For just about as long as there have been movies, food has played a meaningful role in film. This history dates all the way back to the silent era and films like Mr. Flip (1909), in which a fed-up waitress who’s being harassed shoves a pie into the face of her tormentor, or The Gold Rush (1925), in which silent film icon Charlie Chaplin makes a soup of his own shoe, ladling the “broth” over the boiled boot before eating it with a knife and fork for Thanksgiving dinner. And whether it’s as a vehicle for Chaplin’s absurdist physical comedy, or it’s offering romantic depictions of Italian cuisine in Goodfellas and Big Night, or it’s the way the The Menu uses visceral horror and biting satire to critique the extravagance of luxury dining culture, food plays a crucial role in making the movies we love feel real.
But what exactly constitutes a great food movie? Well, that really depends. Some, like Ratatouille and Chef, are obvious picks — they are largely set in restaurants or kitchens, there are chefs involved, etc. Other films employ food in more subtle ways, to further the narrative or help us connect with a character. To celebrate the enduring connection between food and film, we spent the last several months thinking about the most essential food movies, eventually settling on 38 classics, cult favorites, and all the categories in between. The one thing that all of these films have in common is that they depict food, dining, cooking, or eating in relatable, often visceral ways.
To assemble this list, we gathered Eater’s highly opinionated brain trust of writers, editors, and movie lovers to passionately make their case for each and every film worth including. After much heated debate, here, in chronological order, our list of the 38 finest food movies. — Amy McCarthy, reporter
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
If you’d never seen Willy Wonka, you might not think its premise — a monopolistic recluse in a purple suit terrorizes a bunch of kids, their parents, and grandpa Joe while leading a corporate plant tour and singing about chocolate — sounded very much like a children’s movie. This is because Willy Wonka isn’t really a kids movie (though it is a family movie). For the first 45 minutes, the film indulges in a good amount of social commentary about class and consumerism aimed at adults, just like the Roald Dahl book on which it’s based (though it thankfully avoids Dahl’s blatant racism). We don’t even enter the titular chocolate factory until near the halfway point. Once we do, the children may be unknowingly competing for the title of CEO, but they’re just acting out basic parables; it’s their guardians that are the real target audience, the ones who need to be educated in the morals of pure, youthful fantasy. The film’s great feat isn’t squashing adult themes into a kids movie, the way animators coyly slide adult jokes into Saturday morning cartoons. The focus from the start is getting adult viewers to embrace the transformative powers of fantastical sweets, which can act as balms for the tedious, quotidian ills of grown-up society, if you can set aside your disbelief. — Nicholas Mancall-Bitel, senior editor
La Grande Bouffe (1973)
If you haven’t seen La Grande Bouffe, I urge you not to take this as a recommendation. The film is grotesque, and if I’m being ungenerous, I’d go as far as to say it serves no purpose beyond provoking disgust in its audience. But on a list of movies about eating it would feel wrong not to include Marco Ferreri’s 1973 satire in which four friends gather at a crumbling mansion and gorge themselves to death. Along the way they rope in some women (three hired, one a local school teacher) to further indulge in carnal pleasures (it’s rated NC-17). Although critics are divided, the more generous read is that it’s a comment on the decadence of the bourgeoisie. And as the four men, all stars of French and Italian cinema at the time, feast and, eventually, painfully consume mountains of pasta, over-the-top smorgastarta, and so much meat, their appreciation for fine cuisine is clear, even if the motivations for absolutely anything else happening on screen are not. — Monica Burton, deputy editor
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
There’s a scene near the end of Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, in which Dielman spends three minutes in silence, alone in her kitchen making meatloaf. The camera remains fixed in place as Dielman folds the ground meat over on itself again, and again, and again, pausing briefly to sprinkle breadcrumbs on top before recommencing the folding. This moment is just one in a series of mundane tasks, many of which take place in the kitchen, that the late director Chantal Akerman highlights in extraordinary — and some might say painfully realistic — detail over the course of the film’s nearly three-and-a-half hour runtime. But while watching a woman skin potatoes, or prepare veal, or struggle — again alone, in silence — to make a cup of coffee for over eight straight minutes might not be entertaining in the traditional sense, Jeanne Dielman offers something more for those willing to sit through it.
