20 Most Unbelievable Actor Physical Transformations

Worth their weight gain/loss in Oscar gold...

The Weinstein Company

With 2014 now behind us, it€™s officially Oscar season in Hollywood. There€™s still almost two months to go before the red carpet's rolled out for the 87th Academy Awards, but the frontrunners are starting to emerge in what promises to be a fascinating battle for the big prizes.

As usual, a host of high-quality performances are dominating the discussions and prediction lists, and after four previous nominations Julianne Moore is odds-on to finally take home an Oscar for Still Alice. J.K. Simmons is leading the race for Best Supporting Actor, and Patricia Arquette€™s affecting work in Boyhood has made her a strong favourite in the Best Supporting Actress category. However, it€™s arguably the Best Actor race that features the strongest competition.

Although Benedict Cumberbatch, David Oyelowo, Steve Carell and several other leading men remain in contention, it€™s looking increasingly likely that it will be a straight shootout between Eddie Redmayne and Michael Keaton on February 22. Keaton turned back the clock with a memorable performance in Birdman while Redmayne is undeniably brilliant as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, so it€™s a pity someone has to miss out.

Redmayne€™s feats of contortionism in capturing the debilitating effects of ALS are remarkable, and the Brit lost 21 pounds in weight and altered his spinal alignment in pursuit of authenticity. He wasn€™t the only Best Actor contender to go to extremes: Jake Gyllenhaal shed 30 pounds for his sinister, bug-eyed turn in Nightcrawler, only to switch gears immediately to play a ripped boxer in Southpaw as per the image above.

There€™s something inherently fascinating about watching actors take risks and make enormous sacrifices to morph before our eyes. Some very familiar faces have rendered themselves almost unrecognisable in the process, the results of which must be seen to be believed.

20. Chris Pratt - Guardians Of The Galaxy

Weight loss: 60 lbs/27 kg

Anyone who€™s ever watched the U.S. sitcom Parks And Recreation can understand why the Marvel brain trust initially had reservations about casting Chris Pratt as the lead in Guardians Of The Galaxy. After all, Pratt made his name as Andy Dwyer, a schlubby but lovable man-child in couch-potato shape, and his leading-man credentials were also in doubt.

Fortunately, Pratt had already served notice of his willingness to put down the pretzels and pick up dumbbells instead, simultaneously bulking up and slimming down to do a convincing job as a Navy SEAL in Zero Dark Thirty. In order to play Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, he kicked things up a notch.

Pratt shed 60 pounds in the course of six months by abstaining from beer and enduring €œthree or four hours a day of just consistent, *ss-kicking hard work,€ which included punishing gym sessions as well as running, swimming, boxing and kickboxing.

The results speak for themselves, even if the big increase in water intake left him €œpeeing all day long, every day.€

19. Charlize Theron - Monster

Weight gain: 30 lbs/14 kg

As a former ballet dancer and model, it€™s no surprise that Charlize Theron is known for her enviable looks and athletic build. However, the South African actress underplayed her genetic good fortune as part of a career-making performance in Patty Jenkins€™ Monster in 2003.

Tasked with playing the notorious serial killer Aileen Wuornos, who was convicted for six murders that took place between 1989 and 1990 and was executed in 2002, Theron was prepared to do whatever it took to do the film and role justice:

€œI didn€™t want it to be the kind of thing where transforming me into Aileen - which we had to do and I knew we had to do - where it became just about prosthetics and a fat suit€ the only way I was going to do that was to really truly get myself in a place where I felt the same things she might have felt.€
Theron gained 30 pounds ahead of the shoot, and the increase in weight and exemplary prosthetics and makeup work completed an impressive transformation that helped her to a Best Actress Oscar win.

18. 50 Cent - All Things Fall Apart

Weight loss: 54 lbs/24 kg

It€™s far from impossible for rappers to achieve success in the film industry: Eminem€™s performance in 8 Mile in 2002 was met with ringing endorsements, while Ice Cube, Mos Def and Queen Latifah among others have all carved out lasting and successful careers in Hollywood.

Curtis Jackson - known to one and all as 50 Cent - is another rapper to turn his talents to acting and made a solid debut in 2005€™s Get Rich or Die Tryin€™. Nevertheless, his biggest gamble in trying to establish himself as an actor of merit fell flat when Mario Van Peebles€™ All Things Fall Apart sank without a trace on its release in 2011.

