It’s Not All Looks & Muscles: Hollywood Heartthrobs and What Women Really Like About Them

Hey, maybe we have a chance after all.

It probably won’t be too controversial to claim that there are quite a few good looking men in Hollywood. Women too, for that matter. Hollywood’s sort of known for it. It's not surprising then that plenty of guys look to emulate some of Hollywood's leading men in the hope of capturing some of the same attention that they command. Whether it's trying the 300 exercise regime or styling their hair just like George Clooney does, guys all over the place have done their best to be a bit more like those big names. Even more have likely bemoaned the fact that they'll never be as attractive as those guys – after all, if you don't have Clooney's jawline already, then nothing short of some pretty exciting surgery is going to get you anywhere close.

What’s interesting, though, is how often men seem to misunderstand what it is about so-called Hollywood heartthrobs that makes them so attractive. A lot of the time, guys can’t understand why some stars are considered attractive at all – I know it took me quite a while to figure out why on earth Benedict Cumberbatch had my girlfriend drooling over Sherlock episodes and looking forward to Star Trek: Into Darkness even more than I was.

The good news is, I think I’ve cracked it. Sort of. I mean, it’s really more of an educated guess than anything else, so don’t go betting your life savings on it or anything. And, as is always the case with attraction, what I say here won’t apply to everyone, and there may well be no-one for whom it all applies. Basically, lots of people like lots of different things, sometimes even slightly contradictory things, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon – certainly not before I finish writing this article.

If you ask most straight guys why it is that a certain actor – say, Brad Pitt –  is so universally lusted after, they’ll probably say something about chiselled abs, a strong jaw, or good hair (that terrible Chanel campaign aside). Basically, he’s a good looking man. We all know it. And I’d be an even bigger idiot than I am to try and argue that that’s irrelevant to his appeal. After all, I doubt he would have even been given a chance to star in a terrible Chanel ad campaign if he looked like Philip Seymour Hoffman (sorry Philip – I’m a fan, honest!).

That said, I equally don’t think Brad Pitt would have gotten anywhere near inexplicably boosting perfume sales (alright, alright, I’ll lay off Chanel for a bit) if his looks were all he had going for him. After all, he’s considered a bit of a sex symbol as Tyler Durden in Fight Club, and I rather suspect that he didn’t have the blonde highlights and naff red leather jacket to thank for that – more likely it was Tyler’s confidence, swagger, and general badassery. On the other hand, when most guys try to replicate Brad Pitt's appeal, the first thing they do is hit the gym. Something's gone wrong here, and I'm going to try to show you that if you think bigger biceps and a smaller gut will bring you up to Brad Pitt's level, you're going about things the wrong way.

Now, of course, not every male sex symbol is the same, just as not every female one is. I couldn’t hope to explain them all in one pithy sentence. So I’ve taken the liberty of characterising a few of the main categories of Hollywood star, with a bit about what is – and isn’t – behind their appeal. WARNING: mass generalizations follow. Proceed with caution.

The Charming Hunk

This is where you’ll find your Brad Pitts, George Clooneys, and Daniel Craigs. Confident, almost to the point of cockiness, with a sort of suave swagger. Probably pretty fit and muscular, although this isn’t strictly necessary. This sort of guy is probably the closest to the stereotypical heterosexual male view of what women want. It’s guys like these that leave the rest of us wondering if we should spend more time at the gym and trying to learn how to drink straight whiskey at a bar without grimacing a little with every sip. The important thing here is that the confidence and the swagger are key. Think George Clooney in Ocean’s Eleven. It’s not his looks that are working for him there – it’s the fact that he has a witty line for every occasion, never loses his cool, and walks around like he owns the place, wherever he is. It is of course possible to learn how to be this suave, with work, but it probably doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

The Awkward Gentleman

If you’ve ever watched a Richard Curtis film, you know who I mean. Think Hugh Grant and Colin Firth. Painfully polite and respectful to the point of awkwardness, though with a sort of confidence underneath it all. Inevitably, the British accent probably does help, which is a bit of a you-either-have-it-or-you-don’t sort of thing, but it’s the personality that really matters here. These guys are sure of themselves, they’re just not quite sure how to deal with other people. They also tend to be unrelentingly nice. A more modern, less British version might be the growth of geek chic – think Michael Cera, or Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man – there’s an endearing geeky awkwardness, but at the same time a sort of confidence in themselves. What makes guys like this attractive tends to be the fact that they’re very clearly decent, caring people – so forget about that nice guys finish last bullshit, because it just isn’t true. Unlike the Pitt/Clooney type, these guys are never cocky, proving (as if there was any doubt) that there really isn’t any one personality type guaranteed to win over everyone.

The Teen Heartthrob

It would be hard to do a post like this without mentioning Robert Pattinson – aka Edward Cullen from Twilight – so I figure I’d at least better mention him. Despite what you may assume, he isn’t only considered attractive to teenage girls, though I rather suspect that a lot of what makes him attractive is playing into those sorts of juvenile attitudes towards men and relationships. Edward Cullen is, in many ways, the pinnacle of the teenage heartthrob – utterly obsessed with Bella, willing to devote his whole life to her and try and satisfy her every whim. He’s the guy who’d write crappy poetry to read to her in the moonlight, leave her a different present every day, and generally be a little bit creepy. Oh, and he sparkles. OK, so maybe I’m being a little harsh on Ed, but the important point is that he appeals to the teenage romantic in (some) women (and men).

Going full Edward might be a bit much, but there’s nothing wrong with aiming for a bit of romance. Make your significant other feel like they're the center of your world, buy them gifts, and make them feel safe and looked after. Just don’t break into their bedroom in the middle of the night to watch them sleep. Too much, Edward. Too much.

The Brooding Intellectual

So as I said at the start, it took me a long time to get my head around my girlfriend’s crush on Benedict Cumberbatch. I mean, he’s a weird looking guy. Tall, lanky, and with those strange dead-fish eyes. But maybe that’s just me. It’s pretty undeniable at this point that he’s got something going for him, as my girlfriend is far from the only “Cumberbitch” out there (sadly, I didn’t make that up – that’s really what they’re called). And here’s what I think it is: he broods. So does Ryan Gosling. And Joaquin Phoenix. So did Marlon Brando. Hopefully you get the idea.

These are the guys that give you an intense, silent stare when you ask them how they take their coffee. You’ve got no idea what they’re thinking, but it’s probably so intelligent. This one is kind of tough to replicate – odds are, you’ll just come off as rude, disinterested, and a bit of a dickhead. Maybe it’s best left to the experts.

If there’s any one thing to take away from all of these guys, it certainly isn’t about their looks. Outside of the fact that none of them are really overweight, they don’t have much in common, and they’re certainly not all ripped. What really ties them together is confidence. Not just the suave, cocky confidence of Brad Pitt & George Clooney, but just a confidence in themselves. They’re all so attractive because whatever they’re like, they’re confident about it. So if you're looking to get the sort of attention that these guys get, changing your looks shouldn't be the first thing you consider. You don’t have to live in the gym to emulate their success – just have a bit of faith in yourself.

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A London-dwelling philosophy graduate with a penchant for films, gaming, and technology, with the occasional bit of tennis thrown in there.