From a thin Bale to a bloated Cruise, here are cinema's most surprising transformations!

Part of what makes film so extraordinary is the transformations that actors undergo in order to fully become their characters.

Actors’ physical transformations allow audiences to completely rid these actors’ previous roles from memory, and can transport them into a new film, watching the actor as if for the first time.

Over the years, several well-known actors have endured extreme transformations for particular roles, wowing audiences with their drastic transition from their normal selves.

Critics and audiences alike are buzzing over Johnny Depp’s unrecognizable self in his portrayal of gangster Whitey Bulger in the upcoming film Black Mass, as his dark locks are dyed white-blonde and he dons coloured contacts to depict the Irish-American Boston mobster. In honour of the upcoming release of Black Mass, take a step back in time to look at some of the most iconic movie transformations ever.



Christian Bale is an actor known for his commitment to his character, and over the years has become a yo-yo dieter in order to look the part for several films. In his role in the 2004 psychological thriller The Machinist, Bale dropped 60 pounds to look the part of his character, Trevor Reznik, a factory worker who becomes emaciated as a result of his insomnia.

Prior to filming, Bale dieted for four months in order to look the part of Reznik. The 6-foot actor dropped to roughly 120 pounds, and despite his desire to lose even more, filmmakers put a stop to his weight lose for fear of health concerns. It was recently discovered that it was never intended for Bale to drop all the weight. A typo in the script depicted the much shorter director’s height and weight, but Bale wanted to see if he could still lose the weight. Bale’s sickly and almost unrecognizable appearance in The Machinist is just one example of his drastic commitment to his onscreen transformations.


Charlize Theron’s performance and transformation into former-prostitute-turned-serial-killer was one of her most remarkable transformations to date. In the 2003 Monster, Theron depicted Aileen Wuornos, a former prostitute who was sentenced and killed by lethal injection in the early 2000s after she killed six men in the late 1980s and early 1990s, clients who she was convinced were going to rape her. In preparation for the role, Theron gained access to letters Aileen wrote to a friend over a twelve year span, granting her insight into the mindset of Aileen. Through video footage of Aileen, Theron learned to walk like Aileen and pick up her mannerisms and various behaviours. Theron’s transformation into Aileen was so incredible that she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role in Monster.

Theron’s physical transformation was just as important as her acting performance that ultimately led to her Oscar win. In order to get into character and attempt to portray a mentally ill woman with borderline personality disorder, Theron gained thirty pounds prior to the film, and shaved her eyebrows. To look more like Aileen, Theron wore prosthetic teeth, and critics noted that her makeup and unrecognizable features helped accentuate her performance. Theron claims that this role broke her out of a rut, one in which she was constantly typecast as the “sexy blonde,” proving Monster to be her biggest breakthrough and transformation at the time.


Hilary Swank was virtually unknown when she was cast in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, a film based on the true-life story of Brandon Teena, a trans-man who struggled to live a normal life and find acceptance in his community. Brandon was 21 years old when he was brutally raped and murdered by two male friends, and after his death made national news, LGBT advocacy was brought to the fore front. Boys Don’t Cry was a tribute to Teena, and an attempt to raise awareness surrounding violence towards LGBT persons.

When Swank was cast as Brandon, she immediately chopped her hair off and dyed it dark brown and in order to prepare for filming, she spent several months dressing and living life as a man, even convincing neighbours that she was Swank’s brother. Swank wrapped bandages around her chest, and put socks down her pants, trying to fully emulate the everyday life that Brandon Teena led. Swank even dieted for months in order to reduce her body fat to roughly seven percent so her facial structure would appear more accentuated. During filming of Boys Don’t Cry, Swank refused to have any cast or crew see her outside of costume, to ensure her portrayal of Brandon was as convincing as possible. Hilary Swank’s major transformation and outstanding portrayal landed her an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.



When The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—based off of Swedish author Stieg Larson’s book of the same name—was made into a major motion picture, no one was able to recognize Rooney Mara in the leading role. In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mara portrays Lisbeth Salander, a punkish tomboy computer hacker who has been physically and emotionally damaged from sexual abuse.