Still, it wasn€™t for want of trying on the part of Fiddy. Well known for his hulking, gym-honed physique, the rapper knew some drastic weight loss was required to do a convincing job of playing a football player who is diagnosed with cancer. No half measures here - Jackson went on a liquid diet and pounded the treadmill to drop 54 pounds in nine weeks and achieve the gaunt look on display above.

17. Tom Hardy - Bronson

Weight gain: 35 lbs/16 kg

Tom Hardy will soon appear on screens as Max Rockatansky in the long-delayed Mad Max: Fury Road, further cementing his credentials as an action star following his performances in Warrior and The Dark Knight Rises.

As such, it may come as a surprise that the actor admits, €œI€™m five-foot-nine and I weigh 185lbs wet-through with bricks in my pockets.€ Hardy€™s physicality and intense preparations have been combined to dramatic effect in several roles, but not everyone was convinced that he was the right choice to play the imposing prisoner Charles Bronson - least of all Bronson himself.

The subject matter of the eponymous 2008 biopic was disappointed when he met the actor chosen to portray him on screen, but Hardy sought to reassure him and told the notorious inmate, €œDon€™t worry, Charlie, I€™ll fix it.€ He was as good as his word.

Hardy embarked on an intensive regime of resistance training and scarfed down chicken, rice, pizza and ice cream to pile on 35 pounds in just five weeks, radically transforming his build and delivering a performance that kick-started his Hollywood career.

16. George Clooney - Syriana

Weight gain: 32 lbs/15 kg

The Academy Awards in 2006 was dominated by the controversial Best Picture win for Crash over firm favourite Brokeback Mountain, but George Clooney was undoubtedly the man of the hour.

Clooney found fame playing Doug Ross in ER and used the TV show€™s popularity as a springboard to fulfill his ambitions both in front of and behind the camera. In 2005, Clooney co-wrote, directed and performed in Good Night, And Good Luck, which vied for six Oscars the following March, and Stephen Gagan€™s Syriana also saw Clooney pick up a Best Supporting Actor nod to go with his nominations in the Directing and Original Screenplay categories.

Clooney put on over thirty pounds in weight and grew a lengthy beard to play a disheveled CIA operative in the geopolitical thriller and took home the Oscar for his troubles, but it€™s safe to say he didn€™t enjoy the experience:

€œThere was nothing fun about it. There was not a moment that was fun about shooting this film. That's not a slap on the film or Gaghan. It's just that everybody has that year where you age a decade and this was that one for me.€

15. Sylvester Stallone - Cop Land

Weight gain: 40 lbs/18 kg

Whereas fitness enthusiast Clooney found little enjoyment in piling on the pounds for his art, Sylvester Stallone took on a similar task with relish when he was cast as a small town sheriff in James Mangold€™s Cop Land:

€œI'd wake up in the morning and do nothing. No exercise, no stretching, no problem. I'd €five pancakes, some days 10, whatever I could handle, and I always topped it with mountains of whipped cream and washed it down with chocolate milk.€
Cast against type as the paunchy, hangdog Freddy Heflin, Stallone put a lifetime of manic exercise on temporary hold to pack on 40 pounds of fat and bring his waistline up to the same figure.

While he enjoyed the overeating at first, Stallone soon rued the extent of his indulgence when he began to suffer from heart palpitations, acid reflux, digestion problems and headaches. However, at least he could console himself with a game effort that was warmly received by the majority of critics and remains one of his best performances.

14. Anne Hathaway - Les Misérables

Weight loss: 25 lbs/11 kg

2012 was a good year for Anne Hathaway, who surprised a number of doubters with a sassy, confident turn as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and showed off another skillset when she was cast in the big-screen adaptation of famed musical/novel Les Misérables.

Tom Hooper€™s film was an international hit, banking over $440 million worldwide and securing eight Oscar nominations. Hugh Jackman and Eddie Redmayne were praised for their performances whereas Russell Crowe was singled out for critical barbs as his singing voice failed to make the grade, but the film€™s chief talking point from the day of its release onwards was Hathaway€™s wrenching performance as beleaguered factory worker-turned prostitute Fantine.

The destination of the Best Supporting Actress gong at the 85th Academy Awards ceremony was never in doubt, and Hathaway shed more than her hair for the coveted role. All told, she lost 25 pounds to achieve her emaciated look and subsisted on small servings of baked porridge for the final week of filming.

