Cutting-edge technology can transform our favorite actors into all kinds of crazy characters. Nowadays, they often transform into… their younger selves?
That’s right — turning back time on the world’s most recognizable faces is becoming more and more common as technology advances. It’s hard to miss the trend, especially since it’s employed in the biggest blockbuster movies. De-aging is useful for prequel films, flashbacks to a character’s younger days, or just for the sake of keeping A-list faces looking their best. Unfortunately, some de-aging just doesn’t look right.
Some movies de-age actors for mere seconds; short scenes, sometimes without much motion or dialogue. Other movies create entirely new characters with the concept using computer generated imagery and even some practical effects to boot. Sure, it is ambitious technology that still needs improvement (and its merit should be noted), but it can make characters look anywhere from slightly uncanny to downright scary.
The list collects some of the most recent attempts at de-aging actors to see just how cringeworthy they can get. It might seem weird at first glance, but de-aging actors is the future of cinematic technology. Apparently the future is now — for better or for worse.
Here are 17 Actors Made Younger With Crazy CGI.
17. Jeff Bridges In Tron: Legacy
When 2011’s Tron: Legacy called for the return of Tron characters Kevin Flynn and CLU, Disney chose to do something bizarre. Jeff Bridges portrays both characters, just as he did in the original. However, since CLU is a computer program, he was made to look younger with special effects and motion capture— and it shows in the worst way.
It looks like somebody took Jeff Bridges and made a rubber action figure out of him.
This is only made worse by Jeff Bridges’ actual appearance in the film, featuring long gray hair and a full beard. The physical contrast of the two is immediately apparent, but it doesn’t make Jeff Bridges look old — it makes his CGI doppelganger look silly. It was a pretty advanced visual technique, but maybe a little too ambitious for the time.
16. Michael Douglas In Ant-Man
Disney has invested more money in de-aging techniques than most other movie studios. This is especially apparent in its Marvel Studios projects, which land on this list more than once.
Michael Douglas is de-aged in Ant-Man, during a flashback scene featuring Douglas’ character Hank Pym. The flashback takes Michael Douglas from 1989 and brings him to life in one of the more impressive instances on this list. It actually does look strikingly like young Michael Douglas for a little while.
As the scene plays out, Douglas speaks plenty of dialogue and becomes so physically animated (no pun intended) that he actually gets several close-ups. The scene starts out scarily realistic, but as he speaks and the camera moves in on him, the CGI begins to reveal itself.
His jaw becomes rubbery and his mouth looks increasingly fake.
15. Carrie Fisher In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Her scene is short: she appears on screen for a few seconds, and speaks only one word. However, Carrie Fisher’s appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just seems… off. It’s difficult to describe in specifics, and that’s the problem with the uncanny valley — when a human replica is “incorrect” or “imperfect” in some way, feelings of discomfort alert us that something is not quite right.
Maybe it’s in her eyes or the way her mouth moves, or something else entirely. All we know is that something just doesn’t look right.
With that said, this cameo is one of the better entries on this list for its brevity and poignancy, especially after the violent scenes prior. Carrie Fisher may have passed away, and she may look like a weird mannequin in Rogue One, but it’s a sweet scene that lands nicely once you get past her uncanny looks.
14. Robert Downey Jr. In Captain America: Civil War
Robert Downey Jr.’s de-aged Tony Stark hologram starts out in the background of the scene — far from the camera and the imperfections it reveals. Eventually, Tony moves closer to the foreground. He takes off a Santa hat that reveals a head too large for his body, and a face too large for his head. As the scene ends, he is given a closeup that shows plastic-smooth skin and an odd, uncanny expression of longing.
The young Downey Jr. looks like he walked out of Less Than Zero while his CGI model stands still.
Unfortunately, the longer you look, the worse it gets.
Eventually the real Tony steps into frame, revealing the age difference between himself and his hologram. RDJ is still a great-looking guy, but his doppelganger’s baby-smooth skin and hollow expression is just plain creepy.
13. Johnny Depp In Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The most recent entry in the Pirates franchise gave audiences a glimpse at Jack Sparrow’s younger days.
