Max von Sydow in The Exorcist
You’ll see Dick Smith’s name pop up again on our list, because there’s really no way around it — the man is a genius in the makeup department. Smith’s groundbreaking work in early television and films like The Godfather won him a solid reputation in Tinseltown. His prosthetic application techniques are still used to this day. The Exorcist — in which the artist married traditional makeup and new special effects techniques (watched closely by his protege Rick Baker) — highlights what makes Smith’s work so incredible. Even though Linda Blair’s grotesque, demonic transformation is often the focus of the 1973 supernatural terror, Smith’s naturalistic approach to age makeup is the real winner. Max von Sydow’s Father Merrin is the elderly priest who leads the dangerous exorcism in the film. What most people don’t realize is that the Swedish actor was only 44-years-old during the making of the movie. Had an Academy Award category for makeup existed during that time, Smith would have won without a doubt. He created Von Sydow’s senior priest by adding ” … appliances on the sides of his face, on his chin, and his upper lip, but the rest was old-age stipple around his eyes and neck, and he had a little waddle over his Adam’s apple.” The artist used a copy of his own neck and applied layers of “old-age stipple” over it. Read more about the process on Smith’s website.
Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
David Fincher’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button swept the Academy Awards in 2008, and the movie’s old-age makeup was integral to its success. Aging actor Brad Pitt who begins life as a creepy, elderly baby and then grows up to be … younger was an extensive process that combined practical and CGI effects. The computer-generated techniques are fascinating to learn about, but the old school-style makeover Pitt received can certainly hold its own. The effect was achieved with extremely thin layers that were sculpted to the actor’s face and then blended for an uncanny and seamless transition from age to age.
Orson Welles in Citizen Kane
Considered American cinema’s crowning achievement, Citizen Kane’s old-age makeup causes heated debates amongst cineastes. Some find it to be distracting, given that director/actor Orson Welles was only 25-years-old when he made the film. Many, however, consider the film’s practical effects legendary for the time period. Maurice Seiderman was the artist responsible for transforming Welles into aging newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane. Creating the iconic character’s naturalistic appearance wasn’t easy, leaving Welles in the makeup chair up to seven hours a day. Welle’s performance as a young and old Kane make it all worth it.
Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man
Dustin Hoffman played a 121-year-old man in Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man. Dick Smith helped the actor achieve ancient status with foam latex pieces and the invention of eyelid prosthetics that moved and blinked naturally along with Hoffman’s. We’ve never seen a 121-year-old man, but we think Smith’s rendering is more than believable. Smith writes on his website about the experience: “I did extensive research and spent six weeks sculpting the overlapping appliances for the head and hands. There were many other makeup problems and filming on location with temperatures from over 100 to 30 below zero was rough.”
Julianne Moore in The Hours
Nicole Kidman’s Virginia Woolf nose overwhelmed talk about Stephen Daldry’s The Hours, but the elderly version of Julianne Moore’s troubled housewife was a much more believable transformation. Did her character pass for an 80-year-old woman? Definitely not — but it beats the jolt audiences would have received if the director had used an older actress for Moore’s elderly scenes as he had originally intended. Still, Moore’s makeup effects stand up during the movie’s close-ups, and she even performed the part seven months pregnant.
Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind
The old-age makeup in A Beautiful Mind ranks low on our list, in large part due to the movie’s rushed ending, which shows an elderly John Nash receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Crowe and Connelly’s gray-haired performance in turn seems somewhat comical, but the movie was awarded an Oscar for Best Makeup so the industry clearly disagrees with us.
Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man
Robin Williams is indeed a bicentennial man in Bicentennial Man — a robot who lives for 200 years and is forced to watch everyone he looks after kick the bucket. “I would rather die a man than live for all eternity as a machine,” he tells us in the film — caked in old-age makeup and sporting a seriously misshapen head. Williams has performed more age swaps than most of the actors on our list, but experience doesn’t seem to equal wisdom in this case. Bad makeup for a bad movie.
Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands
Winona Ryder definitely looked better as a young woman in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Ryder’s character begins and ends the unlikely love story as an elderly woman telling her granddaughter about the films’ titular character. Although Stan Winston and Ve Neill were nominated for a Best Makeup Academy Award, it certainly wasn’t for the job they did on poor Ryder, whose appearance takes you right out of the dark fairy tale. While Burton’s penchant for over-the-top visuals might give this one a pass, we don’t buy that’s what he was going for with Ryder’s ridiculous and heavily made façade.
Lea Thompson in Back to the Future Part II
Everyone’s old-age makeup in Back to the Future Part II is questionable, but Lea Thompson really got the short end of the stick. She alternates between a scary Kewpie doll grandma, to a surgically enhanced middle-aged woman, to … something else. They must have been too focused on crafting the hoverboards to notice how terrible it was. Check out the movie’s original makeup screen test below.
James Dean in Giant
James Dean’s bad boy-ish charm and good looks don’t jibe with his horrible mustache and old-age makeover in the 1956 drama, Giant. Dean’s makeup is hated for its costume-like, kitschy appearance in the George Stevens saga about a Texas oil family. As the outtake video below points out, Dean looks more like an old boy than an old man — which is eerie considering the actor died before the movie was even released.