1. Our hero is born in Glasgow in 1969. Butler studies law, then acts in the theater. Because of the late start, he’s 27 before making his screen debut with a small part in 1997’s Mrs. Brown. (Auspiciously, that same year, Butler becomes a real-life hero, saving a child from drowning.) His first lead role is in 1999’s One More Kiss, a brain-tumor, weeks-to-live weepie, in which he fulfills a dying woman’s last horny wish. Reviews are decent; it goes nowhere.
2. Shirt off, career on! At age 31, Butler breaks out—as a legendary (often-shirtless) vampire in the cheesy Dracula 2000 and as a legendary (often-shirtless) Hun in the bombastic TV mini-series Attila.
3. Over the next five years, Butler pays his dues with sidekick parts in action flicks Reign of Fire and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. Earns his first quality film reviews in Scottish indie Dear Frankie, then immediately squanders any goodwill as the masked lover in the wretched Phantom of the Opera.
4. His sports drama The Game of Their Lives flops. Returns to swordplay in 2006, playing Beowulf in Beowulf & Grendel, which nets $92 million worldwide—his biggest hit as leading man.
5. No idiot, he, Butler bulks up again as King Leonidas in surprise megahit 300, which earned $456 million worldwide. An industry dying to discover a new Stallone or Schwarzenegger declares him The (Next) One.
6. Butler follows up that success with three poorly reviewed, reasonably successful films, the romance P.S. I Love You (2007), the family-friendly Nim’s Island (2008), and gangster flick RocknRolla (2008).
7. Which is how Butler got to be … everywhere. His year of ubiquity, 2009, includes this summer’s critically reviled The Ugly Truth, the action flick Gamer, which opened to an underwhelming $11 million, and the upcoming Law Abiding Citizen, with Butler as a father–cum–maniacal vigilante (co-starring Jamie Foxx). Perhaps most significant, he just wrapped The Bounty with rom-com queen Jennifer Aniston. Is it just us, or do you feel a Colin Farrell coming on?