Cinema’s often plagued with unnecessary uses of the F-word—but that doesn’t make it a bad word. In fact, when used to its fullest potential, it can be a beautiful and enriching word that drastically impacts a film.
Liam Maguren delivers an ode to the swear with nine exemplary uses of F-bombs in cinema history.
“Fuck.” It’s an elegant word with many applications and plenty of power. It could land you in detention. It could get your Facebook ad declined. And it can really rark up an audience depending on how it’s used.
In America, M*A*S*H holds the honour of being the first BIG Western flick to say “fuck” on-screen, though the scene in question is rather tame by today’s standards. New Zealand’s first TV F-bomb, however, is one for the history books: in response to criticism of the offensive language used in 1979’s The Neville Purvis Family Show, Purvis wrapped the show with “…but at least we never said fuck”. Thus, NZ’s first on-screen fuck was born.
It’s easy to abuse the power of profanity, but when used mindfully in cinema, it becomes an artform within the artform. Here are nine of the greatest examples.
The Master – “Pig Fuck”
This magnetic scene from 2012’s The Master exemplifies the precision of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson and the flawlessness in the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s depiction of a leading pseudo-intellectual.
When a man (a brief but excellent Christopher Evan Welch) challenges Hoffman’s psycho-babble, tensions escalate. As Welch tries to pick this time-travel-healing mumbo jumbo apart, an increasingly threatened Hoffman constantly derails any proper debate with louder, more confident-sounding nonsense. Red with fury, Hoffman’s verbal diarrhoea comes out in one large chunk with “Pig fuck!” It’s stupendous.
Goodfellas – Every Joe Pesci Fuck
No-one says “fuck” like Joe Pesci. Or maybe it’s “fwuck” if our ears are correct. Either way, he locks-n-loads the word in diverse and nuanced ways. Sometimes, he expresses lighthearted camaraderie through a well-placed “fuckin’.” Other times, he uses it to launch a torpedo of psychotic anger.
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Scorsese deserves partial credit here as screenwriter for this and Casino, which also features in the video above. He knows how to use a lot of fucks (none of which are given to Marvel films) and as of writing, The Wolf of Wall Street currently holds the record for the most fucks in any wide cinema release ever—partly because it runs for a humungous three hours.
(At the time of writing, they might still be counting the fucks in all 3.5-hours of The Irishman for a potential new record-holder.)
The Exorcist – The Devil’s Fuck
Only a few years after M*A*S*H dropped the first big F-bomb, William Friedkin’s Oscar-winning horror shocked audiences by having an 11-year-old saying “fuck” (as well as “cocksucker” and the other c-word). Obviously, the projectile vomiting and the demon possession proved to be pretty shocking as well, but THAT POTTYMOUTH! Goodness. Jesus had no place here.
To this day, the excessive profanity still effectively heightens the impurity of the evil within Reagan, played to terrifying perfection by Linda Blair.
All is Lost – The Single Fuck
Bit of a small spoiler, this one, but it’s too good to leave out. JC Chandor’s one-man survival thriller features Robert Redford in a sinking boat trying like all hell to stay alive in the middle of the ocean. It’s suspenseful stuff, especially for a script with no spoken words in it…
…except for one. Stuck on a liferaft with no aid in sight, Redford’s lone sailor pulls out an emergency drinking canister only to discover it contaminate by seawater. With that, he lets out a hope-destroying “fuuuuuuuck!” worthy of the film’s title.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut – “Uncle Fucka”
In one of the rare cases of childish excess making something better, this song-n-dance number in South Park’s big feature shoots for the moon and hits it right in the eye while making a statement on cinema censorship. (It also has its own duelling banjos but with farts.)
The whole film is a big musical fuck you to the MPAA’s classification system, though in a whopping case of irony, they unintentionally made the song even better. Uncle Fucka was originally meant to use “mother fucker” throughout, but Matt Stone and Trey Parker were warned that doing so would land them with an NC-17 rating. So they changed “mother” to “uncle” and got rewarded with an R.
X-Men: First Class – The Cameo Fuck
To avoid an R rating for his X-Men film, writer-director Matthew Vaughn delivered one of the greatest examples of the one-“fuck”-per-film rule (yes, it’s an actual rule). Seems like a weirdly sensitive condition given the film would later show a coin going through a dude’s skull in slow-motion, but that’s the MPAA for you.
In his big cameo, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine tell Charles and Magneto: “Go fuck yourself.” That’s it. No conversation. No hints to future movies. Just “Go fuck yourself.” It’s a great mockery of superhero cameo-ing while still staying true to the iconic character.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles – The Dam Wall of Fucks
John Hughes’ classic funnels its major profanity into one moment—and it’s probably the only reason it got an R rating. With bruises and an “I’m over this bullshit” expression stamped on his face, Steve Martin delivers a calm blizzard of concentrated rage as he unleashes all his frustration at the aloof woman manning the car rental counter.
She’s not exactly an angel in this situation, but she doesn’t deserve such aggressive verbal abuse. That’s what makes her response to Martin’s implosion the chef’s kiss to some well-cooked comedy.
Demolition – The Deconstructed Fuck
With Jake Gyllenhaal starring as a widower surprised to feel nothing when the woman he loves dies, this unfortunately forgettable drama didn’t get the treatment its premise and lead performance deserved. Fortunately, it did give us a great breakdown of how the word “fuck” should—and shouldn’t—be used.
Not only does this scene surgically reveal a literary truth, it introduces an angsty teen and shames him out within a minute. Noteworthy stuff.
Mommie Dearest – The Fucked Fellas
Like twenty sledgehammers strapped to a wrecking ball, Faye Dunaway devastates anyone and anything standing in the way of her portrayal of Joan Crawford. You can’t even name a single co-star left in the wake of her weapons-grade performance.
Nobody saw a more thorough obliteration than the men challenging Crowford in the iconic board of directors scene. Almost intentionally trying to be as bland as possible, the group explain their decision with minimum emotion and maximum condescension. It’s some masterful monotony that clears the air for Dunaway to exclaim “Don’t FUCK with me, fellas!” with memorable force.