Sure, the actors who get into real-life shape to play superhuman characters deserve all the real attention, but when we’re watching our favorite action flicks, it’s the crazy fit characters that make us want to go and kick some ass.
Here’s our roundup of our favorite fit movie characters, whether they’re unlikely dorks who become superstar athletes, barely literate champions, bona-fide barbarians or regular guys who realize they’re not so regular.
David Dunn in Unbreakable, Bruce Willis (2000)
Bruce Willis plays a pretty soft-spoken character in Unbreakable, one of M. Night Shyamalan’s interesting early movies before he jumped the shark with crapfests like Lady in the Water and The Happening. Despite a lack of clever dialogue on David’s part, we’re curious right off the bat by his ability to survive a catastrophic train accident that killed everyone else on board but didn’t leave a scratch on him. The level of intrigue increases when he meets Elijah Price, a very serious comic book nerd with a bone disorder who tries to convince David that he has the strength to be a superhero.
While still in denial about his abilities, David puts his strength to the test at the encouragement of his son, finding that he can bench press every weight he owns and then some. Then there’s also this deleted scene in which he lifts even more in a college football training room:
King Leonidas in 300, Gerard Butler (2007)
Leonidas may have had the most perfectly sculpted features of any man in movie history, and although actor Gerard Butler worked his ass off to fit the role, he also had the benefit of getting all those muscles touched up in the editing room, where much of the movie was made. As king of a warrior nation whose men go to battle in underwear and capes—attire any historian or person with common sense would scoff at—Leonidas clearly had to be in absolute peak physical condition in terms of strength and aesthetics.
His rippling muscles help the 300 Spartans beast their way through days of battle and thousands of Persian soldiers, with plenty of crazy camera movement and switches between slow, fast and regular motion along the way.
Rocky, Sylvester Stallone (1976)
This award to Rocky, of course, goes for all the other Rocky movies as well, but the first one will always stand out as the original, the classic, before Rocky IV eventually set the bar for cheesy workout montages and the series was brought back in 2006 for a very unnecessary sixth installment. Sylvester Stallone, who wrote the script and demanded to star in it when it was picked up, treated the role as though he was actually training for the heavyweight title, which became a theme throughout his career, even when it wasn’t a Rocky sequel. The end result was what has often been lauded as the best sports movie of all time, as it realistically shows the commitment, struggles, skills and high levels of fitness that it takes to make it as a boxer. Rocky is tenacious and intense in his training, and definitely belongs among the fittest film characters of all time (and that can go for several other Stallone characters as well).
Babe in Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman (1976)
Unlike most entries on this list, Marathon Man’s Babe (Dustin Hoffman) is not here for his physical dominance or ludicrously ripped features. That said, he was quite lean and cut to fit right into the role. Babe is a grad student in New York City who is an avid long distance runner in his spare time. Not knowing anything about his brother’s role as a U.S. government agent, Babe ends up having to fend for himself in the middle of an intricate web of Nazi war criminals, government agents and double agents, not to mention local authorities who also get involved.
Babe is forced to run for his life at several points during the film, making use of the city landscape and his top-notch running skills to elude drivers chasing after him. In the end, he defies the odds and finds a way to outwit and outlast his enemies, like a true marathon runner who knows how to go the distance.
Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, Christian Bale (2000)
It’s old news that Christian Bale had to get ripped to play Batman, but we all know how fit that character is, and it’s, of course, been covered before.
However, an equally jacked version of Bale also turned up in the utterly insane form of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. A step away from most of the fittest film characters of all time, Bateman’s motivation to have a perfect body comes out of sheer self-absorption and narcissism (shown nicely by the hilarious list of skin care products he uses daily—not from natural ability, a desire to be in top fighting condition or even from hoping to be attractive to the opposite sex—although he clearly cares about looking good during sex in one of the film’s many memorable-but-completely-screwed-up scenes.
Bateman is deplorable on several levels, and we have little to like about his douchey Wall Street “friends” and acquaintances either. Still, the idea that a man with such conventionally perfect looks and seemingly perfect life could be drawn to such violent tendencies and hatred fascinates us and draws us in.
Wolverine (Wolverine and X-Men Films), Hugh Jackman (2009)
Wolverine – really not that great of a movie compared to the other X-Men films, but it still had plenty of action and featured the group’s most ripped member in the forefront. Pretty much every actor who snags a role as a movie superhero undergoes major training to fit the role they’ve been placed in, but as Wolverine, Hugh Jackman made sure to bulk up to the point where he looked half-man, half-beast—fitting right into the character.
Conan the Barbarian, Arnold Schwarzenegger (1982)
Bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to effectively break into the movie industry through his role as Conan the Barbarian. Much of Schwarzenegger’s ultimately successful film career hinged on the fact that he looked unbelievably similar to the novel cover illustrations that depicted Conan in years past, causing the producers of the film to track him down and get him on board. The filmmakers were so dedicated to having him on that director John Milius constantly worked on his speech, having Schwarzenegger rehearse lines dozens of times before takes in attempts to take his Austrian accent down a couple notches.
Regardless of “acting,” Schwarzenegger put in the work to look the part of a leading conqueror, effectively fitting the needs of the role. Conan’s main motivation throughout the film is vengeance, so there’s of course, plenty of action and violence, without too many stops for prolonged dialogue.
Tyler Durden in Fight Club, Brad Pitt (1999)
Tyler Durden represents everything the nameless protagonist (Edward Norton) wants to be, and his image certainly appeals to most male viewers who watch as well. He’s confident, witty, well spoken, intelligent and not afraid of anything. On top of that, he also has what a lot of guys see as the perfect body, plus he’s able to endlessly please a woman (Helena Bonham Carter) in the sack. Durden’s looks and way of going through life make him seem illusory throughout much of the film, often seeming too decisive and sure of himself to actually be a person.
In an interview about the movie, Norton noted that Brad Pitt increased his workouts and tanning while he ate less and less, making Pitt more and more ideal by comparison as the film went along. Durden gets on the list by representing the looks just about any guy would want to have, when for most, it simply isn’t possible.
Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks (1994)
Forrest Gump is underrated as a fitness freak in film history. Forrest paved his way to an active life by running his way out of the braces on his legs, making viewers wonder why they were there in the first place. His impressive running skills eventually land him a football scholarship at the University of Alabama, where he plays well enough to be named to the All-American team. After joining the army and going over to fight in the Vietnam War, he carries a bunch of his wounded buddies in the midst of a battle to safety before an American air strike comes down on them. After being injured in combat, he starts playing ping-pong and also happens to have enough skill at that to represent the country, playing it internationally. Then, finally, and possibly most impressively, he eventually decides to just constantly run for no reason, across the country and back several times, for “3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours” straight, stopping only to eat and sleep.
It’s all definitely farfetched (and there are way too many corny historical jokes along the way), but so are most movies. Forrest definitely goes down as one of the fittest movie characters ever.