For as long as films have been created, actors have always undergone visual transformations to become their character. Astonishing makeup artists have enabled Hollywood stars to become mythical creatures, animals and people completely different to themselves, and it is thanks to them that so many films are believable and visually impressive. They are often the unsung heroes who work crazy hours, and today we are showcasing some of the most talented artists’ work with these 10 stunning movie makeup transformations. Thanks to the talent and creativity of these artists, many brilliant movies are full of magic and wonder.
10. Charlize Theron – Monster
We are used to seeing Charlize Theron look stunning on the big screen, so it was quite the shock to see her playing a rough and beaten down character in the 2003 drama Monster. She starred as the lead character, Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute and serial killer who was executed in 2002. For the role, Theron put on 30 pounds and dried her hair out. Her commitment to the role must be commended, but the makeup team also deserves a tremendous amount of praise for their exceptional work. Through hand painting or air brush they managed to create damaged and blotchy skin, and they also partially shaved her eyebrows and bleached the remainder. Prosthetics were used on her eyelids, and she wore dentures that were painted to create Wuornos’s distinctive teeth. Theron won an Academy Award for her brilliant performance, but the makeup team deserves a huge amount of credit too.
9. Eric Stoltz – Mask
Mask follows the life and early death of Roy. L “Rocky” Dennis, an American boy who suffered from an extremely rare sclerotic bone disorder called craniodiaphyseal dysplasia (more commonly called lionitis), which causes disfiguring cranial enlargements. Rocky is played by Eric Stoltz in a powerful performance, and a mask was created for him to wear which was a near match to Rocky’s real life facial dimensions (had it been a full match, Stoltz would not have been able to see properly). Three separate pieces of foam latex were used and then blended with makeup to create the mask, and Stoltz also wore fake teeth for the role. Makeup designer Michael Westmore won an Oscar for Best Makeup Design, and the film was heavily praised and is still viewed as an important and moving movie.
8. Robert Englund – A Nightmare on Elm Street
The horror genre relies very heavily on makeup to shock its audience, and it was used brilliantly to create one of the most iconic horror villains in movie history—Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street films. This is a character who stalks and kills teenagers in their dreams after he was burnt alive by a mob of angry parents. This means he has a badly burnt and disfigured face, along with his iconic metal-clawed glove, red and green striped sweater and brown fedora. His facial disfigurement plays a huge part in what makes him such a frightening character, and this is of course powered by Englund’s brilliant portrayal and creepy voice. David B. Miller researched real life burn victims for authenticity, and even toned down Wes Craven’s original designs for Krueger to make it more plausible, and therefore scarier.
7. Benicio del Toro – The Wolfman
Whilst the film itself received mixed reviews, nobody was denying the brilliance of the werewolf makeup which earned an Academy Award. In 2010’s The Wolfman, Benicio del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, who is attacked by a werewolf after returning to his English hometown following the death of his brother (also at the hands of the werewolf). The makeup artist Rick Baker had plenty of experience in creating werewolves (more on this later), and he jested that this transformation was not too difficult as del Toro is such a hairy man. The process took around three hours and involved using foam rubber and latex instead of a mask, plus laying loose yak hair by hand on del Toro’s face and body. The result is a terrifying beast, and del Toro plays an impressive werewolf in a creepy setting (aided massively by Danny Elfman’s score).
6. Robin Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire
One of the most beloved films of the ’90s, and perhaps Robin Williams’ most iconic role, the makeup team played an enormous part in the success of Mrs. Doubtfire. In the film, Williams transforms himself into the titular character in order to spend time with his kids as their nanny after going through a divorce. In addition to the brilliant wig, glasses, hair and outfit, Williams has a completely different face through the use of prosthetics. The makeup process took four and a half hours each time, and Williams found the disguise so effective that he would walk around San Francisco wearing it so that he would not be recognized. This incredible transformation, plus the brilliant acting of Williams, helped to create one of the greatest modern comedy characters. The film won the 1993 Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
5. Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
We all wonder what we will look like when we are older, and Brad Pitt got to experience this when he played the titular character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. In the film, Benjamin Button is a person that ages backwards, which required Pitt to undergo several transformations. The magic of the movie would be lost if these transformations were not visually impressive, but the makeup team were certainly up to the task. To create an older character, they placed a paper-like membrane on his face and then added crow’s feet, age spots and wrinkles with makeup. As he aged, they would have to use different films on his face to make it a seamless transition. This was done by famed makeup artist Greg Cannom, who picked up an Academy Award for his impressive work (one of three Oscars he has won).
4. Jeff Goldblum – The Fly
The brilliant 1986 science fiction horror The Fly is a famous story from David Cronenberg where an eccentric inventor slowly turns into a fly-hybrid creature after an experiment goes wrong, and the horrifying transformation is crucial to the film’s success. Jeff Goldblum excels in the role, and he would have to spend many hours in the makeup chair for his gradual transformation into “Brundlefly.” They started off with skin discoloration, lesions and fly hairs on his face, before using prosthetics to cover his face, and eventually his arms, feet and torso complete with crooked fake teeth and wigs with bald spots. A distorted contact lens was also used to make one eye look larger than the other. The film was very well-received, particularly for Goldblum’s performance and the special effects, and the makeup team won an Academy Award for their phenomenal work.
3. Jim Carrey – How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jim Carrey had already gone green in the 1994 classic The Mask thanks to some impressive makeup work, and he would go green again in the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas (an adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story). It was a stunning transformation into the hairy green character of the Grinch, with the makeup process taking between three and eight hours each day. The facial prosthetics were extremely uncomfortable and even caused Carrey some pain, seeing him ask a Navy SEAL for tips on how to defer pain. He also had difficulty seeing due to the thick yellow contact lenses. Breathing was also uncomfortable for Carrey, so we imagine he didn’t have too much trouble getting into the Grinch’s state of mind for the character. It all proved worthwhile in the end, as the brilliant work earned an Academy Award and nominations for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.
2. Rebecca Romijn – X-Men
The X-Men films are visually stunning and full of great effects, but perhaps the most impressive aspect is the makeup work for the character of Mystique. A blue skinned, yellow eyed shapeshifting villain, Mystique is played by Rebecca Romijn in the first three films, and then played by Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past. The makeup process for Romijn’s character took around 10 hours each time and was carried out by a small group. The costume consisted of multiple layers of blue paint, over 100 separate silicon prosthetics which covered 60% of her body, and contact lenses that reduced her vision by nearly 90%. The result is a striking character who dominates the screen despite not having a tremendous amount of dialogue. Although a very long and no doubt stressful process, you can imagine that they were more than satisfied with the end product.
1. David Naughton – An American Werewolf in London
Perhaps the most famous transformation in film history, and one that is still electrifying to this day, the makeup work in the 1981 horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London is utterly astonishing. In the film, two young American men, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), are attacked by a werewolf whilst on a backpacking holiday in England. Jack dies and David is taken to hospital, where he has an apparition that Jack tells him that he is a werewolf and will transform at the next full moon. After being released from hospital, David undergoes a horrifying and painful transformation where his bones protrude and his face and hands elongate to become a terrifying werewolf. This was achieved through Rick Baker using various prosthetics and robotic body parts, which earned him the inaugural Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.