It’s amazing how many actors out there play characters that don’t resemble them at all, making them look absolutely nothing like themselves. Some of the roles these actors take on can be quite taxing, and end up draining the very reaches of their physical, mental, and emotional states. Some roles require less than 30 minutes of makeup, while others require much more. Think 6 to 8 hours worth of a total makeover, whether that be for makeup or just the costume.
To have a costume or make up that literally completely changes the way you look to the point where you are unrecognizable to even your fan base, that has got to be a lot of added work in the dressing room every day. These artists and actors work together to create these physically vivid characters, and bring them to life onscreen with their acting.
Obviously, this list could be humongous because there are so many great films with great actors who completely transformed themselves with makeup and costumes, so we just picked out our top 15 favorites for this list!
15. Glenn Close (Hook)
Did you know Glenn Close happened to be in the movie Hook? We were very surprised too. Director Steven Spielberg enlisted the cameo services of a few different well-known actors and other famous people to appear in the film. What’s even more interesting is the role that she plays in this film. It’s not even that much of a role at all, really.
In Hook, she plays a male pirate that ends up getting shoved inside Captain Hook’s box. They ended up doing a really good job with all the makeup and prosthetics that were required for the look with this cameo. Add in the costume and facial hair and it becomes impossible to tell that it’s actually her.
Her cameo is one of those more passive movie cameos, where the person just kinda pokes their head in the film momentarily just to kind of say “Hey! I’m here” and then they are done with their scene. It’s still fascinating to find out about this cameo nonetheless.
14. Willem Dafoe (Shadow of The Vampire)
Willem Dafoe has made quite a name for himself in the world of Hollywood. He has one of those instantly recognizable faces that makes him perfect for playing villains. With his face being such a focus, in this particular role in the film Shadow of The Vampire, he covers up a lot of his face with makeup. His souped-up makeup job is a total revamp of the old-school vampire Nosferatu.
He did such a good job in that role and acted so well, but because so many people didn’t recognize him at first, he really didn’t get the credibility he deserved. Yes, his name was in the credits but you would be surprised how many people overlooked that and kept asking who played the vampire.
13. Tim Roth (Planet Of The Apes)
You might remember Tim Roth from one of the most controversial reboots of the past 20 years. That would be Tim Burton‘s Planet of The Apes remake. Tim Roth’s performance in this film is heavily praised, partially due to the fact that the film received so much flack (I don’t understand why, I enjoyed it!) and although the makeup, props and prosthetics for the film look fairly good, the majority of the cast and actors were all pretty recognizable.
There were a few actors in the film, however, that with all their makeup, gave you the impression they were someone else entirely because you could not recognize them. Tim Roth fit the role of a barbaric ape so well, it’s as if his heavy amount of makeup, realistic costume, and impressive prosthetics inspired him, or made him feel like a different person entirely, allowing him to act on a whole other level.
12. Robert De Niro (Frankenstein)
Robert De Niro is one of many extremely famous actors in Hollywood, so much so that he is instantly recognizable from both his face and his voice. He’s an actor that would be hard to miss if he was in a movie, and if he were to play a role that would render him unrecognizable, there would need to be a lot of work done.
When De Niro took on the role of the infamous Frankenstein, he was literally transformed into an utter monster. Sure, if you look at the picture above, you can still kind of tell it’s him, because you know who it is. But you have to admit, they did a really great job at transforming his face into something else entirely. Did we mention that his performance of Frankenstein was also really great? His name alone in the film brought the movie a lot more attention, and it’s also a film for De Niro that he has not really done before.
11. John Rhys-Davies (Lord Of The Ring)
John Rhys-Davies did an amazing job acting in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. His character was so unique and he fit the role perfectly. I always remember watching those movies and wondering what the actual actor looked like and who he was. His makeup and costume were done so well, I could never tell how much of it was makeup and how much of it was his real face.
Turns out, Rhys-Davies is actually a tall guy, standing at a little over 6 feet tall. It’s amazing how much went into the costume design and post-production to transform him into a dwarf that we see on screen as only 4 feet tall. Gosh, and think about all those beard and hair pieces he had to wear, I can’t imagine that not being itchy constantly, and getting in the way a lot while shooting. And to think he spent a year straight in this while filming this role, so amazing!
10. Halle Berry (Cloud Atlas)
If you’ve ever seen the movie Cloud Atlas, you’re sure to be amazed. It’s a really great movie, and it’s a total masterpiece. One of the main things that sticks out about this movie is the fact that they have a small cast of actors playing a large variety of characters. Normally, this kind of idea wouldn’t work, but here you’ve got an amazing array of actors, performances, makeup, and costumes. Halle Berry was among one of these actors in the film that did it just right.
She played an older woman, an older Chinese man, as well as a futuristic creature. She definitely outdid herself by taking on so many roles, and nailing each role so very well. The constant costume and makeup changes alone must have taken up so much time, as well as shooting each individual character’s part. It must’ve been mentally and physically exhausting.
9. Eric Stoltz (Mask)
Eric Stoltz really stands out for the character he did. He even got an Oscar for it, it stands out that much. There’s a lot of talk that goes around about how ahead of its time this film was back then, with their advanced makeup and facial prosthetics.
It’s said that it was common after shooting for a lot of the cast and crew to actually not recognize Eric when he wasn’t in his makeup, just because they were so used to seeing him in the extreme Rocky Dennis makeup. To make matters, better of course, Stoltz’s acting in the 1985 film was so good, he really brought the character to life and you really feel like it’s not a movie at all. It must have been an intensive makeup session to layer on all of that every day. I can’t imagine the amount of hours it took to apply and remove all that on a daily basis.
