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18 Actors Who Looked Unrecognizable in Major Movies

From comic book villains to Oscar-winning dramatic roles, these characters required total transformation.

We may go to the movies to see the actors we love, but it's not uncommon for those faves to look absolutely nothing like themselves. It's practically a rite of passage for a star to take on a character who looks nothing like them, then spend the press tour talking about the hours they spent in the makeup chair every day. Sometimes that patience results in a huge hit; even more often, it gets the attention of the Academy. After all, there are several Oscar winners on this list of actors who were unrecognizable in some of their biggest roles. Read on to see the transformations we still can't get over.

Emma Stone as…

Emma Stone
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

The year after Emma Stone won her Best Actress Academy Award for singing and dancing in La La Land, she took to the court for a sports-focused biopic.

Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes

Emma Stone in Battle of the Sexes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

To play tennis legend Billie Jean King, Stone not only dyed her signature red hair brown and underwent a subtle but significant makeup process, she also put on 15 pounds of muscle in training for Battle of the Sexes.

RELATED: 17 Actors Who Played the Same Character Years Later.

Nicole Kidman as…

Nicole Kidman
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Nicole Kidman won an Oscar in 2002 for starring in this feature adaptation of a novel by the same name.

Virginia Woolf in The Hours

Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours
Paramount Pictures

The actor disappeared into her role as the troubled author of Mrs. Dalloway, famously donning a prosthetic nose to look more like her.

Charlize Theron as…

Charlize Theron
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

The year after Kidman took home her Academy Award, Charlize Theron won for starring in a biopic of an infamous serial killer.

Aileen Wuornos in Monster

Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos in Monster
Newmarket Films

It wasn't just the physical transformation (which include a significant amount of makeup and prosthetic teeth) that wowed critics. Theron's turn as Aileen Wuornos remains one of the most acclaimed film performances ever.

And Megyn Kelly in Bombshell

Charlize Theron in Bombshell

Then in 2019, Theron disappeared into the role of anchor Megyn Kelly in Bombshell, the chronicle of the Fox News misconduct scandal. HuffPost reports that the movie's Oscar-winning makeup artist, Kazu Hiro, "took a head cast and 3D scan of Theron, then studied images and film of both Kelly and Theron to learn their key features and differences, mapping out exactly which prosthetics he and his team would have to use and how they would have to use them." Intricate stuff.

Eddie Murphy as…

Eddie Murphy

Coming out of Saturday Night LiveEddie Murphy was already a known chameleon. (And has famously acted opposite many versions of himself since.) But one set of transformations stands out.

Various characters in Coming to America

Eddie Murphy in Coming to America
Paramount Pictures

Murphy plays three other characters in the 1988 comedy Coming to America aside from the lead, Prince Akeem. With the help of some serious hair and makeup magic, he also plays a soul singer, a barbershop owner, and a Jewish grandpa.

Steve Carell as…

Steve Carell
Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock

After playing Michael Scott on The Office for years, viewers thought they had Steve Carell pegged. But his dramatic turn in a shocking real-life story changed that.

John du Pont in Foxcatcher

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher
Sony Pictures Classics

The comedian donned a prosthetic nose and other makeup to play John du Pont, the eccentric millionaire with a deadly obsession with wrestling in 2014's Foxcatcher.

Rooney Mara as…

Rooney Mara
Shutterstock/Kathy Hutchins

Rooney Mara was still an up-and-coming actor when she was cast in the 2011 American adaptation of this bestselling Swedish thriller series.

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Columbia Tristar

To transform into the hacker vigilante, Mara shaved her head, bleached her eyebrows, and got several real body piercings.

Claire Foy as…

Claire Foy
Matteo Chinellato/Shutterstock

After playing Queen Elizabeth II for two seasons, The Crown star Claire Foy was no stranger to altering her appearance for a role.

Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider's Web

Claire Foy in The Girl in the Spider's Web
Sony Pictures Releasing

And she did so again for the same reason as Mara. Foy took over the role (and the tattoos) of Salander for the most recent movie in the series, The Girl in the Spider's Web.

RELATED: Mark Wahlberg Looks Unrecognizable After Shaving His Head.

Oscar Isaac as…

Oscar Isaac
Kathy Hutchins/Shutterstock

Oscar Isaac didn't have to do much more than slip into a flight suit to play his Star Wars character, Poe Dameron. But antagonizing the X-Men was a different story.

Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse

Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse
20th Century Fox

Isaac was hidden under putty and painted blue for his X-Men: Apocalypse villain. And it wasn't particularly worth it. Neither critics nor fans had many good things to say about this chapter of the franchise.

Rebecca Romijn as…

Rebecca Romijn

The model and actor doesn't look anything like herself in these superhero flicks.

Mystique in the X-Men franchise

Rebecca Romijn as Mystique in X2
20th Century Fox

Romijn endured nine hours of makeup daily to become the shape-shifting mutant Mystique in X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). When Jennifer Lawrence took over the role in the new X-films, she managed to talk producers into letting her wear a suit instead of pounds of blue body goop by the time the first sequel rolled around.

