Bodybuilding in the Cinema

Bodybuilding in the Cinema

We propose here a presentation of some movies where bodybuilding plays an important, even central role, (documentaries, action movies, social or emotional dramas.) The list is not exhaustive, but rather presents the different ways that bodybuilding was shown on the big screen.


Reading TimeEstimated reading time : 7 minutes

arnold We all have seen a film performed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, good or bad. How not to be sensitive to his very impressive build, either to admire him or to abhor him? While it is common for bodybuilders to make their appearance in films for playing hard big roles, few films highlight the issue of bodybuilding in the heart of the story. We propose here a presentation of some movies where that sport plays an important, even central role. We will find documentaries, action movies, social or emotional dramas. The list is not exhaustive, but rather presents the different ways that bodybuilding was shown on the big screen. The most motivated and exotic of you can tackle the “I” (trailer),Indian film released in 2015.  Warning, it is on pure bollywood three and a half hour movie, songs, a show movie and special effects … doubtful. For others, first four films listed below, you will already have a correct idea of what the cinema has produced about large musculature.


Pumping Iron

pumping ironPumping Iron, released in 1977, is a documentary film that traces the preparation and participation of Arnold Schwarzenegger for the  Mister Olympia in 1975.

At the time of the shooting, he already has an accomplished career behind him, having won five times the title, and when he speaks to the camera during the many interviews, we discover a lively professional with a passion without limits. The documentary makes a fitting tribute to bodybuilding as a sport and aesthetic discipline. The opening scene is particularly eloquent in this regard: rather than dumbbells and other weight machines, it is a dance hall that introduces the character. Two bodybuilders, a ballerina, the contrast is striking, biceps of these being much thicker than the thighs of her … But the goal is the same: “The jury does not watch you only when you hold the pose, it looks at you constantly. ” Hence the work on the look, the slow and elegance of movement between poses. In the training room, there is a time for pumping, and a time when the quintuple Mister Universe corrects younger competitors. Exert more confidence, how to highlight their best body parts, how to show more assertiveness, etc. Once on stage, Schwarzenegger clears his competitors as he exposes his body with confidence. This confidence, is drawn from his thousands of hours of training and exemplary determination. Mental preparation is a key component in his success. His competitor in the heavyweight category, Lou Ferrigno, demonstrates the opposite. Young, permanently supported by his father, both ambitious and intimidated by the size of his opponent, he lacks the ease and pleasure of Schwarzenegger once on stage. Unsurprisingly, he won the title once more, before ending his career as a bodybuilder. Pumping Iron is  an excellent documentary on the preparation of an international sports competition with very high level athletes … all with a lot of muscles.

Pain & Gain

pain and gainPain & Gain (No pain, no gain French version) is a comic action film released in 2013 with Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie and inspired by a true story. Here, bodybuilding is not presented on its best day. Let us not mince words, the whole film is based on the fact that the three main characters, bodybuilders are morons. “Muscles instead of brain” is the tone of the comedy, to be taken literally. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), self-reported mastermind of the group, is a man of ambition both disproportionate and simple: he wants to live the American dream, fulfill his desire to become “a monument of physical perfection”, to become someone. His bright plan, developed after attending a conference on caricature personal achievement and entrepreneurship, is to kidnap a rich client of his gym and extort his fortune. When partners have questioned the validity of the project, his answer is is a reflection of his sharp mind: “I have seen lots of movies, I know how it works.”

With it, a friend even less informed and also desperate to become someone – that is being rich and finding a woman despite his erectile problems – and another bodybuilder who just got out of jail and has taken refuge in the Christian faith.  This is surely the most endearing character in the film: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson fits perfectly with the image of a tall man with rather convincing violent threats, but to whom is committed because he does not really know why he does what he does, lost between the dictates of his faith, his partner and his addiction to cocaine. It takes a certain pleasure in seeing these three athletes naive and overwhelmed by the events, kill their counterparts inadvertently, lifting weights in the middle of a blood bath to relax, and finally barbequeing  – the history being always true at this point – human limbs in public to remove the evidence …So a light film, where the desire for physical perfection of the characters eventually becomes a desire for wealth, and where their physical investment bodybuilding turns into the tool for making illegal operations deadly and especially chaotic. We will not see this film for its approach to bodybuilding, but certainly for the action, humor and Q.I. characters.


