Bodybuilding isn’t really considered a mainstream sport. Professional bodybuilders are often ridiculed, as is the industry as a whole. It’s pretty impossible to make any decent money out of the sport, and even those who do, who are at the top, don’t really make a huge amount, all things considered. But, those smart cookies who have graced the bodybuilding industry have used the success they’ve gained as a stepping stone onto bigger and better things. Nowadays, the majority of those who enter the bodybuilding industry, be it competitively or just getting built and developing their bodies for recreational purposes, have the same aspirations. They want their bodybuilding careers to lead somewhere, to follow a specific path. They want their lives to mirror that of the most famous bodybuilder of all time.
I am of course talking about the main man himself, the bodybuilding and acting legend that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every young kid who starts lifting weights, does so with pictures of Arnie in their minds, with plans to develop a killer physique, possibly make it big in bodybuilding, then transition into the movie industry and become a Hollywood megastar. There have been quite a few bodybuilders over the years who have done just that, but Arnie is by far and away the most successful person to have made that tricky transition.
Known for their stunning, built physiques, these bodybuilders have used their sizeable frames to their advantage, and have used their unique looks to open plenty of doors for themselves. Here they are, 15 bodybuilders-turned-actors – muscle men who made successful transitions from bodybuilding into the world of movies.
15 David Prowse
At the age of 82, David Prowse is still in awesome shape; look at him and it’s evident that he comes from a fitness background.
David first made a name for himself way back in the 1960s. Back then, bodybuilding, weightlifting, and looking built wasn’t really a thing, especially in the UK where David was based. That’s why David, having the physique he’d built, stood out from the rest, got noticed, and that’s something that ultimately got him into films.
He was the British weightlifting champion, a bodybuilder, and then transitioned to the movies where he became more than a decent actor. His most famous role is by far and away his portrayal of Darth Vader in the Star Wars trilogy, a role that brought him plenty of fame and adulation from the masses. His health’s gotten increasingly worse over the years, and because of that we haven’t seen a whole lot of David on screen, but he’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest bodybuilders-turned-actors.
14 Dwayne Johnson
Dwayne Johnson is without doubt one of the biggest - in terms of his salary, his frame, and fan following – actors on the planet. He’s been killing it in Hollywood over the past decade, and has one of the most enviable physiques around. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Johnson, his life hasn’t always been sunshine and roses. There have been ups, and there have been downs too, such as battling through depression and coming to terms with the fact that his football career was finished. But there’s been one thing that’s kept him going. That’s bodybuilding. Dwayne’s been a bodybuilding nut for decades. It’s been the one constant in his life, killing it in the gym, keeping his nutrition on track, and everything else that comes with living the life of a bodybuilder. He may have never stepped on stage, but Dwayne’s a true bodybuilder at heart, and definitely deserves a place on this list.
13 Sergio Ciani
This is going back a really long time, before Arnie started paving the way for bodybuilders to follow suit and make the transition to the big screen. Sergio Ciani, also known as Alan Steel, was already doing just that.
Born in Italy, Sergio started to achieve fame as a bodybuilder. He was heavily into the iron game, and possessed one of the best physiques at the time. Back then, bodybuilding was more about developing lean and muscular physiques, nothing like it is nowadays with the guts and huge muscles – a look that’s given bodybuilding a bad rep, one that not many people find attractive. Anyway, from being a bodybuilder, he started to work as a stuntman. He even worked as a stuntman on the sets of 1959 film, Hercules Unchained, where he also earned his corn as a body double for legendary bodybuilder Steve Reeves, who incidentally is the next name in this list. Being a body double and looking like Steve Reeves – there’s no better compliment in the bodybuilding world than that. When he started getting more and more involved in the film industry, he adopted the stage name Alan Steel. As Alan, he went on to star in many more movies, before retiring in 1979. Sadly, Sergio died in his sleep a couple of years back at the ripe old age of 79.
12 Steve Reeves
Steve Reeves is a bodybuilding legend, plain and simple. He’s a guy that even Arnold Schwarzenegger looked up to, and with good reason too. Regarded to be the king of bodybuilding, Steve Reeves was a massive name in the sport – and still is. Even though he’s no longer with us, his name will always be spoken about in bodybuilding circles. He just had, what many people would deem to be, the perfect body; “He’s the poster boy for the ideal physique,” as Arnold put it. Look at the guy’s body in his prime, and you’d have a hard time disagreeing. If Arnie says you’ve got an amazing physique, that’s high praise enough. After completing his military service and having made a name for himself in bodybuilding, Steve turned his attention to films. From 1954 to 1967, Steve put together a vast filmography, and became an icon for those wanting to transition from bodybuilding to acting.
