Tattoos in the movies have a storied history, from the simple, classic LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoos in The Night of the Hunter to the slick and sexy additions to Angelina Jolie's existing body art in last summer's Wanted. Recent movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button andEastern Promises have used tattoos to great effect; in Button, Captain Mike's homemade tattoos both referred to his life on the sea as a sailor, which in that era was the most visible tattoo population, and his own father's discouragement of his hopes of becoming an artist. Instead, he brings his art with him everywhere he goes. And Eastern Promises based its tattoos (hello, Viggo in his undies sipping a shot of vodka getting tattooed) on the heavily researched Russian tattoos and their different signifiers in the gangster underworld.

Unfortunately, most recent movies have the tendency to slap some crappy tribal on a character to make him or her seem more bad-ass, which, given the context of tattoos in the movies, is kind of understandable. But what's not is just how freaking terrible they are! Here are my personal picks of the worst ink spilled onscreen, plus a bonus mention for the most gorgeous tattoos in a movie, both in design and story use.

span style="FONT-WEIGHT: bold">

1. Doomsday
Look, I'm not blaming the lovely Lee-Anne Liebenberg for what the makeup artists did to her face. Surely in the future, we ladies will all be fire-spinning, ass-kicking, Mad Max characters, but do we really need to have eyeliner schmeared all over our faces in terrible pseudo-tribal designs? Also, couldn't they have at least gotten an actual factual lovely tattooed lady like, say, the real-life Coney Island superstar Insectavoria? They could have saved so much dough on makeup and stunt doubles, at the very least!

2. Strangeland
Dee Snyder has his heart in the right place, but holy crap. And let's not even get into the serial torturer/body modification mumbo jumbo. And how about that scene when he's got all that pancake makeup on to look "normal" and then suddenly after the townspeople beat him up even though he's reformed, he's all, I got facial tattoos and piercings and stuff again and I'm back to being Captain Howdy! That said, I can't wait for the sequel.

Star Tattoos

    This actress' inked Arabic script covers up another tattoo she got with ex Billy Bob Thornton.

    JEWEL SAMAD / AFP, Getty Images

    Angelina Jolie arrives at the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, on January 25, 2009.

    JEWEL SAMAD / AFP, Getty Images

    This singer-slash-actor proudly displays a cross on his upper-left shoulder.

    Eliot Press / Bauer-Griffin

    Justin Timberlake enjoys some fun in the sun with a friend at the famous Hotel Eden Roc during the Cannes Film Festival, on May 13, 2004.

    Eliot Press / Bauer-Griffin

    This often shirtless actor has dated several high-profile actresses.

    Atlantic Photo / Bauer-Griffin

    Colin Farrell arrives at a London Hotel before going to a mystic tarot card reading shop and tattoo parlor on July 05, 2003.

    Atlantic Photo / Bauer-Griffin

    This starlet's tattoo has a striking resemblance to Barack Obama's presidential campaign logo.

    Dimitrios Kambouris, WireImage for The Michael J Fox Foundation

    Scarlett Johansson attends A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's 2008 benefit for The Michael J. Fox Foundation at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers on November 5, 2008.

    Dimitrios Kambouris, WireImage for The Michael J Fox Foundation

    This actress had the initials her of three kids inked on her upper back.

    Steve Granitz, WireImage

    Susan Sarandon arrives at the 15th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2009, in Los Angeles, California.

    Dan MacMedan, WireImage

3. xXx
Vin Diesel stars as Xander Cage, an adrenaline junkie who's recruited by the government to infiltrate a sexy group of terrorists that includes Asia Argento, who is actually tattooed in real life with some gorgeous tattoos. Nothing says exXxtreme like tribal armbands!

4. RocknRolla
Toby Kebbell's prodigal son-turned-crackhead has some shady, shady tattoo scratch on his scrawny body, like ROCK and STAR above each nipple, MUM on his flank, and CHIP on his shoulder. And while they're bad on purpose, I still have to include it. Mostly because even as a junky, Kebbell is hot. What?

5. The Number 23

Another attempt at a serious movie for Carrey, another bomb. But this bomb is full of conspiracy theories and an alternate universe where Carrey's character is a sweaty, saxophone-playing creep. According to Contact Music, his real-life lover Jenny McCarthy likes his tattoos a whole lot -- so much so that he was considering getting real ones. Although they described her interest as "an extreme body art fetish," I seriously doubt she would love it if he came home with a giant ring of metal in his you-know-what.

6. The Salton Sea
This movie rocked my socks, but Val Kilmer's Danny Parker sports a stylized half-sleeve that looks like it was red paint slapped on haphazardly is ridic. His backpiece features an Angel of Death spreading his arms over what's supposed to symbolize where his wife was murdered, at the Salton Sea, and is only slightly less ridic. However, there are a ton of bad tattoos in this movie -- speed freaks aren't known for their good judgement or planning -- the most hilarious yet touching is sported by Peter Sarsgaard's Jimmy the Finn, who gets a tattoo of Danny Parker's face on his arm. Except he didn't bring a picture of Danny, so he just sort of described him to the artist. Awesome.

7. Dishonorable mentions:Love and a .45 (bonus points for tattoo-as-torture scene), The Bucket List (I can't bring myself to watch this, all I know is that Jack Nicholson's character gets a tattoo as part of his Bucket List), Romper Stomper specifically for the horrendous skeleton arm tattoo that's sported by Hando (a very young Russell Crowe -- we're just not even going to discuss the neo-Nazi tattoos), and Star Trek baddie Nero.

Bonus round: The shining light in all of this can be seen in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. Robin Weigert displays a gorgeous flowered body suit designed by world-famous tattoo artist Tim Kern. There's also a split-second of Michelle Williams with a full backpiece designed by Charlie Kaufman. Tim did most of the painting for both. This is a picture from his blog of him painting Weigert, but you really need to see the entire movie for the full effect. And because it's a great movie.
categories Cinematical