Marquee Alter Ego

If a character is reasonably popular, through cartoons, comics or general folklore, they'll probably have some kind of iconic visage. In the world of Hollywood, however, any actor with the clout to play the character in question is probably recognizable to the degree of bankability, the actors just want the audience to see their faces, or they have difficulty emoting with it. Sometimes, the heavy makeup or costuming is just too uncomfortable or the film makers feel a character in a crazy get-up just looks too silly doing anything but fighting.

As a result, our strange-looking character is reverted back to a less costumed face (often by way of an Anti-Climactic Unmasking), and may stay that way until the film's climax. Keep in mind this isn't just about character.

It's not so strange when you consider how important an actor's face is in "selling" the acting in media such as film where body language matters. Thus, it is not surprising that directors might want to be sure the audience has an unobstructed view of that important face at any especially dramatic moment. Comic books or prose narratives offer other methods of conveying the same information, rendering it less important to see the character's true face.

Compare Helmets Are Hardly Heroic and Comic Book Movies Don't Use Codenames. May also result from Obscured Special Effects.

Examples:

Film
  • Both sequels to The Santa Clause feature a plotline that turns fat, old, jolly Saint Nick back into Tim Allen.
  • While the back-and-forth transformations between Ben Grimm and The Thing are a staple of early Fantastic Four comics, the movies spend a lot of time with a non-deformed Doctor Doom. The second one goes to especially great lengths to get Julian McMahon out of his metal mask.
  • The X-Men movies play with this:
    • Wolverine has a mask in the comics but Bryan Singer could not find a suitable reason to give him a mask in the movie, not to mention, they had trouble making it look good in live-action. That said, Wolverine still has an iconic look out of his mask so the effect is not that noticeable.
    • Mystique is played by world famous supermodel Rebecca Romijn, and has the power to take any form. She had at least one "cameo" per movie without make-up.
    • Iceman has an ice-form in the comics that kind of obscures his face. In the movie series, we never see this form until the end of X-Men: The Last Stand and even then, he ices up for only a few seconds to take down Pyro. He does finally ice up consistently in X-Men: Days of Future Past, since by that point, the CGI technology required to pull off the transformation was now much less expensive.
    • Pyro is maskless throughout the entire series, even though he wears one in the comics.
    • And in both X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mystique (now played by Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) spend more time in human guise than in their blue skinned/furred forms. Lawrence does have more time in her blue form in the latter film, but still has quite a few scenes in her human disguise.
    • A very controversial case happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine where we see a maskless Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) for the first part of the film, only to disappear and come back for the climax, still with no mask but with his mouth sewn shut instead. Though this differs from some cases since the sewn up Deadpool (AKA Weapon XI) was mostly another actor altogether (Scott Adkins), rather than Ryan Reynolds. It had less to do with showing the actor's face and more to do with a bizarre desire to not adapt the iconic costume.
    • Cyclops subverts this and remains under his glasses/visor in all scenes except for brief glimpses where he has his eyes shut. Justified in that his eyes constantly fire energy blasts so the audience can never get a good look at them.
  • Not transformed back, but after Jack Nicholson becomes The Joker in the 1989 Batman film, there are stretches where he puts on enough makeup to pass for normal.
  • Used with Batman In Batman Returns. He takes his mask off when trying to talk Catwoman down from killing Schreck. There seems to be little reason for Batman to show his identity in front of two villains, other than to give Michael Keaton some more face time for the dramatic final scene.
  • Batman Forever:
    • Jim Carrey spends about half his screentime wearing the famous Riddler Domino Mask, which makes sense, considering it doesn't hide much of his face.
    • Robin only wears his mask in the climax but he more than makes up for it in Batman & Robin where both heroes have masks for much of the screentime.
  • Examples from The Dark Knight Saga include:
    • In Batman Begins, Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow spends almost all his time out of the mask, only putting it on for a few seconds at a time when he's using the fear gas.
    • The Joker spends all his time in makeup in The Dark Knight except for a few seconds where he is without his make-up, although the scene is shot in a way that it is hard to see him clearly.
    • More strikingly, Bane spends the whole of The Dark Knight Rises in a mouth-and-nose-concealing mask, with a brief, maskless view in a flashback. In the same movie, Catwoman wears driving goggles that look a little like her iconic mask but these scenes are few and far between.
    • Due to the run time of each movie, we get a lot of Bruce Wayne out of the batsuit as well. Justified in that the first one is an origin story and the third one deals with him coming out of retirement or recuperating from a broken back.
  • This is a common theory for why none of the live-action Batman films (or the 60's show) have Batman and Robin wearing masks with opaque white lenses. The look works fine in comics and cartoons where the Expressive Mask trope is in full effect, but doesn't work in live action because it prevents the actors from conveying emotions with their eyes. LeVar Burton had similar complaints about his VISOR prop from Star Trek: The Next Generation, for instance. The Dark Knight does have Batman wearing white lenses, but the scene is very brief and is basically just there as a Mythology Gag.
  • The Spider-Man Trilogy also contains many examples:
    • While he is not particularly abnormal looking outside the costume, Spider-Man 2 has a plot element where Peter loses his powers, allowing a good chunk of the movie to have Peter just be Peter.
    • The first Spider-Man movie is an origin story so its is understandable that we don't see the costume for the first chunk of screentime. Although, there is at least one scene in which he has little time to change his costume and fights maskless in a dark alley.
    • Norman Osborn keeps his face covered during his fight scenes but is sure to have his helmet torn away at the end of the climax, although it's done as a dramatic unmasking moment.
    • Also happens in the end of each movie. Excuses are constantly made to show his face, mostly due to battle damage. Usually thanks to rips and tears that are magically fixed by the credits.
    • All the movies and the reboot are pretty bad about him deliberately taking off his mask at times that nobody who felt the need to wear one so bad guys won't learn his identity and go kill his family would ever do so. Apparently, keeping the actor's eyeballs onscreen at all times, as if we'll forget what he looks like if he spends two minutes straight in the mask, is more important than the character's actions not being absolutely nonsensical.
    • In Spider-Man 3, we get a token few minutes of Venom's wonderfully creepy tooth-filled maw before he starts peeling back his "mask" every time he speaks — probably to give Topher Grace some more face time.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man was also guilty of this:
    • Since it is an origin story, we have several scenes of Peter learning how to use his powers out of costume, including his very first battle, which he stumbles into by accident.
    • A less justified example are the scenes in the basketball court or at the football field where he blatantly displays his powers in front of several students.
