Clockwise from top left: Paul Newman, Richard Gere, Robert Redford, Timothée Chalamet, Daniel Kaluuya, Pierce Brosnan, Regé-Jean Page, Pedro Pascale.

Thirst Trap: Generations

14 min readJun 10, 2023

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A Retrospective Report on the Hollywood Heartthrob

Did you vote in the Young DeNiro vs. Pacino Twitter Poll of 2023? A 50/50 split, right down the middle. Back then, heartthrobs had real talent because it was a requirement. Now it's all "Nepo baby" and "father" about Netflix celebrities I don't even recognize. People Magazine didn't create The Sexiest Man Alive issue in 1985 — even when they got it terribly wrong — for us to end up here. YES, I AM AN OLD WOMAN YELLING AT CLOUDS BECAUSE A LOT OF THESE CLOUDS AREN'T HOT, OR THEY CAN'T FUCKING ACT! WE USED TO BE A PROPER COUNTRY!!

Anyway, here's a look back at some of the most thirst-inducing sex symbols from the late 50s-60s until today. I made designations based on the years when the actor was most prolific or reached the height of their popularity, which may or may not correspond with their age. Of course, there's going to be some overlap. Argue with ya mama, not me.

1. Everybody's All-American

The way that "All-American" most often equates to being blue-eyed and blonde is steeped in racism. However, this trope has generated some of film and television's prettiest boys, so for the sake of this particular argument, I'm gonna let it slide.

The Silent Generation had PAUL NEWMAN

Paul Newman, 1956. Credit: MGM/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock.com

Paul Newman would have set that Twitter poll in flames. He's the blueprint as far as I'm concerned. It took a whole lot of man to hold his own against Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), but he understood the assignment. You can see why Joanne Woodward snagged him from his first wife and locked him down for 50 years. They just don't make them like that anymore.

The Baby Boomers had ROBERT REDFORD

Robert Redford in All the President's Men, 1976. Credit: Warner Bros/Courtesy The Neal Peters Collection

Omg, Robert Redford was so fine! I refuse to believe he's the same person nodding in that mountain man gif. The power he possessed to catch you in your feelings. Please do not watch The Way We Were (1973) while in a mentally fragile state. The ending wrecked me worse than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

Gen Xers had BRAD PITT

Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer in Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

I swear, this man was powered to stardom by the sheer number of haters who insisted he wasn't good-looking. Nobody cares if you don't go for blondes, Sharon. The rest of us still use eyes that can see. Were you asleep during Legends of the Fall (1994)? Chile, I had a river he could run all up and through. That face card was not to be declined.

Millennials had LEONARDO DiCAPRIO

Millennials, this was y all's pick; I only watched Titanic (1997) for the costumes and Billy Zane. Leo returned your young adoration by sticking with women in their twenties for life. He deserves another Oscar for the way he keeps acting up.

Current Conditions: Chris-Cross Gosling Sauce

Center: Ryan Gosling at Cannes by Raffi Asdourian, Clockwise from top left: Chris Hemsworth, By Mark Veltman/The New York Times/Redux; Chris Evans by Peggy Sirota for Rolling Stone; Chris Pratt by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin / FilmMagic; Chris Pine, WireImage

Thanks to the MCU, we've been stuck in the battle of the Chrises for almost a decade. Chris Evans, Captain America himself, is the most obvious choice here, but if you ask me, Pine has a wider acting range. Ryan Gosling, everybody’s “North” American, might have all of them beat.

2. Black Crossover Contender

Celebrities who are well-loved in the Black community and almost nowhere else are sometimes referred to as "Black famous." Once in a while, someone will get the Negro Expansion Pack into mainstream popularity (or, God forbid, become a mermaid,) and all hell will break loose over the excellence.

The Silent Generation had SIDNEY POITIER

Sidney Poiter in For Love of Ivy (1968)

This absolute king opened the door for every Black crossover actor who followed. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1967) wasn't just the movie title; it was a decree. You know the racist were big mad when he was voted the US's top box office star in 1968. I applaud every time I see that infamous clip of him slapping that uppity white dude in The Heat of the Night (1967).

The Baby Boomers had BILLY DEE WILLIAMS

Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Credit: LUCASFILM LTD./20TH CENTURY FOX/PHOTOFEST

I'm sure many men were disappointed that the Colt 45 only "worked every time" when BILLY DEE WILLIAMS was holding it. The voice. The smile. The style. The swagger. Billy Dee bagged Diana Ross in two movies and led a rebellion in Outer Space. Pu-lease, Donald Glover could never.

