Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Exits Warner Bros. Discovery in Major Strategic Shift

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Exits Warner Bros. Discovery in Major Strategic Shift

HBO has bid farewell to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and his sports comedy drama series Ballers, but that might be the best thing for him.

Dwayne Johnson in “Ballers”/Credit: HBO
Dwayne Johnson is among the highest-paid and most sought-after actors in Hollywood–and many of his colleagues have been acting for years longer than him. The former pro-wrestler-turned Hollywood celebrity was with the WWE until he made his debut in acting during The Mummy Returns (2001), playing the role of the Scorpion King opposite co-star Brendan Fraser. The film was a success, and Johnson began to focus more of his attention on acting.

A Hollywood Career So Good, He Gave Up Wrestling

Months later, he scored the lead role in a spin-off film, aptly titled The Scorpion King in 2002. It was the beginning of his career in Hollywood and an end to his days as a championship wrestler in the ring, though he didn’t formally retire from the WWE until 2019, and by then, Johnson’s Hollywood resume had grown extensively.

Credit: Disney Parks

Johnson has had roles in various films, playing characters that vary as well. His film credits include DOOM (2005), The Game Plan (2007), Get Smart (2008), Race to Witch Mountain (2009), Tooth Fairy (2010), Moana (2016), and Jungle Cruise (2021).

He has also played bounty hunter and federal agent Luke Hobbs in The Fast and the Furious film series for more than a decade, beginning with Fast Five (2011) and continuing with Fast and Furious 6 (2013), Furious 7 (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017). He also starred in Hobbs & Shaw (2019), a spin-off movie in the franchise, alongside actor Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw.

But while he was playing the part of federal agent Hobbs, he also stepped into the role of Spencer Strasmore, a retired NFL football player who’s attempting to build his career as a sports agent in Florida, in the HBO series Ballers.

Dwayne Johnson is Spencer Strasmore in HBO’s “Ballers”/Credit: HBO
The sports comedy drama premiered on the HBO network on June 21, 2015, and its fifth and final season wrapped on October 13, 2019, after which it ultimately found its home on HBO Max, owned by Warner Bros. Discovery and now referred to only as “Max.”

Johnson reportedly earned $700,000 per episode of Ballers, but despite his success as Spencer Strasmore and the success of the series, Warner Bros. Discovery has sold the series to Netflix, where it has found life anew.

HBO Drops “The Rock”

HBO has been going through some changes of late. A post at Vulture in early July 2023 points out that viewers can no longer stream HBO shows on a streamer by the same name, as HBO Max is now simply Max. Further, execs at Warner Bros. Discovery have been taking some fairly drastic measures under CEO David Zaslav, including the sale of many of Max’s shows and series to its competition–namely Netflix:

HBO and Netflix are closing in on a deal for the streamer to take Insecure — and very likely several other fan-favorite library titles — in a new licensing agreement that was first reported by Deadline. In addition, the additional titles currently being discussed for the possible deal are Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s comedy “Ballers,” the iconic early aughts drama “Six Feet Under” (which aired its last episode in 2005), and a pair of Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks-produced miniseries, “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

Credit: HBO

But because the negotiations between Netflix and HBO are still so fluid, it’s quite possible that all of the titles being talked about won’t end up being licensed by Netflix. Whatever the final shape of the deal, it is expected the agreement would be non-exclusive, allowing titles to appear on both Netflix and WBD’s Max. 

A Win-Win for Everyone

Deadline reports that in its first week on Netflix, Ballers garnered almost 700 million viewing minutes. So it would appear that HBO’s strategy to hand over the licenses to some of its content to Netflix is working. Ballers debuted on Netflix in mid-September, and in its first seven days on the streamer, it earned the #9 spot across the Netflix catalog and the #5 spot among shows newly acquired by Netflix.

Credit: HBO
It sounds like a win-win scenario for everyone involved, and the series’ impressive numbers signal something too about the drama itself, as it debuted eight years ago and usually held an audience of 8.8 million viewers per episode, which made it the most-watched half-hour offering on HBO in more than six years. Now, on Netflix, Dwayne Johnson and Ballers seem to be enjoying a resurrection of sorts.

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