It’s the first word out of Paul Dano’s mouth the moment his character realizes he’s color blind and couldn’t be a pilot, thus breaking his vow of silence in the movie Little Miss Sunshine (2006). The same word that Emma Stone blurts out after Ryan Gosling takes his shirt off in Crazy Stupid Love (2011). It’s Hugh Jackman’s angry reaction to thugs who are stealing his limo’s tires that culminates in a fight in Logan (2017). And it’s the word that Maggie Gyllenhaal tells brother Jake to suck on in Donnie Darko (2001).
We’re talking about the F-Word. F.U.C.K. The F-Bomb. One word that could capture all emotions across the board. “The ultimate bad word. It has so many multiple uses. It’s so good to say. It’s so cathartic when it comes out of your mouth,” says Bill Maher. And where else are these best showcased than in the movies. Here’s a brief history of the word.
1. Ulysses (1967)
The popular acronym of fuck, “Fornication Under the Consent of the King” has already been set aside for the more acceptable 15th Century English word origin which has derivations in Dutch (fokken, to breed), Swedish (focka, to strike), Norwegian (fukka, to copulate) and German (ficken, to fuck). Author James Joyce, a propagator of the word, whose groundbreaking Ulysses (published in 1922) has the word fuck among other obscenities, made its screen debut in March, 1967.
The British movie is directed by Joseph Strick and mentions fuck once. That same year, another Brit movie called I’ll Never Forget What’s Its Name by director Michael Winner also has the word “fuck”but was released much later, which makes Ulysses the official first movie appearance of the word fuck.
So, who said it in the movie?
The honor goes to actress Barbara Jefford who plays Molly Bloom, the adulterous wife of Leopold Bloom (Milo O’Shea), the novel’s central character and narrator. She mentions the word in her final soliloquy:
“…all the pleasure those men get out of a woman I can feel his mouth O Lord I must stretch myself I wished he was here or somebody to let myself go with and come again like that I feel all fire inside me or if I could dream it when he made me spend the 2nd time tickling me behind with his finger I was coming for about 5 minutes with my legs round him I had to hug him after O Lord I wanted to shout out all sorts of things fuck or shit or anything at all only not to look ugly…”
With its explicit narrative of sex that sparked much controversy even before the movie was released,it is only fitting that the F-Word got its starting movies where it did.
2. M.A.S.H. (1970)
Unless an early porn movie comes forth and lays claim, Robert Altman’s Korean War-Comedy M*A*S*H* is the first American film to use the word “fuck.” The scene is a football game between two army units. One of the players is John Schuck as “Painless” Waldowski who warns his opponent:“All right, Bub, your fuckin’ head is coming right off!”
It is uttered so quickly you’d probably miss it if you’re not paying attention. Still, with that one word and brief as it may be, M*A*S*H* opened the doors to a new era of swearing in movies.
Thus, gone are the doggone its, darn its, jeezes, gadzooks and jiminy crickets that only the likes of Jimmy Stewart would say. From out of Pandora’s box come the meanest things, words that are included in comedian George Carlin’s famous 1972 performance “The 7 Words You Can Never Say On Television.” These are: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits. Of the seven, fuck and motherfucker are the ones that would resonate in the 70s.
“MoFo” has been in use since the 40s and peaked during the Vietnam War. Isaac Hayes’ Theme song from Shaft (1971) puts motherfucker as being synonymous with a guy who is a sex machine—or a brother who is just plain bad ass. In the blaxploitation movie Dolemite (1975) which stars Rudy Ray Moore, it is the hero’s favorite invective.
“That rat-soup-eatin’, insecure honky motherfucker!”and “I got your boy hangin’, you no-business, born-insecure, jock-jawed, motherfuckers!” are just two to begin with.A couple of decades later in Pulp Fiction (1994), Samuel L. Jackson would own it by being the ultimate “bad motherfucker,” wallet and bible passage included.
The F-Word and MoFo gained momentum in movies like Last Tango in Paris (1972),The Exorcist (1973), Serpico (1973), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Taxi Driver (1976), Slap Shot (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978), and Apocalypse Now (1979).And it was turning into more than your usual verbs, adjectives and interjections.
In an era full of street slang like bogart, freaky-deaky, funky, groovy and jivin,’ the more unusual uses of the F-Word were beginning to come out: “Mindfucker” in Serpico, “Fuckface” in Midnight Express (1978), “Flying fuck in “Last Tango in Paris and in the movie The Front (1976) Woody Allen tells some guys in a room “You can all go fuck yourselves.”
3. Easy Rider (1969)
Two hippie drug dealers in motorcycles. A drunken small-town lawyer with aliens on his mind. Communal living and free sex. Marijuana and LSD. And no F-Bombs whatsoever. What the F is going on?
Let’s step back a year to the counterculture road movie that was Easy Rider starring Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. Minus the F-word, the movie by itself is a big fuck you directed at the establishment, and shows the finger gesture equivalent of the F-Bomb—the middle finger, the dirty finger, the act of “Flipping the Bird”.
The movie ends with Wyatt/Captain America (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper) cruising on their motorcycles on the highway.As couple of rednecks in a pickup truck armed with a shotgun pass by and starts taunting them,Billy casually flips the bird.After which the rednecks gun them down. The dirty finger as it is shown here, is as potent as a your regular, ill-intentioned “fuck you.”
The history of the middle finger dates back to ancient times, literally, as far back as 423 B.C. in Greece and symbolizes the phallus and generally, an act of insult towards another person. The first known photograph of this gesture is from an 1886 baseball club photo with Boston Beaneaters pitcher Old Hoss Radbourn displaying an extended middle finger.
