Superhero Movies as an Excuse to Objectify Men

300As everyone’s noticed, over the last few years, superhero movies have become extremely popular. Nearly every halfway decent superhero book is being adapted into a series of increasingly competent movies.

Sure, some of this has to do with comic readers growing up and paying homage to their childhood heroes. And America’s growing awareness of it’s own vulnerability in the world has to create a desire for protectors of the superhuman variety.

But something else seems to have happened too, and this time it’s not just some really tacky wardrobe malfunction (like Clooney’s unfortunately campy Batman nipples). There are huge pressures for men to be as fashion conscious and body-obsessed as women have for centuries, and superhero movies provide an ideal arena for this new aesthetic.

Obviously 300 was a pretty damn prefect example. There have been other period action dramas, but Spartacus was never this stunning, or this naked. Personally I loved the comics back when it came out, and I think the filmmakers really nailed Lynn Varley’s beautiful colors. But the film really came to life in the muscles, so very many muscles. It was too funny; those guys were all like young gods in leather panties.

Did you watch Iron Man? Have you ever seen Robert Downey Jr. look like that? Where did he get that body? The man is not a kid anymore, I had no idea he could make his body do that. And the way he moved, he really did an amazing job. I’m impressed. And of course he was impeccably dressed and groomed, the facial hair alone must have taken constant tweaks to get that symmetrical.

Batman Begins brought to life the kind of depiction of my hero that I’ve always wanted to see, and then the whole franchise hit it’s stride with The Dark Knight. Apart from being excellent films, these are also amazing examples of packaging up a very impressive number of talented and sexy men. I’m not just talking about Christian Bale here, the whole cast is hot, from Rutger Hauer (remember him in Blade Runner? the man was a super villain before it was fashionable), down to Gary Oldman (he might be playing dowdy here, but the man has tremendous screen presence, and if you want to see him in a completely different light, rent Sid & Nancy sometime). Even the old guys were hot in their day (try watching Michael Caine in Get Carter, and I definitely remember my friends mum’s “oohing” over Liam Neeson when I was a kid). You add people like Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger, and Cillian Murphy to that and it’s starting to look suspiciously like they just made the movies as an excuse to put together a ton of good-looking blokes.

Iron ManThese days’ men are expected to look absolutely beautiful, physically perfect, and sexually attractive. For years, the same expectations have been foisted on to women, we’re used to that. Women are expected to be fully absorbed with their physical appearance (in fact, many feminists believe that this is just a ploy to take up valuable time and create an entire chunk of the population who’re too busy worrying about their looks to get on with anything meaningful. I’d certainly argue that some shoes are so uncomfortable as to make it difficult to think, let alone walk). Traditionally, it is one of the ways that women are shown to be inferior to men, with their silly obsession with something as pointless as their appearance.

So unlike women, men’s traditional roles are supremely unsuited to all of this primping and preening.  Men are somehow expected to find a way to retain to their laissez-faire, stereotypically masculine attitude to their appearance, and yet look stunningly groomed and be god-like in their build. Overtly trying to be beautiful is entirely at odds with classic, aggressive guy behavior. But then how can men be expected to develop those exquisitely sculpted abdominal muscles, sport elegantly groomed facial hair, or wear incredibly form-fitting clothing, without losing every aspect of their rugged masculinity? Taking hours to diet and work out, wearing tight clothes to show off those perfect muscles, spending a fortune on grooming products… these all seem like the work of a ridiculously vain exhibitionist, not a rugged manly man.

The problem becomes how to make these superficial things seem sensible, and even necessary for a guy? If only there were a job that a man could do which would force him to look stunningly perfect, and still retain all of his brutish charm… It turns out there is a job like this, a job which exists only in fantasy.  In this fantasy realm, the good people aren’t just honorable and brave, they also look good, and they wear really tight clothes to show it off too. In fact, they don’t just look slightly good they look damn near perfect. It’s part of their job, part of the way you can recognize the qualities that make them a hero.

