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Adaptational Attractiveness

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Lon Chaney's Phantom in the 1925 silent had a hideously damaged face, his mouth a lipless rictus, his eyes off-center in gouged-out sockets. When Christine tore off his mask, she was horrified, and so was the audience. In the Lloyd Webber version, now filmed by Joel Schumacher, the mask is more like a fashion accessory, and the Phantom's "good" profile is so chiseled and handsome that the effect is not an object of horror but a kinky babe magnet.
Roger Ebert, review of the 2004 film version of The Phantom of the Opera

You've just learned that your favorite book, The Life and Times of Alice and Bob, is being made into a movie. In the book, Bob and Alice are not particularly attractive—in fact, they're both described as being very plain-looking. So why does it star Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt?

An adaptation and biopic trope, Adaptational Attractiveness is when a someone who was originally fat, plain, or even downright ugly is played by a much more conventionally attractive actor — or, in non-live action media, is drawn/animated in a similar manner. This also applies to clothing: characters whose attire is described as grotesque will become fashionably dressed.

Although sometimes it's who can play the part best, while finding actors who look like the way the characters are described can be problematic. Because let's face it, how many ugly actors — and still fewer actresses — are there in Hollywood?

Related to Hollywood Homely. See also Race Lift, which normally doesn't have the same effect, and Progressively Prettier, when something similar happens but it's not necessarily an adaptation. When this is done to a real life person, it's Historical Beauty Update. Frequently occurs when a character is Promoted to Love Interest. See also Adaptational Skimpiness, Adaptational Curves, Hotter and Sexier, and Beauty Inversion. If the casting directors wanted the character to be ugly but an attractive actor gave the best audition, it's Ability over Appearance.

The fandom version of this is Self-Fanservice.

Contrast Adaptational Ugliness.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Art 
  • Nefertiti Bust: The bust depicts an idealized version of Nefertiti. CT scans that have been performed in 1992 and 2006 confirm that the sculpture underneath the stucco includes stronger signs of aging on the queen than present on the outside, such as wrinkles on the neck and a bump on the nose. The stucco is applied so as to diminish the blemishes.
  • Ulysses and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper, which shows a dramatic depiction of that event, portrays the Sirens as lovely temptresses, rather than the hideous bird-women they are in mythology. (The painting also shows them more aggressively trying to seduce the sailors; the ones in myth were never stated to leave the safety of their island while singing.)

    Fan Works 
  • A beacon in the dark: Midoriya in the original manga is constantly described as plain-looking by everybody and his adorable status never translates in-universe. In this fic, Midoriya starts working out much earlier and as a result, his muscles are much more voluptuous, and, for a reason never explained, the clothes he has are much more form fitting and showcase it proudly. The art style also helps to showcase both his adorableness and hotness to other characters, and many people praise his looks. In fact, All Might even scoffs at Midoriya being called plain-looking.
  • A New Problem: Since the author is aware not many people like the designs of The Problem Solverz and she wanted to test her own style, she made more cutesy designs for the characters. For example, Roba has more of a Cuphead style, whilst Alfe has fluffier ears, a more realistic anteater snout, and a fluffy tail.
  • One Discworld fanfic has the canonically overweight Agnes and her Split Personality Perdita separate into two slim, beautiful women.
  • A fanfic of Fire Emblem Fates titled A Brighter Dark did this for Corrin. While the canon appearance of Corrin wasn't exactly ugly, Corrin in the fanfic is much more sexually appealing to match her habits. Her stronger and more muscular build probably helped as well.
  • Dipper and Mabel in the Reverse Falls AU are inexplicably aged-up, electric blue-eyed, hot-as-heck versions of their canon selves. And dressed in sharp magician's outfits to boot!
  • In canon, Neville Longbottom's grandmother Augusta was a frail old lady (albeit one more dangerous than she appears). In Princess of the Blacks she's a middle-aged blonde who's just starting to grey and has significant muscles from her hobby of making bronze statuettes. Word of God states that it made little sense for her to be a frail old lady when she is only in her sixties and wizards easily live twice as long as Muggles.
  • Downplayed in Dark Light in regards to Inko Midoriya. In canon, stress from Izuku not having a Quirk caused her to overeat and put on weight. Here, Izuku develops a Quirk when he's five so she never starts stress eating and later starts exercising with him to lose any weight she had put on.
    • Overall, it's rather common in My Hero Academia fics for Inko to either never put on weight or find some way to get back in shape.
  • In There Was Once an Avenger From Krypton, Victor Von Doom never suffered from the facial scarring he did in his backstory and is noted to be rather handsome.
  • The Discworld Assassins' Guild Diary, the only canonical appearance of Miss Smith-Rhodes (Head of Raven House, Tutor in Domestic Science and Organic Poisons) has an illustration of the senior staff in which she is a round, stern, middle-aged woman, looking not unlike the popular perception of Mrs. Beeton. A.A. Pessimal's Johanna Smith-Rhodes, on the other hand, is a young, attractive, redheaded Action Girl.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Asterix and the Great Crossing, The Chief's Daughter is unattractive and pudgy, and escaping marriage to her is the reason the Gauls decide it's time to go back home. In the film adaptation, Asterix Conquers America, she is an Indian Maiden with the body proportions of a bathing suit model and a much prettier face, and Obelix is understandably sad to leave her.
  • Batman:
  • In Angry Birds 2, Silver is described as plain and homely. The movie version turns her into a gorgeous princess that even Queen Grimhilde would want to have her terminated.
  • Downplayed in Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Quasimodo is upgraded from hideous to Ugly Cute, though he still has his book appearance including the wart-like growth over his left eye. Presumably, if they added the little details of how ugly he is, it would be a pain on the animators, and would have scared the children in a movie that's already pretty dark to begin with.
  • Most translations of the Beowulf poem describe Grendel's mother as some sort of ugly troll or ogress. In the animated movie, she's a nearly-naked Angelina Jolie in full Ink-Suit Actor mode.
  • Shrek:
    • Shrek, while rude, crude, and ogreish, isn't really hideous. In the book it was based on...
    • Similarly, Fiona, in both her human and ogre forms, is more attractive than the hideous princess from the book.
  • In The Black Cauldron, Gurgi is changed from a hideous gorilla-like monster in the original books to a cute badger-like animal.
  • The Lorax has the Once-ler, who is a pair of green arms in both the book and the cartoon adaptation; in the latter, he can be assumed to be middle-aged going by his deep voice. In the 2012 film, he's a tall, cute 20-something mannote  with big blue eyes (in contrast to the creepy yellow ones he had in the book), voiced by Ed Helms.
  • In the Rainbow Magic movie, King Oberon looks younger and slimmer than in the books. His beard's less bushy, too. Jack Frost also has this to a lesser degree.
  • Big Hero 6:
    • Baymax was monstrous-looking in the comics. In the movie, he is a Cute Machine.
    • While Hiro Takachiho wasn't ugly in the comics, Hiro Hamada is designed to look more adorable.
  • Pinocchio: Pinocchio's appearance in the illustrations of the original book resembled a real puppet. In the Disney film, Pinocchio resembles a normal living child more then he does a puppet; with only his clearly wooden limbs and stub-shaped nose giving his origin away.
  • In Pinocchio (1992), Mangiafuoco doesn't have the threatening looks of his book counterpart and has a rather cute appearance. In the cover he is not as cute, but is far from the scary Mangiafuoco of the book.
  • Exaggerated with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Golden Films)'s version of Quasimodo is Hollywood Homely at worst. He's tall, muscular, has well-combed long hair with a handsome and spotless face... The only part about him that resemble the book character is his hunched back, which is a pronounced slouch at most. He later stands up straight and becomes a hunk.
  • Dorothy Meets Ozma of Oz: Uncle Henry and Aunt Em are less weathered and more youthful than described as in the book.
  • Wonder Woman (2009): Etta Candy in the comics is usually depicted on the heavier side, varying from being just very overweight and boisterous in the early comics, to a Shrinking Violet, Big Beautiful Woman in the later ones. In the animated movie however, she has an Impossible Hourglass Figure, and is extremely flirtatious.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:
    • Doctor Otto Octavius aka Doctor Octopus is generally a pudgy man with a ugly scowling face. Olivia Octavius however besides some frizzy hair with goofy glasses is a slim, sexy scientist. This probably a result of combining Otto with his canon Distaff Counterpart Carolyn Trainer (who’s quite attractive) to make Olivia.
    • Aunt May is a comely older lady rather then the fragile wizened old bag who looks like she could keel over at any moment, as she’s often depicted as in the comics.
  • Superman: Red Son
    • Played with in Superior Man, in the comic he’s an expy of Bizarro having the grey zombie-like appearance due being a flawed clone of Supes created by Lex Luthor. In the animated film, he looks like a normal healthy looking man, before he suffers from a Superpower Meltdown and becomes a hideous troll-like beast.
    • Superman himself, in the comic as the decades go by he ages gaining white streaks and wrinkles. This also reflects his turn from The Cape who’s merely misguided to full blown Beware the Superman dictator. In the animated film Superman keeps his handsome looks as The Ageless.
  • The Mystery of the Third Planet:
    • Gromozeka still has several arms like in the books, but at least he has two legs instead of three, two eyes instead of several rows of many small ones, and doesn't have a trunk.
    • Glot's real form is pretty hideous, being a bluish-skinned, toothy, scrawny humanoid with no hair and no neck. However, it's not even close to his book counterpart's terrifying, scorpion-like Eldritch Abomination shape.
  • While Shinnok still has the pale skin of his game counterpart, Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms depicts with as much more muscular and taller than in the games.
  • Amanda Waller is once again hit with this trope in the DC Animated Movie Universe, but this time with something of a caveat: her debut film establishes that she's terminally ill. Granted, she still looks good despite this, but Justice League Dark: Apokolips War later reveals her illness did kill her.
  • The Bad Guys (2022): In the books, Mr. Wolf’s drawn as scruffy and googly-eyed with a slightly loose suit, making a lot of goofy and slightly ugly faces. The movie makes him sharply-groomed, yellow-eyed, and more conventionally attractive with a trimmer suit.

