Let them eat cake!
Well, let them watch it on-screen, in films where one of America’s favorite desserts doubles as a weapon, a disguise, means of escape, a bad omen, or comic relief. In celebration of November 26 being National Cake Day (honoring the food, not the band), here’s a ranking of our favorite cake-related moments in movies.
16. Planning the wedding in The Five-Year Engagement (2012)
“I don’t know why girls get so tense about all this planning. It’s fun!” Jason Segel's Tom Solomon says to his two buddies (played by Brian Posehn and Chris Parnell) as they happily taste-test wedding cakes in The Five-Year Engagement. In addition to gender stereotypes, there’s a lot that Tom is behind-the-curve on, like not realizing he’s accomplished enough to open his own restaurant instead of spending more years toiling away as a sous chef, or that years are passing by for him and his fiancee Violet Barnes (Emily Blunt) as they plan—or continue to postpone—their wedding. If you know how much work goes into planning a wedding, you may wish to slap Tom and his buddies in the face as they eat cake and gush about how easy it all is now that they’ve finally gotten started. But that’s also the moral of this movie: that life has a tendency to happen quickly while we’re trying to “get ready” for it. Sometimes you have to just jump right in and starting eating cake. Chop chop!
15. The floppy, melting 15-layer cake in Sleeping Beauty (1959)
In case you need a refresh on this scene from the 59-year-old Disney classic, to celebrate Princess Aurora’s 16th birthday, thicc fairy godmothers Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather decide to throw her a party, which obviously includes baking a cake from scratch. But so as not to arouse the attention of the evil witch Maleficent in her pre-Angelina Jolie incarnation (who cursed Aurora at birth with the promise of death when she turned 16), the godmothers work without magic. Fauna’s the one tasked with cake-making, and she proceeds to toss in generous pours of flour, two whole eggs (shell and all, cuz why not), and spices to her heart’s content. The result is a gooey, flabby mixture that runs over the table, which Fauna promises “will be much stiffer after it’s baked.” *grimace emoji*
14. Finding an eyeball in the harvest cake in Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Bank loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) begins seeing bad omens everywhere—or are they hallucinations?—after rejecting elderly gypsy Sylvia Ganush’s request for a third extension on her mortgage. (When will we all learn to stop pissing off elderly gypsies with dark powers??) Ganush puts a curse on Christine, who finds herself engaging in unsavory activities such as sacrificing her pet kitten and paying thousands of dollars on a seance to digging up a corpse in order to escape being haunted by a powerful dark spirit.
That brings us to what’s definitely the grossest scene on this list, in which Christine visits her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and his parents for dinner and, among other terrifying sights, sees an eyeball staring at her in the cake she brought for dessert. She decides to stab the eye with a fork (!!!) but the damage is already done with Clay’s parents, who assume she’s unstable, and with the curse itself, which Christine is never able to lift. Moral of this story: If you see an eyeball in your cake, maybe just put it down the garbage disposal.
13. Making a single perfect cupcake in Bridesmaids (2011)
After losing her bakery, her boyfriend, and her role as maid of honor and organizer for her best friend’s upcoming wedding (sorry for the diarrhea, guys!), Annie Walker (Kristen Wiig) becomes a recluse. The guy she’s hooking up with (Jon Hamm) has no interest in a relationship, she lost her entire savings due to the recession, and all her best ideas for helping plan the wedding get stolen and instead offered to the bride (Maya Rudolph) by the drippingly phony Helen (Rose Byrne). Eventually, after an unpleasant incident involving a bunch of puppies and a chocolate fountain, Annie gets kicked out of the ceremony entirely.
Finally hitting an emotional rock bottom, Annie goes back to the one thing she knows and loves: baking, which she had previously given up entirely. She starts small and bakes a single, perfect cupcake with mint green frosting and little pink petals. This tiny cupcake is the first sign that Annie might be able to regain control of her life and start mending the outlandish amount of damage caused by her competitive spat with Helen.
