Favorite Food Films

by Sarah Henry on February 19, 2010 · 42 comments

in food films

How many fabo feature flicks can you think of where food is the focus?

My friend Jim Kahn and I were mulling over this very matter recently as we chatted about the marvelous Meryl Streep.

While Julie & Julia was obviously a meal of a movie, the pleasures of the table also got more than a cameo role in another recent Streep vehicle, It’s Complicated. Check out what my friend Cheryl Sternman Rule has to say about the latter movie’s memorable food moments over at ivillage.

Jim and I started rattling off a list of food films that deserve fanfare.

Five Easy Pieces, When Harry Met Sally, Joy Luck Club, and Moonstruck all have stellar food scenes but arguably aren’t food films per se.

Here’s what our Top Ten Food Flicks looks like in alpha order:

1. Babette’s Feast (1987)

The Danish do dinner in the desolate countryside courtesy of a young housekeeper who turns out to know a thing or two about French food.

2. Big Night (1978)

Larger-than-life characters consume the screen in this funny family caper about an Italian restaurant on the brink of bankruptcy.

3. Chocolat (2000)

Sexy single mama Juliette Binoche shares the sensual delights of chocolate with the rural French who resist its charms–and hers–but not for long.

4. Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

Ang Lee loves a wedding banquet. This meditation on food and family, culture and cooking, features a Taiwanese chef who loses his sense of taste and his picky eater daughters.

5. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)

An American story about enduring female friendships, Southern hospitality, and the regional specialties served up at a local café.

6. Julie & Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep eats up the screen as Julia Child. Amy Adams plays the frustrated office worker and fledgling blogger channeling her inner Julia.

7. Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

A young Mexican couple barred from marrying express their passion through cooking and eating.

8. Pieces of April (2003)

Ultimate oddball Thanksgiving dinner film featuring a wonderful performance by Katie Holmes before Cruise control killed her career.

9. Ratatouille (2007)

Animated Pixar pic stars Remy the rat who aspires to be a great chef despite family opposition — and the obvious obstacle of being a rodent in a rat-phobic profession. But follow those food fantasies: Remy sets the French cooking scene on fire.

10. Tampopo (1987)

Jim calls this the ultimate Japanese noodle Western. Widow seeking to make the perfect bowl of ramen gets help from an unlikely source.

11. Waitress (2007)

Sweet American indie featuring the late Adrienne Shelly who bakes her way to a better life.

Okay, that’s 11, but who’s counting?

Clearly cinematographers love to get in the kitchen.  Find other food film lists here, chef pics here, reader raves here.

Coming soon: Eat, Pray, Love, based on the book of the same name, which will no doubt feature Italian, Indian, and Indonesian fare.

What do you think of this list? Granted it’s skewed towards recent rom-coms pairing culinary pursuits and passions of the hearts. Hence all the chocolate.

Did I give your favorite foodie film the flick? What’s missing? Racked my brain for a great Aussie food film, alas I couldn’t come up with one.

Where’s the golden oldie featuring food — even if it’s in black and white? Where’s the Indian feast flick? A French food film classic, actually made in France? A soul food big screen treat?

I’m sure I’m leaving out loads of other sumptuous cinematic offerings.

Feel free to correct the record below.

You might also like:

Eat, Pray, Love: Still Hungry

10 Top Documentary Food Films

What’s Cooking with Julie & Julia

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Rubin February 19, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Those movies are great. There are also some super food movies that are indie docs. Not all of them have such a happy ending, but are still worth seeing.
The Real Dirt on Farmer John
King Corn
Big River ( a short sequel to King Corn)
Fresh
Food Fight
Food Inc.
Killer At Large

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Sarah Henry February 19, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Yep, Susan, great list. Thought I’d cover the indie docs in time for the Academy Awards — since Food, Inc. is among the nominees. Thanks for the heads up.

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David Gans February 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm

“Big Night” is the first one that comes to mind.

I remember “Delicatessen” being a pretty creepy film – not a charming food flick at all. But it’s been a while.

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Sarah Henry February 19, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Hi David,

I haven’t seen Delicatessen. Should I add it to my Netflix queue? It looks kinda creepy, as you say, but then I loved the black humor of Shaun of the Dead.

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Meredith February 19, 2010 at 4:15 pm

I love this post! What a great idea – and thank you. I’m off to tweet it!

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Sheryl Kraft February 19, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Great list, Sarah! Brings back so many memories; the order Jack Nicholson gave in Five Easy Pieces (hilarious!), the bakery in Moonstruck, the kitchen/bakery scenes in both of Meryl Streep’s flicks. Thanks for this.

