Hugh Jackman—the real thunder from Down Under—is one of the most likable actors alive today. An unpretentious family man who could just as easily bench-press a small car as he could sing and dance, Jackman always beefs up any project he’s in. He even did his best to make the Academy Awards worth watching a few years back as its host, which—as James Franco and Anne Hathaway will tell you—is a lost cause. In Real Steel, which opens in theaters everywhere today, Jackman plays a small-time boxing promoter and former contender who builds a robot to fight in the ring after humans are banned from the sport in 2020.
Although Jackman was pretty well known in his native Australia, Americans didn’t take notice until he grew some chops as lethal as the giant adamantium claws that extend from his knuckles in 2000’s X-Men. He first encounters Anna Paquin’s Rogue character in that movie and becomes a reluctant father figure to her. In X2: X-Men United—arguably the best film in the franchise—he develops an animal attraction for Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who seems to sacrifice herself at the end of the movie to save the other mutants. When she returns in X-Men: The Last Stand as the deadly Phoenix, only Wolverine with his ability to instantly heal himself can get close enough to take her out. Jackman returns in 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which fills in the background of his Logan character. He even pops up in this year’s X-Men: First Class in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo. All of the X-Men films are now available on DVD and Blu-ray and on On Demand.
Jackman might be built like a tank and ferocious as Wolverine, but that hasn’t stopped him from exploring gentler roles. In the 2001 romantic comedy Kate & Leopold, Jackman plays a duke from 1876 New York who travels through time to the modern Big Apple to fall in love with America’s aging sweetheart, Meg Ryan. Jackman plays a womanizing coworker of television producer Ashley Judd in Someone Like You. He strengthened his vocal chords in 2006 by voicing characters in both Happy Feet and Flushed Away. That was the same year he starred in Darren Aronofsky’s fantastical romantic drama The Fountain in which Jackman played three different men of different eras all in love with women played by Rachel Weisz. In the Baz Luhrmann’s epic World War II romance Australia, Jackman sweeps Nicole Kidman off her feet.
While it’s great for Jackman as an actor to make ladies swoon in romantic roles, we like him best when he muscles his way through action pictures and thrillers. He played the titular vampire hunter in Van Helsing that takes on Dracula and an army of vampire babies. In Swordfish, Jackman plays an incarcerated computer hacker who infected an FBI system with a virus. Jackman and Christian Bale play dueling magicians at the end of the 19th century who are obsessed with creating the perfect stage illusion in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. In 2008’s Deception, which co-stars Michelle Williams and Ewan McGregor, Jackman plays a well-to-do lawyer who is right where many of you want him—at the top of an elite sex-club list.