Surprising Trend:

Heroes with Problem Skin

Freddy Krueger (left). Scarface. That tattooed dude in "Cape Fear." What do movies associate with evil characters: Bad skin. Scars, strange birthmarks, tatts: Traumatized skin means a troubled soul. Don't believe it? There is a large chunk of server space at this website devoted to examples of blemished bad guys.

The remake of "True Grit" provides a classic example. Like many a movie villain, a murderous Josh Brolin is marked for easy identification with a traumatic gun powder burn scar on his cheek. No wonder he's evil--it's hard to relax when audiences are judging your appearance. Unfortunately for him, plastic surgery or laser treatments weren't readily available in the Old West.

Yet that skinematic mainstay seems to be breaking down. Summer 2010 saw four major releases with heroic roles featuring skin usually seen on thugs. Before he showed his "Grit," Brolin wandered the West with worse scarring as "Jonah Hex." Paradoxically, he was this movie's hero. In the adaptation of a graphic novel, this fellow is capable of good deeds despite the appearance of damaged goods.

Even though it is easiest for film makers to mark villains with scars, lesions and hair loss, 2010 seems to have taken a cue from the box office giant with the little wand: Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe's Potter continues to generate major revenue despite his Voldemort generated forehead scar.

"Machete" starred Danny Trejo, covered with acne scars, scars from his boxing days and enough body ink to mark many movie muggers. In fact, Trejo has spent most of his career playing prisoners, drug dealers and assassins. It is a sign of the times that in this B-movie, even with a dermatology clinic's worth of lesions, he still takes on his betrayers and ends up with Jessica Alba.

That Dragon Tattooed girl returned to action in 2010 playing with fire and kicking hornet's nests. Usually a character this pierced and covered with serpentine body art would be the villain. Instead, Lisbeth Salander was heroic enough to warrant the currently filming American version of the series.

Speaking of action ladies, Emma Thompson is back in "Nanny McPhee Returns," as the moley, warty, unibrowed baby-sitter with a rosaceous nose and bad teeth. She's not the evil witch from Oz, but rather is armed with benevolent spells to enlighten her brood.

Kids with hair loss, whether from chemotherapy or medical conditions, have it hard in school. Add an odd forehead tattoo, and this little guy should be bully bait. Instead, as "The Last Airbender," this tyke saves the world. In your face, playground punks!

Will this trend continue? Will people with scars and lesions be given further movie heroes to admire? Early 2011 suggests that they might, with a modern retelling of "Beauty and Beast" in the wings called "Beastly." Baldness and extensive tattooing replaces hirsutism in this teen romance.

© 1996-2011 Vail Reese M.D.

Dr. Reese's office