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Nani Steele February 19, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Well, you’ve certainly captured a few of the best-”Babette’s Feast” was perfectly wonderful, eh-and now makes me think I should go rent it again.

My newest fave, and top recommended is “Secret of the Grain,” about Tunisian immigrants living in the South of France (subtitles). Purely wonderful and terrifically sad at the same time, but captures all that unfolds around the table–the beauty, the hunger, hope, despair and tragedy of family.

As far as “Waitress,” goes, thought it was silly-sweet, but not that interesting over all.

What about the German film out a few years ago, “Mostly Martha?” wonderful too, very sentimental, and purely sensuous. The American remake (No Reservations) again was so unnecessary, and quite flat in comparison.

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Sarah Henry February 19, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Thanks, Nani, will add “Secret of the Grain,” and “Mostly Martha” to my list of films to check out.

Waitress was probably a sentimental pick, to be sure. But if you’re in the mood for silly-sweet it fits the bill.

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Susan February 20, 2010 at 7:41 am

Love this list, especially Julie & Julia and Ratatouille. I RTed Meredith’s tweet. :)

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MyKidsEatSquid February 20, 2010 at 9:58 am

I’m with you on Chocolat, but I still have nightmares about Ratatouille. I just can’t get over the creepy rats making your meal–no matter how compelling their back stories. What about Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs? Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

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Sarah Henry February 20, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Yes, MKES, I know what you mean about the rodents. I can handle snakes, spiders, cockroaches (grew up in the tropics) but rats make me crazy, so I resisted this movie for a long time. But somehow I was able to overlook the vermin factor and found it delightful.

Which Charlie and the Chocolate Factory do you favor? The Gene Wilder original or the wacky Johnny Depp vehicle?

My son saw Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs but I haven’t seen it yet.

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Margaret February 20, 2010 at 10:58 am

What’s Cooking. Directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend it Like, Beckham, Bride & Prejudice). Four families, four different ethnic groups celebrate Thanksgiving in LA. Families + Holidays = Drama (secrets, inter-generational clashes, cultural misunderstandings, humor, etc.)

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Sarah Henry February 20, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Thanks Margaret, going to add this to Netflicks list asap.

Sounds just my cuppa tea.

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Cheryl@5secondrule February 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Mystic Pizza! And though I’m not a Julia Roberts groupie (though I do like her films), I am pretty excited about Eat, Pray, Love, if only because I thought the description of the pizza in the Italy portion of Gilbert’s book was some of the best food writing by a non-food writer I’ve ever read.

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Sarah Henry February 20, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten about Mystic Pizza. That was a goodie. As for Eat, Pray, Love, I’m looking forward to lots of gorgeous gelato close ups.

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can'tremember February 21, 2010 at 2:57 am

Great list but I have one to add, which I cannot find anywhere because I cannot remember the title! I saw it August 2009 on a flight from London to L.A. and it was about a Japanese single mom working in a job she doesn’t like. She is required to persuade the elderly chef at a nearby Chinese restaurant to buy something (she’s in sales–again, memory fuzzy) and in so doing begins lunching daily at his restaurant, where, surprise surprise, the food is amazing. She eventually befriends the chef, quits her job and he teaches her everything he knows. A very beautiful film, about food and much more. But what is it called?

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Sarah Henry February 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Love a movie mystery. Your description of the film isn’t ringing a bell with me — perhaps other readers will know which flick this is — as it sounds charming.

I couldn’t find an answer with a quick Google search using the info provided here.

Anyone know what this move is called?

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Ruth Pennebaker February 21, 2010 at 7:06 am

What a great idea and great list, Sarah. Can’t think of anything to add to it.

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Lisa Gibson February 21, 2010 at 6:11 pm

That’s a great list, above. In reading through the comments above, I prefer the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. To me, Johnny Depp lends a creepiness to Willie Wonka that I find off-putting. I’m thinking it will be that way with the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland as well. Interesting post.

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Sarah Henry February 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Lisa, I agree with you on a preference for the Gene versus Johnny version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though I’m actually looking forward to Depp’s kooky take on the Mad Hatter.

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Frugal Kiwi February 21, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I love Waitress. It made me laugh, it made me drool. “Dear d*mn baby” diary entries were hilarious.

Delicatessen is a great movie, but not what you might call, um, charming.

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Sarah Henry February 21, 2010 at 9:21 pm

Ah, thanks for the, um, heads up, Frugal Kiwi. Duly noted.