All of the things that are impossible for an everyday man make sense in the context of superheroes. It’s a superhero’s job to be in shape, to be strong, to show off his intimidating prefect body to his cowering enemies. It’s not that he’s vain or narcissistic; in fact, he never thinks about his perfect body or his chiseled features. He doesn’t care about the way he looks, its simply incidental.

Things work out pretty well for everyone.

American PsychoBut deep down it doesn’t seem right. I’m not entirely comfortable with the fact that men are being encouraged to aspire to unattainable levels of physical perfection in just the same way as women. Does equality have to mean that we’re all driven nuts? I wish that some of the guys in 300 hadn’t been quite so uniformly perfect, or that Robert Downey Jr.’s mustache hadn’t looked quite so cartoonishly trimmed, or even that Christian Bale had looked just a tiny bit less damn fabulous. Thank god for Heath’s Joker, I know that most guys can manage to look that frazzled if they try really hard.

Joking aside, all I’m saying is that a chink in the armor might make the movies feel a little more realistic, and also make the guys lives a tiny bit less intimidating in the great scheme of things. I’m all for men paying a little more attention to their appearance, but don’t forget; American Psycho was a horror story, not a fable. In real life the guys that spend all day working out are more than a little creepy.


Sonia Harris currently lives her life in superficial San Francisco, but hails from London; the home of beer-guts and bad teeth. Please send the details of your grooming rituals to


  1. Sing it!  I’m fed up with being objectified all the time.  Scruffy, adorable.  God, and the big brown eyes?  My life is like the opening scene from A Hard Day’s Night. 

  2. mwahahaha… I love it. Who knew that movies based on adolescent malepower fantasies could end up being the great equalizer (with regards to standards of beauty) between the sexes? Now everyone’s equally objectified. Nice.

  3. Once again, wonderful work Sonia. This is a really brilliant look at our world.

     I absolutely agree though, if you want to make a group of guys feel bad about their image…all you need is a pizza and 300 on blue ray.

     One little thing, could we impose a 2-3 month moratorium on "batt-nipple" jokes…I don’t know what it is, but I’ve heard so many of them recently. Not necessarily here at iFanboy, but from other sources as well.

    Anyway, once again, great work!

  4. Is it wrong to think it’s easier for women to get skinny for movies than it is for men to get buff?

    Great article.  I now read them with a british accent.

  5. I go to the gym 4 days a week to fit into those tight tees and show off my muscles.  So screw you.  Just playing great article.  I love having a girls touch to ifanboy and you really bring something great to the table.

  6. "Have I seen you down at the gym? Wait a minute, I don’t go to the gym, I’m just naturally like this."

  7. Great article, Sonia! I agree, I like my guys to be not-so-perfect. Although, I’m not complaining about the eye candy 😉 

    nice ref @ferociousj!

  8. I like my men buff. They don’t have to be superheroes, just BUFF!

  9. I am not a piece of meat!  I AM A HUMAN BEING!!!!!!!

    Sorry, I had to say it before somebody beat me to do it.

  10. I work out because I lke it.

  11. Don’t think I don’t feel the constant pressure to maintain this body. I feel the eyes on me, and it can be pretty hard just trying to keep up. But you know, this stuffed crust pizza is not going to eat itself.

  12. Superhero movies are an excuse to objectify men?  I thought that was what professional sports were for.  Maybe Tom Brady can guest on Smallville in his downtime.

    But, you know, seriously . . .  when I saw the first X-Men movie in 2000, I knew absolutely nothing about Marvel comics.  An whenever somebody asked me what I thought  of it, my response sounded something like  <incoherent>cagefight!<incoherent> 

    You may be on to something.

  13. @jimski: You gonna finish that? I mean I just had an orange soda and doritos…But I’m up for some pizza 🙂

    But yeah I understand what Sonia is saying, oh and fantastic article btw. Heroes are suppose to look like greek god because…..well because it’ll look stupid seeing a Spider-Man swinging in the Bronx with a gut hanging out. Same goes for women too, you dont see average looking woman in comics much either. Most look like supermodels or ‘ladies of the evening’ if you get my drift.

