Has anyone ever received more praise for getting fat than Robert De Niro? In 1980, the method actor famously gained 60 pounds of flab by gorging himself on pancakes and milkshakes to play bloated ex-boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull. Nearly 30 years later, film buffs are still marveling at his man boobs.
Nothing against De Niro's amazing performance, but Men's Fitness has had enough of critics praising extra pounds. That's why we're paying tribute to 10 actors who worked their abs for their art — because it takes more effort to curl 80 pounds than it does to gain it.
10. Eli Roth in Inglourious Basterds
For his role as a Nazi's worst nightmare in Quentin Tarantino's fantastical World War II flick, the already physically fit Eli Roth needed to step up his game. His character — Sgt. Donnie "The Bear Jew" Donowitz, a Boston badass who disposes of SS officers with nothing more than a bloodstained Louisville Slugger — isn't the type of guy who would be caught anywhere near Crunch fitness. Instead of getting cut, Roth needed to bulk up. So the Massachusetts native headed home to Beantown, mastered the local accent, stuffed his face with steak, and hit the gym until he packed on 40 pounds of heavy muscle. If you've seen Roth swinging for the fences in the film, you know his dedication paid off.
9. Jason Statham in The Transporter
British actor Jason Statham didn't set out to be an action hero. Starting his career in Guy Ritchie gangster flicks like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the former championship diver was best known for playing skinny conmen before Hollywood came calling. So when he was cast as the world's most dangerous chauffeur in the 2002 martial arts flick The Transporter, the part-time model needed a physical overhaul. But instead of going the typical Hollywood route of hiring a personal trainer, Statham motivated himself, increasing his time in the gym and taking his interest in mixed martial arts to the next level. By the end of his intense training, Statham was so physically fit he was able to perform most of his own stunts in the film.
8. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
Here's the flipside to De Niro's Oscar-winning performance—before he gained the equivalent of a small child to play Jake LaMotta in his darkest, fattest hours, the New York native got completely shredded to play the Italian middleweight pugilist in his prime. But De Niro didn't just hit the treadmill to achieve this look. The GoodFellas star underwent a full-on training routine, working closely with the real-life LaMotta on every facet of a boxer's regiment. In fact, De Niro was so dedicated to becoming a convincing brawler, he actually competed in three organized bouts, winning two. LaMotta was so impressed with De Niro's dedication, he claimed the actor could have fought professionally if he wished.
7. Jamie Foxx in Any Given Sunday
Thanks to the Academy Award he nabbed for the 2006 Ray Charles biopic Ray, Jamie Foxx is no longer known as that scrawny dude from Booty Call. But the actor first showed his dedication to his craft in Oliver Stone's 1999 football flick Any Given Sunday. For his role as fictional quarterback Willie Beamen, Foxx hit the weights hard, bulking up to a solid 200 pounds. Then, the former MF cover model reported to football training camp and dropped 25 pounds as a result of the vigorous, real-life training. Luckily, the muscle remained and Foxx ended up with the kind of chiseled physique that looks even better on film. "It made me look bigger on the screen because I was tighter," Foxx told MF.
6. Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
To take on the role of washed-up grappler Randy "The Ram" Robinson in Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film, Mickey Rourke had to do a lot more than just bleach his hair and wear lime green tights. In order to convincingly portray the kind of guy who could hold his own against King Kong Bundy, the 55-year-old had to pack on nearly 30 pounds of lean muscle. Realizing this could be his comeback role, Rourke dedicated himself to the part, working out religiously and training with professional wrestler Afa the Wild Samoan for months prior to shooting. Rourke pulled it off and his impressive build not only added to the realism of the film, but helped him land a role as a villain in the upcoming Iron Man sequel.
5. Ryan Reynolds in Blade: Trinity
Much like Jamie Foxx, Ryan Reynolds was best known for a not-so-great sitcom (the poorly-titled Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place) before an eight pack turned his career around. When the relatively unknown actor was cast as a vampire hunter in the third film in the Blade trilogy, he knew he needed to do something to grab the audience's attention — after all, he was starring alongside Jessica Biel. So the Vancouver native began to train like a madman, doing everything from intense 3-hour daily workouts to a eating eight to 10 small meals a day. The result? Countless magazine covers, the leading role in the upcoming Green Lantern flick and a marriage to Scarlett Johansson. If that's not motivation to get into the gym, we don't know what is.
4. Edward Norton in American History X
Before he knocked audiences on their asses with American History X, Edward Norton wasn't much more than a solid actor with a bad haircut and few decent flicks under his belt. Then he stomped onto the screen as Derek Vinyard, a raging neo-Nazi skinhead with the kind of physically imposing look that would make most men cross the street. Norton didn't just have the cut biceps and chiseled chest of a typical Hollywood leading man, he looked like a guy who had spent some time lifting weights in the joint. So how did the scrawny Ivy Leaguer go from Yale grad to jail bird? A high protein diet mixed with strength-building exercises like squats and presses. If only Norton could've manned up like that in Fight Club.
3. Christian Bale in Batman Begins
Christian Bale's physique in this Batman revamp may not be the most spectacular on the list, but consider this — six months before playing the caped crusader, Bale weighed 120 pounds. Taking a page out of Robert De Niro's playbook, the Welsh actor had dropped over 60 pounds (mostly through a steady diet of coffee and apples) for his role as an emaciated insomniac in the psychological thriller The Machinist. When he landed the lead in Batman Begins, Bale only had half a year to get in shape. Wasting no time, Bale started a high protein diet while utilizing heavy core training, plyometrics and resistance training. By the time cameras were ready to roll, Bale had packed on 100 solid pounds. Ironically, director Christopher Nolan felt Bale had gotten too bulky and ordered him to drop 20 pounds.
2. Will Smith in Ali
If you're going to tell the story of the greatest professional boxer of all time, you have to do it right. Working with Sugar Ray Leonard's former fitness coach, Will Smith rose to the occasion, turning his 185-pound frame into 220-pounds of lean, sinewy muscle through grueling six-hour-a-day workouts and intensive weight training. At his peak physical condition during the filming of Ali, Smith was benching 350 pounds while moving with the agility of a skilled fighter. Through his focused training, the rapper-turned-actor ended up with a physique just as impressive as the former World Champion. And while the film garnered mixed reviews, Smith's performance was praised and the actor received an Oscar nomination.
1. Gerard Butler in 300
To portray King Leonidas, a Spartan warrior who disposes of thousands of hapless Persians while wearing little more than a Speedo and a cape, Scottish actor Gerard Butler needed a physique right out of a comic book. But the longtime smoker's body was far from loincloth worthy. Enter Mark Twight. Twight, a renowned mountain climber and conditioning coach, put Butler and his costars through hell for four grueling months. A small sample of their agonizing daily workout included non-stop sets of pullups, deadlifts, pushups and clean-and-jerks, coupled with unorthodox training methods like Olympic-style ring work and flipping gigantic tires. While Butler did most of his preparation with his co-stars, the 6-foot-2 star had to look even more chiseled than the 299 other shredded warriors who were standing behind him, so he would put in an extra workout after these training sessions. The results speak for themselves.