clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

An In-Depth Study of Tom Hardy’s Neverending Efforts to Hide His Face

After ‘The Dark Knight Rises,’ ‘Dunkirk,’ and now ‘Venom,’ the actor’s tendency to play masked characters is a well-worn joke. But does Hardy actually conceal his face more than other actors? And will he continue to do so? Finally, we have the data to answer those (and many other) questions.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The fact is this: Tom Hardy is handsome. He has that “rugged man with a heart of gold” thing going on. I mean, look at this guy! Tom Hardy looks like if Charlie Hunnam and Ben McKenzie had a baby; a muscular, English-Irish baby who can wear the hell out of a sherpa-lined coat. Right? We agree? Good. Now that we’ve established Hardy’s handsomeness as a baseline of fact, I think it’s fair to ask: Why the hell does Tom Hardy keep covering up his face?

In Hardy’s past four most prominent feature-film roles, his face is mostly covered in a variety of ways—by a crustacean-looking inhaler thing, that thing that looked like Hell’s version of orthodontic headgear, or an aviator’s face mask. And, this summer, ahead of the release of Venom, in which Hardy plays Eddie Brock, basically all the movie’s promotional material had half of Hardy’s face obscured by the alien symbiote. It’s long been a joke that Tom Hardy is only taking roles that allow him to hide his objectively beautiful face, but lately that feels less like a gag and more like a statement of fact. And so now feels like the perfect time to truly study Tom Hardy’s face-obscuring tactics, to get to the bottom of this with some real, hard science.

To quantify Hardy’s face obscuring, The Ringer—in what may or may not be a human rights violation—had three interns (myself included) watch every single one of Tom Hardy’s credited theatrical releases to figure out how much, to the second, Tom Hardy’s face has been obscured relative to his total time on screen. (Note: The only movie that was not included in our study was the 2007 micro-budget film The Inheritance; it has apparently been scrubbed from existence, perhaps by Tom Hardy himself, possibly because the movie shows too much of his face.)

The methodology was simple. To calculate Hardy’s Face Obscured percentage (FO%), we watched each Tom Hardy film with intense deliberation and clocked—to the second—the time Hardy was on screen with his face obscured by some mechanism or makeup, as well as Hardy’s total time on screen. We then divided the number of seconds in which Hardy’s face was obscured by his total screen time, moved the decimal two places (you know, because MATH) and came up with Hardy’s FO%. All the while, we took notes on the creative and honestly somewhat inspiring methods in which Hardy managed to obscure his face. As for what constituted obscuration, we enforced a very strict definition: If Hardy’s face was even slightly covered, it counted. So while this did not count, this did. Here, click on that link again. Man, Tom Hardy is so good looking it’s mesmerizing.

OK, before we get too distracted, here are our overall findings of Tom Hardy’s FO%, along with some further analysis, predictions, and important conclusions. — Austin Elias-de Jesus

The Evolution of Tom Hardy’s Face Obscuring

The ebbs and flows of most acting careers usually concern the content and quality of someone’s projects. For example: veering between indies and blockbusters; commercial flops and critical darlings; and with any luck, a particular performance that sets a thespian onto the Oscars stage. But that is not how we measure Tom Hardy’s career—instead, his vacillates between complete face obstruction, roles in which you see his entire face, and roles, again, in which you’d be lucky to catch the glint of his eyes. It’s like a particularly erratic heart monitor.

However, as Hardy has assumed more lead roles in major studio productions, we’ve begun to lose more and more of his perfect face, which has been covered by just about everything. Since 2010’s Inception, Hardy has had his face obscured for a good portion of his films in all but two projects: This Means War (just 0.6 percent) and The Drop (also 0.6 percent). Compare that to the early portion of his career, which is just about an even split of face and no-face (technical terms): From 2001 to 2009, Hardy’s face was covered in 58 percent of his 17 films, and in only four of those movies was his face obscured for more than 40 percent of his screen time. 2006’s Minotaur (with 75.8 percent face obstruction) might’ve felt like the peak at the time, but since then it’s just kept happening—again and again and again. And it’s only gotten more frequent.

