In the world of comic books, artists often exaggerate the physical appearance of the characters they draw in order to make them look more heroic, villainous or imposing. In the early days of comic book superheroes, characters were given a moderate set of muscles, including biceps, a wide chest and modest-sized quads to fill out their legs. But boy how the times have changed. Starting in the late-60s and early-70s, artist began increasing the size of characters muscles, often to ridiculous proportions (see: Badrock, The Hulk, Colossus, or Juggernaut.)
Early movies and television shows depicting these characters started off much the same way. George Reeves and Adam West (while in completely respectable shape) were anything but physically imposing while portraying Superman and Batman in the early days. It wasn’t until The Incredible Hulk television series cast Mr. Universe Lou Ferrigno in the title role of the Green Goliath that superheroes began to look anything close to their comic book counterparts.
Still, it took a world-class bodybuilder for Hollywood to even think about bringing The Hulk to life, and not much was asked of Ferrigno in the way of acting. As Marvel, Sony, Fox Studios, and Warner Bros began investing some serious money into dozens of live-action comic book adaptations, they needed actual actors to fill those roles, but also needed them to better represent those characters on a physical level. These respected thespians were then asked to enter the world of personal trainers, customized diets, and lots and lots of weightlifting.
The actors we’ve chosen below, we feel, best represent a noticeable and impressive transformation in either muscle mass or muscle definition in order to play their comic book character. You’ll notice there are no actresses on this particular list. That’s not a slight to the talented women in Hollywood who train just as hard at getting into superhero shape but, studios often want the men to be bulky, while the women become more sleek and toned in appearance. We’ll follow up this list with a companion list featuring only those well-deserving actresses.
Let’s take a look at 15 Actors Who Got Physically Jacked To Play Superheroes (not ranked)…
15. Christian Bale – Batman/Bruce Wayne
While actors such as Adam West, Michael Keaton and George Clooney were able to don Batman’s cowl without adding very much in the way of muscle mass, Christian Bale changed the entire idea of what an in-shape superhero should look like. It’s not so much about how muscular and ripped Bale looks in various shirtless scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy – it’s the manner and speed in which he was able to get into that shape which is impressive.
Weighing it at just 121 pounds, Bale lost a staggering 63 pounds to film The Machinist, a film which required him to have an emaciated look. He had only six months to pack on enough weight in order to fill out the Bat suit properly before filming on Batman Begins began. Not only did he need to gain an extreme amount of weight, he had to do it while adding muscle but without adding body fat – not an easy task. Like a true champ, he nearly doubled his body weight by putting on 109 pounds, which ended up being more than Nolan wanted, so he had to lose 40 pounds before filming began.
14. Hugh Jackman – Wolverine/Logan
We recently talked about the workout regimen Hugh Jackman took on to get himself in shape to portray everyone’s favorite Canadian superhero, Wolverine – (read it HERE). He wasn’t out of shape by any means when he first had the adamantium claws shoot from his forearms, but he wasn’t, what you would call, in “superhero shape.” Besides growing his own lamb chop sideburns, the now 48 year old actor decided he also wanted to look more comic book-accurate on camera.
Since X-Men debuted in 2000, Jackman began working with personal trainer David Kingsbury to add muscle mass, while staying lean to appear more ripped in the rest of his X-Men movies. All that hard work has paid off, as fans can tell from his shirtless scenes in X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Wolverine and X-Men: Apocalypse.
13. Ben Affleck – Batman/Bruce Wayne
Ben Affleck has always been in excellent physical shape. Even on the set of Daredevil back in 2003, he was in peak physical condition. However, since Christian Bale essentially threw down the gauntlet on how Bruce Wayne and The Caped Crusader should appear physically, he felt the need to step it up a notch for Batman v Superman, Justice League and his upcoming Batman solo film. And step it up he did.
He started working with trainer Rehan Jalali once again (who helped him get in shape for The Town), and together they put together a workout and diet plan worthy of a superhero. Or course, Affleck was in the gym five to six days a week, sometimes twice a day, but the biggest thing he did to increase in size was called “wave-loading”. Basically, he would do multiple sets of an exercise while varying the weights and reps to engage different muscles and stimulate growth.
