Ranking Zac Efron's Shirtless Movies
By R. Kurt Osenlund
Had Taylor Lautner displayed the acting chops to match his lupine canines as Twilight's Jacob, he might still be Hollywood's go-to topless male. But since the closing of Breaking Dawn—Part 2 seems to have also closed the book on Lautner's once-booming career, Zac Efron has dutifully assumed the mantle of Actor Most Likely to Lessen the Costume Designers' Workload. There are, of course, exceptions to Efron's torso-flaunting rule, as evidenced in movies like Parkland, At Any Price, and Me & Orson Welles, but ask around and see if any of your friends remember those. No, the typical cinema du Efron has him reliably nude from the waist up (and, sometimes, from the waist down), and at this point, he's even out-skinned ab-and-pec MVPs like Channing Tatum and Cam Gigandet. With his new film Neighbors just hitting theaters, we're ranking the five flicks that put Efron on a pedestal...while leaving his shirt on the floor.
5. That Awkward Moment
It's never disclosed when or what “that awkward moment” is in That Awkward Moment, a douchey, phallus-obsessed, pro-bro comedy released earlier this year, but the film's ads would have you believe it's when Jason (Efron) and pal Daniel (Miles Teller) pop too much Viagra, and have to pee horizontally to stay on target, as it were. That's great fodder for a red band trailer and viral stills like the one above, but it doesn't change the notion that That Awkward Moment has all the depth of a toilet bowl, standing as a chauvinistic endorsement of selfish lotharios who finally deign to be monogamous.
4. The Lucky One
The requisite sunbeams, bathos, and Americana abound in this rather nondescript Nicholas Sparks adaptation, which follows Iraq War vet Logan (Efron) as he treks to the North Carolina home of Beth (Orange Is the New Black's Taylor Schilling), his fallen comrade's sister, whose head shot kept him hopeful on the front lines. Naturally, it isn't long before Beth and Logan are doing the nasty by candlelight, with Logan stripped down to his skivvies. But this is Top Gun-grade nookie, folks, and The Lucky One takes the same bland, toothless approach to its entire operation, deflating even the wholesome ideals Sparks so eagerly promotes.
3. Charlie St. Cloud
It's tough to recall the precise plot details of 2010's Charlie St. Cloud, and that's probably for the best. Based on a Ben Sherwood bestseller, the movie has something to do with boats; Charlie's (Efron) gone-too-soon kid brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan); and a little climactic canoodling between—if memory serves—Charlie and the comely ghost of his lady love (Amanda Crew). But once you've embraced your suspension of disbelief, not to mention some implications of necrophilia, your free to drink in Efron's Nautica-model dreamboat beauty, which is enough to make your knees buckle like a crush-stricken tween. Shot by Enrique Chediak, Efron's never looked more preternaturally fetching, and when it comes time to save his drowning squeeze, he must, of course, leave his shirt on the shore.
2. The Paperboy
Just in case Nicole Kidman's camp-tacular performance, Matthew McConnaughey's motel-room extracurriculars, and a color palette of grainy pastels didn't tip you off to director Lee Daniels's queer gaze in The Paperboy, there's always the inclusion of Efron, whose titular junior investigator, Jack, spends the majority of the film in his tighty-whities. I can't say if that's how the character was written in Pete Dexter's salacious book, but it certainly ups Daniels's eye candy, which is already aces thanks to the director's characteristically tactile aesthetic. The Paperboy is a gonzo pulp gem that was hastily dismissed by those who dubbed it faux awards bait, and it rides high on Daniels's penchant for crude sensationalism (note: Kidman pees on Efron's jellyfish sting, dances with him nearly nude in the rain, and humps John Cusack like a rabbit on hallucinogens). Still, all that seedy so-muchness drops the film from the top spot, since whatever plot there is gets utterly lost in the mix.
If there's a mainstream, homoerotic male comedy that's homoerotic-ier than Neighbors, I don't think I've seen it. Centered around the feud between a 30-something couple, Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), and their new frat-boy neighbors led by house president Teddy (Efron), the movie is the strongest proof to date that, beneath every straight-identifying, penis-obsessed, bromance-depicting funnyman, there's some semblance of inner queerness itching to tip the Kinsey scale. Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek) and written by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, Neighbors hears Mac dub Teddy “something a gay guy designed in a laboratory,” and indeed, despite occasional instances of gay panic, the movie feels like something scientifically catered to gay men.
The film's merits rest in its balls-out humor, its refusal to sideline Kelly as a meek wife, and its stance as one of the better party movies of recent years (read: indoor neon barrels packed with burning pot), but that's not to dismiss scenes of mutual ball grabbing, penis castings for mass-produced dildos, Efron's meta exploitation of his marble-cut physique, and a none-too-ambiguous crush on Teddy from his bestie, played by...Dave Franco. Neighbors is more than the sum of its (obsessions with) parts, but to paraphrase an American anthem, dear readers, this unabashed sausagefest was made for you and me.
[Neighbors is now playing in theaters everywhere.]