A Tribute to Facial Hair in Film

beards

With the shock recent news that Chuck Norris has decided to do-away with his trademark beard, and emerge out into the open face fuzz-free for the first time since puberty, we thought it was the perfect time to study the best examples of facial hair on the big screen.

Film has always had a turbulent relationship with facial hair. From the pencil-thin charms of the Clark Gable moustache to the icons of 70s cinema sporting beards thicker than a thatched cottage roof. The landscape of the film star’s face has been forever changing. The turn of the millennium seemed to herald a new dawn of carpet-free cheeks. The biggest stars were all clean-shaven: Matt Damon; Leonardo DiCaprio; and Ben Affleck all had chins as smooth as the day they were born.

But in recent years the tide has overwhelmingly changed. Perhaps it was Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean Van Dyke that reminded film stars that they could experiment with facial hair and still retain heart throb status. Maybe Will Farrell’s milk-coated moustache from Anchorman, or Daniel Day Lewis’ supremely confident efforts in both
Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood (his neatly-trimmed tribute to Tom Sellick in the latter earning him a deserved Oscar)?

Whatever the reason, the last year alone has seen a beard on Christian Bale’s Batman, a smorgasbord of dwarfish hair waterfalls in The Hobbit, and trailers showing bearded stars of the upcoming World War Z and Man of Steel. And on the grandest stage in show business – The Oscars – they were simply everywhere: George Clooney; Hugh Jackman; and Sacha Baron Cohen all teaming their tuxedos with some well-groomed facial hair.

But the defining image of the evening was that of Ben Affleck, Oscar held aloft, and a beard of breathtaking beauty hugging his beaming mouth.

Affleck has not always had it easy. After breaking through as the fresh-faced, prodigious co-writer of Good Will Hunting, Ben’s career took a downward turn – appearing in a rash of poorly-received box office bombs. Yet Affleck would slowly but surely revive his flat lining reputation – reinventing himself as the thoughtful author of critically-acclaimed gems such as Gone Baby Gone, and The Town. His renaissance finally culminated in that night of Oscar glory. His blossoming beard seemed to represent this reinvention – from boyfriend of J-Lo to a filmmaker of real repute – physical proof of his maturity as a man and a movie star. It was a statement of success – a beard conditioned in redemption.

To celebrate Ben Affleck Night showing on Sony Movie Channel from 6.50pm (Sky Channel 323) on Sunday 12th May, and in memory of Chuck Norris’ recently departed beard, here are our top five facial haired film stars…

clark

5. Clark Gable

The original and one of the very best. Though Errol Flynn might argue otherwise, it was Clark Gable and his pencil-thin lip tickler that stood apart as the finest example of facial hair in the Golden Age of Hollywood. With a cocked eyebrow and meticulously groomed moustache Gable is still the benchmark for every man striving to be considered debonair. George Clooney continues to try (just look at his latest attempt at a ‘Gable’ for upcoming
film ‘The Monuments Men’), but no-one does matinee idol quite like Clark.

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4. Daniel Day Lewis

The greatest actor of his age is also one of its greatest growers of facial hair. Indeed it is difficult not to argue that the two go hand in hand in Day Lewis’ case. He sported impressive examples of beard in all three of his Best Actor Oscar triumphs – demonstrating outstanding versatility in each case: from the full beard of My Left Foot,
to the bushy moustache of There Will Be Love, and a presidential grey goatee in this year’s Lincoln.

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3. Chuck Norris

Chuck Norris is the undisputed bad boy of beards. His trademark auburn number has been a staple of his rise to the upper echelons of Hollywood action men, and has added to the vast mythology that surrounds the actor. Indeed, it was rumoured for many years that the beard hid a third fist positioned somewhere on his chin. The recent removal of his
pride and glory, presumably in reaction to their growing popularity among mere mortals in mainstream culture, was a shock to everybody.

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2. Francis Ford Coppola

A definite inspiration for Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning number. In the 1970s you simply couldn’t call yourself an esteemed director unless you could produce a beard of genuine force. Scorsese, Malick, Herzog, and even young pretenders like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, all found greatness whilst under the influence of impressive facial hair. But Coppola’s grizzled effort remains the greatest – its rugged masculinity reflecting the dark heart of his best work.

robin

1. Robin Williams

Look at this man. Look at that beard. There is an oft-quoted theory that the quality of Robin William’s films is directly related to the quality of his facial hair. And when you look over his bearded roles it is easy to see why – he simply boasts classic after furry chinned classic. From his Good Will Hunting psych to Genie’s animated goatee in
Aladdin, his career is littered with follicular greatness. Put the theory to the test and watch Williams go full-on Gandalf in the 90s cult classic, Jumanji. Is there nothing this incredible man can’t grow?

Honorable mentions: Ben Affleck; Bill Murray; Errol Flynn; Jack Nicholson; Zach Galifianakas; Joaquin Phoenix; Tom Hanks; Nicholas Cage; Charlie Chaplin; Mel Brooks.

Ben Affleck Night showing on Sony Movie Channel (Sky Channel 323) from 6.50pm on Sunday 12th May

Jumanji also showing on Sony Movie Channel – Saturday 27th April at 6.50pm

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