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Actors go to incredible lengths to play their roles.
In some cases, that means losing or gaining massive amounts of weight in a short time. In other cases, it means spending months in character.
But in yet other cases, the costumes themselves are the most difficult part of the job. We looked into some of the most iconic costume choices of all time—and, since we’re always thinking about Halloween, we looked for ways to recreate the look at home (without dangerous prosthetics or a million-dollar budget).
1. The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz had to carry a lot of weight.
Bert Lahr played the role, and his costume weighed an astounding 90 pounds. Oh, and it was made from two real lion skins.
Of course, The Wizard of Oz is one of the most highly acclaimed films of all time, but when the lion suit was auctioned off, it was only valued at several thousand dollars. Whoever bought it made a nice investment; at a later auction, it sold for an astounding $826,000.
Can you recreate it at home? Not really. All commercial Cowardly Lion costumes are fairly stripped down, since, well, most people don’t like lugging around 90 pounds of extra weight.
With that said, the highest rated wig on Amazon looks pretty close to what appeared onscreen. It’s featured as a “theatrical quality” costume component—whatever that means—and customers who’ve picked it up say that the beard and mane hold together, even when worn regularly (hey, maybe you’re the type of person who wants to wear this stuff every day). The wig, of course, is the easy part.
Since you can’t really wear a full-on lion costume without sweating profusely, we’d just go ahead and scratch that idea entirely. RG Costumes’ Lee the Lion is basically a set of pajamas, so it’s not realistic, but it is comfortable—and fairly stylish. If you’re headed out to a bunch of Halloween parties, it’s a cheap way to look lionish without overspending.
2. The Chewbacca costume wasn’t exactly comfortable.
The original Chewbacca costume was envisioned as a mix between “a monkey, a dog, and a cat,” and it was made from real yak and rabbit hair (knitted on a base of mohair). It was extremely hot, which created an extraordinary burden for actor Peter Mayhew.
In fact, the costume got so hot that its eyes detached, which was, obviously, a problem. To remedy the situation, filmmakers incorporated a water-cooling system in Episode III. This allowed Mayhew to wear the suit for long periods of time.
Interestingly, the original concept for Chewbacca might have been easier on the actor…but not necessarily easier on audiences. According to an original draft of the first Star Wars script, Chewie is:
“…An eight-foot tall, savage-looking creature resembling a huge gray bush-baby-monkey with fierce ‘baboon’-like fangs. His large yellow eyes dominate a fur-covered face…[and] over his matted, furry body he wears two chrome bandoliers, a flak jacket painted in a bizarre camouflage pattern, brown cloth shorts, and little else.”
Can you recreate it at home? If you’ve got a ton of money in your Halloween costume budget, sure. There’s an officially licensed Chewbacca costume that looks pretty spot on, although the creators took a few liberties with the design to make it lighter and more breathable (and therefore slightly less realistic). The downside: It costs about $270, so if you’re not really, really into Wookies, it’s probably slightly out of your budget. Per the reviews, it also runs large, so make sure it’ll fit you before you spend your hard-earned credits.
If you want a realistic Star Wars costume that won’t force you into a life of spice smuggling, a better option is Cosplaysky’s Jedi Robe costume. It looks pretty identical to the robe that Obi-Wan wears in the first (and best, fight us) film, and it comes with a belt, pant, robe, tabard, and the inner and outer tunic. Grab a cheap lightsaber, and you’re good to go.
3. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique makeup is absolutely insane.
In fact, at one point, it was most of the job.
“It used to take eight [hours], which is lovely,” Lawrence said during one interview. “Now it only takes three.”
For much of that time, Lawrence had to remain still; for other parts of it, however, she could sit on a stationary bike, which at least provided some sort of distraction.
By the way, the three-hour time for the later movies wasn’t the result of some incredible new makeup technology; Lawrence was simply being filmed from the neck up. Before you feel too sorry for her, consider that makeup artists decided on Mystique’s special shade of blue by experimenting—they tried at least nine other shades on other women (who never ended up on screen).
It wasn’t just paint. Mystique also has a series of scales, which complicated things somewhat.
“I know that everyone feels sorry for me, but it’s so much fun,” Lawrence said. “It’s like a sleepover, except I’m naked and getting painted.”
Can you recreate it at home? Well, we’re going to go out on a limb and say that you don’t have an army of professional makeup artists at your disposal, so not really. You can find a Mystique bodysuit for about $50 on Amazon, and it’s the next best thing. Plus, the seller offers custom-made options.
You’ll also need blue body paint. Ideally, you’ll have someone else apply it, but in a pinch, you can always blue yourself. Many of the most popular body paints on Amazon have terrible reviews, but Largemouth’s cream body paint seems legit, and it’s water washable.