Johnny Depp, who has become inseparable from the character, was aged-down for a five minute flashback that shows how he became Captain Jack in the first place.
Like most of Disney’s attempts at pioneering this technique, it looks great from a distance, and even better standing still. Somebody behind the film must have known that, as Jack Sparrow’s CGI face is only relegated to short intervals of screen time, and he barely says any lines close to the camera.
The dead giveaway comes with the closeups, where Jack’s mouth looks wonky.
12. Orlando Bloom In The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Elves don’t age. So when Orlando Bloom was scheduled to appear in The Hobbit trilogy as Legolas, the team decided he needed CGI facelift.
His appearance in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was ten years earlier, so he was de-aged to keep the character’s appearance consistent.
This resulted in a Legolas with a shiny, glowing face that looks weird to keen-eyed viewers.
It isn’t too distracting, mostly because Orlando Bloom hadn’t visibly aged much in the decade between trilogies. If that was the case though, couldn’t this have been achieved with some makeup? If not, then why didn’t they bother to de-age Ian McKellen as Gandalf, who looks significantly older?
11. Anthony Hopkins In Westworld
Now this one is super creepy. Not because it looks bad — but because it works almost too well.
Hopkins plays genius-megalomaniac Robert Ford in the HBO series Westworld, and quick flashbacks to his early days designing the theme park feature some scarily good de-aging.
The flashbacks are short and subtle, only using glimpses of young Ford. This is likely because the special effect is expensive, even for a big budget series like this one. Thankfully, this works in its favor: not showing the CGI model for long or with any excess animation only makes it more believable. It’s short and sweet, and some of the best use of this technique so far.
10. Patrick Stewart & Sir Ian McKellen In X-Men: The Last Stand
One of the earliest attempts at digital de-aging came in X-Men: The Last Stand, during a flashback where Professor X and Magneto visit a young Jean Grey. The de-aging is minimal yet noticeable — the actors didn’t actually look that different from their actual ages at the time, and the CGI was mostly used to make their skin look more youthful.
The effect still holds up well enough, and that’s mostly thanks to Patrick Stewart and his secret fountain of youth. Seriously, does this man ever truly age? Unfortunately, his apparent agelessness only makes the CGI on Ian McKellen look worse, who was youngified a bit more drastically than his costar.
9. Paul Reubens in Pee-wee’s Big Holiday
Much like Legolas, apparently Pee-wee Herman isn’t supposed to age. This became an issue in 2015’s Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, where 65 year-old Paul Reubens felt he wasn’t physically appropriate for the role. CGI was used to de-age Reubens so that he looked more like the Pee-wee of 1988’s Big Top Pee-wee.
The special effects aren’t drastic. His wrinkles were cleared up, his laugh lines were softened, and any excess skin was either taped down, caked in makeup, or digitally removed. It makes sense for the whimsical man-child to never grow up, but this bizarrely youthful Pee-wee can be creepy at times, especially after all these years. The CGI might be subtle enough to go unnoticed amidst the bizarre Pee-wee antics, though.
8. Mike Myers In The Love Guru
There is a lot wrong with The Love Guru — cinematically, and maybe even morally – depending on who you are. We’ll spare you the context: all you need to know is that Mike Myers appears as his younger self via primitive CGI. And by primitive, we mean he photoshopped his adult head onto a small child’s body, and the results are fascinating.
Just kidding: the results are clearly horrible.
The fact that the special effects are so amateur is part of what makes it funny, but it becomes more unsettling with each twitch. Myers’ head is way too big for the kids’ body, and he doesn’t look or sound like a child.
It’s just an eerie composite of a boy with a giant Mike Myers head.
7. Brad Pitt in The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Of all the films on this list, Benjamin Button was the first to popularize digital age manipulation. Brad Pitt was made both younger and older for the role.
While it may have been impressive in 2008, time hasn’t done the effects any favors.
During his middle years, Pitt looks quite good wearing mostly makeup and prosthetics. At his youngest and oldest appearances though, Pitt looks like he walked out of The Polar Express. His oldest physical appearance looks completely fake and rubbery, while his youngest appearances look too “perfect” to be real.