Gen Xers had DENZEL WASHINGTON

Denzel Washington, 1990s

DENZEL's energy was so powerful that his name was synonymous with "hall pass." The fantasy of hooking up with this man was a whole subplot in Game Night, a movie made in (checks notes) 2018. For him to star in a film with Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie without a single on-screen kiss is hilarious. Lmfao! He knew exactly what he was doing.

Millennials had IDRIS ELBA

Idris Elba by Art Streiber

IDRIS ELBA has got to be the most famous actor without a blockbuster movie franchise. He's primed to be the next big action star in his 50s like Liam Neeson did with Taken. I need no less than three installments of him beating the shit out of white supremacists and saving the world. He looks better to me now than during The Wire (2002–2008), and he deserves.

CURRENT CONDITIONS: Wellness check on Michael B. Jordan

Daniel Kaluuya, The Movie Database; Micheal B Jordan by Michael Rowe for Essence Magazine

Among the Black British actors Hollywood has rolled out the proverbial red carpet for, the most talented and tantalizing is arguably Daniel Kaluuya. As for our American brethren, well…first, we lost Chadwick Boseman. Then Jonathan Majors goes down for the count. I was not expecting John David Washington to be so dull. Talk about the apple that fell off the tree and kept on rolling. Time to check in on Michael B. Jordan. "Alexa! Where can I buy bubblewrap?"

3. The Great British Bond-Off

Speaking of the British and coming, has the UK been sending a lot of actors with dark wavy hair, excessive charm, and seductive eyes on purpose, or is it just me? I blame Walt Disney for grooming me during my formative years with that animated fox from Robin Hood (1973).

The Silent Generation had SEAN CONNERY

Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)

Sometimes a generation gets the icon they deserve. James Bond epitomized the alpha male goals of the 1960s, and yet, I've seen every 007 movie in existence, so I'll sit down. Did you know Connery's Scottish accent became such a trademark for Bond that Ian Fleming ultimately wrote it into the canon?

The Baby Boomers AND Gen Xers had ROGER MOORE

Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973)

In Roger Moore's introduction as Bond, Live and Let Die (1973), Gloria Hendry plays the first Black Bond Girl that 007 takes to bed. Is this an appropriate place to say, "You go, girl"? I guess. At least he was an equal-opportunity womanizer. And he played Bond for a damn long time. Duran Duran sang the theme song for A View To A Kill in 1985, for Christ's sake.

Millennials (and GenX) had PIERCE BROSNAN… and JUDE LAW

Pierce Brosnan by Steve Schapiro/Getty Images; Jude Law by Sarah Dunn/Getty Images

Timothy Dalton was…fine, but Pierce Brosnan should have been Gen Xer's Bond instead of NBC forcing him to participate in that dismal last season of Remington Steele. You know I was seated when he was rightfully re-instated for Goldeneye (1995).

Meanwhile, it would be criminal to ignore Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). My brain couldn't handle the reality of a man who looked that perfect. The Holiday(2006) has me gagged every Christmas season. He may not be Bond, but I'm still waiting on that Spy (2015) sequel like *judge-judy-bangs-the-desk-points-to-watch* gif.

Current Conditions: FULL-ON BRITISH INVASION

Clockwise from the top left: Henry Cavil by Ben Watts for Men's Fitness; Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Twitter; Tom Hardy by Mike Winklemeyer/Getty Images; Taron Egerton in UK Red Bulletin Magazine

Who will follow Daniel Craig as Bond is anybody's guess. Great Britain is in the middle of their most deliberate campaign to win back The States since the American Revolution. Their most penetrating soldiers: Henry Cavill, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Taron Egerton, and all of the Toms. It's to the point of overkill. When Andrew Garfield, Kit Harington, and Ben Barnes all have beards, they are practically interchangeable. I know their agents must be fighting for their lives.

4. Tall, Dark and Ham-some

It Happened One Night (1934) may have provided the template for Rom-Coms, but Cary Grant set the standard for the romantic lead in stone. In addition to being tall, dark (featured), and handsome enough to slay the red carpet, he fully engaged in acting a fool without shame.

The Silent Generation Had ROCK HUDSON

Herbert Dorfman//Getty Images

A gay actor who spent his entire career in the closet, Rock Hudson was serving us chemistry with Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959). Standing 6'5", Hudson could wield a heavy drama or charm a woman right out of her bouffant wig and fitted capri pants. Jonathan Bailey must have been taking notes for Bridgerton season 2.

