How do you make a character memorable? Sure, you could do the really hard stuff like developing their backstory, giving them a rich personal history and well developed, consistent motivation. Or you could just give them a really badass name like Snake , John Matrix, of Maximus. Better yet, you can just slap a fucking awesome tattoo on and BOOM, instant characterization.
It works on so many levels. First of all they just look cool. Even though it seems like everyone’s got one, in reality only 24% of American’s are tatted up, and I bet an overwhelming majority of the rest have at least considered it at one point, and are secretly jealous of some of their friends’ ink. Also, a tattoo displays a certain level of commitment, so for a character each tattoo can tell a little story without words. #tactics. Here are the High Five movie tats.
Honorable Mention: Francis Dolarhyde’s Dragon – Manhunter (1986)
In case you had forgotten, Tom Noonan is one terrifying looking motherfucker. His performance as Francis Dolarhyde in the original Hannibal movie, Michael Mann’s Manhunter, is not to be missed, as he’s simultaneously kind of pitiable but also pure nightmare fuel. One of the scariest moments in the film is when he doffs his shirt, whilst (of course) wearing some pantyhose half over his face, to reveal the giant William Blake red dragon tattoo he has.
Excepppppt this was never in the movie! What the fuck, right? What happened is they shot all of these scenes twice, once with the dragon and once without, and for whatever reason they decided that it worked better with just Noonan’s pasty ass flesh. Must have been a bummer for Noonan, because I imagine this wasn’t exactly a short sit in the makeup chair.
5. Marky Mark’s “Nicole 4 Eva” – Fear (1996)
Hey look, two William Peterson movies in a row! Bizarre! I’m not really sure why (well, yes I am: it’s awesome) but I really love Fear. I’m sure you may have noticed, I mention it on the Bloglin a disproportionately large amount. I’m particularly struck by the scene where Wahlberg’s character gives himself the world’s skeeziest/most intense stick & poke tattoo.
It’s just a really weird scene in general, but it also probably sums up his strange obsession better than anything else in the film. First of all, he does the whole thing whilst staring intensely at himself in a mirror, and then I just remember the cavalier way that he cracks open that Bic pen and smears the ink on like it’s fucking Coppertone. Plus, I mean, come on: “4 Eva.” All timer.
4. Russian Mob Tattoos – Eastern Promises (2007)
These are arguably the best part of this movie. They’re certainly the most memorable. Well, these and that move where Viggo pokes himself in the neck all angry like. Still not really sure what that means. Seriously though, these are some of the most purely badass tattoos ever put to film. It makes it even cooler that they are all based off actual Russian mobsters.
Nothing like Eastern European gangsters to make you feel like a real pussy. Bonus points for the scene where they tattoo the stars onto his kneecaps so he can prove his devotion. I’m gonna go ahead and assume that hurt real, real bad. I got a hangnail once.
3. Leonard Shelby’s Memories – Memento (2000)
Alright, so this is kind of going back on what I said in the beginning of this post, because these tattoos are actually the entirety of the character’s backstory (or so he thinks. 12 year old spoiler alert. Sorry.), and pretty much the only thing he knows in the whole wide world. It’s a brilliant little conceit really: Leonard is nothing more than the things on his body.
I find it humorous (in a good way) that Leonard would make sure that, in addition to being informative, the tattoos also looked really cool. Because why just have a stupid little list on your thigh when you can also have “FIND HIM AND KILL HIM” in giant Old English lettering at an angle across your chest. Bonus points for the mirror tattoos.
2. The Big One – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Now I know what you’re saying: really? It’s just a humongous tribal tattoo. What, do you miss the 90s or something? First of all, yes, and second of all if you’ve seen the movie (you have seen this movie right?) then you’ll know that the key to this tattoos awesomeness is the manner of its revelation. You see, we never get a real look at Clooney’s giant art until the very, very end.
The whole movie you see just the hints of it, poking up through his collar and then down by his wrist. But after I while you just sort of forget about that, especially since it’s Clooney and even when he’s saying “fuck” a lot and shooting vampire’s he still seems charming, dapper, and very classic movie star-esque. But then, just as shit wraps up, he doffs his blazer and you realize the entire left side of his body is completely covered in black flames. Possibly the best visual reveal in the whole movie. And that’s saying something.
1. LOVE/HATE – The Night of The Hunter (1955)
I’m not sure there had been a really memorable movie tattoo before Robert Mitchum’s hand art in The Night of The Hunter, and I really don’t think there’s been any to surpass them in the 57 years since. They’re cool looking (who doesn’t like hand tats amirite? Y’know who? Communists), they mean something, and the fact that they’re on a preacher (preacher/serial killer, but who’s counting) makes them even more memorable.
Plus they contribute to the above image, one of the more iconic snapshots of 50s cinema that I can conjure up. So those are my High Five. There were some I left out (like Max Cady’s at the top of the post) but I wanna know what you’re favorites are.