We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,286,766-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: List Of Films That Most Frequently Use The Word “Fuck”
What it’s about: Fudge! For a long stretch of movie history, profanity was banned by the Hays Code, so it wasn’t until 1970 that M*A*S*H became the first (non-pornographic) American film to use the word “fuck.” Even then, the word was considered taboo and used sparingly. But here in the 21st century, we say whatever the fuck we want, and Wikipedia lists 138 movies that use the F-word 150 times or more (and tracks “fucks per minute,” ranging from .92 to ten times that amount (in fairness, that 9.2 score comes from Fuck, a documentary about the word itself and its place in the culture).
Biggest controversy: Astonishingly, impossibly, Samuel L. Jackson, the Bad Motherfucker himself, doesn’t make the top 30. He’s certainly on the list, appearing in Pulp Fiction (31), Do The Right Thing (33, although he doesn’t curse in the film), True Romance (39), and The 51st State (81), but somehow an actor for whom “motherfucker” is practically a catchphrase only appears four times. Part of that is the actor’s transition from hard-R indie films in the ’90s to the squeaky-clean MCU of the ’10s. Back in 1994, Pulp Fiction’s foul language was still shocking, and its 265 fucks ranked it only behind Reservoir Dogs and Goodfellas, but it’s been surpassed by a fuckload of movies in the years since.
Strangest fact: SpongeBob: Sponge On the Run ranks surprisingly high on the list. (Okay, we’re kidding.) The only mildly strange thing about the list is how many screenwriters decided to go for a round number, as 8 Mile, 22 Jump Street, A Bronx Tale, Dysfunktional Family, Skin, and This Is The End all apparently said “fuck” exactly 200 times.
Thing we were happiest to learn: Four-letter-words are the great equalizer. Era-defining hits like Goodfellas, direct-to-streaming B movies like The Outpost, stand-up concert films like Eddie Murphy Raw, goofy comedies like Hot Tub Time Machine, respected arthouse flicks like Magnolia—saying “fuck” every 45 seconds is the one thing that brings us all together.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: The MPAA ratings are just as arbitrary as you think they are. While PG-13 movies are famously allowed exactly one “fuck,” the ratings board will bend that rule if the film portrays historical events, like the presidential debate in which Martin van Buren invited William Henry Harrison to “shut the fuck up, you fucking geriatric pig-fucker.” (Don’t get mad at us, this is the historical record speaking.) But filmmakers can and do appeal the ratings board, “because their target audience might avoid an R-rated film.” So, essentially, you can’t use more than one “fuck” in a PG-13 movie unless you really want to.
Also noteworthy: The movies at the top of the list aren’t exactly putting up a fair fight. As we mentioned, the documentary Fuck is high on the list, but it’s actually second to Swearnet: The Movie, a 2014 comedy in which Trailer Park Boys stars Mike Smith, John Paul Tremblay, and Robb Wells play themselves, and decide to create what Wikipedia describes as, “a fully uncensored internet network.” What an “internet network” is and why saying “fuck” would be considered shocking on the vast pornography archive that is the internet is not explained, but the film received both an NC-17 rating from the MPAA and an 18 out of 100 on Metacritic, so clearly whatever they were going for didn’t succeed at anything beyond getting them the top spot on this list. (Take this movie and the documentary out of the running, and Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street is the king, with 569 fucks).
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: For those of you who are middle school students just reading Wikipedia so you can underline all the dirty words and snicker, there’s a whole category for sexual slang. It’s an odd collection of slang terms for various body parts and sexual maneuvers, but also baseball metaphors, profanity in Mandarin and Georgian and no other languages, phrases like “mile high club” and “Netflix and chill,” and George Carlin’s list of Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television.
Further Down the Wormhole: It should come as no surprise that Quentin Tarantino once ruled this list, as in 1994 the top five were Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Do The Right Thing, and True Romance (which Oliver Stone directed, but Tarantino wrote all the “fucks” (and other less important words of dialogue) for. But Tarantino actually directed two and a quarter films on the list, as Four Rooms, a 1995 film made up of four vignettes set in the same hotel, ranks at No. 100. The other segments were directed by fellow ’90s indie film luminaries Robert Rodriguez, Alexandre Rockwell, and Allison Anders. Anders’ segment, “The Missing Ingredient,” concerns a coven of witches convening in the hotel, uses the “Theme From Bewitched” as part of its score.
Bewitched has recently re-asserted itself into the national consciousness as one of WandaVision’s main influences, but the classic sitcom is old enough to have started its run in an era (1964), when TV shows were still beholden to only one or two advertisers. Bewitched’s only commercials were for Chevrolet and Quaker Oats, both of which got prominent product placement. Half a century later, Chevy is still GM’s flagship brand, while Quaker is now part of the PepsiCo empire. Pepsi also owns Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Tropicana… and lasting resentment from a 1992 contest that awarded its grand prize to 800,000 people. We’ll catch Pepsi Number Fever next week.