The film follows Dielman over the course of three days, and as the minutes and hours tick by, a strange thing happens. Sitting in the audience, your mind begins to stray from what’s happening on screen, much as it might if you were washing dishes or cooking dinner in your own home. Time begins to take on a funny, confusing quality, and you start to think in a new way about the cost of labor, specifically the amount of time and effort that goes into preparing a meal. Cooking a healthy, satisfying dinner is a herculean undertaking, but the prep work is often forgotten once a steaming plate is set in front of you. Jeanne Dielman hits its audience over the head with a true representation of kitchen labor, and instills in viewers a newfound appreciation for anyone who has ever served them a meal, even if Dielman’s own bland boiled potatoes leave something to be desired. — Jonathan Smith, interim senior editor
Eating Raoul (1982)
Swingers, culinary aspiration, cannibalism, and death by frying pan: These are the primary ingredients of director Paul Bartel’s 1982 cult classic about Paul and Mary, a married couple who turn to murder in order to fund their dream restaurant. Paul (Bartel himself) is a wine snob who sleeps on a pillow shaped like a Beaujolais bottle, Mary (Warhol star Mary Woronov) is a nurse, and together they live unhappily in an apartment building that hosts frequent swinger parties. When one of the swingers assaults Mary, the pair kills him with the aforementioned frying pan and empties his wallet — and quickly discovers that killing “rich perverts” is a lucrative endeavor. Enter Raoul (Robert Beltran), a double-crossing locksmith who sells the bodies to a dog food factory, and you get a film whose dark satire lives somewhere between Sweeney Todd and Sideways. — Rebecca Flint Marx, home editor
In 1985, Japanese director Juzo Itami released what is arguably the most iconic film ever made about noodles: Tampopo. The film follows Gun (Ken Watanabe) and Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a duo of gruff truck drivers, as they embark on a quest to teach flailing ramen shop owner Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) the real art of this beloved Japanese dish via a series of schemes and bumbling espionage attempts. Both a heartfelt, occasionally slapstick comedy and a scathing satire of American Westerns, Tampopo is the rare film that isn’t afraid to get a little weird in its pursuit of ramen perfection. (Just wait for the film’s notorious sex scene, in which an egg features heavily.) — AM
Babette’s Feast (1987)
Based on a 1958 short story by Isak Dinesen, Babette’s Feast is the archetypal tale of cooking-as-art. The titular Babette flees violence in France to work for two pious sisters in 19th-century Denmark, whose bland diet of bread soup keeps them just sustained enough, but never tipping into gluttony. That is, until Babette insists on cooking a “real French dinner” of dishes like turtle soup, quail with foie gras and truffles, and rum sponge cake. In silence (so as to avoid praising what is surely a sensual sin), the town eats, and comes to understand the godly power of pleasure that food can provide. — Jaya Saxena, correspondent
Crossing Delancey (1988)
Director Joan Micklin Silver’s wry romantic comedy is the story of Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman (Amy Irving), an independent New York woman who yearns for an urbane, literary life worlds (or at least blocks) removed that of her Lower East Side bubbe (Reizl Bozyk). But Crossing Delancey is also a story about pickles, as personified by Sam (Peter Riegert), the pickle seller whom Izzy reluctantly meets through the local Jewish matchmaker. Pickles represent everything Izzy is trying to get away from: the old world, the old traditions, the old, Yiddish-inflected storefronts of the Lower East Side. Pickles aren’t sexy — although, as Izzy gradually realizes, the pickle man sure is. Filmed on location, Crossing Delancey is as much a portrait of a disappearing culture as it is of a modern woman negotiating romance, family, and the push and pull of her own expectations. — RFM
Okay, okay. Cocktail — in which Tom Cruise’s Brian Flanagan falls into the wild world of flair bartending — isn’t a good movie. Studio rewrites, intended to make the story more palatable by Hollywood standards, yielded a convoluted plot, flimsy character motivations, and bonkers tone shifts. It won a Razzie. It’s arguable whether it’s even a good food movie, both in that it totally misrepresents the world of bartending (even flair bartending) and can’t seem to keep its eye on the (high)ball. Yet, despite all its problems, it remains the definitive representation of cocktail mixing in popular culture (which may have more to do with popular understanding of cocktail bars than the movie’s actual staying power). Cocktail has had real-world impacts in ways few movies do: According to Punch, the Alabama Slammer wouldn’t have its widespread name recognition if it weren’t for that Cocktail, and you can still find neon signs reading “Cocktails & Dreams” at bars all over the country. For better or worse (definitely worse), it’s an unshakable part of American drinking culture and history, necessary context to understand the craft cocktail renaissance of the 2000s and everything that came after. — NMB
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Although it’s widely remembered as the movie that helped launch Julia Roberts’s career, Mystic Pizza is a lot more than that: a charming, tonally perfect portrait of three young waitresses at a small-town pizzeria the summer after high school. Roberts stars as the headstrong Daisy, Annabeth Gish as her bookish sister, Kat, and Lili Taylor as their best friend, Jojo, ambivalently engaged to be married. The pizzeria functions as both a source of income and a center of gravity for the three, who hover on the cusp of adulthood with dreams of what they want their futures to be. The movie never condescends to its working-class characters, or to the local pride that excellent pizza can provoke: When a snotty restaurant critic visits the pizzeria, you hope for a good review every bit as much as you hope for Daisy, Kat, and Jojo to get what they want in life. — RFM
