When the respected actor Firmin Gémier uttered the first word of Ubu Roi at the play’s premiere in December 1896, the audience was so appalled that it took fifteen minutes for order – and the play – to resume.
It wasn’t even a real word. The first line of Alfred Jarry’s riot-inducing play is “merdre!” - a bastardization of the French word “merde,” meaning shit. (“Merdre!” is sometimes translated as “Pshitt!”.) By the end of the night, the audience would be rioting in the stalls.
Today’s audiences aren’t so easily unsettled. Indeed, today’s more sophisticated filmmakers have learned from Jarry that a well-placed swear can set the tone and even play a structural role in their movies. Alexander Payne’s Sideways begins and ends with a knock on the door and a “fuck” – Paul Giamatti opens the film by cursing at an unwelcome visitor, while the ending “fuck” is implied to happen after Giamatti arrives at his crush’s door in a spirit of sexual optimism. In Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hugh Grant’s opening cascade of “fucks” alerts us to the very chaotic and very relatable truth beneath the veneer of high society frocks and frolics.
Still, some actors’ dialogue tends to be more… structural… than others. The star names with more **** in their scripts fall into two camps: those who regularly play ‘that kind of role’ and those who get cast as one or two outrageously sweary characters across their careers.
Crossword-Solver counted up the “fucks,” “shits,” and “hells” said by each character in every feature film screenplay publicly available on the main online script databases. We cross-referenced the character names with the actors who played them and ranked the 25 actors who have used each word the most across their careers.
It was John Schuck who said the first “fuck.” And it wasn’t in the script. The M*A*S*H (1970) actor improvised the line to provoke another actor (in character) on set and was tackled to the ground in the act of using the f-word before anyone else did in a major U.S. studio film. The two actors who’ve used it the most have both been active since the 1960s but gave their total f-bomb count a boost with a deuce of 1990s gangster flicks.
Joe Pesci utters the most “fucks” in a single film, with his 241 as Nicky Santoro in Casino (1995) supplementing the 31 he’s added up across other performances. Al Pacino did the same on a smaller scale with Donnie Brasco. But it’s not just the mob who are at it: Leonardo DiCaprio’s 96 “fucks” as stockbroker Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street contribute to a career total of 144 f-words. That makes Leo number five in the f-bomb charts – while The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) holds the Guinness World Record for the most swearing in a single film.
Cop series The Wire (2002-2008) set a new bar for sweary cops with its infamous five-minute, 38-“fuck”crime scene investigation. And it was the show’s corrupt state senator Clay Davis’s trademark elongated “shiiiiiits” that made the most memorable use of ‘figure of authority cussing.’ But on the big screen, Denzel Washington is “King Kong” of the bad boys with badges, uttering the s-word 56 times as Detective Alonzo Harris in Training Day (2001). He has a career total of 84 “shits,” more than any other actor.
Scott Wilson seems to have said the first “shit” in a mainstream movie in 1967’s In Cold Blood, with Elizabeth Taylor a perhaps unlikely first lady of “shit” in the following year’s Boom!. Female actors are scarce on our most-sweary list, with Julia Roberts standing alone in both the “shit” and “hell” charts thanks to her title role as Erin Brockovich (2000). There’s no clause for swearing in the Bechdel Test, but perhaps there should be: Rule 4. The movie features at least one female character who curses like a sailor.
There’s a quaintness, too, to the characters played by Al Pacino and Leonardo DiCaprio in the roles that helped them become the two actors who’ve said “hell” the most in movies. Those are inspiring football coach Tony D'Amato (Any Given Sunday, 1999) and Howard Hughes (The Aviator, 2004), respectively.
Sure, cursing isn’t big, and it isn’t clever. But it is dramatically effective. And sometimes it takes a well-placed f-bomb to make an important point. In the interactive table below, you can sort through our full data to identify the actors who’ve tried to make their point as bluntly as possible.
As a child being told off for profanity, could you ever have imagined being paid a fortune to say naughty words to millions of people from your giant face on a screen? Yet well-crafted, well-delivered cursing is an artform: Veep and In The Loop screenwriter Armando Ianucci hires a specialist swearing consultant to pep up his insults, and Samuel L. Jackson even gives tips on it, reminding us that, with cursing, it isn’t always what you say but the way that you say it. “Quiet cursing is pretty frightening to people,” says Jackson. “They know, "Oh my God, he's seething. This person's so angry they can't raise their voice to me."
To find out which actors have said “fuck,” “shit,” and “hell” the most in movies, we pulled all publicly available movie scripts (almost 3,000 in total) from the following websites: IMSDb, Dailyscript, Awesomefilm, Scriptsavanat, Screenplays-Online, Scripts For You, Script Slug, Actor Point, and Script PDF. After parsing these scripts to extract the specific dialogue for all characters in each movie, we cross-referenced character names with each film’s IMDb page to match the character with the actor.
Having isolated all dialogue for each actor in our dataset, we were able to determine their “fuck,” “shit,” and “hell” count. We then ranked these actors for each respective swear word.
Note: our database of movie scripts is not representative of the entire history of cinema. Instead, it represents the majority of the publicly available scripts online, which are biased towards culturally popular movies and are unlikely to include each actor’s full filmography (low-budget, low-viewership movies are unlikely to have easily accessible scripts).