Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling: History and Rules

This Oscar award was born out of controversy

(L-R) Rick Baker and Dave Elsey at the 83rd Academy Awards, held at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

(Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images)

Makeup has been part of cinema from its earliest years, with iconic screen acting legends like Lon Chaney (who designed his own makeup), thrilling audiences as ghoulish characters like the Phantom in 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera. Other memorable movie characters were brought to life with extraordinary makeup designs in films like 1931’s Frankenstein and 1939’s The Wizard of Oz.

With makeup playing such an important role in creating memorable images on screen, it is surprising to learn that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awards the Oscars, did not have an official award for Best Makeup until the 54th Academy Awards in 1982. In fact, the competitive category actually originated out of the controversy that these practitioners were not being adequately recognized for their extraordinary work.

Did You Know?

Nominees for the Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling are selected at an event called the Makeup Bake-off, attended by the Academy's Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch.

Creation of the Category

Prior to the creation of the Best Makeup category, two makeup artists received Academy Honorary Awards for their advances in cinema makeup. The first was longtime MGM makeup artist William J. Tuttle, who received his award for the makeup in 1964’s 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, which featured actor Tony Randall as seven vastly different-looking characters.

The second Academy Honorary Award presented for makeup was awarded to John Chambers, who received his award for the makeup in 1968’s Planet of the Apes (Chambers also designed the makeup for the original Star Trek series, including Spock's ears).

When Academy Award nominations were announced in early 1981, the Academy faced criticism from makeup artists when it did not announce a similar Honorary Award for Christopher Tucker, who designed the makeup for 1980’s The Elephant Man. As a response, the Academy created a competitive award category, the Academy Award for Best Makeup, for the following year. One year later, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts added its own Best Makeup Artist category.

The first winner of a competitive Oscar for Best Makeup was famed makeup designer Rick Baker for 1981’s An American Werewolf in London.

For the 85th Academy Awards in 2013, the name of the category was changed to Best Makeup and Hairstyling in order to officially include hairstylists in the category. Previously, hairstylists could already be included as nominees. For example, hairstylist Gail Ryan shared the Academy Award for Best Makeup with Rick Baker for How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000).

Requirements and Eligibility

The Academy's current rules for the category are as follows:

"Makeup refers to any change in the appearance of a performer’s face, head, or body created by the application of cosmetics, three-dimensional materials, prosthetic appliances, or facial hair applied directly to the performer’s face, head, or body. Hairstyling refers to any change in the appearance of a performer through hairstyling, wigs or hairpieces applied directly to the performer."

While virtually all films use professional makeup artists and hairstylists, the work is expected to be of extraordinary quality in order to be considered eligible for the award.

The names of up to three artists from a film can appear on a submission, and the Executive Committee of the Academy's Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch makes the final determination of who should be named as a nominee if there is a dispute.

Narrowing the Field

In the current rules (established for the 76th Academy Awards in 2004), the Executive Committee of the Academy's Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch select seven films per year with extraordinary makeup and hairstyling as a shortlist that the entire membership of the Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch votes on at a presentation event held in Los Angeles called the Makeup Bake-off. The Bake-off voting narrows the finalists to three nominees. Once those three nominees are selected and announced, all Academy members can vote on the winner on their Oscars ballots.

Prior to this system, it was common for only two movies to receive enough votes from the Makeup Artists Branch to make the final cut, including in the inaugural year for the award. No Academy Award for Best Makeup was awarded for the 56th Academy Awards in 1984. Curiously, at least three films of 1983—Tootsie (which won the BAFTA Makeup Award that year), Return of the Jedi, and Zelig—would otherwise seem worthy for consideration.

Notable Winners

In some instances, films that normally would not typically be considered “Oscar-worthy” movies by critics or audiences have become Oscar-winning films because of wins in the Best Makeup category. These include Harry and the Hendersons (1987), The Nutty Professor (1996), The Wolfman (2010), and Suicide Squad (2016).

Rick Baker, who won the inaugural award, has the most nominations (eleven) and most wins (seven) in the Best Makeup and Hairstyling category. Both his eleventh nomination and his seventh win was represented by The Wolfman (2010), which he shared with makeup artist Dave Elsey.

Tied for second-most wins are Greg Cannom and Ve Neill, who both have received three Oscars for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, with Cannom receiving nine nominations (second-most after Baker) and Neill receiving eight nominations (third-most).

The first female winners, Sarah Monzani and Michèle Burke, were awarded in the second year of the award for 1982’s Quest for Fire.

Popular movies that have won the Academy Award for Best Makeup include Beetlejuice (1988), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Men in Black (1997), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003), Star Trek (2009), and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).