Makeup in movies and television shows has come a long way since Al Jolson modelled the now offensive “blackface” look in 1927’s ‘The Jazz Singer’.
In fact, makeup is now a huge part of any movie’s success, with sci-fi and fantasy films relying on talented makeup artists, realistic-looking prosthetics, and even CGI to create a whole new look for leading actors. And pity the poor actors who have to spend hours in the makeup chair before they can even start filming–or in the case of Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy, spend five hours standing–so that his entire body could be covered in makeup.
Since 1981, makeup artists have even been recognized with their own Oscar at the annual Academy Awards. The first winner was an American Werewolf in Paris, with the most recent award in 2016 going to anti-superhero movie Suicide Squad.
Considering the dramatic nature of some of the makeup chair transformations, it is only right that makeup artists and designers are rewarded for their creative and innovative work. The list below features some of the most unrecognizable makeovers in movie and television history, making some of Hollywood’s biggest actors into scarred villains, cartoon superheroes, and even members of the opposite s*x.
15 Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator (Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines)
The early Terminator movies relied on sunglasses and Arnie’s amazing acting skills to convince the audience that they were seeing a futuristic robot in action. In Rise of the Machines, the Terminator was actually the hero sent from the future to protect John Connor and his wife, against a new generation of killer robots. And by the end of the movie, he had seen better days, with visible metal and wires where the “skin” had been damaged in previous fights. Although the end result is still recognizable as Schwarzenegger, it is still amazingly convincing work by Oscar-winning makeup artist, Jeff Dawn.
14 Robert Downey Jr. – Kirk Lazarus (Tropic Thunder)
Blackface is undeniably racist, yet comedy film Tropic Thunder managed to make this outdated movie makeup trick seem funny when they cast Robert Downey Jr, as Kirk Lazarus, the “dude playing a dude disguised as another dude.” It takes some guts to black up in this day and age–even in the name of comedy–but the makeup artists on Tropic Thunder did a great job with Downey Jr’s look. In the movie, Lazarus is said to have undergone surgery to become black, in order to take on the role, which turns out to be more than the actor bargained for.
13 Dustin Hoffman – Dorothy Michaels (Tootsie)
The first of the cross-dressing makeup transformations on our list now, with the queen (or should that be king?) of daytime soap operas, Dorothy Michaels. Dustin Hoffman starts the movie as an out-of-work male actor who dresses up as a woman for an audition, only to get the part and become famous, before falling in love with his female co-star. The transformation is quite incredible and leads to some wonderful humor, and in early scenes, you see the development of Dorothy as a character in her own right, when Hoffman’s makeup artist friend helps him out.
12 Tim Roth – General Thad (Planet Of The Apes)
The modern remake of Planet of the Apes may not have had the same critical or box office success as the 1968 original, but its makeup special effects were far more convincing, transforming actors like Helena Bonham Carter and Paul Giamatti into chimpanzees and orangutans. One of the most impressive makeovers was given to Tim Roth who was completely unrecognizable as evil General Thade, the military commander who aims to take control over the ape civilization and who sees the human intruder as a threat to his plan. Roth added a little of his own hard man reputation to the character to make him even more sinister.
11 John Matuszak – Sloth (The Goonies)
The Goonies is one of the best movies of the 80’s—high praise considering some of the cinematic classics which emerged during that decade. For adults of a certain age, there are some lines, songs, and images which instantly take you back to 1985 and the quest to find One-Eyed Willy’s treasure. One of those images is undoubtedly the face of Sloth, the hidden son of the evil Fratelli crime family, who starts out as a figure of fear, becomes Chunk’s best friend and ends up saving the day for The Goonies (and even the grownups).
10 Charlize Theron – Aileen Wuornos (Monster)
Most of the time, we expect makeup artists to make movie stars look even more beautiful than they really are, covering up blemishes and accentuating an actor’s best features. However, in the 2003 film Monster, lead actress Charlize Theron was transformed into the dowdy Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer who murdered seven men while working as a prostitute in Florida in 1990. Wuornos was executed in prison in 2002, while Charlize Theron went on to win an Oscar for her portrayal, also receiving plaudits for being willing to undergo such a dramatic make-under on screen.
9 John Travolta – Edna Turnblad (Hairspray)
The 2007 remake of John Waters’ classic musical Hairspray was a huge success, thanks of course to the popularity of its toe-tapping tunes, but also because of the performances from the impressive cast. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky stole the show as Tracy Turnblad, the small-town girl who just wants to make it as a dancer, while her mother, Edna, was played by a very familiar face—John Travolta (if you could spot him below all the makeup and the bouffant wig). The role of Edna Turnblad was originally played by drag queen Divine, so Travolta was just continuing tradition when he donned Edna’s wig and dress.