    Music 
  • Depictions of the late Ritchie Valens have a tendency to portray him as quite a bit more conventionally handsome than he was in real life. The real Valens certainly wasn't unattractive, but he had a noticeably broad face, and his plump cheeks gave him a rather babyish appearance. But if he appears on film, television or theatre, he's invariably played by a Tall, Dark, and Handsome Latino actor with a much slimmer face (see La Bamba, the film and stage versions of The Buddy Holly Story, etc.). Valens' young age may be a factor in this: since he died at the age of 17, some people seem to picture him as a classic teenage heartthrob. In actuality, of course, he had a successful career because he was a gifted musician, not because of his looks.
  • Lindsey Stirling uses this to an extent. In "Star Wars Medley" Lindsey is dressed as Leia, with the traditional long white dress and hair coils. However, her dress is fitted and she wears heels, unlike the original, making her much more attractive.
  • When the English language Vocaloids (Most using Stock Photos as box art) were released in Taiwan, their box arts were changed to be younger and anime style, and in the case of Sweet Ann, more attractive. This move was quite baffling in the case of Big Al, who had already been redesigned as an attractive anime-style man, rather than the resemblance to popular depictions of Frankenstein's Monster that he began with.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Greek mythology, the Gorgons — Medusa and her two immortal sisters — are described as so ugly that people turned to stone from just looking at them. None of their depictions from Greek vase paintings to modern movies lives up to that image; however, in some cases Medusa actually looks classically beautiful apart from her snake-hair. There's normally conflicting myths about Medusa's appearance, some sources describing her as a hideous monster, others saying Aphrodite ironically made Medusa retain her mortal beauty and others offering a compromise where Medusa was both beautiful and terrible at the same time.
  • Sirens in their earliest incarnations were bird women. Most stories that feature them have them as beautiful mermaids.

