The oncoming warm weather brings with it the summer blockbuster movie season, which with this day and age means a slew of action/CGI/special effects-packed superhero movies. These box office mainstays often provide a great excuse to spend a couple of hours in an ice-cold theater on some of the hottest days of the summer. It’s also a time to see which actors worked out obsessively to get ripped for their big screen superhero gigs and just how ludicrously jacked some of the previously buff guys got (this year, see Chris Pratt and the Rock, respectively.) In this list, we catalog some of the strongest superheroes in film history, along with the actors who trained meticulously to look the part.
Wait, the kinda chubby guy from Parks and Rec is a superhero now? Yup, Chris Pratt got just about as shredded as everyone else on this list in preparation for his leading role as Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he’ll be paired next to a raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper (really), among other characters. Expect to see a bit of a goofier lead than you’re used to, as Pratt has thrived in his career thus far playing oddball supporting characters in comedies, which helped director James Gunn pick him for the part. True to form, Pratt has joked about the hard work he’s put in, posting a shirtless photo of himself to Instagram last year saying, “Six months no beer. Kinda douchey to post this, but my brother made me.”
The Hulk’s strength and ability to destroy property, people, military vehicles, and what not while angry will never be in question, but what clinches the character a spot on the list is the original Lou Ferrigno portrayal of the Incredible Hulk. Ferrigno played the part in the original TV series that began in 1977, which led to several other Hulk movies and TV spots for him here and there through the ‘90s. The Mr. Olympia and classic World’s Strongest Man competitor never disappointed, always looking like a jacked-up, rage-filled, completely green mass of muscle before CGI fully took over for the actors about a decade ago. Yeah, the CGI Hulks of recent times look sleek, but it makes us miss vintage Ferrigno.
As Hugh Jackman approaches 15 years of portraying Wolverine in X-Men and related spinoff flicks, it makes you wonder whether he has some of the character’s immortality in him. Other X-Men actors and actresses are regularly switched out for younger rising stars, but Jackman has held strong, staying ripped at the age of 45, and admittedly, it’s tough to tell his 2000 version of Wolverine from the 2014 model (if anything, he’s more fit for the part now.) He definitely trains like a superhero. Last year, he mentioned that his preparation for filming entailed three-hour daily exercise sessions (with one day off a week) and a nutrition-packed 6,000 calories per day diet.
Bale, one of Hollywood’s body transformation masters, shook off any fans’ memories of schlubby, campy Adam West Batman episodes by getting lean and muscular for each of Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman installments between 2005 and ’12. Most impressively, Bale gained more than 60 pounds to play the role for the first time in Batman Begins, as his previous film had forced him to be an emaciated insomniac in The Machinist. He went from eating a can of tuna and an apple a day (really, that’s it) to gorging and training like a man possessed to get ready to be a jacked superhero—certainly not healthy or advisable, but you have to respect that kind of dedication.
Hemsworth has succeeded in playing superhero/Norse god Thor to such an extent that his name has become synonymous with the character and the regimented, disciplined workout/diet plan it takes for him to stay in godlike shape, which has recently been necessary due to Marvel’s demanding schedule for Thor sequels. In order to play a classic comic book hero based on ancient mythology, Hemsworth generally sticks to old-school bodybuilding techniques with plenty of old-fashioned weights, basic machines, and body-weight exercises. You can’t argue with the results—those arms are massive.
The badass vampire hunter got his own film series spanning the late '90s thru the early 2000s. A big contributing factor in Snipes' landing the spot was, of course, his steadfast dedication to health and fitness, from calisthenics to pilates to yoga. He particularly focused on boxing and martial arts, skills that helped him pull off believability in action scenes while getting him into peak physical condition for the original film and its sequels. Snipes has had a rough decade since the last Blade installment, going to jail for tax evasion for a few years, but expect to see him at his fighting weight again in the next Expendables movie.
If we’re talking about Superman, we can’t omit Christopher Reeve, who is likely to remain the most iconic portrayer of the character for years to come. Reeve underwent a considerable transformation for the role back in the late '70s, training with bodybuilder David Prowse and gaining more than 30 pounds of muscle on his tall, thin frame, reportedly increasing his bench press from a paltry 40 pounds to a robust 320. More recently, Henry Cavill may have one-upped the original, though, getting help from trainer Mark Twight (renowned for training the cast of 300) to push his body to the limit and really take on the physique of one of the most extensively gifted superheroes in the comic book world.
No body transformation to speak of here. The Rock has more or less been ready to play Hercules for years—this summer’s film was just his first opportunity. Still, he didn’t take the role of the son of Zeus lightly, obsessively cleaning up his diet for nearly half a year and arguably getting into the best shape of his life, a considerable achievement for a guy whose career has hinged on bodybuilding in different ways over the years, as he’s gone from prospective football player to pro wrestler to action movie star. During production, he got up at 4 a.m. each day to do 90-minute workouts just to maintain his demigod-like appearance, before proceeding into difficult, long days on set. The man is simply a machine.
Evans had to pack on muscle to his naturally skinny frame to play the part of Captain America in his solo and Avengers films over the past few years. He kept the cardio light and stuck to a protein-rich diet that complemented a demanding weight training schedule. Evans had to achieve a body that looked like it was made with the help of Super-Soldier Serum, and he’s had to stand tall next to the muscle-bound frames of Thor and the Hulk while being an Avenger. Not bad for one of the most reluctant blockbuster stars in superhero movie history.
In full-fledged animated films, there’s Mr. Incredible, also known as Bob Parr, the frustrated insurance adjuster/family man. He sneaks off to do freelance hero work to relive the glory days with his friends, but doesn’t truly get his mojo and strength back until he gets a full-time opportunity. He can throw footballs several miles, lift cars over his head with ease, and weight train with, well, trains. Definitely an inspiration for any guy who’s neglected exercise in recent times.
Michael B. Jordan is taking the big screen by storm with his versatility — he played shooting victim Oscar Grant in the critically acclaimed 2013 drama Fruitvale Station — and strong work ethic. In order to play The Human Torch in Fantastic Four, the 28-year-old bulked up, employing a regimen that was 80 percent diet/20 percent working out (h/t About.com).
Not only did Jordan have to work on his physique for this summer blockbuster, but he also stayed busy getting in shape this year for the “Rocky” spin-off, Creed, where the former plays fictional character Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis.