Johnson was a college football player. In 1991, he was part of the University of Miami's national championship team. He later played for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League, and was cut two months into the 1995 season. This led to his decision to become a professional wrestler like his grandfather, Peter Maivia, and his father, Rocky Johnson. He gained mainstream fame as a wrestler in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), originally known as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), from 1996 to 2004, and was the first third-generation superstar in the company's history. Johnson was quickly given a push as a heroic character in the WWF, originally billed as "Rocky Maivia", and then as "The Rock". He would subsequently turn into a villain as a member of the Nation of Domination in 1997. Two years after he joined the WWF, Johnson won the WWF Championship, and became one of the most popular wrestlers within the company's history for his engaging interviews and promos.
Johnson won a total of 16 championships in WWF/E. This included nine World Heavyweight Championships (the WWF/E Championship seven times and the WCW/World Championship twice), two WWF Intercontinental Championships, and five times as co-holder of the WWF Tag Team Championships. He was the sixth WWF/E Triple Crown Champion, and the winner of the 2000 Royal Rumble.
Johnson's autobiography co-written with Joe Layden, The Rock Says..., was released in 2000. It debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller list, and remained on the list for several weeks. Johnson's first leading role as an actor was in The Scorpion King in 2002. For this film, he received the highest salary for an actor in his first starring role, earning $5.5 million. He has since appeared in several blockbuster movies such as The Rundown, Be Cool, Walking Tall, Gridiron Gang, The Game Plan, Get Smart, Race to Witch Mountain, Planet 51, Tooth Fairy, Doom, Why Did I Get Married Too?, The Other Guys, Faster, and most recently Fast Five starring opposite Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.