The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Lisbeth Salander in ‘Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,’ and Best Movie Tattoos (Photos)

In David Fincher’s ++The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel, the film’s heroine—waifish, goth-punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara)—sports multiple piercings, and a sizable dragon tattoo over her left shoulder blade. But Salander is far from the first movie character to sport memorable body art. From Angelina Jolie’s back tattoos in Wanted to George Clooney’s sleeve and neck tribal in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, check out the coolest movie tattoos ever.

In David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novel, the film’s heroine—waifish, goth-punk computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara)—sports multiple piercings, and a sizable dragon tattoo over her left shoulder blade. But Salander is far from the first movie character to sport memorable body art. From Angelina Jolie’s back tattoos in Wanted to George Clooney’s sleeve and neck tribal in From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, check out the coolest movie tattoos ever.

Lisbeth Salander – 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, genius hacker Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara, has had a rough life. She was institutionalized at the age of 12 after setting her abusive father ablaze, and is eventually raped and sodomized by her sadistic legal guardian. Due to these traumatic events, she is cold, antisocial, and harbors a distrust of men. She also treats her body like a map of her troubled past, with multiple piercings, as well as several tattoos—including a wasp on her neck, a loop on her bicep, and, of course, the large dragon over her left shoulder blade, whose significance we presumably discover in later installments. After the aforementioned rape by her legal guardian, she gets a very painful tattoo on her ankle to remind her of her suffering.

Universal / Everett Collection

Francis Dolarhyde – 'Red Dragon'

Known as the “Tooth Fairy,” Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) is a schizophrenic who butchers Southern families in Brett Ratner’s 2002 film Red Dragon. In the movie, based on a novel by Thomas Harris, Dolarhyde is driven to murder by his alternate personality he calls “The Great Red Dragon”—based on his obsession with the William Blake painting, “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun.” The psycho killer believes that each person he violently murders brings him one step closer to becoming “The Dragon,” and this transformation is symbolized by a giant tattoo on his back that loosely resembles Blake’s dragon, albeit with giant horns that seem to be bursting from his body.

Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

Fox – 'Wanted'

Usually, actress Angelina Jolie, who’s amassed quite a collection of tattoos over the years, has to cover her body art with layers of makeup for film roles. However, in the 2008 action film, Wanted, she was able to flaunt them—and then some. Jolie plays Fox, a member of a thousand-year-old secret society of assassins known as “The Fraternity,” who can curve the trajectory of bullets. In addition to her real tattoos, including the Tennessee Williams quote, “A prayer for the wild at heart, kept in cages,” and the Latin proverb “quod me nutrit me destruit” (what nourishes me destroys me), among others, Jolie added several others for the role, including the words “toil” and “tears” on her inner biceps—from Winston Churchill’s speech, “We have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”— some additional art above her Thai tiger tattoo that’s on her lower back, and more. She wanted them to display Fox’s sense of justice.

Sony Pictures Classics

Mike Tyson – 'Tyson'

Before Stu, played by Ed Helms, got wasted and woke up with a tribal tattoo on his face in The Hangover Part II, boxing legend Mike Tyson got one for real. After Lennox Lewis embarrassed him in a heavyweight championship bout in 2002, Tyson attempted a comeback by fighting fringe contender Clifford Etienne. Prior to the fight, rumors circulated of Tyson being out of shape, taking time off training to party, and the coup de grâce—getting a “warrior” tribal tattoo on the left side of his face. Though it would later become the most widely mocked tattoo in boxing history, Tyson knocked out Etienne in 49 seconds in what would be his last professional victory in the ring. Tyson later displayed his tattoo in pal James Toback’s captivating 2008 documentary, Tyson, which won critical praise and awards recognition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.

Everett Collection

Reverend Harry Powell – 'The Night of the Hunter'

In Charles Laughton’s 1955 thriller, The Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum plays one of film’s most legendary villains—Reverend Harry Powell, a serial killer-cum-preacher. Right before his prison cellmate is executed, he hints that his young children know the location of stolen money being stored at his home, so upon his release, Powell woos his cellmate’s widow, marries her, and tries to coax the children into revealing the location of the loot. Powell has the words “LOVE” and “HATE” tattooed across his right and left knuckles respectively, and when his stepson observes the art, the creepy preacher delivers the film’s most famous speech: “Would you like me to tell you the little story of right-hand/left-hand? The story of good and evil?... Those fingers, dear hearts, is always a-warring and a-tugging, one agin t'other. Now watch 'em! Old brother left hand, left hand he's a fighting, and it looks like love's a goner. But wait a minute! Hot dog, love's a winning! Yessirree! It's love that's won, and old left hand hate is down for the count!”

Focus Features / Everett Collection

Nikolai Luhzin – 'Eastern Promises'

“The criminals in Russian jails say that your tattoo is your life,” said director David Cronenberg of his 2007 film Eastern Promises. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as Nikolai Luhzin, a rising member of the Russian Mafia—or vory v zakone—in London. It took makeup artists four hours to apply 43 tattoos—including a huge crucifix on his chest—to Mortensen for the full-body tattoo sequence, and the tattoos were so realistic that they reportedly scared London diners when Mortensen ate out during his free time. In one of the film’s key scenes, stars are tattooed on Nikolai’s knees to convey that he’s risen to the highest ranks in the Vory—and he’ll never kneel before anyone ever again.

