Food-on-film: Click to the next image to see our 50 best food-on-film moments of all time
Food-on-film: Raging Bull (1980): The overcooked steak
Food-on-film: Annie Hall (1977): Boiling lobsters
Food-on-film: The Hours (2002): Separating eggs
Food-on-film: Gold Rush (1925): The roll dance
Food-on-film: Goodfellas (1990): Dinner in prison
Food-on-film: The Godfather (1972): Tomato sauce recipe
Food-on-film: Once Upon a Time in America (1984): The charlotte russe
Food-on-film: Pulp Fiction (1994): $5 Shake
Food-on-film: Cool Hand Luke (1967): 50 hard-boiled eggs in one hour
Food-on-film: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): Rats for lunch
In time for the annual NYC Food Film Festival, we've compiled our 50 favorite food-on-film moments of all time. This isn't a list of our favorite chow-focused flicks—though staples like Big Night and Babette's Feast have made the cut. Instead, we've widened the pool to pick out scenes across all genres that simply got our stomachs rumbling—in hunger and occasionally in disgust. Think we spoiled the soup? Put down the steak knife and give us the what-for in the comments. Or holler at us on Twitter (@thefeednyc) using the hashtag #foodonfilm.
Raging Bull (1980): The charcoal steak
An overcooked steak ignites boxer Jake LaMotta's wrath in Martin Scorsese's violent sports flick. Robert De Niro's belligerent backseat cooking ("You overcook it, it's no good. It defeats its own purpose") and furious table flip is bone-rattling stuff—but we briefly consider a similar reaction each time a restaurant presents us with an incinerated slab of beef. Watch the clip.
Annie Hall (1977): Boiling lobsters
Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's calamitous attempt to boil live lobsters perfectly captures the conflicting feelings we face each time we plunge those icky but luscious crustaceans into the scorching water: Gleeful but guilty, rapacious and a little terrified. Too bad we don't get to see Woody in a bib. Watch the clip.
The Hours (2002): Separating eggs
Though Meryl Streep would go on to portray Francophile chef Julia Child in 2009's Julie & Julia, she caught our eye in the kitchen seven years earlier in this drama. Streep—who portrays a troubled New York editor planning a party for a friend at the end of his life—is most affecting when she meticulously separates eggs, concentrating intensely on the task even as she threatens to crack.
Gold Rush (1925): The roll dance
Charlie Chaplin's iconic dinner-roll dance has been replicated and parodied so many times, it's incredible the genuine article still has legs. (Rim shot!) Though Chaplin wasn't the first to try the gag (Fatty Arbuckle deployed a similar stunt in 1917 film The Rough House), the Tramp's eyebrow-wiggling, shoulder-shrugging rendition of the tabletop ballet is unsurpassed. Watch the clip.
Goodfellas (1990): Dinner in prison
"Beyond the Sea" croons in the background as Paulie, Vinnie and Johnny Dio prepare dinner in the clink. These gangsters eat better in prison than most of us do on the outside: garlic sliced so thin with a razor blade that it would "liquefy in the pan with just a little oil," iced lobsters, steak seared in a skillet, wine, Scotch and pasta sauce that's a touch too oniony. Watch the clip.
The Godfather (1972): Tomato sauce recipe
The only red splatter more ubiquitous than blood in Mafia flicks may be pasta sauce. Those who wish to make their own would benefit from a close viewing of the original Godfather. Capo Peter Clemenza—the same trencherman who utters the line "leave the gun, take the cannoli" elsewhere in the film—offers a decent recipe for Sunday gravy: "You start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn't stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs. And a little bit of wine, and a little bit of sugar—that's my trick." Watch the clip.
Once Upon a Time in America (1984): The charlotte russe
Patrick "Patsy" Goldberg has one foot in his youth and the other in adulthood when he ventures to trade a charlotte russe—a white cake pastry topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry—for sexual favors in Sergio Leone's sweeping crime epic. He picks out the five-cent confection from a local bakery ("for the two-penny one she only gives you a hand job; I can do that myself") and brings it to Peggy, an underage harlot. He foils his chance to seal the deal while waiting for her in the stairwell, swiping fingerfuls of cream from the cake and eventually devouring the thing in a few desperate bites. Watch the clip.
