With Great Beefcake: The Complete Guide to Shirtlessness in Marvel Superhero Movies


Captain America comes out next week, and the trailers are full of one major selling point: a pumped-up Chris Evans with his shirt off. Will this be the most beefcakey movie about a Marvel superhero ever made? Probably not.

Marvel superheroes have usually managed to take their shirts off at least once in almost every movie, whether it was being made by Marvel or some outside studio. But which movies have the best beefcake? And what do these shirtless scenes symbolize about each character? Here’s our complete guide to the half-naked men of Marvel.

The X-Men trilogy
Who gets shirtless? Mostly Hugh Jackman. But he gets shirtless enough for everybody, really.
How many scenes? Quite a few. Wolverine becomes a cage fighter in the first movie, and they don’t let you cage fight with a shirt on. It’s bad for the cage. Later, when he comes to the X-Mansion, he has to undergo some tests, which of course require him to remove his shirtage. And then there are some battles, in which he quite naturally loses his shirt. In X-Men 2, he actually runs around naked for a bit. And then in X-Men: The Last Stand, his clothing (and his torso) get shredded, but his torso grows back without any shirt.
What does this symbolize about the character? In the first movie, it symbolizes that he’s a lost soul, in need of the X-Men’s companionship and guidance. He’s out in the wilderness, with no shirt, and nobody to call his friends. He’s a wild beast who needs a home. In the second and third movies, it symbolizes that Wolverine is being pushed to the limit by extreme circumstances, in which wearing a shirt is a luxury we just don’t have. This is serious business!

The Spider-Man trilogy
Who gets shirtless? Peter Parker, aka Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire)
How many scenes? One or two, mostly in the first movie. He looks in the mirror and realizes he’s developing muscles as a result of his spider bite. He sort of poses in the mirror and does a Charles Atlas thing showing how buff he’s gotten.
What does this symbolize about the character? That he’s gained great power, and that his nerdy stick-man existence is over — but that he’s also getting drunk on this new-found might, and it may lead him to ignore his all-important responsibility.

The Blade trilogy
Who gets shirtless? Blade (Wesley Snipes), in at least the first movie. Also, Ryan Reynolds takes his shirt off in Blade Trinity.
How many scenes? It’s been ages since I’ve seen these films, but at least one or two.
What does this symbolize about the character? Blade is the Daywalker, the only vampire who does not fear the sun. He proves this by exposing his bare chest, and walking proudly in the open air. Also, he needs to show off his killer tattoos. Thanks to Haenf for the heads up!

The Fantastic Four duology
Who gets shirtless? Johnny Storm (Chris Evans)
How many scenes? Several, at least one per film. He frequently runs around wearing just a towel, making his finger catch fire with his superpowers. He also gets buried up to his waist in snow. He runs around in track pants, trying to impress the ladies, while grabbing his own crotch and talking about his hot superpowers.
What does this symbolize about the character? He’s a reckless hotshot. He’s a ladies man. He’s a crazy ne’er do well who can’t keep his shirt on. He has a habit of lighting his shirts on fire.

Iron Man 1&2
Who gets shirtless? Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) plus Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) in the second one.
How many scenes? Several. After Tony Stark’s chest is injured, he has to have a portable fusion reactor thingy put into his chest, which keeps his heart going. And whenever the nuclear battery fails, he’s in danger of immediate death. So there are lots of scenes where he has to replace the battery in a hurry, or his battery has been stolen and he needs to find one. In the second movie, Tony gets radiation poisoning and his chest is covered with black lines. Plus Mickey Rourke stalks around topless, or just wearing a bondage harness.
What does this symbolize about the character? Tony Stark’s toplessness symbolizes his broken heart, shattered by discovering the truth about how his weapons were being used in Afghanistan. He’s forever vulnerable after his Afghan encounter, and there’s a gaping hole in his chest that no amount of armor can ever erase. He’s the wounded soul of America, and his bare chest represents our nation.

The Incredible Hulk
Who gets shirtless? Bruce Banner and his alternate ego, the Hulk. Plus Tim Roth.
How many scenes? Tons. Pretty much the first scene of Ed Norton involves him sitting shirtless with a buff dude while they hyperventilate together. And of course, whenever he becomes the Hulk, his shirt is trashed, so he winds up shirtless again when he returns to being Bruce Banner. If your dream was to see Ed Norton topless, this movie is made for you.
What does this symbolize about the character? His vulnerability. His inability to control his life and his body. His quasi-homelessness. The fact that his bare chest is full of a roiling core of passion and rage, that can be unleashed at any moment. Behold:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Who gets shirtless? Wolverine, Deadpool, the Blob. But mostly Wolverine.
How many scenes? A few. The real money scene is when Logan is lowered — naked — into the tank where he has the Adamantium infused into his bones. And then he busts out of the tank, still naked, and runs across the room, then jumps off a waterfall that just happens to be there. And then runs and hides in a farmhouse. Still naked. Also, at the start of the movie, he works as a lumberjack, shirtless. And I think he’s also shirtless in the scene where he’s in the stockade.
What does this symbolize about the character? That he’s a wild animal, kept barely under control. That he’s a beast, etc. That he’s been experimented on and prodded and stuff, and now he’s bursting free. That he’s a lumberjack and he’s okay.

Thor (2011)
Who gets shirtless? Thor, the Thunder God, when he’s first brought to Earth without any earthly raiments.
How many scenes? Just one. He wanders around in front of Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings just long enough for them to check him out, then puts a shirt on. Why? Because thou shalt not look upon the chests of the gods. Or something.
What does this symbolize about the character? That he’s been humbled by his father, Odin. That he’s been stripped of all his godly regalia, including the giant golden nipples that crowned his majestic shirtage. That he remains a proud, swaggering figure in spite of it all.

Captain America (2011)
Who gets shirtless? Steve Rogers, aka Captain America
How many scenes? Just the one, as far as we can tell from the trailer.
What does this symbolize about the character? That he’s willing to sacrifice everything for his country. He start out skinny and half-naked, like a patriotic waif yearning to breathe free. And then he gets into the chest-inflation machine and emerges with his chest swelling with pride in America.

With thanks to the folks at SuperheroFan

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin