Food in Film: The 10 Most Memorable Food Scenes

My husband. I love him dearly. He is my soul mate, my life partner, the father of my children, my BFFWB. But, sometimes, he really pisses me off.

When I told him I was writing about famous food scenes in the movies, the first example I mentioned was James Cagney smashing a grapefruit into the face of Mae Clarke. “Oh, don’t use that,” he said. “That is such a hackneyed example! Every film class, every women’s studies class, uses that clip. You know, most people haven’t seen the movie that it came from -- in fact, most people can’t even name what movie it came from. So, please! Don’t use that one.”

(Before I tell you what my response was, please allow me to explain that my sweetheart, the light of my life, mi esposo, was a film student in college, and a documentary filmmaker in his 20s. So his perspective is significantly more sophisticated than the average moviegoer's, e.g. mine. For example, the movie he’s watched more times than any other is Brazil; mine is Rocky.)

Back to my response. It came in three parts:

(a)  “Alright, I won’t use it!” followed by 10 minutes of pouting.

(b)   During those 10 minutes, I looked up “hackneyed” on, and learned that it means “made commonplace or trite; stale; banal.” Good to know, because I would want to avoid that like the plague.

(c)   I also went to and found out that the grapefruit scene is from The Public Enemy, which was directed by William Welmann, written by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright, filmed in black and white with an aspect ratio of 1:37, released in April of 1931, and runs 83 minutes long. Oh, and it was nominated for one Academy Award, for writing. (Take that you film-student/documentary filmmaker know-it-all!)

So while compiling my list of the 10 most memorable scenes in the movies, I have tried to avoid examples that are “hackneyed” from movies that no one has seen or heard of. With that criteria, here is my list, in no particular order:

1.  9 1/2 Weeks
     Directed by Adrian Lyne

Got your attention, didn’t I? Even an average moviegoer like me knows about this movie’s steamy reputation; its intimate scenes between Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger push as close to an X-rating as an R-rating will allow. But we're here to focus on food. Do you remember the scene in front of the open refrigerator? She is freshly showered, wearing a white, terry cloth robe and white socks. He is wearing, well, not much. He tells her to close her eyes. In a series of close-ups, we first see his hand place an olive into her mouth; we see the tip of her tongue press into the hole where the pit used to be. We see his hand feed her maraschino cherries, we see the red syrup dribble down her chin. We see him feed her fresh strawberries, Champagne, and then, just for laughs, a jalapeno pepper. Then, we see her gulp milk as it runs down her face. Now she is being sprayed with a bottle of sparkling water. Building to a climax, we see him drizzle honey onto her tongue, and then her thighs. He sensuously spreads it to other parts of her body and then passionately kisses her mouth. The scene ends as they begin to roll around on the floor. I’m not sure why, but this kind of thing almost never happens in front of my refrigerator.

2. Last Tango in Paris
    Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Unlike 9 1/2 Weeks, which flirted with an X-rating, this film actually walked up and grabbed one by the cannoli. (An Italian court prosecuted and convicted director Bertolucci for obscenity.) Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider play a couple who meet in a Paris apartment for sexual encounters. But the movie is more about their vastly different but complementary emotional needs than their sexual ones. Roger Ebert wrote that Last Tango is “one of the great emotional experiences of our time... only Marlon Brando, of all living actors, could have played its lead. Who else can act so brutally and imply such vulnerability and need?” The brutality he refers to is on full display in the food scene I am highlighting. In the interest of not offending anyone, here’s all I will say: (a) it occurs in the apartment; (b) it involves Brando and Schneider; (c) they're both wearing jeans and both pairs are unzipped, but all important body parts are covered; (d) she is lying on her stomach on the floor, Brando is lying on top of her, straddling her, with his knees on the floor; (e) Brando unwraps a foil package of butter and digs his fingers into it; (f) if you don’t know what happens next, I’m not going to tell you; and (g) if you’re curious about whether the butter is local and/or organic -- Congratulations! You are a true foodie.

3. Animal House
    Directed by John Landis

I bet I can bring it back to you in two words: “Food! Fight!” John Belushi, playing Bluto, a Delta, is eating in the college cafeteria with cross-fraternity rival, Greg, an Omega. Bluto is being as repulsive as possible, and is called a “P-I-G, pig!” by one of the attendant sorority sisters. When we see Belushi’s famous eyebrows arch up and hear him say, with a mouth full of food, “See if you can guess what I am now,” we brace for what will happen next. He stuffs what appears to be a cream-filled pastry into his mouth, chews, puffs out both cheeks, and then, after a dramatic pause, punches them with both fists to spew the half-chewed food all over Greg. With perfect timing, Bluto then says, “I’m a zit. Get it? A zit?,” and those eyebrows come up again. Greg, now furious, is ready to fight, but Bluto turns and runs. Now all the Omegas are in pursuit, so, realizing he's out-numbered, Bluto spins around and yells “Food! Fight!” The ensuing chaos, complete with flying plates, bowls and utensils, allows him to escape with his, um, dignity intact.

