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Adaptational Attractiveness

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"To be honest, you and Rupert and Emma are all too good-looking!"
J. K. Rowling, A Conversation with J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe

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.



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  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

    Visual Novels 


Alternative Title(s): Added Adaptational Attractiveness