Pulp Fiction (1994): $5 shake
Would a chick as cool and dishy as Mia Wallace really choose a restaurant like Jack Rabbit Slim's for her faux date with Vincent Vega? We're not so sure. Nonetheless, the fictional 1950s theme restaurant is a rich and bizarre setting for our favorite Pulp Fiction food moment. John Travolta's take on whether Mia's extravagant "Martin and Lewis" (vanilla) milk shake is worth its $5 price tag: "Goddamn, that's a pretty fucking good milk shake." Watch the clip.
Cool Hand Luke (1967): 50 hard-boiled eggs in one hour
Thanks to the exploits of famous competitive eaters like Takeru Kobayashi, we're rarely dazzled anymore by feats of gluttony. But Paul Newman's shirtless 50-egg coup in this prison drama still sparkles. As the unvanquishable Lucas Jackson, Newman earns the respect of his fellow inmates by wolfing 50 peeled eggs until his stomach is distended—in the words of one prisoner—"like a ripe watermelon that's about to bust itself open." Watch the clip.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): Rats for lunch
Joan Crawford, as the wheelchair-bound Blanche, and Bette Davis as her villainous sister and abusive caretaker, Jane, face off in this delightfully perverse thriller. When the rapidly unraveling Jane serves Blanche her lunch beneath a silver dome, you just know there's foul play afoot. Blanche's shrieking, hysterical reaction to the meal—a juicy, tail-and-all rat—is good, twisted fun. Watch the clip.
Saturday Night Fever (1977): Double-stacked pizza slices
Lunch can't slow down Tony Manero in the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever. Witness John Travolta as he struts to the rhythm of "Stayin' Alive," biting through two pizza slices stacked on top of each other. We haven't seen moves like that since we first beheld the fold-hold. Watch the clip.
Tampopo (1985): The egg yolk
Topping any list of food=nerd filmography is Juzo Itami's comedy, a Japanese tribute to ramen and to the culture and eroticism of food. Though the title character's efforts to save her struggling ramen shop are captivating, our favorite moments come from a subplot involving the imaginative sex life of a yakuza gangster and his female companion. They pass an egg yolk between their mouths without breaking it; he spritzes her nipples with lemon juice and lets a live prawn writhe against her naked belly. Their exploits are as appetizing as they are titillating. Watch the clip.
Julie & Julia (2009): Sole meunière
Julia Child's transformative first encounter with sole meunière at La Couronne in Rouen, Normandy, is the stuff of legends. Child called the 1948 meal the most exciting of her life—an epiphany. Meryl Streep re-creates the moment with proper reverence and delight in Norah Ephron's feature, moaning and giggling through each luscious, butter-slicked bite.
The Jerk (1979): "Bring us some fresh wine!"
Nouveau riche buffoon Navin Johnson wants another bottle of wine, but a 1966 Chteau Latour won't do. "Bring us some fresh wine," begins Navin's clueless request in Steve Martin's comedy. "The freshest you've got—this year! No more of this old stuff!" We're still working up the stones to try this stunt on a stuffy sommelier ourselves. Watch the clip.
The Goonies (1985): Baby Ruth!
Sloth and Chunk bond over their shared affection for choooclaaate in the classic flick The Goonies. When Chunk tosses his hideously deformed companion the candy bar (it whacks him in the forehead and Sloth breaks lose of his chains to pick it up), a pivotal friendship is formed. Bonus points for Julia Child's cameo—she's frosting a cake on a television in the background. Watch the clip.
Pan's Labyrinth (2006): Child-eating Pale Man
Young heroine Ofelia must retrieve a dagger without waking the "Pale Man," a child-eating monster who sits mutely before an opulent feast, in this scene from Guillermo del Toro's fantasy. We see massive hams topped with pineapple rings, glistening fruit tarts, carafes of wine, and baskets of pomegranates and grapes—a gorgeously styled spread. Watch the clip.
The Great Outdoors (1988): The Old 96er
John Candy and Dan Aykroyd's classic '80s comedy is perhaps most memorable for this gross-out eating scene, a great send-up of gluttonous American restaurant portions. As if the wife's order of a "bucket of salad" and "the medley of perch" weren't absurd enough, Chet (Candy) decides to tackle the Old 96er: a 96-ounce prime aged-beef steak inspired by Paul Bunyan's blue ox. We defy you to show us an actor who does meat-sweats quite like John Candy. Watch the clip.
