How Arnold Schwarzenegger Pioneered the Comic-Book Superhero Physique in Hollywood

Over the past decade, Hollywood has seen a major rise in superhero films. The genre that once barely generated any box office buzz now rules it. Multiple superhero films have found their place among the top twenty highest-grossing films in history. However, with the rise of the comic book superhero genre, came the buff Hollywood leading man. Actors like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and others, who were fit, became ripped and muscular. Meanwhile, actors like Chris Pratt went through insane bodybuilding transformations to fit into the shoes of comic book characters. These actors have had to stay in shape for nearly every film regardless of the genre. Hence, having a good physique has become almost an unspoken rule for lead actors. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger and not the actors in the first MCU and DCEU films pioneered this trend.

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In fact, Arnold Schwarzenegger established what has come to become the Hollywood superhero physique. If you’re wondering how? We have to take a look at the unique circumstances that led the Austrian Oak to the script of Conan the Barbarian (1982). The then-recently retired seven-time Mr. Olympia set the standard for the comic book superhero physique decades before the late 2010s normalized it. Yet, his journey to playing the comic book character was a tough one.

Arnold Schwarzenegger surpassed his predecessors


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As a kid, the bodybuilding icon came across magazines featuring Steve Reeves and Reg Park. These bodybuilding icons of the 50s and 60s inspired young Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, Reeves and Park didn’t just inspire Arnie to become a bodybuilder. The five-time Mr. Universe saw his idol as Hercules in Hollywood films and became enamored by the idea of becoming a star. So, the young bodybuilder traced his predecessor’s path. Rising through the ranks, Arnie won Mr. Europe, Mr. Universe, and Mr. Olympia titles. The Austrian became an icon of the bodybuilding world and even starred as the Greek demigod in Hercules in New York (1970). However, the bodybuilding legend found it difficult to find work.

Film Still from Conan the Barbarian Arnold Schwarzenegger © 1981 Universal Pictures PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY 31059_001

Producers and casting directors told Arnie he was too tall, too muscular, with a thick accent and a name Americans would find hard to pronounce. In fact, early in Schwarzenegger’s career, his name appeared as Arnold Strong in several productions. Yet, these circumstances, combined with the 6’2”, 245 lbs Mr. Olympia’s physical traits, would make him the perfect fit for Conan the Barbarian. The 1977 documentary, Pumping Iron, thrust Arnie and bodybuilding into the limelight, and Schwarzenegger utilized it. He smashed the stereotypes that had earlier made it hard for him to find work and helped clear misconceptions about the sport. By 1982, Arnie had already surpassed his idols in these aspects. However, his best was yet to come.

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Schwarzenegger had found it hard to shake his bodybuilder identity in cinema, despite winning a Golden Globe in 1976. Yet Conan the Barbarian allowed him to do just that. The 6’2″ ripped bodybuilder almost looked like the comic book character brought to life. However, director John Milius pointed out some flaws. While Arnie had an Olympia-winning physique, Milius said his physique was too muscular. Yet, unlike many others who rejected Arnie early in his career, Milius said the actor would need to lose only a little muscle and train in martial arts. So, Schwarzenegger ditched the 700 lbs deadlifts and slimmed down. “I was way too ripped to be a barbarian,” Arnie once recalled about his meeting with Milius.

For a significant period, the bodybuilding legend trained in various martial arts. Arnie switched up his training to feature more functional and athletic movements. He swam, ran, and mastered horse riding. The Terminator actor also learned swordplay from master swordsman Kiyoshi Yamazaki. As a result, Schwarzenegger lost around 25 lbs of muscle and his competition-ready condition. However, Schwarzenegger still looked muscular, his physique looked chiseled and powerful. Thus, the comic book superhero physique was born.


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Arnold Schwarzenegger was far ahead of his time

Arnold Schwarzenegger built a physique that embodied the comic book character he portrayed. He didn’t look too ripped or as muscular as his Mr. Olympia days. However, Schwarzenegger’s physique still looked leagues ahead of the average man. Hollywood actors today still follow this standard that Arnold Schwarzenegger set in 1982. Actors who portray superheroes have muscular and ripped physiques and exude an intimidating, confident, and powerful aura that suits their characters. However, none of them look like professional bodybuilders, nor would they win any bodybuilding competitions.


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In the 80s, everyone struggled to keep up with Schwarzenegger’s standards. His massive frame forced his biggest rival, Sylvester Stallone, to follow suit. While the actor had built an impressive physique in Rocky (1976), during the 80s he put on considerable muscle and got more conditioned to compete with the legendary bodybuilder. Arnie’s physique also played a massive part in earning him the role of the nearly indestructible Terminator. It is no wonder that the standard Arnie set with Conan the Barbarian has become the blueprint for today’s onscreen comic book superheroes. In fact, actors like Chris Hemsworth and Arnie’s son-in-law Chris Pratt have admitted that the Austrian Oak was their bodybuilding idol.

Watch this story | “Bible of Bodybuilding”–7x Mr. Olympia Arnold Schwarzenegger Once Explained the Book that Got Him Into Bodybuilding

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