Then: Sylvester Stallone
Rambo, Rocky, Jude Dredd, Cliffhanger. In the ‘80s and ‘90s Sylvester Stallone was an action superstar. He was a go-to for beefy butt-kicking movie roles—and there were lots released in that twenty year span. His brand of muscle-bound physique and no nonsense personality were de rigueur for men of the decade. Stallone was so associated with action movies and muscles, it was a big deal when he gained weight and tried to go serious, starring alongside Robert Di Niro, in the 1997 film Cop Land. While the serious actor thing didn’t really work, we can thank Stallone for the goofy Expendables films, which feature a dozen action stars—most of whom haven’t been popular in fifteen years.
Now: Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson is the epitome of the 21st century heartthrob. A far cry from the ‘90s beefcake, RPatz is more floppy hair and hangdog eyes than bulging biceps. Pattinson, in all his sensitive, sparkly glory, is one of the hottest movie stars around right now—for everyone from tween Twi-hards to their mothers.
Then: Bruce Willis
Bruce Willis was/is a guy’s guy. You imagine him sitting in a bar, having a beer, listening to rock n’ roll on the jukebox, playing a game of pool—all the cool-dude stuff he did in his 1987 music video. That kind of swagger doesn’t seem to play as much these days. I mean, can you really imagine Robert Pattinson shooting a machine gun and beating up crazed terrorists in a movie like Die Hard today?
Now: Josh Hutchinson
Nowadays, even actors cast in action movies, where they need to run and fight and generally kick butt, don’t necessarily look like tough guys. Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta in the Hunger Games films is 5’7” and slight of build. His character fights other kids to the death, but he’s really just a smart and sensitive baker’s son who loves and wants to protect trilogy heroine Katniss. And fans of the books and films are eating it up. The more traditionally masculine tough guy of the series, Gale—played by beefier actor Liam Hemsworth—is shown throughout the story to be not quite right for Katniss. Sensitive guys: 1. Beefcakes: 0.
Then: Arnold Schwarzenegger
The ‘90s saw no greater movie star than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian-born former Mr. Olympia starred in a series of action movies that traded more on his physique and slightly robotic delivery than any impressive acting skills. But, since this was the ‘90s, a muscular bod and a supermanly image were enough for success.
Now: Ryan Gosling
Even though Gosling is known for having an incredible body, he’s probably more known for being a sensitive dude. The “Hey, Girl” Internet meme features the actor in any number of scenarios where he’s being over the top romantic, supportive, and sensitive. And millions of women are swooning. Sure the 21st century woman still wants a hot guy (some things never change), but she also wants one who will help her wrap her knitting yarn.
Then: Kurt Russel
Kurt Russell started out his career as a child actor in family-friendly movies, but he grew up to appear (frequently shirtless) in a series of tough-guy roles. Russell’s world-weary guy’s-guy personality was perfect for ‘80s and ‘90s stardom.
Now: Christian Grey
Okay, he’s a fictional character, but the insane popularity of E L James’ novel 50 Shades of Grey and its two sequels gives us an insight into what women in the 21st century seem to desire in a man. Sure he’s sort of physical and controlling, but James never lets readers forget how troubled and sensitive Christian Grey is. He plays classical music on the piano! He’s willing to give up his desires for the annoying protagonist! He’s perfect!
This post originally appeared on DivineCaroline