bodybuilder filmBodybuilder is a French film released in 2014, directed by Zem. Here we enter in the register of social and family drama, since it follows the journey of Anthony, a twenty-year-old, engaged in a loan transaction which causes him to be harassed by criminals who are not particularly sweet. He was sent to his father in Saint-Etienne, where his mother hoped that he will be both protected and isolated enough to return to normal activities. His father has not seen him for years and has very few memories of him. At fifty-eight, he is the star of the bodybuilder corner, owner of a gym, entirely dedicated to his activity. The film opens elsewhere on an extract of Pumping Iron, where Schwarzenegger explains how he comes off while approaching a competition, where the only thing that matters is his physical and mental preparation . It is ultimately the thread of the story, since the relationship between father and son is always conditioned by the training of the father, food, the discipline he hands out, and the friction caused by the presence of his son, completely foreign to this universe. If one understands quickly that to Anthony, this stay in a disciplined and passionate world will act as redemption, however we avoid the cliché scenario where the son is introduced to bodybuilding like his father and finds there a way of emancipation. Rather, he observes an amused look on his father, stealing some of his supplements, trying his stage briefs before a mirror swelling of muscles he does not have. “Damn that’s my father! “. One can not escape the expected discovery frame-crisis reconciliation, but the whole remains are rather well, without being extraordinary.

The son finally understands his father’s pleasure in the practice of bodybuilding, while the father rediscovers the affection he has for his son. Here the emphasis is on the requirement that demands the discipline: food, very frequent workouts, loneliness, etc. This is ultimately the last competition for this old bodybuilder, a bitter defeat, which, combined with the arrival of his son, drives him to stop. ” It is too hard “. We still retain the settling of accounts between offenders who are chasing Anthony and twenty bodybuilders in a small laundry. No fighting, just threats, but the situation is comical. “With bulking up for three months, if I want I would be like them, ‘says the owner. It was the whole point of the film: bodybuilding is presented as a misunderstood universe, mocked and misunderstood, that is entered gradually, and eventually seen differently and appreciated for what it is.


Teddy Bear

teddy bear filmTeddy Bear is a Danish film released in 2012, with Kim Kold as the main actor. Dennis, a forty year old professional bodybuilder, living alone with a castrating mother, decides to travel to Thailand on the advice of his uncle, recently married to a Thai woman he met there. Plunged immediately into the circuit of sex tourism, his discomfort is palpable, and the organized meetings are a failure. The title of the film takes its full meaning: a man of gigantic proportions seen as a tough guy who hides a personality particularly tender: one who dares not to say no to anyone and does everything possible to disappear. Of all the players that you come across in the films presented here, Kim Kold is surely the most impressive. Big, hard, square face, torso covered with a generous tattoo, his face is as important in the role as his acting. It is ultimately through a man he met at the local gym that Dennis encounters love, simple, shy love with the image of the character that his mother will struggle to let into their relationship. The realization is simple and effective, without emotional burdens without romantic dialogues, without exaggeration. Here, bodybuilding, is the negative, the cause of this body shell that prevents the person to speak. Finally more than one  love film, is the initiatory journey of a troubled man with his inner life.



If there is a common feature of all these approaches of bodybuilding is its transcendence. If it is purely competitive in Pumping Iron, it takes more psychological forms than in other movies. personal success, family life, emancipation … Body culture, discipline and the effort that it requires, are the visible part of this work on oneself. It is expected that the treatment of this issue is shallower in a film like Pain & Gain than in Teddy Bear, for example, but the interest is the same. If you are looking for a film about bodybuilding itself, Pumping Iron is a classic, and among the more recent, we advise Generation Iron (trailer) or even Bigger Stronger Faster (trailer). Apart from these documentary films, other achievements rather address the issue of the bodybuilder as a person, and the link between the sport and its social existence.

Contrary to critics who see only the “bulking up”, we understand that the activity goes well beyond that. A full investment of the body and mind, where, even more impressive than the body, is the personality that impregnates itself on the muscles.


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