Everyone from noodle fans to Francophiles can kill a few hours on the couch with good movies focused on the kitchen — and there are a lot of them. Here, we're zeroing in on fanciful, feature-length films about the food world as opposed to documentaries (no Food, Inc. on this list). Interested in tales about running a restaurant, cooking at home, feeding your loved ones, writing a cookbook, or operating a whole-ass factory? Read on.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Is there any one-half of a movie as charming as the Julia part of Julie & Julia? Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the tall, vibrant, cookbook-writing fan of French cuisine? She and Stanley Tucci are adorable as Julia and Paul Child. Other parts of the movie are just okay, but watching Amy Adams melt down half a pound of butter, and then actually meltdown, is still inspiring. After this last hurrrah from Nora Ephron, you’ll be cooking in heels and planning your next dinner party in no time.
Silly, over-the-top, oftentimes violent, Tampopo is a real winner of a film. This “ramen western” directed by Juzo Itami is a comedy meets bizarre anthology all about learning to make the perfect bowl of ramen. Sweet smiling Tampopo is our star, a widow turned noodle maker who attracts a motley crew of male supporters. It has everything — romance, strife, a homeless camp filled with culinary geniuses. And never will you be hungrier for a bowl of noodles.
Big Night (1996)
Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub are high-strung Italian brothers running a restaurant called Paradise. Though personalities clash, they must work together to save their failing eatery, set in ‘50s-era Jersey Shore, despite Shalhoub's intense stubbornness to stick to Old World Italian cooking. Isabella Rossellini is also involved. Best line: Shalhoub’s ultra-cranky utterance of, "The man should be in prison for the food he serves."
First Cow (2020)
While First Cow may be a tender film about friendship (okay, and many other layering topics), we’d argue it’s equally about food. Otis "Cookie" Figowitz is a camp cook for hire and a baker’s apprentice who, in his very first scene, is foraging mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest’s Oregon Territory. Without giving too much away, Kelly Reichardt’s film covers how a special treat, like a little cake, can bring forth a wash of memories. And how maybe one item, like a popular dairy ingredient, can make all the difference in one’s finished products. Also, there’s a pretty badass frontier whisk that makes a couple of appearances.
Chungking Express (1994)
Chungking Express, a mid-'90s comedy-drama written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, is two love stories that take place amid the crammed, steamy confines of Hong Kong’s famous working-class high rises. Food plays a critical role in both of them, including the best use of canned pineapple in cinema history.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
“If you can’t cope you can always cook,” is the slogan for this Taiwanese dramedy directed by Ang Lee. Master Chef Chu lives with his three daughters who are just trying to find themselves, but they always come together over way too much food for Sunday dinner. The first five minutes alone, and perhaps the longest kitchen walk-through scene you've ever seen, make this an incredible food film.
Good Burger (1997)
Haven’t seen this in 20 years? Neither have we. But we assume it holds up. The All That sketch-turned-movie stars Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell and depicts life behind the register at Good Burger. It’s a tale of the little guys battling the powers that be, i.e. Mondo Burger, to save their stand. Secret sauce to chemical substances, it’s all here.
Like Water for Chocolate (1992)
This a charming, passion-filled film covers the intertwining of love and food, and is based on the book by the same name (which was written by the first-time Mexican novelist, Laura Esquivel). Directed by Alfonso Arau, it's told en Español with a great deal of heart. Like Water for Chocolate is an overly ‘90s drama with recipes, romance, and magical realism.
Mystic Pizza (1988)
Small-town life in the late 1980s? Sign us up. The coming-of-age film Mystic Pizza not only spotlights pizza but debuts Matt Damon — and there's an incredible gangly but cute Julia Roberts. There are fighting sisters who are also servers, fishermen boyfriends, and TV restaurant critics as they would have appeared in the early days of food television. All in all, this movie is a slice of heaven.
Aside from being overly adorable, Ratatouille has that one informative scene we assume most restaurants appreciate. We oversee the kitchen at Gusteau's, once the hottest spot in Paris, as Remy the Patton Oswalt-voiced rat breaks down the roles of the staff. “The sous is responsible for the kitchen when the chef's not around,” followed by the saucier, chef de partie, demi chef de partie, and commis. It’s very informative for youngsters (and ourselves).
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl and Gene Wilder make a creepy but winning combination (we’re talking to you, Tunnel of Terror scene). But despite children just getting wrecked left and right in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, the film is downright appetizing. Yes, let us swim in your lake of chocolate milk. Allow us to bop around your candy room. We could handle the Everlasting Gobstopper. We’ve also learned nothing from this movie.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Okay. Hear us out. True, Robert Zemeckis’ mega Oscar-winner focuses mostly — and sensationally — on American history. However, Forrest Gump also spawned the major restaurant chain, Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. A multitude of shrimp types are listed, we’d argue more than any other movie, plus boxes of chocolates, peas and carrots, waving ice cream cones, and about 15 Dr. Peppers.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 28, 2020. It was updated on December 19, 2020.
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