Scars are a movie shorthand. Bad guys often have visible scars, gruesomely healed. Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil has a huge scar, from the corner of his right eye down to his jaw. Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street is extensively scarred. Staff Sergeant Bob Barnes in Platoon has a face meant to tell you how crazy he is, right from the start. Most but not all of the scars on this list are found on villains, but in real life scars can criss-cross the bodies of all kinds of people, even, occasionally, good ones. Scars are portraits of courage and bravery, reminders of stupid decisions, the markers of time and change. My left arm was left completely scarred after a car accident; oddly, it is NOT the arm covered in ink (okay, it’s partially covered in ink). They make me a little sad, but also a lot grateful: scars mean you’re still alive.
The Joker: I suppose there are probably dozens of back stories as to how The Joker got his scars, but I love how Chris Nolan approaches them in The Dark Knight. The Joker himself tells several vastly different tales involving their provenance, which reveals nothing about their true nature, but tonnes about his sanity. The way he accents the scars with makeup makes us think he’s proud of them. He wants them to be noticed. Perhaps he wants us to believe they’re self-inflicted. Perhaps they are.
Tony Montana: It’s inevitable that a character nicknamed ‘Scarface’ will make this list. Tony is blase about his scar, laughing it off, attributing it to his youth but never getting specific. It’s obviously a reminder of the past he left behind, and it’s a focal point to his enemies, something that makes him look scary and intimidating, perhaps warning them that he’s capable of violence. But in true Tony spirit, he addresses his scar only thusly: “You should see the other kid; you can’t recognize him.” I bet that’s true.
Harry Potter: Harry got his distinctive lightning-bolt scar in a failed murder attempt, when Lord Voldemort put a killing curse on him (his mother’s sacrifice saved him from death, but he would bear the mark of the attack). The scar is legendary among the magic set, and it tingles whenever the Dark Lord is near. It wasn’t just a warning system, but a link to what Voldemort was thinking and feeling – actually a small piece of his soul, yearning to escape. Which is pretty crazy.
Edward Scissorhands: Edward’s face (and not just his face) is covered with fine scars, the obvious result of learning the hard way how to live with scissors for hands. They aren’t terrible to look at, and actually give him a sympathetic look, reminding us of his hardships. Since the movie skewers conformity, Edward’s scars are just another thing that set him apart.
Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson: Randy shows stripper Cassidy some of the many scars he’s accumulated over his years in the ring as ‘The Ram’ in The Wrestler. His broken body is a good indication of his mental state as well, beat down and tired. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” Marissa Tomei quotes from the Old Testament. But his worst scar is yet to come: he undergoes bypass surgery on his heart, leaving the tell-tale scar down his chest, a constant reminder that his heart can no longer take the stress of his career. He’s forced into retirement, but can’t quite commit to it.
Marv: Sin City’s Marv puts Mickey Rourke on this list twice, ironic considering his own not-insignificant scars. In the 1990s he took up boxing, and had to have lots of reconstructive surgery as a result – two broken noses, a smashed cheekbone – but admittedly went to the wrong doctor to put things right. Finally, after massive amounts of plastic surgery, he’s starting to look good again. Regardless, in Sin City, Rourke’s face in prosthetic scars. Marv is supposed to be too “ugly” to attract the opposite sex, which is why his relationship with Nancy is so pure and good, and highly cherished by him.
Scar: In Lion King, Mustafa’s brother is marked for evil by eye-skimming scar that leaves him disfigured. The movie doesn’t tell us how he got it, but we do know he’s defined by it, bearing its nickname.
Gill: Gill has terrible scarring to his face and fins after an escape attempt left him badly
wounded by dental tools. Voiced by Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo’s Gill seems dark and brooding because of his scars, but we come to understand that they’re a symbol of his fight for freedom, and what the fish are willing to risk in order to be free.
Inigo Montoya: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” A mysterious man with 6 fingers attacked Inigo’s father, and presumably Inigo’s scar is from that same fight. His greatest wish is to avenge his father’s death, and he spends much of The Princess Bride pursuing the man who left so many scars in his wake.
Darth Vader: Vader’s scars represent his turn from annoying emo brat to pure evil. As the ghost of Obi-Wan tells Luke: “When your father clawed his way out of that fiery pool, the change had been burned into him forever – he was Darth Vader, without a trace of Anakin Skywalker. Irredeemably dark. Scarred.” Those scars are kept underneath a menacing helmet for much of the series, but when that helmet comes off, oof: impact.