The best old age makeup in film usually falls to one decision, hiring an actor who can either play the hell out of the role with minimum makeup or is close to the age of the character. But sometimes, a story calls for the actor to play many ages throughout a film. That’s when makeup gets tricky.
Brad Pitt had the help of more than 50 makeup and visual effects pros to become Benjamin Button at all this various de-aging stages, and it’s some of the best old age effects to date. However, 30 years before that film was made, makeup legend Dick Smith pulled off some of the best movie makeup ever in the ‘70s, using only practical tools.
Achieving the best movie makeup by aging young actors is damn near impossible. Director James Cameron opted for an older actress to play Rose at the end of Titanic for just that reason. Steven Spielberg did the same in Saving Private Ryan with Matt Damon’s character. Frank Darabont followed suit in The Green Mile with Tom Hanks’s 108-year-old character.
Most of the time, best old age makeup in movies comes down to a minimalist approach. Jo Van Fleet got some gray hair and a few liver spots to play Ella Garth in Wild River and audiences believed the 45-year-old was in her early 80s. She was just that good.
David Bowie – The Hunger (1983)
Character: John Blaylock
Dick Smith was still at it in the ‘80s, creating special magic with practical makeup. For The Hunger, he progressively aged 36-year-old David Bowie, whose character, John Blaylock, is betrayed by his vampire lover, rapidly ages, and is doomed to live as a withered undying ancient vampire forever.
Brad Pitt – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)
Character: Benjamin Button
Benjamin Button is all about aging, which explains why the film had 56 people in its hair and makeup department. Greg Cannom and his team created practical old age makeup as Brad Pitt’s character de-aged. Many have said the makeup looks unnatural in places, but so is a film about a man who’s born old and grows younger every year.
Marlon Brando – The Godfather (1972)
Character: Don Vito Corleone
Dick Smith aged 48-year-old Marlon Brando with subtle deftness for The Godfather. It remains some of the best old age makeup on film.
Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman – Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
Characters: Daisy Werthan (Jessica Tandy) and Hoke Colburn (Morgan Freeman)
Makeup artists Manlio Rocchetti and Kevin Haney used a light touch on Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy, and the results look very natural, at least by movie standards. The two acting greats didn’t need to be rubberized to show the passage of time.
Gary Oldman – Dracula (1992)
Yeah, okay. It’s more like ancient vampire drag, but it works. We totally believe Gary Oldman is an ancient blood sucker who has a thing for ridiculously long silk robes and high, tight murder buns in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s more believable than Keanu Reeve’s English accent, anyway.
Eddie Murphy and Rick Baker have put together some hilarious characters in their day, none more jaw-dropping than Saul. For Coming to America, Baker transformed Murphy into an old Jewish man, and audiences couldn’t believe it.
Jo Van Fleet – Wild River (1960)
Character: Ella Garth
Jo Van Fleet was 45 years old in Wild River, 16 year younger than the actor playing her son. She was a mighty talent, and the legendary Ben Nye took the less-is-more approach to aging her, letting Van Fleet pull off the character with her acting skill, not pounds of makeup. Did she ever.
Max von Sydow – The Exorcist (1973)
Character: Father Merrin
Max von Sydow was only 41 when he played aged priest Father Merrin in the scariest film of our childhood. Dick Smith’s subtle approach to aging the actor for The Exorcist goes unnoticed, which was the point. It’s hard to notice when Linda Blair is spitting pea soup all over your co-star. The power of Christ compels you, indeed.
Dustin Hoffman – Little Big Man (1970)
Character: Jack Crabb
Dustin Hoffman wore this heavy makeup in extreme temperatures both hot and cold to play a 121-year-old man in Little Big Man. The makeup was considered groundbreaking at the time of the film’s release.
Bryan Cranston – Trumbo (2015)
Character: Dalton Trumbo
Bryan Cranston played the titular blacklisted Hollywood writer who outsmarted the system, goes to prison, and spends the rest of his days wisecracking about it in Trumbo. Kentaro Yano expertly aged the actor, bushy ‘70s ‘stache and all.