The ten most outrageous torsos on film

One Direction aren’t the only guys to bare all on screen – feed your appetite for bulging biceps and eye-popping pecs with this collection of movie muscle

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Torso lovers, rejoice! Everyone else, prepare to feel slightly queasy. This week sees the release of two very different movies united by a single characteristic: a leering fascination with the male upper body.

Boy band doc ‘One Direction: This is Us’ and madcap comic thriller ‘Pain & Gain’ may be miles apart in tone and technique, but both depict the masculine form in all its bulging, waxy, slightly unsettling glory. Which got us thinking: which movies feature the most extreme, overpumped, gratuitously exposed torsos? And can we really bear to plough our way through ten of them?

  • The Swimmer

    Owner of torso
    Burt Lancaster

    Appearance of torso
    Bronzed, athletic, but just a teensy bit soft around the edges.

    The torso’s journey
    An epic swim-a-thon, bounding from one affluent Connecticut garden party to the next, as Lancaster’s spry aristocrat makes his way across the state, pool to pool, and loses his youthful lustre and sense of self in the process. This is the torso as modern metaphor: this all-American beefcake may look wealthy, happy and physically fit, but you never know when the rot’s going to set in.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    8/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘The Swimmer’ (1968)

    The Swimmer
  • Cape Fear

    Owner of torso
    Robert De Niro

    Appearance of torso
    Tattooed, leathery, scary as hell.

    The torso’s journey
    The original 1962 ‘Cape Fear’ is a pretty solid torso flick in its own right: Robert Mitchum may not have the machine-tooled physique of today’s musclemen, but his knack of turning up topless when you least expect him is unnerving.

    Still, even Calypso Bob has nothing on De Niro’s terrifying transformation: this might be the scariest of all screen torsos, partly for its clenched animal wiriness, partly for those messianic tattoos, but mostly because we just didn’t expect this kind of behaviour from scrawny little Travis Bickle.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    6/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘Cape Fear’ (1991)

    Cape Fear
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon

    Owner of torso
    Taylor Lautner

    Appearance of torso
    Shiny and non-threatening, though occasionally rather hairy.

    The torso’s journey
    Taylor Lautner’s torso is precision-built for maximum audience satisfaction: yes it’s meaty and masculine, but it’s not so freakishly disproportionate as to unsettle your average 12-year-old girl. This is a movie in which the act of transforming into a werewolf – so tortuous and gruesome in previous films – has become as easy as slipping out of a muscle top. And Lautner does both, repeatedly.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    5/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’ (2009)

    The Twilight Saga: New Moon
  • Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare

    Owner of torso
    Jon Miki Thor

    Appearance of torso
    Well varnished and draped with golden, back-combed poodle tresses.

    The torso’s journey
    A descent into hell! Well, Canada. This astonishing rocksploitation shocker tracks the exploits of hair-metal legends Triton as they retreat to a remote cabin to prepare their next satanic masterpiece and end up invoking the Devil himself.

    The climactic battle between a toothy, nine-foot rubberised punchbag that shoots bath toys and a mulleted rock god clad only in iron undies and guyliner shows what Ed Wood could’ve achieved, had he lived to see the ’80s.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    4/10

    Rock ’n’ Roll Nightmare
  • Hercules Unchained

    Owner of torso
    Steve Reeves

    Appearance of torso
    Varnished and waxy, like a supermarket melon.

    The torso’s journey
    In those dark days before pride marches, the internet and ‘300’, gentlemen of a certain persuasion had to find their own entertainment.

    Handily, there was no law against magazines stuffed full of pictures of bodybuilders – and one of the kings of the scene was undoubtedly Steve Reeves: Mr Universe winner and torso-owner extraordinaire. For one brief moment in the late ’50s, sword ‘n’ sandal star Reeves was the highest paid actor in Europe – all thanks to his mighty chestal regions.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    3/10

    Hercules Unchained
  • Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

    Owner of torso
    Siu-Wong Fan

    Appearance of torso
    Triangular, impermeable, splattered with guts and gore.

