It might seem pretty reasonable to think that every single Marvel superhero is pretty damn jacked and the actor playing them must also, obviously, be in pretty good shape. For the most part, it is true that the actors playing these super roles are at least in pretty good shape. They have to be fit in order to make it through the shoot days and the ridiculous schedules they have to follow.
That being said, there is certainly a difference between being in shape and tough. And that is where this little piece comes in. There are probably a decent number of actors who you assumed, quite rightly, would be pretty tough in real life. Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pratt...this list does go on. But there are some you might assume to be tough like Scar Jo and Jeremy Renner who actually just aren't. Not to mention those actors you figured weren't all that tough like Patrick Stewart and Paul Bettany who really are tough!
No matter which way you look at it, the chances are that you will be at least somewhat surprised by some of these actors and how tough they are in real life as compared to their superhero roles. So, let's dig into it and see what these 24 Marvel superhero actors are really like!
24 Tough - Tom Holland
Alright, let's be fair here. It's not like Tom Holland is jacked by any stretch of the imagination. He's just a pretty toned guy. He's also a pretty tiny guy so you wouldn't exactly expect it to be too difficult for him to get the tone he wanted for the role of Spider-Man. That being said, he's definitely not the most active guy in the world. His whole workout process was basically a way for him to get around having to work out all that much. How could he "work out" without actually doing a full-blown workout? Well, he used something called Electronic Muscle Stimulation.
If that sounds to you like it means he was strapped into a machine and his muscles were able to be formed into the toned body he now has...well, you'd be correct. That is exactly what Electronic Muscle Stimulation means. Now, sure, it's pretty lazy of him to do this instead of a normal workout but I think it tells you one pretty important thing here. He is definitely not a pushover either. He's pretty tough to subject himself to shock treatment in order to tone for a role. Apparently, according to his trainer, he almost couldn't walk after the first number of sessions.
23 Softie - Scarlett Johansson
This might surprise some of you but Scar Jo is not actually all that tough. I mean…you didn’t actually think that she did most of the moves that you see her do in the films, did you? An awful lot of that is computer generated and in addition to that, a lot of the action is also done by stunt doubles. And that makes total sense.
Sure Scar Jo might do some of her moves but why would she really want to risk her career by doing some crazy, break-neck work? I’m not saying that she is in the wrong here. I’m just saying that she’s not all that tough in real life. At least, nowhere near as tough as her Black Widow character. I guess that should be expected though. Most of these actors aren’t going to be quite as tough as their superhero counterparts. Though, she is pretty tough in her own way I guess. She gives a lot of support to Oxfam and USA Harvest in order to help feed those in need. So, in a way, I guess she is still sort of a superhero to a lot of people in a much more meaningful way than Black Widow.
22 Tough - Tessa Thompson
"I gained about 15 pounds of muscle mass"...that's what Tessa Thompson had to say about her workouts while training to play the role of Valkyrie. And it's not like she doesn't look like she could kick some serious tail. Considering that she is an ally of Thor, it would be pretty pathetic if you just had a tiny girl fighting next to this giant man like Chris Hemsworth. I mean, it would be funny but Valkyrie is not exactly a character who was ever a tiny person in comparison to Thor. She was pretty well on par.
Of course, in the comics, she was made to look a whole lot more voluptuous as well simply because that is the way that comic artists have historically portrayed female superheroes, but I think Thompson does a pretty darn good job of showing off what she's done for her character without it being all about something naughty. "Yeah, I found that sort of essential, that not really caring about how I looked, but caring more about how I felt. I felt so strong, and in my skin." I'd say that is a pretty good attitude to work with when tackling such a well-known and powerful character as Valkyrie.
