A screenshot from the Alice in Wonderland (1951) movie. Alice is sat in an armchair being served tea by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare

The Best Meals on the Big Screen: A Roundup of Memorable Food Scenes

From the magical and otherworldly to the gruesome and even vomit-inducing, food is a useful tool used by movie directors to introduce us to new worlds both real and imaginary. Have a read of our roundup of iconic food scenes from the movies.
Author Headshot
Olivia Higgs
Feb 2
5.5 mins
Feb 2
5.5 mins

After a few years of favoring casual simplicity fuelled by the pandemic, many are finding a fresh love for extravagance. And food is not immune. Bright colors are back on our plates with a return to the retro and kitsch. When it comes to inspiration, movies are a great starting point. And that's because food is a useful tool used by movie producers to introduce us to new worlds both real and imaginary, to shape our understanding of the on-screen characters, or as a symbol for underlying narratives running through the plot. So today we'll be diving in to explore some of the most memorable food scenes from movies new and old.

Movie screenshot of Marie Antoinette lounging on a chaise longue having her feet massaged, surrounded by multi-tiered cakes
Marie Antoinette (2006)

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Directed by Sofia Coppola, the food in Marie Antoinette is purposely overly stylized and shows off the level of consumption in Marie Antoinette's court - tables overflowing with sumptuous cakes, pastries, and sweet treats. (Fun Fact: according to Kirsten Dunst, the actress who played Marie Antoinette, the producers of the film opted to refresh each scene with fresh pastries over prop cakes - my kind of film!) These delicious scenes have inspired a wave of tiered cakes made in pastel colors, ruffles made from piped icing, and buttercream flowers - the more flamboyant the better. Oh, and to top it all off - all of the pastries made for this film were created by the famous pastry house Maison Ladurée.

Alice in Wonderland tea party scene. Alice is sat in an armchair at the table surrounded by the March Hare and the Mad Hatter being served tea
Mad Hatter Tea Party, Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Regardless of whether it's the original Alice in Wonderland (1951), the Tim Burton remake of Alice in Wonderland (2010), or the 2016 sequel Alice Through The Looking Glass, food plays a big role in the Alice in Wonderland realm, thanks to Lewis Carroll and his books filled with delectable food descriptions of treacle wells and jam that you can have tomorrow but never today. The first mention of food/drink is just 8 minutes into the film when Alice takes a sip from a glass bottle with the label 'drink me'. As she shrinks in size, she mentions all the flavors she's tasting, from custard to roast turkey. As the film progresses Alice joins the Mad Hatter for his tea party, along with March Hare and his friends. And of course, we later see the Queen of Hearts as she tastes her Unbirthday cake, with jam being flicked accidentally at her face. These whimsical, magical, and sometimes dark scenes play a significant role in helping Lewis Carroll tell a story that explains the dangers of childhood through his eyes.

Edward Scissorhands at a barbecue surrounded by women from the neighbourhood serving him colorful, retro salads
Barbecue scene, Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The houses, the shrubbery, and the people in Edward Scissorhands all have a generic conformity contrasting to the outsider protagonist, dressed in all-black with blades for hands. The pastel suburbs come across as surreal and the same goes for the movie's colorful food. Set in a time period known for its backyard barbecues and Jell-O parties, the ambrosia salad makes a very fitting on-screen appearance. This creamy fruit salad is made from a mix of coconut, marshmallows, and a medley of fruit (typically canned fruit), all mixed together with sour cream or whipped cream. The once hard-to-find ingredients like pineapple and coconut were considered luxurious and exotic at the time - perfect for a neighborhood of busybodies constantly in competition with each other.

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Sandy, Rizzo, Frenchie and Kenickie at a traditional American diner eating burgers and milkshakes
Diner, Grease (1978)

Grease (1978)

Using food to tell a slightly different story is the 1978 film Grease. This is a film that pays nostalgic homage to the doo-wop songs of the 1950s, the era's greasy hair, greasy engines, and yep, you've guessed it, greasy food. Enter the classic '50s American diner. Its nostalgic appeal makes it the perfect meeting spot for the characters in the film to meet both after school, and for a date. In fact, these diner's are making another comeback, with 'high-end' 50s style diners. The movie's 1950s throwback wouldn't be complete without the ice cream sodas and retro milkshakes, thick with ice cream and whipped cream - "just gimme a double Polar Burger wit' everything and a cherry soda wit' chocolate ice cream".

Bruce Bogtrotter in Matilda with chocolate around his mouth looking queasy as he's struggling to eat a giant chocolate cake
Bruce Bogtrotter, Matilda (1996)

Matilda (1996)

Food plays a big role in Matilda, and we learn more about each character thanks to food. We meet Matilda's neglectful and sedentary family, who eat junk food off TV trays in the dark. Then you have the famous scene where Miss Trunchbull forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat a giant chocolate cake. The uncomfortable scene of Bruce, on the verge of vomiting, forcing down another bite, shows just how repugnant Trunchball can be. It's a scene that remains etched into the memories of many who watched this film at a young age. In contrast, when it comes to the delightful Miss Honey, she is associated with hospitality and comfort, offering Matilda tea and cookies. And towards the end of the movie, we see a scene of apples, peanut butter, and jelly, symbolizing a happier future for Matilda. Needless to say, food is used throughout the film to symbolize both the good, and the bad.

Augustus from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the chocolate river with Willy Wonka and the other contestants watching on
Augustus, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

We've already mentioned Edward Scissorhands and Alice and Wonderland, so it won't be surprising to hear that Tim burton is no stranger to producing films with often darker backstories or undertones. The 2005 remake of the 1971 classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an obvious film to mention when it comes to understanding how food acts as a narrative, but more important in this case, helps us understand the characters in the film. We've all marveled at the chocolate river, and wished we could suck on an everlasting gobstopper or get our hands on a 3-course dinner gum, but each of these scenes helps us understand the deadly sins that the characters portray, from envy to excess. Unsurprisingly, food is used to portray greed in Augustus, pride in Violet, greed and envy in Veruca, sloth in Mike, and wrath in Willy Wonka himself. And you might ask, what about lust? Well, that's portrayed by Charlie - and his lust for finding the golden ticket.

Food plays a huge role across many of the films that we watch today - in fact Tarantino's most influential films Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds use food throughout their films. Many producers use food to help create a persona behind each character, as we've already mentioned through some of the films above. But why does food have such a big role in character development, even in the films that we watch today? Well simply put, food and drink can be used to exert power and control in ways that dialogue and acting alone can't. Food adds an extra layer of complexity to each of the characters that we see on screen and helps film producers and directors alike convey underlying messages behind the films that we watch.

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