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The Entire Henry Cavill Superman Mustache Controversy Explained

Whether you agree with the decision or not, Henry Cavill has officially been ousted as Hollywood's Superman. Portraying the Man of Steel for nearly a decade, Cavill hung up the cape just two months after a post-credit appearance in Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's "Black Adam" feature. The set-up for a sequel featuring Big Blue and Rock's new anti-hero failed to fit into the plans of DC's new studio heads James Gunn and Peter Safran, bringing Cavill's time as the Last Son of Krypton to an end after three feature films and the aforementioned uncredited cameo.

Unfortunately for Cavill, his flight as Superman was about as turbulent as it could be. Between mixed critical responses, an inconsistent creative vision, and instability behind the scenes, Cavill was on the frontlines of the failed experiment known as the DC Extended Universe. That position also placed him at the center of ridicule, particularly when the actor was caught in the middle of the controversy that the internet has lovingly dubbed "Mustache Gate" (via Esquire).

The short version of the facial hair saga involves one actor tossed between two studios and a fuzzy upper lip risking a significant continuity error for at least one big-budget studio film. However, the tale of the 'stache gets more complicated as more context and circumstances come to light. Now, with Cavill hanging up his superhero cape, it's time to sort out the controversy around his infamous mustache.

How does Superman shave his invincible beard?

Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, famously gains his powers from exposure to Earth's yellow sun. Aside from a slew of abilities that includes flight, super speed, and frost breath, one thing that puts the Man in Tights in a league of his own is his invulnerability. Beyond bulletproof, Superman is not called the Man of Steel for nothing. Many villains have tried to cause pain to the Kryptonian without harming a hair on his head. If that is the case, a standard razor would stand no chance of clipping Clark Kent's facial hair to the baby-faced cleanliness that has become standard for the fictional character.

The uncertainty around Kal-El's shaving technique became the theme of an ad campaign from Gilette in 2013 (per Fast Company). Corresponding with the release of Henry Cavill's premiere outing as Superman, "Man of Steel," the Proctor and Gamble subsidiary went all out on answering this comic book riddle. The company assembled a Justice League-level group of nerds to present differing theories, including director Kevin Smith, Mayim Bialik of "Big Bang Theory," and TV scientists Bill Nye, Adam Savage, and Jamie Hyneman. The ideas ranged from Kryptonian metals to wormholes transporting the whiskers, and fans were asked to make a vote for their favorite theory on a site that has since been removed. However, Gilette must have missed the episode of "Superman: The Animated Series" in which Clark Kent gets that perfect smooth trim using a mirror and his powerful heat vision -– two products the company doesn't sell.

The history of Superman's facial hair

Since the first comic book appearance of Superman in 1938's "Action Comics" #1, the clean chin and upper lip have been a staple for the character's visage. Although there are examples of the Kryptonian disguising himself in fake mustaches and Santa beards, the clean cut is as much a part of Supes' costume as the big red and yellow "S" that he wears on his chest.

Unlike obscure DC Comics characters like Beard Hunter of "Doom Patrol," Clark Kent does have the ability to grow facial hair. "Superman" #139 from 1960 features an entire storyline around the effects of Red Kryptonite weakening Kal-El's powerful vision, resulting in his hair and fingernails growing far more than is appropriate for Kent's day job at the Daily Planet.

It's not that Superman can't grow a sweet 'stache, but rather that audiences change their opinion regarding the true-blue hero when he sports facial hair. Generally, Superman donning a beard insinuates that the bald-faced crimefighter has been absent for a period or aged considerably. Alternatively, as displayed in "Superman III," something as small as a five o'clock shadow can make Superman look like an evil version of himself. Appropriately, the clean cut helps to fortify Clark Kent as the responsible Boy Scout he traditionally represents.

Henry Cavill in Justice League

While Henry Cavill has been limited to filming less than a minute of screen time as Superman in the last five years, the actor's early days in the blue tights were highly productive. Making his debut in 2013's "Man of Steel" solo flick, Cavill continued his time in the spotlight with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" in 2016. Powering through negative critical reception, production for Cavill's next adventure as Supes began less than a month after his on-screen fight with the Dark Knight premiered (per Entertainment Weekly). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to everyone involved during those first days of filming, "Justice League" was about to begin the unravelling of the entire DCEU.

At the conclusion of "Batman v Superman," Cavill's character was defeated by the monstrous Doomsday, resulting in the first half of "Justice League" being built around the rest of the supergroup bringing the Kryptonian back to life. As such, the Man of Steel's screen time is inherently limited compared to his superhero co-stars. However, even after being resurrected and fighting his allies in a fit of confusion and rage, Superman maintains his babyface trim. Presumably, every scene that Cavill shot for "Justice League" during the principal photography that wrapped in October 2016 (per Zack Snyder's Twitter) featured the clean-cut Clark Kent represented on screen.