Marie Antoinette (2006): Ladurée desserts
Few would argue with the assertion that style trumps substance in Sofia Coppola's loose adaption of Marie Antoinette's story. But if you're a sweet tooth, the saccharine, music-video–style treatment of the French revolution sets the perfect tone for the real draw of the film: serious pastry porn, courtesy of famous French bakery Ladurée. The patisserie's lavish, color-splashed desserts—burnished canelé, precious petits fours, immaculate mille-feuilles—surround Marie (Kirsten Dunst) constantly, reflecting her candy-coated life of privilege. Our advice: Head to the NYC location of Maison Ladurée (864 Madison Ave between 70th and 71th Sts, 646-558-3157) and snag a box of the haute macarons for a viewing party. Watch a clip.
American Psycho (2000): Reservations at Dorsia
Reservations play a key role in this adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's darkly satirical novel: Where you're eating—plus who's with you and whether there's a good bathroom to do coke in—is always more important than what's on the plate for the '80s Wall Street types the film depicts. But while it's easy to smirk at Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) and his pathetic attempt to get reservations at the mythical Dorsia ("Great sea urchin ceviche"), the feelings of insignificance are familiar to anyone who's tried to navigate NYC's rarefied dining rooms. The only difference is that, these days, the mocking laughter on the other end of the line has been replaced by the Momofuku Ko website telling you, "Sorry, but currently there are no reservations available." Watch the clip.
Rocky (1976): Raw eggs
It's impossible to stop yourself from counting along in your head as Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) cracks not one, not two, but five raw eggs into a glass and chugs them at 4am before one of his epic Philly training runs. It's not a pretty sight—the extended glug, the dribble of egg yolk down his sweatshirt, the forced burp—but eating like a heavyweight champion rarely is. Watch the clip.
Ratatouille (2007): Anton Ego tastes the ratatouille
If you can get past the knee-jerk ickiness of rats in the kitchen, Pixar's brilliant rodent romp is a delight for gastronomes. The climactic scene, in which the jaded critic Anton Ego finally bites into Remy's ratatouille, is a beautiful paean the transporting power of food: In a single moment, Ego's eyes widen and the rest of the restaurant drops away as he's transported back to his childhood home in the countryside, where his mother is cooking for him. We eat in search of these ephiphanal bites, capable of triggering emotional responses that have as much to do with how a dish makes you feel as how it tastes. Watch the clip.
Paid in Full (2002): Chinese and champagne
From Cam'ron's mispronunciation of soy sauce ("Mitch, Mitch, Mitch—fuck the soo-ee sauce, man!") to Mekhi Phifer's exuberant eating style, this wise-cracking dinner gives us a glimpse the nouveau riche stylings of the crack-era hustler in Harlem. Ace (Wood Harris) and his cronies can afford to pop bubbly, wear Gucci sweaters and gold ropes, and bet $5,000 on who can throw a balled up brown bag into the trash can—yet they still eat fried rice and spare ribs from the corner Chinese takeout spot. Watch the clip.
The Trip (2010): "The same conversation"
Michael Winterbottom's uproarious road movie follows comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing fully believable versions of themselves) on a gastronomic tour of Northern England. As the two friends trade impersonations and personal jabs over plate after plate of haute British cuisine, the director brilliantly portrays the ennui of fine dining. In one of our favorite scenes, Coogan and Brydon riff on the repetitive nature of their nightly feasts. Watch the clip.
A Christmas Story (1983): Chinese "turkey"
Ralphie nearly shoots his eye out, a pack of dogs devour the turkey, and the Parkers are left with taking their dinner in an empty Chinese restaurant on Christmas. It seems like the makings for a disastrous holiday, but as the family leans together giggling over the meal's oddities (a duck with its head still intact, a trio of Chinese waiters botching Christmas carols), we're reminded that some of the most memorable meals are the ones that don't go according to plan. Watch the clip.
Big Night (1996): Timpano
Four quivering hands carefully unmold a majestic burnished timpano (a layered Italian pasta dish)—the centerpiece of an extravagant meal that brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) hope will save their failing restaurant in this classic '90s food flick. At the dining-room table, it elicits whispers, eye fluttering and, finally, a threat: "Goddamit, I should kill you," screams Pascal, a competing restaurateur who tosses his napkin on the table and leaps to his feet. "This is so fucking good, I should kill you." Watch the clip.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984): Snakes for dinner
Anthony Bourdain may not have blinked at this exotic feast, which also featured chilled monkey brains and eyeball soup. But we feel the same as young Short Round, who stares in slack-jawed awe as shiny black snakes slither out of a python's slashed belly and onto the banquet table. Watch the clip.
