Being tasked with playing an iconic superhero on the big screen must be a daunting task. So much is riding on your portrayal. It’s easy to ostracize half the fanbase by the simple announcement of your casting even if your performance will (we all remember how up in arms people were over Heath Ledger being announced as The Joker in The Dark Knight). However, there certain casting decisions we love because the actor sort of looks like the character from the source material. Could we ever picture anyone other than Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury? Or Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark? Sometimes we just know that an actor’s portrayal is going to work.
But what happens when an actor is cast in a role that we’re not too sure of? Maybe the character they’re playing is a 10-foot tall rock monster. Or maybe an actor who is known to be on the heavy side has to play a trim space-gallivanting superhero. It’s time like these that actors disappear into their roles. Sometimes this cloak is a mountain of foam, latex, and body paint, and other times it’s a strict diet and workout regiment that make actors completely unrecognizable in superhero roles.
15 KODI SMIT-MCPHEE AS NIGHTCRAWLER
Nightcrawler is a fan favorite for X-Men geeks across the globe. What’s not to love about a heartfelt, Catholic, German teleporting mutant who happens to look like a demon? Nothing, that’s what. Luckily Fox’s X-Men film franchise has taken note that we all love Kurt Wagner and his prehensile tail twice now and has included him in two films. The first being Alan Cumming, who was great.
But in their second outing with Nightcrawler in X-Men: Apocalypse, they casted former child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee. Now while Alan Cumming, who was still recognizable due to the fact his facial features lent themselves well to the character, McPhee slipped into the role. This might be because the last time most of us saw him was in Let Me In, in which he was still a teenager. Boy, those blue devils grow up fast.
14 MICHAEL CHIKLIS AS THE THING
Sometimes makeup effects are so thick and so obtrusive to an actor’s performance, you question why even bother with having a person in the role. Why not just use a puppet if CGI isn’t an option? This is the burning question when it comes to The Shield star Michael Chiklis as The Thing in Fantastic Four (2005) and its sequel.
Look, Chiklis has the gruff voice and the ability to make flying off the handle on screen totally believable, both of which are necessary aspects of Ben Grimm for sure, but there is so much orange foam and rubber covering every inch of him from the waist up, it could have been literally anyone under there. The only thing that really reels the performance back to the actor himself is the fact that Michael Chiklis stands at about 5’ 7” and it’s very noticeable in the films.
13 CARLA GUGINO AS SILK SPECTRE
Carla Gugino is fantastic always fantastic in any role she steps into, even if the project isn’t great. However, much like her casting as Jessie in the Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, there are roles that she seems born to play. One of these roles is Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre in Zack Snyder’s divisive adaptation of the landmark graphic novel, Watchmen.
Gugino was perfect in her portrayal of Sally in the scenes taking place in the '50s. She embodied that era's bombshell pastiche wonderfully. But it was when the film visited her again for scene taking place 30 years later that Gugino disappeared behind pretty convincing old age makeup. In fact, if it weren’t for her voice and spry mannerisms, one could almost believe it was actually her mother.
12 JOSH BROLIN AS JONAH HEX
Poor, Josh Brolin. Yeah, we know he’s going to portray not one but two heavy-hitters in upcoming comic book films (Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Cable in Deadpool 2), but his first outing was a bit of a disaster, which is a shame. Brolin seemed perfect for the role of weird west gunslinger Jonah Hex.
Brolin has the swagger and gruffness of the most grizzled of disfigured cowboys, but it went to waste in the 2010 box office failure Jonah Hex. For whatever reason, Hex’s trademark facial deformity was used in the most literal interpretation the filmmakers could have chosen, thus rendering Brolin nearly unrecognizable and even worst, also making him completely unintelligible. Two huge weapons in an actor’s arsenal is their facial expressions and voice, if you take both of them away, what do you have?
