The Phantom’s mask always looks so perfect, you wonder why every iteration of Christine Daae instantly wants to tear it off. You’d think that one version of her across all the countless spin-offs and adaptations would think “Hey, Erik, that’s a good look for you.” But no, by the time the end of the story rolls around the mask has been not only been removed from Erik’s face, but discarded completely.
So, before Miss Daae arrives to throw all of these masks into the Seine, let’s take a look at the various versions the Phantom has worn throughout his tenure at the Paris Opera House. From books, TV, animation, to the stage, he’s got a closet full of these things. We’ll look solely at his Phantom mask, so the Masque of the Red Death will have to sit this one out. Tune your singing voice, grab a flintlock and a violin, and let’s go down the catacombs.
1. Original Novel Mask – 1909-1910
In the original novel, Erik’s mask is black and covers his entire face. The first edition of the book featured watercolor illustrations by Andre Castaigne, but only the Phantom’s disfigured face was featured. The mask wasn’t depicted until the 1920 French edition, where it’s shown on the cover art as a domino-style facemask that makes him look like a scary version of Zorro.
The cover art was reimagined for the 2011 Centennial Edition, which made the mask more in line with recent depictions.
2. Lon Chaney’s Phantom Mask – 1925
Out of all the adaptations, Lon Chaney’s Phantom makeup from Universal’s silent film is still regarded as the most faithful to the book. The mask is another story. It’s a 3/4 mask that sports some killer eyebrows and a small duster flap hanging from the bottom. He also wears a Middle-Eastern style cap, which reflects the character’s past travels to Persia in the novel.
3. Claude Rains’ Phantom Mask – 1943
If you’ve ever wondered what the Phantom would look like if he was seasick, look no further than the greenish-hued mask of Claude Rains. In the second version produced by Universal, the Phantom terrorizes the opera in a mask that is more designer than Chaney’s, with some decidedly angrier eyebrows.
4. Operetta Ghosts – 1960
In the little-seen Mexican comedy The Phantom of the Operetta, several perpetrators dress in identical masks and costumes to terrorize an opera house. With the hat and hair combo, the mask looks rather like the Quaker Oats guy in a bad mood.
5. Herbert Lom’s Phantom Mask – 1962
If Leatherface had a musically inclined cousin, this is probably how he’d dress. The Hammer Horror Phantom appears to be into DIY crafts, since this mask has a semi-homemade look that makes it one of the most disturbing iterations. It covers his entire face, with a sewn-in patch that covers his useless left eye.
6. Leslie Nielsen’s Phantom Mask – 1971
Leslie Nielsen played the Phantom in a comic segment from an episode of Night Gallery. In his four minutes of terror, Nielsen’s Phantom wears a mask meant to be an homage to Lon Chaney’s.
His labored breathing makes him suck in the duster flap that hangs from the bottom and also prevents him from blowing out a candle. It has some rosier cheeks than Chaney’s mask and no eyebrows, so it’s probably the closest to a porcelain doll of Frank Drebin that we’ll ever get.
7. Phantom of the Paradise – 1973
Transpose a 19th century opera story into a 1970s rock opera and you’re going to get one funky looking Phantom mask. The Phantom of the Paradise dons a face covering that is more like a helmet, giving a mashup of gothic-sci-fi-ish flair to his musical shenanigans. Black lipstick helps, too.
8. The Phantom of Hollywood Mask – 1974
Phantoms come in many shapes, and this one comes dressed as a punk medieval executioner. This mask hides a deformed actor who picks off the people who plan to sell his beloved movie studio backlot, using a disguise reminiscent of something from the cover of a Goosebumps book.
9. Maximilian Schell Phantom Masks – 1983
Another TV movie adaptation introduces two different Phantom masks. The first one would make a great monster makeup if we can get Rick Baker out of retirement to make it. The second is creepily life-like and sends you sprawling into uncanny valley.
10. Michael Crawford Phantom Mask – 1986 Musical
The mask that took home the Olivier Award. This one is worn by the Phantom in the most famous stage version of the story, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber. This is where the mask first took on it’s vertical “half-face” shape, apparently because Michael Crawford noticed that he couldn’t properly convey the Phantom’s emotions onstage while wearing the traditional half-mask.
11. Animated Phantom Mask – 1987
Judging from the animated version of the mask, Erik has possibly grown tired of not being able to grow a cool mustache like Raoul, so he just drew one on instead.
12. Robert Englund’s Phantom – 1989
In a Phantom of the Opera meets The Silence of the Lambs spin, Robert Englund’s Phantom wears a mask made of prosthetics that are made to look like human flesh. This disguises his disfigured face under a “normal” face. Like taking of your makeup before going to bed, the Phantom slowly peels off his face-facemask in a scene that would send Tom Savini into unbounded euphoria.
13. The Phantom of the Mall: Eric’s Revenge – 1989
For a strange update on the Phantom, the shape of the mask actually manages to be unique. It wraps around Eric’s (spelled with a “c” this time) face in a half-circle shape, providing the missing link between the previous half-masks and vertical half-masks. This Phantom also trades in his Middle-Eastern caps and slouch hats for a baseball cap, so you know it’s a home run (I’ll show myself out).
14. Charles Dance Phantom Mask – 1990
Tywin Lannister himself has suited up as the Phantom, in one of (if not the only) iteration where the Opera Ghost’s deformed face is never revealed. His mask goes the Batman route, covering his face with a small cutout for the mouth. A second, black version is briefly worn, along with a harlequin-inspired mask that makes our Phantom resemble a DC Comics villain.
15. Richard White Phantom Mask – 1991
Honestly, this one scares me more than the Robert Englund face-peeling routine. We always knew the Phantom was a tragic and very emotional character, but to give us a visual depiction of his sorrow as bloody tears is pretty gut-wrenching. This is one of several worn by White in the 1991 musical Phantom.
16. David Staller Phantom Mask – 1991
A metallic version? Sure, let’s do it. It seems like a strange choice at first, but then it hits you that this is the mask you did not realize you were waiting for. When watching this TV movie version, I have to remind myself that it is not a Doctor Doom origin story.
17. Phantom on of the Opera on Ice Mask – 1995
Yes, they put the Phantom on ice. They also gave him another metallic mask. This is probably the most ornate mask he’s ever worn, with intricate details and a cheek plate that fits underneath his left eye. Even Christine would hesitate from pulling this one off his face, since you’d be wary of leaving fingerprints on such a nicely polished garment.
18. Phantom of the Megaplex Mask – 2000
This Phantom appears to have stocked up on the holiday merch, sporting a mask that you’d swear you see every year at Spirit Halloween.
19. Gerard Butler’s Phantom Masks – 2004
Gerard Butler’s Phantom is probably the least scarred of all the Angels of Music. His mask is therefore smaller and more rounded than the 1986 musical version that it’s based on, most likely due to the filmmakers wanting to cover as little of their good-looking leading man as possible. If you know anyone who’s creating their own DIY Phantom mask, it’s usually this one. The Phantom also dons a black mask that’s more in line with the 1920 book cover art. It’s this one that’s torn off his face by the ever-eager Christine.
20. A Monster in Paris Mask – 2011
Every giant, blue, singing flea needs a mask. This computer animated Phantom goes for a sharp-pointed nose and cheek-plates, with a white suit combo that I wish we could see one day in a live-action film (It’d be a great fit for an adaptation set in the 1930s. The Shadow vs. The Phantom of the Opera, anyone?)