Movies & TV

11 of the Greatest Food Scenes in Cinema History

From Rocky's raw eggs to the Big Kahuna Burger, here are the cinematic moments when food was more than just a prop.
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Sometimes, in art as in life, food means more than just food.  In the following list of scenes from cinema history, it is variously deployed as an act of communion, a dangerous threat, and a gesture of identity. Oh, and one of them is just a bloody lovely looking sandwich. Sometimes food really is just food, and that can be great too. Tuck in. From Rocky's raw eggs to the Big Kahuna Burger, here are the cinematic moments when food was more than just a prop.

Raging Bull

This early scene in the greatest film Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese ever made together (yeah, we said it) shows aspiring boxer Jake LaMotta embroiled in a violent domestic row over the relative merits a rare vs medium-rare steak. While we agree it's an important distinction, Jake's impatient and volatile overreaction tells you everything you need to know about his character and acts as a premonition of what is to come: the downfall of a man who is his own worst enemy.

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The Breakfast Club

Sushi for the posh girl. Four giant sandwiches for the jock. Peanut butter and jelly with the crusts cut off for the geek. Sugar and crisps for the weirdo. John Hughes' still-definitive teen comedy used five very different packed lunches to establish the five very different high school students forced together for detention.

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Inglourious Basterds

As Tarantino's favorite ever character, Christoph Waltz's portrayal of Hans Landa is repulsive and captivating all at once. The scene where he is unknowingly reunited with the girl whose family he slaughtered is made all the more tense as we watch Shosanna gulp down the perfect looking strudel. Landa extinguishing his cigarette in the cream of his unfinished strudel is a revealing touch.

Rocky

Type the words "Rocky" and "Eggs" into Google, and you'll be met with thousands of people desperate to know if it's actually healthy or helpful to gulp back a box of free-range chicken slime. Such is the devotion to Rocky that people are willing to completely ruin their mornings in tribute to the early-rising Italian Stallion. Why? Because, like running up some steps or mumbling like you've downed sixteen pints and then been run over, downing a raw egg makes you feel a bit like Rocky, and feeling a bit like Rocky is what Rocky is all about. 

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American Psycho

In amongst the scenes of disturbing torture in American Psycho are some very astute takedowns of the New York fine restaurant scene—such as this opener. There is something quite visceral but still delicate about watching forks prise apart the beautiful desserts on a perfectly laid table, while the waiter reeling off the specials of "squid ravioli in a lemongrass broth with goats cheese profiteroles" against classical music is a brilliantly deceptive opener for what is a seriously macabre film.

Goodfellas

Is there a better single metaphor for the mafia and what we find so fascinating about it than Paulie chopping garlic with a razor blade in Goodfellas? It's all there—family, tradition, menace, and a total disregard for the law (he's in prison, technically). "Cutting it so thin meant the garlic melted in the pan," explains Henry Hill's narration, making the thought of eating a meal prepared by a psychotic murderer suddenly quite palatable.

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The scene that earned the film a temporary ban in India, the 'Dinner of Doom' is by far the most controversial entry on this list.

Indie, alongside Willie and Short, has been invited to a grand banquet in tribute to the pre-teen Maharajah. The first dish arrives at the table: a huge snake that is sliced open to reveal hundreds of smaller, no less terrifying serpents wriggling for freedom. To Willie's horror, the diners gulp them down. Next comes the giant stag beetle course, then eyeball soup, and then finally, a dessert of chilled monkey brains.

As a piece of visual comedy, it's hilarious. As a realistic reflection of Hindu cuisine, it's ridiculously off the mark—but that didn't stop Americans taking it as fact, with over half of U.S students believing monkey brains to be a genuine Indian delicacy.

Pulp Fiction

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Anyone who has seen Pulp Fiction will recall Samuel L.Jackson threateningly—and somewhat spuriously—declaring hamburgers "the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast" as he intimidates someone who owes his boss some money. Despite the highly hostile situation, the glossy bun, cheap American cheese, and puddle of ketchup on the patty still looks like a delicious guilty pleasure. Even the distinct rustle of the packaging paper when he picks up the burger is familiar and tantalizing. 

For Tarantino, the scene is surprisingly blood-free but there is something particularly unsettling about taking someone else's food and so aggressively eating it in front of them. We think so anyway...

American History X

Towards the end of American History X, a monochrome flashback brings us to a prophetic scene in Nazi Derek's childhood.

Derek—teenage, floppy-fringed, and sans-swastika—is eating dinner with his family. He begins to gush over his new English teacher Dr. Sweeney, and the black literature unit that he's introduced.

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This sends Derek's father into a hot-faced diatribe over "affirmative black-tion", concluding that the literature course is just "n*****r bullshit." Eager to earn his dad's respect, Derek agrees, earning a pat on the arm. "Good boy. I'm proud of you."

It's a striking example of how hate is so easily transferred from one generation to another. Of how conversation can lead to curb-stomps. Over food, amongst family, in the most wholesome and disarming of settings.

Chef

Jon Favreau's 2014 foodie flick Chef has so many moments of culinary seduction it is hard to pick one standout moment, but father and son recreating the sacred ritual of the Cuban sandwich just takes the top spot. There's magic in watching the tangy marinade massaged into a hunk of pork whilst John Leguizamo taps his heels to Latin music. 

You can practically smell the wafts of slow-cooked meat as they surgically slice fatty strips of it off to taste. Even the bread is crucial which is slathered in butter before being toasted, "When that cheese is melted," Favreau tells his son, "And that bread is golden but not burnt. You call me." The dedication pays off with the perfect cheesy golden package.

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The Blues Brothers

One of the most expensive comedies ever made—mainly due to John Belushi's off-screen drug abuse—cult classic The Blues Brothers has more than its share of iconic scenes, including this one when the duo request 'four fried chickens and some dry white toast'. A bit like martinis shaken not stirred in bars, fans of the film will be familiar with the strange impulse to place the same order that whenever they're in an American diner (note: not advised).

This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.

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