A Complete Taxonomy Of Hunks: Your Guide To The Men Of Modern Hollywood


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For centuries, people have longed for quality art based on a rock-hard set of male abs. There were the monuments of Ancient Greece, then Michelangelo’s David, then (when they finally stopped terrifying audiences with oncoming trains) motion pictures got on board.


Unfortunately thanks to various social pressures, the free-wheeling raunch of early Hollywood was stifled in 1930 by the censorious Motion Picture Production Code. This banned complete nudity, said “undressing scenes should be avoided, and never used save where essential to the plot”, and rounded out the buzz-kill by forbidding “indecent or undue exposure”. Out went early sex bombs like Rudolph Valentino (pictured above) and in came “leading men”: guys who are ridiculously good-looking, but don’t rely on their looks to get by.


The “leading man” was presented as not just a possible sexual partner, but a romantic one: he’s there for a long time, not just a good time. In the early days, this included guys like Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, and Clark Gable (though the latter may have devastated the undershirt industry by appearing topless on screen in 1934). These were men who were distinctly more suave than studly.

And yet today we find ourselves beset on all sides by a seemingly endless variety of old-timey hunk. The censors are gone, shirtlessness is not only allowed but encouraged, and we now have not one but two films devoted exclusively to Channing Tatum’s bod. But what exactly caused this hunk explosion, and what should we make of the many breeds of hunk it left in its wake?

I did the exhaustive and very important research to find out.

The Brooding Hunk

Blame it all on Marlon Brando. When he burst on the scene in the early 1950s, male movie sexuality went through its first serious upheaval since the stifling effects of the Motion Picture Production Code. Brando was clearly astoundingly good-looking, but he most definitely wasn’t playing characters you could settle down with. It wasn’t that he killed off the leading man type either — hi there, Will Smith and George Clooney — it was more that he provided a simpler option. Sometimes you want the total package and sometimes you just want… well, a package.

Acting was one of the few things that came naturally to the young Brando.

But soon after this new shape of hunk burst forth, there was a pushback from the forces of nebbishness and poor posture. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, a battle was fought: for every Paul Newman there was an Al Pacino, for every Robert Redford there was a Robert DeNiro. It wasn’t until Mickey Rourke’s original face became famous in the mid-‘80s that the brooding hunk made a serious comeback.

These days, thanks largely to a steady stream of rough-around-the-edges Australians, this most established form of hunk has become a respectable career choice, with quality actors like Russell Crowe and Tom Hardy basing their on-screen personas on being sexy in a somewhat edgy and dangerous fashion.


Not pictured: the phone he might throw at your head as foreplay.

Where to find them: Serious dramas where they can show off their range of scowls and grimaces.

What they’re doing: Winning Oscars.

The Lunky Hunk

Oscars? Acting? Conversation? Who wants to waste time with that? Sometimes you need a simpler kind of guy.

On a bad day at the movies, that is the very handsome but very wooden Taylor Lautner (there’s a reason why his hilariously bad thriller Abduction is better known as Abs-duction). On a very good day you get Channing Tatum, whose ability to make fun of his lunky persona in the 21 Jump Street films would almost be enough to have him reclassified had he not been too convincing playing an actual talking space dog in Jupiter Ascending.

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What is this?

Where to find them: Beds, motorbikes, the stages of strip clubs.

What they’re doing: Very little.

The Bland Hunk

The big trouble with being a hunk is that there’s often no real incentive to develop your persona beyond that of someone who is very, very attractive. If you want to stand out, you have to offer something more: leading men have to be charming, lunks offer the thrills of a hot guy who’s also a bit of a pushover. But Hollywood doesn’t care if you can’t find your niche within the hunk eco-system. It’s happy to avoid the whole personality thing altogether and let you coast on your looks in and out of a shirt.

Trouble is, if you go along with this you’ll end up as Chris Evans: an undeniably good-looking man who’s only memorable because people keep confusing him with the numerous other hunks also named Chris.

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Tell me this isn’t an IRL Ken doll.

Where to find them: In Nicolas Sparks adaptations, superhero movies, the gym.

What they’re doing: A perfectly serviceable, completely forgettable job.

The Old Hunk

No one’s going to throw him out of bed, but c’mon, he’s been ridden around the track a few times. This is not to be confused with someone like Denzel Washington, who was definitely hunky back in the day (probably even leading man material), but now never gets his shirt off.

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It’s Brad Pitt, okay. I’m talking about Brad Pitt.

Where to find them: In Coen brothers movies, producing serious quality dramas, standing next to Angelina Jolie.

What they’re doing: Trying not to squint.

The In-Waiting Hunk

If a hunk appears in movies no one sees, is he really a hunk?

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“Please remember my name.”

Sure, Michael B. Jordan is clearly extremely hot, which would be a great lead-in to a joke about how he played the Human Torch in the most recent Fantastic Four movie, except that no one saw that movie. Or Red Tails. Or Are We Officially Dating (aka That Awkward Moment). Even Fruitville Station was just an arthouse hit. Fortunately people seem to be finally flocking to check him out in Rocky spin-off Creed.

Where to find them: In movies you’re not watching, looking sad at the gym.

What they’re doing: Trying to get your attention.

The Funny Hunk

There’s a theory that women like a man who can make them laugh and Hollywood (read: Judd Apatow) has been doing everything within its/his power to make this a reality.

Jonah Hill was paired off with a somewhat reluctant Emma Stone in Superbad, Jason Segel was alongside a disgruntled Emily Blunt in The Five Year Engagement and at one point in Forgetting Sarah Marshall he had both Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis chasing him. Fortunately, this has felt a little less forced in recent years.

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Hello Chris Pratt.

Also, increasingly Chris Pine. He’s developing a nice sideline of vaguely smarmy studliness and, though he’s no Ryan Reynolds, he is named Chris.

Where to find them: In action comedies, in comedies that contain a different kind of action, in Lego form.

What they’re doing: Trying to figure out how Harrison Ford made it work for so long.

The “He’ll Do” Hunk

Sometimes you’ll be making a movie and you need a hunk as the love interest but for whatever reason — okay, you don’t have the money — you can’t get the A-grade stuff. What you need is an actor that people will recognise as being “a hunk”, despite being merely very, very attractive.

That’s when you call Liam Hemsworth.

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Always the bridesmaid.

Where to find them: Often in surprisingly good movies.

What they’re doing: Being surprisingly good in movies.

The Perfect Hunk

The holy grail. He’s an abs-flashing man you can take home to your family. He has to be at least a little brooding, but not so brooding he’s scary. He’s got to be smart, but not so smart it distracts from his looks. A sense of humour is important, but in a wry, knowing way rather than a joke-cracking one. He’s got to be experienced without being worn out.

He’s got to be blonde. He’s got to be named Chris. You know where this is heading.

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Yes, that face.

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Yes, that body.

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Yes, neither of those things help his complete lack of sexual chemistry between Natalie Portman in Thor, but maybe he’s just too amazingly good-looking even for her.

Chris Hemsworth is a man who secretly paid off his family debts and we only found out when his brother spilled the beans. He’s got looks, he’s got heart, and considering he took on the role of the “sexy assistant” in the upcoming all-female Ghostbusters, he’s got smarts as well.

Evolution, we have a winner.

Anthony Morris is a freelance journalist who has been writing about films for the last 15 years. He writes regularly for a variety of publications, including Empire magazine, and is the DVD editor of the Big Issue. He can be found on twitter at @morrbeat.