12. Chris Pratt – Star Lord/Peter Quill
Before he was the hunked-out, space travelling, universe saving Peter Quill from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Chris Pratt was Andy Dwyer: a pudgy goofball, who dove into pits, sang “1000 Candles in the Wind” and led a children’s television show using the name “Johnny Karate”. Pratt will be the first to tell you that while he wasn’t quite fat, before he was cast in Guardians, he certainly wasn’t in any type of shape to play a superhero.
The funny man took a break from his Parks and Recreation duties to get into shape and dropped 70 pounds for his role as Star Lord, even posting a picture of his progress on social media. He didn’t do it alone, though. Personal trainer Phil Goglia set him up with a customized diet that include no red meat (lean meat only), lots of fruits, veggies and nuts, a steady workout routine and absolutely no alcohol. You can watch him discuss what it takes to become a Marvel superhero on our YouTube channel HERE.
11. Stephen Amell – Green Arrow/Oliver Queen
It’s fairly well-known that actor Stephen Amell has always been into athletics and physical fitness. The Canadian actor grew up loving hockey, and regularly workouts and practices parkour with his cousin Robbie (a talented actor in his own right). Besides appearing on WWE Raw to participate in a tag team match with Neville against King Barrett and Stardust (which ended with Amell diving off the top rope onto his opponent), Amell has also made a recent bid to appear on NBC’s obstacle course reality competition show, American Ninja Warrior.
There are several videos of Amell working out on the brutal Salmon Ladder (a routine that has been showcased many times in the show Arrow), and because of his background with parkour, producers will let him perform many of his own (usually less-dangerous) stunts, such as the time he scaled a 10-foot fence and lept from a rooftop onto a truck below.
10. Charlie Cox – Daredevil/Matt Murdock
Charlie Cox has had a few notable roles in his relatively short acting career. While he shined as Tristan Thorn in Stardust and as Owen Sleater in Boardwalk Empire, neither of those roles required him to be in peak physical condition. All of that changed when he was cast as the blind lawyer/vigilante Matt Murdock, a.k.a. Daredevil. Producer Steven DeKnight told Cox they wanted him to be at 175 pounds for this role, and of course, he’d need to look the part as well.
Cox started his fitness journey weighing in at about 158 pounds, meaning he had to add on a significant amount of mass while staying lean. He did that by adding quite a bit of carbohydrates to his diet, which included eating plenty of chicken, broccoli, rice and pasta. He even added sweet potatoes to his daily protein shakes. During that time, he worked with trainer Naqam Washington to get his endurance up, and he took kickboxing classes to increase his fighting appearance.
9. Henry Cavill – Superman/Clark Kent
Because he draws his superhuman powers from the sun, Superman doesn’t necessarily need muscles, but because he’s a superhero, of course he’s going to have them. Even though previous actors who’ve portrayed Superman on screen weren’t necessarily busting their supersuits at the seams, a jacked-up Supes it was something director Zack Snyder thought would better fit the DCEU he kickstarted in Man of Steel. With Henry Cavill being 6’1″ and topping out at 170 pounds after Immortals, he had a lot of work to do in order to look like the Last Son of Krypton.
In order to better look like the comic book version of Superman, both in the suit and out of it, Cavill began training twice a day and consuming 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day – almost twice the normal amount. He couldn’t just add on mass though, and his trainer, Mark Twight, put him through a rigorous exercise program that included Olympic-level weightlifting routines. Even though he was filming The Man from U.N.C.L.E. before Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, he still had to stick with the same exercise program in order to maintain his Kryptonian-physique.
8. Chris Hemsworth – Thor
The only thing more daunting than portraying a comic book superhero has to be portraying a god who happens to be a comic book superhero. Chris Hemsworth was more than up for the challenge though when he got his first big break playing Thor in the Marvel-produced solo film. While not a thin man before filming, he, like most of the actors on this list, needed to put on some extra muscle mass. In fact, Hemsworth put on so much extra mass that his costume ended up not fitting when he reported for duty.
