Tattoos. For some reason, anytime Hollyweird has ever wanted to have a character stand out as nasty, dissident, or just plain rowdy, some ink shoved under the skin seems to be the easiest way to do it (although cigarettes are slowly taking that over).  But when it comes to movie ink, there are some definite winners and losers. Anyone with his or her own tattoos, or even a pair of eyes, can tell the difference. And so here is a list of the Best and the Worst movie tattoos featured on Male Actors (the ladies get there own time in a future article, as it should be). And for the sake of this article, I am only including fake ink (No Danny Trejos or Johnny Depp here gang, all apologies).


The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The-Night-of-the-Hunter-Robert-MitchumRobert Mitchum, 1955. “Love” and “Hate” on his god fearing, sociopathic, preacher knuckles. These tattoos may not seem as impressive now, but 50+ years ago anyone with that kind visible ink wasn’t just trouble, they were TROUBLED!

The Boondock Saints (1999)
boondockTwo Irish American brothers decide to rid the world of evil men in this cult classic. Black Shirts, Booze, and Tattoos, all calling cards of traditional tough guys. Their tats are Catholic themed, and include “AEQUITAS” & “VERITAS” (Latin for Justice & Truth) tattooed on their shooting hands. Perfect for self-appointed Irish hit men.

Red Dragon (2002)
Red-DragonSerial killer Frances Dolarhyde, and his obsession with the Red Dragon, even extends his madness to his massive, amazing, back tattoo. A creep with body art yes, but thankfully this one has a true purpose to the character and his psychosis.

Memento (2000)
Memento-guy-pearce-carrie-ann-mossGuy Pierce plays a man with the inability to remember things for more than a few moments. So he covers his body with tattoos (some of which are written backwards so he can read them in the mirror) that are all clues that will hopefully lead him to his wife’s murderer. Ingenious use of the ancient art.

Eastern Promises (2007)
Eastern-Promises-Viggo-MortensenThe movie is amazing, but make sure you watch the Blue Ray extras. These might seem like easily stenciled make-up effects, but the writers, producers and Viggo Mortensen, did their homework. These tattoos are legitimate Russian Mafia marks. They lend credence to an already badass character played to the hilt by Viggo.

Cape Fear (1991)
Cape-Fear-Robert-De-NiroThe scene with Bobby D working out in jail, where we see how he has dedicated himself to revenge, both by actions and permanent words, just is terrifying. We know what’s coming, and we know that Justice is going to be brutally redefined.

American History X (1998)
American-History-X-Edward-NortonTattoos and Jail go hand in hand. So do idiots who tattoo swastikas on themselves. Ed Norton’s’ Nazi character sports racist ink that is both authentic and terrifying.

Snatch (2000)
Brad-Pitt-SnatchThe end all, say all of awesome movie tattoos. Irish bare-knuckle boxer Mickey (Brad Pitt) is covered with religious tats, done in single needle style with a greenish ink, which is exactly how it would be done in a make shift Pikey camp. And during the violent, sweaty fight scenes, they stay true. By far, some of the best fake ink ever to grace the movie screen.


Blade (1998)
Blade-Wesley-SnipesNot bad from an artistic standpoint, however, how can a character that regenerates from physical injuries keep a tattoo from healing instantly? No vampires should have tattoos. The vampire servants (humans) have tattoos in the films, ones that discern which vampire group they serve, and that makes sense, but for the Vamps themselves to be marked means the producers missed huge opportunity here to NOT suck. Yep, I said it.

From Dusk Til Dawn (1996)
From-Dusk-Til-Dawn-ClooneySupposedly, George Clooney’s tattoos (only partially visible creeping up his neck) were a sign that he was a hard man in prison. If this is the case, show them, there were plenty of chances for him to rock a wife-beater or tank top. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Number 23 (2007)
The-Number-23-Jim-CarreyGuys like Jim Carey’s character don’t have ink like that. Sorry. Once again Joel Schumacher has put something cool like tattoos into his realm of lame alongside Santa Carla vampires and everything he did to Batman. Fail!

Star Wars: Episode I – Phantom Menace (1999)
The-phanton-menace-darth-maulSupposedly, Darth Maul’s facial paint is a tattoo. Unless he sweats vaseline, this is a bigger load of B.S. than Jar Jar Binks joining the galactic council.

The Salton Sea (2002)
The-Salton-Sea-Val-KilmerVal Kilmer gets tatted up to be accepted into the seedy underworld of methamphetamines to find who killed his wife. That would be fine, if his work didn’t look like it was applied by a spastic finger-paint enthusiast. Honestly, whoever was in charge of those “tattoos” had never met anyone who went under the needle. Or walked by a tattoo parlor (I here there are more than a few in Hollywood). Or, hell, I’m out of attempts at hilarious analogies. The tattoos in this film are just the worst.

Ian Murphy has a damn lot of real tattoos. A few of them are actually pretty good.