Top 10 Times Makeup Transformed Movie Actors
VOICE OVER: Sophia Franklin
WRITTEN BY: Dominique Corveddu
A makeup artist can transform even the most iconic actors. For this list, we'll be looking at the most notable times where elaborate cosmetics took stars and their films to the next level. Our countdown includes "Mrs. Doubtfire," "It," "Legend," and more!
Top 10 Times Makeup Transformed Movies Actors
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Makeup Transformed Movies/Actors.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most notable times where elaborate cosmetics took stars and their films to the next level.
What’s your favorite movie makeup moment? Let us know in the comments below!
#10: Robin Williams as Mrs. Doubtfire
“Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993)
If you’ve watched this one, you probably can’t disassociate the titular character from the late actor. But if you haven’t, you might never guess who was underneath it all. Williams stars as a recent divorcee, Daniel, who will do anything to keep his family together…even dress as an older woman looking for a housekeeping job. But make no mistake, unlike his character, Williams didn’t use a simple mask to transform into his alter ego. Instead, the process involved applying eight prosthetic pieces to his face, totaling approximately three to four hours of work each time. It’s safe to say that makeup artist Ve Neill’s efforts weren’t in vain!
#9: Karen Gillan as Nebula
“Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise (2014- )
Though the MCU has churned out so many unique characters, Gillan’s transformation is definitely a standout. The Scottish actress’ face is hidden underneath the stunningly bold, intricate makeup. The cool tones, metallic textures, and pitch-black eyes reflect the character's complex nature. All those hours in the makeup chair result in Karen Gillan truly becoming mechanical. It could be easy to lose the ability to convey Nebula’s personality through such a cosmetic undertaking. But we’d say that the look actually helped enhance the actress’ performance, adding an extra layer of depth to every move she makes.
#8: Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci
“House of Gucci” (2021)
Leto is known for his tendency to choose transformative roles, and this one is truly something to behold. “House of Gucci” takes a deep dive into the life and tragedies of the titular family. And Leto went through a total metamorphosis to become fashion mogul Paolo Gucci. According to him, the hair and cosmetics process combined took approximately six hours to complete. The Oscar-nominated makeup team took great care in properly building the look while taking the actor’s own features into account. The stakes likely felt even higher considering the star was portraying a real person, but it worked flawlessly.
#7: Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown
“It” franchise (2017-19)
As if clowns weren’t already creepy enough, Pennywise is truly what nightmares are made of, which means the makeup crew did their job flawlessly. It’s one thing to read about the creature in Stephen King’s novel, but it’s another entirely to see it on screen. What we love about this transformation, though, is that it doesn’t feel like a simple repeat of Tim Curry’s portrayal from the miniseries. Indeed, they made some rather chilling tweaks, giving this Pennywise his own distinct look! Luckily, Bill Skarsgård himself seems to be as far as you can get from the Dancing Clown as possible, but that makeup will never not send us into full panic mode!
#6: Rebecca Romijn as Mystique
“X-Men” franchise (2000-)
The seductive but deadly comic book character leaps off the page straight onto the big screen in the “X-Men” film series. Bold and contrasting color choices simultaneously mask Romijn in three of the movies, while making Mystique a standout. The intricate patterns beneath the bright blue skin both entice and distract the viewer. As you can imagine, it was a painstakingly long process. What’s more, there were also some very strict rules. For instance, the actress couldn’t use lotion prior to filming because it could disturb the prosthetics. Romijn reportedly even puked blue as a side- effect of the makeup’s chemicals after drinking some tequila!
#5: Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness
This fantastical 1985 cult-classic is home to numerous memorable characters. But the most notable is the devilish Lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry. The prosthetics camouflaged him entirely. After all, it wasn’t just his face that needed to be transformed. Can you imagine carrying those massive horns around while trying to stay in character?! And after more than five hours of application and long shoots, Curry apparently had to spend at least an hour bathing to facilitate the removal process. He even reportedly damaged his skin by impatiently ripping the cosmetics off. But hey, Darkness was utterly terrifying and insanely believable, so hopefully the pain was worth it!
#4: Roddy McDowall as Dr. Cornelius
“Planet of the Apes” franchise (1968-)
Not only was this transformation arguably a feat for its time, but the work still holds up today. Roddy McDowall, who played Cornelius in the majority of the original series, even took the memorable look off set. Indeed, he hilariously sported it on “The Carol Burnett Show”, where he was introduced in a rather ironic fashion. The massive undertaking required over three hours to complete, taking the actor from man to beast in the most convincing of ways. The intricate prosthetic and makeup work naturally presented some challenges – for instance, eating was no easy feat. But what would “Planet of the Apes” even be without McDowall’s Cornelius?
#3: Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort
“Harry Potter” franchise (2001-11)
Perhaps one of the most recognizable villain makeovers in recent cinematic history, his frightening appearance explains why he shall not be named. His infamous nose - or lack thereof - was mostly achieved digitally. But Fiennes still spent a fair amount of time in the makeup chair, where the charming and warm actor was made cold and serpentine. His pale skin ornamented with branching veins is enough to spook any viewer. There’s no doubt that, brilliant acting aside, Voldemort’s makeup played a huge part in making him so commanding and frightening. After more than twenty years, his look is still insanely iconic, which tells you everything you need to know.
#2: Jim Carrey as the Grinch
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)
The beloved cartoon turned live-action with the help of the always hilarious Carrey. Watching the film, it’s easy to forget that the Grinch is, in fact, not a real creature. The prosthetics and yak hair suit are amazing, and propel Carrey’s acting to new heights. But creating the crotchety green creature was no simple task. The actor had to sit for hours in the makeup chair each day. And it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience for him to endure, both physically and psychologically. He even apparently compared the process to being buried alive! But we would’ve never guessed that it was such a grueling process…maybe it just added to the character’s grumpy nature!
Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
Doug Bradley as Pinhead, “Hellraiser” franchise (1987-)
Out of All of the Cenobites, He Sticks With Us the Most
Ron Perlman as Hellboy, “Hellboy” franchise (2004-)
The Actor’s Already Prominent Features Are Enhanced With Bold Prosthetics
Stellan Skarsgård as Vladimir Harkonnen, “Dune” (2021)
The Unassuming Actor Is Buried Under the Menacing Prosthetic Work
John Hurt as John Merrick, “The Elephant Man” (1980)
Incredible Cosmetics Replicate the Character’s Mysterious Condition
Colin Farrell as the Penguin, “The Batman” (2022)
A More Human Take That Still Leaves the Viewer Wondering Who’s Behind the Character
#1: Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
Charlize Theron is virtually unrecognizable as this infamous serial killer, becoming a dead-ringer for Wuornos with the help of an impressive makeup team. The beauty of this transformation lies in the relative simplicity of the choices that went into it. It certainly seems like the team didn’t rely primarily on endless hours of prosthetic fittings or over-the-top color palettes. Instead, subtle techniques, like adding texture to Theron’s skin, were used. And those shaved eyebrows and fake teeth really brought the whole thing home. The actress’ impressive look – and stellar performance – came together for an unbeatable result. It’s no wonder audiences and critics alike couldn’t stop talking about her metamorphosis!