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Probably the greatest friends-to-lovers rom-com to ever rom-com, written by Nora Ephron and starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, When Harry Met Sally follows the friendships and relationships of its two protagonists over the course of 12 years in New York City. As is true for so many New Yorkers, much of Harry and Sally’s life together happens at restaurants. It’s at restaurants that they learn who the other is at their core and then become real friends. Sally is whip-smart and unapologetically herself: Consider her fake orgasm while eating pastrami at Katz’s just to prove a point (“I’ll have what she’s having”) or even the way she delivers a monologue of requests every time she orders. (“Not only does she always pick the best thing on the menu, but she orders it in a way even the chef didn’t know how good it could be,” as Harry puts it.) Harry is funny and secretly warm, at his best when he’s in dialogue with Sally. Here, restaurants are the ultimate life backdrop, or, as Sally’s friend Marie (Carrie Fisher) quotes from New York magazine to Harry’s friend Jess (Bruno Kirby): “Restaurants are to people in the ’80’s what theaters were to people in the ’60’s.” — Hillary Dixler Canavan, restaurant editor
Anyone who’s watched Goodfellas has permanently altered the way they approach garlic. But outside of the iconic scene of Paulie Cicero slicing cloves with a razor blade in prison, director Martin Scorsese shows how food and Italian American mob life are intertwined. This thing of theirs is nothing without wooing dates with prime tables at elite supper clubs, laying low at mom’s house while eating her pasta, and making a Sunday gravy in between drug runs. — JS
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
Some may say that 1991’s Fried Green Tomatoes, starring Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy, isn’t a food movie. But this film, based on Fannie Flagg’s classic, similarly titled Southern novel, uses food to explore some of its biggest themes — love, revenge, and reclaiming one’s power. Bates stars as Evelyn Couch, a put-upon housewife who’s steeped in diet culture and stuck with an ungrateful husband until she meets Ninny Threadgoode (Tandy) while visiting a relative in the nursing home. The two strike up a friendship, and Ninny shares with Evelyn a colorful array of stories from her life in early 20th-century Whistle Stop, Alabama.
Ninny’s stories largely center the relationship between her older sister Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and her best friend Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker), who eventually fall in love after they deal with Ruth’s abusive husband in a decidedly dark (and smoky) way. The two run the town’s Whistle Stop Cafe, serving their fried green tomatoes and other Southern comfort staples as they confront terminal cancer, family chaos, and queer love in the 1920s American South. — AM
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
Based on Laura Esquivel’s 1989 novel of the same name, Like Water for Chocolate is the film that has arguably done more than any other to equate food with the expression of emotion. Its story, directed for the screen by Alfonso Arau, follows Tita (Lumi Cavazos), a young woman living in early 1900s Mexico. Tita is deeply in love with Pedro (Marco Leonardi), but forbidden to marry him due to a family tradition. Instead, Pedro marries one of Tita’s sisters, while Tita, forced by said tradition to take care of her mother, channels her feelings into the food she cooks. This is a film in which tears baked into a wedding cake cause the guests to cry and vomit, and a quail dish made with petals from an illicit bouquet provokes overwhelming horniness in all who consume it. It’s little surprise Like Water for Chocolate inspired similar films (hello, Simply Irresistible and Woman on Top) and that, decades later, its passion still burns. — RFM
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
This early Ang Lee comedy-drama is one of those films that it’s impossible to watch without working up an appetite. Chu is a banquet chef with three adult daughters. On Sundays, he gives his talents over to preparing elaborate family meals, and Sunday after Sunday, we watch their lives take dramatic turns, as the dinner table becomes the setting for the seemingly sudden announcements of pregnancies, marriages, and other major life decisions. The importance of food to these characters’ lives is right there in the title — “eat” comes first, after all — but it’s underscored in perhaps the most devastating of the dramatic twists when Chu loses his sense of taste, forcing him to leave his job in shame. The loss is a metaphor — it comes as the chef feels increasingly unmoored by his life outside of the kitchen — but it also makes clear that in the world of the film, life has little enjoyment without the presence of good food and the ability to appreciate it. — MB
Big Night (1996)
More than any other movie on this list, Big Night captures the agony and the ecstasy of restaurant life. The highs are profound — eldest brother, Primo (Tony Shalhoub), is a culinary genius, his talent as a chef is at the heart of the restaurant he runs with his younger brother, Secondo (Stanley Tucci), in New Jersey, the two having emigrated from Italy. The business, however, is in shambles. Primo’s artistry and vision makes him resistant to meeting the demands of his customer base who, in 1950’s fashion, make requests of him like adding a side of spaghetti to their risotto. While their restaurant struggles, the restaurant across the street, Pasquale’s, is thriving under the leadership of owner Pascal (Ian Holm) who happily panders to his guests and hopes to bring Primo onto his staff. In a last-ditch effort to save the restaurant, the brothers heed advice from Pascal and prepare a blowout meal sure to entice celebrity singer Louis Prima to attend, thus earning the restaurant the buzz it needs to survive.
