There’s obviously the spaghetti western, that mid-century film genre much less about the pasta and much more about sandy expanses, riding horseback, and blazing bullets. And then there’s the spaghetti movie: Films that aren’t named after the pasta, but feature cinematic moments that center the long skinny noodle. There is, most obviously, Lady and the Tramp, Disney’s 1955 animated canine romance that gifted us with what is probably the single most iconic appearance of spaghetti on screen. Ever.
During the most romantic first date known to dogkind, the newly minted lovers share a candlelit dinner of spaghetti and meatballs. And as they clumsily share one noodle, and a kiss, they vault themselves into cinematic history—spaghetti cinematic history.
But what other filmic representations of the classic Italian pasta can we turn to? Who else can join Lady and her rugged lover, Tramp, in the pantheon of famous on-screen spaghetti slurpers? I dove deep into the internet to find out. In no way is this list exhaustive, but rather a collection of the ones that stand out to me. There are, what we could call, honorable mentions—a particularly chilling example from The Killing of a Sacred Deer comes to mind as does an the iconic Goodfellas post-murder dinner.
Food in films has the express ability to propel a plot or reveal an unspoken, unseen truth about a character. Spaghetti is but one food that holds a place in the grand cinematic canon, yet it lists as one of the more important. Maybe next time we give cinematic bagels their moment in the sun...
Will Ferrell, here as Buddy the Elf, wakes up to the most caloric, sugar-laden breakfast I’ve ever seen. It’s cute, I guess, but also revolting to watch the North Pole transplant pour maple syrup, marshmallows, and a crushed Pop-Tart over a plate of undressed spaghetti. It's like a dessert disguised as a dinner masquerading as a breakfast. That’s his brand, I guess. If you can’t tell, I’m no Buddy the Elf fan. (Don’t @ me.)
Here, spaghetti goes from dinner to diabolical when a machine goes awry. It gets so bad that food literally starts to terrorize the denizens of Swallow Falls (never underestimate the potential for food puns in this one). As much as I’ve always been into the idea of an endless tower of spaghetti, never have I ever wanted it to approach me like a Wizard of Oz–style twister, threatening to envelope me in a vortex of saucy carbs. This is, quite possibly, the most disastrous incarnation pasta can take.
Sometimes spaghetti, especially in film, is so much less about propelling a plot than it is about setting a mood. Take Gummo, for example: Food isn’t necessarily central to Harmony Korine’s indie tour de force. But in an iconic scene that continues to haunt long after it finishes, his character slurps a plate of s'ghetti while his mom shampoos his hair. Dolls hang from a rack in the background. The walls are a discomfiting electric blue. The whole thing is great, but oh so strange.
In what is, some would argue, the best food movie of all time, spaghetti might take a back seat to another thin noodle, ramen. But in one iconic scene, a group of Japanese women get together to learn the best way to eat ramen’s Western counterpart. I won’t spoil it—just watch below—but what happens should not be watched without headphones. (Those with misophonia be warned: There is lots and lots of slurping.)
A plate of spaghetti can be transcendental. Life changing, even. For the central character in this tale of self-discovery and self-love, it is, in many ways, just what the doctor ordered. Julia Roberts slurps noodles to the tune of a very dramatic aria, and lunch suddenly becomes an extravaganza. Is there anything better than Roberts twirling away at a perfectly portioned plate of spaghetti? Is there anything better than Julia Roberts?
For all the exuberance we usually afford spaghetti, there's always space for the sinister. Enter the brooding and terrifying Se7en, David Fincher’s reimagined New York noir. Without giving anything away, all you need to know is that Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, partner detectives, happen upon a man who’s been killed by overeating—you guessed it—a plate of spaghetti. Why? Who? That, I won’t tell you. As for what’s in the box? I most definitely won’t give that away either.
Before she was Lady Bird, Saoirse Ronan was a fresh-faced transplant from Ireland in Brooklyn (which also scored her an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination). Her character Eilis Lace falls in love with the son of an Italian family and, like any Brooklynite in the 1950s is wont to do, gets invited to his house for dinner. In preparation, she spends a good portion of the movie perfecting her pasta eating techniques all in the hopes she'll spill nary a drop on her dress. Come dinnertime: forks are twirled, parents are met, thinly veiled prejudices are quickly revealed. Oh, and she leaves with a very clean frock.
What are some of your favorite spaghetti movie moments? Link to a clip in the comments below.