Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson sat down with USA TODAY’s Bryan Alexander and shared the inspiration behind his ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ character, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, and how his own teenage past helped him master the role.

Movies didn’t dare take on the force of Star Wars while The Force Awakens (2015) and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) were busily obliterating box-office records.

But this time, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has come up against the formidable Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Opening just five days after The Last Jedi, Jumanji shadowed Star Wars until — shockingly — the reboot of the 1995 Robin Williams movie took the top spot in its third weekend with $37.2 million.

More: Dwayne Johnson on his sizzle power in ‘Jumanji’: ‘God delivered, I signed for it’

Still far behind in total box office ($245.6 million to Last Jedi’s $572.7 million, according to Monday’s final figures), Jumanji has exceeded even the most giddily optimistic expectation.

“I knew Jumanji was going to be a hit,” says Scott Mendelson, box-office analyst for Forbes. “But I never thought it would be taking on The Last Jedi like this.”


Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Nick Jonas star in ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,’ the story of video-game heroes stuck in a real game.

So how did Jumanji succeed against the holiday box-office Death Star?

It hits the right notes:  Director Jake Kasdan made an action film featuring high-schoolers transported into a deadly video game — all wrapped in the wish-fulfillment concept of a nerdy gamer who turns into 6-foot-4 avatar Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson). 

“Playing teenagers trapped in adult bodies, movies like Big,13 Going on 30 did it correctly,” says Johnson. “If not done correctly, you can go off the rails quickly in terms of performance. … But once I wrapped this movie, I was confident.”

Jumanji received decent reviews (77% of critics gave it a “fresh” rating at aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes). More importantly, 90% of audiences liked it. 

A cast with chemistry, appeal: Johnson and Hart, who previously proved their buddy-movie chops in 2016’s hit Central Intelligence, are joined by Karen Gillan and a scene-stealing Jack Black (as a teenage beauty stuck in a middle-age man’s body).