I felt that it would be a good idea to make this list to show how iconic and important tattoos can be in films and how they can be used as a tool for both story progression and character development, alongside how they can affect the viewers on both a personal and physical level. So without any delay, here we go:
5) Harry Potter Series: The Dark Mark
Since we first came across it in The Goblet of Fire, The Dark Mark has had a notorious reputation throughout all generations. You would struggle to find a person on the street that couldn’t identify it as the tattoo used to identify Voldemort’s followers. It has had such an impact that just a quick Google could show you how many people have had this replicated onto their own skin in tribute to the most popular film series of modern times
4) Red Dragon (2002): The Red Dragon
Ralph Fiennes donned this tat for his appearance as serial killer Francis Dollarhyde in 2002’s Hannibal Lecter flick, “Red Dragon”. I chose this to be so high up on the list because of how it’s revealed in the movie in such a dramatic manner and how it manages to capture it’s wearers crazy, obsessive, creepy persona. It has become so ingrained into pop culture as a reference to the film, that people seem to have forgotten that it’s actually based on the extremely famous paintings by William Drake. To be fair, I am glad that I haven’t come across many replications in my searches… It does worry me that there have been people who have copied this tattoo though.
3) Cape Fear (1991): Justice
Robert De Niro plays the heavily tattooed, convicted rapist Max Cady in Scorcese’s highly rated 1991 thriller. Now, Max Cady is a scary, evil, twisted man as we see in the events of the film, but his tattoos manage to portray just how evil he is. Although he is definitely guilty of the brutal rape of a girl he seems to believe that it is unjust for him to have a prison sentence. So whilst in the clink he has a cross tattooed on his back, accompanied by a dagger with “Justice” beneath it, indicating his never ending lust for revenge. To be honest, this only makes the character much, much more scary, as he apparently sees no wrong in his crimes.
2) Memento (2000): Clues
Number 2 is in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece “Memento”. The reason it’s here (among being a really good movie) is because the tattoos play an intrinsic part of the whole story. Leonard (Guy Pearce) suffers from short-term memory loss, so after his wife is murdered he uses tattoos to enable him to remember clues and information in order for him to investigate. An amazing movie and a good use of tattoos in order to aid the story rather than solely focusing on character development. It’s also a tragic reminder that although Leonard’s memories may be some of the most awful that one could have, he still wants to remember what happened.
1) American History X (1998): Nazi Paraphernalia
I feel that this really is one of the most culturally important films of the modern era and it’s one of the best movies that you will ever see, I promise. Edward Norton features as an ex-Neo-Nazi (Derek Vinyard) on a path to retribution for he and his family after spending time in prison for manslaughter. The “Nazi” character of Derek is massively emphasized through his tattoos; he has a pair of dogs (which supposedly represent the dogs used in concentration camps), a gang insignia “D.O.C.” which represents his Nazi gang and most noticeably, a huge swastika over his heart, which he uses to threaten people early in the film. He makes a point of covering them after his reformation. This is a stark contrast to the character portrayed in the early moments of the films, where he wore his tattoos with pride. A fantastic use of tattoos as an embodiment of change and retribution.