With the release of X-Men: Apocalypse, Oscar Isaac will join a group of actors who were rendered completely unrecognizable by their prosthetics and makeup. Sometimes these transformations are done for the purpose of adapting a non-human character to the screen, sometimes they’re done to help an A-list movie star disappear into a dramatic role, and sometimes they’re done for purely comedic effect. In any case, the success of these transformations relies on the believability of the makeup effects, as well as the ability of the actor to adapt their mannerisms and persona to completely become someone else.
In honor of Isaac donning blue skin for the latest Marvel sequel, we decided to round up 15 of our favorite instances of actors disappearing behind their makeup. Some of these performances have become iconic in the world of film, while others may completely surprise you. Beginning with En Sabah Nur himself, here are 15 Actors Who Were Unrecognizable Under Their Makeup.
When the first images of Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse appeared on the internet, the film community was a little taken aback. Why would Bryan Singer and company cast one of the fastest rising stars in Hollywood, and then completely obscure him behind thick blue makeup and prosthetics? Fans also weren't thrilled that the character's grey-skinned, blue-lipped appearance was altered (seemingly for no reason), but that's a whole other controversy.
The choice may have caused some surprise, but Isaac is certainly a talented enough actor that his charisma can shine through the thickest makeup job. The character of Apocalypse from the X-Men comics is so intimidating and larger-than-life, some extreme manipulation was always going to be required to bring him to the screen. So while your mom might be surprised to find out that Poe Dameron is the big bad heralding the four horsemen, the performance will hopefully be remembered as a great use of supervillain makeup effects.
Did you know that Tilda Swinton was in Trainwreck? You’d be forgiven for completely missing her. Even some of us here at Screen Rant didn’t realize we were watching the Academy Award winner perform opposite Amy Schumer in last summer’s comedy hit.
Swinton played Dianna, the editor of a popular men’s magazine and Schumer's boss in the film. Apparently the transformation was Swinton’s idea, who wanted to model her character after the Vogue Paris editor, Carine Roitfeld. Disguised by a spray tan, blonde wig, and smoky eye shadow, the actress is totally unrecognizable in the role. In a movie full of funny comedic performances and cameos, Swinton gets some of the biggest laughs, and most of the theater didn’t even know they were watching the White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
No list of transformative makeup effects could be complete without including Tim Curry’s Darkness from the 1985 fantasy film Legend. Clad in outrageous red makeup, heavy prosthetics, and enormous devil horns, this is the pinnacle of practical makeup effects.
The film, which follows a young man (Tom Cruise) as he attempts to stop the Lord of Darkness from destroying daylight and stealing the woman he loves, is not often mentioned outside of the amazing creature effects and Tim Curry’s over-the-top performance. Legend is certainly one of director Ridley Scott’s lesser films, but it will surely never be forgotten thanks to its incredible villain. Curry's best known for his work in the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show and the horror film It — neither of which he's looking his normal self in — but Legend is the film that he truly disappears into.
From one devilish transformation to another, Ron Perlman delivered an iconic performance behind red makeup as Hellboy in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2004 Hellboy, and its sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The casting of Perlman was an inspired choice, as he delivered the firecracker wit and crackling smartass remarks better than any other actor imaginable. And Del Toro, an advocate of practical effects, wisely chose to construct Hellboy’s appearance using tangible makeup effects, rather than relying on CGI or motion-capture.
In fact, both Hellboy films are filled to the brim with wonderful makeup effects, notably Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. Jones is an old hand at transforming behind makeup effects, so much so that many filmgoers would have a hard time picturing what the actor actually looks like (hence his exclusion from this list). Hellboy provides numerous examples of talented physical performances married with beautiful creature effects.
English actor Warwick Davis pulled double duty in the Harry Potter film series, appearing as both Griphook the Goblin and Professor Filius Flitwick throughout the films. And aside from both character’s size, you would have a hard time guessing they were both played by the same performer. Griphook, who appears in the Gringotts scene in the first film, and goes on to play a larger role in the later films, has a hooked nose, gnarled skin, and a clear distaste for humans. Professor Flitwick is a much goofier character whose appearance was drastically altered between the second and third films, at the request of Azkaban director Alfonso Cuaron. The design team changed him from a white haired old wizard to a dorkier young man with a natty mustache.
