Before taking a break from Hollywood, Arnold Schwarzenegger (not pictured) briefly appeared in Welcome To The Jungle alongside rising star Dwayne Johnson.
Early on in 2003’s Welcome To The Jungle, (not to be confused with the Jumanji sequel – US readers will know this one as The Rundown) Dwayne Johnson’s bounty hunter Beck visits a nightclub on a job. As he enters, he passes by a very familiar Austrian superstar who clocks him and simply says: “Have fun.”
It’s a relatively small cameo in the grand scheme of things but seeing as how Arnold Schwarzenegger was about to take a break from movies and launch a successful campaign to be Governor of California, it was seen as a feather in the cap for Johnson during Welcome To The Jungle’s PR campaign.
Directed by Peter Berg, the film itself is a serviceable, post-Scorpion King showcase of Johnson’s chops as a leading man, making him the put-upon hero of a buddy movie that lands somewhere between Midnight Run and an Indiana Jones. After an unfortunate incident at the club, Beck takes on one last bounty – collecting his boss’ wayward son (Seann William Scott) from a Brazilian mining town, where he’s been searching for a priceless golden artefact known as The Devil’s Cat.
However incidental it may be to the adventure plot that follows, the Schwarzenegger cameo does speak to the goals that Johnson had for his movie career from the outset. At this point, movie marketing departments were still billing him as ‘Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’, which lives up to Schwarzenegger’s name in number of characters but tied him inextricably to the chequered history of wrestlers-turned-actors at that point.
18 years on, he’s arguably come as close to achieving that goal as it’s possible to get in a market more driven by four-quadrant films based on existing IP, rather than traditional movie stars.
Before the cameo came about, Schwarzenegger and Johnson were already acquainted with one another. Like Arnie, Johnson is a long-time Republican, and they met when the wrestler spoke at the party’s convention in 2000, and then again when the Terminator star brought his family to see The Rock wrestle.
And so, while Schwarzenegger was filming a Terminator-themed Super Bowl TV advert in late 2002, Johnson and Berg invited him to lunch and asked if he’d be up for appearing in the film. Happily, Schwarzenegger said yes and that he’d do it right then. 15 minutes later, they were on set, much to the surprise of the assorted extras in the opening nightclub scene, who hadn’t expected to see him that afternoon.
Working for the Screen Actors’ Guild daily minimum, Schwarzenegger came up with the “have fun” line himself when Berg asked him what he wanted to do in his brief appearance. According to Johnson on the movie’s press tour, he asked why he chose that line and was told “You’re going where I’ve been”.
Beyond the publicity stuff, a lot of contemporary reviews of the film were framed around this brief cameo, making Arnie the barometer for Johnson’s performance and screen presence. For instance, Roger Ebert’s 2003 review starts: “Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger’s long run as an action hero is hard to say — but on the basis of [this film], he has a good chance.”
Given Schwarzenegger’s imminent change of career at the time, it’s ironic that this short scene would be outright represented as one action movie star passing the torch to Johnson, almost like a political endorsement.
The last action hero?
Of course, Schwarzenegger told us he’d be back and we now know this wasn’t anywhere near his final role. His last pre-governorship vehicle was Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, followed by this cameo and a slightly bigger role in 2004’s Around The World In 80 Days, but since leaving office in the early 2010s, he’s very much returned to being a working actor, as we’ve discussed in a previous feature.
At the time, Welcome To The Jungle wasn’t a huge box-office performer, earning just $80.9 million on an $85m budget. Of course, Johnson has had bigger hits since, but in his movie-making heyday, Schwarzenegger could launch big original hits like Welcome To The Jungle on star power alone. By comparison, Johnson’s road to mega-stardom has had to hit the franchise waypoints of the 2010s along the way.
That’s not to denigrate Johnson’s obviously successful career track, because there’s surely a correlation between the upward box-office trends of dormant franchises like Fast & Furious and Jumanji around the time he entered the picture. He’s in a lot more movies per year than most A-Listers at his level and that shows no signs of slowing any time soon.
Looking ahead a little, we speculate that there will be more interest in next summer’s Black Adam with him headlining it than there usually would be for a lesser-known DC Comics character – that one’s been in some form of development since 2014, powered by his interest in the character, while other long-gestating DC films have fallen by the wayside. We’ll also see him in the delayed Disneyland adaptation Jungle Cruise this summer, but on the more original front, 2021 also has him fronting Netflix’s comedy thriller Red Notice, alongside Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot.
There’s a lot to be said for Johnson’s sheer force of personality and movie-star presence that he’s in that new Schwarzenegger position of bankability even though there really can’t be a new Schwarzenegger in the franchise-driven movie market. If the symbolic handover in Welcome To The Jungle is setting that up, it must be seen that he played for and got it, albeit by doing the franchise rounds and, well… having fun.
It’s become pat to joke about him also going into politics like Arnie did, but “Did President Johnson deserve better movie roles?” is a feature for another day. Until then, here’s that auspicious cameo in full:
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