Every story has a cast of characters that we follow and watch and come to love… but what about the background characters? The nameless masses who rarely get our attention? This column examines my favorite background characters who deserve a moment in the spotlight.
‘Wolfenstein II – The New Colossus’
A tip-toeing Nazi soldier.
Why He Deserves A Moment In The Spotlight
In the opening of 2017’s, ‘Wolfenstein: The New Colossus,’ the player’s enormous U-boat hideout is boarded by dozens of Nazi commandos intent on killing him and his allies. At one point, the player meets up with Set, a Jewish scientist, who defends both of them with the use of a microwave-lined hallway, which obliterates multiple Nazis as they blindly run through it. But near the end, one soldier realizes that something’s not right about the hallway and stops to consider his next course of action, which is to carefully – and hilariously – tippy-toe through the hallway… only to be blown up like everyone else.
The common Nazi in ‘The New Colossus’ exists (as they rightfully should) to be mowed down by the hundreds. Players expect them to be little more than cannon fodder, which makes moments like these great because it gives individual soldiers a little personality and makes them stand out in a crowd of characters we’re conditioned not to care about… but because this soldier’s still part of the most monstrous regime ever to exist in human history, we laugh at his explosive death instead of mourning him, because f*** Nazis.
NOTE: Although they are quoted and discussed in an academic manner, this article contains both written and video examples of vulgar language and is not safe for work.
Can swearing ever be funny? When played for drama, the Precision F-Strike can easily be one of the more shocking and memorable moments of a film, but when played for comedy, it’s often the funniest, as comedy Legend John Cleese would attest. To quote TvTropes:
“John Cleese… once described this trope in an interview, by explaining that the art of making swear words funny is to avoid using them… until the exact moment in the script when it will be most effective. A comedy with gratuitous swearing ends up desensitizing the audience to the words in question, meaning they lose a lot of their amusement. But if you go for fifty minutes without a single swear word, then suddenly have a character say “shit”, the swear word becomes instantly more amusing because the audience has been conditioned not to expect it up to that point.”
After thinking about this, I’ve come to the realization that Mr. Cleese is correct; after all, some of the most memorable swear words in cinema happen because you don’t expect them. Thus, to celebrate the times where vulgar language can add so much to a scene, I thought it’d be fun to share my amusing uses of swear words in films. Some were done intentionally, others less so, and some are the result of goofy writing or hilarious acting, and some may be the result of mondegreen (a phenomena where a word or phrase is misheard or misunderstood and interpreted as something else), but they are all memorable and good for a chuckle.
Honorable Mention 1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
It’s not a swear word, but if you listen closely at 2:48, you can hear what sounds like Voldermort’s otherworldly voice whispering, ‘Screw you, Harry!’ It pretty much ruins the drama of what is otherwise one of the most dramatic and satisfying moments of the entire Harry Potter saga, but it’s pretty dang funny to imagine that as the most powerful dark wizard alive dissipates into the afterlife, a fragment of his spirit takes one last opportunity to insult Harry, but in a polite, non-vulgar way. How thoughtful!
The climactic chapter of the live action Transformers film series (until two sequels and a quasi-reboot came along) pulled no punches in upping the stakes, with a full-on invasion of Earth by the Decepticons, having the Autobots be grossly outnumbered, and having the Autobot’s most revered leader turn out to be a Decepticon turncoat who will enslave the human race without a second’s thought. It’s only fitting then, that he’s executed at the end without any mercy by his successor and former admirer Optimus Prime.
But while Sentinel’s official last words are an anguished, ‘No, Optimus!’ if you listen closely at the 1:00 mark, you can hear him groan, ‘Oh, fuck!’ before he dies and goes to Transformer hell. There’s just something amusing about the most famous, noble Autobot in Cybertron’s history going out not with a plea or a whimper, but with the sudden realization that he had screwed up so badly that the best way to express his regret was with an all-too human expression.
6. Transformers: The Movie
Yep, there are two entries about profanity in a series about shape-shifting robots that’s targeted for young kids. The first film about these robots from beyond the stars was notable for many things: the death of Optimus Prime, the introduction of Unicron, a robot capable of eating entire worlds, killing off almost all of the original cartoon’s cast, and being the very first time profanity was used in the series.
In this scene, Spike the human and his robot buddy Bumblebee have their moonbase self-destruct in an attempt to destroy Unicron as he eats said base, only for the plan to fail utterly. In response, a flabbergasted Spike calmly asks his robotic companion what the best course of action is to resolve their rather unfortunate predicament. Just kidding; he memorably says, ‘Oh shit, what are we gonna do now?!’