    • In the climax, the Lizard removes Peter's mask and his face is bare for the rest of the movie until the credits.
    • Peter does remove his mask in a deleted scene when searching the sewer for The Lizard. You'd think he'd want to keep it on so as to diminish the smell.
    • Also in the scene where he is saving a small boy from falling off a bridge, he finds a reason to get rid of his mask: he has the kid wear it so he won't be afraid.
  • The climax of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has Peter removing his mask so that we can get a good view of his anguished screaming after Gwen is killed. This is however justified, given that he would want to be closer to his girlfriend and was in denial about her death. The rest of the movie avoids this, keeping spidey's mask on for the majority of the the film.
  • In the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, Andy Serkis felt depressed about his groundbreaking work as Gollum being relatively anonymous. So the filmmakers shot a flashback scene as Sméagol for him.
  • In King Kong (2005), Andy Serkis' main role was obviously Kong himself, but he also had an appearance as a human character in the ship's crew.
  • Strangely, the sequel to Shrek has Fiona turning back into a human for a while (with Shrek turning into a human as well)—maybe just to get mileage out of the model. Maybe the animators hoped to use it in promotional material that wouldn't spoil viewers who hadn't seen the first one yet.
  • Sylvester Stallone only spends about ten minutes with his helmet on in Judge Dredd, despite the fact that in the comics we have never seen Dredd with his helmet off (At least, not when he wasn't wearing some face-altering disguise or covered in bandages).
  • Billy Zane gets a lot of face time in The Phantom, considering he's playing a character whose face is never shown clearly in the comics.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man While Tony is seen quite a bit out of the suit, having his mask come off in the final fight seems to be for this reason. The films are also full of shots showing Stark's face from inside the Iron Man helmet, although that may just be because shining some lights in Robert Downey, Jr.'s eyes is much cheaper than fully animating the suit in flight. Such scenes also serve to make the in-flight conversations with Jarvis slightly less Talking to Themself-ish, and they're relatively common in the source material anyway. And on a more meta level, we have the very last line of the movie:
      Tony: (to a whole press conference, live on national television) I'm Iron Man.
    • Iron Man 3 has an unusual variation on this; Tony spends most of the climax jumping in and out of several Iron Man suits, which the Big Bad keeps destroying, or they keep falling apart.
    • In both Hulk and The Incredible Hulk, we get a lot of scenes showing Bruce Banner (Eric Bana in the first film, Edward Norton in the second) untransformed, while the Hulk himself has less screentime. Ditto for Tim Roth's Emil Blonsky in The Incredible Hulk, who looks like a normal human for most of the film and only transforms into the Abomination just before the final battle.
    • In Captain America: The First Avenger Steve Rogers spends a lot of time not wearing the half-mask hood—sometimes as himself, and other times with it simply pushed back. At one point he wears a helmet instead. Probably justified, because it's not like he really has a Secret Identity in this 'verse.
    • The Red Skull spends about half the movie wearing Hugo Weaving's face before he finally dramatically peels it off.
    • In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Cap makes a point of removing his mask/helmet when he is taunted by Batroc on the Lemurian Star, presumably so Chris Evans can have a good unmasked fight sequence. The Winter Soldier also spends a significant of time unmasked after his mask gets knocked off halfway through the movie. Like Tony in Iron Man 3, Cap also spends a significant portion of the film in street clothes without any sort of costume at all.
    • The Falcon doesn't wear a mask at all, even though he has one in the comics. He does have a pair of goggles, but only wears them while flying.
    • The Avengers: Many of the heroes spend a great deal of time unmasked; Tony Stark and Captain America as above. Bruce Banner spends most of his time as a human also (though this is what he prefers in the comics). Meanwhile, Hawkeye has no mask at all even though he wears them in the comics, though this makes sense since he's not a costumed vigilante here. This is most evident in the posters for the film, which shows bare faces for everyone. On top of that, during the big final battle, a Mook rips Captain America's mask and he doesn't bother putting it back on. Likewise, the group tears Iron Man's helmet off in order to try and revive him after he falls back to Earth from space. Both Tony and Steve are noticeably maskless when the team confronts Loki in Stark Tower after the battle's ended.
    • Pretty much across the board, the posters for the MCU productions almost never show the heroes who wear masks or helmets actually wearing them (links: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] or [9] actually wearing them.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron heavily redesigned Ultron so that rather than having a static Jack-O'-Lantern visage, he now sports a fully expressive and animated face. Joss Whedon defended the choice by saying that it'd be a waste to hire an actor of James Spader's caliber and then only have him do a voice-over.
  • Daredevil has his mask ripped off right before his final fight with The Kingpin, while Bullseye doesn't wear a mask at all.
  • Inverted somewhat in the film adaptation of Watchmen, where Rorschach spends more time in costume than he did in the comic, specifically the prison break scene (where he originally was unmasked). But then, who'd want to be the director who tried to take Rorschach's "face" off him?
  • During one scene of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, we see Bill Nighy instead of Davy Jones.
  • In The Fugitive the plot calls for Dr. Kimble to spend most of the movie in disguise; the filmmakers deliberately had him start out some distance from Harrison Ford's usual look, so that when he disguised himself by dying his hair and shaving off his beard he became the Harrison Ford audiences were paying to see.
  • In Comic Book: The Movie, the hero appeals to Bruce Campbell, starring in a movie about his childhood idol superhero, to make the movie about the original character rather than the recent Darker and Edgier version. He mainly appeals to Campbell's ego, saying the classic costume would allow far more of Campbell's face to be seen than the new one.
  • Universal Pictures executives wanted this trope to apply to Jim Carrey when he played The Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, pushing for less-Seussian makeup than what Rick Baker had designed, and Carrey and director Ron Howard got so fed up with this that one makeup test they sent for the executives to consider was just Carrey painted green. The executives finally accepted the elaborate Grinch makeup/costume, the movie was a huge hit and Baker won an Oscar.
  • In the Harry Potter novels, Death Eaters wear masks when attacking, though the main characters can sometimes guess who's behind the mask by their voice. In the films, the Death Eaters are played by good-looking actors with vocal fanbases, so they usually tend to remove their masks.
  • In the rather strange film adaptation of The Spirit, we see plenty of Samuel L. Jackson's face in his role as The Octopus. In the comics, The Octopus' face was never, ever shown.
  • Justified in Green Lantern, where Hal Jordan's Domino Mask explicitly only appears when he's trying to hide his identity. (Hilariously, in one scene where he does try and hide it from Carol Ferris, it fails spectacularly as she quickly sees through the act.)
  • In the film adaptation of The A-Team, the title team goes through passport control in various disguises. Hannibal Smith, with his usual gray hair dyed black, is essentially disguised as Liam Neeson.