8 Emma Thompson – Nanny McPhee (Nanny McPhee)
Oscar-winning British actress Emma Thompson took on the eponymous role of Nanny McPhee in the original 2005 movie and in its followup, Nanny McPhee and The Big Bang. She played a hideously ugly nanny–complete with warts and buck teeth–who transforms back into Thompson’s naturally beautiful form as the mischievous children in her charge slowly learn how to behave themselves, as well as meddling in the love lives of their parents to ensure a happy ending, of course! Thompson also wrote the screenplays for the two movies, which were adapted from novels by Christianna Brand.
7 Tim Curry – Pennywise (It)
The modern remake of classic horror movie It has introduced Pennywise the Clown to a new generation. For most film buffs, however, the original Pennywise, Tim Curry, is still the best and most terrifying. More famous for his comedic roles–including another impressive makeup transformation in The Rocky Horror Picture Show–you can barely tell that the evil clown lurking in the sewers is Curry at all, thanks to the layers of white makeup, the sinister eyes, and the inhuman sharp teeth. No wonder so many people who grew up in the 1980’s have such a crippling fear of clowns…
6 Linda Blair – Regan (The Exorcist)
Another one for horror fans, this time, the 1973 film The Exorcist. Starring a 12-year-old Linda Blair as possessed child Regan, the movie had to feature scenes which showed how the demonic possession took hold, including the iconic projectile vomiting scene! Linda Blair herself underwent quite a transformation during filming, starting out as a typical cute kid and ending as a pale skinny girl covered in weeping sores and with the voice of someone who smokes 40 cigarettes a day. It must have been a traumatic experience for such a young actress to film those scenes, as well as to have her appearance altered so radically on film.
5 Jim Carrey – The Grinch (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
Transforming a human being into a cartoon character is always going to take some serious time in the makeup artists’ chair, and it took two and a half hours every morning to transform Jim Carrey into iconic grump The Grinch. Never mind all the work involved in creating the unique cartoon faces of the residents of Whoville themselves! It is hardly surprising that the team behind the makeup in How The Grinch Stole Christmas won an Academy Award for their work in 2002. The Grinch isn’t the only Dr. Seuss character brought to life by makeup—Mike Myers became The Cat in the Hat in a 2003 film of the same name.
4 Robert Englund – Freddie Krueger (Nightmare On Elm Street Series)
If you’re a fan of horror movies, then Robert Englund is probably one of the most recognizable faces in film. Yet, chances are that he could walk past you on the street and you’d never even notice. That’s because his most successful role was as Freddie Krueger, the knife-handed assassin who stalks your dreams in the Nightmare on Elm Street series of films and whose face is completely transformed by the skill of Hollywood makeup artists. Englund appeared in the six Elm Street movies made in the 80’s and early 90’s, as well as the 2003 crossover hit, Freddie vs Jason.
3 Robin Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire (Mrs. Doubtfire)
Robin Williams’ role as the divorced dad who will do anything to spend more time with his kids was one of his best. Playing an out-of-work actor whose unreliability had lost him access to his beloved children, Williams creates Mrs. Doubtfire, a Scottish housekeeper and nanny who is taken on by his ex-wife to look after his own children. Naturally, there are mishaps and misunderstandings aplenty–including setting fire to his fake breasts when he leans over a hot cooker–but we get something approaching a happy ending by the time the credits roll, and Mrs. Doubtfire becomes a children’s TV star.
2 Ron Perlman – Hellboy (Hellboy)
Comics have proved to be a valuable resource for Hollywood filmmakers. Studios have made movies featuring all the big superheroes—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America. However, while these guys all have cool costumes, they don’t require a great deal of work in the makeup chair, unlike actor Ron Perlman, who played anti-hero Hellboy in movies in 2004 and 2008. Hellboy is a demon working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. Aside from his snapped-off horns (a symbol of his determination to only do good), Perlman had to spend hours in makeup having his red devil “skin” applied.
1 Ralph Fiennes – Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter Series)
Ralph Fiennes is an Oscar-winning actor playing one of the most iconic roles in the Harry Potter movies–Lord Voldermort or He Who Must Not Be Named–yet many people watching the films had no idea what or who they were seeing. The appearance of Lord Voldemort (when he actually did appear and didn’t just hide behind other people) was a complete transformation, leaving very little trace of the real Ralph Fiennes. The Harry Potter makeup artists did a lot of great work on the series and were nominated for an Academy Award for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.
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