Flat lenses in glasses in movies/TV

I think this is my first time in Cafe Society!

So, why? Why in movies and television shows are lenses flat and therefore so obviously fake? It always rips me violently away from the suspended reality. “Fake glasses!,” I think to myself- “with all the movie magic special effects, typically a multi-million budget, etc, WHY can’t they do something about this overly obvious prop? Why?” and then I turn that over in my head for a time while the movie rolls on and I miss vital things. Seriously.

So- why? Why the flat lenses?


This is obvious?

(WAG) Because curved lenses would have too many distracting reflections (to the viewer’s eye) from stage lights, etc.?

It would distort the actor’s vision, as glasses are meant to. Generally though, they distort it in a good way for folks that need them. If your actor doesn’t, then that’s a problem.

You used to see these all the time, but I haven’t recently.


The optics of the lens depends on the curvature of both faces. You can make a lens with (almost) no distortion and a curved front, if you just make the curve on the back match it.

Maybe it’s just me, (maybe being a 20+ years prescription glasses wearer has a lot to do with it), but it’s super obvious!

In fact, since I started this thread, I saw a real life guy being interviewed on a local news station. He had glasses and the lenses threw a lot of distortion. And I said aloud to my friends “Now THOSE are some REAL glasses!”

Same reason whenever you see an astronaut/deep sea diver/swat team member/someone wearing a helmet, the helmet always has a light on the inside. It’s unrealistic, but most audience members are probably more interested in clearly seeing the actor’s face than gaining this tiny bit of realism.

Can you link to some pictures? I can’t recall ever seeing this, or if I did I just didn’t notice it.

This! This! :smiley:

I had a pair of dollar store type gag gift glasses, they were super thick coke bottle glasses. They looked perhaps OVERLY real, since the lenses were so distorted in appearance. But you saw through them fine. I’m pretty sure this was how they worked. I used to wear them around the house for strange kicks sometimes. Where did they go?..

I’m sure you’re right about them not using those flat lenses anymore, but I’m still kind of mystified why they waited so long to use real-looking glasses. Perhaps I’m disproportionately bothered by the look of those flat lenses, I don’t know.

Am I the only one whose suspension of disbelief is broken by this?


Well, I looked at some pictures stills of the movie I was watching tonight that I noticed it in, which prompted my posting. I found some, but I think it is much more apparent in a video clip, where there is motion.


This is from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Have a look around the 00’:20" mark. I know this from 1989, but I swear I have seen those flat lenses in movies and TV since then. And 1989 stills seems oddly late to still be using them (assuming they are all shelved now, or whatever).

I knew a guy once who got a pair of glasses for kicks, to look ‘academic’. They were real glasses, though, in terms of frames. IOW $$$. They were just non-prescription and totally flat. They looked kinda weird to me, like window glass. I did admire his savoire-faire though, he pulled them off!

I don’t know if I’ve ever really noticed flat versus curved lenses on an actor but it always bugged me on the old TV show What’s Happening! that you could occasionally note that Raj was wearing glasses without any lenses whatsoever.

Wouldn’t that work both ways, though? If an actor were to appear on screen wearing those glasses, wouldn’t you see their faces and eyes free of distortion? The only way you’d tell if the lenses were curved would be from light reflecting off the fronts, which I think the camera and lighting folks would try to avoid.

Hmmm…I never thought about that angle. Do you mean just so we can see how hot or whatever they are, or so we can more clearly see their expression? As for the latter- I don’t know, people wearing glasses don’t seem be any harder to read in terms of their expressions. Maybe you mean the first anyway, though.

And I don’t mean this in a dickish way at all, but do you have a cite for this (really though, if you say you heard this in a film class or something that would be fine too!- finding a cite for that seems like a challenging task) or is this a hypothesis on your part?

Really? I never noticed that, and I used to watch it a lot in the afternoons after school when I was in grade school.

BTW- I loved that show! “Ooh, Raj is gonna get iiiiiiiiiiiit!” :smiley: I imagine it to be painfully dated now. Haven’t seen it in a really long time, though.

I’m sure they do try to avoid the reflections, but they don’t always succeed. And even the occasional wrong reflection is a lot more noticeable than the continual distortion (or lack thereof) of the face behind the lenses.

Although, if you wanted it to look really good, you could use prescription glasses, and contact lenses with the reverse prescription. I doubt anyone’s ever actually gone to that level of effort, though.

Not underwater, but it was done in the movie Outland.

As for the OP, sure, it’s obvious, but why in the world does it matter? You see, in a movie, the actors are pretending. So they also pretend to have glasses.

And I recall hard sci-fi purists complaining at the time how that was unrealistic, and would make it hard for the suit wearer to see out due to interior reflections.* <googles>*

Here’s a site with a picture; scroll down a little and there’s a close up of a helmeted guy with his face surrounded by the helmet lights.

Aren’t there certain types of lenses that are flat in the front and curved in the back - not in general, but specifically for eyeglasses? Unless it is a strong prescription, wouldn’t those also look fake since there wouldn’t be a lot of distortion behind them?

I have a weak prescription for astigmatism and I don’t see any distortion in those either - although I can’t say I’ve ever specifically looked.

If the glasses are actually functional for correcting any sort of eye problem at all, then there will be distortion of the face behind them. That’s unavoidable-- there’s no such thing as a one-way lens. But it’s also subtle enough that most folks won’t notice it. What people do notice is the reflections. And while a flat-fronted lens (which would look flat from the reflections) could meet a prescription by being curved appropriately on the back side, such lenses are uncommon in day-to-day life, and so would still stand out as odd.

It’s not just diver’s masks and space helmets where they do the ‘light on the inside’ bit - they also do it with almost every ‘car driving at night’ scene as well.