Top 5 Best Movie Makeup Effects

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Long before computer-generated imagery existed to bring creatures like Gollum to life in “The Lord of the Rings,” Hollywood relied on special effects makeup artists to transform an actor’s appearance. While the industry no longer depends solely on makeup to create its creatures, the tricks of the trade are well preserved on film.

5 Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis (2012)

While many makeup special effects artists are enlisted to transform actors into fantastical creatures and characters, there’s something to be said for artists capable of more subtle transformations. In the time travel film “Looper,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis share the character of Joe/Old Joe, with Gordon-Levitt playing the younger version. Rather than rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief to accept Willis as a younger version of himself, Gordon-Levitt enlisted the help of makeup artists Jamie Kelman and Kazu Tsuji for the transformation. With the aid of nose, lip, ear prosthetics, plus a little help with the hairline and eye color, Gordon-Levitt became a believable Bruce Willis lookalike.

4 Rebecca Romijn as Mystique (2000)

While many actors have suffered the process it takes to don a prosthetic or two, none have endured the up to nine-hour ordeal Rebecca Romijn faced to transform into Mystique for the “X-Men” film. Prosthetic artist Gordon J Smith and makeup supervisor Ann Brodie collaborated on the costume that had Romijn filming scenes wearing nothing but blue body paint and the 110 self-sticking silicone prosthetics that covered over 60 percent of her body.

3 Boris Karloff as Frankenstein (1931)

The flat head, the neck bolts, the green skin—the monster makeup worn by Boris Karloff in the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” has become the iconic depiction of the creature in Mary Shelley’s novel. Jack Pierce is the Hollywood makeup expert behind Karloff’s famous Frankenstein makeup, a man still revered by many of today’s top special effects artists for his monster creation skills. Crafted in the days before foam-rubber prosthetics, the oversized Frankenstein head was built on Karloff’s head each day with cotton, collodion, spirit gum and green greasepaint.

2 Lon Chaney in “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925)

You’ve gotta give props to a man willing to wear fish skin as part of his monster makeup. And that’s reportedly what Lon Chaney did to create the skull-like visage that helped earn him the nickname “The Man With a Thousand Faces.” While Chaney’s makeup tricks are a mystery to this day, his ability to transform himself is still astounding and was ahead of his time. His appearance as the Phantom was so horrific for the era that audiences screamed and fainted when his Phantom was finally unmasked.

1 David Naughton as the Werewolf (1981)

The elongating hands and feet, the painstaking progression of hair growth, the bubbling spine and jutting shoulderblades, the protruding jaw and bulging eyes—David Naughton’s transformation into the titular character in “An American Werewolf in London” is so well done, it’s almost painful to watch. Engineered by special effects master Rick Baker, the almost three-minute clip took over a week to film and required numerous casts of Naughton’s face and body. Baker’s work on the film was so impressive he was awarded the very first Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch has written fashion, travel, interior design and entertainment content since 2007. Bartsch holds a BFA in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a MFA in creative writing from Spalding University. She's written screenplays for indie film productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.

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