10 of the Most Iconic Cafeteria Scenes in Movie and TV History

10 of the Most Iconic Cafeteria Scenes in Movie and TV History

We can practically smell and taste these memorable lunch room moments.

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I blame Hollywood for my very twisted expectations of what the school cafeteria would be like. We never spontaneously broke out into song, there were no food fights, and not one cent of my lunch money was ever taken from me. How boring.

As today’s kids prepare to go back to school, let us revisit some of the most memorable lunchroom scenes ever depicted in film and television. We’ll look at productions old and new, at both (fictional) elementary and high schools—plus one college in which every student is as immature as a second-grader. Grab a lunch tray and get in line.

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Spider-Man

Spider-Man

Spider-Man: Peter Fights Flash at School (TOBEY MAGUIRE SCENE)

For our younger readers: This is where the old dude from Spider-Man: No Way Home came from. The scene from the 2002 film depicts a recently bitten Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) exploring some of his new newfound abilities while in the school cafeteria. He uses his Spidey reflexes to save Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and her lunch while his sticky web (accidentally) sends a tray of food flying into school bully Flash Thompson. It’s not only great for a lunchroom scene, but it’s an all-around excellent superhero origin scene. Special mention goes to when Peter catches Mary Jane’s lunch—it took a whopping 156 takes to get right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maguire and Dunst couldn’t bear to look at a cafeteria tray to this day.

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Community

Community

“I Need To Be Able To Connect To People Like You Can” | Community

“Contemporary American Poultry” (season 1, episode 21)

Where to begin? The cafeteria at Greendale Community College played host to many memorable scenes throughout Community’s six-season run. From Abed’s roasting of the mean girls to the epic Pillowtown/Blanketsburg battle and, as we see here, the great chicken finger hustle. But it’s the simple power of the scene above that takes the milk carton. It depicts the alpha Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) confronting and comforting the awkward Abed (Danny Pudi), who is reeling from the demise of his under-the-table cafeteria chicken business, his manufactured popularity now come and gone.

It’s a quiet and sweet moment between the pair, with a bunch of pop culture references mixed in (because Abed). It reminds us that the series’ many bombastic shenanigans only work because of the well-developed characters running underneath them. It’s nice to get a taste of that here, and the presence of fried food doesn’t hurt either.

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Mean Girls

Mean Girls

Mean Girls | Meet The Plastics | Watch Now on STARZPLAY | ستارزبلاي

This 2004 Tina Fey creation is easily one of the most quoted films of the 21st century so far. How many other films can be identified by just one word (“fetch”) or by just one date (October 3)? The scene above succinctly establishes the cafeteria as the backbone of the entire high school ecosystem, with Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) providing a rather reductive running commentary of where each clique is located throughout the lunch room. It also contains the iconic first encounter between new student Cady (Lindsay Lohan) and the titular mean girls: Regina (Rachel McAdams), Gretchen (Lacey Chabert), and Karen (Amanda Seyfried). Very gruel.

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The Simpsons

The Simpsons

Simpsons Meal Box Puzzle “Lisa the Simpson” s9e17

“Lisa the Simpson” (season 9, episode 17)

A normal lunch at Springfield Elementary School quickly turns sour for Lisa Simpson when she is unable to solve the brain teaser on the back of her store-bought meal box. Could the girl genius be losing her edge?

Although this cafeteria scene is understated, if you think about it, it’s really a microcosm of everything that made The Simpsons great in its heyday: There’s social commentary about school lunches, visual gags (Milhouse’s glasses getting sucked in by the vacuum seal), a dash of nerdiness in the form of the brain teaser, and, most importantly, an opportunity to develop characters. It’s a revealing moment for Lisa, whose inability to solve the puzzle reveals a crack in her self-assuredness; throughout the rest of the episode, we see the immense pressure she places upon herself. Although The Simpsons’ golden age is long gone, moments like this will never go bad (unlike so much cafeteria food).

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The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club

The Breakfast Club (6/8) Movie CLIP - Lunchtime (1985) HD

Technically, this takes place in a library and not a lunch room, but they’re required to eat lunch in this room while at school, so it qualifies.

The 1985 classic The Breakfast Club introduces us to five stereotypical high school students: “a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Over the course of their Saturday detention, the characters all show themselves to be more complex than they boxes they’ve been placed in, and even their lunches help reveal who they are. The sugary cereal sandwich enjoyed by Allison (Ally Sheedy) hints at a playful edge to her moody personality. The fact that Bender (Judd Nelson) has no lunch at all is an insight into his home life. Let this be a lesson: If you want to know someone better, get a look at their lunch.

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South Park

South Park

Randy Marsh Cooking with Crème Fraîche - SOUTH PARK

“Crème Fraîche” (season 14, episode 14)

As easy as it would be to honor a South Park lunchroom scene featuring the legendary Chef, this season 14 scene simply can’t be ignored. It depicts a Food Network–addicted Randy Marsh in his role as the new chef at South Park Elementary. However, it’s not enough to make and serve the students food—he wants to host his own cooking show, using the school cafeteria as his set. His foodie dialogue should be recognizable to anyone who has spent too much time watching wannabe chefs on YouTube and TikTok. But you have to admit that the food itself looks a lot more detailed and delicious than the nondescript blobs served up in South Park’s earlier seasons.

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Saturday Night Live

Saturday Night Live

Adam Sandler: Lunch Lady Land - SNL

This classic SNL sketch from 1993 is an ode to the person who makes all lunchrooms possible: The lunch lady. Adam Sandler sings (kind of) about the struggles of a typical lunch lady while Chris Farley, dressed as one, interpretively dances around him. It’s genuine hoot from start to finish. The song climaxes with a very literal food fight and a surprising love connection between Farley’s lunch lady and a heroic Sloppy Joe. This is 1990s Saturday Night Live at its most random, and audiences couldn’t get enough of it.

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High School Musical

High School Musical

High School Musical Cast - Stick to the Status Quo (From “High School Musical”)

It’s been 16 years... surely you’re secure enough by now to admit that you enjoyed High School Musical. This cafeteria scene explores the divisions and stereotypes of high school but without the snark of Mean Girls or the coarseness of The Breakfast Club—instead, the issue is explored in a way that only musicals can deliver, breaking into the film’s most underrated song and dance number. This being the cafeteria, there’s even a memorable food moment involving a tray of nachos and the school villain’s shirt. We extend our sympathies to the nachos.

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Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite 1% Milk

This lunchroom scene surpassed all Hollywood depictions of nerds that came before it. Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) bonding with his new friend Pedro Sánchez (Efren Ramirez) over tater tots while pursuing his love interest Deb (Tina Majorino) by making conversation about milk. This scene’s main attraction is the now legendary pickup line that Napoleon delivers with aplomb: “I see you’re drinking 1%—is that cause you think you’re fat? Cause you’re not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.” This conversation (and, indeed, the whole movie) has an odd 2004 charm that we can’t help but enjoy.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (3/10) Movie CLIP - Carrot Practice (1982) HD

You may remember this 1982 film’s pizza scene best, but there’s an even wilder one from the opposite end of the food pyramid. Best friends Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda (Phoebe Cates) are catching up at lunch in the cafeteria and the topic quickly turns to oral sex. Linda proceeds to educate Stacy on how to do it, using a carrot as a teaching aid. Stacy grabs a carrot and tries to inexpertly replicate the techniques, much to the enjoyment of a nearby table of hormonal boys. Fast Times at Ridgemont High is so frank in its depiction of high school sex life that it still resonates with audiences 40 years later. We can’t help but think that the film’s success probably did carrot sales a big favor.

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