When it comes to brainstorming movie titles, Hollywood tends to fall in love with certain words: Impact. Extreme. Deep. Desperate. But recently writers, producers, and studios have become enamored with putting a word on the front page of their scripts that they know has mass appeal: “Fuck.” Paramount Pictures is currently filming Fuckbuddies, a Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher comedy. The same studio is also developing the spec I Want to Fuck Your Sister, a comedy about a lothario who attempts to defend his sister from guys who are, well, just like him. And last week, a thriller script called Revenge Fuck started making the rounds. The thought is that a screenplay emblazoned with a four-letter word will really stick out in the slush pile — although the gambit is not without its risks. Here are four, one for every letter.
1. All Profanity Is Temporary. Any buzz you might spark from the news that you have green-lit a naughty new movie will be undone when you inevitably have to change the title for release. NPR’s “All Things Considered” recently bleeped out the title of the upcoming Paul Rudd–Steve Carell comedy Dinner With Schmucks; if the media are censoring Yiddish naughtyisms, do you think they’ll stand for English ones? I Want to Fuck Your Sister has already been retitled I Want to ____ Your Sister. (Prudes can pretend the blank stands for “Help”!) And while the title “Fuckbuddies” may have helped get its announcement some press, it’s now likely going to be released as Friends With Benefits. Will people who remembered its original title even recognize it under its new one? Maybe you’re better off just starting off censored rather than waiting it out: The upcoming Jessica Biel indie comedy about a young couple who vow to have sex every day until their wedding to avoid falling into the sexless marriage of their parents was called F***ing Engaged from the onset.
2. Spam filters Won’t Play Ball. While Revenge Fuck, a spec script by writer-director Jessica Sharzer, has been getting some heavy petting from a few major studio producers since it was sent out last week, it had some coitus interruptus trying to find its way into their hands. “I had to take the letter ‘u’ out of the title, because some servers have been seeing it as spam,” explains Gersh Agency agent David Kopple, who disseminated the screenplay. “Intended recipients weren’t getting the script. Even Jessica’s manager wasn’t getting an e-mail I’d sent with the subject line, ‘Revenge Fuck submission list.’ We’re having a breakdown in communication.”
3. Profanity Is Funny, and Only Funny. As everyone who has ever gone novelty T-shirt shopping on a beach knows, swear words are hilarious. So when people see one on a script, they assume it’s a comedy. Unlike all of the above titles, however, Revenge Fuck isn’t one; rather, it’s a thriller in the vein of Fatal Attraction and Unfaithful. “It’s a great title,” said Kopple, “But some people thought it would suggest a comedy, even though we’d told them it was a thriller. We even got a note that said, ‘This would be better as a comedy.’ It’s a stupid note, but it shows that [the F-bomb] has become part of the lexicon of comedy-spec titles.”
4. Ultimately, It’s Fucking Useless. “If anything, it’s a negative,” says one marketing chief about the use of profanity in movie titles. “Because by the time people are ready to see it, your audience has engaged with the title but not in any way moved past it. Kick-Ass got much more attention for its title than for the content. And then you can’t market it.” Plus, when the inevitable name change comes, it only makes you seem weak. The exec cites CBS’s fall William Shatner sitcom; based on the popular Twitter feed “Shit My Dad Says,” the show is now being called Bleep My Dad Says. “So you’ve watered it down, and now you’re cutesy and soft. It’s desperate, and it’s bullshit. I mean, who wants to buy a ‘soft’ fuck?”