One of the coolest aspects of cinema is the use of makeup and prosthetic to literally transform someone into another person or even a completely different being altogether. Despite the fact that this trade specialty has its own category at the Oscars its easy to overlook how significant this art is to making a memorable or convincing character. While the past decade has shown an increased dependence on CGI and body suits to achieve a specific look the dependence on practical makeup effects has remained a relevant part of the medium. Whether it’s simple face paint or more complicated transformations all the characters I’ll be discussing today have served as the most memorable examples of makeup art at its best over the last ten years. These are my picks for the Top 10 Makeup Effects of the 2010s.
For today’s list I took a fond look back at the last ten years and picked out ten great looks achieved through makeup and prosthetic that stand out as fine examples of the effect this art has on creating a memorable character. Whether simple or complex these works of visual transformation helped create memorable characters or even recreate iconic figures of history with stark and convincing detail. Let me be clear that I chose specific examples, in other words single characters, representing excellent or memorable makeup work from films and that they don’t all come from great movies. In some cases they may even be the only good thing about their films.
A few ground rules. First, I’m only looking at facial transformations so extreme physical transformations like losing or gaining weight or the use of fat suits are not the topic here. Also, the use of motion capture or full body suits like “Planet of the Apes” or “The Shape of Water” respectively don’t count either although some CGI effects to compliment practical makeup were accepted.
What makeup effects impressed you the most in the 2010s? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list.
10. Hellboy, “Hellboy (2019)
Literally the only good thing about the 2019 reboot of the Hellboy character was the makeup. Lead Makeup designer Joel Harlow, who worked on another film I’ll talk abotu much later, tried to incorporate several elements of the character’s classic comic book looks into his depiction giving Hellboy a grittier design created through prosthetics, hair pieces, and, of course, red body paint. Combine this with a body suit and actor David Harbour’s naturally large physique and you get an imposing hero who looks like he could really kick some major ass. Once he transforms to his horned and more powered self later in the movie he only looks even more menacing and, let’s face it, really cool. There were a lot of things wrong with the new “Hellboy” but the makeup was certainly not one of them.
9. Maleficent, “Maleficent” and “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
The Oscar nominated makeup and prosthetics used to transform Angelina Jolie into the famed Disney villain-turned-anti-hero might be simple, but sometimes simplicity is the most effective route. Jolie had a direct hand in helping create the look recruiting Rick Baker and her personal makeup artist Toni G to work with the movie’s makeup artist Arjen Tuite to create the look we know today including the chiseled cheek bones. Three hours of makeup also helped achieve Maleficent’s striking pale look which gives her a elegant beauty but also an intimidating visage. It’s a fantastic look that makes her both terrifying and irresistibly beautiful at the same time and compliments Jolie’s natural good looks and standout facial features.
8. Voldemort, the “Harry Potter” Franchise
While Ralph Fiennes’ evil wizard Voldemort debuted on the big screen before the 2010s he played a big role in the final two movies in 2010 and 2011, where the makeup work and character design were on full display. Two-time Oscar-winning makeup artist Mark Coulier crafted the simple but effective look which includes pale skin, fake teeth, temporary tattooed veins, and a digitally removed nose to make the dark lord seem incomplete and damaged by his evil deeds. Designed around a two-hour deadline, the look combines complexity with simplicity to help the dark lord stand out as an intense and imposing but still very human figure. The result was an iconic movie villain straight out of our wizarding nightmares.
7. Dick Cheney, “Vice”
The first case of a historical figure on this list, 2018’s “Vice” featured a fantastic performance by Christian Bale as the controversial former Vice President Dick Cheney. Along with a fat suit the Oscar-winning makeup from Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney literally transformed Bale into Cheney. The makeup doesn’t just capture Cheney’s years in office either. We see him age over the course of the film utilizing several different looks to showcase different eras of his career with each application ranging from around two and a half to four or five hours. Bale is known for losing himself in his roles, but in this case he had a lot of help from expert makeup craftsmen to complete his convincing look.