Mara’s unrecognizable appearance was due to her immense physical transformation leading up to the film. Mara’s hair was dyed black, and her uneven locks were meant to give the appearance that she cut her own hair. Mara’s eyebrows were bleached, and she got several piercings in order to look the part of Lisbeth. Prior to filming, Mara even moved to Stockholm by herself in order to understand her character even better. Noting that she was meant to look like a “14-year-old boy,” Mara explained that her year-long portrayal as Lisbeth allowed her to fully transform, both physically and mentally, into her role.


When Tom Cruise originally received the script of the 2008 satirical action comedy Tropic Thunder, he felt as though something were missing from the film. Cruise suggested to writer/director/producer Ben Stiller to add an additional character to the film to make it feel more complete, and the two worked together to create the pig-headed, unlikeable, Les Grossman, the studio head that everyone loves to hate.

It is hard to tell from watching Tropic Thunder that Tom Cruise is the man behind Les Grossman. Yes; the balding, overweight, and greedy studio executive is actually Tom Cruise underneath mass amounts of makeup. Donning a fat suit, a bald cap, extra hairy arms, and fake large hands, Cruise looks a different person altogether.


The wildly funny Eddie Murphy is known for his iconic role in the 1996 film The Nutty Professor, a comedy about Sherman Klump, a loveable professor who is exceedingly obese. Murphy plays seven different characters throughout the film, and all of whom are truly memorable for their boisterous and over the top personalities.

Sherman (Murphy) constructs a scientific formula that allows people to lose weight, and after testing it on himself, loses hundreds of pounds in a matter of seconds. The newly skinny Sherman disguises himself as the confident Buddy Love (also played by Murphy), and continues to chase after the girl he loves. Throughout the film, Murphy portrays Lance Perkins, a parody of Richard Simmons, as well as all of Sherman’s family members, including Granny Klump, Mama Klump, Papa Klump, Young Papa Klump, and Ernie Klump, all of whom appear together in a hilarious family dinner date scene in the film. Murphy’s talent and comedic variety in his portrayal of these seven characters has made The Nutty Professor a classic, and is one of his biggest transformative roles to date.


Heath Ledger has become known world-wide for his role as the Joker in the film The Dark Knight, the second instalment of the Batman trilogy. Shortly before the film’s release, Ledger was found dead of a presumed accidental drug overdose, and posthumously received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the Joker.

Ledger himself described the Joker as a “psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy,” and leading up to filming, Ledger spent six weeks locked away in a hotel room, isolating himself to fully immerse himself into the role of the Joker. During that time, Ledger wrote in a character diary which contained pictures of clowns and comic books, scribbles with the Joker’s thoughts, and chaotic ideas that the character would find funny. Ledger used this time to experiment with voices in order to perfect the voice and laugh that he felt was necessary for a maniacal killer to have. Physically, Ledger’s transformation on screen rendered him unrecognizable. Donning a full face of clown makeup, Ledger’s black eyes and scarred cheeks were meant to show the Joker’s dirty and sweaty appearance, and his streaked makeup and dirty hair helped transform Ledger into the serial-killing clown that he has become so well known for.


In order to take on the role of an HIV-positive cowboy Ron Woodroof in the 2013 film Dallas Buyer’s Club, Matthew McConaughey underwent some serious transformations. McConaughey spent four months dieting in order to shed 47 pounds for his role. McConaughey met with a nutritionist to lose the weight in what he refers to “as healthy a way I found possible,” and lost roughly three and a half pounds every week. Beyond the physical transformation, McConaughey watched footage of Ron Woodroof’s interviews with screenwriter Craig Borten from 1992, and met with members of Woodroof’s family, who granted him access to Ron’s diary from the years before he was diagnosed with HIV. This gave McConaughey insight into Ron’s life as a “normal guy” before his 1985 diagnosis, which helped create a voice through which McConaughey could portray Woodroof. McConaughey’s transformation—both physically and mentally—paid off, because he won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his portrayal in Dallas Buyer’s Club.


Johnny Depp often undergoes major transformations to portray a character, but most often audiences can still make out the actor beneath all the makeup. However, in the upcoming film about the life of Boston’s most notorious gangster, Johnny Depp is almost unrecognizable due to the drastic alternations in his appearance.