4.   Rocky
      Directed by John G. Avildson

We know to avoid raw eggs for their salmonella risk. But when Rocky drinks dozens of them, and then goes toe-to-toe with Apollo Creed for 15 rounds, we all want to have what he’s having. As Sylvestor Stallone portrays the down-and-out boxer training for his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he simply follows a tradition established by previous generations of muscle-bound gurus like Bernarr McFadden (1890s), Charles Atlas (1930s), and Arnold Schwarzenegger (1970s), all of whom made raw eggs part of their high-protein diets. Of course, Stallone clearly does his own “stunt,” though he has the benefit of drinking that unpleasant concoction to the inspiring sound of Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now.” Cue the trumpets. Do some pushups. Run up some steps. Punch a side of beef.

5.   The Gold Rush
      Directed by Charles Chaplin

Chaplin’s Little Tramp heads north in search of gold, but a hard winter leaves him and his companion Big Jim (played by Mack Swain) snowbound and starving. On Thanksgiving Day, determined to eat something, anything, Chaplin boils his boot, drizzles it with boot au jus, and serves it on a clean, white platter. The laces are a spaghetti-like accompaniment, which he eats by twirling them around a fork. Without words -- without even food -- Chaplin creates a memorable meal that looks surprisingly edible.

6.   Annie Hall
      Directed by Woody Allen

Alvy (Woody Allen) and Annie (Diane Keaton) are an unmarried couple vacationing together in the Hamptons. They’re in the kitchen of their beach rental, which has been taken over by a squadron of live lobsters. Crawling crustaceans have apparently escaped from a torn shopping bag and are scattered across the floor, on the counter, and behind the refrigerator. Alvy suggests they call 911 – the “lobster squad” – to corral them. Annie picks one up, and Alvy suggests that she talk to it: “You speak shellfish.” He then opens the lid to the lobster pot, simmering on the stove, and tells her to put the wiggling creature inside. She refuses -- "I can't put a live thing in hot water!" -- so he grabs it from her, throws it in, and slams down the lid. Annie then asks him to hold a lobster so she can take a photo. It’s a frenetic, funny, yet believable scene, which Alvy tries to duplicate later in the film with a new girlfriend, after he and Annie have broken up. But the magic is gone; the new gal only leans against the counter, lights up a cigarette, and admonishes Alvy to just pick up the lobsters: “You’re a grown man. Don’t you know how to pick up a lobster?” We hate her, just as Alvy does, because she’s not Annie.

7.   Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
      Directed by Steven Spielberg

“Ah, dessert. Chilled monkey brains!” With these five words, this scene secures its place on our most memorable list. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) are guests of the Maharaja, and sit down for what they anticipate to be a lavish feast. The first course, however, is live baby snakes, sliced out of the freshly killed body of their mother. Next up are crispy beetles the size of a human hand. Then comes a steamy crock of eye-ball soup. With each course, Willie reacts with increasing horror, but it is the dessert of chilled monkey-brains, served in the monkeys' skulls, that sends her into a swooning, eye-rolling faint. We laugh, but, to be honest, we come close to fainting ourselves, every time we watch.

8.   Silence of the Lambs (1991)
      Directed by Jonathan Demme

Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans – and a nice chianti… (sickening slurping sound). You fly back to school now, little Starling. Fly, fly, fly. Fly, fly, fly.” I'll stop now, because I don't want you to have nightmares tonight.

9.   Lady and the Tramp (1955)
      Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske

Tramp, a scruffy guy from the streets, falls in love with an upper-crust gal from a respectable home. One night, they meet at Tony’s restaurant for a romantic, moonlit spaghetti dinner. As they are being serenaded with a vocal and accordian duet of “Belle Note,” they share a few bites of pasta. And then true movie magic happens. A strand of spaghetti held between them draws their lips together for the first time; Lady shyly looks away; Tramp smiles and lovingly pushes a meatball towards her; she turns back to him; their eyes meet. Talk about chemistry! Yes, I know this is an animated Disney film. Yes, I know that Lady and the Tramp are dogs. So what? It’s irrelevant to the scene, which, in my view, is one of the most romantic in the history of American cinema. Arf!

10.  American Pie
       Directed by Paul Weitz

The last memorable food scene on the list is from a movie about four high-school boys who conspire to lose their virginity by prom night. One of them, Jim (Jason Biggs) has a particularly difficult time controlling his raging hormones. His father (Eugene Levy) is full of advice, but Jim can’t seem to get anything right. One day, he arrives home to find a freshly baked apple pie with a misspelled note from his mom saying “you’re favorite." So he eats it. Nah, just kidding. He doesn’t eat it; that would not make for a very memorable food scene, would it? What does he do instead? It's pretty saucy, so I won't provide any details, though I will proffer that Jim must be truly, madly and deeply in love with this apple pie.

Do you have some memorable food scenes that aren't included on this list? I'd love to hear about them. Post a comment and tell me which ones I missed. Just promise you won't use the word "hackneyed."