12. Eating a slice of cake in one single bite in Groundhog Day (1993)
On the fourth day of a nearly 34-year loop of Groundhog Day, weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) decides to go all out with a breakfast of doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, milkshakes, cookies, cigarettes, and coffee straight out of the pitcher.
“I like to see a man of advancing years throw caution to the wind,” says Phil’s producer Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) as he eats. “My years are not advancing as fast as you might think … That’s exactly what makes me so special. I don’t even have to floss,” Phil replies, as he accordions an entire slice of cake into his mouth.
In later Groundhog Days, Phil will dedicate his time to more thoughtful pursuits, like ice carving, learning French poetry, playing classical piano, trying to save a life, and actually getting to know Rita, instead of just attempting to hook up with her. But before that, Phil has to get through all the suicide attempts and mayhem (and cake) that he can.
11. Choosing a wedding cake in Father of the Bride (1991)
George Banks (Steve Martin) is mortified when his wife Nina (Diane Keaton) and daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams) select eccentric Franck Eggelhoffer (Martin Short, in full stride) as their wedding planner. Franck’s thick accent makes him nearly unintelligible (perhaps he’s from the same central European country as Bronson Pinchot’s Serge, from Beverly Hills Cop) and it’s clear from his sense of style and approach that George isn’t going to get away with paying for this wedding on the cheap. A $1,200 wedding cake, which would cost $2,200-plus in today’s dollars, is the first thing they look at. George is pained; Franck just laughs: “Welcome to the 90s, Mr. Banks!” (If only they knew the trials and tribulations of 2018.)
10. Not enough cake for Milton in Office Space (1999)
Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) can’t catch a break. As the timid and mumbling collator at a tech company in Office Space, all he wants is to bind papers, listen to his radio, use his red stapler, and not have to move cubicles every couple of months. There’s likely a guy like Milton at every company, someone who “didn’t wash much. He wore the same tie everyday. It was completely stained,” Root once described of the character. “These are guys who live in their space, and don’t like to come out.”
But he does want to be included, even if it’s at his crummy boss’s birthday celebration, where everyone’s passing around cake. Unfortunately, Milton sees what’s going to happen almost as soon as we do: that “the ratio of people to cake is too big” and guess who’s going to be left without a slice? Almost makes you want to burn the building down and escape to a tropical resort.
9. Gifting a bundt cake in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)
What’s supposed to be a quiet dinner between the parents of soon-to-be-wed Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) becomes an ordeal when Toula’s proud mother Maria (Lainie Kazan) invites their entire extended Greek family for a massive feast. She’s been preparing the meal for hours while Ian’s parents bring only a small bundt cake, thinking it was only meant for six people. Maria later inserts a flower pot in the center of the cake thinking she’s improved it. The plant is awkward and doesn’t exactly fit, but the mother means well and that’s all that matters.
The bundt (“Bun? Bunk? Bunn…t?”) becomes a symbol of the breakdowns in communication between Toula and her parents, Toula’s parents and Ian’s parents, and Greek culture and American culture in the 2002 romantic comedy. The handoff is awkward, the two cultures can’t seem to explain the bundt, but they can still find a middle ground: “It’s a cake!”
8. Samantha's birthday cake in Sixteen Candles (1984)
High school sophomore Sam Baker (Molly Ringwald) feels trapped—at home, as her recent 16th birthday has been completely forgotten because of her older sister’s wedding the next day; at school, with an upcoming senior dance that’s sure to be awkward for her; and in her love life, where Sam has attracted the eye of nerdy freshman Ted (Anthony Michael Hall) while being not-so-secretly infatuated with popular senior Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling).
John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles isn’t without controversy, with geeky, Engrish-speaking Chinese-exchange-student stereotype Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) and later, a disturbingly casual conversation about date rape between Jake and Ted. But unlike other high school flicks of the era, like Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont High, most of the characters in this comedy-of-age comedy don’t revel in being caricatures of high school stereotypes; they break out of them. Sam finds a confidante, not in her sophomore friends, but in juvenile Ted, who possesses enough surprising wisdom to offer meaningful support. The ninth grader later ends up playing matchmaker for older Sam and Jake, who, in class end-of-a-John-Hughes-movie fashion, connect and share a kiss at the intimate birthday party that Sam never knew she wanted.
