May 30, 2024

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The 20 Best Food Movies, Ranked — UPROXX

The food movie is a genre that inspires nostalgia, longing, and hunger (both metaphorical and literal). There’s an unspoken sexiness about so many of the films we’re talking about today, as they’re often deeply sensual and highlight the idea of cooking as a “love language.” But it’s not all subtle eroticism, there’s also a deep human connection on display –parents and kids reconnecting, sibling rivalries, friendship dynamics put to the test, and abiding friendship.

Another joy of this genre is the realism of life in the service industry — which some films just nail. It’s an aspect that certainly adds a layer of authenticity to the proceedings.

Today, we’re ranking our 20 favorite food movies. For this endeavor, we called back food and movie critic extraordinaire Vince Mancini to add his well-seasoned two cents. By arguing a lot over text, we came up with a great list of food-focused films you 100% need to watch. Just as a note, we didn’t include any documentaries. Those films feel like they deserve their own list.

Let’s have a cinematic feast!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since these guys fully shut out Spanglish, I’m dropping the famed sandwich that became a centerpiece to Sandler’s first big dramatic role here:

Also Read The Best Food Articles Over The Last Six Months From UPROXX:

20. The Slammin’ Salmon (2009)

The Broken Lizard crew is the epitome of mid-aughts comedy, and this movie is arguably their highwater mark (after Super Troopers, of course). The conceit is simple, a crew of miscreants, losers, and wild service industry folks (front and back of house) gather for a one-night shift in a seafood restaurant owned by an egomaniac former boxing champ. That alone is enough to bring the comedy. Add in the vibe between the Broken Lizard crew (they’re really firing on all cylinders here) and a murderer’s row of supporting actors (Cobie Smulders kills it in this) and you have one hell of a picture!

In the end, this is just a fun romp in a restaurant with ridiculous jokes that go well beyond any reality of working in a restaurant. But there is that foundation of authenticity that helps the movie cut a little close to the bone throughout. Plus, it’s freaking fun. Not all food movies need to be life-and-death tomes about lost love. — ZJ

19. Ratatouille (2007)

Ratatouille is an obvious choice, but sometimes an obvious choice is obvious because it’s good. There’s the pivotal scene during which Remy cooks snooty critic Anton Ego a life-changing ratatouille, of course (do you think they chose a vegetarian dish because the protagonist is a furry little animal?), which is both a brilliant depiction of the way food can be transporting through sense memory (a real Proust’s madeleine for the internet age) and an excellent bit of food porn.

That great climax aside, the entire film is an honest and surprisingly nuanced portrait of the restaurant industry. It manages to squeeze in why the protagonist chooses food as his raison d’être, a satire of white tablecloth restaurants and celebrity chef culture, and a depiction of the boys-clubby culture of the kitchen into the same movie, which also actually appeals to kids (I have a two-year-old, I can say this definitively now). It’s kind of like Kitchen Confidential for five-year-olds. They made it look so easy that, if anything, it doesn’t get enough credit for what they actually pulled off.

(And yes, Anton Ego may have set the public perception of critics back years, but the part about him being just a frustrated romantic at heart was dead on). — VM

18. The Founder (2016)

You might as well call this “America, The Movie.” An entitled white man — Ray Kroc — takes the hard work of others and claims it for himself and then (quite literally) takes the land they are on — plus the land every single one of their restaurants will ever be on and claims that for himself too. This all comes at great profit for Kroc, naturally.

Who knew a movie about the guy who screwed the McDonald brothers out of their ideas, innovations, and fast-food joints could be a parable about Manifest Destiny to its core? Yet, here we are. And that’s what makes this such a good watch. Even in food, America and Americans’ desire for self-defined “greatness” will always trample the dreamers and innovators. What a bummer.

This will make your next Sausage McMuffin a tad bittersweet when you think about everything the McDonald brothers lost out on. But still… a great watch. — ZJ

17. Pig (2021)

Pig is an easy choice for being both a pretty good movie (or at least a winningly weird one) and about as directly about food as any movie that exists. Nicolas Cage plays a mushroom forager who lives in a Pacific Northwest forest, hunting prized funghi with his pet pig. It turns out that he’s a formerly acclaimed chef who quit the business when he realized that the snooty restaurant industry was focusing on all the wrong things. In a pivotal scene, he makes another chef realize that his whole life has been a lie by cooking him an incredible butter-basted squab.

As far as food porn goes, that moment is a pinnacle. — VM

16. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

This film is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s also a great airplane watch for a long flight — that’s not a kick at the quality. The film’s premise centers around a stuffy traditional French restaurant owner — played lovingly by Helen Mirren — opening up to new flavors and foodways when a South Asian family opens a restaurant across the street. The key is that the new restaurant owner’s son is a chef wunderkind (Manish Dayal) armed with a loving demeanor and a case full of amazing spices that he knows how to use.

