Last week, respected news outlets across the country reported some historic cinema news: The Wolf of Wall Street, they announced, was the sweariest movie in Hollywood history, with a record 506 F-words. Since the dawn of the new year, the story, which picked up traction after appearing in Variety, has appeared seemingly everywhere, from Time, Rolling Stone, USA Today, the Guardian, and Fox News to, yesterday, the Today show.
But there’s a problem with all these stories: The only source they cite is Wikipedia. That’s all Variety cited, and the news seemed to spread even more quickly after other outlets began to credit it to the respected industry magazine. As for where Wikipedia got its count, it’s not entirely clear. According to the International Business Times, the origin of the 506 number was a blog post on WeGotThisCovered.com written by Matt Joseph. But Joseph doesn’t know where he found the number: “I can’t remember which site I found it on, to be honest,” he wrote in an email to IBTimes. “I just stumbled across it while reading about the film on the Web.” Joseph, it seems, is not alone. The actual source, looking back through the history of the Wikipedia page, seems to be a Dec. 25 ScreenIt.com review (subscription only), which says that the movie contains “at least 506 ‘f’ words.”
But is ScreenIt.com—a source not frequently cited by the media—right? After all, up until Dec. 27, Wikipedia had cited another movie-reviews-for-parents site, Kids-in-Mind.com, listing only 414.
As journalists, there was only one way for us to confirm this information. Slate would have to count all these F-words.
It wasn’t easy. As anyone who’s seen Wolf of Wall Street knows, there’s a lot of overlapping dialogue (especially on the trading floor), a lot of slurred speech (fueled by Quaaludes), and there are scenes where people say things like (I’m not making this up) “fuckity fuck fuck.” It can be a little hard to keep up.
Despite these challenges, Slate’s own tally confirms that Wolf is every bit as profane as it’s made out to be. In fact, it might be more profane: I counted a whopping 544 F-bombs, 38 more than even Wikipedia had listed.
One note on methodology: My basic approach was to count any instance of the word fuck or its variations that could not appear in a G-rated film. That meant counting one each for, for example, “Captain fucking Ahab,” “Moby fucking Dicks,” and “Oompa-fuckin’-Loompas,” and three total for the sentence “Did the Emperor of Fucksville come down from fucking Fucksville?” Instances where the word was mouthed were also counted (though I didn’t count middle fingers on their own), as were instances when the word was clearly audible in the background. When it was chanted (“Fuck you,” goes one chant from the Stratton Oakmont traders), I counted it once for each collective utterance, as best as I could keep track.
Despite my best efforts, I can’t promise that the tally is 100-percent accurate. Another colleague who went independently counted substantially fewer (but still plenty more than the next title listed on Wikipedia). And it’s also worth noting that the other two counts weren’t necessarily wrong: Kids-in-Mind.com, in its original article, said that the movie contained “over 414 F-words,” which it does, while Screen-It.com counted “at least 506” (emphasis mine). We probably won’t have a conclusive count until the movie is out on DVD, but I’m certain it will be in the ballpark of 500—more than enough to top the next film on Wikipedia’s list (Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, with 435).
The essential question remains, of course: Does Wolf of Wall Street really contain the most F-words of any narrative film? (Wikipedia lists the documentary Fuck at No. 1, followed by Wolf of Wall Street.) I’m sure it’s up there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s No. 1 among major Hollywood features. But sites like Variety should exercise caution before rushing to any conclusions. After all, Wikipedia’s list itself is fairly anecdotal, and includes tallies only for films whose curses people thought to count. And Wikipedia has suspiciously ignored some notable films: The producers of 2008’s Gutterballs, for example, claim that the film has “over 625 instances” of the word fuck. The Wikipedia page’s history shows that it has recently been deleted from the page twice, by the same editor (“Edsull12”), without explanation.
Still, Gutterballs, a low-budget Candian rape-and-revenge picture whose only real notoriety (as far as I can tell) is its F-word count, isn’t exactly The Wolf of Wall Street. If you can surprise me by naming a major Hollywood release with more F-words—and can cite a reliable source—please let me know.
How Accurate Is Wolf of Wall Street?