From 2012 until now, we had The Dark Knight Rises (near-total obfuscation, save for three literal seconds), Mad Max: Fury Road (the audience at my theater sighed in relief when Max finally gets his mask off), The Revenant (to be fair, it looked cold), Dunkirk (where he is both masked and incomprehensible inside a cockpit), and now Venom.

Sure, Hardy’s face has been covered up frequently because many of the roles required it—Bane isn’t Bane without a sleep apnea mask attached to his face. But that these roles have been continually assumed by Hardy, of all people, leads us to draw two conclusions: One, that filmmakers are now typecasting Hardy as “the obscured man who somehow still crushes it despite barely being able to use his beautiful visage,” and two, that Hardy seeks out these roles, either out of face-related insecurity or because he enjoys the unique challenge of acting without the aid of facial expressions. You think regular acting is hard? Try doing it with goggles and shit! Maybe the truth is a combination of both theories; art and artist achieving a perfect synthesis.

If we’re being honest, whatever the answer, it’s definitely working—NO ONE CARED WHO TOM HARDY WAS UNTIL HE PUT ON THE MASK.

Miles Surrey

Answering the Question: Does Tom Hardy Hide His Face More Than Anyone Else?

Hollywood A-listers don’t hide their face as much as John Cena, a wrestler-actor whom you can’t see, but Tom Hardy does gives Cena a run for his money. Given how painfully laborious it already was for us to comb through the 50-some-odd hours of Hardy’s oeuvre, there was no way we were going to follow the scientific method in examining his contemporaries. Still, it’s safe to say there isn’t another actor in Hollywood today who so often conceals his or her face.

Consider this for an exercise: When was the last time you saw something on Leonardo DiCaprio’s face? Outside of when he wore the skin of a bear in The Revenant and the few times he’s rocked shades, Leo’s last major screen time with something obstructing his face came two decades back in The Man in the Iron Mask—and even then, he spent the majority of the film as a full-face-showing twin brother. How frequently do we get to see Leo’s handsome face in its full glory?

The same can be said for most other Hollywood actors with any semblance of sex appeal. Sure, Tom Cruise does seem to wear sunglasses in every other movie he’s ever been inever. But studios and audiences love his face so much that even when it is obscured, it’s almost never by anything more than an eyepatch. Everyone knows that the bottom layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the physiological—is characterized as food, water, shelter, rest, and seeing Tom Cruise’s face. In Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise and his fellow soldiers wear futuristic battle suits, but instead of corresponding futuristic combat helmets, they cover their heads with unevolved, rudimentary hard hats because, of course, Tom Cruise’s face cannot be blocked.

And superheroes are no different: Chris Evans, whose duties as Captain America and the Human Torch sometimes required his face to be obscured, doesn’t hide his beautiful eyes and gloriously bushy beard in his non-comic book roles (besides that creeper pornstache-and-shades look in The Iceman).

That’s where Tom Hardy stands alone. At 31.2, his FO% is an outlier. If we take superheroes and sunglasses out of the equation, most Hollywood actors have a maximum of one or two significant roles in which their face is heavily and consistently obscured. Most of the time, those roles come in obscure or forgotten films. Hardy’s face obstruction, on the other hand, spans the whole continuum. It’s true what they say: He hides like no other. — Kenrick Cai

The Many Ways to Inventively Hide Your Face, by Tom Hardy

Like any true master of their craft, Tom has had to get very creative when it comes to obscuring his face; he’s had to adapt; he’s had to innovate. Take, for example, that time in Star Trek: Nemesis, when he stood in a shadow for a full five minutes.

Paramount PIctures

When a mask or an oversized hat isn’t available, sometimes you just gotta turn the lights off. Resourceful FO is often the most impressive FO.

