Oh, the power of Tinseltown transformations. In a world of CGI, it’s sometimes easy to forget that some of Hollywood’s most elaborate movie roles actually required mounds of makeup and hours of prosthetics. Crucial to bringing memorable characters to life, special effects artists are the unsung heroes of movie magic and hold much responsibility in the art of dazzling viewers. "It’s not about technology," Oscar-winning special effects heavyweight Stan Winston once told The New York Times. "It’s about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that’s beyond what you would expect."
While some parts require famous faces to look completely unrecognizable for their roles and viewers could envision the familiar faces underneath, we’re digging in to the totally insane on-screen aliens that shocked us in the most iconic sci-fi flicks to date. Even better? We had no idea who the actors were behind the masks, as they were wholly transformed into something otherworldly. Let’s take a peek at some of the most memorable movie aliens that are actually gorgeous in real life.
Ridley Scott made sure to alienate this actor on set
Bolaji Badejo was plucked up from obscurity and transformed into his first and only role — the terrifying extraterrestrial monster in the 1979 sci-fi classic Alien. As revealed by Vanity Fair, the Nigerian one-time actor was scouted in a London pub, probably since he was 6’10". Why was Badejo’s height so important? According to CNN, the graphic design student’s tall and lanky looks "matched the thin, insect-like profile" director Ridley Scott needed. Fully fitted in the suit, Badejo stood at an alarming 7 feet tall. However, it was difficult to see in the costume, which was also incredibly warm, meaning it could only be worn in 15-minute increments to avoid overheating.
Although he was good-looking in person, the rest of the cast was still afraid of Badejo. The film’s leading lady, Sigourney Weaver, mused to The Telegraph in 2010, "Bolaji was about seven feet tall and looked like he came from a different universe anyway." She then recalled, "Ridley was very careful not to have him standing around, drinking tea with us during breaks and because he was kept apart from us and we never chatted, when it came to seeing him as this creature during a scene, it was electrifying. It didn’t feel that we were acting scared at all."
This diva’s air of sadness came alive in the real world, too
Model and actress Maïwenn Le Besco’s rise to playing a blue-skinned alien beauty in The Fifth Element wasn’t intentional — but the story ended as tragically in real life as her somber portrayal of the opera-singing Diva.
Le Besco’s husband at the time was Luc Besson, a.k.a. the 1997 movie’s director. According to an interview the French actress once gave, she initially firmly passed on the offer when Besson asked her to embody the otherworldly part. "Thank you, but, if I love you, I want to show you my love that is pure, so I don’t want to work with you," she recalled explaining to her beau. But after another actress Besson hired seemingly disappeared, Le Besco finally decided to step in. She would later muse in the same interview that she felt the character of the Diva was "disappointed" and "sad" — eerily foreshadowing what was to happen in her own marriage.
By the time filming for the flick ended, Besson was involved with another leading lady — Milla Jovovich, who playing Leeloo in the same movie. According to the Daily Mail, the director left Le Besco and married the future Resident Evil star that same year, only to divorce in 1999.
Zoe Saldana has become an alien staple in the sci-fi biz
Zoe Saldana has undoubtedly made her mark in the sci-fi world, playing Neytiri in 2009’s Avatar and Gamora in both the Guardians of the Galaxy series and Avengers flicks. The blue-skinned alien in the former was 70% CGI, with Saldana becoming totally unrecognizable. "I thought [Director James Cameron] did a really good job of putting Neytiri together," the actress later told STV (via Digital Spy). "I thanked him for making her look hot. I mean, Neytiri is very sexy and lean with a really cute bod. I’m in pretty good shape, but I don’t look that buff."
However, by the time she starred in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, being known as an intergalactic starlet was perhaps starting to get on Saldana’s nerves. "I’m not a sci-fi sex symbol. I don’t know why I’m always in space, maybe being a space babe moves me," the Star Trek actress told The New Paper, adding, "As a woman, particularly a woman of color, the roles (set on Earth) are a little too typical for me." While elaborating on this sentiment to The Daily Telegraph‘s Stellar Magazine in 2017, Saldana noted that the sci-fi genre makes her feel "superhuman" because it doesn’t focus on "the color of my skin or my gender or my cultural background."
This actor’s own agent didn’t even recognize him on set
Eric Bana got the Romulan transformation playing bad guy Nero in the 2009 re-imagination of Star Trek. Complete with facial tattoos and his species’ signature ears, the Aussie actor looked so different, his own agent didn’t even recognize him on set!
"I could tell in the script that I would be unrecognizable, and those opportunities in Hollywood are so rare," Bana told The Sydney Morning Herald, revealing that he’d spend three hours every day just sitting in the makeup chair. "It was amazing, the first time you put it on and you realize that you can’t read facial expressions … Everything you’ve done before is in the bin because if you do that the audience won’t see your face move at all. So you’re sort of having to push through the prosthetics."