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Jennifer Margulis February 22, 2010 at 10:33 am

I love this list. I love all these movies! (I must like food movies more than I realized since I’ve seen all but one). Melanie (Frugal Kiwi) is so right that Delicatessen is a great movie but not one that I’d call food-inspiring…

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Almost Slowfood February 22, 2010 at 11:48 am

I’ve only seen half of those movies, but they were gems. Will have to see the other half now!

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JCN February 24, 2010 at 2:15 am

It’s not really a foodie film, but I love the role that food plays in Aussie film The Castle. The food is so absolutely Anglo-Celtic, three-meat-and-veg, reminiscent of a vanished Australian culinary heritage (and probably a good thing too ….)

And I love the way Michael Caton’s character as the father is always so impressed and grateful for what he’s served:
‘What do you call this, love?’ ‘Ice-cream with milo,’ the mother replies shyly, proudly.

The food is not the central issue, it’s what it represents to both of them that is so lovely.

I know a lot of people don’t like The Castle, but I think the Kerrigan family are wonderful, and Darryl Kerrigan is a zen saint.

Another Aussie film with a great food scene is in Looking for Alibrandi, where the film opens and closes with scenes of an Australian-Italian clan getting together in a sunny suburban back yard to make bottles of fresh tomato sauce. Inspiring!

PS – I agree with Lisa too – the Gene Wilder Willie Wonka is the one for me … but I can’t wait till Tim Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland is released soon.

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Sarah Henry February 24, 2010 at 7:29 am

JCN,

So glad you mentioned The Castle, as someone else reminded me it was an Oz flick with good food scenes (well, maybe not “good food,” but you know what I mean…).

I loved Looking for Alibrandi as well but I don’t remember that scene so I’ll just have to watch it again.

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JCN February 24, 2010 at 2:17 am

Can’t remember – is this the film you’re thinking of: The Ramen Girl, starring Britany Murphy?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ramen_Girl

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can't remember February 24, 2010 at 3:03 am

JCN,

No, that’s not it. It’s not an American film. It was subtitled. It could have been Japanese, or Chinese, or even Korean for all I know, but it was not a U.S. film with U.S. actors.

I keep thinking about it, in hopes the name will come to me, it should be on this really good list. It was about the universality of food, and it’s nurturing potential, not just to keep us alive, but how good food can make life worth living. It was very bittersweet.

The main character, the woman, struggles to find happiness, she even loses custody of her daughter for a while because she has a bit of a breakdown. Her friendship with the chef helps them both and the cooking scenes are amazing–don’t want to give away much more.

Why can I remember all this and not the title!?

But thanks for trying. I’ve even looked on the Virgin Atlantic website, but no record of films showing on flights last summer.

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Sarah Henry February 24, 2010 at 8:44 am

can’t remember,

all this detail is great. i know how annoying it is when you can’t recall names or film or book titles (happens to my middle-aged brain more often than i’d like).

but i’m confident someone will have an answer for us.

anyone?

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marthaandme February 24, 2010 at 10:27 am

I loved Chocolat and Waitress! Great movies. I’ve never seen Babette’s Feast, but I’m going to go add it to my Netflix list now. Mystic Pizza is another favorite I would mention!

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michelle March 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm

“The Scent of Green Papaya”
The food is SOOOO beautiful!
The girl prepares the food as if preparing an art exhibition……

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Sarah Henry March 9, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Ah, yes, The Scent of Green Papaya is a lovely addition to this list.

Thanks, Michelle.

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Lentil Breakdown March 23, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Mostly Martha and Dim Sum are two of my faves and can’t remember if The Joy Luck Club had food in it. You should rent Mostly Martha. It’s a terrific German film that got remade into the one with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, which was inferior to the original.

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movierecipesdotnet May 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm

how about coq au vin from donnie brasco?

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laura October 24, 2010 at 8:01 pm

Husband just found me a decent food movie called The Ramen Girl and one can see it on blinxk. It is about a ditsy American girl who comes to Japan for a boyfriend and ends up staying to learn to make ramen, a popular but secret regional soup dish. The American actress wasn’t that great but the Japanese actors made it better..movie inspired me to want to cook this dish..so it has that great food movie feel…semi-romantic as well.

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Michael October 2, 2011 at 8:16 am

SO glad to see “Pieces of April” on this list. I had been looking at various people’s food film lists around the web, and until now, not seen it included. One of the best, food-wise.

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catherine February 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I can’t believe I am the first to mention “My Dinner With Andre” :-) the art of conversation served with dinner.

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Rosemary December 7, 2012 at 9:50 am

Tom Jones has the most erotic and hilarious food consumption scene ever.

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