To get him into godlike shape, Hemsworth enlisted the help of personal trainer/ex-Navy SEAL Duffy Gaver (who also trained Scarlett Johansson for her role as Black Widow). With Gaver barking orders, Hemsworth packed on 25 pounds of muscle, primarily in his shoulders and back, to give a broader, sturdier look on camera. To achieve those results, Hemsworth did a lot of rowing-style exercises and increased his daily intake of chicken and red meat substantially.
7. Jai Courtney – Captain Boomerang/George Harkness
Jai Courtney was already pretty ripped for his role as Varro on the television series Spartacus: War of the Damned, but he lost much of that weight and physical presence for his role as Eric in the Divergent franchise and Kyle Reese in Terminator Genisys. So when it came time for him to suit up with his stuffed pink unicorn “Pinky” for Suicide Squad, he really needed to bulk up and get himself in prime supervillain condition.
Having lost over 25 pounds for Terminator Genisys, he set his focus on gaining weight and getting as ripped as possible. Not only did he put on 30 pounds of muscle, but he did it while maintaining an impressive low body fat percentage. Like others before him, Courtney enjoys doing his own stunts whenever possible and trained with fellow Squad members on a daily basis, including jiu-jitsu classes with Will Smith and weightlifting/sparring with Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez.
6. Chris Evans – Captain America/Steve Rogers
While a lot of actors are lucky to get tapped to play one superhero, Chris Evans has had the privilege of playing two: Johnny Storm (a.k.a., Human Torch) and Steve Rogers (a.k.a. Captain America). While he needed to be in good shape to portray the Human Torch in the first two Fantastic Four movies (those awful spandex suit didn’t hide a lot of imperfections), he really needed to add on plenty of muscle for Captain America: The First Avenger and subsequent MCU sequels. He was playing a man perceived to embody the male ideal, after all.
Unfortunately, unlike his onscreen counterpart, Evans couldn’t just hop into a capsule built by Howard Stark and inject Super Soldier Serum into his veins to aid in his transformation. Evans had to put on 30 pounds of pure muscle for his role the hard way, and he did it by working out until he “was puking at the gym.” His workout routine consisted of nothing fancy, mainly weighted-exercises and, oddly enough, very little cardio (which would have burned off the mass he was trying to put on). Instead, he incorporated circuit training.
5. Tom Hardy – Bane
From a Jean Luc Picard clone in Star Trek: Nemesis, to a gang member called Handsome Bob in British crime/comedy film RocknRolla, to a former Marine-turned-MMA fighter Tommy Riordan in Warrior, Tom Hardy has changed his body type to fit the multitude of roles he’s held over the last decade or so. But even coming off of the MMA flick Warrior, which had Hardy in phenomenal shape, he still needed to bulk up to play the supervillain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.
It would take more than just looking like an MMA fighter though to break the Batman’s back, so Hardy’s personal trainers increased his daily caloric intake to roughly 6000 calories and put him on a ridiculous workout regimen that had him in the gym four times a day – even right before bedtime. Hardy’s main goal was to add bulk while keeping muscle definition, with additional focus given to his back, shoulders and neck.
4. Mike Colter – Luke Cage
Many avid movie fans may recognize 38-year old Mike Colter as the actor who portrayed the boxer “Big” Willie Little opposite Hilary Swank in Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby. They may also recognize him as the buffed up Spartan, Jameson Locke, in the Halo: Nightfall miniseries. However, as in shape as Colter was to play a boxer and a soldier, he needed to be in even better shape to look like the superhero Luke Cage on Marvel’s latest series on Netflix.
To aid him on his quest to become an imposing bar owner on Jessica Jones, the 6’3″ Colter increased the amount of protein he was eating a day to the tune of 1 gram for every pound of body weight. Adding all that extra food is meaningless, however, if he wasn’t going to be in the gym pumping iron, which meant he was in it a lot. To increase his chest size dramatically, Colter opted to used dumbbell presses instead of the standard bar bench press. The results speak for themselves.
