Film should make you feel something. And if it can’t make you feel something, then film should involve pizza. Actually, all films should involve pizza, even if it’s just a brief shot of a greasy cardboard box or the appearance of a minor character named Pizza Williams. Pizza is central to the human condition, a crucial slice of life, if you will. That’s how I found myself traipsing through various streaming services in pursuit of the entertainment industry’s greatest pizza tributes. In honor of The Takeout’s inaugural Pizza Week, I present the pizza lover’s guide to crusty, cheesy, mostly delicious, occasionally disgusting cinema.
There are a lot of different ways to eat a pizza, and they’re all correct. (The only exception to this involves sopping up grease with a napkin. That method is incorrect.) In Saturday Night Fever (1977), we see Certified Cool Customer John Travolta strut down the street while showcasing a particularly ambitious pizza-eating method: the pizza stack or, as I like to call it, The Princess and the Pea. In the film’s opening credits, Travolta snaps up two slices from Lenny’s Pizza, stacks one on top of the other, and grooves through Brooklyn in a frankly killer outfit. Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother, that’s a great way to spend an afternoon.
Before we get into this one, we need to come to terms with the fact that Back to the Future Part II (1989) takes place in the Year of Our Lord 2015. Take a second to process that before you check out the movie’s extremely goofy family dinner scene in which Marty’s Future Family enjoys a tiny silver-dollar sized pizza which “hydrates”—in a high-tech hydrating oven, of course—into a large Pizza Hut pizza. At which point Future Marty croons, “Oh boy, oh boy, Mom, you sure can hydrate a pizza.” If this kind of technology exists today, I’m unaware of it—which is probably a good thing, because I would almost certainly abuse it. Hydrated ham, anyone?
Set in a Connecticut seaside town, Mystic Pizza (1988) has everything I want in a movie: tortured romance, coming-of-age subplots, New England summer hijinks, and plenty of cheesy goodness. One of the movie’s best scenes involves a high-falutin’ food critic: the self-proclaimed “Fireside Gourmet,” a mustachioed gentleman with a vaguely transatlantic accent. The critic orders the titular Mystic Pizza, executes a divine cheese pull, and leaves without another word. Later in the movie, we see the Fireside Gourmet give Mystic Pizza a glowing review. “I am not particularly fond of cheesy cuisine,” he says on his show. “But this pizza is... how shall I say this... in a word, superb.”
Let’s be very clear about something: Do the Right Thing (1989) is not about pizza. Do the Right Thing is about racism, brutality, gentrification, and multi-generational marginalization. It does, however, center around Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, which serves as both a community landmark and a stark reminder of racial tensions.
There’s a very fine line between “delicious” and “disgusting.” I happily cross that line on a daily basis, as evidenced by my semi-regular Ketchup Beef Couch Lunch. Mel Brooks’ masterpiece Spaceballs (1987) transcends that line, pulverizing it into a fleshy, cheesy blob with the voice of the late Dom DeLuise. I’m of course referring to Pizza the Hutt, the Spaceballs crime lord with a costume made of goopy pancake batter and real, honest-to-God pepperoni.
Long before I saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), I went to high school with a joker I’ll call Brick. Brick once ordered an extra-large pepperoni pizza from Domino’s directly to our history class, much to the dismay of our beleaguered teacher who was probably trying to teach us about Che Guevara. The exact same thing happens in Fast Times. In the movie, class clown Jeff Spicoli orders a hand-tossed double cheese and sausage for delivery to his Ridgemont High history class, paying the pizza guy with a pleasant “Here you go, dude.” Spicoli’s history teacher exclaims, “Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing?” Sean Penn’s Spicoli replies, “Learnin’ about Cuba, havin’ some food.”
I haven’t actually seen all of She’s All That (1999), but I have seen the iconic “pube pizza” scene about a million times. The scene takes place in a high school cafeteria, where we see a mean-looking Scut Farkus lookalike manually rip out a handful of his own pubes then delicately sprinkle them onto a slice of pizza. His partner in crime, another bully inexplicably wearing a T-shirt that reads “Kill All Artists” (???) has a smaller kid in a headlock. The art-hating bully opens a titty mag and mutters, “Isn’t that your mommy?” The kid replies, “My mom’s dead,” which is incredibly funny. At this point, we can presume that the bullies are about to force the kid to eat the pubes—until a very youthful Freddie Prinze Jr. enters the scene and demands the bullies let the kid go. Freddie then demands the bully “hoover” his own pube-topped pizza. I will now leave you to watch the scene, which features a delightful pube-chewing close-up if you’re into that sort of thing.
