Hollywood’s busiest actor had five movies hit the big screen in the past 14 months — and has four more slotted to open in 2019.
It’s Dwayne Johnson to the rescue again in his latest movie, but it turns out he may be the one in need of rescuing — at least from starring in too many movies.
The actor’s newest outing on the big screen, Skyscraper, opened well behind expectations over the July 13-15 weekend, raising concerns that Johnson has become overexposed. At the moment, he’s the busiest actor on the planet, having now starred in five films in the short span of 14 months. And he’s already got four more slotted for 2019, although most of those don’t begin rolling out until fall of next year.
Skyscraper — described as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno — took in an estimated $25.5 million in North America and $40.4 million overseas from its first 57 markets, coming in well behind expectations and losing on both fronts to Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation in an embarrassing upset. Unless Skyscraper scales huge numbers in China, where it opens July 20, the summer event film stands to lose money for Legendary and Universal.
“While Dwayne Johnson’s star power remains undeniable, the performance of Skyscraper underscores the issue of ‘too much of a good thing’ and diluting interest in known brands, franchises and stars where there is not enough breathing space between each project,” says box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
Skyscraper stars Johnson as a former FBI hostage rescue team leader and amputee now assigned to provide security for a towering skyscraper in China. He must spring into action when his wife (Neve Campbell) and children are trapped inside the world’s tallest building after villains set fire to it (Johnson’s character is framed for the fire, of course).
The movie, which earned mediocre reviews and a B+ CinemaScore from U.S. audiences, marks the lowest opening for a film Johnson has carried solo since Lionsgate’s Snitch ($13.2 million, not adjusted for inflation) in 2013. Among his ensemble films and two-handers, last year’s summer event Baywatch got beached after debuting to $18.5 million, while Pain and Gain, starring Johnson opposite Mark Wahlberg, opened to a disappointing $20.2 million in spring 2013.
Otherwise, Johnson has been on an upward trajectory since he helped revive Universal’s Fast and Furious franchise when appearing in 2011’s Fast Five. And earlier this year, Sony’s ensemble reboot Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became the top-grossing film of Johnson’s career when it topped out at $961.8 million globally following its Christmas release.
The former WWE wrestler, who rose to stardom as The Rock, can now command a $20 million-plus payday, plus fees for engaging his millions of followers on social media (in 2015, he set a Guinness World Record for taking the most selfies in three minutes when snapping 105 photos at the San Andreas premiere). His celebrity brand also includes a lucrative partnership with Under Armour.
But then following on the heels of Jumanji, Rampage, released in April, was something of a letdown in terms of Johnson’s box office prowess, at least in the U.S.
Rampage — an action-adventure pic which, like Skyscraper, was carried by Johnson — debuted to $35.8 million in North America on its way to a domestic total of $99 million. The outcome was far better overseas, where Rampage grossed $326.1 million, including a mighty $156.4 million in China.
Universal and Legendary insiders say Skyscraper was always intended to be more of an international play. But when signing up to make the movie, Legendary and Universal no doubt hoped to repeat the success of Johnson’s San Andreas, the earthquake disaster pic that was one of the sleeper hits of the 2015 summer box office, further cementing Johnson’s star status.
From New Line, San Andreas opened to $54.6 million domestically in late May before topping out at $155.2 million in North America and $318.8 million overseas for a global total of $474 million globally against a production budget of $110 million.
Those in business with Johnson are fiercely protective of the affable celebrity. When doing press calls on Sunday morning, Universal president of domestic distribution Jim Orr declined to concede that Skyscraper was a disappointment domestically. “Dwayne Johnson is literally and figuratively the biggest movie star in the planet, and we’re thrilled to be in business with him,” said Orr.
But, behind the scenes, Johnson’s team indeed appears relieved that there is breathing room between now and the latter half of 2019, when his next big films roll out: Universal’s Fast and Furious spinoff Hobbs and Shaw (Aug. 2), Disney’s Jungle Cruise (Oct. 11) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 2 (Dec. 13).
(Technically, Johnson’s next film set to hit theaters is MGM’s March 19 release of Fighting With My Family, a dramedy about a family of WWE fighters, but the actor only has a supporting role in the movie, which he is also producing.)
Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst with Exhibitor Relations, pins Skyscraper‘s problems on the movie itself, which was directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who helmed Johnson in Central Intelligence.
“With Johnson and Thurber routinely calling Skyscraper an ‘homage’ to Die Hard and Towering Inferno, audiences obviously saw that as reason enough to pass on this particularly tired bit of storytelling,” Bock says.
“It’s not so much Rock fatigue or overexposure — with the right film, audiences will show up. It’s the plain and simple fact that his latest action flick was simply half-baked. It wasn’t anything audiences hadn’t seen before. This practically screamed, We’re ripping off Die Hard,” says Bock. “Who’s in? Hopefully international audiences.”