  14. I think this is a great article but although men being groomed and pressured into perfection is more hyped now in our culture it’s far from new with humans, look back at Greek and Roman statues and then jump into the Renaissance with Michelangelo’s David for example.  I see super-heroes as a modern continuation of that theme- admiring human perfection and striving to attain it.  Seems to always pop up with cultures that have so much we’re allowed to be bored.  

  15. @Kimbo – yes, but I don’t remember seeing statues of dogs with fancy clothes and painted finger nails… poor pets…

  16. I always thought of American Psycho as a comedy, a dark dark dark comedy.  I always laughed at it, its one of my favs 🙂

     But honestly, great article.  About time someone brought this out in the open!

  17. Is NightOwl, in the upcoming Watchmen movie, going to retain the overweight physique depicted in the comic?

  18. Patrick Wilson Gets Physical for ‘Watchmen’

    To prepare for the role of Nite Owl in next year’s Watchmen, Patrick Wilson started doing his research before he met with director Zack Snyder. "I did all my homework and became a huge fan of the comic," Wilson told MTV.

    "My buddy always fills me in on what this means to the comic world. I knew before I even met with Zack that I was walking on hallowed ground." I like what Wilson zeroed in on in his portrayal of Nite Owl, specifically, the character’s less-than-chiseled physique. "His physicality I was always completely conscious of," said Wilson. "The drawing of him looking so sad and very dumpy with slumping shoulders…that’s very informative to me. When the guy takes his shirt off that’s not a fat dude. That’s a big dude who maybe got soft but he’s not just a big tub."

    "It’s funny some people have a different interpretation of that," adds the actor. "And I keyed into Alan Moore likening him to a soldier coming back from a war and feeling lost, not knowing his place in society. I was like, that I can dig into."


  19. I often do household chores like ironing or folding towels while shirtless,  wearing nothing a pair of fashionable jeans.  I never feel as free and happy as I do in those moments.  I wish society was at a place where I could feel free to dress this way in public–like nice restaurants or bookstores–without being looked at like some kind of adonis.  I am no mere object.  I have a soul just like everyone else;  it’s just encased in this near-perfect package.

  20. my girlfriend called bullshit on this and won’t read the article… I’m still trying.

  21. guess she’s finally reading it. thank god.

  22. What?

    But deep down it doesn’t seem right. I’m not entirely comfortable with the fact that men are being encouraged to aspire to unattainable levels of physical perfection in just the same way as women.

    Why not, I think peolpe should aspire to perfection in every aspect of their lives. As long you keep in things in perspective and don’t lose your head I really don’t see the problem. 

    Also I really don’t think it’s the same way as women becuase the ideal body image that the mainstream media seems to promote is unhealthy as oposed to the body image perpetuded in 300 wich isI consider very healthy.

    and on the subject of objectification, since when do humans beings need an excuse to objectify people not just sexually, seems to me we do it for many other other than sex…and reading wikipedia(lol i know) came across intresting quote…"sex object" means nothing because inanimate objects are not sexual. She continues that women are their bodies and sexuality as well as their minds and souls




  23. Over exercising isn’t healthy. Health has barely anything to do with the outer part of your body. I know a 40 something year old woman that has some muscle and zero fat, and she smokes like a chimney but she’s thin. She went to do a boob job (the trendy thing to do nowadays) and all her smoking caused a complication.

    Sex object does have a meaning – it means that your desire for sex with a certain individual makes him into an object meaning they do not have thoughts of their own, wants of their own, etc. All you see is an opportunity for sex and you don’t stop to think about the person you only view as a sex object.

  24. Sex object does have a meaning – it means that your desire for sex with a certain individual makes him into an object meaning they do not have thoughts of their own, wants of their own, etc. All you see is an opportunity for sex and you don’t stop to think about the person you only view as a sex object.


    1. In what warped universe is a boob job "the trendy thing to do" don’t be ridiculous

    2. You’re assuming women only think of them in terms of sex? If they thought of them as potential husbands would that make you feel better? How is thinking of them in terms of sex better than thinking of them in terms of friends or potential husbands/wives. 

