Almost since the second Tony Stark finished saying “I am Iron Man,” Marvel fans have wondered when or if they would see an R-rated release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For more than a decade, Disney has dashed their hopes. Some speculated that the MCU’s latest installment, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, would be the one to break the parental-rating barrier, but when the verdict was announced, the Motion Picture Association handed down the same answer as always: PG-13. Deadpool 3 seems set to snap that streak, but there’s one piece of adult-oriented content that Disney could include in any MCU movie without triggering an R rating, suppressing its performance at the box office, or totally trashing the Mouse House’s family-friendly rep. It’s a phenomenon missing from every MCU entry: the infamous PG-13-sanctioned, single-use F-bomb.
The PG-13 F-bomb is a time-honored tradition, a single-shot pistol of profanity used to punctuate the serious, the ridiculous, and everything in between. It’s also a get-out-of-R-free pass that the MCU and Disney have refused to cash in (though Fox’s X-Men movies never hesitated to). Granted, they’ve flirted with “fuck.” There are bleeped F-bombs in an Iron Man deleted scene and in Iron Man 2. There are several instances of a cut-off “Oh shi—” or a “What the fu—” in MCU films ranging from The Incredible Hulk to Spider-Man: Far From Home. There’s the time Baby Groot said “Welcome to the freakin’ Guardians of the Galaxy,” only he didn’t use frickin’. And then there are the times when an MCU movie creator has thought about trying to work blue but opted not to push the envelope. But despite those semi-close calls, the Mouse has never let us hear the full, uncensored force of a satisfying “fuck” in any MCU entry.
Fans are getting so impatient for the first “fuck” to fly that they’re imagining one in Moon Knight that probably doesn’t exist. So as a thought experiment—let’s call it What F…?—I’ve painstakingly selected the ideal moment in each MCU movie for a character to use that one-time F-bomb allowance to spice up the proceedings with a well-timed swear word. Let’s go film by film in chronological release order. Warning: Spoilers and (obviously) further profanity ahead.
Iron Man (2008)
One of the most hilarious examples of the electric chemistry between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts is the scene in which Tony summons Potts to help replace the palladium core buried beneath his very real and not at all prosthetic chest. What results is a game of human “Operation,” now with a dash of profanity.
Potts: Oh, there’s pus!
Stark: It’s not pus, it’s an inorganic plasmic discharge from the device. It’s not from my body. … Now the copper wire. You got it?
Potts: I got it.
Stark: OK, now don’t let it—[Buzz] gaahhhhh, fuck!—touch the outside!
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
I must bestow the honor on one of the most amusing displays of violence the MCU has ever given us, which arrives amid one of the most baffling standoffs in cinematic history. When the superpowered agent Blonsky faces off against the Hulk on a college campus, Blonsky dips and dodges the Hulk’s swings, taunting him with his skill. Thunderbolt Ross yells in Blonsky’s earpiece to fall back, but instead he takes his earpiece out, stares the Hulk down, and (in my version) says, “Is that all you fucking got?”
The Hulk then punts him no less than 200 yards, and his corpse goes flying into a tree, bones ground to dust. Priceless, with or without an F-bomb. I’m just having fun here.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
I would simply keep the great Garry Shandling’s delivery of “Fuck you, buddy” to Tony Stark in the Senate hearing. Perfect placement. No notes. Except this one: If the Blip can be undone, so can the bleep.
Although giving the check-cashing Anthony Hopkins profanity rights would be a real treat, injecting an F-bomb into his Shakespearean-sounding dialogue would seem strange. Here’s an alternative, from the scene when Agent Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. colleagues encounter the Destroyer touching down on Earth by way of the Bifrost.
“Is that one of Stark’s?” asks an agent.
“I don’t know. That guy never fucking tells me anything,” an exasperated Coulson answers.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
After Arnim Zola is captured, he’s interrogated by Chester Phillips. Zola reveals the Red Skull’s plan for world domination by attacking all the major cities of the world. This exchange ensues:
Phillips: You do realize that’s nuts, don’t you?
Zola: The sanity of the plan is of no consequence.
Phillips: Why is that?
Zola: Because he can fucking do it!
The Avengers (2012)
In the immediate aftermath of Tony Stark’s sacrifice play, the invincible Iron Man plummets to the New York City streets, and the Hulk miraculously catches him. As Stark is laid carefully on the pavement for his fellow Avengers to see, a silence comes over our heroes, who presume Stark dead, until the Hulk lets out a roar. Tony wakes up with a jolt and yells, “Ah, fuck!”
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Without question, the funniest and most jarring reveal of Iron Man’s third installment is the introduction of burnt-out cockney thespian Trevor Slattery as the Mandarin’s public persona. As a gun-toting Tony Stark hides in Trevor’s bedroom, he looks for an opportune moment to get his attention, and some answers.
Slattery: Did you know that fortune cookies aren’t even Chinese? They’re made by Americans, based on a Japanese recipe …
Slattery: Oh, fuck. Bloody hell.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
One could argue that nobody in Thor: The Dark World suffered more than Darcy’s intern, Ian. He already had to lug around scientific equipment and do Darcy’s grunt work without pay, and now I’m adding an HR violation in the form of Darcy’s profane putdown as the ominous convergence begins and flocks of birds fly in unrecognizable patterns.