The dinner sequence that follows is part Waiting for Godot, part Italian food fantasia, an amazing demonstration of just how good the restaurant could be at its very best. Bottles of wine litter the table, and few food moments on film hold as much drama as the cooking, and later, unveiling and feasting, of Primo’s timpano, a dome of pasta filled with yet more pasta, sauce, eggs, sausage, and other goodies. The evening is full of ecstasy, but the realities are agony. And it’s that last note that bleeds into the famous final sequence of the movie, a silent choreography of two brothers and a cook in their restaurant kitchen, preparing an omelet that will hopefully heal the wounds delivered the night before. — HDC
Good Burger (1997)
Yes, Good Burger is a goofy kids movie about two dudes who work in a vaguely sketchy burger joint, but this Nickelodeon classic is so much more than that. Dexter Reed (Kenan Thompson) is a delinquent teen who needs a job to make cash after he wrecked his mom’s car, and finally lands at Good Burger, working alongside Ed (Kel Mitchell), a well-meaning, if occasionally clueless, burger-flipper. Amid Dex and Ed’s self-created chaos that frequently involves showers of pink milkshake flying everywhere, a new chain called Mondo Burger threatens Good Burger’s existence, which means that Ed and Dex have to figure out a way to save it.
All the way back in 1997, Good Burger was warning us about the impending problems with chainifcation, the proliferation of chemicals in the American food chain, and labor exploitation in the food industry, all of which we’re still seeing right now. Impossibly prescient for a kids movie, Good Burger also somehow manages to hold up comedically. — AM
Soul Food (1997)
It’s nearly impossible to consume food media that doesn’t extoll the healing powers of home-cooked meals lovingly shared with family in a manner befitting a Hallmark card. In many Black American families, this is embodied by weekly Sunday night dinners, cookouts, or potlucks, typically organized by an auntie or grandmother. But what happens when the primary cook and driver of the tradition falls into a coma? Such is the premise of Soul Food, the star-studded 1997 film following the Joseph family’s struggles to heal past wounds and new betrayals, preserve 40-year-old traditions, and find some way to move forward together.
Told from the perspective of 11-year-old Ahmad Simmons, the movie boasts no shortage of gut-busting punch lines or juicy, gripping drama (cough, cough, a certain affair), but the film’s greatest strength lies in its clear-eyed depictions of meals shared around common tables as both unifying and dividing forces. It’s here that the Joseph family’s loving veneer shatters — and eventually, is reforged. — Jesse Sparks, senior editor
Chocolat is the kind of film you want to live in. Like please, let me be the seductive, slightly magical Vianne (Juliette Binoche) blowing into the most romantic town in the south of France like Mary Poppins, setting up a picturesque chocolaterie that becomes a home for the wayward and needy, and taking on the Catholic Church’s prudish ideas. It’ll almost have you believe chocolate can change minds, erase prejudice, and reunite families. But mostly, it is the textbook example of how a good food movie should make you salivate. The endless shots of chocolate being stirred, drizzled, unwrapped, and sucked off fingers are made of pure sensuality. — Jaya Saxena
Spirited Away (2001)
It’s not a secret that Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli works magic with food scenes. There’s Ponyo, with its love of all things ham; Kiki’s Delivery Service’s carby bakery wonderland; and The Boy and the Heron’s appreciation of butter and strawberry jam toast. But Spirited Away is the studio’s best tribute to food.
