Entertainment

The Best Food Movies of All Time

For when you want a movie and a meal.

julie & julia meryl streep
'Julie & Julia' | Sony/Columbia Pictures
'Julie & Julia' | Sony/Columbia Pictures

When the topic of "food movies" comes to mind, it tends to invoke ideas of white-coated, white male chefs with a bit of a temper learning an important lesson. Unfortunately, those movies tend to be god-awful (remember Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper? Or the loathsome Aaron Eckhart-led adaptation of Anthony Bourdain's story in the kitchen?). Wade past those films and a whole new world of food-centric features arise from around the globe. Some are intimately nostalgic (RatatouilleWilly Wonka) while others interpret our relationship to cooking and meals in a new creative light (Tampopo, Like Water for Chocolate), but wherever they fall on that spectrum, these are the movies to turn to when you're craving something actually decent to watch.

MORE: Listen to Thrillist's Best podcast for the best food movies and TV shows of all time.

big night stanley tucci
The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Big Night (1996) 

Big Night is not only a great food movie, it also contains arguably the most impressive food item in all of cinema: the incredible pasta cake known as the Timpano. Stanley Tucci's film about two brothers running an Italian restaurant on the Jersey shore in the 1950s treats the Timpano with holy reverence, but it's not just about feats of feeding. It's also a movie about assimilation and authenticity and how that comes between family members. Tucci plays Secondo, the face of the enterprise, while Tony Shalhoub is his brother Primo, the chef who doesn't really care if the rude Americans eating in his establishment don't understand that his seafood risotto is more subtle than what they were expecting. The "big night" in question is a last ditch effort to save their failing institution, attended by multiple lovers and the man behind a neighboring hotspot. It's zany and farcical, but laced with the melancholy that comes along with fading traditions. Now watch, and attempt your own Timpano.
Watch it now on Amazon Prime.

a bug's life
Pixar

A Bug's Life (1998) 

Okay, we know what you’re thinking: A Bug’s Life? On this list??? Sure, the food in A Bug’s Life -- beige pebbles that Flik and the rest of his ant colony are forced to gather day in and day out -- isn’t as appealing as the steaming ramen bowls and fat-streaked strips of bacon in Ghibli films, or the glistening ratatouille at the climax of fellow Pixar movie, Ratatouille. But A Bug’s Life is definitely a movie about food -- or at least about oppressive and exploitative food systems. There is a hierarchy in A Bug’s Life; the grasshoppers keep the ants fearful while relying on them as a food source. It's reminiscent of America’s own broken food system: migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are forced into unforgiving and thankless labor in order to provide food for a country that harasses and belittles them. Even in a pandemic, migrant farm workers are considered “essential," yet lack basic protections and healthcare to combat COVID-19 if contracted. In the same vein, Flik and his fellow ants are promised protection from Hopper’s band of grasshoppers not realizing, until deep in the movie, that they are steeped in an unfair system that only intends to exploit their labor. Yes, A Bug’s Life, believe it or not, is a loose remake of Seven Samurai. But at its core, it’s a movie about the necessity of food and the crushing burden laid upon those who have to gather it.
Watch it now on Disney+.

eat drink man woman ang lee
The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)

Just before Ang Lee broke out in the US with the Jane Austen adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in 1995, the writer-director closed out a loose trilogy of films with the quietly funny family drama Eat Drink Man Woman. A film that bears one of the most beautifully simple opening scenes of the family's patriarch, the best chef in Taipei, expertly cooking, Eat Drink Man Woman puts food front-and-center amidst its interpersonal conflicts. While the imagery of meal prepping is gorgeous, they always remain unceremoniously grounded, like a single-take shot running around the back of a frenetic and crowded restaurant kitchen. It's about ingredients first and, like all of the school children that huddle around a home-cooked lunch box, you just have to take a closer look.
Rent it now on Amazon Prime.

julie & julia meryl streep
‎Sony/Columbia Pictures

Julie & Julia (2009) 

French food: it's delicious! And a lot of it is notoriously difficult to make. You'd need an expert, like, say, Julia Child, to show you the ropes on (and pronunciations of) classic recipes like boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin -- but Julia Child wasn't always Julia Child, just as Julie Powell wasn't always a famous food blogger who charmed the Internet with her posts about cooking through Julia Child's cookbook. Julie & Julia dramatizes two parallel narratives -- Julie's (Amy Adams), living in present-day Queens dreaming of fame, and Julia's (Meryl Streep), back in 1950s Paris with her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) -- to tell two surprisingly similar stories of a pair of women, separated as they are by decades, but united in their desire to use cooking as a way to feed their souls. The food in this movie looks so good, you want to reach through the screen and snatch that bruschetta slice right out of Chris Messina's mouth. 
Watch it now on Hulu.

like water for chocolate
Miramax

Like Water for Chocolate (1992)

In this Mexican film directed by Alfonso Arau and based on a 1989 novel by Laura Esquivel, a wedding cake is not just a cake, nor is a rose sauce just something to pour over a quartered chicken. Food in the magical realist Like Water For Chocolate ties directly into the way the characters experience emotions, each of them physically visceral. The cake batter that was cried into makes the wedding guests who eat it full of ennui and sick enough to vomit; the rose sauce that was cooked with immense love gets dinner guests so writhingly horny that it sends a sister to the outhouse which catches literal fire with her erotic burning. The story, often told via narrative voice-over by the niece of a newer generation who discovered her family's old cookbook, wavers between tragedy, absurdity, and joy as a strict mother and her three daughters live through old traditions and catch themselves in a passionate love triangle that slowly tears the family apart. There's a good reason that this film drew the biggest box-office audience for a foreign film in the United States during its theatrical run.
Watch it now on Hulu.