In the soon-to-be released film Black Mass, Depp portrays Whitey Bulger, the Irish mobster who spent several years on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List while he was on the run from the law. To prepare for the film, Depp underwent several startling transformations. Depp’s familiar deep and raspy, whispering voice is gone, swapped for a thick Boston accent. His signature dark hair and brown eyes are gone as well, replaced by a balding head of white-blonde hair and coloured contacts to parallel Bulger’s blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Irish complexion. The result is a man that does not resemble Depp at all.

To get into character, Depp’s hair was blow dried flat and then capped so makeup artists could put the prosthetic and hairpieces on his head. Once fitted, hair was punched into the silicone forehead, a process that took roughly twenty two hours to complete. An entire prosthetic covered Depp’s face, from his nose to the middle of his head. False eyebrows were attached, and Depp wore coloured contacts to recreate Whitey’s signature piercing blue eyes. Depp watched hours of footage where he could hear Bulger’s voice, in order to capture Whitey’s “true, animalistic behaviour,” and reached out with the hopes of speaking with Bulger personally in prison, but was turned down. Depp’s utterly unrecognizable physical transformation, as well as his mesmerizing performance are one of Depp’s most shocking transitions to date, and are sure to make Black Mass a box-office success.



Other film news

From The Commuter to Source Code: The greatest film thrillers set on trains

To celebrate the release of upcoming thriller THE COMMUTER, starring Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson and Sam Neill, in cinemas January 19, we collated a list of the greatest train thrillers ever to hit the big screen.

Mark Wahlberg: Master of the everyman biopic

To celebrate the release of PATRIOTS DAY on Blu-ray and DVD June 26, we take a look at Mark Wahlberg’s most celebrated performances within stories that highlight the unimaginable bravery that ordinary people can demonstrate.

Unearthed: The bizarre and brilliant gems of new wave Mexican cinema

The turning point for the modern Mexican horror genre occurred in 1993, when a certain Guillermo Del Toro burst onto the scene with his inventive and brilliantly creepy film Cronos. Del Toro, along with the likes of Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G Iñárritu, went on to carve out careers in Hollywood, the latter two directing acclaimed Oscar-winning films The Revenant and Gravity, and pushed open the doors for a new wave of young Mexican directors. Cuarón and Iñárritu, no less, have given plaudits WE ARE THE FLESH, the extraordinary and unsettling debut film from Emiliano Rocha Minter

From TRON to Hell or High Water: The best of cinema's dude, Jeff Bridges!

Jeff Bridges seems to have been around forever, but has undoubtedly improved with age like a fine wine. Bridges secured his first major role in The Last Picture Show in 1971 but did not pick up his first Academy Award until 2009 for Best Actor in Crazy Heart and the Californian is a strong candidate for Best Supporting Actor at this year’s awards ceremonies for Hell or High Water, having already picked up a Golden Globe nomination.

Liam Neeson's career hits from dramatic lead to modern day action hero

Now considered one of Hollywood’s leading action stars, Liam Neeson wasn’t always the go-to man for high-octane thrills. His big breakthrough was in Steven Spielberg’s war drama Schindler’s List which he followed with everything from political biopics like Michael Collins to Christmas rom-coms in the form of Love Actually, before the Taken saga propelled him to action thriller infamy. It’s fair to say that Neeson has collated an extremely eclectic list of films for his CV...

Cinema's top cats: A purrfect collection of feline film favourites

A furry caper for all the family, NINE LIVES takes audiences on a journey of self-discovery, and reminds us all who and what really matters just in time for the Christmas season. With an award-winning cast, impressive CGI animation, and feline wit, cat lovers and dog lovers alike will be sure to enjoy this hilarious and heart-warming tale of redemption.

Check out this delightful Audrey Hepburn style guide INFOGRAPHIC!

Ahhh, Audrey Hepburn - the definition of cinematic grace and style (as well as being a vastly underrated dramatic actress). Thanks to our friends at The Rug Seller, we're thrilled to share with you an Audrey Hepburn style guide infographic for any of you would-be starlets looking to nail that Breakfast at Tiffany's look in the comfort of your own home!

