16 Awesome Food Movies to Take Your Mind Off Your Pandemic Lock Down
These are trying times. With your workplace, your city, your state, and your federal government telling you to stay home, there has never been a better time to turn on the TV (or open a new window on your computer), crack open one of your pandemic preparedness snacks, and enjoy a good, distracting, movie that speaks directly to your love of all things baked, steamed, sautéed, and even fermented.
To save you the trouble of long clicks through queues on Netflix or trying to get your Amazon Prime search function under control, we’ve scoured all your favorite streaming platforms for the best food movies that are available to stream right now. Because right now is when we all need them most.
Babette’s Feast (1987)
This critically acclaimed Danish film (it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) is based on a story by none other than Isak Dinesen (of Out of Africa fame) and it demonstrates how one meal can bring people together. But it’s also about one incredible, seven-course meal, including turtle soup, buckwheat pancakes with caviar and sour cream, quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce, rum sponge cake with figs and candied cherries, cheeses, and fruits. Just don’t judge your Costco pandemic pantry fixings after watching this classic.
Big Night (1996)
Perhaps the best culinary buddy movie ever made (rivaled only by the eno-buddy movie, Sideways, included below), this hilariously memorable film features Stanley Tucci (who also directs) and Tony Shalhoub as Italian brothers who’ve opened a restaurant on the Jersey Shore in the 1950s. When they learn that the famed (real-life) bandleader Louis Prima is coming into their restaurant one night, the pair sets out to make the complicated Italian baked dish timpano: a mound of pasta, meatballs, eggs, and salami, cloaked in ragu and folded up in dough. Whether Prima makes it or not, and whether they complete the timpano or not, is for the viewer to discover in this unforgettable paean to Italian life, food, and family.
Put writer/director/star Jon Favreau’s equally hilarious and warm-hearted movie on when you need a pandemic mood boost the most: The tale of a disillusioned high-end L.A. chef rebooting his life via a taco truck is a love letter to the power of food (especially Cuban cuisine). It’s also a great glimpse of Miami, New Orleans, and Austin: three magical food and music cities. Beware: You may find yourself scrolling food trucks for sale while sitting out the lock down.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
What’s better than a movie all about food? A movie about wildly animated food that gets out of control! That’s the family-friendly fun of this look at what happens when a scientist invents a machine that makes food fall—unfortunately literally—from the sky. (Don’t feel bad when your shelf-stable sardines are the seafood butts of lots of kid-size humor.)
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
You’ll be in love with Ang Lee’s film within moments, as you plunge into the behind-the-scenes capture of the working and home life of Mr. Chu, a master Chinese chef in 1990s Taipei, Taiwan. There’s a reason this rich, heartfelt story filled to the brim with food moments was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995 and remains on many critics’ best food film lists. It's that delicious.
The Founder (2016)
Get your junk food binge accomplished, calorie-free, with this fascinating biopic about McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc (brought to bigger-than-life life by Michael Keaton) and the history of America’s preeminent fast-food leviathan. And see if you don’t think Keaton/Kroc’s “Franchise, franchise, franchise!” is the new “Beatlejuice, Beatlejuice, Beatlejuice!”
Anyone who read Nora Ephron’s wildly entertaining 1983 autobiographical novel of the same name (and if you haven’t read it, take a quarantine movie break, order it from your local bookstore and see if they’ll deliver it or you can pick it up) will remember it was full of culinary references (and even recipes!) because the protagonist was a food writer married to a famously philandering journalist. While the film version (with screenplay also by Ephron) had to shed the recipes, it’s still full of food talk and vibes (not to mention a great scene that involves first-date spaghetti in bed at 4am). It also showcases Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in their early primes.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Ah, where do we begin? Any excuse to revel in the outsize life, character, and impact that the great Julia Child had on liberating the home cook is reason enough to stop working and watch a movie, no matter what time of day. Add to that the acting chops of Meryl Streep as Julia, and the charming parallel track of New Yorker Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams) who spends a year making all 524 recipes in Childs’s iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Prepare to be inspired. And hungry.
The Lunchbox (2014)
“Can you fall in love,” asks the trailer, “with someone you haven’t met?” It turns out that director Ritesh Batra was years ahead of Love Is Blind when he wove a story about a lonely housewife in Mumbai who decides to tuck a note into her husband’s lunchbox, which travels via the city’s daily food delivery system to an irritable widower by mistake. Watch the correspondence (and meals she continues to cook specifically for him) open up a new and tender romance for them both. Along the way, watch Indian food come to life in the most earthy, irresistible way on camera.
If you were lucky, you had kids around the house in the late aughts who motivated you to catch Pixar’s beloved (and rightly so) animated film about a rat (stay with me, here) in Paris (getting better) who dreams of becoming a great chef (we’ve all been there). Now, even if there are no children anywhere to be found in your locked-down home or in your life, you have full permission to enjoy this ode to the love of cuisine and big dreams.
Yes, it’s about wine, not food per se. But writer/director Alexander Payne’s near-cultish, nuanced film about friendship and love is also an ode to the senses, whether delivered from a Santa Ynez Valley winery tasting or an afternoon picnic. It also has a four-pack of fantastic performances from Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Sandra Oh, and Virginia Madsen. Split a bottle of Pinot over this one.
Soul Food (1997)
We all know that a family meal, especially a Sunday dinner, can be balm or napalm to the soul, depending on the family that’s gathering around the table. Here, three adult sisters returning home to Chicago for a medical emergency have to face each other—and their various estrangements—over what else? Their family’s traditional Sunday dinner. It’s worth the streaming fee (or STARZ subscription) just to watch Vivica A. Fox and Vanessa Williams spar as sisters, and the family’s kitchen and table scenes (as well as a soundtrack featuring Boyz II Men and En Vogue) are gravy on the fried chicken platter.
Hit the ramen stockpile in your quarantine pantry, warm up a fragrant bowl of the stuff, and settle in for the best ramen film ever made (and a great comedy overall). With a knowing nod to the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s, this story involves two milkmen (a wonderful early glimpse of actor Ken Watanabe, who goes on to serious international stardom) helping the struggling widow of a noodle-house owner save her business and create the perfect bowl of ramen. Some critics consider it the best film about food ever made.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
A winning part of the restaurant-feel-good movie subcategory, this tale of two cultures that come together over love of food stars the always-amazing Helen Mirren as a Michelin-starred restaurateur who is furious at the arrival of an immigrant Indian family’s restaurant just 100 feet away from hers in a small French village. While not giving away the plot entirely, let’s just say that this film is yet another reason to applaud the world of blended cuisines—and humanity.
Calling all dessert stans: This one’s for you. The always-good Keri Russell plays a small-town diner waitress in the American South trapped in an abusive marriage who dreams of escape and also bakes incredible pies. Settle in for dreamy cooking sequences and a just-this-side-of-Hallmark heartwarming tale. It also features American treasure Andy Griffith as the diner’s gruff owner.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
It’s likely that legions of readers of Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, developed sweet teeth for certain fictional confections like Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudge Mallow Delight and Everlasting Gobstoppers (and pure love for Charlie Bucket’s grandparents, four to a bed), so great was Dahl’s imagery and storytelling. The first film version of the novel adds a quirky Technicolor layer (the Cheetoh-orange Oompa Loompas are the stuff of nightmares) and the bittersweet performance of the great Gene Wilder as the Nikola Tesla of candy-making. The movie is a feast unto itself, but you can make it a Wonka double feature by adding Tim Burton’s 2005 version starring Johnny Depp in the title role. And mark your post-pandemic calendar for a pair of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired animated series written and directed by Taika Waititi, just announced by Netflix.