21 Softie - Robert Downey Jr.
Alright, let’s all be honest here. It’s not exactly like Robert Downey Jr is a slouch. He’s a pretty fit guy. And he’s had to be, given the roles he’s had. Now, it’s not like he’s forced to jack himself up a ton like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans. In reality, RDJ didn’t really need to do much other than look good in a suit. And I mean an actual suit, not the Iron Man suit. And speaking of that Iron Man suit, that is the exact reason why RDJ has never needed that sort of physical intensity. So much of his character is done in CGI. Given that, it makes it pretty easy to not need to be too in-shape.
I mean, he doesn’t have to look like a god or anything. He’s not Chris Hemsworth. The joys of being a playboy, millionaire philanthropist is that ability to do what you want. And that is pretty well what Robert Downey Jr. is in real life anyway so it really does work out. When he’s not making more money than everyone else in the Avengers series, he’s out doing charity work rather than pumping the iron. I think that’s a better way to spend time anyway.
20 Tough - Paul Bettany
For someone who calls himself a "beer and bread" guy, Paul Bettany is actually a pretty tough sort of guy. And considering that he only played a voice in the Marvel universe up until The Age of Ultron where he was upgraded to an almost completely computer-generated character, I think it's amazing that he is as tough as he is.
Of course, Bettany toughening himself up had nothing to do with any of the Marvel movies that he has been a part of. It almost solely had to do with his work on the film Legion where he played the archangel, Michael. I think what makes Paul Bettany tough more than just the fact that he went out of his way to build a superhero look for a film is the way in which he lost that superhero look right after for another film. After playing the role of Michael in Legion, he went on to play the role of Darwin in the biopic Creation. "Eating whatever I wanted all day long was fantastic for the first couple of weeks, but then it became a slog to stuff myself all the time. I had to do it though – Darwin couldn't look like he'd hit the gym." I can't imagine having to take on those two extremes!
19 Softie - Tobey Maguire
Alright, sure, Tobey Maguire has got some cut to him. But he is by no means a very tough guy. I’ve taken a look at his workout routine and I have to say that his regular Monday training is nothing compared to some of the cycling and canoeing trips I do. So, I mean, I guess people found him cute as Spider-Man and that worked for him but surely no one found him to be tough. And realistically, they really shouldn’t find Spider-Man to be tough.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the actors themselves can’t be tough but if you’re just doing one hour of cardio and one or two hours of weight training every Monday…that’s really not going to make you a tough guy. It’ll keep you relatively fit depending on how you spend the rest of your week but don’t think for a second that that’s what will make you a fierce and tough guy like Hugh Jackman. And it doesn’t matter if you’ve hired the same trainer as Brad Pitt. If you’re not going headlong into the work, you’re not going to get that Adonis-like shape. And I have to say that I was at least happy that Tobey Maguire wasn’t jacked. That would have ruined his version of Spider-Man more than his acting ever did.
18 Tough - Patrick Stewart
"It wasn’t the abs I was thinking of showing,” Patrick Stewart had to explain to ET. “The pink shorts, the pink beach shoes and the pink cocktail I had in one hand — I was colour coordinated and that was what it was really about.” This response from Stewart was due to the incredible amount of attention that the above photo got thanks to how damn fit Sir Patrick Stewart looks. That's not too shabby, I'd say.
Of course, it's far more hilarious to know that so many people got very into this "fitness" photo when all Stewart was doing was showing off how his shoes, shorts, and drink were all pink. That being said, since this article is about who is tough and who is not in the Marvel universe, we may as well tough on exactly how Patrick Stewart, at his age, has managed to stay so bloody well fit. And it is actually a pretty darn simple answer...pushups. That's it. According to Stewart, the secret to his abs and his arms is pushups. I don't think that's too bad for a man who is now about 77 years old.
17 Softie - Samuel L. Jackson
Surprise, surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is not really much of a tough guy at all. Now, he might talk tough in his famous roles, like in Pulp Fiction or Die Hard With A Vengeance or the Star Wars prequels, or even just each and every Marvel movie that he has been a big part of now in the role of Nick Fury. But that’s nothing. That’s just talk. And you’ll notice that, pretty well in all of those roles, with the exception of a little bit of lightsabre work, Jackson has really not been a physically active guy in film. And that’s totally fine.
