The Evolution of Marvel’s Ludicrously Ripped Superheroes

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Everyone knows Marvel’s movies have come a long way over the past few years. They are more expensive. They are more prestigious. Most of the time, they are even smarter. But there is one evolution that has gone largely unnoticed …until now.

Over the past fifteen years, the evolution of Marvel’s superhero bods has been one of the most astonishing developments in pop culture. There was a time when being superhero meant looking like a relatively normal person—or, at least, being in reasonably good health.

But friends, those days are behind us, as Marvel movies are now locked in a continual battle of one-upmanship, with our heroes pushing their bodies, diets and workout regimens to the limits of human potential.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go on a journey…

Hugh Jackman: Wolverine

X-Men (2000)

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Get the Look: Start your day with some pushups and cut back on the soda.

X-Men was the unofficial beginning of the modern superhero movie’s rise to box office domination, and nowhere are its humble beginnings more apparent than in a then-unknown Hugh Jackman’s scenes as a shirtless Wolverine. Just look at that guy. He looks like someone who maintains a healthy diet and strenuous workout routine. In today’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, that’s the equivalent of being a disgusting slob.

Tobey Maguire: Spider-Man

Spider-Man (2002)

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Get the Look: Hit the gym 5-6 days a week. Getting bit by a radioactive spider not necessary, but advisable.

Fortunately, those horrors were quickly replaced by Tobey Maguire’s spider-fueled transformation. As you can see, Peter Parker’s spider body looks like the body of that one friend we all have who never stops doing crunches and orders a salad “with the dressing on the side” whenever you go out to eat. Annoying? Sure. But the results speak for themselves.

Hugh Jackman: Wolverine

X2 (2003)

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Get the Look: Maintain a strict diet of broccoli and whole chickens. Instead of driving your car to work, push it.

For the X-Men sequel, producers realized it wouldn’t do to have their big star, Wolverine, looking like a super schlob compared to Peter Parker, so they sent Jackman to the weight room and told him not to come out till he could benchpress a Buick. Let’s not get too hung up on the fact that Wolverine’s body seems to be getting younger even as he gets older. Life is full of mysteries.

Robert Downey Jr.: Iron Man

Iron Man (2007)

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Get the Look: Yoga and spinach salads.

Things stalled for a few years, no doubt waiting for exercise science to find a way to jack anyone up bigger than Hugh Jackman. It was into this lull that Iron Man fell, in which Tony Stark’s technological brilliance is matched only by his well-defined but in no way ostentatious biceps. Things seemed to level out until …

Hugh Jackman: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

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Get the Look: Talk to your local gym about moving in.

HOLY COW. X-Men Origins: Wolverine got a lot of things wrong, but they did underestimate the power of shirtless Hugh Jackman rising in slow motion from a vat of water, every vein chiseled from oak. Most of this movie is best forgotten. But Jackman’s physique had raised the bar to a level impossible for mortals to exceed. Which was fortunate, since Marvel’s next hero wasn’t mortal at all.

Chris Hemsworth: Thor

Thor (2010)

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Get the Look: Be born the son of Odin, king of Asgard and protector of the ancient realm.

OK, ladies. Relax. Fellas, don’t you start too. In 2010, Chris Hemsworth took the whole “body like a god” thing to impossibly literal levels, with muscles that looked at least as solid as his hammer. What are they feeding people in Asgard?

Chris Evans: Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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Get the Look: Good luck. 

Everyone remembers the part where Peggy Carter taps a freshly super soldiered Steve Rogers right on his mountainous pectoral because, in that moment, she was all of us, trying to figure out if what we were seeing was real.

Mark Ruffalo: Bruce Banner

Avengers (2012)

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Get the Look: Just be yourself!

Having exhausted the full potential of the human form, Avengers did the noble thing and returned to Marvel’s roots—its sole shirtless moment featuring the unremarkable torso of Mark Ruffalo. It’s reassuring. It’s human. It’s a reminder that underneath the fancy costumes and Uru hammers, superheroes are really just us—with all our faults, foibles and flab. Because when you get right down to it, what makes our heroes truly super is not their abs or their BMI, but their noble heart, their courageous spirit, and the bonds they form with one another!

Chris Pratt: Peter Quill

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

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Never mind.

Chris Evans: Captain America

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Exclusive FIRST LOOK at Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War. Looking good, Chris!

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