Our Italian friends have given us many gifts, including pizza, a fabulous Elon Musk parody account, and the incomparable Sophia Loren. Loren stars in L’oro di Napoli (1954), or “The Gold of Naples,” a comedy in which Loren’s character and her husband sell fried pizzas in Naples. In the film, Loren’s character loses her engagement ring in a batch of pizza dough—which is a big problem for her jealous husband, who wants customers to know that his pizza vixen is spoken for. You can watch the film in its entirety (sorry, only auto-translated subtitles) on YouTube.
Here’s the ugly truth, fellas: women love to eat loads and loads of crap. In Miss Congeniality (2000), pizza, beer, and little shots of booze served in test tubes are all ingredients for the coolest and most satisfying ladies’ night in cinematic history. This scene also does a great job of communicating the transformative power of carb-loading with one’s peers, as the Miss United States contestants let loose and spill their hottest goss over womankind’s favorite feast.
I’ve been stood up a few times in my life, and I’ve never once received a sincere apology—let alone an apology in the form of M&M-topped pizza. This glorious scene from The Princess Diaries (2001) is very sweet and also somehow very rock ‘n’ roll.
If you’ve seen Heavyweights, 1995’s most underrated feature film, you know that Ben Stiller is at his best when playing a deranged muscleman. In that same (bulging) vein, we have White Goodman, Stiller’s character in Dodgeball (2004) who gets caught in a somewhat masturbatory situation with—you guessed it—a slice of pizza. In the scene, we see White Goodman sniff the slice with a gleeful rigor, then slip it down his sporty pants in what he calls his “private reflection period.”
Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of our finest performers—the kind of dude who was probably equally happy to star on the silver screen or annihilate a Slip ‘N’ Slide. In Along Came Polly (2004), we see Hoffman advise Ben Stiller’s character to give his love interest a tiny spanking during their next lovemaking session. Hoffman gives this advice while soaking his own pizza slice in extra grease that he mines from Stiller’s slice. That’s what the kids call king shit.
This is another example that’s not about pizza, per se. But I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t include Loverboy, the 1989 flick featuring a baby Patrick Dempsey as a college student who becomes a professional gigolo by way of pizza delivery with “extra anchovies.” What, did you think you were gonna make it through this list without gigolo hijinks?
All Macaulay Culkin wants is a plain cheese pizza—and that’s exactly what he gets in Home Alone (1990), a testament to the value of isolating oneself from one’s asshole siblings. Culkin’s character, Kevin, uses his brother’s cash to order from Little Nero’s, terrifying the delivery guy in the most harrowing Christmas movie scene of all time.
During my initial search for pizza-related movies, this 1995 Sandra Bullock vehicle popped up again and again. I sat down to watch it because the premise (a lady computer programmer uncovers a sinister cyber-conspiracy) kicks ass. The absolute best part of this unhinged film takes place in the first 15 minutes, when we see Bullock log into a website called PIZZA DOT NET to order a small, hand-tossed pie for delivery. If you’re curious, there’s an amazing oral history of the webpage over on Collider.
We’ll round out our list with my very favorite pizza content. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988), villain Freddy Krueger develops a wicked craving—for pizza topped with live human heads instead of meatballs. Freddy chows down on a hot slice of soul pizza, and it’s just like he says: “If the food don’t kill ya, the service will.”
But wait! There’s more! Once I plunged into the Pizza Cinematic Universe, I realized I couldn’t limit myself to movies. Here are some equally hot ‘n’ crusty pizza moments from TV.
Ah, the ol’ hyper-speed pizza toss. In this classic 1956 episode of I Love Lucy, we see Lucille Ball go full pazziode when faced with unruly pizza dough and a time crunch. Be sure to watch with the sound on, as the sexy stylings of Dean Martin really add to the slapstick vibes.
If the idea of cucumber pizza makes you scream, “That’s-a not-a pizza,” this Seinfeld clip (1994) is for you. It’s more than just a topping kerfuffle: it’s a broader exploration of the people’s Right to Choose. (Pizza toppings. The right to choose... pizza toppings.)
A good pizza can cement a friendship, but it can also test the bonds of affection. The latter takes place in “Pizza Delivery,” a 1999 SpongeBob Squarepants classic in which SpongeBob and Squidward embark on a sandy adventure to deliver a pizza. But can they deliver the pizza without taking a tasty, tasty bite? This one also gets an honorable mention for the weirdly horny comments below the YouTube clip. “I like the way it sounded when spongebob [sic]was drooling,” wrote one commenter, adding: “Please comment down below what you thought about this video.” Well, at least someone’s starting the conversation. (See more weird comments for yourself).
This is the tiniest, least significant pizza moment in this entire list, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t tickle me pink. In this Bob’s Burgers clip (2014), we see Linda Belcher exclaim with delight. Why? Because Little King Trashmouth, the leader of a family of alley raccoons, has found himself a piece of pizza.