The classic tale of the ugly duckling has inspired a great number of Hollywood’s cheesy romantic comedies to adopt the cliché transformation of the main protagonist from geek to chic. But the fact that they have to use already beautiful actresses and make them look ugly, so that they can then transform them in beauties may be a sign that it’s a thing that only happens in movies, and not in real life.
However, de-beautifying a Hollywood superstar actress is a gig many makeup artists and costume designers live for. And it happens quite often that when an actress goes “ugly” for a role, she gets an Oscar. How does that work exactly? Perhaps it is because by changing their appearance they are able to immerse themselves more fully into the character they are portraying. Or perhaps the Academy members feel that renouncing their good looks is a sacrifice worthy of the highest award.
The actresses on this list, compiled by Ranker, are almost unrecognizable if you compare their glamourous appearance on the red carpet with the way they’ve been made to look in certain movie roles. It’s sometimes even shocking when the credits roll at the end of the film and you realize that the quite plain and ordinary looking woman was actually an extraordinarily gorgeous A-lister! But, no matter the way they look, one thing is undeniable: these ladies are seriously talented. Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy roles which made actresses go from hot to not.
1. Nicole Kidman: Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002)
Photo: Eva Rinaldi/Flickr & Paramount Pictures
Nicole Kidman won her first Academy Award for portraying the novelist in this critically acclaimed movie. Unfortunately, the bit that has remained in people’s minds all these years later, is Kidman’s prosthetic nose. The nose, condemned by many as a mistake, was used to make the actress look more like Woolf.
2. Charlize Theron: Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003)
Photo: Mariya Butd/Flickr & Newmarket Films
Being “uglified” certainly worked for Charlize Theron as well, since the actress received an Oscar when she portrayed Aileen Wuornos, a mentally unstable serial killer. Theron was made to look pretty sinister to go with the crazy personality of the character.
3. Gwyneth Paltrow: Rosemary Shanahan in Shallow Hal (2001)
Photo: Andrea Raffin/Wikimedia Commons & 20th Century Fox
Gwyneth Paltrow showed off her versatility when she portrayed Rosemary Shanahan in Shallow Hal. Paltrow wore a fat suit and fat makeup to play Jack Black’s love interest.
4. Angelina Jolie: Lisa Rowe in Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr & Columbia Pictures
Lisa Rowe was an unhinged, unleashed, and unstable character. So, naturally, Angelina Jolie had to look the part. Her sickly appearance was perfectly suitable for Lisa, and Jolie won an Academy Award for her performance in one of her breakout roles.
5. Anjelica Huston: Miss Ernst in The Witches (1990)
Photo: Televisione Streaming/Flickr & Warner Bros.
The Witches gave Anjelica Huston an opportunity to play both a villainous beauty and wicked monstrosity. Looking like a classic witch, with the long nose, warts and all, the actress was nothing if not terrifying.
6. Jennifer Aniston: Claire Bennett in Cake (2014)
Photo: Pimkie/Flickr & Cinelou Releasing
Jennifer Aniston received a lot of attention when she set the romantic comedies aside for a moment, and tackled the pretty heavy role of a woman suffering from chronic pain, even if the reviews ended up not that great. The brilliance of the makeup artists in this case included not actually using makeup.
7. Julia Roberts: Jessica Cobb in Secret in Their Eyes (2015)
Photo: David Shankbone/Flickr & STX Entertainment
Julia Roberts substituted her glamourous looks with a quite homely appearance when she portrayed a grieving mother in the psychological thriller Secret in Their Eyes. The actress was plastered with pasty white foundation and had awful bangs.
8. Cameron Diaz: Lotte Schwartz in Being John Malkovich (1999)
Photo: David Shankbone/Flickr & USA Films
Cameron Diaz played Lotte Schwartz, cat lady and gender non-conformist, in one of her more unusual role choices. For the part, Diaz gave up her trademark blond locks, and had a mane of seemingly never before brushed curly brown hair instead.
9. Anne Hathaway: Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries (2001)
Photo: Horustr4n/Flickr/Walt Disney Studios
Mia Thermopolis is the role that launched Anne Hathaway on a highly successful career. But before turning into a princess, the actress looked very different in her “loser” look with a bushy hairdo and geeky glasses.
10. Vanessa Hudgens: Agnes Bailey in Gimme Shelter (2013)
Photo: Eva Rinaldi/Flickr & Roadside Attractions
It was quite the change for Vanessa Hudgens when, after starring in Spring Breakers, the actress took a role in Gimme Shelter, where she wore oversized clothing and a messy emo haircut for her portrayal of teen runaway Agnes.
11. Mariah Carey: Ms. Weiss in Precious (2009)
Photo: celebrityabc/Flickr & Lionsgate
Mariah Carey, one of the biggest divas of today’s music scene, gave up the glamour and the thousand dollar wardrobe when she played Ms. Weiss, a really tired and low-maintenance social worker.
12. Sandra Bullock: Gracie Hart in Miss Congeniality (2000)
Photo: Eva Rinaldi/Flickr & Warner Bros.
Gracie Hart was a badass FBI agent who had Sandra Bullock dressing up in oversized cargo pants and t-shirts. But the masculine and unruly character quickly got a makeover when she had to go undercover in a beauty pageant.
13. Rooney Mara: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Photo: Columbia Pictures
Rooney Mara looked so charming in The Social Network, so it was a complete shock to see her transformed into the awesome hacker Lisbeth Salander. The many facial piercings, as well as her acting chops, helped Mara to perfectly capture Salander’s ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude.
14. Uma Thurman: Poison Ivy in Batman & Robin (1997)
Photo: Jiyang Chen/Wikimedia Commons & Warner Bros.
In arguably the most hated Batman movie ever, Uma Thurman played the part of the villainous Poison Ivy. But, the actress’s geeky appearance with the huge spectacles, the messy hair, and the plant-like wardrobe, was quickly turned around as the character suffered a scientific accident which left her looking smoking hot.
15. Drew Barrymore: Josie Gellar in Never Been Kissed (1999)
Photo: GabboT/Flickr & 20th Century Fox
Here we have another example of the geek to chic miraculous transformation. Drew Barrymore’s character, Josie Gellar, wins the war against her awful ’80s wardrobe, turns into one of the popular girls, and finally gets her first kiss.
16. Emma Thompson: Nanny McPhee in Nanny McPhee (2005)
Photo: Justin Harris/Wikimedia Commons & Universal Pictures
Emma Thompson looks particularly ugly with the moles, the wiry hair, and the snaggletooth in her role as the children’s classic Nanny McPhee. But if there is one thing that she taught us in this movie is that looks aren’t everything.