    Pinballs 

    Theatre 
  • In Lynn Rigg's play Green Grow the Lilacs, Ado Annie is described as "an unattractive, stupid-looking farm girl" wearing a "very unbecoming" dress. This description was not carried over into the script of Oklahoma!, the musical adaptation of Green Grow the Lilacs; it certainly didn't apply to Celeste Holm of the original cast, who practically qualified as Ms. Fanservice by the production's modest standards.
  • In Wicked, Elphaba is described as having a large nose and otherwise being, appearance-wise, sort of an acquired taste. In the musical version, she's Hollywood Homely. Then again, not even green skin can make most of her actresses unattractive. Of course, this is intentional; the other characters are so repulsed by her green skin that they don't realize how beautiful she is.
  • Pretty much anything adapted by Takarazuka Revue will do this to just about any character. For instance, their adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin made Kanryu and Saito much prettier than in canon, for obvious reasons. Hell, they even managed to do it to Abraham Lincoln!
  • In The Phantom of the Opera, the original book has the Phantom (Erik) wearing a full mask, and his face behind the mask extremely grotesque. He is described as deformed. In the stage musical, the deformities are limited to half his face, and the portion of his face not covered by the half-mask is handsome. This was done because full face prosthetics inhibited the actor's singing. It also often makes the deformed side actually look worse in comparison- from a skull in the book to a handsome man who appears to be rotting on one side. The fact that his hair turns out to be a wig, and that he's bald except for a few ratty, diseased-looking wisps of gray hair even on the good side, also makes the deformity makeup pretty effective in the final scene.
    • Similarly, Erik/the Phantom has been played by a succession of attractive actresses from the Takarazuka Revue, with prosthetics amounting to a bad birthmark.
  • In the Original Cast of Notre-Dame de Paris, Quasimodo was played by the wonderfully baby faced Garou.
  • In the movie The Fearless Vampire Killers, Count von Krolock was a sharp-dressed but otherwise plain aristocrat. In Tanz der Vampire, the musical adaptation, he became Mr. Fanservice extraordinaire. Getting played by a variety of handsome musical actors certainly helps.
  • In Big Fish, the Witch is depicted as a wizened old crone (played by a very heavily made-up Helena Bonham Carter) who sees the future through her glass eye. Her counterpart in the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation is a much younger Perky Goth who uses a normal crystal ball that doesn't replace any part of her body. This Age Lift was likely done to enable her to outlive the protagonist and as such show up as one of the cameos at his funeral at the end.
  • Westeros: An American Musical:
    • Characters who have scars in the original story don't have them in the play, resulting in Shireen not having her greyscale scar and Tyrion's face looking fine despite "The Siege of King's Landing" covering events that got him disfigured in canon.
    • Tyrion is extremely ugly in the book and played by an actor older than the character on TV. Combine the lack of scars mentioned above with a Crosscast Role, and you end up with the character looking quite young and smooth-faced compared to his canon counterparts.
  • Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland portrays the elderly White Knight as a young and dashing heartthrob (he even breaks out into a boy band-style pop ballad). This actually plays into the story, as the ending reveals that he’s an exaggerated version of Alice’s estranged husband.
  • Most stagings of Bernard Pomerance's The Elephant Man play, such as the most recent one starring Bradley Cooper, do not have the actor playing John Merrick don any prosthetics to portray his deformities. Instead, they rely on the actor's physicality to suggest such deformities.
  • In Marat/Sade: The Director of Charenton, Coulmier, is often presented in adaptations of the play as a well-dressed, good-looking noble. Meanwhile, the real Coulmier was rather short and described as a hunchback.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • The animated webcast adaptation of the unfinished Doctor Who story "Shada" did this with two different characters.
    • Professor Chronotis was played in the TV version by Denis Carey as a decrepit old man. In the complete web-animation version, he was played by James Fox, and looked much more well-preserved due to being an Ink-Suit Actor.
    • The graduate student Clare was, in the TV story, dressed in frumpy 1970s office-style clothes. In the animation, she is redesigned as a late-1970s punkette, in a tight fluffy sweater, mildly Goth make-up, and a studded leather dog collar.

    Webcomics 

    Web Videos 
  • The Autobiography of Jane Eyre: Both leads are attractive, but less blatantly than most adaptations of Jane Eyre.
    • Jane is a downplayed example and done pretty well, considering the source material. She's supposed to look rather plain. Her actress is attractive, but her appearance is not enhanced by make-up or beautiful clothes. She looks like a normal girl who can be good-looking if she tries. When Jane shoots her vlog, she can be goofy, dorky, happy, scared, exhausted, tearful, visibly upset, dishevelled or with a prim and proper bun; wrapped up in an unflattering jumper, wearing her pyjamas or an elegant black dress or really sexy outfits like skinny jeans.
    • Mr Rochester of the book is often described as downright ugly, though he's intelligent and has mysterious and brooding aura about him which makes him attractive. Mr Rochester in this version is quite handsome if slightly weird. He's not gorgeous as most Mr Rochesters in various adaptations, but other tropes like Troubled, but Cute successfully pump up his charms.
  • The monster in Frankenstein M.D., while not attractive per se, is less inhuman/disturbing-looking than in the majority of Frankenstein adaptations; he has visible scars on his body, but isn't really the Uncanny Valley-invoking patchwork creation of the original book.
  • Funny or Die: Outright mocked in this video where The Wire is adapted into a musical. In the video Snoop, a female Blood Knight and ruthless enforcer who was a Butch Lesbian in the show and who generally acted and dressed like One of the Boys comes out dolled up and in a dress. She looks at herself and declares in disgust "Man, this some Cinderella bullshit man!"
  • The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: Everybody on this show is insanely attractive. Most characters were good-looking, beautiful or handsome in Pride and Prejudice as well, but Mary Bennet and Charlotte Lucas who were plain in the original book are both gorgeous in the web-series too.
  • Solid jj's: Discussed in the Stoogeposting video "The Three Stooges go Hollywood." The stooges talk about who'd play them in a movie, and both Larry and Curly wish their role would be played by Marlon Brando.
  • This occurs in Vaguely Recalling JoJo because the fan can't remember all of the details, and has to fill some in.

Alternative Title(s): Added Adaptational Attractiveness

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