That is not to say that he’s an awful person because he’s not tough. He’s an amazing actor. And he’s hilarious. And he really does seem like a pretty stand-up person to have on your side, if you ask me. He’s spent a ton of his own time and money helping the people of South Africa with both their civil rights as well as their health. Having achieved a great deal of success with this charity, it really does seem like it doesn’t matter that Jackson plays tough. He’s really just a wonderful guy who has the money to spend on helping people. And actually does help people.
16 Tough - Josh Brolin
This guy is unbelievable. Josh Brolin, considering how intense he looks on any given regular day, is pretty jacked. And I don’t mean jacked like his computer-generated portrayal of Thanos. I mean he is actually, in real life, physically jacked. This is all thanks to him being cast in the role of Cable for the second Deadpool movie. Sure, Thanos was completely computer generated but Cable is not. Yeah, one of his arms is CGI still but that other arm is definitely real and he is definitely ripped. How did he achieve this?
Well, all he really did was gather up all of his favourite panels from Cable comics and then he sent them on to his trainer. And pumping the iron with his trainer, through honest hard work, he managed to get jacked for this role. I’d say that’s a tough guy. Sure, he might have been pretty fit before this role but I can guarantee that he was not ripped like this previously. And to go out of his way to get that jacked for this role…well, he must be getting paid a lot and he must be pretty damn tough too. I think you would agree.
15 Softie - Tom Hiddleston
"People would be so extraordinarily rude that it made me decide that I would never be rude in my life, specifically to people who were kind enough to serve me things." Now, that doesn’t sound like much of a tough guy to me. And it’s true. Tom Hiddleston is really not much of a tough guy. And he doesn’t need to be. Loki is not a big powerhouse sort of character. He is pretty well the opposite. He is what Thor isn’t. And that works perfectly for him. Besides, he is far too busy with having so much class that he hardly needs to buff up or act all tough to get anywhere in life. Just look at this guy!
Sure, he might play a wicked villain, but even the way he approaches the character of Loki isn’t particularly tough by any stretch of the imagination. And I think it is best kept that way. He really knows how to get by in life without having to show off and puff out his chest and he doesn’t need to post photos of him getting ripped all the time. I personally think that is one of the great things about Hiddleston. He is an important part of the MCU but he is a sweet man underneath that villainous character. And that’s pretty awesome.
14 Tough - Hugh Jackman
Make no mistake whatsoever here. Hugh Jackman is…well, he’s pretty jacked. I think he is probably one of the most built and well-trimmed actors in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, Chris Hemsworth is up there but considering how much older Hugh Jackman is…he is way more impressive than Thor. And who here could really picture Wolverine being played by anyone else now. Even if you don’t like all of the films with Wolverine in them, you can’t help but picture Hugh Jackman. And he has gone out of his way to really make himself look like the definitive Wolverine for fans.
When he was contracted to play the character for so many films, he would only sleep maybe five hours each and every night so that he could get all of his workouts done and still be able to carry on with his day. That’s pretty crazy, I think, but I bet he slept like a rock when he did go so at least there was heavy deep sleep to be had (I hope). Jackman is probably the first of all the guys on this list to really work up a body like his in order to play one of the most iconic Marvel superheroes. He is one tough cookie.
13 Softie - Ryan Reynolds
Now, do not get me wrong here. I know that there are plenty of you out there who probably find that Ryan Reynolds is extremely fit and extremely hot. Well, I won’t deny that he is at least pretty damn fit. But is he tough? Is he actually tough? I mean, yes, he has muscle and good for him for that. But he doesn’t spend his time trying to drop fat and keep that muscle. He’s just a healthy guy with a good metabolism and a relatively regular workout schedule. But he doesn’t spend a ton of time worrying about that body image. He got his role as Deadpool because of his humour. That is for sure.