4. The original Alien costume looked completely different.
The Xenomorph didn’t always look as terrifying as it is now. It went through a few major tweaks even before they starting looking for an actor to don the costume. Once an actor was found, they then had to learn how to move and maneuver the creature’s rig. Check out the video below to see how the Alien franchise pulled off one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time.
Can you recreate it at home? Well, no. The xenomorph costume is all about big, heavy prosthetics. You could try to build your own, but unless you’re incredibly skilled and dedicated, you’ll end up looking like The Reject from the Black Lagoon.
Don’t get us wrong, goofy costumes have their place, but we’re looking to inspire fear, not giggles. We did find a pretty awesome alien mask on Amazon that looks similar to H.R. Giger’s most famous creation; it has a moving mouth, and with some creative flourishes, it could be the focal point of a truly scary costume.
If you’re just looking for an Alien-ish costume, we’d recommend grabbing a cheap flight suit, a curly wig, and a few other simple props to make yourself look like Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). You won’t spend nearly as much, and you won’t have to keep moving your bestial jaws apart to take drinks.
5. Groucho Marx’s mustache was an iconic part of his character.
Modern viewers who haven’t paid close attention might not know that Groucho wore a greasepaint mustache—never a real one. Studio executive Walter Wanger even told Groucho to lose the “obvious fake.”
Groucho had apparently adopted the greasepaint as part of a vaudeville routine. However, he seemed to like the absurdity of it, as the artificial substance did not match the color of his natural hair. It also allowed him to exaggerate certain gestures and facial expressions on camera.
Can you recreate it at home? Of course! Grab some grease paint, and you’re good to go.
Rubie’s Costume Co. offers a decent option for under $10. It’s water washable, so if you’re running out your Groucho costume for a Halloween costume, you can wash up afterward and avoid awkward looks as you walk into the office the next morning (“Guys, I swear I was going as Groucho, not…oh, forget it.”).
Of course, you can also find classic Groucho glasses on Amazon. Here’s a 12-pack; note that it doesn’t include the mustache.
Get 11 friends together, and you can all head to the party as Groucho. That’d either be really funny or totally lame—try it and let us know.
6. The Michael Myers mask from Halloween was a William Shatner mask.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the producers of Halloween decided to take a William Shatner mask and paint it white to create the gruesome look of the iconic villain. Where’d they get the mask?
“It had been made on Star Trek,” Shatner said later. “They would use the mask for appliances, so instead of my face, they’d use the mask to make sure that everything fit.”
When Shatner found out, he took it well. He even used the mask during a notable trick-or-treat excursion.
“I heard about it, and the next Halloween, with my grandkids, they went out trick-or-treating, I went out with them,” Shatner said. “I was wearing the mask. They’d say ‘trick or treat,’ and they’d usually get candy, but one time, this guy says, ‘Get out of here.’”
“I went up to the front door, I knocked at the front door. I leered at him in the mask, then I yanked it off and I stared at him. He screamed, shut the door.”
That sort of means that Shatner’s face was more terrifying to the man than the actual Michael Myers mask, but hey—if an angry Shatner shows up on your doorstep, you’d be terrified, too.
Can you recreate it at home? Well, it started as a Halloween costume, so yes, absolutely. This mask recreates Myers’ look from Halloween H20. That might not have been the best film of the series, but it had pretty decent costume design, and this is nearly identical to the mask worn in the movie. Add a blue jumpsuit, and you’ll be ready to terrify trick-or-treaters.
7. E.T. was played by several actors.
The lovable alien was mostly played by two people with dwarfism, Tamara de Treaux and Pat Bilon. Their E.T. suits had slits at the top of the chest to allow them to see out.
However, for close shots, director Steven Spielberg trusted the talents of 12-year-old Matthew DeMeritt.
Matthew was born without legs, which allowed him to fit into the small suit comfortably. The suit was specially built to allow him to move around with his arms on the ground.
During the filming of the scene when Elliot dresses E.T. up in a dress so that he can escape to the forest, Spielberg also wore a dress. Of course, it was also Halloween; the cast even bobbed for apples.
Audiences eventually loved E.T., but early reviews weren’t great. Notably, Mars, Inc. refused to allow the film to use M&Ms for its iconic candy scene. Instead, Spielberg used Reese’s Pieces (and sales of the candies skyrocketed when the film became a success).
Can you recreate it at home? E.T. costumes are available on Amazon, but you have to be short enough to fit into them. This plush costume is made with microfiber fleece, and it looks pretty adorable on a toddler.
