The elements which make for great desserts can also be found in the qualities of a great film. They are sweet, dense and can leave a great taste long after their consumption.
The following list will celebrate the iconic desserts in films that contributed to the plot and will not factor in ceremonial occasions in a film such as birthdays, weddings, and religious holidays.
For integrity purposes, beverages and confectionery will not be included in this list.
This means no Forrest Gump (1994), no E.T. (1982), and no mention of a chocolate factory.
1. American Pie (1999)
The only film in this list where the dessert is also the titular character, American Pie is a comedic look at teenagehood in the late ’90s. The film’s plot follows four teenage boys as they make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation. One of, if not the most cringe-worthy scenes sees Jason Bigg’s character take to a pie on his kitchen bench after he is unable to contain his urges.
The scene has gone down as one of the most iconic representations of the ’90s with the pie exemplifying the folly of libido and the destruction this can have on creating meaningful relationships. Despite being released nearly twenty years ago and featuring a difficult-to-watch scene involving a woman’s privacy being exploited, American Pie to this day remains an accurate portrayal of sexual liberation amongst teenagers.
2. Amelie (2001)
France. The country of love, the Eiffel Tower, wine, and the home of traveling gnomes.
2001’s Amelie is recognized as a major milestone in French cinema and is still to this day the highest-grossing French film in the United States. The film, which is equal parts whimsical and peculiar, tells a modern-day love letter to France through the eyes of a titular character who only wants to bring about goodness to the people in her life.
#foodporn and ASMR at its finest, the cracking of the creme brulee is an iconic scene within the film and acts as a mechanic to highlight Amelie’s (Audrey Tautou) eccentricities via French iconography. Bon Appétit!
3. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
At a surface level, 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire tells the story of a man pretending to be a Scottish nanny in order to be closer to his kids following a divorce. Looking deeper into the movie, it tells the story of the impact separation has on the family unit with Robin Williams giving an all-in bittersweet performance showcasing both his comedic and dramatic chops.
In one of the most memorable comedic scenes, Mrs. Doubtfire resorts to using the frosting of a cake in lieu of a mask during a visit from social services. The film is a testament to the skills of Williams and is the only example of cake being used as a disguise in this list.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Christoph Waltz’s portrayal in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds as Colonel Hans Landa launched not only his career in Hollywood but landed him his first Academy Award. Landa is a menacing character with every scene he features in becoming an interrogation. No better is this on display than with his exchange with the orphaned Shoshanna (Melanie Laurent) over a beautiful strudel with cream dessert.
It is fitting that Landa breaks down the strudel in the same way he chips away at those being interrogated by him; tearing it apart before he consumes it. Despite the relaxed setting the scene never feels comfortable with Shosanna’s visible indignation counteracted by the oblivious and almost polite way Landa goes about his evil.
It is through the strudel where Shosanna discovers his weakness for indulgence that ultimately leads to his undoing.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Courtesan au Chocolat is the signature dessert in Wes Anderson’s 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel and goes on to support that nothing films better on a camera than a European dessert.
The difficult-to-make dessert is used as both a service to the plot having aided in a prison escape but also as a means to show the delicate and precise nature of Saoirse Ronan’s character Agatha. The dessert leaps off the screen every time in every scene and is peak Anderson-esque twee.
6. The Florida Project (2017)
Dessert can be both a way of finding comfort and a way of escaping the heat. 2017’s most under-recognized indie darling The Florida Project is a film that tackles neglect, class, and urban poverty against the backdrop of the happiest place on Earth.
Living in a motel on a hot summer’s day, the daughter of a neglectful young mother eats an ice cream inside the motel operator’s (played remarkably by Willem Dafoe) room to his disapproval, warning her that should it fall on the ground he will be unhappy. This is perhaps the child’s first exposure to a traditional parent having lived in an environment where no rules apply and the idea of being punished is foreign.
This is a tender exchange between the two and is a subtle reminder that beneath it all there is a looming adult presence in her life and hope for her future to escape the cycle of neglect.
7. The Battle of the Century (1927)
The art of throwing a pie to one’s face is a trademark to clowns everywhere. In the case of the oldest entry on this list (as well as the only entry of dessert being used as a weapon), the pie fight in 1927’s The Battle of the Century is imprinted in slapstick comedy and silent film history.
The scene features a pastry chef tripping over a tactically placed banana peel meant for someone else in order to exploit their insurance. What then follows is a free-for-all pie-throwing deathmatch (no exaggeration) featuring over 3000 pies that has yet to be replicated in the 90+ years since the film was released!
8. The Help (2011)
The pie featured in 2011’s The Help includes one special ingredient that helped Octavia Spencer earn an Academy Award. The scene involving the pie creates a power shift between the mistreated maid (Spencer) and her cruel employer (Bryce Dallas Howard), who after consuming the questionable contents provides some leverage to Spencer.
Representing the anger and mistreatment experienced by African Americans during the time, the pie featured in The Help arguably goes down as one of the best uses of food as a plot device. Talk about getting their just desserts.
9. Black Swan (2010)
Whether it be used to highlight body dysmorphia (such as in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted) or the way in which society devalues women of certain sizes (2006’s Little Miss Sunshine), the relationship between women and food is often a subject of contention in film.
In no stronger recent case are desserts more uncomfortably shown as a form of psychological torment than in the 2010 thriller film Black Swan. After receiving the starring role in Swan Lake, Natalie Portman’s character is gifted a cake as a kind gesture from her mother.
The use of cake in a film otherwise devoid of light highlights the dark depths that Portman’s character will go to pursue a career in dance, as well as showing the abusive way in which her mother goes about controlling her.
10. Matilda (1996)
You cannot have a list of iconic cake scenes without featuring Matilda. The inarguable MVP of 1996’s Matilda, Bruce Bogtrotter (Jimmy Karz) is a young boy undeservedly punished at the hands of the evil Principal Miss Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris).
So that Trunchbull can remain in control of the children, Bruce is subjected to ridicule by being forced to eat a giant chocolate cake in front of the entire school. In one of the most cheer-worthy scenes in cinema (FACT), Bruce, with the support of the entire school triumphs in the face of mistreatment as he is able to devour the entire cake to the dismay of Trunchbull.
You indeed can do it, Bruce!