Sure, motion-capture CGI – the kind of thing you see in movies like Avatar – is terrific. But there’s still nothing in the world quite like an in-the-flesh movie transformation done with a talented makeup artist and/or a creative prosthetics team. Here, then, are 20 of the most spectacular movie makeovers of all time; ones that rendered their subjects almost completely unrecognizable.
20. Charlize Theron in Monster (2003)
Hiring one of the world’s most beautiful women to play a haggard, poverty-stricken serial killer doesn’t seem like a good idea on the face of it. But Charlize Theron gamely shaved off her eyebrows, put on some prosthetic teeth and gained 30 pounds to play Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster – and she received an Oscar in return.
19. Danny DeVito in Batman Returns (1992)
Producers wanted to keep Danny DeVito’s Penguin appearance in Tim Burton’s 1992 film Batman Returns a surprise, and so the actor couldn’t even tell his own family about it. Unfortunately, according to Burton, DeVito started to feel the pressure of being buried under so much makeup everyday. In fact, Burton said he got so into character that the rest of the crew were too scared to talk to him!
18. Glenn Close in Albert Nobbs (2011)
In the 2011 film Albert Nobbs Glenn Close played a woman who had been living life as a man for many years. “When I had a makeup test it was kind of an epiphany for me,” Close would go on to tell The Telegraph in 2012. “I looked in the mirror and it wasn’t me anymore.” It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the movie was nominated for a Best Makeup Oscar.
17. Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Rooney Mara’s breakout role was in 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she had to undergo a brutal makeup regime to win her fame. To play expert hacker Lisbeth Salander, in fact, she had her hair partially shaved off and dyed and her eyebrows bleached; plus, finally, she had to endure several piercings – including one through her nipple.
16. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
One of Robin Williams’ most beloved movies will always be 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire, in which he played a man who disguises himself as a female nanny to spend time with his children. It took four hours a day for Williams to complete his transformation, and the makeup team behind it nabbed themselves a well-deserved Oscar.
15. Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder (2008)
The 2008 comedy flick Tropic Thunder featured lots of bizarre prosthetic work, and some of it – Robert Downey Jr. in satirical blackface, for example – proved pretty controversial. Tom Cruise ended up stealing everyone’s thunder, however, with his heavily made-up appearance. Indeed, his character Les Grossman proved to be so popular that he may yet get his own movie.
14. Alan Cumming in X2 (2003)
Alan Cumming’s Nightcrawler makeup for 2003’s X2 might have been state-of-the-art, but it was still pretty uncomfortable for the actor. Indeed, Cumming later told IGN that the process, which involved four hours spent having his face colored in with “blue stuff,” was “horrendous.” Nevertheless, he did say to Coming Soon in 2012 that he wouldn’t mind reprising the role.
13. John Hurt in The Elephant Man (1980)
It’s not every film that forces the Academy Awards to create a whole new category. But that’s exactly what happened with 1980’s The Elephant Man. In honor of the creative process, pioneered by Christopher Tucker, that turned John Hurt into the titular character, the Academy Awards introduced an Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling the following year.
12. John Travolta in Hairspray (2007)
In all versions of Hairspray, it’s traditional for Edna Turnblad to be played by a man. And so in the 2007 film remake John Travolta took on the role, undergoing a five-hour makeup process daily and stepping into a 30-pound fat suit to boot. “I was ready to let her go at the end of the day,” he understandably told ABC News at the time of its release.
11. Elizabeth Banks in The Hunger Games (2012)
It can’t be easy playing a person who’s virtually all makeup, but that’s the job Elizabeth Banks took on when she stepped into the role of over-the-top Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games movies. Her long fingernails, her ridiculous eyelashes and her outrageous hairstyles all added to the character, but it sure wasn’t practical for poor Banks.
10. Ray Park in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Star Wars villain Darth Maul made martial arts pro Ray Park a pretty beloved figure among geeks, and part of that was due to his ability to really rock the makeup. His demonic look for 1999 prequel Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was created by artist Iain McCaig after George Lucas reportedly asked him to design “a figure from [his] worst nightmare.” And the resulting style made the new Darth absolutely iconic.
9. Emma Thompson in Nanny McPhee (2005)
Emma Thompson is a good-looking woman who was deliberately made to look ugly for 2005’s Nanny McPhee and its 2010 follow-up Nanny McPhee Returns. Surprisingly, though, Thompson only had to spend an hour or so in the makeup chair each day, and it was moving around in prosthetics for hours at a time that proved the hard part. She told ScreenCrave in 2010, “You’ve got to be rather zen when you’re in that state.”
8. Doug Jones in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The key to making Pan’s Labyrinth so horrifying? Doug Jones. The contortionist and mime played the Faun in the 2006 film – as well as the equally terrifying Pale Man – and it was hard work. After all, not only did he have to spend five hours a day in makeup, but he also had to memorize his lines in Spanish – a language he didn’t even speak.
7. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
When Heath Ledger was announced as the new Joker for 2008’s The Dark Knight, fans didn’t think he could ever look the part. But they were wrong: once the makeup was splattered onto his face and silicone scars were placed around his mouth, he was the scariest version of the Joker there ever was.
6. Eric Bana in Chopper (2000)
Eric Bana is an attractive guy… but you wouldn’t know it if all you’d seen him in was 2000’s Chopper. For his breakout role playing the real-life criminal Chopper Read, the Australian actor donned false teeth, had his ears made-up so that they appeared disfigured and spent five hours a day getting fake tattoos sketched onto his skin. It paid off, though, because he won rave reviews.
5. Nicholas Hoult in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
It took no fewer than eight silicone prosthetics to transform Nicholas Hoult into Nux, the War Boy of 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road. Hoult also spent two hours in makeup every day to make him look like a dying person. All that hard work was rewarded, however, when the massively popular movie won six Oscars, including one for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
4. Ralph Fiennes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Okay, Ralph Fiennes didn’t actually have his nose removed to play Harry Potter’s Voldemort – that was taken out with CGI – but the makeup was all practical effects. Makeup pro Mark Coulier used his Oscar-winning talents to produce Voldemort’s skin, which then had to be applied to Fiennes in under two hours.
3. Nicole Kidman in The Hours (2002)
The prosthetic nose Nicole Kidman wore to play Virginia Woolf in The Hours became probably the most famous nose of 2002. Kidman spent three hours a day turning into Woolf, later telling the San Francisco Chronicle that she “enjoy[ed] being anonymous” for the duration of the film. The Hollywood star was back to being herself for Oscar night 2002, however, where she was awarded Best Actress.
2. Ron Perlman in Hellboy (2004)
Turning Ron Perlman into the superhero Hellboy for the 2004 film and its 2008 sequel took a long time, but the result was simply stunning. And the demonic makeup and prosthetics, expertly applied to Perlman by artist Jake Garber, took four hours to apply and proved immensely complex. In fact, by the end of the process, only Perlman’s eyelids were still the same.
1. Jim Carrey in The Grinch (2000)
The process of turning Jim Carrey into the Grinch for the eponymous 2000 movie took a total of eight hours each day and resulted in Carrey spending no fewer than 92 days inside the prosthetics. Indeed, it was so unpleasant underneath all that latex and makeup that he ended up turning to CIA torture-resisting techniques. Carrey even nearly quit the movie – but, of course, he didn’t in the end, and the result was a true Christmas classic.