Beyond resourceful face obscuring, Tom Hardy has also dabbled in outright disturbing FO. Bronson is a 2008 film in which Hardy plays Charles Bronson, one of the U.K.’s most dangerous criminals. It’s filled with all kinds of weird stuff, and some seriously nightmare-inducing FO, including instances that are NSFW. Here’s one that is safe for work, though maybe not safe for sanity:


Inventive? Certainly. Do I wish I had never laid eyes on it? Absolutely.

Then there’s Inception, in which Hardy’s character, Eames, dreams of a snowy mountain setting in which he and all the other characters wear ski goggles. I repeat: HE LITERALLY DREAMS OF A WORLD WHERE HIS AND EVERYONE ELSE’S FACES ARE COVERED. It’s oddly poetic, and maybe the one thing in Inception that actually makes sense.

Warner Bros.

Finally, let’s talk about Locke. If you haven’t seen it, Locke is a movie about a drive as fun as I’d imagine Tom Hardy’s “Carpool Karaoke” would be. Ivan Locke, Tom’s character, is making the drive from Birmingham to London to be with Bethan, a woman with whom he had a one-night stand, while she gives birth to his child. He makes a series of phone calls throughout the film, to his wife, his kids, and his coworkers, to let them know what’s going on—he’s the only character seen in the movie.

Going into Locke, I thought it would be Hardy’s Fullest Full-Face movie of them all. Not so! Shots with superimposed streetlights and reflections of cars passing by cover his face throughout the film, leading to a FO percentage of 30.9—which, by the way, is identical to his career FO percentage. It’s a remarkable exercise in hiding one’s face, even when the story doesn’t call for it in any imaginable way.


These shots may have been a cinematography choice, but, having come out in 2013, Locke was one of Hardy’s first films since the release of The Dark Knight Rises the year prior. Considering the way he committed to FO for The Dark Knight Rises after only dabbling in it previously, one has to wonder whether Tom had by then realized his destiny of becoming the Sia of acting. My guess is he hit up the studio after wrapping The Dark Knight Rises and told them, “You don’t show face, you cover it. Your movie must show less face.”Julianna Ress

An Analysis of the Three Seconds of Tom Hardy’s Full Face in The Dark Knight Rises

Tom Hardy’s face is in, literally, 0.1 percent of The Dark Knight Rises. To prove to you how short an amount of time that is, you just took longer to read this sentence than Tom Hardy’s face is visible in the movie. It is Tom Hardy’s most prominent role in which his face is obscured the whole time. The only other movie that comes close is Dunkirk and, even then, you get 23 seconds of Tom Hardy’s chiseled face. Tom Hardy’s face’s screen time in The Dark Knight Rises lasts a grand total of three seconds. It is quite literally a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. Here is a visual breakdown of each second in which Tom Hardy’s face can be seen in The Dark Knight Rises:

One Mississippi ...

Warner Bros.

Two Mississippi ...

Three Mississippi ...

And that’s it. Really. That’s the whole thing. Want me to prove it? This is the shot about one millisecond after that third second:

To put this into context, an average play in the NFL lasts four seconds. The Rubik’s Cube world record is 4.22 seconds. Job recruiters spend at least six seconds going over a person’s résumé, even if it’s a really bad résumé. Rihanna estimated it was going to be about four to five seconds before she started wylin’. And, I shit you not, it takes me pretty much 3.01 seconds to type “The Dark Knight Rises.” Seriously, I timed it out. Tom Hardy’s face’s appearance in this movie is what all of us antisocial introverts should aspire to be like at social functions: Show our faces for a solid few seconds and then immediately duck out. Three seconds is, sadly, all the time we can bear to expose ourselves to the world. — Elias de-Jesus

Why, Tom Hardy?

Why, Tom Hardy? Frankly, it’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once, often in places I didn’t expect: a subway commute, the shower, cooking, on first dates. What compels an actor—an occupation that is about as extroverted as they come—to carve out a niche defined by hiding? Furthermore, why would a man who is so handsome that multiple Ringer staffers have become outwardly flustered describing how he makes them feel do this? Why, Tom Hardy; why the masks?

