In possibly its biggest coup since landing a film from the legendary director Martin Scorsese, Netflix has picked up a movie starring one of Hollywood’s go-to hitmakers, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Netflix won the rights to Johnson’s upcoming project, an action film called John Henry and the Statesmen that will see the Rock lead an ensemble cast of popular figures from folklore and legend, the company announced on Oct. 9. Johnson is reuniting with Jake Kasdan, director of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, for the movie, which will be similarly family friendly. The creators hope the original project, written by The Lego Ninjago Movie scribe Tom Wheeler, will launch a new franchise on the streaming service.
Either way, Johnson is a great get for Netflix. The actor is one of the few stars whose name recognition alone propels fans to movie theaters, which is why Hollywood loves him. He also plays especially well internationally, with films such as 2018’s Skyscraper garnering more than three-quarters of its box office returns overseas. That global appeal is crucial for Netflix now that more than half its audience is outside of the US.
Since Netflix began releasing original films in 2015, the streaming service has made a killing playing with Hollywood’s old toys. It started with megastars like Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and Adam Sandler, whose names on movie posters used to guarantee packed theaters, but who struggled to transition to the world-building, franchise-driven age of cinema. Name recognition still goes a long way on Netflix, where the barrier to getting someone to watch movies via a subscription in their living room is much lower than in theaters, where they must commit to watching and paying for the full movie upfront.
The streaming service has also courted disillusioned creators like Scorsese, whose last film, Silence, was a box office letdown, and David Ayer, whose last theatrical release, Suicide Squad, was destroyed by critics. (His Netflix movie, Bright, was, too. But reviews hardly matter there, and didn’t dampen audience enthusiasm. Netflix stopped showing audience reviews this year.)
Lately, Netflix been going after more of the kinds of films that Hollywood excels at. Netflix is chasing properties with international franchise potential, such as Carmen Sandiego, and big-budget action movies that would normally be considered popcorn flicks in theaters, including Netflix’s upcoming film from Michael Bay, Six Underground. Then there’s the Rock, who is basically his own genre of film now.
To be sure, Johnson hasn’t turned his back on the big screen for good. He recently wrapped production on Disney’s Jungle Cruise film, based on the theme park ride. He’s currently filming the Fast and Furious spinoff film Hobbs and Shaw for Universal. And he’s set to reprise his role in Sony’s sequel to Jumanji.
Johnson has worked with every major US movie studio, including Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony, Fox, and Paramount, during his more than 15 years in the movie business. Now Netflix has joined that club.