    3. I don’t see how that relates to viewing images on a screen. Also women objectifying men has relatively little meaning because the fact of the matter is looks really are not the deciding factor to women. It can certainly help but in the end being socially "attractive" is more important that being physically "attractive".

  25. If see Chris Rock as someone only there to make you laugh and one of your criteria for men is that they are funny doesn’t that Chris Rock giving women an excuse to objectify men as obects for our laughter and amusment. Is that bad to?


    Or is it just that most humans are naturally self centered and think of EVERYTHING as whats in if for them and those who take it to EXTREME leveles (those who don’t ever consider other peoples feelings in any situtuation) are just that EXTREME contributed to Chris Rocks jokes or Gerald Butlers abs. 

  26. When ordinary people start to do it without regard to the risks involved, and it is portrayed as an easy thing to do, and a lot of regular people start to do it – to me that is a trend.

    I’m not assuming anything. You said Sex Object is meaningless and I think you’re mistaken.  Didn’t understand to what you are refering in the second part of the second part. Care to clarify?

    I’m not a woman so I can’t really judge what is attractive to women. 

  27. I never made it through American Psycho (got my money back early in the film when he was kicking that dog to death), so your comments have been revealing. However, I must disagree with the "objectifying" of men, in superhero movies. While scantilly-clad women built like models usually serve little purpose in movies except as eye candy (except when the movie is about lingerie models), half-naked buff men in comic book movies are, in fact, essential to the story. When I have a story about a tough guy, Bruce Willis is appropriate, but when that tough guy has super powers, I expect that person to look like the epitome of physical strength. This adds to the believability of their "super"-ness. To be fair, however, I would have the same expectation of the actor who plays Wonder Woman, similar to Darwin Cooke’s vision. When you take this idea as the norm, it puts even more pressure on the writers and directors who are expected to make an interesting story that has a super-powered he-man (or woman) while clearly showing their weaknesses (which I believe was the inspiration behind "Hancock").

  28. @RipperSix – I’m not sure how you can object to the idea of women objectifying men in super hero movies unless you are one.  I know for a fact that some women do it.  The woman who wrote this does.

  29. @conor Whoa there, Tex! Nobody’s objecting to that! If anyone wants to objectify men in a movie, that’s their bizness. My comment was a disagreement in the idea that men are being put in these roles strictly as objects. We’ve all heard complaints that this actress or that one was put in a movie not because she could act, but because she’s got a hot bod. If men are subject to the same criticisms (which they are), then I just wanted to interject that there’s more than just sexual appeal to actors playing super heroes. In addition to being hot eye candy, we need buff men and women in super hero movies due to their "super"-ness. So I have no problem with someone lusting after Ben Affleck, but muscle-bound bodies are in the movie for more than just that reason.

  30. @ultimatehoratio Are you inviting me and my girlfriends to come over to your house and watch you do housework? Maybe you need a webcam 😉

  31. Okay…

  32. @RipperSix  You obviously haven’t watched the extras on the X-Men 2 DVD, where James Marsden points out that Cyclops really doesn’t have any need to work out because all he ever does is press a button to release his powerful laser vision (TM).  So why does he do it?  For the fans 😛

  33. @sonia –  Of course.  I’ll just need some forewarning (like a year or two) so I can "tone up".  Also, next year I’ll be featured in the direct-to-DVD release "Guys Gone Mild" where you can see me performing miscellaneous mundane tasks in varying states of undress.  Hopefully the segment where I’m playing "Devil May Cry 4" in boxer briefs doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor.

  34. @ultimatehoratio lol. good stuff!

    @ohcaroline Okay, good point. Any comics fan knows, however, that Cyclops keeps that bod in such good shape for those hot nights with Phoenix and/or White Queen (mrowr!).

  35. @RipperSix  Exactly!  He does it for the ladies.  (And to keep up with Wolverine).

  36. I thought it was just X-Men protocol to have an abnormally fit physique.  For Heaven’s sake XAVIER has a six pack!

  37. It’s just an illusion. Xavier is just messing with everybodys head. It’s like that time he sae Harlod and Maude on TV and got the idea to fake his own death. Also – beast isn’t blue…