7. Uncle Joey’s parole cake in Back to the Future (1985)
If you think about it, the Back to the Future trilogy shares the same moral as Batman Begins: that it’s our actions, not who we are underneath, that define us. George McFly (Crispin Glover) is a good guy in any time period. But when his son Marty (Michael J. Fox) goes back in time and galvanizes George to step in and knock out the high school bully drunkenly attempting to force himself on (his future wife) Lorraine (Lea Thompson), the decision changes George’s entire life. Similarly, Biff Tannen (Thomas Wilson) is a turd in every timeline, whether he’s an obsequious next-door valet or a rich tyrant. In Back to the Future, we make choices but in time, our choices make us.
Sadly, this is a lesson lost on poor Uncle “Jailbird” Joey, who seems condemned to a life behind bars no matter what. In 1955, he’s a baby in a white-and-black striped shirt that “just loves” being locked in his playpen. In the Biff-ruled alternate 2015, Biff threatens Lorraine with putting all her kids in prison “just like your brother Joey.” Out of all these references, it’s our first introduction to Joey that is the most prominent: with a depressing-as-hell “welcome home” cake that the McFly family has to eat by themselves because Joey didn’t make parole (again).
6. Popping out of (and then throwing) a cake in Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
After making fun of popular silent film star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly), Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) later runs into him at a party—where she pops out of a cake, singing and dancing as a chorus girl. Embarrassed, and angry now that Don’s teasing her, Kathy grabs a handful of cake and throws it at him. But she misses and instead hits Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), Don’s self-absorbed and conniving leading lady.
This cake-throwing incident helps kick off the plot in this classic MGM musical about the behind-the-scenes drama with transitioning from silent films to “talkies” in the late 1920s. In Singin’ in the Rain, the film industry is changing forever and it’s up to each actor to find a place in the new format, and hopefully have a voice that’s neither too grating nor squeaky enough to repel audiences.
5. Eating white cake in Django Unchained (2012)
When former slave-turned-bounty hunter Django Freeman (Jamie Foxx) and dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) arrive at the “Candyland” plantation in Mississippi, run by the smarmy and sadistic Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), their plan to buy Freeman’s wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington) is quickly revealed. But Calvin goes along with it and as the papers are drawn up, he offers Schultz a slice of “white cake”—while they sit in Calvin’s white house on his white-owned plantation guarded by white men with guns. As Calvin totes his quasi-European and Southern culture, the formally educated Schultz soon can’t contain his contempt.
Schultz, who began the film as a mostly self-interested broker, has developed a moral center after witnessing the horrors of Candyland (like seeing a slave fed to dogs as punishment for attempting escape) and by the time Calvin offers him cake, the bounty hunter would rather shoot the plantation owner rather than shake his hand. Schultz is jeopardizing both Django and Broomhilda’s lives by opening fire (“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist.”) but he has also previously instructed Django in the ways of kicking ass. Soon the ex-slave rides off into the sunset with his wife, after literally dismantling the master’s house. How's that for dessert?
4. Shopping, drinking, gambling, and eating cake in Marie Antoinette (2006)
“That is such nonsense. I would never say that,” Marie Antoinette (Kirsten Dunst) says, about the oft-quoted phrase the former Queen of France is perhaps best remembered for, in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 historical drama. Although there’s little evidence that Antoinette actually uttered, “let them eat cake” in response to learning her subjects had no bread, she did spend lavishly on fashion and luxuries and gambled heavily while France sank into major debt in the 1770s.
Coppola captures Marie Antoinette’s decadence in one film sequence that has the young Queen trying on shoes, being fitted for new dresses, wearing two-feet-tall hair poufs, drinking Champagne and yes, eating cake, set to Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.” Some critics blasted Coppola’s decision to include contemporary music and pop references (like characters wearing Converse sneakers) in the film instead of presenting Antoinette as a stanch period drama, but Coppola admitted in interviews that was never her point. Roger Ebert understood, writing in his review of the film that, “Many characters in historical films seem somehow aware that they are living in the past. Marie seems to think she is a teenager living in the present, which of course she is—and the contemporary pop references invite the audience to share her present with ours.” The result is a film as lush and opulent as many imagine Marie Antoinette’s life to be—which, obviously, involves eating a lot of cake.