Coffee & Cigarettes (2003): Coffee delirium
The unlikely teaming of Bill Murray with two Wu-Tang legends is one of the funniest scenes in Jim Jarmusch's black-and-white film of 11 shorts. RZA and GZA sit sipping herbal tea ("Nah, we don't mess with caffeine. Don't you know caffeine can cause serious delirium?"), while an apron-clad Murray, who is inexplicably working incognito at the diner, takes gulps straight from a coffee pot. Watch the clip.
I Am Love (2009): Prawns
As Emma, the wife of a rich Milanese industrialist, digs into an exquisite plate of succulent prawns and jewellike vegetables, the dining room fades, sounds reduce to an underwater murmur and senses blur. A greeting from the young chef breaks her rapture, but their passionate affair and Emma's break from her bourgeois family are just about to begin. Watch the clip.
L.A. Story (1991): Coffee with a lemon twist
Listening to a real-life Angeleno order coffee can sound like a parody of a Starbucks barista's worst nightmare—I'd like a decaf skim soy mocha venti with Splenda, no foam. This '90s romantic comedy, starring Steve Martin as L.A. weatherman Harris Telemacher, nails the absurdity perfectly. A series of increasingly ridiculous orders culminates with Martin's nonsensical request: "I'll have a half double decaffinated half caf with a twist of lemon!" Watch the clip.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971): Fizzy lifting drinks
Among chocolate rivers and everlasting gobstoppers, it's hard to choose a favorite food scene in this wonder-filled children's classic. For our money, it's the moment when Charlie and Grandpa Joe defy Willy Wonka's directives, slipping off to try the fizzy lifting drinks. The stunt ultimately endangers Charlie's lifetime supply of chocolate, but for one gleeful moment the two float skyward, buoyed like hot air balloons by "old ginger ale, ginger pop, ginger beer, beer bubbles, bubbleade, bubblecola, double cola, double-bubble-burple-cola, and all the crazy carbonated stuff that tickles your nose."
Tom Jones (1963): The feast
It's almost hard to believe that the bawdy scene in this British period comedy—in which raffish adventurer Tom Jones and lusty housemaid Jenny Jones ravage a multicourse meal—passed the censors in 1963. The pair stare into each other's eyes as they gorge on a sumptuous feast, slurping soup, gnawing turkey legs, devouring ripe pears and swallowing oysters with erotic aplomb. Watch the clip.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994): Opening scene
Family drama, tensions and romance are centered on the table in Ang Lee's Taiwanese marriage comedy. The opening scene, however, homes in on the solitary poetry of the kitchen as retired master chef Chu rhythmically prepares for an elaborate Sunday banquet. Watch the clip.
Five Easy Pieces (1970): A side order of toast
All Robert Dupea (Jack Nicholson) wants is a side order of toast with his omelet. ("What do you mean you don't make side orders of toast? You make sandwiches, don't you?") The waitress refuses to sidestep the diner's no-substitutions rule, prompting this famous order: "I'd like a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce...and hold the chicken." Watch the clip.
Tortilla Soup (2001): Sunday dinners
The Naranjo family's weekly suppers anchor the plot of this film, and offer a glimpse into the ritualistic pleasures of preparing a meal. The patriarch (Hector Elizando as retired chef Martin) blisters peppers over charcoal, dredges octopus in flour and patiently grinds chilies as he readies the elaborate feast. Watch the clip.
9 Weeks (1986): Food fetish
Read any issue of Cosmo or Maxim and you'll find plenty of questionable carnal advice recommending food as foreplay, a method employed in this laughably sensual kitchen tryst: Mickey Rourke teases a close-eyed Kim Basinger with all manner of food stuffs, from sliced hard-boiled eggs to cherry pie filling. She giggles, we squirm. Watch the clip.
A Grand Day Out with Wallace & Gromit (1989): Pursuit of cheddar cheese
Left to their own devices on a bank holiday, the lovable Claymation duo decides to embark on a quest to the moon—not for glory, but for curdy deliciousness. One shoddy Nickelodeonesque rocket flight later, Wallace is debating whether the moon tastes more like Camembert or Stilton, while Gromit's trying to save him from getting clubbed by a perturbed extraterrestrial robot.