11 ZOE SALDANA AS GAMORA
It’s amazing what a reddish wig and some professionally-applied green body paint can do. Zoe Saldana disappears into the role of Gamora, everyone’s favorite intergalactic assassin turned hero, like a phantom in the MCU’s Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel. Despite her physicality and undeniable beauty peeking through the makeup and prosthetics, Saldana is hard to see when she's Gamora. There’s a certain kind of natural chameleon-like fake out at play here when it comes to Saldana inhabiting the character and the world around her.
She seems to slip into the background of all the craziness happening on screen even though she is a pivotal character to Guardians of the Galaxy and potentially the entire film franchise. Honestly, this is a hallmark of an actress who knows how to downplay the fact that she’s a green assassin and bring out the character’s humanity (so to speak).
10 MICHAEL JAI WHITE AS SPAWN
By 1997 actor and martial artist, Michael Jai White had made a name for himself as an up and comping, charismatic leading man. He had made a splash with his portrayal of Mike Tyson in the HBO television adaption of Jose Torres’ biographical book, Fire and Fear. This splash was big enough to propel him into what should have been his breakout role in the live action film adaptation of Todd McFarlane’s best-selling indie comic, Spawn.
Unfortunately, Michael Jai White’s charm and screen presence went to waste under a layer of latex and a big, ugly rubber suit. It was sad to see what should have been a career boosting role ruined by hiding the actor. But then again, maybe it was for the best. Michael Jai White could almost deny he was ever in Spawn, which might be for the best.
9 SETH ROGEN AS THE GREEN HORNET
Did you know that Seth Rogen was in a superhero film? Yes, that Seth Rogen, everyone’s favorite stoner comedy leading everyman with the infectious laugh, yeah, him. It’s hard to believe but not long ago, back in 2011 (which might as well be a million years ago in terms of superhero film cultural relevance) Seth Rogen starred in an big screen interpretation of The Green Hornet, it a titular film directed by the genius French filmmaker, Michel Gondry.
While the film didn’t resonate well with fans or critics, one thing that was certainly agreed upon was the transformation Rogen underwent for the role. It was reported that Seth Rogen lost nearly 30 pounds prior to shooting, making him look more like the kid from Freak & Geeks we all fell in love with over a decade prior.
8 CHRIS PRATT AS STAR-LORD
Speaking of body transformation, very few actors have reshaped their own physicality for a role like Chris Pratt as the de facto leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (aka Star-Lord). Now, actors have taken weight loss and gain to extremes for superhero films before. Christian Bale packed on the muscle to play The Caped Crusader in Batman Begins shortly after looking malnourished in The Machinist.
But unlike Bale at his peak Batman buffness, we hadn’t seen Pratt in such incredible shape. Pratt had dabbled with looking like a superhero in Zero Dark Thirty, but the transformation from Pawnee’s lovable, plump and arguably most famous “Shoeshinist” in Parks and Recreation, Andy Dwyer to a character whose shirtless scenes are not played for laughs is pretty jarring.
7 LIAM NEESON AS DARKMAN
It’s pretty easy to forget that Liam Neeson was in Sam Raimi’s cult anti-hero film, Darkman. For one thing, Neeson has solidified himself as one of the kings of the “old man action” sub-genre, staring in films like Taken and Non-Stop alongside Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis, so it’s always a little jarring going back and watching his earlier performances. And for another is that his face is wrapped up like a sprained elbow for most of the movie.
At the time of Darkman’s release, Liam Neeson has been featured in some pretty big films in supporting roles. Despite not seeing much of his face during its runtime, Darkman turned out to be his breakout role, which gave him the opportunity to star in leading roles and working with huge directors.
6 REBECCA ROMIJN AS MYSTIQUE
We have had two iterations of the shape-shifting mutant Raven Darkholme (aka Mystique) in 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Film franchise. The most recent was portrayed by lovably outspoken starlet, Jennifer Lawrence. But while she was quick to opt out of as many scenes as possible that involved full body shots of Mystique’s blue physique (and who could blame her), her predecessor, Rebecca Romijn rarely shied away.