Davis himself is no stranger to identity-obscuring makeup, having appeared as an Ewok in Return of the Jedi and the titular Leprechaun in the Leprechaun horror series.
If you star in enough Tim Burton movies, you’re bound to have your identity hidden by makeup at least once. So it’s only natural that Helena Bonham Carter, who trails only Johnny Depp in frequency of Burton film appearances, would find herself completely unrecognizable as the clairvoyant witch in Burton’s superb and underrated 2003 effort, Big Fish.
Carter actually appears twice in the film, playing both The Witch and the mournful townswoman Jenny. But Burton went to great lengths to distinguish the two, giving The Witch wrinkled, scarred skin, disheveled white hair, and a mysterious eye patch. In her spooky and pivotal scene, The Witch shows a group of young children the manner in which they’ll die. Equally scary and tragic, it's one of the best uses of makeup effects in a Burton film (which is saying a lot), and a great performance by the wonderful Carter.
The true Tim Burton stalwart, Johnny Dep, has often been shrouded in makeup for his film appearances with his famed collaborator, to increasingly ridiculous results. From Edward Scissorhands to the Mad Hatter, Depp changes identities like most of us change clothes in the morning. But the most transformative Depp performance came not in a Tim Burton film, but a Kevin Smith one.
Tusk, Smith’s 2014 horror comedy, imagines Johnny Depp as a frumpy former inspector named Guy LaPointe. Sporting a handlebar mustache, plump cheeks, and ferocious eyebrows, Depp is completely divorced from his actual heartthrob appearance. It’s a shame that such a transformative effect didn’t take place in a better film. The movie was widely panned, as was Depp’s outrageous performance. Not all bold transformations result in great films.
One of the funniest examples of an actor playing against type came in Ben Stiller’s 2008 comedy, Tropic Thunder. Stiller chose to cast action megastar Tom Cruise as an overweight, obnoxious, painfully uncool studio executive named Les Grossman. Paired with an always hilarious Bill Hader, Cruise nearly steals the movie as the hip-hop dancing, sailor-mouthed studio bigwig.
The performance and makeup effects were so successful, a lot of the audiences for Tropic Thunder didn’t even realize it was Maverick who was grinding to Flo-Rida in front of them. It was a bold performance in a movie full of them, including Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus, the method actor who undergoes plastic surgery to effectively play an African American Sergeant. As Sgt. Osiris would say, “I’m the dude, playing the dude, disguised as another dude!”
Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunder effectively satirized the trend of actors undergoing intense physical transformations for movie roles, a trend that might have hit its apex in 2003 with the film Monster. Charlize Theron famously shed her stunning movie star appearance to play a serial-murdering Daytona Beach prostitute in the crime drama.
Theron is completely unrecognizable in the role, owing partly to the intense makeup effects, and also to her committed performance. The dramatic transformation must have impressed the Academy, as Theron took home the Best Actress Oscar that year. As parodied as the trend has become, Theron really did achieve an amazing transformation in the film, and is an exciting example of a movie star forgoing all sense of vanity for a project that they are passionate about.
Besides Mark Wahlberg, how many actors in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes can you name? Maybe Tim Roth as the villainous Thade. Did you remember Paul Giamatti? Helena Bonham-Carter? Michael Clarke Duncan?
The 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes had a stacked cast, who were all completely hidden behind extensive makeup and costumes. The impressiveness of the makeup really becomes the sole reason to see the movie, as the plot, dialogue, and ending are all infamously terrible. Famed special makeup effects creator Rick Baker designed the look of the apes, and had an army of talented designers and artists bring them to life. The resulting film may have been a complete trainwreck, but the creature effects are still impressive to this day.