Zack Snyder's departure

Reportedly, the entire process of bringing the "Justice League" to life was tumultuous. Warner Bros. had struggled to finalize the project after first announcing a pre-DCEU version of the project in 2007 (per Variety). As production finally loomed in 2016, Zack Snyder's original proposal of a two-part film was ixnayed by the studio (per IGN). And even during filming, the backlash to the critically panned "Batman v Superman" resulted in substantial rewrites and changes in producers (per The Hollywood Reporter). Still, the most significant hit to the film occurred in postproduction, when Zack Snyder abandoned the project for family reasons.

The death of Snyder's daughter Autumn in March 2017 resulted in the director taking two weeks off from the film. And after attempting to return to work, he opted to completely step away from "Justice League" for understandable reasons. "In my mind, I thought it was a cathartic thing to go back to work, to just bury myself and see if that was the way through it," said Snyder in his announcement (via THR). "The demands of this job are pretty intense. It is all-consuming. And in the last two months, I've come to the realization; I've decided to take a step back from the movie to be with my family, be with my kids, who really need me."

Mission: Impossible - Mustache

With principal photography on "Justice League" seemingly complete, the cast dispersed into other projects. Henry Cavill moved directly into production on the action thriller "Night Hunter," originally titled "Nomis" (per Deadline). With Cavill starring alongside Ben Kingsley, the Saban Films feature failed to garner much positive attention. However, it is notable for one particular reason: Cavill had grown a significantly scruffy beard for the project. So, when the actor shifted to his next film, "Mission: Impossible – Fallout," a mustached character choice was made.

"Henry just finished 'Nomis' and had a big beard and the mustache and long hair," said "Impossible" director Christopher McQuarrie in an AV Club interview. "When he came to work, he had cut his hair but still had that mustache and he asked, 'What do you think?' I thought about it for a second and said, 'You know what, let's go for it.' That was all that was ever said about it." Unfortunately, the off-hand facial hair choice would lead to significant problems when Cavill received a call to return for reshoots on "Justice League" three months into filming "Mission: Impossible 6."

Joss Whedon reshoots

In the wake of Zack Snyder's resignation from the big-budget superhero film, Warner Bros. and DC enlisted the directing experience of Joss Whedon, who had previously helmed Marvel's "Avengers" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron." With yet another creative mind in the "Justice League" foray, the studio agreed to two months and $25 million worth of reshoots -– a significant cost compared to the standard reshoot budget of $6 million to $10 million and a couple of weeks (per Variety).

Aside from the scheduling conflicts with the movie's stars, the studio had its own demands for the reshoots that would add to this growing monster called a film. First, the theatrical version of the movie was limited to a two-hour runtime, as insisted by Warner Bros. CEO Kevin Tsujihara (per The Wall Street Journal). More challenging, the release date of the movie was not moved from its tight November 2017 spot despite the multiple obstacles. Based on a report from The Wrap, Warner Bros. executives refused to consider any delays out of a fear of losing potential financial bonuses ahead of an upcoming merger with AT&T. Additionally, Ray Fisher, who portrays Cyborg, has since taken to Twitter to label Whedon's behavior towards the cast and crew during the reshoots as "gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable."

The problem with shaving

Like a perfect disguise, Henry Cavill's mustache served to distract from all the other drama surrounding the "Justice League" reshoots. The online discourse regarding the upper lip problem is understandable, considering the stakes. The price tag Warner Bros. faced for "Justice League" was approaching $300 million with the added reshoot fund; meanwhile, Paramount's "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" was an equally egregious $250 million. Obviously, neither studio wanted to face the risk of a continuity error, deal with the CGI removal of Cavill's caterpillar lip, or worst of all, have the actor wear a fake mustache.

"I've worked with fake mustaches before," said "MI6" director Christopher McQuarrie in his AV Club interview. "You can get away with it for a shot or two, but it doesn't work over the course of a movie." Surprisingly, the Paramount director was open to compromise, but the studio held firm on Cavill's commitment. "It was estimated to be at about $3 million," McQuarrie told Warner Bros. "What we'll do is shut down and you guys just pay us the $3 million. We'll shut down while Henry Cavill grows his mustache back. Paramount Pictures heard about this and were like, 'What are you doing! You're not shutting the movie down!'" Under contract with Paramount, Cavill was forced to keep his thick mustachio during the "Justice League" reshoots, leaving Warner Bros. to sort out their own mess. In pure happenstance, "Fallout" ended up having to shut down production anyways after lead actor Tom Cruise broke his ankle on set (per THR).

The CGI Fiasco

As the dust settled after the back-and-forth negotiations between Warner Bros. and Paramount, the task of disguising Cavill's mustache landed in the laps of visual effects artists. To understand the difficulty of removing the fine facial hairs, Business Insider asked a visual effects expert to explain the process. "We would need to build a 3D model of the face and then shade the surface of the skin to look realistic," said Dave Fleet of The Mill. "We would then need to track the 3D model to the movement of his head and potentially re-animate his mouth. The amount of lip animation would depend on how much of the original beard occluded his lips."

