When did movies regularly start to have bad language in them?

And what was considered bad language in movies before this (whenever it was)?

The various censors and regulators (the Movie Code, the Legion of Decency (for Catholics), the state censors) lost most of their power in the 1950s. By the 1960s, filmmakers started using more nudity, violence, and “bad” language. Foreign films led the way because they were shown mostly in small, specialized theaters to audiences who weren’t about to complain. Hollywood saw this and wanted to follow. It didn’t happen overnight, and not all in one movie. It was something here and something there and a bit of something over yonder until by the 70s most of the taboos were broken. The MPAA rating system started in 1968.

I’m not sure what you mean when you ask what was considered “bad” before this. Damn obviously was, because there was such a fuss when Rhett Butler says, “Frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn” in Gone With the Wind in 1939. Do you mean what euphemisms were used instead?

I can tell you that MAS*H (1970) is reportedly the first major studio film to use the word “fuck.”

From it’s Wikipedia entry:

“In his director’s commentary on the DVD release, Altman says that MASH was the first major studio film to use the word ‘fuck’ in its dialogue. The word is spoken during the football game near the end of the film by ‘The Painless Pole’ when he says to an opposing football player, ‘All right, Bud, this time your fucking head is coming right off!’ The actor, John Schuck, has said in several interviews that Altman encouraged ad-libbing, and that particular statement made it into the film without a second thought. Interestingly, the offending word was not censored during a late-night broadcast of the film on ABC in 1985; subsequent broadcasts of the film on network television have the word removed altogether.”

I was going to say, “after Mel Brooks hit his stride but before Richard Pryor,” which would be the 70’s.

Not quite bad language, but PSYCHO (1960) was the first movie to actually show a toilet. (A clue was torn up and flushed.)

Ironically, another “war film”, but completely different tone from MASH, that featured lots of bad language that come out around the same time is “Patton”. In fact, when it was shown on network TV in late 1972 (really big things back then, when top movies would first be broadcast on network TV), much was made on how it was considered vital to the portrayal of Old Blood and Guts to allow most of the naughty words in (although they edited out the opening monologue when he mentions “shoveling shit
in Louisiana”.

Ironically another conservative icon who pushed the envelope was John Wayne, facing off against Robert Duvall in “True Grit”. Wayne later sheepishly said that in those circumstances, he couldn’t say “Fill your hand, you illegitimate so and so”. And I don’t think The Duke used much, if any, profanity in subsequent films.

Maybe* a *toilet. But in 1958 No Time for Sergeantshad a whole row of them.

Wasn’t there one shown in The Crowd (1928)? But that’s a whole other thread . . .

Forgot! There was lots and lots of foul language in What Price Glory? (1926) for lip-readers to enjoy.

Just an anecdote, but when I was about 13 my mother wouldn’t let me go see a movie because it was dirty. The movie was ‘The Moon is Blue’ and the (only) dirty word was ‘virgin’.

Interestingly, I didn’t see that movie for many years after that and it was hilarious. Sorry I didn’t see it then.


Missed the edit window. I should have said that that dirty movie was out in about 1953 or 1954.


I remember that TV premier of Patton very well. It was a big event.

This is later on than the OP is asking about, but that reminds me of watching A Bridge Too Far on both HBO and regular network TV at the same time in the late 1970s. Maybe 1980. Thanks to cable, network premiers of big movies like that were waning, but for some reason they showed this one in the same month that HBO was. There’s a scene where I think it’s Elliot Gould drives up to a bridge he hopes is still intact. It is still intact. He stops and lets out a sigh of relief. Then it blows up right in front of him. HBO of course kept his original reaction of “Shit! Fuck! Motherfucker!” etc, a long stream of obscenities. Watching the network version, my roommate and I were rolling with laughter as he went: “Oh my! Gosh! Golly! Darn it!”

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) springs to mind. It was a courtroom drama about a rape case. Besides clinical terms, I remember hearing “slut.”

Of course, before 1934 there were some too. You can listen for some "son of a bitch"es and "like hell"s in Hell’s Angels, and at the end of this Flip the Frogcartoon from the early 1930s.

Everyone is assuming that the OP is referring to Hollywood movies, because not one of the answers addresses any movies not made or distributed in America. Not to say I have authoritative answers, but I find the assumptions interesting.

True, but it must be pointed out people didn’t actually have to go potty until after 1995.

Lots of really early movies were pretty filthy, that’s why they had the Hays Code.


Me too. I’ve always heard the British film I’ll Never Forget What’s’Isname (1967) was the first to have the word “fuck” in it. It was a fairly big release, starring Orson Welles, Oliver Reed, and Marianne Faithfull, who got to say the word.

“Regularly” as per the OP is difficult to assess, but that kind of language got more and more common from that point on.

Meanwhile in America, as late as 1966, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf had to get special exemption from the Production Code for using such laughable phrases as “hump the hostess.”

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969) was the first movie I recall hearing the word shit in.

Gone with the Wind (1939) said “damn.” But I get what the OP means. At some point in the 1960s, profanity became common. Maybe it became common again, coming back around from the pre-Hays Code, but I think that’s what he means.

Regarding that, a little googling shows me that 1966 seems to have been a watershed year for profanity and explicit sexual content in movie dialogue, with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opening the floodgate.

In John Wayne’s The Green Berets (1968), the sergeant says “Bastards!” when Peterson is killed by a VC booby trap.

I saw lots of movies in 1968 that had profanity. Again, it gets back to 1966.