Can you imagine that? Someone swearing in a cartoon for kids? Outside of this example, I can’t think of any other show or movie that’s done so, and not only is it shocking, but funny, too because of how relatable and understandable Spike’s reaction is.
5. Superhero Movie
Released near the end of the era of big-budget movie parodies, ‘Superhero Movie’ is a funny send-up of superhero films released up to that date, the most famous being Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy, but with affectionate jabs towards the X-Men and Fantastic Four as well, complete with juvenile humor throughout. But my pick for the most memorable moment of the film comes at the climax, where the nefarious villain Hourglass – on the verge of gaining immortality – instead meets the Grim Reaper via Dragonfly plopping a crotch-bomb right in front of his face. And how does this dastardly villain, possessing a genius intellect, a fiendish plan, and every advantage imaginable, react? He gives the film’s only use of the word, ‘Fuck.’
Much like Sentinel in ‘Dark of the Moon,’ there’s just something funny at seeing a story’s villain so gobsmacked or horrified that they have to resort to cursing, and ‘Superhero Movie’ does it well.
4. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The Star Wars movies may pack stylized violence galore, but are by and large G-rated when it comes to talking… except in 1987’s, Return of the Jedi, where, when watching a super star destroyer plunge towards the second Death Star, you can hear someone on Admiral Ackbar’s flagship yell, ‘Die, dickheads!’ at 0:38.
For years, Star Wars fans have been wondering if we’re really hearing someone swear, or just something that sounds like it. Personally, I like to think that it is real, as it’s perfectly reasonable that someone fighting against an evil empire would celebrate and let loose with the strongest insult they could think of at realizing that said empire is finally about to be destroyed after decades of terror, suffering, and misery. Who among us wouldn’t do the same?
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In the pantheon of major Hollywood blockbusters, New Line Cinema’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies are quite odd when compared to their peers: Aside from the decapitations, arms getting lopped off, armies being slaughtered by the thousands, and Sean Bean being turned into a pincushion, all six films are surprisingly tame, with no sex and no vulgar language that we can understand (aside from untranslated dwarvish). Much fun has been poked at this phenomena over the years, but as it turns out, there is exactly one audible curse word in the saga, one that’s hidden very well.
In the opening prologue of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Smaug the dragon attacks the city of Dale, burning it to the ground and inflicting death and destruction beyond comprehension. Naturally, it makes sense that people would be scared out of their minds at having their peaceful life destroyed in mere minutes, and nowhere is that more audible than someone yelling, “Oh God, what the fuck?!” at 1:59 in the clip above.
What I love about this swear is that it’s the perfect embodiment of John Cleese’s description of funny swears: After three movies of people, elves, and dwarves talking in G-rated language, having a ‘fuck!’ come out of nowhere is darkly hilarious, and a very understandable reaction to a dragon destroying everything you know and love. But even this vulgar word serves a purpose, as it helps to humanize the people of Dale; It’s one thing to see fictional characters panic, but when they let lose with curses and expletives that we all use from time to time, it makes them more human and shows that they feel the anger, frustration, and rage that we all do in a world that sucks at times.
2. The Wicker Man
2006’s ‘The Wicker Man’ quickly became a laughing stock as one of the cherished, ‘So bad it’s good’ films of the decade, even being described as the year’s best comedy, and all of that is due to the infinitely-entertaining Nicholas Cage, who does everything from running around and punching old women in a bear suit, to demanding how something got burned, and yelling about bees. But for my money, the film’s most hilarious moment is him yelling about how his death isn’t going to bring back the islander’s honey. It’s a line that – when taken out of context – is THE definition of ‘so stupid, it’s awesome,’ and you wonder how Mr. Cage managed to yell it without cracking up. I have no idea how, but I’m so glad he did it.
1. Epic Movie
What would happen if Superman suddenly no longer had bulletproof skin? He’d be in for a world of hurt, as demonstrated brilliantly in ‘Epic Movie.’
‘Epic Movie,’ despite it’s disastrous reception by audiences and critics alike, and it’s subpar performance as a spoof film, does have one truly brilliant scene: a parody of the sequence from ‘Superman Returns’ where Superman gets shot in the eye. But here, we see what would happen if the Man of Steel didn’t have indestructible eyeballs.
Everything about this scene is great: the music is appropriately bombastic, the build up is flawless, the effects of a slow-motion bullet are well done for a low-budget parody… and then the bullet sinks into Superman’s eyeball with a cartoonish squishing sound, and he shrieks in absolute agony, topped off with a very understandable shriek of how he’s been shot in the fucking eye. While the film may not be the best example of a parody, this scene is absolute gold, and my favorite use of the word ‘fuck’ in any film.