Baby Boomers had WARREN BEATTY

Warren Beatty circa 1965, Herbert Dorfman//Getty Images

With 14 Academy Award nominations, Beatty has been credited for ushering in the New Hollywood of the late 60s-70s. I need to bone up on his film catalog from this era. I don't recall ever watching Splendor in the Grass (1961), Shampoo (1975), or Heaven Can Wait (1978). He's comparably much easier on the eyes than Woody Allen in Annie Hall (1977).

Gen Xers had RICHARD GERE

Richard Gere by Terry O'Neill

The raw sexuality of Richard Gere in the 80s and 90s must be acknowledged here*. I cannot handle how in every photo from this era, he looks like a porn star in the best possible way. After appearing in his full glory in American Gigolo (1980), he stole our hearts in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and we hoped he'd get out of the tub in Pretty Woman (1990).

*Author's note: I recognize Gere's not exceptionally tall nor comedic, but I refuse to give Mel Gibson any credit, so here we are.

Millennials had GEORGE CLOONEY

George Clooney, "Sexiest Man Alive" People Magazine 2006

Fun fact: apparently, Clooney developed his signature head tilt as Doug Ross on the medical series ER (1994–2009) from looking down to read the medical jargon he wrote on his hand. Voted People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" in '97 and again in 2006, he's often regarded as the definitive sex symbol of the era. How many times have I watched Out of Sight (1998)? Yes.

Current Conditions: A CALL FOR DEI

Clockwise from top left: Ryan Reynolds//Instagram; Regé-Jean Page by Irvin Rivera//The Wrap; Kofi Siriboe//Nia Nichelle interview; Lewis Tan//themoviedb.org

Ryan Reynolds (6' 2") has provided us with hours of fun as a super-attractive smart-ass. Regardless, Canada's first Sexiest Man Alive isn't exactly changing the face of the romantic lead. It's nice to see an occasional shift to the underdogs as leads in Rom-Coms, but I also like seeing beautiful men get naked. Instead, why not make good on the "dark" in "tall, dark, and handsome"?

Based on hosting SNL and the new Dungeons and Dragons movie, I suspect Regé-Jean Page (5' 11") just might be hilarious. If Kofi Siriboe (6' 2") could handle Girls Trip (2017), he's probably down for just about anything. Lewis Tan (6' 2") doesn't have to be the bad boy in everything when his potential for physical comedy is endless.

5. Macho, Macho Man

Beginning with Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, every generation needs a roguish sex symbol with an iconic mustache. Add a bit of ethnic ambiguity or a perfect tan, and you've got yourself a star.

The Silent Generation had OMAR SHARIF

Omar Sharif by Steve Schapiro//Getty Images

I tried watching Dr. Zhivago (1965) when my young mind found it long and tedious, and I have yet to get back to it. He and Barbra Streisand together in Funny Girl (1968) are *chef's kiss.* Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is EPIC if you can sit through a 3-hour and 42-minute war drama. If not, this dashing Egyptian actor starred in over 100 films in a career spanning 50 years; he's got a little something for everyone.

Baby Boomers had BURT REYNOLDS

Burt Reynolds//Bettmann Archive

It's hard to overstate the phenomenon of Burt Reynolds, voted the world's number-one box-office star from 1978 to 1982. His iconic nude photo shoot on a bear skin rug in Cosmo Magazine is featured in the canceled HBO series Minx (2022-). I am sure he'd be grateful for Starz picking it up for all the naked men in centerfolds, and so I can admire Jake Johnson in gold chains and unbuttoned printed shirts.

Gen Xers had TOM SELLECK et al.

Clockwise from top left: Stock Photos of Tom Selleck in Magnum, PI; Lee Horsley in Matt Houston; Gerald McRaney in Simon and Simon; Perry King in Riptide

The eighties went wild for a detective with a porn stache. Undoubtedly, the most popular was Tom Selleck in Magnum PI (1980–88). Can you believe that Selleck and Gerald McRaney in Simon and Simon (1981–89) were both in their thirties in 1980? Lee Horsley in Matt Houston (1982–85) and Perry King in Riptide (1984–86) were still in their twenties. All handsome men, but those 'staches were heavy, and the sunscreen was light.

Millennials had JOHNNY DEPP

Johnny Depp in Chocolat (2000) //Sena Çelebi

More often mustached than not, that tan has taken Johnny Depp to some peculiar places for a man born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Gosh, remember how beautiful he was before he gave you the ick? We'll never recover from his look in Chocolat (2000). I try to keep him in my heart like he was meant to be — on a boat with natty dreds and heavy eyeliner.