I mean, most of his kickass stuff is all computer generated anyway so what difference would it make how fit Reynolds is anyway? He’d rather spend his time with the LetsFCancer charity. And that is a pretty admirable undertaking for him. He’s even got his own pink Deadpool suit to use for supporting the charity. He just has to be cool and funny to get his way. And he gets his way pretty damn easily. How many other people can brag that they’ve played two different versions of Deadpool and got to make fun of one while shooting the other?
12 Tough - Chris Pratt
Well, if you needed any sort of proof that Chris Pratt was actually a pretty damn tough guy, then look no further than the photo here. You may recall that Chris Pratt was a regular character on the show Parks and Rec and he was a pretty chubby guy. I mean…he was chunky. But he changed things pretty damn quick when he landed his role for Starlord in Guardians of the Galaxy. And he didn’t even have to. The director of the film actually told Pratt that he didn’t need to worry about being jacked for the role. But I guess Pratt didn’t think it was a good idea to look like Seth Rogan as a superhero so he put himself out there to get the ripped body he has now. And I’m sure that helped him land the job for Jurassic World as well.
I’m guessing that Hollywood didn’t want to cast a pudgy guy for the role of a velociraptor trainer. He was so intensely devoted to his training for Guardians of the Galaxy that he managed to lose a staggering 60 lbs in only 6 months. I cannot even imagine what it took in order to get into the shape he’s in now. If you don’t think that’s a tough guy…then I don’t know what more to say.
11 Softie - Mark Ruffalo
I’m pretty sure you don’t actually have to go any further beyond this photo to know that Mark Ruffalo is not a very tough guy. Sure, he might play the Hulk and that is a pretty bulky and brutish character but obviously, we all know that Ruffalo only has to do the motion capture stuff for that character and definitely does not play the Hulk in the same way that Lou Ferrigno did. Of course, Ruffalo is not near as big or as fit a man as Lou was. And that’s fine. With Mo-Cap and CG, he doesn’t have to be a big or a fit guy. Not by any means. And it is clear that he is in no way a tough guy.
Even when he’s just playing the slightly agitated Bruce Banner, he looks like he could do no harm. And that is part of the character’s charm, for sure. He’s just a cute, pudgy guy who is really awkward, but obviously when he freaks out, run for the hills. In real life though, he prefers to expend his money and not his muscle in order to help right wrongs in the country. It’s neat to see that most of the tough guys in this article don’t really have time for others.
10 Tough - Chris Hemsworth
Now, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Chris Hemsworth is a tough, TOUGH cookie. I mean…just look at this photo. It’s crazy. I mean, it makes sense considering that he’s playing the God of Thunder! I guess you’d want to have a pretty solid physique. An Adonis-like physique. This guy has always been pretty fit, to be sure, but when he landed the role of Thor he basically went berserk on the workout regimen. His routine would include kickboxing, curls and chest workouts and a metric ton of cardio. And I guess you’d have to in order to get into the shape of the Norse god. I mean, if you’ve ever looked at the comic book versions of Thor…well, he is no small guy by any stretch of the imagination. That’s for sure!
He’s got a ripped body that is obviously unrealistic but Hemsworth does a pretty damn good job of matching it. And all of his fans know just how hard he’s worked for this body because all he does on Instagram is post photos of himself getting more and more ripped for his role. It might seem a little vain, but at least he’s really working hard for his money and his fans.
9 Softie - Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch is a master actor, to be sure. And that is really all he needs. Especially since, at least in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he simply plays a doctor…to be fair, he plays a doctor who has some pretty strange abilities (if you’ll pardon the pun) but that doesn’t mean he has to be jacked or at all tough. And even the character of Dr. Strange, much like the real-life Benedict Cumberbatch, is by no means a tough guy. He’s more awkward than anything. And much like the rest of the people who have time to spare while not getting ripped, Cumberbatch has done plenty of charity work in his time. So much so that he has even earned the Commander of the Order of the British Empire honor.
