It’s no secret that Hollywood’s version of “ugly” can be a bit different than that of the real world. It was best showcased in the comedy Not Another Teen Movie where two guys decide that the “ugliest girl in school” isn’t the albino, the hunchback or the conjoined twins but rather Chyler Leigh in glasses. It’s an open joke that the best route to an Oscar for an actress is to just de-glam, wear some covering makeup and do a drama of some sort. It’s the classic cliché of the “makeover” for a gal that barely shows much change but everyone acts like it’s epic. Yet sometimes, some actresses can take it in a new direction and actually do play a role that has them as far away from sexy as possible.
Again, it’s an easy route to an award but some just do it to be more daring. They want to stretch and show they can be more than a pretty face and impress critics. Some succeed better than others. Sandra Bullock has had roles trying to make her a “plain” gal but still gorgeous. Likewise, even as a drugged out mess in Girl Interrupted, Angelina Jolie’s sexiness was in full bloom. Emma Stone has also had hard luck not looking anything less than adorable in her roles. But some ladies are truly able to amaze by getting not just unattractive for a role but downright ugly— and doing a great job of it. Here are fifteen actresses who have produced some incredibly sexy moments on screen while also getting amazingly ugly too.
15. Angelica Houston
As the daughter of acclaimed director Jack Huston, it was only natural that Angelica would get into the business. After a variety of small roles (such as a leather clad pirate in The Ice Pirates), Houston found fame with her part in Prizzi’s Honor. Her performance as the sultry daughter of a mafia boss won huge acclaim and earned Houston an Oscar. Her follow-up was unique as she starred in Captain EO, a 3-D movie starring Michael Jackson for Disneyland. This required her buried under tons of makeup as an evil alien queen suspended from cables. In 1990, Houston starred as a sneaky con artist in The Grifters but also took on a major role as the leader of The Witches. Based on the Roald Dahl novel, Houston had a makeup job stunning for 1990 to show this monstrous witch out to turn children into mice. Houston later had another sultry turn as Morticia in the Addams Family films and has turned into a sexy lady who can show some darker sides when she has to.
14. Natalie Portman
From her debut in The Professional, Natalie Portman has impressed critics with a talent far beyond her years. She’s managed to star in blockbusters such as Padme in the Star Wars movies and various films that prove daring in her acting choices. One such example was having her head shaved bald for V For Vendetta. For Goya’s Ghosts, Portman played a woman in 18th century Spain who is the model for an artist. She’s captured by the Inquisition who then brutally tortures her to “repent” and lock her in jail for years. Portman dives into the role, aided by a sensational makeup job that shows the aged Ines a shadow of herself, thin with straggly white hair, her jaw shifted and near the brink of madness. Even as she recovers, she’s rocked by the experience and Portman shows the struggle well. Portman would go on to have hot roles such as her Oscar-winning turn in Black Swan and winning raves for Jackie. Whatever her part, Portman gives it her all and is never shy balancing her sexiness with some uglier turns.
13. Vanessa Hudgens
Vanessa Hudgens exploded onto the scene in 2006 when the Disney Channel movie High School Musical became a surprise phenomenon. With her lush dark hair, nice features and glorious voice, Hudgens worked a bit in other “family friendly” movies before branching out more with the action film Sucker Punch. Her work in Spring Breakers got attention for her flaunting her body in a bikini and working in the dark themes of the movie. It was still gripping when Hudgens showed up in 2013’s Gimme Shelter as a teenage pregnant runaway. Hudgens completely buried her beauty for the film with ragged hair, piercings and looking thin and wasted. It was a gripping performance that impressed many with how well Hudgens was able to handle the dark material and showed her real acting chops. Hudgens has shown brighter roles on Broadway and the upcoming NBC comedy Powerless yet this role showcases that this bright lady isn’t afraid to dim her sex appeal if she has to.
12. Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek had a very memorable movie debut in 1995 in Desperado and has traffic literally stopping for her. It’s understandable given her sultry looks, lush accent, dark hair and fantastic curves. Hayek showed that in a hot love scene in the movie and in other roles to prove herself a knockout. In 2002, Hayek starred in her long-time passion project, Frida, playing famed painter Frida Kahlo. Her early scenes did show her sexiness off, including a hot bedroom scene but Hayek also got into the character well. This included showing Frida aging with a unibrow and even a moustache as she faced issues such as losing her legs to gangrene. The movie won an Oscar for its makeup that made Hayek look older and less attractive as time went on and she backed it up with a performance that earned her an Oscar nomination. Hayek has continued to play the sultry lady in slews of movies since but took a chance getting unattractive here to do Frida justice.