Oldboy (2003): Eating a live octopus
Disgruntled and downtrodden, the lead in this Korean drama tears into the still-wriggling eight-legged sea creature. Judge lightly: After being kidnapped and fed only fried dumplings for 15 years, you'd probably be that ravenous too. Watch the clip.
The Wizard of Oz (1939): Apple picking
Back to School (1986): Rodney Dangerfield's hors d'oeuvres sandwich
Instead of going the socially acceptable small-plate route, Dangerfield's self-loathing character, Thornton Melon, loads up a hollowed-out roll with hors d'oeuvres ("I hate small food, you know?") as fellow partygoers look on in horror. Just another reason the man can't get no respect. Watch the clip.
Waitress (2007): Pies
Pies play the role of an edible mood ring in this feel-good comedy about small-town girl Jenna (Keri Russell) trying to bake her way out of an unfulfilling marriage. Any emotion that consumes her ultimately becomes a dessert—there's the Pregnant Self-Pitying Loser Pie ("Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. Flambed, of course..."), the I Can't Have No Affair Because It's Wrong and I Don't Want Earl to Kill Me Pie ("Vanilla custard with banana. Hold the banana"), and the Naughty Pumpkin Pie that she bakes in hopes of wooing Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). The results of each creation are pure eye candy, shot with food-porny close-ups from above as they come together in mixing bowls and pastry molds. Watch the clip.
Last Tango in Paris (1972): Butter sex
Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci's steamy drama sparked censorship battles around the world and earned an X rating when it was first released to the U.S. (The Village Voice reported "vomiting by well-dressed wives" at an early screening.) Much of the controversy zeroed in this explicit scene, in which Paul—played by Marlon Brando—forever changed the way we look at the butter tray. Watch the clip.
Mystic Pizza (1988): Superb review
The food critic's affected intonation and over-the-top snobbery is a tad dated in this '80s flick. Still, there's heartwarming appeal when a "superb" review on TV sends a small-time pizzeria crew into ecstatic squeals of delight. Even the most serious four-star chefs must feel the same elation when a laudatory review drops. Watch the clip.
Hot Shots! (1991): Breakfast scene
Before he was a tiger-blood–fueled rock star from Mars, Charlie Sheen broke hearts and eggs as Lt. Topper Harley in this Top Gun parody. Here, he's #winning at cooking a full breakfast—eggs, bacon and hash browns—on his lover's smokin' hot stomach. Watch the clip.
Mostly Martha (2001): Walk-in-fridge breakdown
In this German flick, a precursor to 2001's No Reservations with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Martina Gedeck embodies Martha Klein—a toque who, like many real-life chefs, is Type A to a fault. Despite her neuroses and petulance, you can't help but feel for the central character when she puts on a strong public face after her sister's death, before hightailing it to the walk-in to sob in private. Kelly Cutrone would be proud. Watch the clip.
Soul Food (1997): Cooking lesson
Big Mama Joe says it best: "Soul-food cookin' is about cooking from the heart." No matter what she's preparing, the Joseph family matriarch follows her instincts rather than a recipe, understanding that sometimes good cooking is as much about the feeling you put into your food as the technique you use to prepare it.
Volver (2006): Film crew feast
We're not sure Penelope Cruz can cook in real life, but damn, does she make a convincing chef in this Spanish-language drama. When her restaurateur neighbor suddenly leaves town, she steps up and churns out a three-course meal of local specialties for 30 film-crew members without missing a step—or revealing the dead body lying in her kitchen.
Babette's Feast (1987): The feast
When a French housekeeper (the film's titular heroine) wins the lottery, she unselfishly uses her new fortunate to prepare a sumptuous meal for her employers, two pious Danish sisters and their fellow parishioners. Though the diners attempt to deny the earthly pleasures of fine red wine, decadent cheeses and other Gallic edibles, their eyes glaze over with hedonistic delight as they politely but ravenously scrape their plates clean. Watch the clip.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004): Climax scene
After surmounting a number of bizarre challenges, including getting propositioned by a back-country yokel, the burger-craving cohorts finally reach their destination, only to find themselves penniless. The heroic Neil Patrick Harris comes to their rescue, forking over cash for their meal, plus some extra dough to cover "love stain" damage to their car. As they stuff their faces, they come to realize that they need to pursue their other life goals with as much enthusiasm as they did their fast-food fix. Who knew epiphanies came so cheap?