a lot of Johnson’s hits, it looked for all the world like a potential disaster on paper, but the chemistry of its stars — and a surprisingly funny script — left critics applauding while audiences sent the movie soaring to nearly $400 million at the box office. “In the end, the filmmakers have given us one of the most fun movie-going experiences I’ve had this year,” wrote Bill Zwecker for the Chicago Sun-Times. “Huge kudos go to Johnson, Hart and especially Black for providing some truly entertaining performances.”


3. The Fast and Furious Franchise

(Photo by Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures)

You don’t get to call yourself “Franchise Viagra” without pulling off a few feats of blockbuster magic. Dwayne Johnson earned his tongue-in-cheek nickname by helping bring the Fast and Furious series back from the brink of direct-to-video sequel status, joining the cast in time for 2011’s Fast Five and fueling its hugely successful turn from a cops ‘n’ racers saga into all-out heist action thriller territory. Aside from opening up a slew of new stories for the once-flagging franchise, this chapter gave Johnson the part he may have been born to play: government agent Luke Hobbs, the bounty hunter-turned-U.S. Marshal who goes bicep-for-bicep against the main cast in Five before becoming — surprise! — a member of the “family.” Johnson’s Furious future appears to be up in the air following 2017’s The Fate of the Furious, but Hobbs fans needn’t worry: he’ll reprise the role alongside fellow Fast vet Jason Statham in an upcoming spinoff. As Katie Walsh wrote for the Tribune News Service, “The often silly, always outrageous, comfortably formulaic films about fast cars and chosen family have a charm that manages to permeate the crusty exterior of even the most curmudgeonly of critics.”


4. Central Intelligence (2016) 70%

(Photo by Claire Folger/Warner Bros.)

Is it even possible to do anything new with the buddy cop formula at this point? Perhaps not. But a formula’s a formula because it’s effective, and with Central Intelligence, Johnson proved he’s among the stars still capable of making it work — especially when paired with a foil as effective as Kevin Hart. The duo’s physical mismatch sets up laughs that the script doesn’t always deliver, but their seemingly effortless chemistry goes a long way in this outing, which revolves around the escapades of a CIA agent (Johnson) who’s forced to confront his nerdy high school past after roping in an old acquaintance (Hart) on a top-secret case. You pretty much know what’s going to happen as soon as the opening credits roll, but Intelligence adds enough twists — and has such appealing leads — that it doesn’t always matter. “No one can steal the show from Johnson and Hart,” wrote Time’s Stephanie Zacharek. “Their dual rhythms, alternately laid back and hyperactive, end up in a glorious and ridiculous kind of syncopation, unicornlike in its rarity and oddness.”


5. The Rundown (2003) 70%

(Photo by Universal Pictures)

It’s a formula as old as film: Take a big, strong guy, give him a more averagely built comedic foil, and stand back while the laff-a-minute hijinks fly. Kind of a cheap cinematic trick, but one that still tends to work pretty well; why, just take a look at The Rundown, which throws Johnson and Seann William Scott together in an action caper about a retiring bounty hunter (Johnson) who’s wheedled into hunting down his boss’s twerpy wayward son (Scott) in a Brazilian rainforest, where he’s managed to tick off an unscrupulous mining kingpin (Christopher Walken) while pursuing some treasure. It’s the kind of movie that delivers the expected beats at the expected moments, but thrives on the charisma of its stars; as James Berardinelli wrote for ReelViews, “The Rundown offers everything a good movie of this sort should: plenty of suspenseful action, a few good laughs, and a share of obligatory ‘reluctant buddy’ bonding.”


6. Hercules (2014) 59%

(Photo by Kerry Brown/Paramount Pictures)

To filmgoers’ and critics’ constant amusement and/or chagrin, Hollywood has a long history of sending similarly themed movies to the cineplex in quick succession. It’s rare for more than one to make a successful run at box office glory, however — as evidenced by the beefcake battle that erupted in 2014 between competing Hercules projects The Legend of Hercules, starring Twilight vet Kellan Lutz, and the more simply titled Hercules, with Johnson in the title role and Brett Ratner behind the cameras. While neither picture turned out to be a blockbuster hit, Hercules acquitted itself fairly well, all things considered; despite complaints of a muddled story and visuals hampered by a poor 3D conversion, a slim majority of critics had just enough fun to recommend this revisionist outing, which used the framework for the familiar mythology as the starting point for a series of suitably absurd set pieces that included Johnson using a horse as a (projectile) weapon. As Barbara VanDenburgh put it for the Arizona Republic, “Give Hercules this much: It knows what it is.”