Dimension Films / Everett Collection

Seth Gecko – 'From Dusk ‘Til Dawn'

From Dusk ‘Til Dawn, Robert Rodriguez’s outrageous 1996 horror film, featured one of George Clooney’s earliest—and underrated—screen performances. Clooney plays Seth Gecko, one of a pair of brothers wanted by the FBI for a bank heist that killed several people. Gecko is sporting a dark coat throughout the film, so all we see of his tattoos is a fragment of his tribal tat creeping out from his neck. In the film’s final scene, however, he removes his jacket to reveal that the neck tribal connects to a badass tribal sleeve on his left arm.

Denton Van Zan – 'Reign of Fire'

Matthew McConaughey’s allergy to shirts has been well documented both onscreen and off, but in the 2002 film Reign of Fire, he truly outdoes himself. McConaughey plays Denton Van Zan, an expert dragon hunter in the year 2020, where dragons have overrun London. With his bald head, huge beard, and ripped physique, McConaughey, rumor has it,  arrived on set and made co-star Christian Bale—having starved himself instead of lifting weights— so self-conscious that he kept his shirt on for much of the film’s production, working out behind the scenes, before removing it later in the shoot. As far as his character’s body art is concerned, McConaughey revealed in an interview that, “The tattoos were an idea that I came up with and worked on with a guy in a Dublin tattoo parlor. The tattoos are actually two dragons that wrap round my shoulder and come down to my navel. It was something very tribal that I was going for. They were painted on every morning and it took about two hours.”

Hando – 'Romper Stomper'

Before he won an Oscar for 2000’s Gladiator, Russell Crowe was a little-known Australian actor. He rose to acclaim in his native country for his performance as Hando, a violent neo-Nazi Australian skinhead, in the 1992 film, Romper Stomper. Hando is the leader of a gang of neo-Nazis in blue-collar suburban Melbourne who regularly engage in fights, robberies, and race wars with the local Vietnamese. In addition to his shaved head, Hando has several tattoos, including a crucifix on his chest, and even better, a skeleton sleeve on his left arm trailing up the side of his neck. Interesting that many of our beloved actors—Crowe, Gary Oldman, and Ryan Gosling among them—first gained notice playing a skinhead.

Snake Plissken – 'Escape From New York'

Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell, is the protagonist of John Carpenter’s 1981 sci-fi cult classic, Escape From New York. In a futuristic dystopia, Snake is an ex-special forces commando/war hero in World War III who is convicted of robbery and sentenced to life in New York maximum security prison—that is, the entire island of Manhattan, surrounded by walls, that’s overrun by criminals. When Air Force One is hijacked and crashes in Manhattan, the president is kidnapped, and Snake is recruited to save him in exchange for a full pardon. The nihilistic renegade has a tattoo of a cobra on his stomach—emerging from his crotch—presumably as a reference to the ‘Man with No Name’—Clint Eastwood’s character in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, upon which Snake is based.

Newmarket Releasing / Everett Collection

Leonard Shelby – 'Memento'

Prior to becoming Hollywood’s premier blockbuster filmmaker with the Batman franchise and Inception, Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the brilliant psychological thriller, Memento. The labyrinthine plot centers on Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man suffering from anterograde amnesia—short-term memory loss—who kills a man to avenge the rape and murder of his wife. The events are witnessed in both chronological and reverse order, mirroring Leonard’s struggles with his memory, and the story begins with Leonard’s search for his wife’s killer. Since he can’t form new, explicit memories, in addition to notes and Polaroid photos, he tattoos clues to himself. He uses a needle stuck into a ballpoint pen to tattoo himself, and the largest of these tattoos is written across his chest in backwards script so that he can read it in front of a mirror: “John G. Raped and Murdered My Wife,” and below this is another tattoo that reads “find him and kill him.”

Universal Pictures / Everett Collection

Max Cady – 'Cape Fear'

In Martin Scorsese’s inferior, campy remake of the 1962 Robert Mitchum-starrer Cape Fear, Robert De Niro has stepped into Mitchum’s shoes as Max Cady, a convicted rapist who seeks vengeance against the public defender (Nick Nolte) who he believes threw his case, resulting in a 14-year prison sentence. Explaining his numerous ugly tattoos to a woman, Cady says, “I understand, I'm not your type, too many tattoos. Thing is, there isn't much to do in prison except desecrate your flesh.” Yikes. Cady has a huge cross tattooed on his back, balancing the scales of justice, as well as several handmade tattoos on his chest and arms, including a broken heart tattoo with the name “Loretta” above it over his own heart.

Warner Brothers / Everett Collection.

Danny Parker – 'The Salton Sea'

In this underrated 2002 neo-noir from D.J. Caruso, Val Kilmer stars as an undercover police informant posing as “Danny Parker,” a meth addict who’s trying to set up an eccentric drug kingpin named Pooh Bear (Vincent D’Onofrio). In real life, Danny is actually “Tom Van Allen,” a former trumpeter whose wife was murdered by a pair of corrupt cops. In order to blend in with his fellow meth “tweakers,” Van Allen sports a faux-hawk haircut and numerous tattoos, including bands around his biceps, and a gigantic grim reaper tattoo covering his back, with the words “The Salton Sea”—the place where his wife was killed—below it.