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 Adaptational Attractiveness and Comic Book Movies Don't Use Codenames. May also result from Obscured Special Effects.


  • 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 Dr. Doom. The second one goes to especially great lengths to get Julian McMahon out of his metal mask.
    • Averted in the case of the Thing, though, who spends most of both films in his rocky form.
  • 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.
      • Speaking of Pyro, he is maskless throughout the entire series, even though he wears one in the comics.
    • Then again, in X-Men: The Last Stand, we're only teased with the Beast being turned human. They might just not have wanted a very famous sitcom star showing up in a dark superhero movie.
    • And in X-Men: First Class, both Mystique (now played by Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) spend more time in human guise than in their blue skinned/furred forms.
    • A very controversial case happened in X-Men Origins: Wolverine where we see a maskless Dead Pool for the first part of the film, only to disappear and come back for the climax, still with no mask but with his mouth sewed-shut instead.
    • 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.
    • Also minorly subverted, as the fact that he still has his permanent Slasher Smile is enough to drop him in the Uncanny Valley.
    • Used with Batman himself, too. 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.
    • Jim Carrey spends about half his screentime wearing the famous Riddler Domino Mask in Batman Forever, which makes sense, considering it doesn't hide much of his face.
      • In the same movie 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, Cat Woman 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 otu 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
    • Dredd makes a point of averting this. Karl Urban has exactly one scene where he isn't wearing his helmet, in which he stands in shadow with his back to the camera as he gets dressed for work. It ends with him putting the putting the helmet on.
  • 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.
  • Iron Man:
    • 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 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.
  • 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, Hawk Eye has no mask at all even though he wears them in the comics. 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 noticably maskless when the team confronts Loki in Stark Tower after the battle's ended.
  • Daredevil has his mask ripped off right before his final fight with Kingpin.
  • 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.
  • Averted in V for Vendetta where Hugo Weaving's face is never seen, except at the end just before the credits when the crowd takes off their masks. By that point, V is dead, so that's not even the character V - just Hugo Weaving. And it turns out that when he's in the mask it's James Purefoy some of the time; he was replaced by Weaving after filming a few scenes, which they didn't bother to redo because of the mask.
  • 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, 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 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 her 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).
  • 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 titular 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.
  • In the Batman television series from the sixties, Adam West and Burt Ward spent most of the episodes in masks. 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.