Since working together on 2016’s Central Intelligence—a (slightly) above average action-comedy, centering on the unlikely reunion of two high school classmates, one of whom is in the CIA—Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have become one of the most powerful, and most reliable, bromances in Hollywood. They josh each other about the pettiest things, like a fan who wore a t-shirt repping Johnson over Hart. They affectionately refer to each other with derisive nicknames (ala “Snack-Sized Denzel”). They comment on each other’s Instagrams with something like reckless abandon. They transpose each other’s faces onto their babies'. And unlike, say, the heady, quasi bromance between Seth Rogen and James Franco, and the pure, just-for-laughs bromance between Bravo mogul Andy Cohen and Grateful Dead dreamboat, John Mayer, the relationship between Hart and Johnson manages to feel both genuine and market-driven, played out on Instagram for personal enjoyment as much as professional gain.
The two’s friendly Instagram beef began in seriousness during the filming of Jumanji, the once dubious-seeming reboot that went on to rake in $962 million worldwide at the box office worldwide. (Hart and Johnson both played adult avatars of high school kids sucked into the video game, “Jumanji,” which is just about all I have to say about Jumanji.) Johnson posted a video in October 2016, wherein he pranks Hart with a giant fake spider.
That same month, Kevin Hart responded to one of The Rock’s famous motivational workout videos with one of his own. It’s a mocking yet self-effacing takedown befitting the stand-up.
Their feud continued into the international press tour for the movie—in front of the Eiffel Tower, behind the scenes at talk shows—becoming, in a way, an auxiliary form of marketing for the film, disguised as interpersonal ribbing. It has persevered, too, most notably after the birth of Johnson’s daughter in April, whose face he disturbingly, if hilariously, replaced with Hart’s, and when Hart chided Johnson for his wrestling crouch over his newly received star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In general, their “frenmity” is a real-life continuance of their on-screen personas: the big guy and the little dude; the muscle man and the comic relief. That their dynamic in both Central Intelligence and Jumanji so closely mirrors, at least in tone, that of their relationship on Instagram, is kind of the point: their social media content is like a trailer mixed with a reality show.
And whether or not the two work together, again—it seems likely, given their “brotherly chemistry,” onscreen and off—their Instagram bromance feels emblematic of both Hart and Johnson’s rise to prominence. Both are gifted, hard-working entertainers, to be sure; and yet equally integral to their success is their savvy brand management. Both have massive social media followings, ranking near the top of all celebrities (Johnson currently has 111 million Instagram followers, to Hart’s 61 million). Hart has lucrative partnerships with Nike, Tommy John, Mountain Dew and the NBA, all of which he touts with earnest zeal on his social channels; Johnson has a continued collaboration with Under Armor, the products from which he organically plugs via frequent Instagram workout vids. They are, or have been at one time, been the highest-paid comedian and highest-paid actor, respectively. Both skillfully cultivate a cult of personality on social media that boosts the appeal of their movies, thus enhancing the draw to their social media, and so on and so forth. More than perhaps any other movie stars of their generation, Hart and Johnson have embraced Instagram as a tool not just for connecting to fans, but marketing to those fans—often at the same time. They understand that the best press is not really press at all, but a seamless continuance of whatever else they’re doing.
This isn’t to say their posts are disingenuous. What’s central to their appeal is that they appear to genuinely love what they’re doing, and genuinely want you to love it, too (even if it’s Jumanji). Same goes for their bromance. While it may be mutually beneficial for the pair to drum up press—without blatantly drumming up press—their relationship only works insofar as it’s real. And there are some things, even in 2018, that you just can’t fake.