The best part is that the film has one of the best “omelet” making scenes of any film (it’s far better than The Bear scene from last year). The beauty of creating a standard dish but taking it to a new level is beautifully encapsulated by Mirren and Dayal’s respect for each other and the food they’re creating side-by-side in the kitchen. — ZJ

15. Chef (2014)

Chef is a movie Jon Favreau wrote, directed, and cast himself in as the protagonist, is about a bored chef who gets his groove back by launching a food truck that makes Cuban sandwiches. It’s light and breezy with a great cast (Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale), though a smidge broad and paint-by-numbers, with the requisite 20-teens plot device of someone “going viral.” (“Oh my gosh, I’ve gone viral!”)

But there’s a scene early in the movie that’s pure food porn — Favreau’s character getting home from the restaurant late one night and whipping up a batch of pasta aglio e olio. Favreau makes it look gorgeous (thanks to his food mentor, Roy Choi), and it’s such an easy, everyone-should-know-this kind of dish that it’s impossible to watch the film without it inspiring you to attempt the dish.

If you remember nothing else about the film, you’ll remember that scene. And that’s what food is supposed to do, right? — VM

14. Waiting (2005)

Yes, I’m choosing another service industry movie from the mid-aughts. This time we have Ryan Reynolds in full Van Wilder-as-loser mode with an all-star cast of mid-aughts stars that had yet to break out (Anna Faris, Luis Guzmán, Justin Long, Rob Benedict, and Dane Cook in his best role to date). The story is simple here too. A newbie gets a job at a Shenanagins (shout out to Super Troopers again!) and has the craziest first day of his fledging service career. The film goes much darker than The Slammin’ Salmon while cutting a dead-ender tone that plagued so many Americans in their early 20s right after 9/11.

Looking back, it was hard to know the point of anything in those years, and this film perfectly captures that vibe. — ZJ

13. Goodfellas (1990)

Maybe it’s not strictly a “food movie,” but it’s one of the best movies of all time and the food scenes are some of its most memorable. Who among us hasn’t tried cutting the garlic so thin that it “liquefies” in a little olive oil? It’s a waste of time if you’re not in prison, but a fun little experiment nonetheless. Just don’t spend so much time stirring the sauce that you end up getting caught by the feds. — VM

12. Mostly Martha (2001)

This German-Italian film is a classic. The plot is pretty simple. A well-starred chef (Martina Gedeck) working in Hamburg inherits her sister’s kid after a deadly car accident and Chef Martha has to change her perfectionist ways by the end of the movie. Along the way, you get loving and vivid food descriptions by Martha to her therapist while trying to adjust to a niece who refuses to eat — an affront to someone who adores food so much.

Enter Mario (Sergio Castellitto), who arrives in Hamburg as Martha’s new sous chef. Mario is the magic pixie dream chef of German cinema, whipping up simple but amazing pasta that’s so good that he even gets Martha’s food-hating niece to fall in love with it right alongside effortless words of wisdom that change lives. If all of this sounds familiar, the film was remade in the U.S. with Catherine Zeta-Jones as No Reservations, and another remake was made in Spain as Chef’s Special.

You know the story is great when remakes abound. — ZJ

11. Big Night (1996)

Big Night is a movie that’s both pretty good and definitely about food. It stars Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as two Italian brothers from New Jersey who are locked in a battle with a rival Italian restaurant. As the food version of a fraternity comedy that comes down to race to throw the best party the campus has ever seen, Primo and Secondo (they’re named after courses!) have to plan an epic feast to introduce the town to real Italian cuisine.

The centerpiece of the dinner is, as anyone who has seen it remembers, “the timpano,” a giant cornucopia of pasta baked inside a giant drum made of dough. If other movies on this list include dishes everyone tries because they look delicious and simple, the timpano from Big Night is the one no one attempts because it looks so hard. But all home cooks think “…one day.” — VM

10. Tampopo (1985)

No list would be complete without Tampopo. This is a food lover’s movie. There’s a long scene just about looking at and caressing ramen before you eat, for god’s sake. While that sounds so pretentious, Juzo Itami (the film’s writer and director) has the good sense to temper every moment of deep introspection with real-world comedic reactions to how ridiculous and ritualized we make food.

In short, this film is about making the perfect bowl of ramen. There are few better endeavors than that. — ZJ

9. Phantom Thread (2017)

Phantom Thread is a film about a finicky dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), who makes his entrance into the film by turning his nose up at a basket of beautiful pastries while flamboyantly declaring “I told you, no more snodgy things at breakfast!”

The scripts online will tell you he says “stodgy,” but they’re gaslighting. Watch the film, he definitely says “snodgy”.

Anyway, the signature sequence involves Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, lovingly cooking up Reynolds an incredibly sexy-looking wild mushroom omelet, which she uses to poison him. Not many directors could pull off an act of partner-poisoning that seems both loving and makes you hungry, but that’s the magic of Paul Thomas Anderson. — VM

8. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is a classic for a reason. The songs — Pure Imagination and Candy Man — have become American standards. Gene Wilder’s performance is one for the ages as a slightly psychotic (slave-owning?) chocolate man. The story is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that we keep remaking this novel from Roald Dahl over and over again, even though we achieved perfection with this one back in the 1970s.