Oscar Isaac won’t be the only movie star to be obscured by extreme makeup in a blockbuster this summer. Idris Elba will be joining Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and all the other Star Trek actors in the third entry in the franchise, Star Trek Beyond.
Not much is known about Elba’s character, but we do know his name is Krall, and that he will be the film’s primary antagonist. We also know that he will look nothing like Idris Elba. You may have seen him in the film’s widely-maligned trailer and not even realized it was him. Elba’s face has been covered in a ribbed, prosthetic forehead and bluish-gray skin. Fans have speculated that Krall may be a Klingon or possibly a Gorn, although director Justin Lin has insisted the character is part of a completely new, previously unintroduced species of aliens. We’ll have to wait until the film is released on July 22nd to know for sure.
We’ve already talked about how gross John Leguizamo’s Clown character is in the 1997 film Spawn, but we haven’t talked about what an incredible achievement in makeup that bit of nastiness was. Comparing pictures between the actor and the squat, overweight, pasty, demonic Clown inspires incredulity. Leguizamo completely disappears under the mountains of makeup, becoming completely believable as an evil and disgusting demon who is tasked with leading Spawn down a path of evil.
Superhero movies of the late '90s and early 2000s relied more heavily on practical makeup effects when adapting their comic characters, and the results always felt tangible and memorable. Compare Clown to Thanos from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Clown has a weight and an authenticity to him that makes him more threatening, whereas Thanos feels just a little too cartoonish to be believable. Current comic book movies would be wise to look at the past, and consider practical makeup effects when designing their new heroes and villains.
Like Johnny Depp, Gary Oldman seems to enjoy the anonymity that comes with disguising yourself in makeup. The actor transforms dramatically from role to role, but he outdid himself with the 2001 film Hannibal. Oldman plays Mason Verger, one of only two people to ever survive an attempted murder by Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Completely disfigured and mutilated, Verger has now become intent on exacting his revenge on Hannibal.
If you see Hannibal without knowing that Oldman is in it, you would never be able to guess that he plays Verger. The role was originally offered to Christopher Reeve, who declined when he learned the character was a disfigured child rapist. Makeup artist Greg Cannom performed an incredible feat with Oldman, essentially removing his lips, cheeks and eyelids. The result is a stomach-turning and ultimately unrecognizable performance.
Robert Rodriguez created what is possibly the most faithful comic adaptation of all time with Sin City. Rodriguez lifted shots straight from the comic frames of the graphic novel, and utilized digital effects to reproduce the stark black-and-white aesthetic of the comics. So when it came time to cast the iconic Marv, fans wondered how Rodriguez would pull it off. Marv has an incredibly distinct look in the comics, and Mickey Rourke's rugged good looks, the actor barely resembled him.
Rodriguez pulled through, creating an identical onscreen doppelganger of the famous antihero. Rourke underwent hours of makeup every day, resulting in Marv’s extremely angular forehead and chin. The final outcome is amazing. Rourke delivered an intense and nuanced performance, and looked nothing like himself in the process.
Eddie Murphy has made a film career out of unrecognizable makeup. The stand-up comic and SNL star transitioned to film with movies like 48 Hrs and Trading Places, but in Coming to America, he broke new ground, playing four different characters. Impressive makeup and costuming effects, as well as his talent for character creating, resulted in four hilarious, diverse performances.
Murphy continued the trend with the little-seen Vampire in Brooklyn, and more famously in The Nutty Professor I and II. Apparently, in preparation for his role as Granny Klump in Meet the Klumps, Murphy paraded around Universal Studios Hollywood, interacting with guests of the theme park in full costume. His performance was so believable, no one realized who he was.
Murphy played dual roles in the very funny 1999 film Bowfinger, and infamously played multiple characters in the atrocious, viciously unfunny film Norbit. Murphy hasn’t done any notable films in recent years, but he has certainly made his name as a chameleon of comedy, thanks in no small part to his friends in the makeup department.
What are some of your personal favorite transformative makeup performances? Let us know in the comments!