Here's a thing you might not know about PG-13 movies: the MPAA allows only one F-bomb in the entire film. If you have two vocalized F-bombs, your movie becomes R-rated, which obviously cuts down on your potential audience. Most films don't bother flirting with this rule, but some will specifically pick one F-word to include. They have only one F-bomb to drop, and they intend to use it.
Those are the movies I care about. While some movies use their one F-bomb poorly (Be Cool immediately comes to mind), others use it to great effect.
In Billy Madison, Adam Sandler plays an entitled man-child. His father is rich, and his resultant wealthy upbringing keeps him in a state of suspended adolescence. When Billy screws up one too many times with his childish antics, his father decides to un-name Billy as his heir, meaning when his father retires, Billy would no longer be rich and comfortable. Billy (who is 27) agrees to go back to school and complete grades one through 12 in two weeks to prove to his father he is smart and responsible.
It's a pretty silly movie.
The One F-Bomb:
When Billy is repeating one of the earlier grades, his teacher Miss Lippy reads the class a story about a little boy who loses his dog and briefly tries to find him before giving up and giving in to his sadness.
Billy doesn't like this story. Here's his response:
The part of the story I don't like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy [the dog] after an hour. He didn't put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy's gotta think, "You got a pet. You got a responsibility." If your dog gets lost, you don't look for an hour, then call it quits. You get your ass out there, and you find that f*cking dog.
It's played for laughs because he's screaming this in a room full of small children, but I also love it for how earnest man-child Billy Madison is. Adam Sandler playing a stupid, but ultimately open-hearted character is a good use of Adam Sandler. This was a light children's story about hope and responsibility, and Billy took it VERY personally - we learn a lot about him in this endearing f*cking moment.
Actors: Adam Sandler, Steve Buscemi, Chris Farley, Norm Macdonald, Bridgette Wilson, + more
Directed by: Tamra Davissee more on Billy Madison
How the crap do I set up this movie? It’s a ridiculous Will Ferrell movie about a boozing, womanizing, egotistical, yet still fragile fake-alpha-male news broadcaster in a fictionalized version of 1970s San Diego, poorly reckoning with the growing Women’s Lib movement, while also reading the local news as if it's the most important thing in the world.
A bunch of other ridiculous things happen, including a celebrity-filled brawl, a musical number, and a dog getting kicked into the sea, but otherwise, I feel like I did a good job summing up this completely absurd film.
The One F-Bomb:
Among the many insane things in this movie that we all have to accept is the fact Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy will read literally anything displayed on his teleprompter, including nonsense and typos. Burgundy’s rivals capitalize on this bizarre character quirk by editing Burgundy’s teleprompter script, leading Burgundy to deliver the following, live on air:
“I’m Ron Burgundy. Go f*ck yourself, San Diego.”
His coworkers freak out. His boss freaks out. SAN DIEGO FREAKS OUT. Ron promptly gets fired, and his life falls to crap.
Though Anchorman is an objectively silly movie, I think this is the only film on the list where the one F-bomb legitimately moves the plot forward. You can’t say the F-word on the news, so Ron gets fired, his rival gets promoted, and every subsequent event is part of the direct fallout from Ron’s F-bomb. Plenty of F-bombs have been dropped either for dramatic or comedic effect (and many for no reason at all), but this one is actually load-bearing for the movie's plot.
Actors: Christina Applegate, Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, Jack Black, + more
Directed by: Adam McKaysee more on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
In Beetlejuice, we’re introduced to a lovely and incredibly wholesome couple (Barbara and Adam Maitland) who are living a perfect life until they just f*cking die. They don’t go to heaven or hell, and instead become bound to their house in ghost form, unable to leave or interact with the living.
When a family of irritating New York yuppies (and their lovable, goth daughter Lydia) moves into said house, the Maitlands do everything they can to try to remove them despite the inability to interact with any of them (except Lydia, who can see and talk to the ghosts because she’s “strange and unusual”). When all of Barbara and Adam’s attempts to scare the new family out of their home fail, they summon Beetlejuice, a ghost who specializes in getting rid of the living.
Also, Adam had a hobby of building miniature models of the town. This might seem like a superfluous thing to bring up, but it matters for the next part.
The Maitlands summon Beetlejuice and realize early on they can't work with him as he's too crude, violent, and chaotic. They have an initial meeting with him, then regret their decision to reach out to him in the first place; they decide to part ways, leaving Beetlejuice behind in an “in-between realm,” which - in this case - takes the form of the miniature model Adam built of the whole town.
Beetlejuice is unhappy about being turned down for this particular job, so he begs the Maitlands to take him back, then eventually yells at them and knocks down one of Adam's model trees. And then he screams:
“Nice f*cking model!”
He punctuates this by grabbing his crotch and squeezing it twice to an accompanying and hilarious “honk” noise. It’s like there’s a horn in his groin that honks when he squeezes it. This movie is weird and perfect.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about why this particular use of the F-Bomb is funny because it’s not sophisticated or particularly difficult to understand. The thing REALLY making this example stick out is, unlike the rest of the items on this list, Beetlejuice has a PG rating. The PG-13 rating did exist when the movie came out, but - for no clear reason - it got the PG rating, and STILL managed to sneak in an F-Bomb. Plus, a double crotch-honk!
Actors: Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Jeffrey Jones, + more
Directed by: Tim Burtonsee more on Beetlejuice
Catch Me if You Can tells the remarkable true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a young runaway-turned-con-man-turned-fake-doctor-turned-fake-lawyer-turned-real(?)-lawyer-turned-international-fugitive-turned-FBI-consultant. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank spends the entire movie avoiding Tom Hanks’s devoted, humorless FBI agent Carl Hanratty.
Eventually, Hanratty catches Frank, and they become friends, and everything ends up being mostly okay because these events took place in the past, and according to Hollywood, doing crimes in the past while being white is almost always fine. He stole millions of dollars, and the government was just like, "What a scamp! Want a job?"
The One F-Bomb:
If Hanratty could be known for only one thing in this movie, it would be his absolute lack of a sense of humor. He mentions a family, but you never see them. He seems to have no friends, and in no way attempts to establish any kind of rapport with his coworkers. Married to his job, he spends Christmas alone, and - for all intents and purposes - is a machine dedicated to catching Frank Abagnale Jr.; that’s it, full stop.
Hanratty's coworkers are routinely unsuccessful when it comes to getting Hanratty to loosen up, despite working closely with him for years. One day, when Hanratty asks if they’d like to hear a joke, they light up. They’d never heard so much as a casual comment on the weather from Hanratty; they’d love to hear a joke. Here’s the joke:
Hanratty: Knock, knock.
Some Guy: Who’s there?
Hanratty: Go f*ck yourselves.
*The coworkers go silent, realizing they should never have tried to break down Hanratty’s boundaries in the first place. Hanratty gives the smallest, but greatest grin in the world.*
This is great for two reasons.
First, it’s another surprise F-bomb in a Spielberg film (I’m starting to think Spielberg might be the low-key master of well-deployed F-bombs).
Second, the agents in the movie might not have realized it at the time, but it's honestly an incredible joke. It was a shaggy dog joke that was years in the making. The setup of the joke wasn't "Knock, knock;" the setup was several years of Hanratty building himself up as a stoic, humorless d*ck. Comedy is all about timing.
Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner, Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Banks, + more
Directed by: Steven Spielbergsee more on Catch Me If You Can