Unfortunately, the result of Superman's "Justice League" facial rebuild was a laughable finished product. The first leaked images of the cropped mustache quickly took over the internet to heavy mockery. In the aftermath, an anonymous visual effects artist for DC opened up in a Reddit AMA that has since been archived. Thankfully, a Vanity Fair article on the open questionnaire details the artist's disappointment in Paramount not budging. However, the unnamed VFX crewmate passed the blame for the sloppy onscreen product. "I'm not sure which other studio did that opening shot on the cell phone but it's dreadful," the artist said. "It shouldn't have been approved internally let alone gone all the way to make it into the film. That shocked me a bit."


Uncontrollably, the concept alone of a mustached Superman took the internet by storm. The mix of the drama between studios and the uncomfortable images of Henry Cavill's botched lip job became a top trending topic across social media. It would have been near impossible to miss out on the joke during that fateful weekend in July, but the hilarity is well-documented by news outlets like USA Today, and collections of the memes still fill the endless corners of the internet.

Among the jokes are images of a 'stached Man of Steel wearing a sombrero, hairy upper lips pasted on other members of the Justice League, and overdramatizations of the size and shape of Cavill's notorious facial hair. One Twitter user made a particularly bold proposal, writing, "What if 'Justice League' just let Superman come back from the dead with a mustache and no one else on the team ever addressed it?" Meanwhile, another Twitter member remarked that they would genuinely enjoy "Justice League" if the 'stache appeared and disappeared at random.

Cavill's super response

Gracefully, Henry Cavill enjoyed the process of becoming the internet's favorite joke. "I sure wasn't expecting that to happen," the actor told Yahoo.com. "I love that is has. It's cool. I can show my grandkids one day." As he got in on the joke, it didn't take long for Cavill to stoke the flames of the meme sensation. The Superman performer took to his own social media, sharing a picture of a strange-looking contraption from the set of "Mission: Impossible 6" and calling it "the latest in a series of weapons designed by Warner Bros. and Paramount Studios to combat the entity known as 'Henry Cavill's moustache.'" The Instagram post goes on to call it a "relentless campaign to put an end to the seemingly inexorable conquest of this despotic 'stache."

Having nicknamed his infamous upper lip King Stache, Cavill eventually had to say goodbye to his furry friend. Of course, the facial hair that took on a life of its own required a ceremonious funeral. Cavill delivered by revealing his freshly-shaved face in another Instagram post that involved close-ups and a montage backed by Sarah McLachlan's "I Will Remember You." "It's hard for me to admit," said Cavill jokingly, "this is not CGI. I can tell you this though, I will remember him. Always."

Justice League's reception

In hindsight, the collective drama behind "Justice League" caught up with the film upon its release. The mishmash of rewrites and mixed directorial styles had the big-budget superhero movie labelled as something of a Frankenstein's Monster. The movie officially premiered in November 2017, pulling in $96 million from the domestic box office on opening weekend –- short of the $110 million the studio projected (per Business Insider). The lowest opening of any DCEU project at that point, part of the failure was the theatrical competition from "Thor: Ragnorak," "Coco," and the unexpected hit "Wonder." However, the truth of the matter was that theatrical release of "Justice League" was ultimately haunted by the backstage confusion translating onto the screen.

Meanwhile, fans were not impressed that Superman was absent from the majority of the film, an issue made worse by the movie's strange pacing. Meanwhile, the uncanny CG mustache erasure that sustained relentless mockery had gone unchanged for the big screen debut, leading to even more insults regarding the sloppy VFX. Fans were unaware of what to expect from the film after "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" proved disappointing and "Wonder Woman" had lifted expectations for the DCEU, but what they ultimately got was a collision of all the DCEU's problems catching up with the project at once.

The Snyder Cut

In an unprecedented maneuver from Warner Bros., the studio gave the original director another chance to finish his vision of "Justice League." Folding to a massive social media campaign calling on WB/DC to "Release the Snyder Cut," WarnerMedia subsidiary HBO Max gave the director $70 million to rebuild the film utilizing the photography that he had already completed (via Inc). With a unique postproduction process taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic, the restructured 4-hour "Zack Snyder's Justice League" was released exclusively on the streaming platform in 2021.

As for the infamous CGI mishap surrounding Henry Cavill's mustache, the reinstated director avoided it altogether. Snyder pulled no punches discussing the theatrical release of the film, which he has famously never watched. "I would destroy the movie, I would set it on fire before I would use a single frame that I did not photograph," Snyder stated during an online Comic-Con event. As for the 'stache, "I've only seen it in memes," said Snyder in an MTV News interview. "Part of me is happy that we were able to have that not be the total legacy of the hard work that [Cavill] had done in the last 10 years."