the platform
Netflix

The Platform (2019)

The Spanish movie The Platform was a surprise hit for Netflix when it came to the streamer in late 2019, and it's difficult to watch the film, a cannibalistic prison freak-out, and not imagine a producer sitting in a conference room and musing, "What if Snowpiercer but vertical?" Instead of a train, however, The Platform takes place in a prison-like structure called the "Vertical Self-Management Center" where inmates live two to a floor. Those on the top get first dibs on a giant platform of food that descends from the ceiling everyday; those on the bottom get the scraps -- or nothing at all. Moving higher in the building gives you better access to the enormous buffet of food, which makes you less willing to murder (and eat) your floor-mate, and that your level changes every month in accordance with your behavior. As a meditation on food scarcity, it's horrific and poignant.
Watch it now on Netflix.

ratatouille
Pixar

Ratatouille (2007)

Is Ratatouille the best food movie of all time? Many of us at Thrillist think so. There’s a tremendous amount of love flowing through the Pixar canon, but only one movie dares -- and that’s the right word, as it continues to catch flack for it -- to explore the existential struggle that is loving oneself and the tender ideal that anyone can cook. If Remy the Rat is going to survive life on this planet, he has to become the furry mammal he’s told he can’t be. He has to cook. Director Brad Bird turns the act of defiance into a three-ring circus. Composer Michael Giacchino, a longtime Pixar collaborator, owns half the film with his take on Parisian jazz, and Patton Oswalt adds exhaustion and thrill to Remy’s voice with nuance. Ratatouille is fine dining, the result of the best artists in the movie business telling an artist’s story.
Watch it now on Disney+.

sideways 2004 paul giamatti
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Sideways (2004)

Paul Giamatti plays a depressed, divorced, unsuccessful writer who just wants to taste fine wine on a roadtrip through the Santa Ynez Valley with his best friend, who, on the other hand, wants one last romantic fling before he commits to a lifetime of monogamy. The dramedy took home the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and picked up a Best Picture nomination, but it's probably best-known for Giamatti’s impassioned rant against merlot, tanking the wine's sales and forever becoming most of the most iconic lines in recent cinema. Come for the wine snobbery, stay for a pre-Grey's Anatomy Sandra Oh stealing her scenes.
Watch it now on Hulu.

tampopo
Toho

Tampopo (1985)

Juzo Itami's "ramen western," restored to vibrant 4K by Criterion in 2016, might boil down to a simple explanation on paper -- a woman, Tampopo ("Dandelion" in Japanese, played by Itami's wife, Nobuko Miyamoto), strives to make the perfect bowl of ramen with the aid of two truck drivers as her mentors and tasters -- but the experience of watching Tampopo is almost nothing like what you'd expect. As Tampopo and her crew (starring a young Ken Watanabe) hunt down recipes and practice timed trials, we peer into the lives' of seemingly disconnected individuals: a white-suited gastronomic yakuza and his mistress, a group of ravenous, etiquette-obsessed lunching ladies, salarymen ubiquitously ordering the same exact meal aside from the disruptive youngest member. It's famous for its sensual and kinda gross egg scene, but each of the vignettes, along with Tampopo's journey as a rare woman in the ramen space, each have something profound to say about our relationship to food. Most of all, Tampopo deeply understood the Bourdain-ism that "food is sex," years before the late chef and travel host picked up a pen. 
Watch it now on the Criterion Channel.

the trip 2010 rob brydon steve coogan
IFC Films

The Trip (2010)

If you enjoy awkward British humor and unrelenting Michael Caine impressions, you'll definitely be into Michael Winterbottom's franchise The Trip. Steve Coogan -- playing himself -- takes on an assignment for The Observer, touring the UK's best restaurants in a futile attempt to impress his food-snob girlfriend. For company, he enlists his best friend who he can't really stand, comedian Rob Brydon (also playing himself). Hilarity and sardonic hijinks ensue. But underneath the quirky comedy and gorgeous foodscapes lies a meditation on what it means to be happy as an adult, and how friends don't always need to acquiesce in order to be close. 
Watch it now on Hulu.

uncorked
Netflix

Uncorked (2020)

Wine and barbeque doesn't sound like the most natural pairing, but in Prentice Penny's directorial debut Uncorked, they couldn't be more of a fit as the manifestation of generational tension. Uncorked centers on the relationship of young Black Elijah Bruener (Mamoudou Athie), heir apparent to his a Memphis barbecue chain he has no desire in running, and his family. Instead, he wants to pursue his passion for wine, using it as his passport to explore the world from his home in Memphis, to the disappointment of his parents (Courtney B. Vance and Niecy Nash). At its core it is a wine movie about family; it is also a family movie about wine. The cast, unlike most wine movies, is primarily made up of faces we don’t normally see: Black people. 
Watch it now on Netflix.

willy wonka & the chocolate factory
Paramount Pictures

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

You know the drill here: a handful of kids pull a golden ticket from chocolate Wonka Bars to earn a tour of the famously eccentric and secretive Willy Wonka's candy-making factory. Things go badly for most of the naughty children! Augustus Gloop drowns in a chocolate river, Violet Beauregarde turns into a big blueberry, Mike Teavee gets shrunk down to candy-bar size, and Veruca Salt is sucked down the bad egg chute, leaving Charlie Buckets and his old grandpa Joe the winners of the whole charade. Though it was remade as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp, the original film remains a classic for all the reasons you nostalgically remember. And Gene Wilder, in an uncharacteristically all-ages role, deserves Gobstoppers of praise for all the flashes of quirk popping throughout his turn as Roald Dahl's whimsical candyman.
Rent it now on Amazon Prime.

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