The return of sun dresses and sandals signals the return of the summer blockbuster. The summer blockbuster was officially born with the release of Jaws in 1975. Over the years, blockbusters came to mean special effects, violence and a lot of cool stunts. Guy films. But the thing about guy films is, they usually have guys in them. Sexy guys with muscles who may or may not also banter with and rescue a damsel in distress. And guys aren’t the only people to appreciate such a character. Here’s a look at an alltime list of summer sex symbols.
He wore green tights and a little hat, swung from trees, tossed his head back for bellowing laughs, and made grand speeches, and did it all without looking silly or effeminate.
Strictly speaking the summer blockbuster was born in 1975 with the release of Jaws. But The Adventures of Robin Hood which opened in May 1938–the beginning of the modern day summer movie season–fits the formula: It was the studio’s first foray into “glorious technicolor” and at a cost of $2 million, was the most expensive movie in the history of Warner Brothers. Originally the part of Robin was supposed to go to Jimmy Cagney, but Cagney was in the middle of a contract dispute and walked off the set. Producer Hal Wallis decided the sets, scenery and story would draw audiences no matter who played the hero so he decided to cast newcomer Errol Flynn.
The original man in tights, Errol Flynn became the king of the swashbuckler and the prototype for the action hero of today. When Flynn had his first star turn, in the 1935 movie Captain Blood, the reviewer for the New York Times noted that the actor playing the hero was “criminally good-looking” and praised his audacious performance. Flynn’s portrayal of Sir Robin of Locksley cemented his status as a superstar.
Handsome, athletic and charming, Flynn was beloved by men, women and children, which is really the prerequisite for a classic man of summer. Men want to hang out with him, women want to be with him and children want to be like him.
Roger Ebert nails down Flynn’s appeal.
He was improbably handsome, but that wasn’t really the point: What made him a star was his lighthearted exuberance, the good cheer with which he embodies a role like Robin Hood. When George C. Scott was asked what he looked for in an actor, he mentioned “joy of performance,” and Flynn embodies that with a careless rapture. Watch his swagger as he enters John’s banquet hall and throws a deer down before the prince, full knowing that the punishment for poaching a deer is death. Surrounded by his enemies, he fearlessly accuses John of treason against his brother Richard the Lionhearted, and then fights his way out of the castle again. Another actor might have wanted to project a sense of uncertainty, or resolve, or danger; Flynn shows us a Robin Hood so supremely alive that the whole adventure is a lark. Yes, his eyes shift to note that the exit is being barred and guards are readying their swords, but he observes not in fear but in anticipation.
Before car chases, computer animation or light sabers, the sword fight was the action hero’s forte and Flynn performed some of the silver screen’s finest duels. Although he occasionally used a stunt double, much of the swordplay was performed by Flynn, who studied fencing in earnest to prepare for the role. Here’s Robin Hood dueling with Sir Guy of Guisbourne, played by Basil Rathbone. The scene was said to be the inspiration for the light saber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.
Rathbone and Flynn went on to face off against each other in a string of movies with similar plots. sort of like the sequels that are inevitable when a summer action flick becomes a true blockbuster.
While Errol Flynn played his pirates straight, Johnny Depp makes the list for his portrayal of a postmodern pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow. Not your typical action hero, Depp is known more for his oddball roles like Edward Scissorhands and Captain Jack is similarly eccentric.
Depp based the character on Keith Richards, based on his belief that pirates were the 18th Century’s rock stars. Another inspiration was reportedly Pepe LePew, the amorous cartoon skunk. Somehow, it works. I don’t usually go for men in eyeliner, but I’d make an exception for Captain Jack.
Captain Jack was supposed to be a supporting character with Orlando Bloom as the lead, but Depp stole the show. Critics panned the film, which is kind of long and based–after all–on an amusement park ride, but praised Depp’s performance. And audiences clamored for more, leading to two sequels.
Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan. Has any actor starred in more summer blockbusters than Harrison Ford? He’s quite simply the best President, secret agent, smuggler/pilot, Nazi-fighting archaeologist of the silver screen.
Ford swaggered as the young and brash Han Solo. As Indiana Jones, he was more restrained–a hero in the Gary Cooper mold, but with a sense of humor and a fear of snakes. Ford’s rugged good looks make him a natural action hero, but his sexiest attribute is his voice, very masculine and gravelly. Oh, and his way with a whip.
Ford as Indy makes a comeback on May 22 in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This fourth installment in the series has people wondering: Can a 64-year-old man be a convincing action hero? Judging by the photo above, he looks pretty good. Ford reportedly worked out three hours a day and followed a high protein diet to prepare for the movie. Time will tell whether his strict regimen worked.
No one drives better than Steve McQueen whether he’s piloting a car through San Francisco in Bullitt or leaping in a motorcycle over barbed wire fences in The Great Escape. The final jump in the latter scene was actually performed by a stunt double–a fact which miffed McQueen for the rest of his life. But McQueen did most of the ride himself, and he even played some of his Nazi pursuers.
A former Marine who spent 41 days in the brig for being AWOL, McQueen’s life story was not unlike the lives of the characters he played: Rebels who lived by their own moral code. He was the sort of guy who could beat someone senseless without losing his cool.
McQueen’s got a boyish look that’s very appealing and very American. You can see it in the unselfconscious way her wears clothes. He was comfortable whether dressed like a millionaire playboy in The Thomas Crown Affair or wearing western gear in The Magnificent Seven. And nobody filled out a pair of chinos better than McQueen.
McQueen was the first choice for the role of John Rambo in First Blood, but illness–he died in 1980–prevented him from taking the part.
What did women do before Russell Crowe?
—Miranda Hobbes, “Sex and the City”
Strong. Steely. Sexy. Russell Crowe isn’t the handsomest leading man in Hollywood’s firmament, but damn he’s manly. Neither a musclebound clod like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sly Stallone, or a pretty boy like Brad Pitt, Crowe’s a throwback to guys like John Wayne.
And women love him. Here’s film critic Kim Morgan’s take:
No wonder Bud White (Russell Crowe) was such a tremendous turn-on in 1997’s “L.A. Confidential.” Director Curtis Hanson made him meat up in the 1950s way; Crowe ate a lot of steak and watched Aldo Ray and Sterling Hayden movies. He didn’t train with a kickboxer or get a “body by Jake” — he porked out and studied how Hayden or Ray would walk through a door (doorknobs serve no purpose; you just shove it open). Consequently, he allowed women (and men) the pleasure of watching one of the most insanely sexy performances in cinematic history. You had to gasp when Bud grabbed Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger) and with no questions, no playing around, just kissed her. He confused many women who think they are supposed to be in love with that dumbshit from the gym or that spindly-legged bicycle messenger/musician/poet. Fuck those guys. Crowe’s broad-chested lug had more passion oozing from his uptight white cop shirt than any young, sensitive guy who pretends to understand his boundaries with women.
And that goes double for Crowe as Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator, which garnered an Oscar for his performance. Crowe simmers as the Roman general turned slave.
Before The Passion of the Christ, before the infamous “sugar tits” episode, there was Mad Max Rockatansky avenging the murders of his partner, wife and child. And Sgt. Martin Riggs, spiraling out of control after the death of his wife. And William Wallace fighting for freedom from the British after–you guessed it–the murder of his wife.
In his early films, Mel Gibson was almost too good looking. No one would accuse him of that now. It’s too bad the kinetic character with the slightly maniacal gleam in his dazzling blue eyes has devolved into a drunken anti-Semite with a penchant for making movies in dead languages.
Whatever you may think of him, when Cruise is on screen it’s hard to focus on anyone else. The little guy has a large presence. Tom Rosten in Premiere:
Tom Cruise is intense. And he doesn