8. Tom Cruise (Tropic Thunder)
I think cameos are more fun for actors than actual main roles, just because they usually either get to be themselves entirely in a parody environment or so, or they get to be this unrecognizable character that’s barely onscreen. Tom Cruise had a pretty fun cameo in Tropic Thunder, and it was done exceptionally well.
Even more bizarre about the whole thing is that he’s not even credited in the movie. How weird. This stands out as one of the more humorous roles Cruise has taken in his career, with his makeup and costume pushing that all the way. His look fits so well with how the character was intended to be. I never would’ve expected it out of Tom Cruise.
7. Tim Curry (IT)
If you’re a Stephen King fan, than you’ve probably heard of IT, or at least read it. As horrifying as demonic killer clowns can be, it should come as no surprise to you how good of a job Tim Curry does as Pennywise The Dancing Clown. Weirdly enough, he’s actually more of an alien clown, however I’m not going to spoil anything for any of you that haven’t read it or seen the film.
Tim Curry is dressed in full makeup and costume (bright red hair and nose included) as a clown that tries to allure children into the sewers so he can kill them. He does this in several ways, and all throughout the film Curry keeps a frightening demeanor and really nails this evil clown thing. He makes the movie terrifying, without a doubt. It’s hard to imagine him in this role when you seem him as a butler in the movie Clue.
6. John Hurt (Elephant Man)
If you’ve ever heard of the legendary John Hurt, it’s probably for his infamous role in the 1980 film, Elephant Man. In this role, he is virtually transformed into this weird, humanoid alien looking thing. The amount of makeup and detail that went into this role is astounding. What hammers the character in even more is Hurt’s incredible performance, which ended up earning him an Oscar nomination.
In fact, this role was so significant in the industry and impressed so many people (including the Academy) that it actually ended up inspiring and pushing the best makeup and visual effects in Hollywood even further. The makeup job and the prosthetics were so ahead of their time that it really blew people away with what can be done on film. This is why it set such a high standard in the industry for makeup effects that would come after.
5. Gary Oldman (Hannibal)
Gary Oldman has an extremely impressive film portfolio, so it was hard to go through and hand pick just one role that really stood out. Oldman seems to have an interest in roles he’s unrecognizable in. For some reason, his performance in Hannibal has to be, hands down, one of the best performances he has done. He plays the self-mutilated Mason Verger. Oddly enough, he wasn’t even credited in the original film release.
The makeup job on him alone is absolutely astounding, and really stands out. It really helps bring out his performance even more, and has us believing he’s this character. There’s a particular scene in the movie with a flashback in it, and if it weren’t for that scene, there would be a lot of people wondering who is actually under all that makeup. This is one of Hollywood’s best makeup transformations.
4. Matthew G. Taylor (Resident Evil: Apocalypse)
You may not be a big fan of the Resident Evil movies, and personally I know nothing about Matthew G. Taylor, other than the fact that he did a great job in this movie. Although, he’s in such a huge suit, you can’t even tell it was really him at all. In fact, you would’ve never known who was in the costume unless you saw the name in the credits, but with as much makeup and prosthetics as his character’s costume required, there was no way.
The role itself was a major one too, with him playing the role of the evil creature Nemesis that hunts down the main character. I’d be curious to see how he acts in a more stripped down role, where it’s just him as a character.
3. Kelsey Grammer (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Starring in X-Men: The Last Stand, Kelsey Grammer plays Beast, and he does so quite well. People praised Grammer’s performance as Beast and want him to reprise it in future X-Men movies, just depending on where they decide to go with the stories. He was so eager and excited to get to play in The Last Stand that he actually auditioned for the part, instead of being offered it. It’s something he hadn’t done since earlier in his career.
If you look at the makeup and costume alone, you can tell it’s more of an extreme addition to his face. These are one of those makeup jobs that require a ton of prosthetics and layering. Grammer probably spent a few hours in the makeup trailer every day before shooting just getting ready, and then had to take it all off at the end of the day
2. Jack Nicholson (Batman)
Jack Nicholson has starred in many huge roles over the course of his enormous acting career. Obviously, this man has taken on a lot of roles, but he really hasn’t done all that many roles that made him put on tons of makeup, or anything super outlandish costume-wise that I can think of off the top of my head. One of the biggest roles that he did where he was definitely unrecognizable was when he played the Joker in the Batman reboot.
With how good Nicholson is at playing evil characters, it’s no wonder he adapted the role of the Joker so well in this film. To me, this is one of those roles where once you realize that it’s him, you can see him through his makeup. I also think it was one of his better performances as a villain and wish he would’ve been cast for other superhero villain roles after this one.
1. Doug Jones (Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer)
Doug Jones’ role as the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four was incredibly well done. Like more and more movies coming out today, many roles that actors play will end up being full CGI, or with extreme CGI enhancements. Take Avatar for example. Jones did a really good job bringing out that villain in the Silver Surfer. I definitely got evil vibes coming off him when I watched the movie!
This role more than likely had Jones working with a green screen doing motion capture for the part, which in itself takes a whole lot of work due to all the movements you have to record and track yourself doing. This usually involves using props, or other motion tracking devices. Even though he’s unrecognizable in this role, you can simply tell by the above picture they did try and get as close they could to his face with that silver metal texture.