3. Hagrid delivering a crushed pink birthday cake from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) has to travel to the seeming ends of the Earth to locate 11-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), whose miserable adoptive family, the Dursleys, have temporarily relocated themselves to what looks like the wettest, crappiest island ever. The oversized groundskeeper of Hogwarts School has to kick down the door to get inside their ramshackle house where he tells Harry that A) he’s a wizard, B) his parents didn’t actually die in a car crash like the Dursleys have lied to Harry about for his entire life, and C) that Harry’s been invited to get the hell out of there and attend a boarding school (thank god).
Hagrid also wishes Harry a “happee birthdae” with green icing on a pink cake that the big guy baked himself (and might’ve sat on during the ride over). Hard to tell what we love more about Hagrid: his thoughtfulness, or the fact that he later gives Dudley Dursley (Harry Melling) a pig’s tail when he helps himself to some of the cake.
2. The Cake Face in Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
When Mrs. Doubtfire first premiered in 1993, critics compared it to other movies where men had to dress in drag, including Some Like It Hot and Tootsie. But what allowed this film to come into its own was the late Robin Williams, whose presence as both a well-meaning-but-unreliable father as well as a costumed, prostheticized Scottish nanny, kept Mrs. Doubtfire from descending too far into farce or sentimentality. His usual inventiveness off-camera lent credibility to his character’s improvisational skills: in one scene, a court liaison is supposed to check in with the dad but instead encounters Mrs. Doubtfire, whose mask flies out the window and gets run over in the street. With no available “face” to wear and thinking fast, he dunks his face into the thick frosting of a cake to create the illusion of a facial mask. It’s almost as intense as all the other faces that Williams “tries on” with the help of his makeup artist brother Frank (Harvey Fierstein) but way more… drippy. And amazing.
1. Force-feeding Bruce Bogtrotter some chocolate cake in Matilda (1996)
Bruce Bogtrotter (Jimmy Karz) may only be Roald Dahl’s second most-famous gluttonous boy (the number one spot definitely goes to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Augustus Gloop) but little Bruce takes the cake (ahem) on this list. First, for stealing a slice of terrifying headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Pam Ferris)’s specially made chocolate cake (and saying it wasn’t as good as his mother’s cake when asked about it), then being forced to eat the rest of it in front of a packed auditorium. Principal Trunchbull threatens the entire student body that no one’s leaving until Bruce gets off the stage, and she’s not letting Bruce off the stage until he sits there and eats the entire gigantic cake.
Matilda’s cake scene was almost as much of a nightmare for the young actor playing Bruce to film as it was for Bruce himself in the movie. Karz didn’t like chocolate cake so between takes, he spat mouthfuls out into a bucket. Which helped in a way, because Karz’ facial expression eating the cake really did make it seem like torture. Hollywood child labor laws also meant the kids in the auditorium could only film for a certain number of hours per day, so this scene that might’ve only normally needed a few days to shoot instead stretched on for what Karz described as seeming like “about three weeks.” Karz would arrive on set every day to have chocolate smears painted onto his face exactly as it appeared from the day before, and he had to put on the same crusty shirt. The entire scene had almost been scrapped completely during pre-production for budgetary reasons but Matilda co-screenwriter Robin Swicord fought for it because the scene demonstrated Bruce’s own superpower—of having been able to eat the entire cake.
Like eating 50 eggs in Cool Hand Luke or, more figuratively, Andy Dufresne playing music from The Marriage of Figaro in The Shawshank Redemption, Bruce eating the cake—to the cheers of his his classmates, led by Matilda (Mara Wilson)—isn’t about celebrating overeating. It’s ultimately about empowerment. Like Matilda’s telekinesis, if Bruce can finish the entire chocolate cake, then anything is possible.