Spirited Away is not an obvious food movie, it’s about a girl, Chihiro, who is thrown into a fantastical, unfamiliar spirit world that she must navigate to save herself and her family. But it’s also about the transformative and grounding power of food, in both a negative and positive sense: Chihiro’s parents turn into literal pigs after eating all the dim sum at an unmanned food stall, but eating onigiri anchors and strengthens Chihiro so she can embark on her quest. Importantly, Spirited Away also includes one of the world’s most iconic food scenes. When the lonely No-Face spirit demands all the food in a glorious display of indulgence, staffers eagerly bring him every edible thing because they want his tips of gold. We witness him gorging from an undulating buffet of hand-drawn foods — including roast pigs, bao, sushi, and all the rice — and can almost taste and smell the savory aromas.
Director Hayao Miyazaki is a mastermind, and he knows that food is an essential part of the worlds — both real and imagined — that we live in. — Nadia Chaudhury, Eater Austin editor
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
There is no truer modern odyssey than a munchies-fueled quest for fast food. Like the deepest emotional journeys, it is singular in focus, total in its commitment, and absurd in its details. Harold & Kumar, an instant classic when it premiered in 2004, expresses this perfectly (it also made me, at 12 years old, laugh so hard I shot Coca-Cola out of my nose). The movie is exactly as funny and stupid as it needs to be to follow in the footsteps of Cheech, Chong, and other stoner comedy virtuosos of the silver screen. But it also captures an ascendant moment in the cult of fast food, which would later develop into widespread internet fandoms for brands like Chick-fil-A and Jollibee. Sure, the Big Mac already held a place of cultural prominence; H&K premiered the same year as Morgan Spurlock’s fast food documentary Super Size Me (box office rank: 149). But Harold & Kumar gave us a preview of how a slider can become an icon of fascination among fans, inflating in our minds entirely beyond any actual gastronomical experience. Rewatching it nearly 20 years later, the bodily humor is still gross, the CGI cheetah is terrible, but the obsession with White Castle is so familiar, and not just because it seamlessly recalls the mythological odyssey. — NMB
Remembered as the film that put pinot noir on the map (and wiped Merlot from it), Sideways is ultimately a film about coping mechanisms. As Jack Cole (Thomas Haden Church) seeks sex to quell his insecurities on his bachelor weekend, Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) uses his knowledge and appreciation of fine wine to avoid dealing with heartbreak and anxiety over his unpublished novel.
Amid golden shots of California vineyards, the two must face what the hell is wrong with them, and wine becomes a beautiful metaphor for care, attention, and not letting things go to waste. — Jaya Saxena
Man Push Cart (2005)
Sometimes food isn’t something that sparks passion or nostalgia or reminds you of the beauty of human creation. Sometimes it’s what gets you through the day, especially for the people selling it. This neorealist film, set in post-9/11 New York, follows Pakistani immigrant Ahmad as he drags his coffee and doughnut cart to his corner to dish out quick breakfasts to office workers. He longs to be with his son, to make enough money for an apartment, to maybe even find love again or restart the music career he had in Pakistan. But the only constant is the cart, the day-in-day-out pattern of coffee and tea and bagels, sold to people he’ll never connect with. Yes, it’s bleak, but it’s also deeply human. And a reminder of the lives that exist behind morning coffee. — Jaya Saxena
Last Holiday (2006)
Everyone loves an underdog. Last Holiday introduces us to one of the most endearing: Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), a shy department store worker who leads culinary demonstrations by day and cooks along to Food Network shows by night — only to give her food away as she resigns herself to frozen Lean Cuisine meals and counting Weight Watchers points. That is until an MRI shows she has a life-threatening brain tumor.
With weeks to live, Byrd changes her tune. She quits her job, abandons her beige-cardigan-coded lifestyle, and blows her life’s savings on an eye-popping trip to a Swiss ski chalet, which just so happens to be staffed by the Emeril Lagasse-esque celebrity chef she adores. Heartwarming hilarity ensues as Byrd sheds her self-doubt, speaks her mind, and truly savors all of the rich, luxurious foods she’d once given up. Naturally, her newfound demeanor rubs off on the guests and hotel staff around her.