    The torso’s journey
    We’re never entirely sure why noble futuristic prison inmate Ricky has the power to withstand all pain and tear humans to shreds with his bare hands, but we’re pretty sure his granite torso has something to do with it.

    This spectacularly odd Chinese martial arts flick has to be one of the most insanely violent films ever made – eyes pop out, jaws are ripped off, giant meat grinders are involved – but as long as Ricky and his torso are together, they’re unbeatable.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    3/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky’ (1991)

    Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky
  • American Psycho

    Owner of torso
    Christian Bale

    Appearance of torso
    The perfectly chiselled, impossibly ripped, inhuman abs of a psychopathic killer.

    The torso’s journey
    Suits, ties, shoes, hair products: investment banker Patrick Bateman and his co-workers put a lot of time and money into looking this good. Still, these abs aren’t just for show. A strict diet, rigorous exercise and 500 crunches before breakfast all keep his granite physique battle ready: you never know when a colleague will need axing to death for forgetting Bateman’s name.

    Christian Bale is no stranger to physical transformation: he dropped down to eight-and-a-half stone to play an anorexic in ‘The Machinist’ and bulked up to a chunky 15 stone for ‘The Dark Knight’.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    2/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘American Psycho’ (2000)

    American Psycho
  • Tarzan, the Ape Man

    Owner of torso
    Johnny Weissmuller

    Appearance of torso
    Surprisingly well-groomed for a guy who lives in a tree.

    The torso’s journey
    This is the torso that started it all, the progenitor of pecs, the Adam of abs. Johnny Weissmuller was a five-time Olympic gold medalist and set 67 world swimming records. But it’s as the loincloth-wearin’, ape-befriendin’, not-such-good-English-speakin’ king of the swingers that he’ll be forever remembered.

    Once Johnny came bellowing onto our screens, cinema’s relationship with the torso would never be the same again. Me, torso! You, amazed!

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    2/10

    Tarzan, the Ape Man
  • Conan the Barbarian

    Owner of torso
    Arnold Schwarzenegger

    Appearance of torso
    Meaty, like an oak barrel wrapped in parma ham.

    The torso’s journey
    Forged in the desert furnace of Zamora over years strapped to Thulsa Doom’s Wheel of Pain, this torso is nothing if not resilient. Well, you have to be if your owner’s interests include battling snake gods, stealing magic jewellery, seducing witches, punching camels and getting crucified.

    Arnie’s torso is without doubt the most recognisable in the business, and while 1977’s youthfully exuberant ‘Pumping Iron’ may be its most hilarious outing, ‘Conan’ marks its maturity as a cinematic force.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    1/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (1982)

    Conan the Barbarian
  • 300

    Owner of torso
    Gerard Butler (among many, many others)

    Appearance of torso
    Digitally enhanced beyond recognition.

    The torso’s journey
    Back in the day, the ancient Greeks used to do a lot of their favourite activities in the buff: racing, wrestling, posing for statues. The makers of dire Spartansploitation romp ‘300’ knew the world wasn’t ready for an all-nude action movie – but they came pretty damn close.

    This was the film that made brawny Scots man-meat Gerard Butler a huge star, but we have to note that his subsequent career has been both unmemorable and largely torso-free. Coincidence? We think not.

    Resemblance to an actual human body
    0/10

    Read the Time Out review of ‘300’ (2006)

    300

The Swimmer

Owner of torso
Burt Lancaster

Appearance of torso
Bronzed, athletic, but just a teensy bit soft around the edges.

The torso’s journey
An epic swim-a-thon, bounding from one affluent Connecticut garden party to the next, as Lancaster’s spry aristocrat makes his way across the state, pool to pool, and loses his youthful lustre and sense of self in the process. This is the torso as modern metaphor: this all-American beefcake may look wealthy, happy and physically fit, but you never know when the rot’s going to set in.

Resemblance to an actual human body
8/10

Read the Time Out review of ‘The Swimmer’ (1968)

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