The ultimate moviegoer’s guide to essential popcorn-candy pairings

Row of movie candies in boxes
Photo: Portland Press Herald (Getty Images)

I worked at a movie theater for a while before I moved to Chicago, and it was the best non-Takeout job I’ve ever had. We got all the popcorn and Minute Maid Lemonade we could stomach during our shifts, and we spent most of our time between screenings watching YouTube videos of people falling down. We also learned a lot: how to wrangle a digital movie projector (admittedly not as hard as an old-school projector), how to determine if an elderly patron was sleeping or dead, and how to suck used Kleenex out of cup holders with a canister vacuum. Crucial stuff.

But the most important lesson I learned was the art of the popcorn-candy combo. I don’t mean candy you eat at roughly the same time as your popcorn during the course of a movie. I mean candy you pour into your hot, just-popped popcorn, allowing it to melt a little into the popcorn to create the ultimate flavor experience. I mean a single mouthful that contains salty popcorn, creamy butter, and either pucker-inducing sour dust or gooey, melty chocolate. It’s the stuff of dreams, and, since we’re obviously not hitting the ol’ Wehrenberg anytime soon, you can whip these up at home, no problem. Without further ado, I present my comprehensive popcorn-candy combo guide, complete with several film recommendations from me, an idiot.

A Note on Methodology

The most important thing you need to know: If you’re pouring candy directly into your popcorn, you need really hot, lightly buttered kernels. I make mine on the stovetop because I’m a pioneer woman, but also because making stovetop popcorn also allows you to throw the candy in while the popcorn is still popping, ensuring maximum meltage and even candy distribution. There are a few exceptions, which I’ll explain below.

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The Premium Tier

M&Ms: M&Ms melt quickly, distribute evenly, and meld perfectly with piping-hot popcorn for a salty-sweet combo that brings cinematic delight time and time again. If you’re popping your own popcorn, I recommend throwing a few handfuls into the pot moments before that last kernel blooms. Pairs well with: A classic. Think My Fair Lady or GoodFellas, depending on the vibe you’re going for.

Sour Patch Watermelon: I love extremely sour candy, and I love salty snacks, but I don’t always love extremely sour-salty combos. Sour Patch Watermelon candies are less sour than their kid-shaped counterparts, making them the perfect candidate for a lightly sour, mostly sweet, all-around delicious popcorn additive. One caveat here: if you let these melt in the hot popcorn, you risk losing those little sour crystals on the outside that make you tighten your sphincter the second they touch your tongue. Trust me, you want the sphincter-tightening crystals. To avoid unintentional meltage, let your popcorn cool in the bowl for a minute or two before adding these little sour melons into the mix. Pairs well with: Something with a twist ending and a mystifying Adrian Brody performance. I’m referring, of course, to like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village.

Chocolate-covered pretzels: This is what the kids call a God-tier situation. As in, if I were to meet God, this is the snack I would prepare in lieu of frankincense or whatever. I think milk-chocolate-covered Flipz pretzels have the best consistency, and I recommend crushing the pretzels inside the bag before adding them to the popcorn. This is another one you don’t want to melt, so add them in after the popcorn’s had a few minutes to cool in the bowl. Pairs well with: Something sporty, like Moneyball. God, I love Moneyball.

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Cookie Dough Bites: Soft, very lightly chewy, and delightfully sweet, Cookie Dough Bites represent the very best in popcorn pairings. This is one you don’t necessarily have to melt to enjoy, since the bites are dense enough that they’ll stay afloat in a sea of popcorn. Just toss your popcorn into a bowl, throw the candy on top, and give it a gentle shake to ensure even distribution. Pairs well with: A feel-good flick, like Moonstruck. Or, I don’t know, Showgirls. “Feel-good” is in the eye of the beholder.

The Runners-Up

Chopped-up Hershey’s: I want to be very clear that chocolate chips are not an appropriate substitute for a chopped-up milk chocolate bar in this scenario. Added to hot popcorn at just the right moment, a roughly chopped-up Hershey’s bar will meld with the popped kernels into a series of highly desirable chocolate-coated chunks. This is a great option if, like me, you’re wrangling a particularly aggressive sweet tooth. I’m sure other milk chocolate bars would work just fine, but I’ve only ever used Hershey’s given its universal availability. Pairs well with: A crowd-pleasing rom-com like When Harry Met Sally...

