What’s in a Face? 5 most ‘watchable’ faces in Film

Have you ever considered what it is you like about your favourite actors, and what makes them so watchable? How much of their appeal lies in their screen presence or charisma, versus how much you just like watching their face?

Warhol once said:

The great stars are the ones who are doing something you can watch every second, even if it’s just a movement inside their eye.

And certainly there’s something to be said for those legends of the big screen who possess an almost magnetic quality when in shot. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one such star to prove it’s not necessarily beauty that draws us to a face, but a dynamic expressiveness that pervades authenticity in every moment.

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Expressiveness is, after all, the most important attribute of an actor; giving them versatility and enabling us as the audience to connect with them.  Whether it be a glint in the eye, angled brows or a twitch of the lips that betrays an actor’s emotion, it’s the control of these features that sets the actor apart.  Plus of course, having the right shapes and contours to work with in the first place.

Here are 5 male and female stars I’d rate as having some of the ‘best’ faces in film – as a result of acting talent, yes, but also, just luck of good genes!..


1. Michael Fassbender
Romantic, hypnotic, liquid-green eyes – lined with lashes most women would die for – place 12 Years a Slave actor Michael Fassbender at the top of my male list. His pupils seem to dilate on demand, and those flaring nostrils, sneering teeth, and something in the line of that top lip, give this star a rare mix of menace and tenderness.

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2. Christian Bale

It’s a lot to do with the nostrils for Christian. The size and flare, again the top lip. But perhaps the real draw of Bale’s face is in the relatively small gap between his brows and eyes which exude an intense and broody air. Ever noticed how close Christian’s brows hover above those piercing eyes, casting them into shadow? You just wouldn’t mess with the guy.

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3. Oscar Isaac

Emotional, haunting, intense – three words to describe Oscar’s strongest feature; his eyes. Their depth and lucidity, wide-set symmetry and near jet black shade add dramatic effect to an otherwise soft, rounded face.

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4. Christophe Waltz

Tarantino favourite Christophe Waltz has a face full of expression and humour, which of course works superbly for comic effect. His teasing eyes and mouth, coupled with those shooting brows, bring a quirky sense of fun and amiability to even the most villainous roles.

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5. Joaquin Phoenix

Experience can – quite literally – be found in Joaquin’s face, from the scar above his lip to his furrowed brow which add depth and complexity to every movement of his features. Even his eyes have a story to tell.

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1Carey Mulligan

Carey’s dark, doe-like eyes, offset by that pale porcelain skin, exude a purity, candour and vulnerability that serve her brilliantly in roles as varied as McQueen’s Shame and Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby.

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2. Melanie Laurent

Inglorious Basterds actress Melanie Laurent has an incredibly open and engaging face due to those dancing, bright eyes, framing, arched brows, and a slightly prominent, upturned nose that adds a certain strength to her face.

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3. Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts’ trademark wide grin, glistening dark eyes and unconventional beauty made her one of the most watchable stars of the late 20th century. Consequently she became the highest-paid actress of the 1990s and first half of the 2000s, through a string of hits including Pretty Woman, Erin Brockovich, and Notting Hill.

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4. Natalie Portman

There’s no disputing Natalie’s natural beauty plays a key part in her appeal, what with those soft lips, elegant nose and strong brows. But beyond these features, her face exudes an intriguing blend of innocence and youthful spirit through a vulnerability in her eyes.  Leon, Closer and Garden State are just three examples of films that drew out this quality to full effect.

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5. Scarlett Johansson

Woody Allen famously described her as “sexually overwhelming”, and certainly ScarJo has a face (not to mention a bod) that emanates both sensuality and sumptuousness. Importantly though, she’s proved she’s more than a sex symbol through rich, varied performances immersed in nuance, intelligence and poise.

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Best faces for villainry: 

1/ Kiefer Sutherland

2/ Tilda Swinton

3/ Paul Dano

4/ Kevin Bacon

5/ Alan Rickman

Best faces for ‘good guys’:  

1/ Mark Ruffalo

2/ Denzel Washington

3/ Amy Adams

4/ Tom Hanks

5/ Will Smith


1/ Bradley Cooper

2/ Ryan Gosling

3/ Idris Elba

4/ Rachel McAdams

5/ Mila Kunis

Who are your favourite faces in film – and why?


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