Check out the home entertainment TRAILER for The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years!

Get your own backstage pass with The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years, on Blu-ray, DVD & 2 Disc Special Edition from November 21st. The Special Edition has 100 mins of extras including; unseen interviews with Paul and Ringo, five rarely seen full length performances of The Beatles live in concert, plus a 64-page booklet with rare photos from The Beatles’ private archive - a must-own for all fans!

Watch TRAILER: Check out the first look at Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy 2!

Following the runaway success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s sequel to the sci-fi action franchise starter sees the Guardians fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Check out the first trailer and poster, right below this official synopsis:

Revving up cinema: What is the best car film of all time?

New research by has revealed the best and worst car films of all time.

WATCH: Epic 2-minute film celebrating the unseen heroes of the film industry

Brothers and Sisters is back in cinemas with a new epic spot for Pearl & Dean celebrating the unseen heroes of the film industry.

Deepwater Horizon - real events seen on screen

To celebrate the release of Deepwater Horizon, based on the true story of the devastating 2010 incident and starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich, we’ve taken a look at some of the greatest true stories ever told on film.

From Green Room to Misery: The Best Claustrophobic Thrillers

Most film fans will admit to reveling in the glory of siege thrillers. Who doesn’t somewhat sadistically enjoy sitting comfortably, watching those on screen suffer the horrific, claustrophobic stuff of nightmares? In homage to all films that have incidentally saved on expensive production costs by filming the entire movie in (mostly) one setting, we pay tribute to the newly crowned leader of said genre - Green Room out on Blu-ray and DVD September 19. We’ve listed some of the most genius, gripping films to get you in the mood. Ready your inner Houdini, here are the top ten movies all claustrophobes should give a wide berth.

Saul Bass: 20 Iconic Film Posters (book review)

Saul Bass: 20 Iconic Film Posters book review By Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham Laurence King Publishing September 2016, £19.95 You know when you're looking at a Saul Bass design (or someone ripping him off). The deceptively simple style, the direct focus, the twisted shapes, the solid colours, the striking fonts, the fact that you've been staring at it for way too long as the story within creeps out to greet you... Yes, this is the work of a master.

Check out the trailer for Batman: The Killing Joke here!

Starring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, Batman: The Killing Joke arrives on Blu-rayTM, DVD & Steelbook on August 8, is available on EST from July 26 and comes to Vue Cinemas for one night only July 25.

Tale of Tales: Great cinematic fairytales without happy endings

Tale of Tales tells the story of a bitter quest of a Queen, two mysterious sisters who provoke the passion of a king, and a King that marries his daughter off to an ogre. These tales are inspired by the fairytales by Giambattista Basile and stars Salma Hayek, John C. Reilly, Vincent Cassell, and Toby Jones

Check out this incredible infographic all about THE REVENANT!

With the Best Picture Oscar winning modern masterpiece The Revenant arriving on DVD and Blu-ray from June 6th, now's a perfect time to look at the film's facts and figures in a fantastic infographic.

GoT a good thing going: Fan favourite Game of Thrones characters revealed!

With the added bonus of the show now being ahead of its source material, nobody knows exactly what lies ahead. Even though we’ve loved and lost many of our favourite characters, we wanted to find out who GoT fans will be getting behind this season. Casino Bonus Tips have conducted a survey of fans to find out which characters they are rooting for. We’ve grouped the top five below, along with why you should keep an eye on them in season six.

Creed: The Rocky legacy by the numbers

As the Oscar nominated Rocky sequel Creed steps out of the ring and to Blu-ray everywhere, let's take a look at the modern classic's stats by the numbers...

The Ninth Configuration

Catch 22 meets Shutter Island, William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration is as deranged and as brilliant as that mash-up promises.

Find Your Cinema

Cinemas Online supply showtimes for every cinema in the UK. To find out what's playing near you and to register for weekly showtimes updates from your local cinema, just enter your postcode:

Advertisement : content continues below
Advertisement : content continues below

| Privacy Policy | Contact Cinemas Online