In movies,the earliest is of silent comedian Harold Lloyd looking at a mirror and giving his reflection the dirty finger in Speedy (1928). It passed censors at that time maybe because they were unsure of what the gesture meant.Of course, by the time famous Hollywood actors such as Clark Gable, Barbara Stanwyck and Elizabeth Taylor were photographed flipping the bird, the meaning is unmistakable.
Some of the best flipped birds in movies include: Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986), Danielle Harris in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (1991), Jennifer Aniston in Office Space (1991), Rowan Atkinson in Mr. Bean the Movie (1997), Verne Troyer in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), Eliza Dushku in Bring it On (2000), Hugh Jackman in X-Men (2000), Seth Rogen in Pineapple Express (2008), and Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
4. Die Hard (1988)
Even in the PG-friendly 80s, the F-Bomb and Flipping the Bird have entered popular culture as fast as Michael Jackson’s albums climbing the Billboard pop charts. It has also become the action hero’s swear word of choice.In Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, like Commando (1985), you know you’re pretty much fucked when he says motherfucker in your face. Same with Sylvester Stallone in his Rambo movies. And we all know Bruce Willis’ version of it in Die Hard (1988).
Willis became a big star thanks to his role as detective John McClanein Die Hard. In it, he fights a group of international terrorists who has taken control of a building.The leader Hans Gruber (the late Alan Rickman) calls his bravery an act of someone who has seen too many Westerns. In response to this, McClane gives him his famous one-liner: “Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker!”
It’s an F-Bomb Bruce Willis would repeat in other Die Hard movies, a sort of welcome greeting to the bad guys. Like what Eddie Murphy’s character Prince Akeem gets In Coming to America (1988)—a taste of New York hospitality:
Prince Akeem: Good morning, my neighbors!
Voice: Hey, fuck you!
Prince Akeem: Yes, yes, Fuck you too!
That the F-Word was fast becoming the trademark word of the USA, who better to absorb it like a sponge than the teens.In movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Sixteen Candles (1984), Breakfast Club (1985), and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), teenage rebellion comes with an F-Bomb and in many occasions, in tandem with the dirty finger.
The F-Word also sneaked in where it shouldn’t—into kid’s territory. Parents would impose punishments to their children for cursing.Still, kids couldn’t help themselves in what they regard as a measure of coolness—being able to swear like an adult. In places where they have this freedom, like the school yard, the school bus or tree houses, kids found creative ways of using (or misusing) the F-Word. In Stand By Me (1988), this is pretty much the case when River Phoenix tells Kiefer Sutherland: “Why don’t you go home and fuck your mother some more.”
Even with the supposedly role models around, kids get to hear them swear, like in Adventures in Babysitting (1987) when Elizabeth Shue has this exchange with a group of 80s punk-rock gang members:
Gang Leader: “Don’t fuck with the lords of hell.”
Chris (Shue, picks up a knife): “Don’t fuck with the babysitter.”
Since then, movies have been more lenient with kids dropping the F-Bomb. In the 90s and beyond, comedians like Adam Sandler, Jack Black and Jim Carrey whose movies kids usually watch were dropping F-Bombs left and right. In 2002’s Panic Room, it is the kid leading the adult. In order to intimidate the burglars that invaded their house, 11-year old Sarah (Kristen Stewart) teaches her mom (Jodie Foster) how to talk tough over the PA system and say “Get the fuck out of my house.”
When Tom Cruise accidentally says the F-Word in Jerry Maguire (1996), Jonathan Lipnicki who plays Ray (only 6-years old at the time) replies, “You said fuck.” Yes, people thought it was cute, too.
5. Goodfellas (1990)
By the 90s, the F-Bomb has reached a new level of intensity and frequency.
When Scorsese released his mob epic Goodfellas at the dawn of the 90s it set a record with the most F-Bombs—300 times. “Fuck” also became not just an expletive, but a definition of character.
A third of those 300 F-Bombs belongs to Joe Pesci alone who plays the volatile Tommy DeVito, the other two-thirds are divided between Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, and the rest. Everyone knows the line, “How the fuck am I funny?”In his succeeding movies like JFK (1991), Casino (1995), and the Lethal Weapon series, Pesci and the F-Word would become synonymous with each other.Hell, Pesci might even be Italian for “fuck you.”
Then in 1992, a guy named Quentin Tarantino and his movie Reservoir Dogs arrived and all of a sudden the F-Word sounded fresh again. As if someone discovered a lost art of cool, Tarantino and the F-Word are inseparable. After 9 full-length features, there is no Tarantino movie that doesn’t use the F-Word.
What’s so good about the guy is that he writes most of his own shit, which makes for some memorable F-Bombs: “Well, I’m a mushroom-cloud-layin’ motherfucker, motherfucker!” (Pulp Fiction), “AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.” (Jackie Brown), “Fuck you! Fuck you! I’m fuckin’ dying here!” (Reservoir Dogs).
In answer to Pesci’s “how am I funny?,” one guy who also writes his own stuff is none other than the garrulous Kevin Smith. There are many creative and funny uses of the F-Word in the Kevin Smith universe, but the “fuck stops with Jason Mewes.”
As Jay and Silent Bob, alter egos Smith created for Jay and himself, and introduced in his name-making debut Clerks (1994), the recipient of many of the funny F-Bombs is of course, Jay (well, since the other guy doesn’t talk).Indulge: “What the fuck is the internet?” (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back); “We figure an abortion clinic is a good place to meet loose women. Why else would they be there unless they like to fuck?” (Dogma), Teen: “Is that a fucking Bible?” Jay: “Hey hey, the “holy” fucking Bible, son (Clerks II); “Snootchie Bootchies. Who the fuck talks like that? That is fucking baby talk.” (Chasing Amy).