Over the weekend, Warner Brother's San Andreas hit a high note at the box office with an impressive take of well over $50 million… at least $10 million more than projections. A large share of that has to do with the drawing power and likeability of its lead actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who now has his second big hit in as many months.
With a buzzy HBO series also on the way, a role in the upcoming DC Comics film universe, a featured place in the Fast & Furious franchise, and his continued success within the WWE realm, it leads to an interesting realization… Johnson just may be the most bankable man in Hollywood right now.
Currently, three companies are the biggest beneficiary of Johnson's talents, and each has seen their bottom lines elevated as a result of his contributions to their slate.
Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)
Let's start with Time Warner/Warner Brothers because it's the most recent and most prevalent to the conversation. As I mentioned, San Andreas didn't do $100 million in its opening weekend, but it did top expectations and did buck a disturbing trend of tentpole films underperforming in their debut weekends… two of them coming from Warner Brothers themselves.
You can directly trace the film's success back to Johnson, as the man did everything possible to promote the film. He took a record-breaking number of selfies with fans at the film's red carpet premiere, he did a world wind cross continent tour to promote the film, he did tons of interviews across every medium, but most importantly he documented it all on social media.
It's that type of fan interaction that has made Johnson the success that he is, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Time Warner probably doesn't either, and that's good news for its board and its investors because Johnson is HEAVILY linked to the company for the foreseeable future.
He has Ballers, a new comedy series, slated for subsidiary HBO premiering next month, and at least two of his next films (Central Intelligence and Shazam) are under the WB moniker. In other words, his success with San Andreas is a sign that his presence will pay dividends companywide for years to come.
Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) (CMCSK)
Speaking of synergy, let's switch over to Comcast, which also has two irons in the fire with "the most electrifying man in entertainment." First is through its film division Universal, which raced through the box office in April with Furious 7. Johnson, who joined the fray in the franchise's fifth installment, has really helped jump-start the brand.
Johnson brought his WWE fanbase with him over to the series when he joined, and that helped really send the F/F films into a higher gear. With Paul Walker's unfortunate passing, having Johnson as one of the boldface names headlining the next movie is going to be more important than ever.
That also leads into the second area of Comcast impacted by The Rock… TV. WWE programming will soon be essentially exclusive to the USA Network and is responsible for a large part of the channel's success. It's also proven that when The Rock returns to WWE, programming executives see a spike in ratings, social engagement or both.
And, of course, that brings us to WWE itself. The WWE machine made Johnson into the star he is today, and he understands the value of not forgetting where he came from. Yet some would argue that's because for a time he DID forget where he came from. After Johnson hit it big with The Scorpion King, he began working part time for WWE so he could shoot movies, but eventually that ratio got even more reduced and Johnson left WWE completely.
Here's where having people "in the know" in your ear all the time backfires as Johnson was told he needed to distance himself from the WWE universe to break out on his own and not be typecast as "The Rock." While the theory was sound, the execution wasn't and you can see for a period of time up until 2011 that Johnson's film grosses (where he was a featured star) weren't reflective of what they are now.
It wasn't until 2011 where Johnson returned to WWE's flagship program Monday Night RAW and told the fans he was back and never leaving again that things changed. Two months later, Fast Five opened to $86 million, the highest ever for Universal Studios (at the time) and WWE's yearly WrestleMania saw an immediate year-to-year boost with Johnson playing a big role as the show's official "host." The next year he headlined the event, and social media exploded with over 100 trending topics over 5 hours while again viewership increased.
Johnson has been a part of every WrestleMania since in some way, shape or form.
Johnson's success touches TV, movies, sports entertainment, and social media, something few people (if anybody) can duplicate. His secret is being authentic and his fans recognize that, and that's why they show up to support him. Deep down, his fans understand why he needed to step away from the spotlight, but they were hurt he stayed away for so long. Johnson's speech back when he first returned was genuine, heartfelt and electric all at once… that's the type of person you want fronting your project.
Time Warner knows it, Comcast knows it and WWE knows it. They've all seen the business benefits - if you're still not sold just at the receipts for San Andreas and the previous three Fast & Furious films plus the strong ratings/buy rates/social media buzz surrounding WWE tied to Rock's return.
The Rock realized he needed the WWE universe as much as the WWE universe realized they needed The Rock. You can't put it simpler than that, and since the two sides found their way back to each other, it's been hugely profitable for all involved.
Investors looking for where they want to put their money next need only look to what's on Johnson's plate because he's a guy who is in touch with the fans and understands ultimately they hold all the power. In a content-driven industry, that's the most important lesson of all.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.