The beard – it is a wonder of nature, a simultaneously beautiful and ugly thing that tells the story behind the face. There are sexy beards and lazy beards, beards for the dignified and beards for the disgraced – facial furniture for every emotion and occasion.
And the men of the silver screen are no exception. Over the course of cinematic history, the leading man and his facial hair have evolved – rich and varied styles of beard in which we can immerse ourselves as easily as the movies themselves. And with Zach Galifianakis’s dense chin-shrubbery lingering over us from every billboard and chat show imaginable, the beard id back in fashion. So now’s as good a time as any to take a look at cinema’s finest ever beards.
These whiskers have been chosen for their integral role in the movies, their inherent connection with the man that wears them. What follows is the essential top ten, the characters that elevated the status of the beard, and beards that elevated the status of the characters…
Forrest Gump stands for many things; he is the personification of the American Dream, the man who came from nothing and overcame the odds to achieve the things that most of us only dream of – sports star, war hero, multi-millionaire, a man of integrity and limitless virtue. And at this point in his story, he decides to run from one side of the U.S. to the other for apparently no reason whatsoever. He becomes a national celebrity, instilling hope and determination into the hearts of the American people.
It may look like the overgrown stubble of a man who hasn’t seen a razor in months, but it’s much, much more – it’s a symbol of truth that implores us to follow our dreams – a flowing, matted tribute to the Land of Opportunity…
He’s a scary looking dude, no doubt – seven feet tall, inhuman strength, a big set of gnashers, and size 20 feet… but Harry’s delicate whiskers give the game away.
He’s no monster; he’s a caring, sharing vegetarian. Sure, he might not be the most orthodox family member (and having him over for dinner could cost you your no claims bonus), but you could trust him with your life. And underneath all that hair, he’s just like us – he loves TV, fish burgers and a Sunday drive (as long as he can hang out the window and wail like a police siren). And with that lovely ol’ beard that’s more Santa Claus than Beast of Bodmin Moor, we wouldn’t have him any other way.
Ron Burgundy was a man of style and sophistication, a man of the people and a dab hand at the fondue. His cool and charming exterior was characterized by that popular piece of facial hair from the 1970s – the moustache. That is, until it all came crashing down.
Ron recognized that the beard has its place; as his life takes a turn for the worse (his beloved Baxter’s gone forever, there’s a woman working on the news team, and he’s just told San Diego to ‘go fuck yourself’), he grows a glorious thick beard, the kind that only a man at his very lowest point is capable of growing. The bearded Ron is the face of every man that’s wallowed in his own self-pity; every man that’s made a mistake and not known how to say sorry; every one of us that perhaps spilled sour dairy product into our own beard when the chips were down – ‘Milk was a bad idea!’
Every wizard needs a beard, right? A long white mane that’s size is only surpassed by the power and wisdom of the man that grows it. That being the case, how could we possibly overlook the ultimate wizard – Gandalf the Grey.
This is a man attached to his beard in a big way. Even when reborn as Gandalf the White – after apparently snuffing it at the hands of the Balrog – he refuses a shave and haircut, sticking to the beard that he’s obviously devoted much time and effort to. Besides, no self-respecting wizard would be seen dead without the hairs on his chiny-chin-chin; Albus Dumbledore would never let old Gandalf hear the last of it…
Let’s consider for a second that the beard is the sign of a true man. It is the image of maturity, masculinity, and fertility; the hairy symbol of the hunter-gatherer. And they don’t get more manly that Bodhi – the surfing, parachute jumping, bank-robbing badass that’s so damn male you just know Keanu can smell the testosterone from the other end of the beach.
He’s the man that thrives on the adrenaline-fuelled thrill, never backs down from a fight, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with the Feds. And it’s all in the hair, dude; the shaggy bleached mop and face-fuzz that says ‘sex on a surfboard’.
Let’s be honest, THE PHANTOM MENACE was a disappointment all round, not least in the Obi-Wan/beard department. We’d had 25 years to build up our own image Obi-Wan, and when he turned up sans beard and with a little ponytail, something seemed terribly amiss. Luckily for us, as the prequels went on and his beard grew to a respectable length, Obi-Wan became something of the nails-hard Jedi Knight we’d always hoped he’d be.
It’s even possible that beards have a strong connection to the force, particularly in the days of the Old Republic. Maybe if Anakin had grown a little beard of his own, things might have turned out a little better for him – after all, the bearded Count Dooku managed to chop his arm off in ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and the hirsute Obi-Wan almost finished him off for good in REVENGE OF THE SITH… coincidence? I think not…
As already discussed, the beard can denote many things: masculinity, wisdom, and despair. But how about intelligence?
Some of the greatest ever minds have sported a great bushy beard – Freud, Darwin, Da Vinci, – and Bernard Berkman would happily place himself into this category.
Poor Bernard lives a deluded life, seemingly unaware that his marriage has broken down due to his own bitterness and shortcomings. His aspirations are well beyond his means, and though he claims Kafka to be one of his predecessors, we know he’ll never achieve the intellectual recognition he feels he deserves. Bernard considers himself to be the literary genius of his family, and as such has the facial growth to prove it. Though we should take a second to sympathize with Bernard, it must be hard for a man to admit his ex-wife is far more deserving of the genius beard than he is.
In arguably the greatest comedy of all time, about one of greatest beards ever – your man Jesus Christ – it’s the ladies that are the stars of the show. Keen to avenge the blasphemous (‘But he said Jehovah!’), they know a good stoning when they see one and they aren’t going to let a small thing like being women get in the way. 10 out of 10 for effort and perseverance ladies, which is why your – admittedly false – beards make it into the list
On the whole, Superman’s screen adversaries haven’t been up to scratch. Lex Luthor was passable (though completely hairless, let alone bearded), and the less said about Richard Pryor, Nuclear Man, and that robot woman-thing the better. But thankfully we had General Zod, one of the greatest villains in movie history.
As a fellow Kryptonian, he was able to match Superman blow-for-blow, move faster than a speeding bullet, and leap buildings in a single bound. Anything Superman could do, Zod could do too. But he had something over the Man of Steel – a suave, sexy politicians beard – perfect for the extra-terrestrial bent on world domination.
How could we mere mortals resist kneeling before the mighty General with such noble facial hair? And you bet your bottom dollar there’s not a razor on the planet that could cut through those whiskers.
We’ve looked at all kinds of beards for all kinds of men, but here’s the ultimate. A man as lazy and carefree as the Dude would naturally sport an overgrown beard to match his 60s throwback hairdo. And who else but the Dude could get White Russian caught in their mustache with such style?
And just as his rug really tied the room together, the Dude’s beard really ties him together.
And remember… the Dude abides man, the Dude abides…