Clearly, Bana did a great job of it. The film was met with critical acclaim, and years later, he’s still delighted when fans realize it’s him under the mounds of makeup. "I still get people today who just saw Star Trek and had no idea," he told HuffPost CA in 2013, adding, "That’s a huge kick. No, I love that."
Sofia Boutella’s alien look came with four hours in the makeup chair
Algerian beauty Sofia Boutella was graced with an Oscar-nominated makeup team behind her Star Trek Beyond character, Jaylah, in 2016. Playing a warrior decorated with black facial lines and an incredibly defined forehead, Boutella was totally unrecognizable to fans.
Joel Harlow, the Academy Award-winning makeup artist responsible for her look, dished to Inverse about the painstakingly long four-hour process of making Jaylah come to life: "It’s deceptively elaborate with lots of intricate dissections. The challenge was to strike a balance and blend it to where you don’t know where the prosthetics are … The mouth, nose, and chin are Sofia; otherwise, everything else is all a prosthetic." The result truly made it impossible to tell what part of her is real and what was created by Harlow.
So, how did Boutella feel about having to endure hours of makeup every day? She loved it. "I’ve never done prosthetics before. I like that second skin," she told FilmIsNow. "I like what it brought to me. It’s like, as soon as I had it on, you feel in character … Once you put it on, boom, I felt like Jaylah."
John Travolta went alien chic in space
While most of the sci-fi flicks on this list have generally been well-received, Roger Christian’s 2000 box-office flop, Battlefield Earth, is memorable for simply being bad — and for what it did to poor John Travolta. Adapted from the 1982 novel of the same name, Travolta plays Terl, an alien of the breed Psychlos. As The Telegraph noted at the time, the Grease star was "decked out in bad teeth, metallic green eyes, flapping brows, nostril tubes, oversized claws, lank dreadlocks hanging down the front, and half a Martha-and-the-Vandellas beehive stuck on the back." Yikes.
The script wasn’t any better, and the whole thing was nominated for 10 Razzies. The icing on the cake? The flick went on to win Worst Picture of the Decade in 2010, which caused the film’s screenwriter, J.D. Shapiro, to pen a hilariously apologetic and lengthy letter to the New York Post explaining what went wrong. "My script was very, VERY different than what ended up on the screen," he wrote in part, adding, "What my screenplay didn’t have was slow motion at every turn, Dutch tilts, campy dialogue, aliens in KISS boots, and everyone wearing Bob Marley wigs."
Nevertheless, the film truly did transform its leading star, from Travolta’s wild hair to the complete nosedive his career took afterward.
Simon Pegg got to play a portly alien in insane heat
Simon Pegg has made it very clear over the years that he’s a die-hard Star Wars fan, so it’s no wonder he detailed his love affair with the franchise in an article penned for Empire after landing a minor role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Scratching your head and wondering who the English actor played in the 2015 flick? Take a look at junk trader Unkar Plutt. The slender Pegg remarkably transformed into the portly-looking character thanks to a combination of makeup, prosthetics, a suit, and digital effects. "I think they did a little bit of CG enhancement on the inside of the mouth … So yeah, brilliant," the film’s creature shop head Neal Scanlan said in an interview with Nerdist (via Business Insider). "Stretch the eyes and stretch the mouth, and gave it that sort of twist to make it feel like it couldn’t just be a person in a suit."
However, the suit itself was an entirely other debacle. "I was wearing that in 50-degree heat [Celsius]," Pegg revealed on The Graham Norton Show. "I had these big rubber, silicon gauntlets, which were my fingers, and when I took them off, I could pour the sweat out. And if you’re interested, your sweat is a sort of milky color." Um, ew!
You won’t want to cling on to this alien
Idris Elba joined the Star Trek crew in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, playing an entirely new villain for the franchise: Krall. Since Krall’s species is so elaborate-looking, Elba had to endure countless hours in makeup. "Typically, my day would start at 4:15 in the morning. I’d be in the chair until around 7:30, shoot about 8:30 … then wake up in the morning and do the whole thing again," the actor told Entertainment Weekly. "I’m claustrophobic by the way; I don’t like rubber masks on my face."
Although Sofia Boutella’s character, Jaylah, required extensive makeup, it was Krall’s design that took the most work in total. Head makeup artist Joel Harlow explained to Inverse how the context of the story helped shape what the monster looked like: "He starts as a human being but he’s trying to extend his life by draining genetic material from his prisoners … By extension, a lot of the alien characters we designed for Beyond were aquatic in nature … lots of fins. There were also lizard elements in Krall too — gila monsters, specifically."
This comedian was made to look totally terrifying
The hilarious Flight of the Conchords alum Jemaine Clement got a menacing makeover for the third installment of Men in Black in 2012, playing head-honcho bad guy Boris The Animal. What made him so unrecognizable? Maybe it was the fact that it looked like his goggles were embedded in his face. Nevertheless, Boris was genuinely hideous, and as the actor recalled, "I think the first day we put the makeup on it took eight hours."