Which is kind of amusing since there is no longer a British Empire but if they want to still give honors and awards to remember the good ‘ol days…good for them. Either way, the Queen presented Cumberbatch with this honor back in 2015 and even though that is the case, I think people still hardly know about his work outside of the MCU, to be totally honest. But he doesn’t need to show off. He’s already amazing.
8 Tough - Chris Evans
It should be no shock to anyone at all that Chris Evans falls under the “tough” category in this article. Sure, he might have looked pretty small and lanky at the outset of the very first Captain American movie, Captain American: The First Avenger, but rest assured that was not Chris Evans body. That was someone else’s body with Evans’ head superimposed onto it. Evans didn’t have a whole lot of prep time from the casting decision on Cap 1 to the actual shooting of the film. In just several months, Chris Evans made himself look like a bloody super-charged superhero.
Basically, he went out of his way to do intensive weight training for a bunch of hours each and every day. And, apparently, his menu is pretty terrible in order to keep that physique. Which is strange to me because so many really jacked people eat tons of awesome food all the time in order to maintain their look. But not Evans…and he’s been on the same diet and exercise regimen as Captain American for nearly a decade now. That’s a pretty tough thing to do if you ask me. I wouldn’t be able to go through all of that and not enjoy some whiskey and junk food every so often. I feel for the guy.
7 Softie - Ian McKellan
“I’m very proud of my small contributions to changing the law in this country and changing attitudes, all for the better. And I suppose in the scheme of things that is more important and the more merit and longer lasting than any acting that I have done.” These are the words of Ian McKellen. One of the most superior and master actors in the business today. And yet, he cares little of his acting work in comparison to what he has done for people in his home country of England. That’s wonderful. This is a well-meaning actor who has always been rather gentle, even if he’s pulling apart a bridge with his magnetic powers or wielding a sword and staff while killing orcs in The Lord of The Rings.
I think there is something wonderful about this man that being tough would actually ruin. It’s great to know that there are gentle people out there like McKellan who will stand by their convictions but don’t need to get tough in order to get things done. He might play an amazingly badass version of Magneto, but he doesn’t need to look superhuman in order to play superhuman. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
6 Tough - Chadwick Boseman
Here’s the thing about Chadwick Boseman. He is so tough that when he landed the role as the Black Panther for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he didn’t really have to do much work at all. He was already pretty jacked. His muscles were worked and tight and he made that Black Panther suit look pretty good. And why is it that he was already so jacked? Was it because he was a fitness nut who was addicted to pumping iron? Nope. That actually has nothing to do with it. It has much more to do with two previous roles he had in the film industry before taking up the mantle of the Black Panther.
He had to bulk up for the sports movie 42 where he played the role of Jacki Robinson, in order to be built like a linebacker. And then, on top of that, he landed the role of James Brown in the film Get On Up which required him to dance for eight hours every single day! I don’t know if you know what that’s like but there is a reason that dance classes don’t usually go over an hour or two. He would dance for eight hours in order to be able to dance like the legendary James Brown…so he was perfectly fit and ready to tough out the role of Black Panther long before he was offered the role.
5 Softie - James McAvoy
Alright, first of all, let’s all agree that this is a pretty ridiculous photo of James McAvoy. I mean…it is a pretty ridiculous photo, right? Those pants are just silly. But hey, McAvoy is a great actor and that’s all that should matter to us since that’s all we really care about, for the most part. And it seems like people don’t really care that he is not a particularly tough character either. I mean…he plays Professor X. It’s not like he’s moving anywhere in a hurry once he lands himself in that chair. So there is that. And beyond that, the other characters he’s played seem to mostly require him to be slim and kind of gangly. And no matter which way you look at it, he plays these roles well.
Beyond that, McAvoy doesn’t really have much time to get jacked anyway. He’s too busy base jumping off of hospital buildings in order to raise awareness and money for charity. Which is pretty intense. So, I guess in some ways he is kind of tough…but certainly not in the way that most people would think. Again, it’s not like he’s Thor wandering around all over the place, flexing his muscles.
