×

Expletive-laden titles hot

But advertisers often skittish to get involved

Fox Searchlight’s announcement last week that it had nabbed Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’ comedy pitch “Motherf***er” represents the latest in a string of expletive-laden titles to make their way into development.

In 2008, Paramount bought the rights to “I Wanna F**k Your Sister” from scribe Melissa Stack, and last year Par also nabbed Lewis Meriweather’s blacklisted screenplay “F**kbuddies.”

“I think writers want their movies to be original and edgy,” one producer said of the trend toward startling titles. “It’s a way for them to make a strong first impression.”

But while the racy titles are giving agents and creatives a good laugh, a project containing the F-word in the title is nearly impossible to market, or to get past the MPAA. (In each of these cases, the original titles spelled out the words completely. But even the use of asterisks would make such titles no-no’s.)

“The (MPAA’s) Title Registration Bureau requires all studios to register titles, and we will not register any film that contains offensive language in the title,” according to an MPAA spokesman. Would the replacement of key letters with an asterisk make a difference? “Any title where stand-in symbols can be interpreted as meaning something obscene, profane or salacious would be denied registration,” the spokesman added.

Popular on Variety

Wein, who co-wrote “Motherf***er,” said he and writing partner Lister-Jones “haven’t discussed the realities of the title yet with Searchlight” but conceded the title will likely get a makeover. “I find it ironic (though) that so much violence and graphic imagery finds its way into mainstream movies yet foul language and sex are near-sacrilege,” Wein said.

But in truth, it’s not just a matter of content, but of advertising and marketing.

In 2008, when the Weinstein Co. and Kevin Smith released “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” some newspapers and TV channels refused to advertise the film because of the word “porno.”

The R-rated comedy certainly wasn’t a “porno” and didn’t depict more than other R-rated fare, but Philadelphia deputy mayor Rina Cutler didn’t seem to care, pulling the advertisement from every bus in the region; meanwhile, Salt Lake City banned the film altogether.

“?’Zack and Miri’ was about as pornographic as ‘The Bachelorette,’?” one producer laughed. “But the most important thing is getting the message out there, and those brick walls definitely hurt (‘Zack and Miri’).”

The Weinstein Co. tried altering billboards and trailers, and even created ads poking fun at the controversy. But “Zack and Miri” grossed just $10 million during its opening weekend.

Television may be going further than the movie biz when it comes to edgier titles, as evident from the new CBS comedy “$#*! My Dad Says.” The sitcom, which CBS refers to as “?’Bleep’ My Dad Says,” stars William Shatner and is based on Justin Halpern’s Twitter account. CBS maintains advertising for the show hasn’t been affected.

“I wish they would call it ‘shit,’?” Shatner said at last month’s TCA panel. “The word is all around us. It isn’t a terrible term. It’s a natural function. Why are we pussyfooting?”

So what about the film biz?

Kirby Dick, the director behind ratings-exploration doc “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” said yes. “Studios are much better at marketing movies than making good movies,” Dick said, “so I’m sure they’ll find a way.”

“It’s ultimately up to the studios to compel the Registration Bureau to be more lenient” for movie titles, he added. “The much more important issue is that the MPAA is doing a very bad job at providing information to parents.”

In addition to “Motherf***er, Searchlight is in pre-production on “The F Word,” starring Casey Affleck (which, like the rest of the “cursed” projects, is a romantic comedy).

“F**kbuddies,” meanwhile, stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher and has already wrapped filming, though Paramount and the Montecito Picture Co. are still trying to agree upon a market-friendly title.

“I doubt Hollywood will ever allow expletives of this nature to be used in titles,” Wein said of the fad, “But I hope to be proved wrong.”

Until then, don’t expect to see the F-word on billboards. That is, unless you’re a clever little Focker.

More Film

  • Warner Bros. Pictures trailer launch event

    Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jon M. Chu Tease 'In the Heights' Movie

    Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical. “I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy [...]

  • One for the Road

    Wong Kar-wai to Produce 'Bad Genius' Director’s 'One For The Road'

    Wong Kar-wai is producing “One For The Road,” a new film that reunites the director and star of 2017 Thai hit “Bad Genius.” Production in New York and Thailand will begin by the end of the year. The film is a buddy drama and a road movie that sees two old friends who have been [...]

  • Jesse Eisenberg

    Film News Roundup: Jesse Eisenberg to Star in Indie Thriller 'Wild Indian' (EXCLUSIVE)

    In today’s film news roundup, Jesse Eisenberg is starring and exec producing “Wild Indian”; Jason Bateman is directing “Shut In”; “Saturday Night Live” veteran Paula Pell is honored; and the Palm Springs Film Festival sets its opening and closing films. CASTING Jesse Eisenberg is starring in and executive producing the independent thriller “Wild Indian,” Variety [...]

  • disney d23

    Top 19 Media Trends of 2019: Disney's Box Office Dominance

    The domestic box office market share over the last 12 years provides a sobering reminder of how important franchises are to studio performance, especially for Disney. Although the 2019 box office looks to be falling short of the previous year’s total, Disney is ending the decade on the highest possible note, becoming the first studio ever [...]

  • Pierce Brosnan Cinderella

    Pierce Brosnan to Play the King in Camila Cabello's 'Cinderella'

    Pierce Brosnan will play the king opposite Camila Cabello in writer-director Kay Cannon’s new telling of “Cinderella” for Sony Pictures. Billy Porter, Idina Menzel and Nicholas Galitzine are also confirmed to star in the film, which will be released in theaters Feb. 5, 2021. Cabello, a multi-platinum selling and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter, will be integrally involved [...]

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega: 'Star Wars' Fandom Conflict Is 'The Most Stupid Thing in the World'

    Unlike his “Star Wars” compatriots Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac, John Boyega enjoys a robust presence on social media, with nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter and over 1.6 million followers on Instagram. He regularly engages with fans, and posts inside looks at his life inside the “Star Wars” media maelstrom. It’s meant that Boyega [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II

    'Watchmen' Star Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Says He Would Consider Playing Superman

    Those who are caught up on “Watchmen” know Yahya Abdul-Mateen II knows how to strike the balance between understated and omnipotent. He’s also no stranger to playing superheroes, as Aquaman’s nemesis Black Manta in the DC Universe. But asked whether he would consider taking on another DC Extended Universe role — Superman — Abdul-Mateen told [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content