Darcy: Birds? Birds are happening?
Ian: They’re starlings. It’s called murmuration. My dad used to take me bird-watching as a kid.
Darcy: Fucking nerd.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Giving our F-bomb to Cap here feels more than right. S.H.I.E.L.D. labeling him a traitor forced him onto the wrong side of the law. At the culmination of the iconic elevator fight scene in which he decimates a dozen and a half Hydra agents, Agent Rumlow, out of breath and the last man standing, attempts to reassure Cap, saying, “Whoa, big guy. I just want you to know, Cap, this isn’t personal!”
Cap then quickly dispatches him, knocking him out and adding to the pile.
“It kinda fucking feels personal,” Cap could say.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
You’d think that injecting an F-bomb into a James Gunn romp would be an easy task, given the prolific profanity of his R-rated The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. But there are almost too many places to potentially place just one in his Guardians of the Galaxy films. A possibility that keeps coming back to me is an action-scene flourish during the assault on the prison. Groot is being sprayed with bullets, Peter Quill is negotiating for a prosthetic leg, Drax is pummeling prison guards, and Rocket Raccoon needs a weapon. Upon dispatching one of the last guards in sight, Drax gets Rocket’s attention by calling, “Creepy little beast!” Drax then tosses a machine gun in slow motion to Rocket, who catches it perfectly. He cocks it with delight and whispers, “Oh, fuck yeah!” as he unloads on the drones and prison guards.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
The infamous “Language” gag that runs throughout the film is the perfect opportunity for Cap to subvert the punch line and deliver the ultimate naughty word. The best place would be as Cap is fighting Ultron atop a moving semi, and the vibranium villain is pummeling him, leaving him clinging to a door. He speaks to Clint Barton on his earpiece:
Cap: Well, he’s definitely unhappy. I’m gonna try and keep him that way.
Clint: You’re not a match for him, Cap.
Cap: Fuck you, Barton.
In the wake of this withering reply, Barton looks stunned and says nothing.
One of my favorite moments of delicious and unnecessary villainy in the MCU comes when Darren Cross attempts to work out the kinks of the shrinking technology he appropriated from Hank Pym. We join the scene in a corporate bathroom as Cross confronts a subordinate named Frank.
Cross: The laws of nature transcend the laws of man. And I’ve transcended the laws of nature.
Frank: Darren, I don’t think you understand—
[Darren zaps Frank, turning him into goo. He then wipes him up with a napkin and flushes it down the toilet.]
Cross: Fuck you, Frank.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The tension between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark is at the heart of this story, and while there are a handful of fun quips between the two that could use a lone F-bomb, I’m picking a scene in which Tony appeals to Cap’s reason to get him to sign the Sokovia Accords. It seems that Tony might almost be getting through to Steve until he finds out that Tony is holding Wanda Maximoff under duress at the Avengers compound, which causes Stark’s frustration to mount:
Rogers: Protection. Is that how you see this? This is protection? It’s internment, Tony.
Stark: She’s not a U.S. citizen, and they don’t grant visas to weapons of mass destruction.
Rogers: She’s a kid!
Stark: Gimme a fucking break! I’m doing what needs to be done. To stave off something worse.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Easily the most visually dazzling moment in this magic-fueled adventure is the scene when Stephen Strange finally meets the Ancient One on his quest to regain full control of his hands and become the brilliant surgeon he once was. Upon finding out that her methods are rooted in faith and belief rather than science, he accosts her. Then the Ancient One touches his chest, separates his astral form from his physical form, and quickly brings them back together.
Strange: What did you just do to me?
Ancient One: I pushed your astral form out of your physical form.
Strange: What the fuck is in that tea?
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
Sometimes an unexpected location for an F-bomb makes the best choice. In this case, I’m gravitating toward the early space chase between the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Sovereign. Cheated by Quill and Rocket, the Sovereign are in hot pursuit, sending dozens of remote-piloted drone ships after the Guardians. The Guardians dispatch all but one drone, operated by lowly pilot Zylak. His fellow Sovereign watch him work, cheering him on. But as Drax blows up the last of their ships, one snarky Sovereign quips: “Fuck you, Zylak.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
I know we have an infamous “What the f—” that cuts off Aunt May off right before the credits roll, but rather than allowing that F-bomb to finish flying, I’d like to offer an alternative more embedded within the film. It comes during a remote call from Tony Stark, who’s attending an Indian wedding, that can highlight his frustration with our young hero in training.
Stark: Thank God this place has WiFi or you would be toast right now. Thank Ganesh while you’re at it. Look, forget the flying vulture guy, please!
Stark: Because I fucking said so! (Sorry, I’m talking to a teenager.)
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Flustered Loki is one of the funniest sights the MCU offers. After the conclusion of Thor’s meeting with Doctor Strange, Thor remembers that Strange is keeping the god of mischief in a pocket dimension in which he’s infinitely falling. When he opens a portal and spits his brother back out, an exasperated Loki proclaims, “I have been falling for 30 fucking minutes!”