11. Kate Winslet
In his review of Little Children, Roger Ebert noted that a key problem of the main character was that she was supposed to be this homely and lonely lady… but the role was played by Kate Winslet. The only thing greater than Winslet’s talent is her amazingly beautiful looks, both of which she’s used in her rise to stardom. Her appeal is aided by how Winslet has no shame in doffing her clothing to show off her body in numerous films. The most notable would have to be Titanic with the famous scene of her sketched in nothing but a necklace. In 2008, Winslet starred in The Reader as a woman shown having an affair with a younger man, including a nude bathtub scene. Years later, the man is rocked to learn that Winslet was a wanted Nazi war criminal now on trial. The makeup job aids as Winslet ages more and more with the clever touch that she seems to get uglier as more of her evil past is revealed. The film finally won Winslet her overdue Oscar and shows how even she can get a bit ugly despite how much she shows off.
10. Lena Headey
The gorgeous British star got her start in various projects in her homeland with only minor credits stateside. That changed in 2007 with her stunning performance as Queen Gorgo in the mega-hit 300. Lena Headey was a highlight as this beautiful woman who went all out in some feisty love scenes and a great figure. Headey then added to her fame by taking on the role of the conniving Cersei on Game of Thrones that’s earned her several Emmy nominations. In 2012, Headey starred in Dredd, a reboot of the comic book franchise, playing “Ma-Ma”, the ruthless gangster who controls an entire skyscraper. Headey had her face put up with scars, broken lips and bad teeth to play the role and even though her inner sexiness couldn’t be extinguished, it’s impressive how she got into the role of this psychopath. The film wasn’t a huge hit but has amassed a large cult following with Headey continuing to show off in various films.
9. AnnaLynne McCord
This one is truly astounding. With her blonde locks, sultry eyes and killer smirk, AnnaLynne McCord was born to play a vixen on TV and lived up to that potential. On the revival of 90210, she stole the show as Naomi, the selfish lady who matured more as the show went on, including marrying a geeky computer guy. She showed off in everything from bikinis to comic book costumes and had a great time with it. In 2012, McCord took on the lead role in the indie thriller Excision as a troubled high school student. Critics were astounded as she completely remade herself, dying her hair dark, shading her face with acne and some poor teeth. It’s totally amazing and is nothing like McCord’s usual image, driving the very dark movie as her character takes some sharp turns into full-blown psychosis. While she hasn’t gone to such degrees since, McCord proved she can get dark and ugly and still look as amazing in any hot bikini-clad part.
8. Elizabeth Banks
Since her breakout with Wet Hot American Summer, Elizabeth Banks has lived up to her last name as one of the most successful actresses around. Her credits include roles in the Pitch Perfect movies (the last one of which she directed), The 40 Year Old Virgin and others showing her comic timing. Her hottest may have been one half of the title role in Zach and Miri Make a Porno as a lady who indulges in an adult film for a friend. But Banks’ biggest box office success has been her part in The Hunger Games movies as Effie Trinket. The perky chaperone is always clad in a succession of insanely elaborate outfits and buried under several pounds of makeup, from white face to golden. Banks went over the top wonderfully for the role and even added in touches like how Effie puts so much agony in her outfits as “punishment” for her part in sending kids to their deaths. It was jarring seeing her free of it all in the last two films but Banks still made it work. Banks is ready to play Rita Repulsa in the upcoming Power Rangers reboot and while it’s not as ugly as expected, it still shows how hot this lady can get when she’s nasty.
7. Brooke Burns
Shallow Hal got attention when it was released in 2001 mostly for its take on its leading lady. Jack Black played the title role of a guy who judges women by appearances but is hypnotized to see people by their inner beauty. Thus, to him, his massively obese new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a thin hot lady. Before they get together, Jack has a meeting with Katrina, played by Brooke Burns. The gorgeous blonde was well known for her time on Baywatch and appeared in the film in that same manner as a true knockout who seems amazed Hal is talking to her so warmly. Hal’s buddy breaks the spell and Hal refuses to believe it until he runs into Katrina… who he now sees with a huge nose, sunken cheeks, thin and gawky. The difference is so huge that one could be forgiven in thinking it’s a totally different actress but it is indeed Burns with a fantastic makeup job. Paltrow got the most attention in the film but Burns really deserves credit for burying her beauty so nicely to make the film work.
6. Cameron Diaz
Cameron Diaz had one of the most memorable movie debuts ever in 1994’s The Mask. The instant she strutted into a bank in a tight red dress, blonde hair flowing behind her, Diaz became an instant star. She backed it up with roles in hits like There’s Something About Mary and the Charlie’s Angels movies that showed off her amazing body, bright smile and infectious laugh. But in 1999, Diaz stunned audiences with her role in the quirky movie Being John Malkovich. The bizarre film revolves around a group of friends who find a doorway that lets them be inside the infamously eccentric actor’s mind and see the world through his eyes. As one of the group, Diaz goes totally un-glam, with huge frizzly hair and lack of makeup. It’s an amazing turn from her, showing she has real acting chops and almost a shame Diaz hasn’t gone for that more to prove she has talent to go with the gorgeous looks.
