F**k You, Asshole: The Best Movie Swearing


As children, the school yard exposes us to bad words, but it’s generally in a crude form, lacking grace. For inspiration as to the most effective and impressive way to swear, we have always looked to the movies.

Since the F-word crept into mainstream cinema (Robert Altman’s 1970 film MASH is often credited as one of the first mainstream instances), swearing in movies has become an artform. In this entry, I’m gonna mention some of my favourite and most inspirational examples.

Like most aspects of my filmic appreciation, my love for movie swearing was formed in my youth. And thus films from the 1980s dominate this list. But boys and girls of all ages acknowledge that Reagen-era action stars were some of the finest purveyours of bad language in the history of cinema.

As the 90s took hold, mainstream action movies started looking less like Lethal Weapon and more like Independence Day, and the broad family appeal necessary for such massive-budgeted films to recoup their costs pushed movie swearing into the relative margins of mainstream cinema, to be nurtured by directors like Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In James Cameron’s original Terminator film, shortly after Arnold Schwarzegger’s naked body arrives in 1984, he approaches a trio of punks, seeking to acquire their attire. In response, one of them, a young Bill Paxton, complete with tire tread on his face, utters (with gusto!) the immortal phrase I chose to title this blog entry with: “Fuck you, asshole.”

Later in the film, the Terminator is sitting in a crappy motel room when the manager knocks on the door and enquires as to the smell of rotting flesh emanating (by this point he’s lost an eye, remember). The robot’s computer brain presents him with several response options, but he wisely chooses the phrase he learnt from the punk earlier:

It’s clear to me now that this reasonates because Arnold was doing what every kid who saw The Terminator was doing – he was imitating something he heard. Although his delivery is tempered by the thick Austrian (robotic?) accent, his utterance gets the job done. What kid attempting to articulate grown-up words couldn’t relate to Arnie’s awkward embracing of bad words?

It was followed by ten years of brutalising bon-mots from the Austrian Oak, before Arnie too became a victim of what one might call the “pussification” of action movies. No F-words in Last Action Hero, no siree.

Eddie Murphy is possibly the greatest swearer in the history of cinema. “Fuck” rolls off his tongue like he’s breathing. It’s a beautiful thing. The one-two action comedy double hit of 1982’s 48 Hours and 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop contain some of the most glorious casual cussing ever committed to screen. 1983’s Trading Places contains some doozies too.

But it is 1988’s Coming To America that most reasonates in my mind when I think of Eddie Murphy and swearing. It has to be one of the most Fuck– heavy movies ever made. Although Eddie himself isn’t necessarily the speaker in every instance, his well-established rapport with rude words permeates every corner of the film, and it’s portrayal of Queens, New York. I especially love this bit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mkaXyhBK-mM

There is no need to portray the person who yells out the initial insult. Fuck is simply in the air.

All of crazy Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s movies can be relied upon to push the extremes in every regard, and Robocop is no exception.

During a series of crime-stopping set-pieces in the first half of the film, we happen upon a liquor store being held-up by a proverbial 80s action movie scumbag. Robo responds to the silent alarm and enters the store, at which point the crazed gunman, having noticed the chrome avenger striding towards him, begins firing his machine fun while maniacally saying “Fuck me” over and over:

What better way could there have been to articulate his predicament? I love the phrase ‘fuck me’ as an exclamation of one’s own impending doom. I feel like it would never be an understatement, no matter how extreme or epic the circumstance. You fall off the top of building: “Fuck me!”. Aliens are landing: “Fuck me!”. The earth spins off it’s orbit and hurtles toward the sun: “Fuck me!”. Appropriate every time.

As a youthful movie enthusiast, movie censor ratings loomed large over my desire to see certain movies. When The Last Boy Scout was released in 1991, it came with the dreaded R18 rating. I remember asking a fellow student who’d seen the film (he was one of those guys who somehow got to see EVERYTHING despite being the same age as me) what type of content had caused this harsh rating – a surfeit of boobies perhaps? Some nasty violence? While both those things pop up in The Last Boy Scout, my informant was very clear with his gleeful answer: “It has the most swearing I’ve ever heard in a movie!”.

I’m not sure that’s technically the case, but there sure is a lot of swearing in The Last Boy Scout. In this regard (and many others), The Last Boy Scout represents a last hurrah for hardcore 80s-style action movies. This is elevated by Shane Black’s knowing script (he also wrote Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight), which cites action movie conventions without winking at the audience. Also, Bruce Willis tells some memorably off-colour jokes.

If ever someone were to sit down and actually work out which film featured the most swearing, many would agree the most likely answer would be James Foley’s 1992 adaptation of David Mamet’s play Glengarry Glen Ross.

The sombre drama about desperate real estate salesmen is a shit-kicking tour-de-fource of fucks and shits (with the occasional C-word – thank you Al Pacino) uttered by one of the most heavyweight ensembles ever assembled.

Alec Baldwin’s extended cameo is often cited as the highpoint of the actor’s career, and it’s not difficult to see why:

The “What’s your name? Fuck you! That’s my name” exchange above is a great example of the unique manner in which David Mamet elevates swearing with his trademark macho word play. Here is another one, from the awesome con-man thriller House of Games.

Quentin Tarantino’s clear affection for the F-word comes through in everything he does, and he found the Moses of Fuck to deliver his message to the people in the form of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. In addition to being the first man on earth to successfully follow an utterance of the word “motherfucker” with another “motherfucker”, he brought a glee to his articulation of swearing that invited everyone to participate. My favourite instance is relatively minor, but it always causes me to swell with joy: “I’m the foot fucking master”:

http://youtu.be/gf89-zpFM8Q?t=1m57s

Jackson definitely elevated the form, but diluted his gift by becoming the late 90s/early 00s version of Michael Caine and appeared in every movie he was offered. Every now and then though, the magic still comes through. Also, there’s this.

Honorable mentions at this stage must go to Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet; Joe Pesci in Goodfellas (heck, EVERYBODY in Goodfellas) and this charming fellow in Midnight Run.

I have only really scratched the surface here. The world of movie swearing is deep and broad. What’s your favourite movie fuck or shit? Comment below!