6. The Joker, “Joker”
The Joker has gone through many variations over the course of his appearances on the big screen. While Jared Leto’s look in “Suicide Squad” may have contributed to that film winning a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar in the 2010s it’s the simpler visage of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in 2019 that left a bigger impact. Designed to be “creepy but simplistic”, makeup artist Nicki Ledermann and team created both a “working clown” face and a “Joker” face making Arthur Fleck’s working face more symmetrical and inviting while his Joker face was asymmetrical and more chaotic. The differences are small but noticeable which helped accentuate the film’s message of how a gentle soul can be corrupted by the evils of the world around them and how those changes are often subtle but significant.
5. Nebula, The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Prominently featured in four MCU films to date, Nebula evolved from a secondary antagonist to a redeemed hero over time with the red-headed Karen Gillian behind the blue makeup and prosthetics. Initially taking five hours to apply and as little as 2.5 hours by the time “Avengers: Endgame” came around, the makeup was considered the most complex in a cast filled with detailed makeovers. The design is so memorable it has even usurped the traditional comic version of the character to become the new standard. While any of the Guardians could have made this list, Nebula stands out as one of the most detailed and memorable practical character designs the MCU ever produced.
4. Winston Churchill, “Darkest Hour”
Gary Oldman is well known for being a chameleon actor, but his Oscar-winning performance as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” took his abilities to a whole new level and he had a little help pulling it off. The film won the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling with famed makeup artist Kazuhiro Tsuji leading the way. Tsuji helped design the convincing transformation of one of the best actors of the past few decades into the former Prime Minister using hairpieces, prosthetics and makeup blending to pull it off. Requiring over 200 total hours of application during filming, the makeup was a big part of helping further sell Oldman’s spectacular performance in one of his best roles to date that earned him a long awaited Best Actor statuette.
3. “Pennywise, The “It” Duology
The past decade saw the resurgence of Coulrophobia among moviegoers, AKA the fear of clowns, thanks in large part to the big screen version of Pennywise from Stephen King’s immortal novel “It”. Bill Skarsgård was transformed into the shapeshifting entity most often seen as a clown using mostly practical effects with some digital detail worked in to help make him more menacing. To complement details like the evil smile and walleye, both of which are reportedly actual physical traits of Skarsgård’s, heavy makeup and several prosthetics were used to create one of the decade’s creepiest characters. Combine this with a stellar performance and fitting costume design and you have a memorable take on an already iconic horror villain.
2. Mystique, The “X-Men” Franchise
The “X-Men” film series has been a staple of cinema for two decades. In the 2000s it was the original team that took center stage before we got to explore their origins in a reboot franchise starting in 2011. Both iterations featured a blue-skinned mutant named Mystique, played by Rebecca Romajn in the 2000s and Jennifer Lawrence in the 2010s. Jennifer Lawrence’s makeup in the reboot/prequel series changed significantly over the course of four movies becoming more and more polished cutting down the process from as much as eight hours to as little as three or less over that time. Mystique has long been one of the most memorable designs from the “X-men” films and even in the 2010s served as one of the most recognizable makeup products of any film franchise.
1. Krull, “Star Trek: Beyond”
I could literally have picked any character from this reboot franchise and they could have made this list, but I limited myself to one example so here it is. While there are multiple creative designs and makeup masterpieces in the rebooted cinematic “Star Trek” franchise the one that always impressed me the most was Krull, the villain of “Star Trek Beyond” played by a quite unrecognizable Idris Elba who underwent two hours of makeup work a day to become the character. While this pales in comparison to the over three hours Sofia Boutella endured to become Jaylah, what makes Elba’s makeup so memorable is how well it hid his visage from the audience. While everyone knew he was playing the role it was easy to forget it was actually him. Sadly “Star Trek Beyond” lost the Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar to “Suicide Squad”, but Krull and the rest of the aliens are unquestionable evidence that artists Joel Harlow (remember, he also did “Hellboy”) and Richard Alonzo were robbed.