It’s absurd, takes forever to get to the factory, and takes joy in the torture and death of children. That all kind of makes it a perfect piece of art. — ZJ

7. The Trip To Italy (2014)

“The Trip” movies are actually TV shows in the UK that are edited into feature films for the US market. I’ve never seen the full English series, but all of the “The Trip” movies feature Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan traveling around sun-dappled European vacation spots eating five-star food while doing impressions at each other. The movies are about 60% comedy and 40% food porn in a way that almost feels like cheating to include on a food-movies list.

But if they can write themselves a movie that allows them to go on gorgeous vacations eating delicious food, I can sure as hell use it to fill out my list. They make me almost as hungry for the food as I am jealous of Coogan/Brydon for getting to make these. — VM

6. The Trip (2010)

This film has the perfect balance of comedy, food porn, and travel FOMO in … Northern f*cking England. My wife (shut up, Vince) is from Northern England and I’ve spent a lot of my life there. And look, there are some wonderful places and corners tucked away in an otherwise very rural and post-industrial part of the country. So this film (a TV series in the UK) pulls off the best magic trick of the series — it makes a very rural and depressed part of the U.K. shine with great food and stunning (albeit misty) vistas.

Anyone can make Italy, Spain, and Greece look great with views and food (as proven in the next installments of “The Trip” franchise — the Trip-iverse if you will). But making Northern England look this good is a real treat for the senses and truly impressive. Also, “My-cocaine”! — ZJ

5. The Trip to Spain (2017)

Remember The Trip to Italy? The Trip to Spain is like that, only with less pasta and more ham. Plus about the same amount of impressions. There’s also The Trip to Greece, which is also a great food movie, but I’m not including it here solely as an example of editorial restraint. — VM

4. The Menu (2022)

You had to see this entry coming. The Menu captured the national zeitgeist at the tail end of 2022 into 2023 in a way that films rarely do. Plus (spoiler alert), that cheeseburger was legit. All of that aside, this is a movie that balances influencer culture, haute cuisine, wealth, and service/sex work in a deeply resonant way. Ralph Fiennes, Nicholas Hoult, and Anya-Taylor Joy give spot-on performances as a chef, his acolyte, and the no-nonsense sex worker they’re orbiting at a remote five-star celebrity chef restaurant with a real cult following.

The tension! The food! Tyler’s Bullshit! It’s all pretty goddamn entertaining and one of the great food movies of the 21st century. — ZJ

3. Labor Day (2014)

Sitting awkwardly alongside Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Young Adult, and Up In the Air in Jason Reitman’s early filmography, Labor Day is a steamy romance about an escaped convict and a lonely single mom starring Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. As I wrote in my original review, it feels like Reitman tried to riff on the Nicolas Sparks movie formula, and he actually does a pretty good job of it.

Ah, but why is it a food movie, you ask? Well, aside from Brolin’s character proving himself to Winslet with a delicious batch of biscuits he learned in prison, there’s the finale, which I originally described thusly:

“The sexual tension comes to a gooey crescendo when Prison Biscuits Brolin teaches Lady Nightgown to make peach pie in the most sensual way possible.”

Yep, basically imagine the pottery scene from Ghost as applied to peach pie. I’ve been trying this whole list not to overuse the word “sensual,” but Labor Day finally forced my hand. I don’t know whether I wanted the two of them to screw each other or the pie. — VM

2. The Taste of Things (2023)

I was going to slide Babette’s Feast into this spot. Then I saw The Taste of Things and had to bump that classic off the list. The Taste of Things is very French but has this quiet sumptuousness to it that’s … well, transcendent. The food scenes are maybe the best I’ve ever seen on screen (Trần Anh Hùng’s direction is pure soft-toned visual splendor). I swear I could almost smell the food Juliette Binochet was cooking. It was so immersive and welcoming from top to bottom.

The film revolves around cook Eugénie (Binochett) and her partner and employer Dodin (Benoît Magimel). Their love language is food as they prepare menus and cook together in Dodin’s estate kitchen. It’s f*cking magical. Then tragedy takes the film to a place I cannot spoil here but gives the story so much more depth and reasons to enjoy the food in the film…just find it and watch it. –ZJ

1. Sideways (2004)

Does wine count as food? What this movie’s inclusion in this list presupposes is, yes, it does.

Sideways, Alexander Payne’s classic about a struggling writer from San Diego traveling up to Santa Barbara County for a two-man, wine-lovers bachelor party is notable as one of the best wine movies ever made (with the bonus that it isn’t about Napa! That’s right, they make wine other places too!), and also for helping to make Paul Giamatti a leading man.

It’s true, they don’t show food much for a movie set almost entirely in restaurants and during meals (they mostly weren’t drinking the wine by itself), but it’s the centerpiece scene that feels most relatable to foodies. Miles hears his ex-wife is having a child with another man and takes his prized bottle of ‘61 Cheval Blanc to a burger joint to drink out of a styrofoam cup. Certainly, it’s a scene meant to convey Miles’ emotional state, but I think it also shows that the snootiest foodies are usually the biggest hogs.

Yes, I love an oyster on the half shell straight out of the ocean, but you know I’ll eat some gas station nachos too under the right circumstances. — VM

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