Since movies, television shows, and comics are visual mediums, sometimes you need a visual cue to a character’s identity or motivations. And although you can use costumes or props for this purpose, there’s no better storytelling device than facial hair.

We’ve covered the wigs used in flashbacks to hammer home “this is the past!”—now here are the eight prevalent beard types to look for in your favorite stories.

1) The Evil Goatee

Not always the product of traveling to the mirror universe, the Evil Goatee is a sign that you are looking at a villain and not a hero. A black and pointy goatee is almost always a sign that someone is up to no good. Evil people also often have obsessively neat facial hair, as if all the care they take is the sign of a diseased mind.

Also seen on: Roger Delgado’s Master in Doctor Who, Ares in Hercules and Xena

2) Alternate Universe Facial Hair

I don’t know why everyone in alternate universes chooses a different hairstyle from everyone in every other universe, but this is a thing. Some subtle stubble if a hero is still mostly good, a full Evil Goatee if it’s the mirror universe. Star Trek is one of the most famous/most parodied example, but it’s not exclusively theirs. The Middleman above’s facial hair didn’t make him a villain, just not the perfect upstanding hero of the regular show.

Also seen on: Evil alternate Hercules on Hercules, every Star Trek

3) Old Timey Ancestor Mustache

Why cast a different actor who looks like your lead if you can just put your lead in period clothing and a funny mustache? Because that’s how genetics works—all people are exact clones of their ancestors. In all seriousness, I get that it’s easier to do this than to announce that a random face is related to a known character, but still.

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Also see on: Burt Gummer already has a mustache, so his ancestor in Tremors 4 has a handlebar mustache

4) “Time Has Passed” Facial Hair

To let everyone know that there have been a few years between the last time we saw a character, an actor will grow a beard or mustache. Apparently, the actual passing of time on a human being is not sufficient. This immediately stood out in the promo material for season three of Sherlock. It’s been two years—just look at Martin Freeman’s face.

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Also seen on: John Crichton in Farscape, Miles O’Brien in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

5 Sped-Up-Aging Beard

Science fiction loves a good “suddenly aging” plot. And whether time is speeding up or there’s a disease causing it, one symptom is always profuse growth of the facial follicles.

Also seen on: Jack O’Neill in Stargate SG-1

6) Cunning Disguise Facial Hair

For the man on the run, I recommend some new clothes, ruffling your hair, and a mustache. No one recognizes you now.

7) The Unshaven Face of Mourning

Bad breakup? Death in the family? Lost a job? Communicate all those aches and pains by sitting at home and refusing to shave. If it goes on for long enough it can become . . .

8) The Full Beard of Downward Spiral

When life’s the worst in every possible way, and you didn’t right it fast enough—the full beard comes to you. Whispering words of wisdom, “Let it grow.”

Also seen on: Commodore Norrington in Pirates of the Caribbean, Charles Xavier in Days of Future Past


Contact the author at katharine@io9.com.