Ultimately, I think it comes down to his vibe. Hardy is not a conventional actor—he’s a unique performer who doesn’t fit conventional leading-man archetypes (see: the Hollywood Chrises), and his best roles, masked or otherwise, allow him to let his weirdo flag fly. Seriously, go watch Bronson if you haven’t—it’s so strange and offputting I had to be reminded that he shows his penis more than once, because it’s only, like, the seventh-wildest thing about that movie.

Hardy’s distinct verve also extends to his voice—he never sounds normal.

It’s as though Hardy is fighting against convention at every turn. Consider Venom: Even as all actors are getting sucked into the superhero movie industrial complex, Hardy plays the creepy, slimy, semi-erotic antihero and delivers perhaps the most bizarre performance in a blockbuster since Johnny Depp in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

As my three fastidious Ringer colleagues unearthed upon countless hours of rewatching Tom Hardy films, constantly hiding his face is just another way for this truly beguiling actor to challenge himself. And somehow, it works. Hardy is consistently able to project an intense emotional energy, even if it’s only with his eyes. Bane has become something of a meme (an admittedly great one), but Hardy genuinely did terrific work with the character, subtly humanizing him as a man beset by trauma that transformed him into a hyper-violent revolutionary.

Hardy’s face obscuring is the most obvious example, but the actor is unconventional in all respects—whether it’s his on-screen voice, his physicality, or the roles he chooses. The TL;DR version of Tom Hardy’s ethos is thus: He’s just, um, really weird. — Surrey

The Future of Tom Hardy’s Face Obfuscation

A few more films and Tom Hardy could achieve Full Face Obscuring. That is, after all, what he was going for in his deleted The Last Jedi cameo as a fully-masked Stormtrooper. With how often Hardy plays the bad guy—or the good guy that’s at least sort of bad—filmmakers are having to find creative new ways to distinguish Hardy’s badness in one film from another. The frequency of face obscuring and the imaginative ways to achieve it have been indicative of this trend in recent years. Hardy doesn’t have many publicly announced future projects yet, but what has been revealed suggests there’s no stopping this face-obscuring train just yet.

Beyond his obvious, comic book–induced face obscuring as Eddie Brock alter ego Venom, Hardy’s other lined-up roles are also notable and notably ripe for bare-facelessness. In Fonzo, Hardy plays Al Capone, who sported a pretty well-known, pretty visible face. However, early stills from the film indicate that—between the inordinate amount of makeup, revamped nose, and propensity for smoking fat cigars—Hardy is basically covering his face yet again.

View this post on Instagram

Wrapped #JamDun ♠️

A post shared by Tom Hardy (@tomhardy) on

Working with Andrew Dominik, director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Hardy will also star in War Party as a member of the Navy SEALs, a military unit whose troops always seem to have something on their heads. Furthermore, Mad Max: The Wasteland (the working title for Mad Max 5) and Mad Max 6 likely won’t feature Hardy in the same Bane-esque mask he wore for half of Fury Road, but removing his mask didn’t stop his face from being obscured in the original film, so we can safely expect more of the same in the next two installments.

What else lies on Hardy’s horizon remains a mystery. Grumblings of him playing Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton have been muted in recent months. If the project does come to fruition, we’ll be guaranteed to see Hardy’s face covered in wintery headgear and, well, snow. Look at this photo of Shackleton and two crew members from an expedition to the South Pole:

No, I don’t know which one Shackleton is. All their faces are obscured—meaning this is yet another role Hardy was born to play.

For whatever reason—a deep insecurity or just a pure love of characters in masks—Hardy’s upward trend toward full facial obscurity seems destined to continue. We can safely expect Tom Hardy to keep covering his face like he’s got a hickey or a hangover to hide, well into the future. — Cai