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Ink on Screen: Famous Film Tattoos



As with film, tattoos are a passion for many people. The two art forms are quite closely linked, with films often providing inspiration for artwork and tattoos often featuring as key components of a particular character or even plotline within a movie.

We decided to take a look at some of the most famous examples of where tattoos have appeared on the big screen and who knows they might provide you with some inspiration for your next piece.

Maui ‘Moana’ (2016)

An important start to the list for a number of reasons, Maui was the first Disney character to be heavily tattooed and, his tattoos play a key part in the film. They also represent a cultural shift to be more understanding of tattoos, portraying someone with tattoos not always as a villain, but in this case a hero.

Acting as his conscience throughout, Maui’s tattoos were designed alongside Samoan tattoo artist Su’a Peter Sulu’ape to ensure they were an accurate representation of the culture. They are a tale of his life’s successes as well as stories based in Maori myth and often become alive themselves whilst guiding Maui through his life.

The designs of Maui’s tattoos are so accurate that they actually feature imperfections that one would commonly associate with the technique used to create them.

Francis Dolarhyde ‘Red Dragon’ (2002)

Played by Ralph Fiennes, the character of Francis Dolarhyde appears in the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. His obsession with the painting ‘The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in the Sun’ by William Blake, inspires him to have a huge tattoo of the beast in the painting on his back.

The film features an iconic reveal scene and the tattoo is representative of Francis’ battle over the conflicting ideas he has, but the tattoo itself is incredibly impressive and imposing.

Ralph Fiennes explained that it took over 8 hours for the tattoo to be applied prior to filming.

Lisbeth Salander ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (2011)

I mean, this one’s a bit on the nose, but as the title of the film suggests, the film features Lisbeth Salander with a large dragon tattoo that runs down her shoulder blade and side.

Played by Rooney Mara in the 2011 film, the film based on Stieg Larsson’s hugely successful novel of follows Lisbeth as a computer hacker helping a journalist in the disappearance of a woman.

The meaning behind the tattoo itself is never fully explained within the novel or the film, but it’s an incredibly artistic piece that gives thoughts to feelings of protection and strength.

It’s a piece that will have inspired many an artist in a tattoo studio and one of our favourite on-screen tattoos of all time.

Leonard Shelby ‘Memento’ (2000)

Perhaps the most recognisably tattoo-centric film is Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller from 2000. Starring Guy Pearce as an amnesiac who relies on photographs, letters and crucially, tattoos to help him search for his wife’s killer.

Using the tattoos as a reminder for key facts in the case, they form a huge part of the films famously non-linear storyline and Memento remains one of the most critically acclaimed thrillers of the last 25 years.

The tattoo parlour that Leonard visits in the film is actually named after Christopher Nolan’s wife Emma, who also happened to produce the film.

Fox ‘Wanted’ (2008)

Wanted, a story about a female assassin, features a quite unique tattoos for Angelina Jolie’s character Fox.

The tattoos shown in the film are unique as they actually compose of several of Jolie’s real tattoos. During a rather revealing scene, we are shown Fox’s tattoos that include a 12 inch Bengal tiger that Jolie herself had in Cambodia several years before to celebrate her Cambodian citizenship.

Several tattoos were added to complete the effect, including one on Fox’s hand that matches the floral pattern on her gun.

While several other films have included examples of real tattoos, they very rarely take centre stage as much as in Wanted.

It’s clear that tattoos have been a central part to many characters and films over the years and this isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The stereotypical villain with tattoos trope has slowly been replaced and tattoos are now seen as an art form within films, as much as they are in the real world. While tattoos will continue to be inspired by films, it’s just as likely that films will continue to be inspired and feature tattoos as central to their stories and characters.

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