Over the years we’ve seen some incredible transformations from actors in preparation for upcoming roles. From Christian Bale for The Machinist to Robert De Niro for Raging Bull to Charlize Theron for Monster, we’ve seen actors lose weight, gain weight and gain ugly, all to play a part more convincingly. One of the most amazing transformations required of actors, especially with the proliferation of superheroes on film, is when they pack on large amounts of muscle. Over the last 20 years especially, we’ve seen actors get absolutely jacked in a short period of time and, no matter how many times we see it, we are blown away. What lengths do these men have to go to in order to get the build they desire? How many steroids were involved? How much muscle weight did they actually put on? These are the questions we’ve asked ourselves and plan to answer.
There are some actors, like Brad Pitt in Troy for example or Gerard Butler in 300, who put on what seemed like a crazy amount of muscle weight, but compared to the guys on this list, they’re lightweights, literally. The monsters on this list went crazy. Most of them don’t even look real, like CGI touched them up for the big screen. These men became the envy in their observers and they did it in an insanely short period of time. Here are the 15 actors with the most startling muscle gain for a movie role.
15. Hugh Jackman – The Wolverine in X-Men Franchise
When Hugh Jackman was first cast to play the Wolverine in X-Men, he believed that he could get in shape in three to four weeks. Unfortunately, he was wrong. This is why, in several of the scenes in that film, his build is kind of underwhelming, at least compared to how he looks in the later films. For every other Wolverine role, Jackman spent about six months getting into shape. During this stretch, he takes in about 6,000 calories, works out pretty much every day, sometimes two times a day and goes as hard as he can. Since the guy has to be practically naked every time he takes on the role and the character is known to be incredibly ripped, it’s no wonder he takes it so seriously. Nowadays, at over 40-years old, Jackman tries to stay in relatively good shape to make the transformation process a little easier on his bones.
14. Jamie Foxx – Any Given Sunday
When Jamie Foxx learned he was getting the role of football quarterback Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday, he hit the weights hard to gain as much muscle weight as he could. Before the shoot had begun, Foxx had gained a huge amount of weight, coming in at about 200 lbs total. When he showed up on set, the film team looked at him and asked him to actually cut some of his freshly gained weight, he was too heavy and bulky to believably play a quarterback. So he listened. Foxx cut 25 lbs off his weight but was able to keep almost all of the muscle. This made him look even better for the role because he was toned and still weighed a solid 175 lbs.
13. Jason Statham – The Transporter
Jason Statham grew up an athlete, so he knew how to train, he just didn’t particularly care about it. He didn’t care about his diet especially, until he got offered the starring role in The Transporter. Prior to that, Statham was not the action star he is today. When the opportunity to be one came knocking, he bulked up by hitting the gym much harder than ever before, eating properly and training with some mixed martial arts. This allowed Statham to position himself squarely in the action genre, able to perform many of his own stunts and look pretty believable in the various roles he plays.
12. Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler
To get into prime physical condition for The Wrestler, Mickey Rourke needed to start some intense training to stack on the muscle and keep a nice, controllable build. For the role, he gained 27 lbs of muscle and looked drastically more built than he ever had before, even in his youth. To do this, he said, “I got a really good Israeli trainer who made me pump iron and do the cardio for four months. Then we did two hours of weight training and cardio and two hours of wrestling practice. This is months before the film. By the time we shot the movie I was like, ‘This is the easy part.’ The other stuff was murder.” His diet consisted of about six to seven meals a day and whatever else it was that allowed him to gain that much muscle that quickly at the age of 56.
11. Jake Gyllenhaal – Southpaw
To go between his malnourished look in Nightcrawler to a believable boxing champion in Southpaw, Jake Gyllenhaal needed to train like a madman. Although he had bulked up before for his role in The Prince of Persia, Gyllenhaal had never done anything as intensive as this. He would say, “Honestly, I just trained like a boxer for five months. We shot the fights in the first two weeks of the movie, so I trained basically for five months up until those fights—we shot four fights in a row over roughly two weeks. But I basically trained how a professional boxer would train.” For roughly six hours a day, Gyllenhaal would train, but for him, the majority of his transformation came from his diet. As for his diet, Gyllenhaal said, “Nutritionally, it was 6-7 meals a day, eating every three hours or so—often to both fuel for my next session and to get my energy back up from the previous session.”
10. Edward Norton – American History X
To get jacked for his role as the reformed skinhead in American History X, Edward Norton had to increase his calorie and protein intake in a major way. Naturally quite skinny, Norton worked with the same trainer who worked with Linda Hamilton on the set of Terminator 2 to help him beef up. By the end of several months of six meals a day and intense workouts, Norton had gained about 35 lbs of muscle and looked absolutely cut. Compare that to the frail looking character he played a couple of years earlier in Primal Fear and it looks like two completely different people.
9. Christian Bale – Batman Begins
The craziest thing about Christian Bale‘s physique in Batman Begins is that the role followed his performance in The Machinist. Bale’s normal weight is about 180 lbs, which he dramatically cut down to 120 lbs in The Machinist to portray the anorexic insomniac. From that weight he needed to gain a crazy 100 lbs to play Batman in Batman Begins. Though it’s been reported that he did this in six weeks, it was actually about six months of preparation, which is still insane. Bale went about doing this simply; he kept an incredibly high protein diet and working out constantly, mainly core and resistance training. Since he had been in shape for several other roles, namely American Psycho, Bale’s body was quite responsive to the changes.
