Thanksgiving is a time of coming together, of enjoyment, of abundance — in a word, of food. For centuries, the meal has been an American cultural centerpiece, a moment of epicurean indulgence and familial togetherness. And while we remember the feasts of our childhood with heartwarming nostalgia and salivating mouths, the feasts that have the most power over our imagination are the ones we’ve never actually attended, experienced only through the mind’s eye and the magic of editing. Perhaps it’s because they’re unattainable that they’ve become the focus of our hedonistic fantasies. Or maybe it’s because multimillion-dollar studio budgets went into creating them. We’re too hungry to keep contemplating, so while we raid our fridges, feast your eyes on the most delicious meals in movie history.
In Babette’s Feast, one of the most iconic food movies ever made, a French woman fleeing persecution begs to be taken in by two spinsters and their Protestant minister father in provincial Denmark. Babette, becomes their cook and housekeeper, over time learning the foreign culture through its food. The minister dies, and Babette serendipitously comes into a fortune, but, before moving out, decides to prepare one last lavish meal to commemorate the 100th birthday of the town’s late, beloved spiritual leader. This meal is both the setting and the theme of the film, which treats the preparation of food as a sacred ritual and propounds the sensuality at the core of coming together to eat.
Mel Stuart’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a never-ending edible paradise that encompasses every imaginable sweet, from snozzberry wallpaper to candy tea cups, a chocolate lake to Everlasting Gobstoppers. But the most delectable course of this all-around delicious film is found not on Charlie’s tour of Willy Wonka’s factory but during the opening credits, when we see the inner workings of its production rooms. The globs of overflowing chocolate, the cocoa beans pouring endlessly from bags, the viscous concoctions folding into every form of sweet possible — wafers, kisses, bars, puddings — embody the very ideas of abundance and desire themselves. Experience the rapture here.
Sara Crewe, a precocious girl from India sent to boarding school for the duration of her father’s WWII army tour, receives two pieces of devastating news at once in Alfonso Cuarón’s 1995 adaptation of the beloved children’s book: her father is assumed to have died in combat, and, as a result, she is forced into a life of servitude by the school’s spiteful headmistress. When Sara is denied food for an entire day in punishment for socializing with her old classmates, she and servant friend Becky host a lavish pretend feast to sate their appetites the night prior. The next morning, they wake up to their dream feast realized, compliments of a benevolent neighbor who watches over Sara from his window. The two girls are accused of stealing the food and are almost caught by the police, but Sara’s attempted escape plan leads her to the discovery of her very-much-alive father — and even if it hadn’t, the feast would probably have been worth the time in juvie.
One of the most anticipated events at Hogwarts, the annual Hallowe’een Feast is more tantalizingly delicious than the fruits of even the most successful trick-or-treating rampage. Students and professors gorge themselves on pumpkin confections and gulp butterbeer from oversized goblets, with hovering jack-o’-lanterns carved out of pumpkins the size of people hovering above their heads as the entire student body loses itself to Bacchanalian indulgence. Outside it is night, but inside, the Great Hall is soaked in the magical, dim sunset light of fall, creating a plenum of glut and satisfaction that makes mouths drool and stomach growl ferociously.
Ang Lee’s Taiwanese film is as much a feast for the ears as for the eyes. As we follow an almost-retired chef through the preparation of a weekly Sunday dinner with his three grown daughters, the sounds of the chopping knife on the cutting board and woks of sizzling oil make the savory Chinese dishes a multi-sensory experience. Tortilla Soup, a 2001 remake centering on a Mexican family in California, boasts an equally enticing menu. We would gladly endure what’s referred to by its guests as “Sunday torture.”
Proving herself the rightful Princess Moanna of the underworld, Guillermo del Toro’s protagonist Ofelia is on her way to completing the second of three tasks — retrieving a dagger from the child-eating Pale Man’s chilling abode. Ofelia is instructed not to touch anything on the long table the Pale Man sleeps on, but, drawn in by the succulent hams, pastries, and luscious fruits spread out on its surface, Ofelia plucks out just two glistening grapes, waking the monster and closely escaping her death.
The Lost Boys’ fantasy dinner, projected by the young boys into empty pots and pans, only serves to tick off a grown-up and hungry Peter Banning (Robin Williams), who returns to Neverland on business, with no recollection of his boyhood sense of adventure. But when Peter remembers how to use his imagination, the empty dishes fill with the contents of a mouthwatering feast, complete with oversized chicken legs, pottery teeming with fruits and vegetables, and the most delectable (albeit unidentifiable) bright-colored pastries and cakes — all of which become ammunition in the most appetizing food fight in film history.
A feast that starts with Who-pudding and continues with rare Who-roast-beast might be one the Grinch couldn’t stand in the least. But if we had the chance to sit down to this feast, then we’d feast! And we’d feast! And we’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST!
Trying to lure her into the Other World for good, Coraline’s Other Mother prepares for her a more-than-appetizing dinner, served by a series of dazzling contraptions — a choo-choo train that chugs around the table and pours gravy over her roast chicken; a chandelier that doubles as a drink dispenser, swiveling down from the ceiling to offer her a mango milkshake; a delicious cake that sprouts icing letters and flowers on its own. Evil as she may be, Other Mother knows how to prepare a feast. We’re not sure we would leave, even if we knew the meal would lead to our doom.
Martha, an obsessive-compulsive master chef, lives a hermetic life in Hamburg, moving between the kitchen of the restaurant she works in and the kitchen in her immaculate home — until the sudden death of her sister leaves her with a live-in niece, Lina. But once her habits are disturbed, the changes pile on, and the sous chef her boss hires against her wishes, Mario, becomes infatuated with her. Having begun to win her over, Mario bans Martha from her home kitchen and, with Lina, cooks up a rustic feast. The three break every ritual of dining by eating fresh pasta, vegetables, meats, and bread with their hands while sitting on the living room floor. But the pinnacle of this feast comes with dessert, when, after Lina falls asleep, Mario feeds a blindfolded Martha his white wine sauce, while she whispers back its ingredients. The film turns food into the ideal medium of human connection, demonstrating how deeply food penetrates our entire being, from our most carnal needs to the way we emote.