In 2011, before the release of the film that would give him a reputation as a "franchise savior" in Hollywood, Dwayne Johnson re-appeared on WWE television when he was announced as the host of WrestleMania 27.
The movie, Fast Five, was far from a lock to be a hit. It's predecessor had done very well at the box office despite being drubbed by critics, and it wasn't clear if the new installment would maintain Fast & Furious' popularity or if that film's success had been a blip on the radar, and the new installment was headed for Tokyo Drift-like numbers.
There was also no telling how The Rock would integrate with the existing ensemble cast, or how a guy who was becoming known for family films like The Game Plan would go over with the testosterone-driven fans of a series focused on racing and car culture.
The idea that appearing on the highest rated shows on cable television every week and at one of the largest pay-per-view (PPV) events of every year (itself promoted by the mainstream sports and entertainment press) can drive an entertainment career seems like a no-brainer now. But prior to The Most Electrifying Man in Sports and Entertainment actually doing it, no one was sure how wrestling fans would react to a part-timer who only showed up a few months out of the year, or how being actively affiliated with a ghetto of pop culture like pro wrestling would weigh on movie goers or executive's minds.
In hindsight, we can look back on rave reviews in two Fast films that made billions, and several pro wrestling PPVs that were purchased by millions of people - not to mention being named the highest grossing actor in Hollywood - to say that Johnson's wrestling and movie cross-promotion worked. It's impossible to quantify how much his presence on WWE screens effected the performance of movies as diverse as Snitch and GI Joe: Retaliation and vice versa, but we can definitely say that it didn't hurt.
Another safe bet would be that Dave Batista, just announced as returning to the sports entertainment conglomerate that brought him to fame, is trying to utilize Rocky's business plan, allegedly from Johnson's ex-wife and business manager Dany Garcia, to similar effect.
Names like Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar have followed The Rock as part-time main eventers in WWE. The majority of wrestling fans have accepted the concept and rewarded the performers and the company for it. Some won't be familiar with him, others won't be happy no matter what he does, but the sheer volume of internet chatter indicates that Batista's return to wrestling will generate a buzz.
Where he has no point of comparison other than Dwayne Johnson is in the film industry. Names like Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin have dabbled in B-level family or action films, but Batista is set to be featured in a summer blockbuster that will be marketed as a bridge between the third highest grossing film of all-time and its sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy probably won't do Fast & Furious 6 numbers, but it ain't Santa with Muscles.
Will a top-of-the-card run through WrestleMania 30 help GotG at the box office? More importantly, will it allow Team Batista to say to other movie producers that Big Dave's fans from the wrestling world were integral in getting it to those numbers?
As with Johnson, all we can say now is that it probably won't hurt. But Batista is certainly hoping that it will do a lot more than that. And if come August we look back and see record-setting buys for WrestleMania 30, 500 million dollars or more in Disney's coffers from Guardians and a couple of films in production with Dave Batista cast in a leading role, one thing we'll be able to point to will be The Rock re-appearing on Raw in February of 2011.