5. Mila Kunis
A famous story is how Mila Kunis was only 15 when she auditioned for the role of Jackie on the Fox sitcom That ‘70s Show with the producers assuming she was far older. They weren’t happy finding out the truth but she was terrific and so they kept her on. Kunis soon moved to some great movie roles to showcase her fantastic beauty like Ted but showed real grit with her part as a dancer in Black Swan. That included a memorable love scene with Natalie Portman that was scorching. In Oz the Great and Powerful, Kunis took on the role of Theodora, a lovely young lady who’s the younger sister of Rachel Weisz’s queen and in her shadow, feeling neglected. Weisz uses that to play on her feelings and gets her sister to take a potion meant to “harden her heart.” It transforms Theodora into the hag we know as the Wicked Witch of the West. Kunis threw herself into the part with green skin, a hooked nose and going all out as this evil creature. She plays a minx a lot of times but Kunis was able to be one of the most iconic ugly gals in movies as well.
4. Nicole Kidman
For a few years, Nicole Kidman was known primarily as Tom Cruise’s wife first, and an actress second. Not that the Aussie star wasn’t talented and stood out well with turns in films like Days of Thunder, Malice and others. She came into her own more with parts like the frisky sister in Practical Magic and then had a fantastic part singing and dancing in Moulin Rouge, clad in fishnet stockings and amazingly hot outfits. Her divorce from Cruise seemed to allow Kidman to blossom as an actress, earning more acclaim with her parts. In 2002, she took on the task of playing famed author Virginia Wolfe in The Hours. To achieve this, Kidman underwent prosthetics that included a rather large nose but also captured the darkness of Wolfe and her inner demons. It won major acclaim and Kidman an Oscar as she’s continued to show her amazing beauty and dazzling smile while proving she could de-glam if need be and stand far out of her ex’s shadow.
3. Charlize Theron
With her stunningly gorgeous looks, it’s no wonder the South African native found an early career as a model. In 1996, movies stumbled onto her as Charlize Theron was featured in 2 Days in the Valley as a femme fatale and the first of many sexy roles in various movies. For a while, that’s all she was known for, a hot face and stunning body but nothing much as an actress. Thus it was a massive shock when those who went into the 2003 film Monster with little knowledge discovered it was Theron only in the closing credits. To play serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Theron gained thirty pounds, shaved her eyebrows and endured a makeup job that made her unrecognizable. She also showcased the rough life that turned this woman into a murderer. It was hailed by critics and easily won her every Best Actress trophy possible, including the Oscar. Since then, Theron has continued to show off in hot roles like Aeon Flux but balances it with real acting talent to show how one of the most stunningly sexy women on the planet could get so amazingly ugly.
2. Drew Barrymore
Drew Barrymore is famous for her rise as a child actress in such massive hits as E.T. and winning moviegoers’ hearts with her cuteness. Her teen years were marked by massive drug use and some hard falls but Barrymore rebounded in the 1990s, showing a more adult side while also showing her talent off more. She was soon able to balance some hot roles, showing her body off in Boys on the Side and helping the Charlie’s Angels movies be major hits. For her hit Never Been Kissed, Barrymore is shown in flashbacks as an incredibly awkward and unpopular teenager in braces and bad outfits, nothing like the attractive woman she would become. She’s given a chance to go undercover as a high school student for her newspaper and eager for this second opportunity to be popular. Barrymore helped make the film a success with her fun role and continues to show some nice sexiness in parts to remind moviegoers how the “ugly ducklings” can become swans.
1. Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton may not be as drop dead gorgeous as others on this list but something about her is amazingly sexy. A chameleon in her roles, she’s played an immortal gender-swapper (Orlando), an angel (Constantine), an evil witch (The Chronicles of Narnia) and a ruthless lawyer (Michael Clayton, which won her an Oscar). Whether blonde or redhead, Swinton shows her amazing allure such as playing a rocker vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive. For 2015’s acclaimed sci-fi drama Snowpiercer, Swinton underwent a massive makeup job to play one of the “elites” of a train carrying the surviving humans in a new Ice Age. It’s astounding seeing her so utterly horrific, showing the dark side of these rich folks and making her an instant villain to hate. Swinton also amazed critics by being made up to be an 87-year old in The Grand Budapest Hotel. But this year’s A Bigger Splash showed how sexy Swinton could be with a memorable nude scene. One never knows what role she’ll take on next but Swinton proves she can handle ugly and beautiful in equal measure.