Tropey at times — excusable, given that this is a 2006 movie featuring LL Cool J — Last Holiday is a delightful detour from the gravitas often attributed to food films. Instead, it’s an ode to the many food lovers often left outside of the camera’s gaze and a charming reminder that life is meant to be enjoyed, full-fat butter liberally applied, and kitchens gleefully shared. — Jesse Sparks
As Jenna, the heroine of director Adrienne Shelly’s quirky comedy about an unhappily married, unhappily pregnant diner waitress somewhere in the American South, Keri Russell spends a lot of time making pie. Pie is her calling card — she is described as a “pie genius” — as well as a way to channel her feelings, as pies with names like “I Hate My Husband Pie” and “Pregnant, Miserable, Self-Pitying Loser Pie” attest. Waitress belongs to a subgenre of movies that center diners and their employees, but few have used food as such an explicit means of self-expression, and, ultimately, self-actualization. And while the movie has numerous charms, including an off-kilter sense of humor and a supporting cast that includes Cheryl Hines and Shelly herself as Jenna’s fellow waitresses, what lingers is its sweetly stubborn insistence that while pie can’t solve all the world’s problems, it can certainly offer an opportunity for personal salvation. — RFM
There is something utterly beautiful about unlikely scenarios, like putting pickles on pizza, dipping fries in milkshakes, or even a rat cooking high-end French cuisine. The latter is the absurd premise of Ratatouille, the touching animated film about a little rat, Remy, who is a fantastic cook. I could go on about the cultural impact of the film — and, in fact, we have — but what Ratatouille does so well is visually and sonically depict the beauty of food. The way Remy experiences food and particularly food combinations is stunning. For example, the moment he takes bites of cheese and strawberries together is an explosion of abstract shapes and squiggles, soundtracked by an orchestral burst.
Of course, it’s the broader message that solidifies Ratatouille as a quintessential food movie, namely that cooking is open to everybody, no matter who you are. Remy learns to reconcile his multiple selves: the one who wants to cook, the one who wants to be a friend to Linguini, and the one who is a rat brother and son. As ghost Gusteau tells Remy, “Food always comes to those who love to cook,” and while Remy initially disagrees, he eventually proves himself wrong. Anyone can cook as long as they have real passion, even tiny chef rats. —NC
Julie & Julia (2009)
Directed by Nora Ephron and starring the dream team of Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia was always destined to be a comfort movie for the ages. What makes it so charming upon each rewatch is the way its characters find pleasure in food: Child’s excitement as she tries cassoulet and sole meunière in France, and Powell’s relatable sense of accomplishment as she learns from Child’s recipes how to poach eggs and boil lobsters. By connecting Powell’s and Child’s lives, Julie & Julia is an encouraging and heartwarming — if not entirely realistic — story of two women who were, as Adams says in character, “saved by food.” It also commemorates a major inflection point in modern food culture: when blogging became a serious, viable pursuit, paving the way for today’s creator economy. — Bettina Makalintal, senior reporter
It’s Complicated (2009)
Nancy Meyers is well known for meticulously crafting worlds in which privileged characters play out dramas with comfortingly low stakes. The most delicious of these is showcased in It’s Complicated. Jane Adler (Meryl Streep) finds herself in an affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin), who left her for a much younger woman years earlier. Jane, reeling from her new status as the other woman, is thrown for even more of a loop when her kind architect, played by Steve Martin, shows romantic interest. However, those plot points aren’t nearly as important as the beautiful Santa Barbara, California, setting and the food scenes it gives way to. Jane is a notably good cook, with a predictably enviable kitchen and access to the finest Californian ingredients. She also owns a bakery and in an iconic two-minute sequence, she and the architect visit the shop after hours and whip up some chocolate croissants. It’s Jane at her most joyful, as she and the architect toss around the dough, turning it into beards and the triangles of a bikini top (they’re also high). In a film full of aspirational moments, this is the scene we would most like to recreate. — MB
The Trip (2010)
A food film for anyone who loves to plan their travel around eating, The Trip follows comedian Steve Coogan on a newspaper assignment to review some of northern England’s best restaurants. For the trip (get the name) he brings along fellow comedian Rob Brydon, and off they drive to feast at restaurants like L’Enclume, Holbeck Ghyll, and the Inn at Whitewell. Coogan and Brydon play versions of themselves; their wives and girlfriends are actresses, their circumstances — and the Observer article — are fictional, too, but the dynamic the two cultivate meal after meal is real. Their sprawling conversations as they drive through gorgeous scenery and dine in some of the most acclaimed restaurants in England are less My Dinner with Andre and more unending comedy routine, with the duo’s dialogue and numerous impressions totally improvised. And while it’s clear that while they’re not food experts (Coogan at one point describes a tomato soup as tasting like tomatoes), they do hit on some of the highs and lows of haute cuisine — the scourge of sauce dots, the sometimes silly naming conventions of the dishes (scallops, Brydon muses, can’t be “rested” since they’re dead), but also how damn good fine food and wine can be. And underneath the laugh-out-loud performances lies a moving portrait of middle-aged life, love, and friendship. And so much food. — HDC
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)
With artsy close-ups of ingredients being prepped and plated, set to soaring orchestral music, almost every food documentary now owes some of its aesthetic sensibilities to Jiro Dreams of Sushi. In a novel approach for the time, Jiro took a Planet Earth-inspired eye to shots of hands slicing fish and forming sushi. With it, director David Gelb changed not only how we watch food in the United States, but also how we eat. The award-winning Jiro turned its namesake Jiro Ono into a global phenomenon, making reservations at Sukiyabashi Jiro a hot commodity. In doing so, it also popularized the concept of omakase and spurred a high-end sushi boom in the United States. Of course, Jiro then paved the way for Gelb to make the influential Chef’s Table. — BM
The Lunchbox (2013)
What’s more romantic than a crossed-wires connection a la You’ve Got Mail, especially one in which two people fall in love through the making of and eating of food? This is the core of The Lunchbox. In the international production directed by Ritesh Batra, housewife Ila Singh lovingly cooks lunch tiffins for her husband to be delivered by way of Mumbai’s intricate and lengthy dabbawala system. But it turns out the operation isn’t perfect and her meals end up with a different person in a different office, Saajan Fernandes (played by the late great Irrfan Khan).