The best thing about the villain? He just looked so darn cool. The special effects superstar behind the project, Rick Baker, spoke to Digital Trends about making Boris come to life: "In the script I got originally, he was a biker but they described him as Dennis Hopper from Easy Rider. I said, ‘You know what? I think he should be intimidating … He should be a bearded, dark-haired, bada** f**king biker from space.’"
Apparently, the costume was so outlandish, Clement himself lived quite the lonely life when he wasn’t decked out as Boris, dishing to New Zealand’s Stuff, "When I would turn up for lunch without my makeup on, no-one would talk to me as they didn’t know who I was."
This redhead looks totally blue thanks to Hollywood magic
Red-haired actress Karen Gillan hides her locks as the blue-bodied villain Nebula both in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers franchises. So popular was her small character in the first Guardians flick that by the time 2019’s Avengers: Endgame was created, she was pretty much front and center, rubbing shoulders with Robert Downey Jr.‘s own Tony Stark/Iron Man. "I feel so lucky that this small character that I played in the first Guardians film got to evolve and develop so much," the actress told The Daily Beast, adding, "I’m extremely grateful, is the main word."
That said, Gillan admitted the costume was hard to wear. "It’s just a feeling of claustrophobia because I’m completely enclosed," the Scottish starlet explained in an interview with Variety. "It’s a second skin that’s glued to me, it’s not painted … It’s all over, and so I can’t really move my face very much, you know? It’s a weird sensation, and it’s one that isn’t the nicest of sensations but it does look really cool and does help with the character." She then hilariously added, "I think it’s stopping me from overacting."
Endearingly enough, Gillan never thought she would play a superhero villain, quipping to Variety, "Especially for me, I’m from the top of Scotland in the middle of nowhere. Those are movies from a magical land called Hollywood that doesn’t actually exist."
Brian Prince got to play this agile alien terror
Brian Prince was utterly transformed as the titular Predator in 2018’s fourth installment of the classic sci-fi franchise. Much like Bolaji Badejo, who landed the role as the original Alien, Prince is remarkably tall, coming in at "about 7 feet tall" according to Den of Geek. "I got really lucky," he told the mag. "I was originally an art student in Atlanta, I draw comics and do illustrations and stuff. I was in Seattle, Washington, in a parkour gym — I’ve done parkour for nine years."
However, Prince wasn’t a total newcomer, having previously used his athletic abilities to snag roles as a stunt extra on The Walking Dead, Captain America: Civil War, and Black Panther. After showcasing his abilities in a video to the film’s producers, the buff parkour vet got a call from The Predator‘s stunt coordinator. "This creature’s a lot more mobile," Prince explained. "In the other films, they’d move, for sure, but a lot of the times, in the first one, there wasn’t a lot of agile movement. So with this one, for me, they’re throwing me through things."
Unlike Alien‘s Badejo, whom the cast was intimidated by off-camera, Prince’s co-stars thought he was a total sweetie: "Olivia Munn said to me, ‘There’s no way you can play the Predator — you’re too nice.’" He certainly proved her wrong.
Thor: Ragnarok Director Taika Waititi did a lot more than just transform the franchise into a quirky comedy — he also lent his voice to the character of Korg, a massive creature made of rocks. Speaking to reporters at the Disney studios (via Vanity Fair) the Kiwi-born director dished that he originally wanted Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for the role of the hulking beast. However, "there wasn’t enough chicken and salmon in New Zealand" to sustain both him and Chris Hemsworth. Alas, the task fell on Waititi himself.
As it turns out, Korg quickly became a fan-favorite in the already incredibly well-received flick – due to his unique accent. Waititi talked to The Last Leg about the inspiration behind the gentle giant: "In New Zealand, we have a lot of …. Polynesian bouncers … [they] have very delicate souls, very lovely people … that’s how they talk. So it’s very intimidating, you know, trying to get into a nightclub."
Fans have clearly welcomed the soft-spoken Kronan breed with open arms and will surely be looking for him again in 2021’s fourth installment.
Pom Klementieff played this bug-eyed beauty
Pom Klementieff joined the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy for the series’ sequel as the insect-looking Mantis, a humanoid alien that sports some crazy anime-looking eyes and antennae on her head. "The artists were amazing," the actress gushed to Metro, explaining that although she wore prosthetics "at the beginning of [her] forehead," the rest was pretty much CGI — meaning her time in the makeup chair wasn’t as brutal as, say, co-star Zoe Saldana’s grueling green body makeup.
Although the film received relatively high reviews, original comic writer and co-creator of the character, Steve Englehart, unfortunately wasn’t too impressed. "Well, I was not happy with Mantis’ portrayal," he told Polygon. "That character has nothing to do with Mantis." It turns out that Klementieff didn’t even read the comics before filming — because director James Gunn told her not to. "I wanted to and I asked James if I should and he said, ‘No, you don’t need to,’" she revealed to ScreenRant. "Because I knew his version was so different from the pictures and drawings that I saw, that, you know, it would kind of f**k up the — you know?" Considering she reprised her role in the Avengers franchise and will also star in the third installment of Guardians, we’d say the French actress is doing just fine.