13. Edward Norton - American History X

Weight gain: 30 lbs/14 kg

It€™s not just Michael Keaton who€™s earning critical acclaim for his performance in Alejandro González Iñárritu€™s bonkers black comedy Birdman: Emma Stone has also been singled out for praise as lead character Riggan€™s daughter, and Edward Norton gave his best performance in years as irascible actor Mike Shiner.

Norton may well receive his third Oscar nomination when the announcements are made next week and his second in the Best Supporting Actor category, having been recognised for his feature debut in legal thriller Primal Fear in 1997. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that the actor€™s best - and certainly his most affecting - performance to date came in American History X in 1998.

As neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard, Norton was electrifying and utterly convincing, thanks in no small part to the physical transformation he underwent in preparation for the role. The usually scrawny actor added 30 pounds of lean muscle to his frame, which helped him exude menace in an unforgettable, firebrand turn.

12. Jake Gyllenhaal - Prince Of Persia - The Sands Of Time

Weight gain: Unconfirmed

There€™s little doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the most interesting and dependable leading actors around these days. If any skepticism remained regarding his abilities after sterling work in Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, End of Watch and Prisoners, the recent release of Nightcrawler should be enough to convince even the naysayers that few working actors can match Gyllenhaal€™s on-screen intensity.

The unwavering dedication he brings to each role is becomingly increasingly obvious, as evidenced by his switch from slight of build to prizefighter peaks of fitness for upcoming sports drama Southpaw.

Not that it€™s the first time Gyllenhaal has hit the gym for a role: five years ago the actor submitted to a gruelling training regime in order to play Dastan in Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time. Working out three times a day, six weeks a day for four months prior to production, he combined parkour with interval and resistance training to look every inch an action star. Ultimately the film wasn€™t up to much, but Gyllenhaal evidently gave it his all.

11. Natalie Portman - Black Swan

Weight loss: 20 lbs/9 kg

Much in the same way as Jake Gyllenhaal€™s training program was designed to improve athleticism as opposed to add significant bulk, Natalie Portman€™s preparation for Black Swan was geared towards delivering a believable performance as a ballet dancer.

Portman worked with a ballet teacher for a full year before shooting, spending upwards of five hours a day training and swimming six days a week, fitting in her workouts with filming on other movies. A rigorous diet saw Portman lose 20 pounds from her already-slight frame, and almost lose her marbles:

€œThere were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die. It was the first time I understood how you could get so wrapped up in a role that it could sort of take you down.€
Spare a thought, too, for Mila Kunis, who lost a similar amount of weight over seven months and weighed just 95 pounds by the end of the shoot.

10. Benicio del Toro - Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

Weight gain: 50 lbs approx./23 kg

Whereas Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, George Clooney and Charlize Theron (plus a few names yet to come) all saw their efforts to manifest physical changes rewarded with Oscars, some actors who went to similar extremes weren€™t quite so lucky.

Take Benicio del Toro, for example:

€œMy career definitely went into a hole after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Hunter S. Thompson told me that my career would be over after I did the film and he was right - I was unemployable for about a year.€
Terry Gilliam€™s wild 1998 film was based on the semi-autobiographical ramblings and rampant drug abuse of famed U.S. journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson. Del Toro was cast as Dr. Gonzo, ostensibly the attorney to Johnny Depp€™s Hunter, but more accurately described by Thompson himself as a €œhigh-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production€.

The Puerto Rican actor fattened up by almost 50 pounds for the role and was so convincing as a crazed, drug-addled lunatic that his career was temporarily left in ruins.

9. Matthew Fox - Alex Cross

Weight loss: 40 lbs/18 kg

Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas struggled at the box office, grossing a little over $10 million against a budget nearly double that sum. Nevertheless, it earned cult status over time thanks to its home release and a dedicated following who revelled in a compelling marriage of director and material.

The same cannot be said for Alex Cross, the third screen adaptation of James Patterson€™s hugely successful series of novels and perhaps the last. Despite Tyler Perry€™s involvement and the efforts of his considerable fan base, Alex Cross just about scraped back its $35 million budget, but endured a critical savaging and didn€™t fare much better with audiences.