This choice (be it hers or not) made us forget that the glamorous woman behind those big yellow eyes and blue scales was a fashion model. Aside from a few moments in the first three X-Men films (one of them being of Mystique losing her powers and reverting back to her human form), we never really see Rebecca Romijn. And if you were only casually familiar with her work prior, you’d be hard-pressed in knowing it was her.
5 DICK DUROCK AS SWAMP THING
Character actor and stuntman, Dick Durock was never a prominent figure in Hollywood despite being in some pretty success films (notably alongside Clint Eastwood in The Enforcer and Any Which Way You Can). It wasn’t until he was cast in Wes Craven’s big screen adaptation of DC Comic’s horror series Swamp Thing as the titular hero/monster.
What’s truly odd about this particular casting decision is that Durock did not play Alec Holland, the man who became Swamp Thing. Craven cast completely different actors for the two roles a la Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk. But if you didn’t recognize Durock before, you certainly wouldn’t be able to recognize him here. He’s is caked with so makeup and faux foliage, there’s not semblance of the man to be had.
4 HUGO WEAVING AS V
Hugo Weaving was the nerd film darling of the early aughts, staring as Elrond, Lord of Riverdale in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and the sinister computer virus, Agent Smith is The Wachowskis’ Matrix Trilogy. But Weaving got even more geek cred in 2006 is the big screen adaptation of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s dystopian masterpiece V for Vendetta as the Guy Fawkes masked anarchist, V.
While so much of Weaving’s charisma and goose pimple-coaxing voice was present in his performance, it’s easy to lose touch with him under that mask. All the soliloquies and troubled anarchistic rhetoric can’t bring Hugo back. This, coupled with the fact that there are scenes where Weaving isn’t even in the costume (some of the scenes James Purefoy shot before leaving are still in the final product), prove that V really is more than a character, he’s an idea.
3 TILDA SWINTON AS THE ANCIENT ONE
Tilda Swinton is a Chameleon, plain in simple. It doesn’t matter if she’s playing the White With in The Chronicle of Narnia or the sinister Mason in Snowpiercer, Swinton simply disappears into roles. Her portrayal of The Ancient One (which should be noted is a character who is traditionally male and of Asian descent) is no different.
Swinton’s casting of this character was deservingly controversial, but her portrayal of the character was mesmerizing, making her performance both menacing and nurturing at the same time. After the initial shock of the ethnic and gender change of the character fades (which it never fully goes away), you no longer see Tilda Swinton. Instead you only see The Ancient One, even if it’s not the version we’re all familiar with.
2 EDWARD FURLONG AS THE CROW
Yeah, this one surprised us as much as it surprises you. It seems that it isn’t very common knowledge that there are not just one, but three sequels to the feature film adaptation of writer/artist James O'Barr’s classic cult comic that launched a thousand Hot Topics, The Crow. The most recent of these sequels was the 2005 release The Crow: Wicked Prayer staring none other than Edward Furlong.
Yes, Edward “John Conner” Furlong of Terminator 2: Judgement Day and American History X fame, and honestly, not a whole lot else. Seeing Furlong don the black and white face paint is absolutely jarring seeing as how this is one of the first films we’ve seen where Furlong is an adult. It’s hard to recognize him as both a mopey gothic vigilante and a grownup.
1 RON PERLMAN AS HELLBOY
Ron Perlman is certainly no stranger to utilizing makeup and prosthetics to enhance the monstrous character he sometimes portrays. He wore quite a bit acting alongside Linda Hamilton in the '80s cult fantasy-drama television series Beauty and the Beast. And while Perlman was certainly hard to recognize then, under the makeup and horns of Mike Mignola’s other-worldly, paranormal detective in Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy, he vanishes.
As unrecognizable as he is in the Hellboy getup, Perlman was born to play the role. His voice and large frame compliment the over-sized, doom-fisted, hero from beyond. Yet the way the thick facial prosthetics accentuate Perlman’s already distinctive facial features, take the character to a whole new realm, making the character look almost believable. It is amazing how Perlman and the fantastic makeup artists are able to make him so believable, yet so unrecognizable.
Which of these actors is most unrecognizable? Let us know in the comments!