Live-Action TV
  • Seen often in Smallville. Green Arrow seems to spend more time out of his hood and sunglasses than in them while in costume even before outing himself. And this could be the reason why the writers took so long to give Clark his mild-mannered, glasses-sporting civilian disguise.
  • For the first season or so of Arrow, Stephen Amell's version of Ollie never wore a mask. It wasn't until late in the second season that he finally started sporting a variation of his Domino Mask from the comics. Ditto for Colton Haynes' Roy Harper, who doesn't even start wearing a costume until Season 3.
  • In the Batman television series from the sixties, Adam West and Burt Ward spent most of the episodes in masks, albeit without white lenses like the masks from the comics. Considering the series was aimed mostly at children, this makes sense. It is however, played straight with Frank Gorshen who played the Riddler. Apparently, the Riddler mask was uncomfortable so Frank whipped it off every chance he had.
  • Like the Batman examples above, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon has Tuxedo Mask wearing a mask without any opaque lenses.
  • The Incredible Hulk often had the majority of the focus on Bill Bixby's Dr. Banner, with Lou Ferrigno's Hulk often only showing up for fight scenes and action sequences.

Other
  • In the video game Splinter Cell: Conviction, Sam Fisher starts the game wearing a dressed-down ensemble and a standard gun, which is a far cry from the iconic infiltration suit getup he wore in the first three games. Over the course of Conviction, though, he eventually reverts back to the original getup by obtaining several key pieces of equipment (including his signature gun and trademark goggles).
  • Yūga Yamato doesn't wear a mask while portraying Tuxedo Mask (thus making the name somewhat inaccurate) in the Sera Myu musicals. Past actors who played the character usually eschewed the mask as well.
  • In the Naruto manga and anime, Hinata and the other members of Hyuga clan all have white irides and pupils. The live-action stage show instead depicts Hinata with normal-looking eyes, albeit with blue contact lenses.
  • Rather famously, the stage adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera altered the Phantom's mask so that it now only covered half of his face.