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Heath Ledger as…

Heath Ledger
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

In one of his final roles, the late Heath Ledger gave a performance that earned him a posthumous Academy Award.

The Joker in The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Warner Bros. Pictures

With prosthetics to give him the Batman villain's scarred smile, plus some freaky, caked-on circus makeup and an acid-green dye job, Ledger fully inhabited the Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight.

Tilda Swinton as…

Tilda Swinton

Another performer known for being fearless in a makeup chair, Tilda Swinton is unrecognizable on screen more often than not.

Various characters in Suspiria

Tilda Swinton as Dr. Klemperer in Suspiria
Amazon Studios

We could have just as easily picked her snaggle-toothed Minister Mason in Snowpiercer or her albino undertaker in The Dead Don't Die. But in Suspiria, the 2018 remake of the classic Italian horror film, Swinton plays Madame Blanc, the choreographer of a spooky dance academy; Dr. Klemperer, an elderly, male psychologist; and… well, we won't spoil the last one for you if you haven't seen it yet. Fun fact: In the credits, Klemperer is credited to a fictional actor named "Lutz Ebersdorf."

Michael Keaton as…

Michael Keaton
Shutterstock/Everett Collection

Before donning the Batsuit for Tim Burton's 1989 film, Michael Keaton collaborated with the director on another project, playing a much more ebullient character.

Betelgeuse in Beetlejuice

Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice
Warner Bros. Pictures

In an interview with Yahoo on the 1988 movie's 30th anniversary, makeup artist Ve Neill revealed that turning Keaton into the ghost with the most involved putting moss in his hair and fashioning fake lips into a broken nose. "Michael said, 'You know, I really would like to not totally look like myself, three-dimensionally,'" Neill recalled. And that, they certainly achieved.

Marion Cotillard as…

Marion Cotillard
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Another actor on this list who took an Oscar home for her troubles, Marion Cotillard won the award in 2008.

Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose

Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose
Icon Film Distribution

To play the legendary and distinctive-looking French singer, Cotillard shaved off her eyebrows, shaved back her hairline, and sat through five hours of makeup before filming.

Margot Robbie as…

Margot Robbie
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Like Theron and Swinton, Margot Robbie is proving herself to be a chameleon in more ways than one.

Queen Elizabeth I in Mary, Queen of Scots

Margot Robbie in Mary Queen of Scots
Focus Features

As the queen grows older in the film, Robbie fades further and further away. In addition to ghostly white face makeup and a bright red wig, the actor also had to wear many prosthetic scars on her face to represent the marks left by a bout with smallpox.

And Tonya Harding in I, Tonya

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya

This film about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding wasn't a big-budget affair. Without a ton of time to waste, makeup artist Deborah La Mia Denaver utilized little tricks like manipulating Robbie's eyelids with eyelash glue to make her look more like the real deal.

Bill Skarsgård as…

Bill Skarsgard
Shutterstock/Ga Fullner

The chiseled face of the Swedish actor (brother to Alexander and son of Stellan) proved to be the perfect canvas for a nightmare that only Stephen King could dream up.

Pennywise in It and It Chapter Two

Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in It
Warner Bros. Pictures

In 2017's It and 2018's It Chapter Two, Bill Skarsgård plays a malevolent entity that terrorizes a town over centuries in the form of a creepy clown with razor-sharp teeth. He told GQ that the process of becoming Pennywise took two-and-a-half hours, but also that he won the role in part because he can twist his face into some evil smiles all on his own.

Idris Elba as…

Idris Elba
Shutterstock/Denis Makarenko

Luther star Idris Elba also rocks some significant hair and makeup work as his Thor character, Heimdall, but at least you can tell that it's him.

Krall in Star Trek Beyond

Idris Elba as Krall in Star Trek Beyond
Paramount Pictures

Be honest—you would never have know that the Star Trek Beyond villain was Stringer Bell from The Wire unless the credits told you. According to makeup artist Joel Harlow's comments to Inverse, Krall's look was inspired in part by sea life and lizards, though he also has "a little bit of Klingon" in him.

Cate Blanchett as…

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is fond of the occasional low-key cameo (see: her hidden completely by a hazmat suit in Hot Fuzz), but this transformation takes the cake.

Bob Dylan in I'm Not There

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There
The Weinstein Company

Blanchett joined five other actors in playing Bob Dylan in 2007's I'm Not There, and was the only woman to embody the musician.

Colin Farrell as…

Colin Farrell
Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

After the Irish actor was announced, fans started to expect a visual take on this comic book character that would be a far cry from the norm.

…Oswald Cobblepot in The Batman

Colin Farrell in The Batman
YouTube/Warner Bros. Pictures

But the first teaser for The Batman dispelled all that. In fact, it's kind of a process of elimination to even figure our where Farrell is in the trailer. Details have yet to come out about how he's been transformed into the Penguin, but in this getup, we definitely wouldn't recognize him walking down the street.

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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