3. David Ramsey – Spartan/John Diggle
David Ramsey has been in Hollywood since he was a child, but was mostly cast in bit roles and low budget made-for-TV movies. That is, until he snagged a recurring roles in hit series like Dexter, Outlaw, and Blue Bloods. However, none of those roles properly prepared him to play Oliver Queen’s bodyguard-turned-ally, John Diggle, a.k.a. Spartan. To keep up with Arrow co-star Stephen Amell, Ramsey starting eating 5000 calories a day, but he has to be in the gym every day.
The 43 year-old Ramsey has always been athletic, having trained in Jeet Kune Do for years (a martial arts style developed by Bruce Lee) and becoming very skilled in the discipline. He first started lifting weights regularly after landing the role as Muhammad Ali in the TV movie Ali: An American Hero, but he really started taking it to a different level for Arrow. By using pyramid sets, forced reps and drop sets, Ramsey takes a no-nonsense approach to working out, choosing to stick with the basics.
2. Ryan Reynolds – Blade: Trinity/Hannibal King
Fan favorite Ryan Reynolds hasn’t always had the chiseled, sculpted look he’s had on display the last few years. The funnyman admits that before superhero movies, he was living his life closer to that of his onscreen counterpart, Van Wilder. It wasn’t until being cast as Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity that he started taking working out seriously. Even though he was in fantastic shape for that movie, he had to not only maintain that look but continue to increase his size for Green Lantern and a double shot of Deadpool.
While he originally packed on the muscle by increasing his calorie intake with lots of protein, at 39 years old, he’s more focused on staying limber by using plyometrics and kickboxing to keep from getting hurt while filming stunts for Deadpool. For Green Lantern, Reynolds worked with personal trainer Bobby Strom for an entire year to once again get into superhero shape (which makes it even more baffling why producers elected to use a CGI suit for his costume.)
1. Manu Bennett – Deathstroke/Slade Wilson
Manu Bennett started acting later in life than most people in Hollywood, but the 47 year old actor has been in decent-to-great shape for all of it. He really got into peak form for his stint as Crixus, Champion of Capua, on Spartacus: War of the Damned, but had to prepare in a slightly different way for his role as Oliver Queen’s trainer/ally-turned-assassin Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke for the television show Arrow.
Unlike other actors on this list, Bennett couldn’t benefit directly from weightlifting due to sword swinging-related shoulder issues he acquired from his time on Spartacus. Instead, he focused on shaping his muscles by using swimming, rowing and lots of yoga in order to give them better definition in front of the camera. In addition, he also did quite a bit of what he calls, “punching workouts”. All of this helped his shoulders heal while maintaining the level of physical fitness he was at currently.
Sebastian Stan – Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes – Stan used a combination of aero-boxing and weightlifting to stay lean and muscular for his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Jason Momoa – Aquaman/Arthur Curry – Already in jacked shape for his time on Game of Thrones and as Conan, Momoa is steadily increasing his arm size for a slate of Justice League movies.
Brandon Routh – The Atom/Ray Palmer – Routh has stayed in superhero shape for most of his career, which suited him well as Superman in 2006, and starts each day with Bulletproof Coffee.
Anthony Mackie – The Falcon/Sam Wilson – Having already bulked up tremendously to co-star in Pain & Gain, Mackie was more than ready to flex his muscles as Captain America’s partner.
Paul Rudd – Ant-Man/Scott Lang – You can’t tell it by looking at him, but Rudd is 47 years young, and the comedic actor worked hard at developing his “Marvel abs” for his first superhero role.
J.K. Simmons – Jim Gordon – Though he didn’t put on all those muscles for his role as upcoming role in the DCEU (he did it for his own personal satisfaction), Simmons will no doubt be the most jacked Commissioner Gordon ever seen on screen.
Which actor transformation did you find to be the most impressive? Were their any transformations that you feel belong on our list? Let us know in the comments.
She-Hulk art by Joe Jusko.