11 Franco Columbu
Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that Franco Columbo should have won more Mr. Olympia – the biggest competition if the world of bodybuilding – titles, but it was just his bad luck that he was around in the same era as Arnold. The two started off pretty much at the same time, and became very close friends. After making a name for himself as a powerlifter, weightlifter, and one of the world’s strongest men, Franco had developed a killer physique, and pursued bodybuilding. Both he and Arnold were sponsored to come to America together, and were just inseparable, trained together, started a business together, and were just really close buddies. Unsurprisingly, being so close to Arnie, some of Arnie’s magic and desire to reach the top in multiple fields rubbed off on him. He followed Arnie into the acting world, and had quite a successful time too, even starring in one of Arnie’s most iconic films, the 1984 movie The Terminator, as the future terminator.
10 Bolo Yeung
Bolo Yeung might not sound too familiar to a lot of people – even bodybuilding aficionados – around the world, but having said that, he’s probably known and loved by around a billion people in China, and lovers of martial arts movies. He’s had a stellar career, mainly due to his roles in Hong Kong’s martial arts movies. He’s mainly cast as a villainous character, but these negative roles haven’t adversely affected his popularity. In addition to acting, Bolo is a former competitive bodybuilder. Most guys who study and compete in martial arts have killer bodies, but Bolo’s was once ridiculous. As a bodybuilder, he had a considerable amount of size on his frame, yet still managed to achieve that lean, ripped look, which was probably due to all the martial arts training he was undertaking at the time. Bolo’s undoubtedly one of the greatest martial artists of all time, an awesome actor, and in his prime, a pretty big deal as a bodybuilder too.
9 Peter Lupus
Born in 1930, Peter Lupus was someone who was incredibly genetically gifted. The guy was born with muscles and was pretty tall, so that instantly made him a recognizable face. Over the years, he worked on it, developed his physique further, and took it to the point where he became a championship bodybuilder, winning titles and plenty of other accolades. Then he decided to follow Steve Reeves into the acting world. The Mission: Impossible television series was where he got his first big break, and after that he went on to accumulate quite a vast and varied filmography.
Peter’s time in the limelight is also notable for him posing nude for Playgirl. He became one of the first well-known actors to pose fully nude for the cameras, and this led to plenty of other work.
Today, at the age of 85, Peter’s actually still lifting. He’s enjoyed a stellar career, and will probably be a bodybuilder till the day he dies.
8 Gordon Scott
Gordon Scott was best known for his role as the fictional character Tarzan in the film series of the same name in the mid to late 50s. It was a role that propelled him into the limelight and made him known to the masses. Eager to carry on starring in successful films, Gordon relocated to Italy, and became an even bigger star, acting in sword-and-sandal epics, which were hugely popular at the time.
Those Tarzan films occurred pretty soon after Gordon was discovered. He was spotted by a talent agent while working odd-jobs in Vegas, and thus Gordon Scott the actor was born. It was his physique and good looks that got him noticed, and the world got to see these attributes when he showed them off as Tarzan. He’s deemed to be the second most successful Tarzan of all time, but the one with the most enviable physique, one that many people still admire to this day.
7 Mickey Hargitay
Heard the name Hargitay somewhere? If you’re a fan of those American crime series, you probably know who Mariska Hargitay is off Law & Order SVU. She can only be described as a superstar actress, one of the best in the business. She has acting, and succeeding, in her genes. Her dad, Mickey Hargitay, was a highly successful bodybuilder and actor. He’s another one who was inspired by the legend that is Steve Reeves. He saw his pic on a magazine cover, and that sparked his passion for bodybuilding. He developed a killer physique, brought bodybuilding to the forefront, and was just an all-round terrific athlete. Mickey subsequently got into acting, and travelled the world starring in different genres of film – not just playing the stereotypical rough and rowdy muscle man. He’s undoubtedly a bodybuilding-turned-acting great, and someone who made it all happen for himself.
6 Ralf Moeller
Ralf Moeller made a name for himself in the bodybuilding world as a teenager in Germany. He started lifting weights, and at the age of 17, had already developed one hell of a physique. He became the German champion, then went on to compete on the world stage in the coveted Mr. Olympia competition. Although he didn’t emerge victorious, he still made an impression. That’s because he’s one of the tallest bodybuilders to have ever stood on stage. At 6 ft. 6 in and 288lbs, Ralf got noticed because he had one impressive frame. The judges might not have thought he had what it takes to win the Olympia title, but seeing his massive frame attracted other people and casting directors came calling. He started acting in 1987, and then came the film that really propelled him into the limelight, Universal Soldier, in which he starred opposite Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Today Ralf’s still going strong in the industry and still possesses one impressive physique.