7. Snitch (2013) 57%

(Photo by Steve Dietl/Summit Entertainment)

It’s got a one-word title and a tough-lookin’ Dwayne Johnson behind the wheel of a truck, but Snitch isn’t your average action thriller. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh, it’s actually something of a message movie, starring Johnson as the anguished father of a boy (Rafi Gavron) whose trumped-up drug-dealing charges could send him to prison for at least 10 years — unless Dad follows through on a hastily struck deal with the US Attorney’s office, the terms of which require him to infiltrate a local drug kingpin with no support from law enforcement. With Johnson in the lead, the temptation to turn Snitch into a typically overdriven action flick had to have been high, and it’s to Waugh’s credit that he actually practices a modicum of restraint; unfortunately, many critics felt that left the movie stranded in a rather dull no-man’s-land between thoughtful drama and brainless thrills. Still, it wasn’t without its admirers; as Tom Russo wrote for the Boston Globe, “Nobody is going to confuse a Dwayne Johnson movie with Les Misérables. But Snitch gets a decent amount of drama (and action, of course) out of the argument that there’s paying for a crime, and then there’s overpaying.”


8. San Andreas (2015) 50%

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

If your city suffered a catastrophic earthquake, it’d come in pretty handy if your dad was the movie version of Dwayne Johnson — specifically one who flies helicopters as an air rescue pilot for the local fire department. Just ask Blake Gaines (Alexandria Daddario), who has the luxury of looking to the sky for her old man after a giant quake signals devastating movement along the titular fault line in California, setting up all the senses-shattering, CGI-enabled action filmgoers might reasonably expect from a collaboration between Johnson and director Brad Peyton (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), who also happens to be behind the camera for Rampage. As tends to be the case with this type of film, San Andreas fared reasonably well at the box office while leaving a lot of critics cold, but it did have its defenders among the pundits; as Jocelyn Novecek reminded readers for the Associated Press, “Summer’s upon us, and you could do worse than watch the undeniably appealing Johnson try to save the day while uttering the silliest dialogue imaginable.”


9. Get Smart (2008) 50%

(Photo by Warner Bros.)

Johnson was already nearly a decade into his film career by the time he appeared in Get Smart, and he’d already demonstrated a willingness and ability to veer between hard-hitting action and more family-friendly fare. Still, director Peter Segal’s big-screen adaptation of the classic TV spy series represented something of a turning point for the budding superstar; as the duplicitous Agent 23, Johnson got to flash his action chops alongside his comedic timing, all while sharing the screen with a cast that included the ascendant Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Steve Carell as the bumbling Maxwell Smart. The end result was an attention-getting turn in a $230 million hit, and a fairly funny warm-up act for Johnson’s entry to the A list. “Get Smart is an example of getting the right actors and taking the right approach,” wrote Aisle Seat’s Mike McGranaghan. “It gave me one of the most fun times I’ve had at the movies all year.”


10. Pain & Gain (2013) 50%

(Photo by Jamie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures)

Michael Bay movies are frequently derided for their general insensitivity — to character development, to all notions of filmmaking subtlety, to the art of storytelling, to viewers’ eardrums — but if ever a movie seemed like it might call for that treatment, it should have been Pain & Gain, which adapts the true-life story of a group of Miami gym rats (Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie) whose thirst for wealth leads them to make a series of spectacularly ill-advised decisions, including kidnapping, theft, and murder. Unfortunately, Bay’s insensitivity hampered him here, too; in the eyes of many critics, his decision to treat the story as a sort of gaudy action comedy felt wrong, given that it’s a movie about horrible things that happened to real people. Set that aside, however, and you might just enjoy Pain & Gain on its own merits: “Might this be the best Michael Bay film ever?” asked Tara Brady for the Irish Times. “We know what you’re thinking. But we mean it in a good way.”

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