8. Chris Pratt – Guardians of the Galaxy
People like to imagine that Chris Pratt went from super doughy to super jacked in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is kind of true, but there’s more to it than that. Originally, Pratt was a little soft; he always carried extra weight around, but then he was asked to play a Navy Seal in Zero Dark Thirty, which required him to cut a lot of weight and tighten everything up a bit. After that he played an overweight lawyer in Delivery Man, for which he had to gain 60 lbs of fat. Then, for Guardians of the Galaxy, he needed to cut all of that extra weight and really bulk up with some muscle. For Pratt it was about smart eating, 4,000 clean calories a day and three to four hour workouts, which just sounds tiring.
7. Will Smith – Ali/I, Robot
Will Smith gained a lot of press for how much muscle he put on in preparation for his role as boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Ali. He trained for about six hours a day, five days a week, for months and got huge. Word has it that by the time they were finished filming, Smith was bench-pressing 370 lbs, more than double what he was doing before he started the training. Well, when it came time to film I, Robot, Smith went back to the same routine and got in even better shape, at least more ripped looking. He gained about 40 lbs of lean muscle for those roles and did it with a high protein and high carb diet. He would also run about 20 miles a week to stay in peak shape.
6. Ryan Reynolds – Blade Trinity
Ryan Reynolds has always been in shape, but it wasn’t until he really packed on the muscle for Blade Trinity that people began to take notice of his physique. To prepare for this role, he needed to consume about 3,200 calories per day and work out six days a week. He hired a personal trainer to help him get in shape and really gave it his all. He put on about 25 lbs of solid and toned muscle and showed the world the new him. From that point on Reynolds has been a mainstay in the comic book world, appearing in several different roles, most notably as Deadpool.
5. Tom Hardy – Warrior/The Dark Knight Rises
Tom Hardy has been known to put a lot into his physical transformations for roles. We knew he was capable of adding muscle because he did it back when he played Charlie Bronson in Bronson. Before he did The Dark Knight Rises, we saw him in The Warrior and he was ripped. He looked like he was in the prime condition for the role of Bane, but he came out and said he needed to put on another 30 lbs for the role. While his character in Warrior was cut, Bane needed to be larger, bulkier and bigger in every way. To accomplish this, Tom Hardy went about packing on as much size as he possibly could. While he looks mammoth in the role, he was carrying a lot of excess weight. Hardy had this to say about the build, “I pushed a lot of weight, I ate a lot and I didn’t do any cardio for about a year. So I ended up being really fat and now I am suffering the consequences. I have a big fat neck in it, yeah.”
4. Mark Wahlberg – Pain & Gain
Mark Wahlberg‘s seemingly been in good shape for a large part of his life. Back in the early 1990s, the guy was appearing in underwear ads and music videos with his shirt off, but he never bulked up extensively until he took the role in Pain & Gain. For seven straight weeks prior to filming, Wahlberg worked with heavy weights and almost no cardio. He ate 10 to 12 times per day and would end up gaining 40 lbs of muscle mass in that short period of time. Amazingly, Wahlberg said that had he planned it, he could have achieved putting on even more weight, but he had to cut a bit of it for Broken City, the film he shot prior to Pain & Gain.
3. Henry Cavill – Man of Steel
Coming off of filming Immortals, Henry Cavill was already cut, but he needed to be a lot more than that for his role as Superman in Man of Steel. For Cavill to get to his target size, he needed to workout nearly every day for six months. The actor said, “I’m training two-and-a-half hours a day, pushing my body beyond its normal limits, putting on a lot of muscle mass and just making myself look like Superman.” Working out with the team who trained the guys for 300, Cavill also took in a minimum of 5,000 calories a day of protein-rich foods. Since Cavill used to be a bigger fella, seriously he was, he didn’t need to concern himself much with weight gain as much as some actors do, but he had to put the right kind of weight on and be smart about his eating.
2. Chris Evans – Captain America
In between his two superhero roles in The Fantastic Four and Captain America, Chris Evans basically became a new person. Even though Evans was already in good shape, he needed to look like the perfect soldier, which meant bulking up but looking proportionate as well. In total, Evans gained about 15 lbs of muscle and focused on a completely balanced workout and diet. He cut his body fat down by about 33% and toned almost every muscle in his body, even his toes if you ask him. To sustain this growth, Evans would eat almost all day, high protein and clean calories. The end result is crazy. Evans looks exactly like the build that most men dream about but are too lazy to ever work toward.
1. Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Chris Hemsworth has always been a big guy and he’s a freak of nature. The 6’3 Australian already had a decent build going, but when he got the role of Thor, he prepared for a big transformation. He started looking at the comics and knew he was never going to reach the real size of the character, but the filmmakers urged him to get as big as he possibly could. So he did. In fact, he got too big for the part. The costume that they made for him wouldn’t even fit him when he first showed up. The team was happy with how much muscle he put on, but he was too thick, “too blocky” as Hemsworth put it. In total, he put on about 20 lbs of pure muscle, which is a lot considering his build already. He did that with months of heavy weights and clean proteins. Today, he keeps that build, for the most (though his role in Lost at Sea had him cut a lot of it) part, with a consistent workout. When he’s not shooting, he just cuts out a lot of the food, cutting down about 15 lbs for his normal resting weight.