All of which is a shame for Matthew Fox, who rose to prominence playing Jack in Lost and went to great lengths to portray the manically fit serial killer Picasso. Fox, aided by fitness guru Simon Waterson, who worked with Jake Gyllenhaal on Prince Of Persia and transformed Daniel Craig for the Bond movies, shed the best part of 40 pounds via a brutal regime of circuit workouts, weapons training, mixed martial arts training, and scuba training. The results are there for all to see, even if not enough people did.

8. Michael Fassbender - Hunger

Weight loss: 32 lbs/15 kg

If you€™re going to star in a film charting the journey of a man who led a hunger strike, you€™re duty-bound to go through some extreme sacrifices in the name of authenticity.

Michael Fassbender proved more than willing when he was cast in Steve McQueen€™s feature film debut Hunger, which was released in 2008. The German-Irish actor had enjoyed a modest career to that point, making an early impression in Band of Brothers and appearing in 300, but Hunger would take him to the next level.

Tasked with playing Bobby Sands, a member of the Provisional IRA who while in prison organised a series of hunger strikes with the aim of participants being declared political prisoners as opposed to criminals, Fassbender lost over 30 pounds in total (and a good deal more according to some press reports). Filming was put on hiatus for ten weeks so that the actor could drop the weight, which he managed via a stringent diet, long walks and yoga to match Sands€™ final weight of 58 kilos.

7. Matt Damon - Courage Under Fire

Weight loss: 40 lbs/18 kg

Whereas Michael Fassbender took a measured, cautious approach to losing a significant percentage of his bodyweight for his art, Matt Damon adopted a different strategy - and paid the price.

Back in 1996, Damon was an ambitious young actor in search of a breakthrough, so when he was offered the part of heroin addict Ilario in Courage Under Fire, he went to great lengths to make an impression:

€œI'd run six-and-a-half miles in the morning and six-and-a-half miles at night and I€™d eat just chicken breast, egg whites, one baked potato a day, no butter, no salt and a lot of coffee, a lot of cigarettes. ... It was really stupid.€
€œReally stupid€ is about right: Damon lost 40 pounds through the extreme measures he employed to achieve a skeletal look for just two days of filming, but was later told he was lucky his heart didn€™t shrink. He inflicted so much stress on his adrenal gland that he was prescribed medication for years afterwards to correct the damage.

Still, at least his ill-advised approach yielded results, with the actor commenting, €œI didn't have to act at all - I was a wreck.€

6. Vincent D€™Onofrio - Full Metal Jacket

Weight gain: 70 lbs/32 kg

Ten years before Matt Damon risked his health to make a name for himself, Vincent D€™Onofrio€™s ambition prompted him to drastically alter his appearance in an attempt to make a big impression.

D€™Onofrio was fortunate enough to be cast in legendary director Stanley Kubrick€™s Full Metal Jacket, which would revisit the Vietnam War from boot camp to battleground. Leonard Lawrence - the character D€™Onofrio successfully auditioned for, who would become better known as Private Pyle - was allegedly conceived as a skinny, ignorant character before Kubrick decided the role would carry more pathos if he were portrayed as big and clumsy.

The actor fully committed to the task, putting on a remarkable 70 pounds in weight - a then-record amount of weight gained by an actor for a role. D€™Onofrio has since commented that this physical transformation changed his life, though not in the manner he was expecting:

€œWomen didn't look at me; most of the time I was looking at their backs as they were running away. People used to say things to me twice, because they thought I was stupid.€

5. Tom Hanks - Cast Away

Weight gain: 40 lbs/18 kg

Weight loss: 70 lbs/32 kg

Despite picking up an Oscar nomination for his charming turn in Big in 1989, Tom Hanks was still very much thought of as a comedy actor before the release of Philadelphia in 1993. Hanks€™ moving performance earned him rave reviews and a Best Actor Oscar in a role for which he trimmed 26 pounds to portray a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS, and he would go to greater extremes seven years later.

Cast Away saw the actor play Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee who finds himself stranded on a desert island following a plane crash, and Hanks put on 40 pounds before production began to accentuate the effects of his character€™s period of isolation.

Director Robert Zemeckis then shut down production for a full year so as to give his lead sufficient time to lose weight and grow out his hair and beard. Hanks lost 70 pounds before cameras started rolling again and the end result was one of the most impressive on-screen transformations in cinema history.

4. Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club

Weight loss: 42 lbs/19 kg

When Matthew McConaughey agreed to play Ron Woodroof, a man diagnosed with AIDS who smuggled unapproved pharmaceuticals into the U.S. from Mexico to alleviate his and fellow patients€™ suffering, he instantly knew who to contact for some useful advice.

The Texan put in a call to Tom Hanks, whose experiences losing weight for two movies and understanding of the trials of those infected with HIV through making Philadelphia made him the ideal colleague to contact.

McConaughey is famous for his shirt allergy and athletic physique, so giving an authentic portrayal of a dangerously thin AIDS patient meant that a dramatic physical transformation was required. Although reports vary somewhat, the actor lost over 40 pounds and slimmed down to 143 pounds at his lightest, eating tiny amounts of fish, vegetables and tapioca pudding and avoiding sunlight for four months to look the part.

The effort was worth every sacrifice as McConaughey followed in Hanks€™ footsteps and took home the Oscar for Best Actor last year.

3. Jared Leto - Chapter 27

Weight gain: 67 lbs/30 kg

McConaughey wasn€™t the only Dallas Buyers Club cast member charged with losing vast amounts of weight for the film, neither was he the only one to take home an Oscar for his efforts.

Jared Leto turned in a career-best performance as transsexual Rayon and made the Best Supporting Actor category his own during the awards season. As a member of rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, Leto had for the most part turned his back on the movie industry and Dallas Buyers Club was his first film in four years. Leto lost almost as much weight as his co-star and weighed just 114 pounds at one point, but incredibly those weren€™t the most drastic measures he has taken for a film role.

In 2007, Leto starred in Chapter 27 as Mark David Chapman, the obsessive, mentally deranged Beatles fan who shot John Lennon in 1980, and gained an astonishing 67 pounds by drinking melted pints of ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil. Leto€™s weight gain was so extreme that he developed problems with his feet and had to resort to using a wheelchair.

2. Robert De Niro - Raging Bull

Weight loss: Unconfirmed

Weight gain: 60 lbs/27 kg

It€™s become relatively commonplace for actors to alter their body shape as each role demands, but that wasn€™t often the case back in 1980.

Arguably the actor who set the trend in motion, Robert De Niro had managed to convince Martin Scorsese to take up the challenge of directing Raging Bull, a biopic charting the rise and fall of legendary middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta. The challenge for De Niro encompassed portraying LaMotta both in his physical prime but also in his later years, when the ex-prizefighter€™s weight ballooned following his retirement.

De Niro worked closely with LaMotta in a brutal training camp prior to filming, shredding his physique and fully immersing himself in boxing to the point where he contested three professional bouts, winning two. However, he then had to get himself ready to play LaMotta in later life and De Niro spent four months eating his way around France and Italy to undo all his good work.

By the time filming resumed, he had packed on 60 pounds and was virtually unrecognisable, completing one of cinema€™s finest ever performances and winning his second Oscar in the process.

1. Christian Bale - The Machinist/Batman Begins

Weight loss: 60 lbs/27 kg

Weight gain: 99 lbs/45 kg

Weight loss: 30 lbs/14 kg

If all the times Christian Bale has dramatically altered his body shape were to be included in this list, the number of entries would probably stretch to 30.

Over the years, the Brit has proven himself a human yoyo when it comes to weight gain and loss, from his skinny showings in Rescue Dawn and The Fighter to the uncomfortable bloat of American Hustle by way of the beef of Batman. Just don€™t go taking his sacrifices for granted:

€œFor God's sake, do people not understand what a pain it is to do? It's as though it's some comment about, €˜Oh it's easy for him, because he's done it a bunch of times€™. It's not easy, it's not fun - it's horrible.€
The apogee of Bale€™s on-screen fluctuations came in 2004, when he lost 60 pounds to play insomniac Trevor Reznik in The Machinist in a startling display of commitment, but it was what followed that really shows why he has no peers in the physical transformation department.

With the tantalising prospect of playing Batman on the horizon, drastic action was required to turn his skeletal 121-pound frame into something fit for a superhero. In typically overzealous fashion, Bale packed on an incredible 100 pounds in a matter of months, overshooting the ideal mark by a distance and having no option other than to lose 30 pounds in double-quick time.

Did we miss anything? Weigh in with any more impressive tales of weight loss/gain below?

In this post: 
Posted On: 

I watch movies and I watch sport. I also watch movies about sport, and if there were a sport about movies I'd watch that too. The internet was the closest thing I could find.