5 Bodybuilding Flicks as Sexy as They are Inspiring

· Updated on May 15, 2024

For those who dedicate their lives to the art form, bodybuilding is far more than a sport and a pastime: it’s a way of life. And while most of us may have zero ability (and not a lot of desire) to be that ripped and shredded, it’s pretty cool to see just how insanely muscular the human body can get under an absolutely bonkers training regimen.

It’s also, you know…hot. Bodybuilding is hot.

Which is all the excuse I need to present to you a few of my all-time favorite documentaries on the subject. Brace yourself: these docs are as fascinating and moving as they are sexy.

Pumping Iron, 1977

Any list of bodybuilding docs would be absurdly incomplete without this paean to the body beautiful: very specifically, to a young Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body beautiful. The first time I saw this, I was convinced it was porn: and I certainly wasn’t the only one. Because the world of 70s bodybuilding is, among other things, quite wholesomely homosocial. And though most of this movie is devoted to Arnold being extremely full of himself (for good reason, honestly: he keeps winning every competition) it’s also just a great watch for anyone who likes to be immersed in a very specific, homoerotic world full of slick, oiled, sweaty men with biceps the size of my head.

Pumping Iron 2: The Women

Hold onto your seats, because it’s about to get trans in here. If the first Pumping Iron was about dudes being dudes (with huge muscles), the 1985 follow-up, Pumping Iron 2: The Women, dives into the less-explored world of female bodybuilding, and all the many gendered complications that come along with it. For instance, Roger Ebert’s contemporary review essentially asked “why would women do this?” Well, for exactly the same reasons men do, as it turns out. And honestly, you’ll find more than a few trans guys in this doc if you look hard enough.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

There’s a quite obvious elephant in the room when it comes to discussions of bodybuilding and extreme workouts, and Chris Bell’s 2008 documentary says the quiet part out loud. This doc focuses on the problem of steroid use surrounding the world of bodybuilding, and it doesn’t flinch. “Steroids are as American as apple pie,” Bell explains early on, and he’s absolutely right. You know what else is as American as apple pie? Not talking about steroid use nearly as much as we should, focusing instead on stupid transphobic crap like the lie of “biological privilege.” Come for the discourse, stay for the chilling indictment of George W. Bush!

Man Made

Trans writer and filmmaker T. Cooper’s exploration of the world of trans bodybuilders is poignant, fascinating, and sexy. What does it take to take on the kind of masculine beauty standards most cis men only dream of achieving? What are masculine beauty standards in the first place? And finally, what does it mean to be a self-made man, in every sense of the phrase? This poetic, introspective documentary holds all the answers: but more importantly, it asks the real questions.


If you’re into bodybuilding, you need to know about Eugen Sandow, the German bodybuilder immortalized by a series of Thomas Edison short subjects filmed in the legendary Black Maria. Sandow was a “strong man” repped by Florenz Ziegfeld, and his body was the stuff of legend. He loved bodybuilding so much he even organized and judged—along with “Sherlock Holmes” writer Arthur Conan Doyle—the first-ever bodybuilding competition in 1901.

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