Body image can affect quality of life, and unfortunately today a lot of us have unrealistic expectations. Typically this conversation tends to gravitate toward women, and that’s more than fair. Women in general are presented with far less fair images of the “ideal,” far more often. Still, it does happen to men as well – particularly in the movies.
As we’ve said before, there are healthy ways to deal with body image pressure. One way is simply to dedicate yourself to fitness a little bit – not so that you reach an “ideal” but just so that you gain some self-esteem from the effort. Another way to do it, however, is simply to take the pressure less seriously. In this case that means recognizing ludicrously jacked film characters for what they are: ludicrous.
We’ve put together a few examples just for fun – and for you to recognize the kinds of guys you don’t necessarily need to aspire to look like.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth)
It’s kind of the entire point of Thor that he be incredibly well built. Well, that and that he’s the god of thunder and the son of the all-father and all that. Nevertheless, we had a fairly clear idea of what Thor ought to look like well before Marvel started making superhero movies: tall, muscular, and ruggedly handsome, with long blonde hair and a hammer held proudly aloft. He’s basically like an action figure of ancient lore.
But who could have guessed that Marvel would find the closet thing to Thor on Earth to play the part? Chris Hemsworth was a relative unknown when he scored this role, and emerged looking like an illustration from an ancient book of mythology come to life. “Built like a god” is something of a cliché, but in this case it’s an accurate one. Hemsworth’s Thor presents an almost wholly unrealistic ideal image – at least for most guys.
Superman (Henry Cavill)
It’s incredibly how quickly superheroes become outdated. Look back at past versions of Superman, for instance, and you’ll be surprised how (relatively) unimpressive the characters’ physique is. Nowadays it’s easiest to catch a glimpse online; Playtech actually still has a game based on the 1978 Superman film. I point to this game because it describes the film as the greatest superhero flick ever made, which seems absurd when you look at the game’s own visuals. Superman (Christopher Reeve) looks more like a ‘70s dad dressing up as Superman for Halloween with his kids than he does the big budget superheroes of today.
Comparing these images to the Superman of today – the “Man of Steel” played by Henry Cavill in multiple DC/Warner Bros. projects – is actually a pretty good snapshot of what’s happened to the male “ideal” body image. Cavill looks like he was created in a lab to play Superman. He’s a giant muscle that happens to be able to deliver lines (albeit somewhat stiffly), and when he mashes into a building and breaks it to bits it actually doesn’t look unrealistic.
Luke Hobbs (The Rock/Dwayne Johnson)
Luke Hobbs isn’t quite the icon Thor or Superman is. For the most part that’s because he isn’t a superhero. But he is arguably The Rock’s most enduring acting role, and certainly his biggest franchise part. Luke Hobbs is the gigantic, tough-talking government agent who is frequently dispatched to hunt down and/or help the Fast & Furious crew in the Fast & Furious movies, and he’s an absolute titan of a character. We all know that The Rock is about the most comic book-level jacked human being on the planet – a new generation’s Arnold Schwarzenegger – but these are the movies in which he flaunts it the most.
Wolverine (Hugh Jackman)
It might not really seem like it at this point because he’s become a legitimate A-list star in Hollywood – but Hugh Jackman was something of a Hemsworth-like discovery when he emerged to take on the role of Wolverine 18 years ago. He may have had a little bit more of a reputation than Hemsworth, but he certainly wasn’t a star, and it’s not as if he was an obvious choice for Wolverine – just, as it turned out, a perfect one.
The portrayal of the Wolverine character in the X-Men films has been a little bit different than some of these other roles because he’s not a towering figure. That is to say, Thor, Superman, and Luke Hobbs are all tall in addition to looking like they were chiseled from marble in ancient Rome. Wolverine is more of a crouching, animal-like figure who happens to be bulging with muscle. In this regard, Jackman was the perfect man to take the role on. For nearly two decades in the role Jackman devoted himself to crazy fitness routines (you can find his workout videos online sometimes) to stay fit for the role, with the result that he looked almost like some kind of human-animal hybrid lost from the evolutionary chain.
King Leonidas (Gerard Butler)
Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas and the other Spartans in the film 300 were so incredibly ripped that there has been a years-long debate about whether their abs were digitally enhanced. The consensus seems to be that no, the abs weren’t completely invented by computers, but yes they were probably airbrushed to perfection, more or less. Even so, Butler got into crazy shape for the role, and computer effects or not, reset the bar for what “good abs” and a good physique look like. The film even popularized “Spartan workouts” among fans. The looks of the Spartans in this movie are borderline unattainable for men today, yet they do give us something to strive for.