5 Dave Bautista
Dave Bautista, better known as Batista, became a megastar in the wrestling industry. He made his name with WWE, and people who witnessed him do his thing in the ring were just awestruck. That’s because of the look he brought to ring – his freaky size and those rippling muscles that people loved. He really was a mass monster, one of biggest guys to have graced the ring, and the octagon because he’s also tried his hand at MMA.
Even today, look at Batista, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize he’s a bodybuilder. He has been for decades, since his younger days, days which he spent in poverty, dabbling in crime. Growing up, Batista was going down a seriously dangerous path, and credits bodybuilding for getting him back on the straight and narrow. He says that adopting that lifestyle saved his life, and he’s certainly made the most of it. Wrestling, MMA, and now acting; Batista’s turned his attentions to acting full time, and he’s begun to put together quite an impressive filmography.
4 The Paul Brothers
Twins David and Peter Paul were massive names in the bodybuilding scene. They were both obsessed with the iron game, and made a career out of lifting weights. People usually say that twins are inseparable, and that was certainly the case with David and Peter. They did pretty much everything together, trained together, and transitioned onto TV into the acting world together. That’s how they achieved fame and popularity in the acting world, by being the most built twin brothers around. The movie that really propelled them into the limelight was the 1987 film The Barbarians. The impressive size they brought on screen really got noticed, and from that moment on, they’d forever be associated with that movie, and were named The Barbarians, The Barbarian Brothers. Together, they went on to act in many more movies, and still make the odd appearances here and there, but they’ll always be remembered for their roles in the 80s and 90s. They were tough as nails, trendsetting, a team of giants that lifted simply because they loved pounding heavy weights, and because of that, they received lots of coverage.
3 Reg Park
Reg Park is arguably the best bodybuilder who’s ever lived. Many would say that Arnold was the greatest, but Reg is someone that Arnold idolized. When Arnold was trying to make it in the world of bodybuilding, Reg Park mentored him. Arnie wanted to emulate Reg Park, and looking back at things, he’s certainly done just that, and has even surpassed the accomplishments of his idol. He won a number of titles, first in Britain, and then in America, and then on the world stage.
Because of his perfectly proportioned physique and good looks, these accomplishments led to acting roles. He starred in five movies, all as Hercules, and appeared on tons of magazine covers, as well as in a lot of spreads. The legacy that he created will always live on. He’s had a massive influence on the bodybuilding scene, and on Arnold, as he helped create another one of the greatest bodybuilders who’s ever lived.
2 Lou Ferrigno
Anyone seen Pumping Iron, that famous bodybuilding docudrama that documented the lives of pro bodybuilders as they prepared for their upcoming competitions? It was a film that made tons of people interested in bodybuilding. Before, people had no clue what these muscle men were doing or what it was like to prepare for competitions. Most also probably didn’t like bodybuilding, or thought those who lifted weights to get big were crazy.
This was in the mid-70s by the way, and now people’s perceptions have changed.That’s in part to the stars of Pumping Iron. Part of the film focussed on the rivalry between Arnold, and his main competitor, Lou Ferrigno. Arnold, being the charismatic guy he was, was already a big name. But it propelled the likes of Lou Ferrigno into the limelight. Because of that movie, he received plenty of offers to get involved in films. Now, looking through his filmography, his best role would have to be playing The Incredible Hulk in the CBS series. He’s made a successful transition as an actor, but, just like in his bodybuilding days, he’s always been in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shadow.
1 Arnold Schwarzenegger
Putting Arnold Schwarzenegger at the number one position on this list was a no-brainer. If success could be measured or quantified in some way, Arnold would probably be the most successful person on the planet. Everything he tried his hand at, he makes work and he makes it into a success. First, on the bodybuilding stage, he conquered all, no one ever got close to him. That’s just one industry where he initially made a name for himself. Then, when he decided to get into acting, people thought he was crazy. He had a name no one could pronounce, had an accent, and was deemed to be too big to get any proper acting roles. Look how that turned out. He’s now one of the highest-earners, and has starred in some of the world’s most iconic movies. Then, just for the hell of it, let’s throw his political accomplishments into the mix. If it wasn’t for the rule that you have to be born in The States to run for president, he’d probably have been in the White House right about now! It’s just ridiculous what Arnold’s achieved, and he’s not done yet. He’s probably still got many more projects in the pipeline.