4 Tough - Anthony Mackie
Well, this guy knows what’s up. Anthony Mackie has had a pretty realistic view of staying fit for a long time. I mean, it’s no secret to anyone that working in Hollywood is, first and foremost, before any acting ability comes into play, a visual medium. That’s it. Case closed. If you don’t have the look, you don’t have the job. It’s different with theatre and tv and film elsewhere in the world, but not when it comes to American tv and film. There is a look people expect, and they had better get it. We’d like to think that’s changing these days…but it’s going to take a long time to change that.
Given that, Mackie has been into fitness and keeping trim for a long time before he was ever thrown into the cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Every now and then you take a role where you can eat po’boys and drink all day,” says Mackie. “I’m at that age now, mid-30s, where, if you put [weight] on, it’s most likely going to stay with you forever.” That’s a scary thought…I’m not all that far away from my mid-30s. I suppose I’ll have to go out of my way to get a little more fit myself…before it’s too late. But can I be as tough as Mackie?
3 Softie - Jeremy Renner
You can plainly see here that Jeremy Renner isn’t too chubby or out of shape. He’s in pretty good form. But he’s by no means ripped. He’s not a very particularly tough guy. He might have a wicked attitude sometimes and he might get on a lot of people’s nerves but he’s not really got the chop to back up his talk. And Renner doesn’t have to be ripped for his role of Hawkeye. All he needs to be do is be able to hold a bow and shoot an arrow convincingly. And a lot of that is CG anyway so even that hardly matters. And let’s be honest, not many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe fans really care about how realistic Hawkeye’s archery skills are.
Now, I’m sure he went through some training for archery but that is by no means a very physically exhausting training regimen…at least nothing like Chris Hemsworth’s workouts. That is something far more solid, for sure. Of course, like most of the people in this article who haven’t been quite tough, Renner has spent more of his time on charities than on muscle groups. And I’d have to say that charity work is more admirable than just spending time getting ripped for a movie.
2 Tough - Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Quicksilver actor, Aaron Tyler-Johnson has actually had to do the opposite of a lot of actors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many of the superheroes have had to bulk up in order to get just the right physique for their roles. Well, Johnson has had to bulk down. Having already played a prominent role in the Kick-Ass series, Johnson was a pretty built and rock-solid guy. He was no slouch and he could and did regularly really hit the gym. He was in great physical shape. He still was when it came to the Avengers: Age of Ultron film but he was told by director Joss Whedon that he had to lose a lot of the muscle mass he had in his upper body. After all Quicksilver was a fast character who is basically Marvel’s answer to the Flash.
So it made far more sense for his legs to be jacked. So that is what Johnson did. He trimmed down his upper body, while still keeping it tight and then focused his energy on building up the muscles in his legs to give the impression that this guy can really move and has a lot of power in his legs. I’m still sour about the fact that Quicksilver only appeared in one film in the MCU but…I guess I’m glad that he toughed it out anyway to look great for the role.
1 Softie - Stan Lee
Oh, come on. How could I not include the mastermind behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe? How could I honestly, in good faith, not include the great Stan Lee? He is a tremendous businessman who has built up Marvel over decades and while he’s not exactly the best for ideas, he’s certainly made an empire…and not by being tough by any means. I saw him once at the Toronto FanEx in 2012 and he told the story about how he created The Hulk and Spider-Man and a few other characters. He basically said that he came up with using gamma rays, then decided he should try some other rays and just keep working that way…basically admitting that he just threw stuff together…but it worked.
And he’s appeared in every single MCU film to date so he can be called one of the cast members of the MCU. And I will definitely take advantage of that because while this now frail old comic book creator is not tough in the way we look at his superheroes, he’s certainly tough in terms of lasting in the business for so long and building his great comic book empire…but don’t expect him to win a fight. Expect his security to do that.