Representations of Facial Scars in Film

Dr Isobel Yeap1, Dr Kersandra Begley1, Dr  Aruna Wijewardana1, Dr John Vandervord1

1Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia


Background: The villain with the scarred or disfigured face is a widespread trope in contemporary film. Often, facial scars serve as a visual metaphor for the hurt or damage that a character has been through, as well as a defining characteristic that marks the character as the villain.

Aim: To systematically collect and analyse data on the representation of facial scars in the most commonly watched films. The null hypothesis is that the representation of facial scars in film will be a negative one.

Method: Data were collected from the 100 worldwide highest grossing films including the number of characters with facial scars, their sex, whether they were heroes, villains or morally ambiguous characters and whether or not their scars were covered.

Results: The findings indicate that 50% (27/54) of the films included a character with facial scars. These 27 films included 44 characters with facial scars. The majority of characters with facial scars were male (93%; 41/44) and villains (59%; 26/44). We then classified the characters’ scars as either obvious or subtle and found that villains were much more likely to have obvious scars (58%; 15/26) compared with heroes (29%; 4/14).

Conclusion: Rather than being portrayed as a benign variation in human appearance, or even as a metaphor for resilience, facial scars are most often deployed as an insidious visual reminder that the character is damaged or bad. This likely contributes to the negative stigma faced by patients who have suffered facial burns that have caused conspicuous scarring.


Isobel is a resident medical officer who has worked with the Severe Burns Unit and Plastic Surgery Department at Royal North Shore Hospital. Prior to studying medicine, she completed her Bachelor (Honours) in Economics. She also works as a film writer for online for 4:3 Film.


ANZBA is a not for profit organisation and the peak body for health professionals responsible for the care of the burn injured in Australia and New Zealand. ANZBA encourages higher standards of care through education, performance monitoring and research.

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