Visual swears in film

We’ve looked at swearing in films before, in the obvious sense where it occurs on the audio track. But sometimes films offer visual swears, a few examples of which are presented below. Visual swears may be remarked on or alluded to in the dialogue, or they may not; they may be props, used for colour and characterisation, or they may serve comedic aims, or some combination of the above.

Here’s one that contributes to both contextual humour and characterisation: Rooney Mara’s delightful FUCK YOU YOU FUCKING FUCK T-shirt in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) (click images to enlarge):

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011 - Rooney Mara T-shirt - Fuck you you fucking fuck s

Blade II (2002), directed with comic-book gusto by Guillermo del Toro, features a seedy joint called FUCKINGHAM PALACE, described in David Goyer’s script as a ‘shit-hole porno emporium offering the latest in bagged-for your-pleasure Euro-raunch’. The name appears for only a few frames (hence the blurred figure in the foreground of this DVD freeze-frame), so its FUCK is helpfully lit up lest viewers miss the gag:

blade 2 - fuckingham palace

Finally, and most elaborately, there is Michael Davis’s gleefully offensive, gun-obsessed Shoot ’Em Up (2007). On a rooftop near the end of a chase sequence we see a large and improbably positioned neon sign for FAULK TRUCK & TOOL. This image from behind-the-scenes footage shows it in full:

shoot em up - fuk u full, from making of

No-nonsense anti-hero Clive Owen, in a shoot-out with his nemesis Paul Giamatti and his goons, selectively shoots the sign’s letters to leave FUK U (initially framed to obscure the TOOL):

shoot em up - fuk u

His attendant quip, like Mara’s T-shirt above, gets straight to the point:

shoot em up - clive owen - fuck you, ya fuckin fuckers

Giamatti, foiled and frustrated by Owen’s subsequent escape, shoots the L from TOOL in reply:

shoot 'em up - paul giamatti - fuk u too

You can watch the scene in full here. It’s NSFW, obviously, and also Owen is carrying a (fake) baby, which might bother some viewers:

Let us know of any other examples you can think of. Images get bonus points.


A classic slogan on this T-shirt worn by an extra in the 1985 thriller Runaway Train:

16 thoughts on “Visual swears in film

  1. CGHill November 8, 2015 / 7:28 pm

    May as well admit it: I never even noticed that on Rooney Mara’s shirt.


    • Stan Carey November 9, 2015 / 8:49 am

      The contrast is low, so the text doesn’t exactly leap out. It’s a nice touch, though.


  2. Stuart Brown November 8, 2015 / 7:40 pm

    The obvious example which springs to mind in the scene in one of the Austin Powers films (they all blur into one) where the protagonists suddenly turn out to speak fluent Japanese. Subtitles are, of course, provided for the viewer; but it just so happens that the black-and-white furnishings and scenery render certain letters invisible, with the kind of joyfully and shamelessly crass consequences that only Myers can get away with.


    • Stan Carey November 9, 2015 / 8:57 am

      Thanks for the example, Stuart. I had only a vague recollection of that scene, not having watched the Austin Powers films since their release. (Maybe you haven’t either but have better powers of recall.) Someone has helpfully uploaded it to YouTube; it is gleefully childish but quite inventive too:


      • Spank The Monkey November 9, 2015 / 10:20 am

        Sadly, it’s not on YouTube any more, but the TV edit of that scene is utterly delightful. “Please eat some Dungeness crab” is the key line.


      • Stan Carey November 9, 2015 / 11:07 am

        Ach, that’s a pity. It sounds great though.


    • Stan Carey November 10, 2015 / 6:36 pm

      Excellent. It’s just a pity the posts aren’t tagged or categorised in more detail so that all the sweary ones can be seen together.


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