Sure, you eat within the dark confines of a movie theater (and arguably more than you would in any other venue), but how often do you pay special attention to what’s being eaten on screen? Over the last two decades, sandwiches in particular have played a starring role in some of the country’s most notable films. Remember Denzel Washington’s pastrami feast in the 1993 movie Philadelphia? What about dozens upon dozens of shots of the White Castle slider in the 2004 stoner flick Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle?
Here’s a look at five momentous sandwich-eating adventures, all made famous by the silver screen:
National Lampoon’s Vacation, 1983
Fewer characters captured our attention in the ‘80s better than the bumbling, dorky, and ultimately lovable Clark W. Griswold, hysterically played by Chevy Chase in the National Lampoon flicks. In the original, written by John Hughes (of Sixteen Candles and Breakfast Club fame), Griswold blithely enjoys a bologna sandwich in a park one day, only to find out—yuck!—that crotchety old Aunt Edna’s dog, Dinky, has urinated on it. “Mom, my sandwich is all wet,” protests Griswold’s son Rusty, played by a teenage Anthony Michael Hall. “They’re all wet... Oh God!... The dog wet on the picnic basket,” exclaims Mom, as Griswold spits out his bite. Aunt Edna famously looks at hers, shrugs, and keeps on eating.
The Breakfast Club, 1985
Set primarily within the four walls of a single classroom, The Breakfast Club relies on the small stuff to stay interesting. The lunchtime scene in this ultimate coming-of-age cult classic is genius: each of the five students stuck in detention put their own gastronomic spin on things. Take Allison Reynolds, the dark, introverted, weird outcast played by Ally Sheedy: she replaces the pimento loaf from her sandwich with Pixy Stix and Cap’n Crunch cereal. If you endeavor to make your own, be sure to smash the sandwich down once the fillings are in place—it really adds to the authenticity.
When Harry Met Sally, 1989
In a rom-com where nearly every line is quotable, perhaps no scene is more famous than Sally Albright’s famous chow-down in the legendary New York City deli Katz’s. Albright, played by Meg Ryan, is trying to convince her friend Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) that he might not be quite so savvy as he thinks in the sphere of female satisfaction. To drive the point home, Albright puts her fork down, takes a breath, and enacts a minute-long, extremely audible fake orgasm that captures the attention of everyone in the restaurant. Harry, meanwhile, is forced to put down his pastrami sandwich—a Katz specialty, of course—that he’s been so dutifully consuming. At the end, one amazed onlooker remarks to the waitress, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
A poignant moment in the ‘90s rom-com Dave comes when presidential impersonator Dave Kovic, played by Kevin Kline, awakens one night in the White House and asks Secret Service agent Duane Stevenson to accompany him to the kitchen so he can make his “special sandwich.” As Kovic and Stevenson discuss things the average person would certainly wonder about if given access to the President’s security team—say, whether Stevenson would actually take a bullet for the President or whether he ever uses his gun—Kovic mindfully assembles an ultra-bionic sandwich piled high with meat and lettuce. “So that means, now you’d get killed for me too?” Kovic concludes. Then he hands Stevenson half of his masterpiece.
A sandwich stars in the 2004 Adam Sandler flick Spanglish just as the narrative comes to a head: Sandler’s John Clasky, having just realized his wife has cheated on him, comes home one night after working as head chef of a popular restaurant and whips up the best sandwich he’s ever made in his life for his live-in housekeeper, Flor Moreno. It’s over sandwich-making that Moreno, played by Paz Vega, and Clasky realize their love for each other, and it’s no wonder: world-renowned chef Thomas Keller actually provided the recipe for the movie and personally taught Sandler how to make it. There’s finesse involved, of course, but the basic gist is this: three slices of bacon, fried up perfectly in a pan and drained, plus melted monterey jack, mayo, a fried egg, a tomato, lettuce, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Apparently the egg shouldn’t break until the moment you cut the sandwich, which has 1,200 calories when made correctly.