Aside from the meet-cute, will-they-won’t-they plotline, The Lunchbox is about food’s particular ability to bring people together. Saajan and Ila develop their friendship as she prepares him dishes she knows he’ll enjoy, like the aubergine stir-fry. Meanwhile, Saajan begrudgingly shares these meals with his new trainee Sheikh, who then becomes a familial figure in his life. The film also beautifully showcases the ways cooking can be a craft, especially in South Asian cultures. I recognize the way Ila taste-tests by dabbing bits on her palm — much like my mom does — and the way her upstairs neighbor could smell that certain spices were missing from a dish. It’s clear the making and enjoying of food is one of those less obvious love languages that director Batra just gets. —NC
In the film that Jon Favreau directed, wrote, and stars in, Carl Casper is an acclaimed chef, stuck creating generic crowd-pleasing menus at a fancy-pants Los Angeles restaurant. As he becomes increasingly bored by the whole shtick, he realizes that he wants and needs to cook without any restraints. He gets his wish after he’s fired for blowing up at a food critic over a bad review, and not knowing what else to do, he opens a food truck, El Jefe, focused on Cuban sandwiches. He then takes the truck on a cross-country road trip that serves the dual purpose of allowing Carl to reconnect with his son and find a way back to cooking.
Favreau loves food. Each dish prep scene is shot with care, whether it’s Carl slicing vegetables at the restaurant, pressing a grilled cheese in his home kitchen, or fashioning an assembly line of sandwiches in a tiny food truck space. The same goes for every bite taken on screen, including beignets in New Orleans and brisket straight from the smoker in Austin (hi, Aaron Franklin). But ultimately, Chef is about who we cook for and why, and posits that being a great chef comes from making delicious food for yourself and loved ones. —NC
Phantom Thread (2017)
Sometimes, you need to lightly poison your lover to make them act right. Or at least that’s the message at the heart of Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 epic. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Reynolds, an intense, obsessive, and sometimes paranoid dressmaker with a voracious appetite. He meets Alma (Vicky Krieps) when she’s waitressing at a restaurant and the two quickly become enmeshed, with Alma moving in with Reynolds to serve as his creative muse. While those who have only seen the trailer might not immediately clock it as a food film, the drama and resolution in Phantom Thread always hinge on a meal. There’s the restaurant where Alma and Reynolds meet, the ill-fated dinner she prepares for him in a display of her devotion, and a pivotal, poisoned mushroom tea, which Alma gives to Reynolds so that she can be the one to nurse him back to health. Finally, the film culminates in a mushroom omelet, lovingly prepared by Alma, that reveals the depth of this complicated couple’s connection. — AM
Domee Shi’s Pixar short Bao acted as the intro to Incredibles 2, but I’d argue that it stole the show. In just under eight minutes, Bao told the story of a mother whose baozi becomes sentient. After her coddled dumpling baby grows into an independent adult, the mother impulsively eats him. We realize then that it was a dream, representing the mother’s fear of growing distant from her real, non-dumpling son. Though the twist horrified some viewers, it resonated deeply with others, especially within the Asian American community, for its depiction of overprotective parents and complicated familial love. Every ingredient and the entire dumpling-making process is rendered in beautiful, drool-worthy detail, informed by tutorials from Shi’s mother; Shi’s animated food only improved in her 2022 feature-length debut, Turning Red. — BM
First Cow (2019)
All of the characters in Kelly Reichardt’s masterpiece First Cow know that pastries are out of place in the unforgiving frontier of the 19th-century Oregon Territory. The oily cakes and clafoutis that Cookie (John Magaro) makes are too sweet for a world made savage by greedy, violent interlopers. The titular cow, who lost her bull and calf on the journey to the frontier, is also out of place. When Cookie and King-Lu (Orion Lee) take to secretly milking the cow for a fledgling bakery pop-up, essentially stealing from the local governor who owns the animal, they risk their physical safety, but they also provide purpose where before there was meaningless solitude. Cookie’s pastries not only make use of the cow’s milk, which will never go to her lost calf; they also bring immense joy to local customers otherwise consumed with individual material gain. The protagonists also find a shared purpose in their scheme, as well as comfort, support, and a kind of love in the domestic sphere they carve out of the cold forest, a liminal place that exists outside the rules of polite society and the annals of progress (as King-Lu puts it, “History hasn’t gotten here yet”). In this world, baking becomes a subtle act of rebellion by offering cohesion to disparate elements and motivation to lost people. That’s still true everywhere history has arrived. — NMB