Current Conditions: MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE 🥵

Pedro Pascale by Doug Inglish//GQ; Ram Charan//BPositive Magazine

Currently, there is no bigger badass with a stache than Big Daddy Pedro. Seeing him finally getting his moment in the sun is so satisfying. But since we're trending tanner with more facial hair, let's take it a step further! RRR (2022) puts the American benchmark for machismo to shame. Bring me Ram Charan on a plate; on God, I would lick it clean.

6. X-Factor Fan Favorite

A generational fan favorite is an attractive actor whose fundamental appeal lies more within their unique acting style and charisma. They aren't skilled in disappearing into a character, and they don't try to be. You watch their movies because you dig their vibe. Love it or hate it, the X-factor can't be duplicated and continues to make them a top box office draw for decades.

The Silent Generation had CLINT EASTWOOD

Clint Eastwood poster circa 1980

He may be a cantankerous, dried-up piece of jerky now, but a young Clint Eastwood (looking a lot like Hugh Jackman) could get it, I fear. After an insane list of credits through the 60s and 70s, Dirty Harry had everybody saying, "Go ahead, make my day" in the 80s. I genuinely didn't get the appeal until Bridges of Madison County (1995) had me yelling at Meryl to get out of that truck!

Baby Boomers had HARRISON FORD:

Harrison Ford by Edoardo Fornaciari // Getty Images

This designation doesn't sit right with me as a Gen Xer, but honestly, Ford had American Grafitti (1973), Apocalypse Now (1979), two Star Wars movies, the first Indiana Jones (1981), and Blade Runner (1982) in the bag before I even got out of middle school. Then his catalog through the 90s goes crazy: Regarding Henry ('91), Patriot Games ('92), The Fugitive ('93), and Air Force One ('97) — the man, the myth, the legend! You gotta stan. How could you not?

Gen Xers had TOM CRUISE

Tom Cruise publicity photo circa 1994

Yes, the whole Scientology thing is weird as fuck; and yet, if he makes Misson: Impossible #25, I will be seated. Anyone who's been with him through Legend (1985), the bad teeth, the Jennifer Aniston haircut and all, shall not be moved. I can only count five movies from Risky Business (1983) to Top Gun: Maverick (2023), which I haven't seen and regret nothing. I'm sure his ex-wives would disagree.

Millennials had WILL SMITH

Will Smith//Instagram

I want to believe Will Smith still has a future in Hollywood. If not, it doesn't diminish his meteoric rise from rapper and sitcom star to box-office dynamo. An action hero in Bad Boys ('95), Independence Day ('96), and Men in Black ('97), who did the romance thing with Hitch (2005) and then segued into some deeply moving dramas. Not bad for a funny kid from West Philly. A maverick, an icon, a king.

Current Conditions: ???

Clockwise from top left: Ansel Egort by Taylor Miller//Buzzfeed, Paul Mescal by Peter Searle//Screen International, Timothée Chalamet by Shayan Asgharnia//Variety, Noah Centineo by Chris Pizzello//Invision/AP

Determining which fan favorite could turn into a box-office megastar is nearly impossible. By previous standards, they would already have one breakout role under their belt. The way things are today, it's anybody's guess. Assuming the actor is in their 30s, they could already be well on their way — if they can stand the test of time. Under 30, that list gets pretty slim.

ANSEL EGORT- The Fault in Our Stars (2014), Baby Driver (2017), West Side Story (2021). A multi-faceted rising star — if he outlasts that sexual assault allegation.

PAUL MESCAL- Oscar nominee for Aftersun (2022), I was all in after his Emmy-nominated performance in Normal People (2020). I see the vision.

TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET- Oscar nominee for Call Me By Your Name (2017), Dune (2021). An excellent actor. One day he might grow into his chin.

NOAH CENTINEO- To All The Boys I've Loved Before (2018), Black Adam (2022). He has action-hero potential and a People's Choice Award, which could be more telling. One of those love-it-or-hate personalities, he could be a dark horse in this race.

Or, the darkest horse we got, so to speak. People of color in this category are usually late bloomers because it takes them longer to prove they have universal appeal. If I've missed someone worth recognizing, please let me know. Check out the other installments of my Thirst Trap series if you haven't already. Stay thirsty, my friends!

If you think other people might enjoy this article, please share or give it some👏 ! You can also find me being witty, thirsty, or generally fed up with life on Twitter.

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Leona’s Love Quest

A humorous view of the single life from a Gen X black woman prone to falling into thirst traps. I go on rants instead of dates.