Wrestler. Actor. Action hero? Box office heavyweight The Rock grapples for the title with The Scorpion King.

When Michael Clarke Duncan showed up for his first day of filming The Scorpion King, he found a welcoming gift in his trailer. His costar The Rock — that WWF heavy-turned-thespian — had kindly deposited an 8×10 glossy of himself on Duncan’s dresser, signed: ”Now it’s time for The Rock to start kicking that candy ass. Tick…tick…tick.” Says Duncan, ”He set the tone, so after that it was on.”

You could say that. The $60 million flick, starring The Rock (a.k.a. Dwayne Johnson) as the title character he originated in last year’s The Mummy Returns, pinned down $36.2 million domestically in its first weekend, toppling 1999’s The Matrix as the biggest April opening ever. And since The Rock is an international star who pile-drives in 11 languages and more than 130 countries, the film opened simultaneously in 11 overseas markets, pulling in an additional $8.3 million. Given that kind of math, you can understand why The Rock is being eyed as this summer’s first big action star. ”He’s able to do what few sports stars have been able to do and become a movie star,” says box office analyst David Davis of Houlihan Lokey Howard Zukin. Adds Scott Stuber, president of production for Universal, which released both Rock films, ”He’s a great imposing figure, but he’s an extremely likable human being. Girls want to love him and guys want to be his pal.”

But one nagging question remains: Can the 30-year-old giant leverage his Kingly success to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger? Or will he be a latter-day Hulk Hogan? (Come on, you remember that celluloid gem Mr. Nanny.) Early indications are working in favor of The Rock, who was already drawing mammoth paychecks before talk of a Scorpion King sequel. He leaped from $500,000 for his few minutes of screen time in The Mummy Returns to $5 million for The Scorpion King to $10 million to play a bounty hunter roaming through the Amazon jungles in Helldorado, expected to begin shooting this fall with Peter Berg negotiating to direct. Writer-director Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for scripting L.A. Confidential, even tapped out a shoot-’em-up action script especially for The Rock before abandoning the project post-Sept. 11.

For now, Johnson’s film career will be somewhat dictated by WWF chairman Vince McMahon. That’s because The Rock’s contract has him kicking candy, uh, tush, till 2005 — and wrestling stars can be on the road up to 250 days a year. Still, the WWF gave The Rock time off for the Scorpion King shoot, as well as six weeks to promote the film—a smart move, since the organization gets an undisclosed cut of all his Hollywood deals. Given that The Rock is the current lord of the ring, that latitude is understandable. Last year, the WWF collected $120.4 million from sales of merchandise, including Rock-y T-shirts, posters, and goodies like the Danbury Mint’s $110 porcelain ”Little Rock” doll. Says Jim Ross, the WWF’s senior VP of talent relations, ”His royalty checks are staggering.”

The Scorpion King
  • Movie
  • 94 minutes