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What John Wick's Tattoos Really Mean

In only a few short years, Keanu Reeves' John Wick has become one of the most popular antiheroes in cinematic history. "The Baba Yaga", as he became known, is among the Bill & Ted actor's most successful roles, and has spawned a hugely successful franchise. He's scrappy, stoic, and mysterious, but there's more to him than meets the eye. Each installment of the series reveals a little more about the feared hitman, but there is still a lot to him that fans don't know. 

John Wick introduced its title character through tragedy, detailing the loss of his wife and the murder of a beagle puppy that was a gift from her. It acted as the catalyst for his return as a terrifying gunslinger and introduced audiences to his old life. One particular shot in the first film shows him from behind in the shower, giving viewers a lingering look at his many tattoos.

Beyond this scene, John Wick's' tattoos don't get much more time in the spotlight, since he wears his signature black suits from then on out. His backstory also goes untouched from that point on, as the sequels tend to focus on a present situation that continues to worsen. Nevertheless, his briefly-shown tattoos have a lot to say about his past, as well as the hitman society he inhabits.

The significance of prayer and the cross in the John Wick franchise

Faith is a recurring theme in the John Wick franchise, and religious allegory plays a vital role in the subtext of each film. It also contributes to the lore behind the High Table and the cult-like practices of the assassin underworld. As shown in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, many members of that organization adorn their bodies with religious — specifically Catholic — imagery. John Wick is no exception, bearing prayer hands with a cross on his back, as well as another cross on his left shoulder.

These tattoos were not impulsive choices from a night out on the town, but important images to those in John Wick's line of work. As a younger man, his training intertwined with the Catholic faith. The entire hitman network that runs across the globe is in service to a mysterious ring known as the High Table, which is often described in terms usually reserved for deities. What's more, the Vatican factors into John Wick: Chapter 2 and appears in a deleted scene from that film, confirming its connections to John Wick's day job.

The layered meaning behind fortis Fortuna adiuvat in John Wick

One of the most prevalent tattoos on Wick's body is the phrase "fortis Fortuna adiuvat," inked across his shoulders just above the prayer hands and cross. The term is Latin, and translates roughly to "Fortune favors the bold." It has a lot of significance in both the real world, where the United States Marine Corps, 3rd battalion, 3rd Marines adopted it as their motto, and in the John Wick universe.

There are a few implications to what exactly this ink says about our protagonist. There's the fact that it could lead viewers to believe he is a former Marine due to their close ties to the phrase. The previously mentioned deleted scene from Chapter 2 also provides a clearer insight into the subject. The clip depicts John Wick arriving at the Vatican to speak with a cardinal — asking for permission to go on yet another killing spree. The holy man simply replies "fortis Fortuna adiuvat" before extending his ring to be kissed. It seems members of John Wick's order use the motto for encouragement, or as a code by which to live, which makes it all the more fitting an adornment for a killer the caliber of Keanu Reeves' character.

Even with all these theories, there's still a lot we don't know about John Wick and his order. Perhaps answers will be forthcoming in the in-the-works John Wick 4, currently scheduled to arrive in May of