Black Panther (2018)
While Killmonger is the biting and impactful villain the film needs, Ulysses Klaue delivers the fun that an F-bomb could only enhance. There’s no more fitting place for it than the culmination of the action-packed, one-shot casino fight when Klaue primes his weaponized prosthetic arm, blasts a massive case of money from T’Challa’s hands, and declares, “I made it fucking rain!”
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
This movie comes close to giving the king of cinematic profanity, Samuel L. Jackson, the MCU’s first “motherfucker” before it’s cut off as Nick Fury turns to dust. But instead of letting that F-bomb fly, I’ll seize an opportunity to tell Thunderbolt Ross to fuck off. As Cap returns to Avengers HQ, Ross tells Cap via holographic Zoom that he has not forgotten that Cap is a fugitive, insisting that he’s still on the wrong side of the law.
“Earth just lost her best defender,” Cap says. “So we’re here to fight. And if you wanna stand in our way, we’ll fight you too.” Ross turns to James Rhodes and orders, “Arrest them.” Rhodey responds, “Respectfully, sir, go fuck yourself.”
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
When I was talking to a colleague about this exercise, they suggested giving the F-bomb to Jimmy Woo. I would never want to sully the immaculate reputation of one of the MCU’s best characters by giving him a potty mouth, but I’m nominating Jimmy because of the frustration he feels in his relentless efforts to master the card trick that Scott taught him. When an agent barges in on in Jimmy in his office and cards explode from the would-be card-trick expert’s wrist, Jimmy exclaims, “Ahh, can you fucking knock!?”
Captain Marvel (2019)
I have all the opportunities in the world to give Sam Jackson the F-bomb honor, but this will be the only time that I actually award it to the modern master of profanity. And what better time to let a “fuck” fly than when you lose your good eye to an adorable Flerken named Goose? As Goose rakes Nick’s eye with a claw, Fury yells, “Ah! The fuck!”
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Going with my gut has served me well throughout this important project. And my snap judgment (no pun intended) is that I can recall no greater laugh (and no better place to put our Endgame F-bomb) than in a scene featuring the odd pairing of War Machine and Nebula, who are tasked with retreving the Power Stone from Morag in 2014. As they lie in wait for a blissfully unaware Peter Quill to finish dancing and lead them to the Power Stone’s location, Rhodey remarks, “So he’s a fucking idiot.”
Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
One of the more entertaining scenes in the second installment featuring Tom Holland’s web-slinging hero is the reveal from Mysterio after deceiving Peter into giving him Tony’s AI-fueled, drone-controlling glasses. The digital facade crumbles as Peter exits the empty pub, leaving Mysterio to exclaim, “See, that wasn’t so hard. Someone get this stupid fucking costume off me!”
Black Widow (2021)
David Harbour: What a legend, and an easy pick for Black Widow’s F-bomber. During Alexei’s blissful reunion with his two daughters as he is rescued by helicopter, he hurls one last insult at his fellow inmates in his native Russian: “Farewell, you fucking douchebags!”
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
Another easy call. When Wong is fighting the Abomination, a.k.a. Emil Blonsky, he takes a punch from the big green beast and goes flying against the chain walls of the arena. After getting back up, sick of his shit, he shouts, “That fucking hurt, Emil!”
I simply require Irish people to curse in movies. Things are just better that way. Therefore, the line must go to Barry Keoghan’s Druig, when he’s catching up on his fellow Eternals’ plights. He insolently provokes and torments them, and Sersi confronts him.
Sersi: This is serious.
Druig: I’ll tell you what’s serious. I’ve just been told I’ve been sent on a suicide mission and that for the past 7,000 years my entire existence is a fookin’* lie! So excuse me for not giving a shit about your plan right now.
*Spelled the wonderful way I imagine it would sound.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Once again, we have an F-bomb headed off at the pass, in this case by a car horn at the beginning of the movie as Peter freaks out atop a lamppost after Mysterio reveals his secret identity. However, one of the funniest F-bomb locations comes in an exchange among the three Peters in the final battle:
Peter 1 (Holland): I don’t wanna brag, but I will. I was in the Avengers.
Peter 2 (Tobey Maguire): The Avengers, that’s great! What is that?
Peter 1: Wait, you don’t have the Avengers?!
Peter 3 (Andrew Garfield): Is that a band? Are you in a band?
Peter 1: No I’m not in a band, the Avengers is, uh, Earth’s mightiest—
Peter 2: How the fuck is this helping?!
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021)
Granting the F-bomb to Black Bolt is a no-brainer (haha) here. In what might be the most brutal display of violence in the MCU to date, Wanda Maximoff, dream walking through a different multiversal version of herself, confronts the Illuminati and demands that they give up America Chavez so she can harness her power. When they refuse, Reed Richards threatens that Wanda could be no match for Black Bolt.
Richards: Black Bolt could kill you with a whisper from his mouth.
Wanda: What mouth?
[Black Bolt, now missing a mouth entirely, panics and mumbles in horror. His skull caves in, and in the instant before it fully collapses, we hear a loud and panicked “Fuck!”]