For adults, this Elliott costume is one party-ready option. You get a red hoodie, a fold-out milk crate, and a cardboard E.T. Sure, it’s not super realistic, but it should get some giggles from your fellow partygoers. For extra realism, fly into the sky at the end of the night.
8. The suit from Robocop nearly ruined the entire film.
Part of the reason that Peter Weller won the part of Robocop was that he had a fairly small frame…well, relative to the other frontrunners for the part (one of whom was Arnold Schwarzenegger).
But the first version of the suit caused problems with the production. For starters, it wasn’t delivered on time, so Weller had to practice in a padded suit. When the real thing arrived, he quickly realized he was in over his head; the suit was large, heavy, and unwieldy. Temperatures were incredibly hot on set, and Weller was losing three pounds per day due to dehydration.
“It took me three hours to put on the inner suit, then another seven hours to put on the outer suit,” Weller told Ain’t It Cool News (note: link contains strong language). “I lost my mind…We shot one scene [the first day]. I said, ‘This is not going to work for me.’”
That night, Weller’s agent convinced him to stay with the production. Eventually, the costume team worked out a system; between takes, a member of the crew kept Weller as cool as possible by moving him to an air-conditioned area. That didn’t quite make up for the overall poor suit design, and later versions of the suit had fans built in.
Can you recreate it at home? Not really. There’s one RoboCop costume on Amazon, and reviewers note that it’s fairly fragile. It also runs on the small side, and while the mask is made from PVC, the jumpsuit is polyester—what criminal would be afraid of a squeezably soft cyborg?
You can find a pretty decent Judge Dredd costume, built to professional cosplay standards, for under $200. It’s a bit of an investment, but we could see ourselves wearing this regularly. Side note: In our spare time, we practice vigilante justice. Your mileage may vary.
9. The original Jabba the Hutt was just a normal guy.
In the original Star Wars, George Lucas wrote a scene with Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo. Eventually, this scene made it into the special edition re-release…but with a CGI Jabba in place of the original actor.
The first version featured a starkly different Jabba the Hutt. In fact, he was really just Jabba the Dude—early reels show actor Declan Mulholland, clearly in costume, but decidedly normal looking.
Lucas claims that he wanted to eventually replace Mulholland with alien puppetry, but some fans have cast doubt on those claims, noting that Mulholland is clearly in character in the deleted scene. In any case, Lucas eventually got his wish; in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Jabba the Hutt is portrayed as the big, disgusting blob that we all know and love. Oh, and he was controlled by seven individual puppeteers (of course).
Can you recreate it at home? Nope, but that’s not going to stop you from trying, is it?
If you really want to look like Jabba the Hutt, your best bet is an inflatable costume. UHC offers a pretty decent inflatable, and although it doesn’t really look like Jabba, it at least looks like Jabba’s much more diet-conscious cousin. It’s officially licensed but pretty affordable.
10. For the People Eater, the Mad Max: Fury Road crew went all-out.
According to Lesley Vanderwalt, who oversaw the film’s hair and makeup design, the goal was to make the character as disgusting as possible—with one caveat.
“You couldn’t go disgusting enough and John [Howard, who played the role] was completely up for it,” she told The New York Times. “But it had to start with a business suit, because at one time, that man had been a banker. He’s really not so very different from various politicians and celebrities we now read about, just depicted in a more depraved, post-apocalyptic way.”
As for the character’s gas mask catheter (gross), Vanderwalt says she doesn’t remember who came up with that idea.
“I think it was someone else’s idea,” she told the paper, “because I hope I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
The Fury Road crew designed every outlandish costume to look plausible; the characters’ clothes came from what would be available after a real apocalypse. In the film, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) wears iconic black face paint made to look like a mix of real-world components.
“We had to find a way to tie that makeup into the story,” Vanderwalt said. “We thought, these people had nothing but the materials around them, which would have been grease from the mechanical stuff they were building or clay from the ground.”
Can you recreate it at home? Sadly, we couldn’t find any brass noses on Amazon, and while we did find some metal chains for the…other part of the costume, we’d recommend against a straight-up recreation of the People Eater look.
Instead, make your own Mad Max costume. A quick search for “steampunk” brings up a ton of awesome stuff; throw in some tattered clothes and face paint, and baby, you’ve got a post-apocalyptic stew going.
We’re especially partial to these Victorian-style goggles, which feature colored lenses and an ocular loupe. They look like something you’d see in a desert wasteland, and they’re highly reviewed.
Since Mad Max takes place in a desert, you can also pick up some desert wear to make your costume more believable. This “tactical desert scarf wrap” has a ridiculous name—since when are scarves tactical?—but it certainly looks the part, and it’s made of high-quality woven materials.