6. Sean Young In Blade Runner 2049
Amidst the intriguing cast of characters and immersive world of Blade Runner 2049 is some surprisingly bad de-aging. Sean Young’s character from the original Blade Runner, Rachael, makes a return in a sequence that quickly goes from impressive to cringe-inducing.
At first, Rachael looks exactly as she did in 1982. Every line she speaks is heard while the camera is focused on Harrision Ford, which hides any weird imagery. However, toward the scene’s end, the camera focuses on her as she speaks instead.
Watching her rubbery mouth move suddenly makes the special effects very apparent.
It’s a jarring change from the mirror-image of Sean Young from earlier in the scene. This might work fine for untrained eyes, but those who catch it are likely to find a permanent blemish on 2049‘s sense of immersion.
5. Peter Cushing In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
It’s hard to pretend that this isn’t groundbreaking. This didn’t necessarily make an actor younger — but it brought one back from the grave.
Veteran actor Peter Cushing passed away in 1994, and was best known for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars. His character was brought back for Rogue One, and not through a recast.
Like many of these entries, a stand-in was given performance capture equipment to recreate his likeness, but it’s never been done with a dead actor before. Cushing appears in several scenes and looks pretty great… until he moves his face a little bit too much.
Even viewers unfamiliar with his death might become suspicious.
4. Sheryl Lee In Twin Peaks: The Return
For a show that’s brimming with surreal visuals, this de-aging doesn’t actually feel that out-of-place.
2017 saw the long-awaited debut of Twin Peaks season three. At the end of episode 17, Agent Cooper manages to find and save Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee) from her murder — the catalyst for the entire series. In a brief scene, Cooper meets Laura for the very first time, just as she looked in 1990. Well, almost.
The scene is dimly lit and predominantly black and white, making it hard to get a clear look at Laura. She doesn’t emote much, so it doesn’t look rubbery like other entries on this list. However, it still feels off. She looks more like Sheryl Lee in a large wig obscured by darkness than an authentic young Laura Palmer.
3. Kurt Russell In Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2
At the beginning of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the audience is treated to a flashback of Star-Lord’s parents galavanting in 1980. His father, played by Kurt Russell, is de-aged significantly.
Thankfully it doesn’t look that jarring, and the scene doesn’t even last that long. His young appearance was created through a combination of digital effects and makeup, though predominantly the former — making this a much more seamless de-aging than Marvel’s previous attempts.
Despite being mostly practical, it isn’t perfect. Russell’s skin can look a bit fake at times, like most other entries on this list. Ultimately, it only looks weird if you’re actively looking for its flaws as the CGI is aided by the fact that Kurt Russell has aged gracefully.
2. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Central Intelligence
What is less believable: the bad CGI or the idea that the Rock hasn’t been completely shredded since birth? The de-aging sequence in Central Intelligence is more like a glorified Dwayne Johnson face-swap. It’s certainly played up for laughs, considering the Rock is known for his career as a physically fit wrestler, but that doesn’t stop it from being a little disturbing.
His character, CIA agent Bob Stone, was once out-of-shape high school punchline Robbie Weirdicht. Weirdicht gets humiliated at a major school event where he is left bare in front of the entire student body. The fat-shaming humor is already unpleasant, but when combined with purposely amateur special effects, it makes for The Love Guru levels of discomfort.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger In Terminator Salvation
Still photos don’t do it justice. The de-aging of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Salvation is cringe-inducing from every. The CGI model looks fine when standing still, but not in an extremely physical action scene. It almost looks like John Connor is fighting the Hulk — and not in a cool “big-strong-scary” kind of way, but in a rubbery-2003-Eric-Bana-Hulk kind of way.
Salvation might not be a great Terminator film, but among all of its problems, this is the biggest.
It’s a lesson for SFX engineers everywhere: this is what not to do.
Likely a cool idea on paper but not in practice, this CGI Arnie has to take the cake for some of the worst de-aging in movie history. The technology wasn’t advanced enough to seem real, and having a plastic-looking Terminator thrash around on-screen does not help matters in the slightest.
What actors will get the digital facelift next? Did any of these instances creep you out? Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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