Minari follows a Korean immigrant family as they try to build a life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s, drawing partially on the experiences of director Lee Isaac Chung. Jacob (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) work as chicken sexers for the poultry industry in order to support their two young children, though Jacob would rather make a living growing Korean vegetables. Arriving from Korea to assist the family, Monica’s mom Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) slowly builds a relationship with her grandchildren, while Jacob’s pursuit of his farm creates other tensions. Tender and moving, Minari — which gets its name from the Korean word for water celery — frames food as a symbol of hope and of sacrifice in pursuit of the “American dream.” — BM
Pig was the movie of the summer back in 2021 (or at the very least, my movie of the summer, a substantial portion of which I spent blogging about it). It stars Nicolas Cage as retired chef Robin Feld, who has been living off the grid in the Oregon woods, supporting himself by foraging truffles with his titular truffle pig. When his pig is stolen, Rob must return to the grisly underworld of Portland’s dining scene to get her back, forcing him to confront the life he left behind in the process. It might sound like John Wick, but the mood in Pig is far, well, moodier, exploring themes like loss, grief, artistry, genius, and finding one’s purpose. The film is at turns intimate (Rob connects with a young kid in the backyard of the home he used to live in) and imaginative (an underground restaurant worker fight club lit by chandeliers). And there’s plenty of food, as a movie about a chef should have: There’s the high-end restaurant Eurydice, a send-up of pretentious cheffery — and by contrast there’s the scene where we finally see Rob cook, a beautifully rustic pigeon with chanterelles designed for the movie by Portland’s own Gabe Rucker. A must-see for fans of Cage, mushrooms, and/or tear-jerkers, Pig is unexpected and compelling, a uniquely introspective food film. — HDC
The Menu (2022)
What would you pay for the most exclusive dining experience in the world? That’s the question at the heart of The Menu, director Mark Mylod’s 2002 dark comedy-horror film. Ralph Fiennes terrifies as the tyrannical chef Julian, a man with a lust for revenge on those who have misunderstood or undervalued his culinary genius. His victims are a dining room full of elites, played by a stellar ensemble cast that includes John Leguizamo, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Nicholas Hoult. They’re the kind of people who have earned enough money and power in uniquely unscrupulous ways to fritter away $1,200 per person for dinner — except for Margot (Taylor-Joy), a sharp-witted sex worker who’s determined to make it out alive. The film unfolds much like a tasting menu, and each course more terrifying than the next. That terror culminates in one hell of a dessert, er, ending — one that’s all but assured to have you laughing out loud. — AM
The Taste of Things (2024)
Set in France in the 19th century, The Taste of Things is the love story of a cook named Eugénie (Juliette Binoche) and her gastronome employer Dodin (Benoît Magimel). It’s a film that understands the deep romance in cooking for, and with, another person. Accordingly, the story is told through food, which director Trần Anh Hùng presents in indulgent, drawn-out, and atmospheric detail; the film begins with an ensemble cooking sequence that’s 40 minutes long in the most generous estimations.
Trần excels at displaying cooking sensually. He lets the camera linger on the steam that billows from a pot of stock, for example, and then holds it there as Dodin drips that stock onto the taut skin of a chicken, the kitchen aglow in golden-hour light. These lush visuals are enhanced by the crisp sounds of cooking, with no soundtrack for distraction. It’s a film that makes you yearn not only for the food, but also for the lifestyle — of spending your days cooking in a sun-drenched chateau kitchen, because you love the act of doing it, and then sharing that food with someone you love. — BM
Marylu E. Herrera (she/her) is a Chicago-based Chicana collage, print media, craft, and fiber artist. Her collage work has been featured in the Cut, the Los Angeles Times, Bitch Media, Eater, and Punch.