The Worst Special Effects Makeup in Cinema


Bless the Wachowskis and their low-budget Bound, but just say no to the duck lips and terrible prosthetic ears in the newly released Jupiter Ascending, starring Channing Tatum in some of the dumbest special effects makeup we’ve seen in a while. But Tatum is not alone. Hollywood is full of missteps when it comes to makeup on actors — from huge honkers, to old-age transformations, and beyond. Here are ten of the worst offenders in film. Feel free to continue the list with your own picks, below.

Since his days as the cover boy on Tiger Beat magazine, Leonardo DiCaprio’s baby face has wooed millions of moviegoers. Taking an eternally youthful-looking actor and slathering him in terrible old-age makeup is a bad idea, but that’s what director Clint Eastwood did for his 2011 biopic about flamboyant FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Critics like Roger Ebert praised DiCaprio’s “subtle” performance, but there was nothing subtle about the many prosthetics crowding the actor’s face. Leo spent six to seven hours a day in makeup, which included layers of silicone, latex body pads, and a nostril reshaping device.

Few FX makeup effects have caused the kind of controversy that Micky Rooney’s I.Y. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany‘s have stirred up — and rightfully so. The 1993 film Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story references the offensive ethnic caricature (I guess the Tiffany‘s crew never got the memo about not pissing off Bruce Lee). Asian-Americans have been protesting the portrayal since its first appearance in 1961. In an audio commentary for the film’s 45th anniversary DVD release, producer Richard Shepherd and director Blake Edwards stated they wish they had cast an authentic Japanese actor in the role — but that doesn’t make the part any less of a stereotype.

Part of the fun in watching the 1968 film adaptation of Planet of the Apes, starring a surly Charlton Heston, is the makeup. It’s laughter-inducing now, but for the time it was groundbreaking — thanks to John Chambers’ artistry. Tim Burton’s 2001 remake of the movie inspired laughter, too, but for all the wrong reasons. Burton’s then wife and muse Helena Bonham Carter played a peace-seeking female chimpanzee named Ari. The makeup is bizarre, topped off with a hair piece that looks like it was stolen from the Liz Taylor vault of wigs. We adore makeup maestro Rick Baker, who has created some of the finest looks in cinema (An American Werewolf in London, Thriller), but we can’t say we approve of this look — which isn’t quite chimp or human.

John Travolta must have been high on Scientology when he suited up in this mess of a makeup for Roger Christian’s 2000 adaptation of L. Ron Hubbard’s 1982 novel, Battlefield Earth. Sporting platform shoes, dreadlocks, face wires, and a giant prosthetic crotch, Travolta’s hammy performance still can’t hide the overwrought makeup that contributed to Battlefield Earth’s ridiculous $73 million budget (and commercial failure).

“Imagine the great brilliance of Virginia Woolf to be turned into this absolutely maimed fool with a really ugly nose,” author Jane Marcus said of Nicole Kidman’s pronounced prosthetic nose in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. Leave it to Hollywood to highlight an iconic female writer’s prominent physical feature instead of her legacy. It’s said that Kidman loved wearing the awful nose, which she did in private as well as on set. This was during her highly publicized divorce from Tom Cruise, so she enjoyed the anonymity it gave her. Sadly, audiences couldn’t stop staring at it. Still, the film swept the Academy Awards that year, because Oscar bigwigs have some kind of sick fascination with seeing gorgeous women go frumpy.

Before aliens invaded Dan Aykroyd’s brain, he made his directorial debut with the 1991 film, Nothing but Trouble. It was a box office bomb that threatened to end his career — but then again, so did Blues Brothers 2000, Doctor Detroit, and his UFO obsession. Apparently the man is unsinkable. Aykroyd stars in the film as a 106-year-old judge, boasting a schnoz in the shape of a penis. The grotesque makeup effects don’t stop there (the fat suit is hard to look at), but the nose epitomizes the movie’s weird and juvenile humor that doesn’t gel together.

Adapted from Christianna Brand’s Nurse Matilda books with a script from star Emma Thompson, 2005’s Nanny McPhee transformed the British actress into a hideous nursemaid. She teaches the children in her care to be self-reliant and to judge the world around them based on deeds, not looks. It’s an empowering story, but Thompson’s makeup is dumbed down (if they were aiming for whimsical, they failed) and distracting.

There’s no excuse: blackface makeup from the golden age of Hollywood is offensive and racist. Modern-day blackface makeup is monstrous. We’re not sure what director Steve Miner was thinking when he basically smeared star C. Thomas Howell with shoe polish for Soul Man. The film centers on Howell’s stuck-up character’s attempt to get an African-American scholarship at Harvard Law School. He undergoes a radical transformation by popping a few tanning pills to change the color of his skin. The movie sparked protests by various groups, despite its pathetic attempt at a supposedly anti-racist message (the above photo begs to differ).

Writer Matthew Salesses on the offensive racefacing of Cloud Atlas (another Wachowski makeup disaster):

The whole message of a post-racial utopia is deployed here, perhaps with good intentions, but with the same end-result. The trick Hollywood wants to pull is to continue business as usual – racism, sexism, and exclusion – but to claim it’s groundbreaking and inclusive. . . . Cloud Atlas‘ depiction of Asian women is not one of its only faults, however. Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, and James D’arcy are depicted in yellowface. Their eyes are made to look narrow and slimmer and their noses changed. . . . Hugo Weaving’s character, the Prescient, is even more troubling. His first appearance in Neo-Seoul is as a looming authority figure, robed in black. As a White man playing an Asian character, Hugo Weaving’s sinister role recalls Fu Manchu: tyrannical, menacing, and above all — evil.

Child killer Freddy Krueger — who stalks teens in their dreams, armed with a razor-fingered glove and terrifying pizza face (the result of several parents burning him alive for him crimes), is one of the most frightening horror villains ever put to screen. The film was remade in 2010, starring Jackie Earle Haley in Robert Englund’s iconic role as the kid slasher. Director Samuel Bayer and company wanted to take the character back to his dark roots, away from the slapstick comedy in the later films in the series. Makeup artists wanted Freddy to look like a true burn victim, so they studied extensive photos and refined things with a little CGI to finish it off. Haley spent countless hours in the makeup chair, but the results were… odd. It simply wasn’t as scary as the original Freddy and didn’t lend any personality to Haley’s face the way Englund’s look did. This is what trying too hard looks like.