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Jolly Rancher Sour Gummies: Just as tasty as Sour Patch Watermelon, but often softer and overall more pillowy. I think that’s a huge plus. The downside is that these gummies melt faster than Sour Patch, and I don’t love melted gummies on my popcorn, hence their placement on the runners-up list. Same protocol here: no melting, just topping and gentle shaking. Pairs well with: Something goofy, like Hot Rod or School of Rock.

Buncha Crunch: I always forget about Buncha Crunch. In a way, it’s the hired gun of the candy community: subtle and unassuming, but oddly sexy and sneaky in its overall appeal. It’ll do in a pinch; however, I’ve found that Buncha Crunch typically doesn’t melt as readily as other chocolate candies. On the other hand, Buncha Crunch’s textured exterior helps it stay put during distribution instead of just falling to the bottom of the popcorn bowl. An acceptable candy-popcorn pairing. Pairs well with: Anything involving heists, like Ocean’s 11 or the James Bond franchise.

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The Hall of Hard-Earned Cavities

Here lie the candies that I’ve tried to make work—some of them multiple times—to no avail. Throw these in your popcorn at your own risk.

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Twix: Simply too much happening, texture-wise. Even if you opt for Mini Twix, the chocolate still melts off the caramel-topped biscuit, leaving you with a few unruly chunks strewn throughout your popcorn. And nothing ruins my day like unruly chunks. Pairs well with: A film with a frustrating cast. Basically, anything that involves Casey Affleck.

Junior Mints: We here at The Takeout are generally fans of chocolate mint treats. And when Junior Mints are allowed to be the star of the show, they really shine. But you don’t want Junior Mints and popcorn swimming around in your mouth at the same time. The cool mintiness of the candy contrasts too harshly with the buttery warmth of the popcorn, leaving a vague menthol cigarette aftertaste. Pairs well with: Something you’d watch when you’re home sick with the flu, like Jeopardy! reruns.

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Milk Duds: There’s only one way to eat Milk Duds, and that’s smashing them between your palms (or knees!) until they’re very skinny and the chocolate coating is nice and cracked. I’ve thrown Milk Duds into popcorn a time or two, and while it certainly tastes great, the texture combination isn’t the best. It takes some time to chew through an entire Milk Dud, and combining duds and popcorn in a single mouthful guarantees you’ll smash through the popcorn way before you finish the candy. You might as well just eat them one at a time. And where’s the fun in that? Pairs well with: An extremely long, drawn-out film. A Terrence Malick vehicle, perhaps.

Reese’s Pieces: This pairing works in theory, right? Reese’s Pieces are the approximate shape, size, and texture of M&Ms, and they’ve got that delightful peanut butter flourish that makes them even richer when paired with a salty snack. The problem lies in the meltability. For whatever reason, Reese’s Pieces don’t melt as easily as M&Ms, so instead of blending seamlessly into the steamy popcorn, Reese’s Pieces fall to the bottom and remain mostly intact. You’re gonna end up plowing through your entire bowl of popcorn only to find your little Reese’s guys hanging out on the bottom of the bowl, gossiping quietly amongst themselves. And that’s fine, because a fine coating of butter and popcorn debris pairs great with the candy’s chocolate-peanut butter goodness. But if you’re looking for a cohesive popcorn-candy handful, this ain’t it. Pairs well with: A film you wanted to like, but didn’t. Like Dunkirk. Sorry!

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Runts: I really like a tart, toothsome candy, but Runts are hard as hell. They’re little dental crown annihilators that somehow get harder when immersed in a hot bag of popcorn. Another thing: with the exception of the banana-shaped pieces, it’s easy to mistake Runts for popcorn kernels. In my experience, that means spitting the candy out, only to realize what you’ve done—but by the time you put the candy back in your mouth, you’ve accidentally coated your top layer of popcorn in a weird mixture of candy coating and saliva. It’s just not a practical pairing. Pairs well with: Something extremely challenging, like Un Chien Andalou.

There you have it: the culmination of years and years of damage to my permanent retainer. Keep in mind that, like cinema, a popcorn-candy pairing is a highly personal experience. So if I failed to include your favorite combo, feel free to drop it in the comments. It’s like famed director Martin Scorsese said: “Popcorn is good, and candy is good—but popcorn and candy is goddamn awesome.” I lied, he didn’t say that. I did.

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Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.

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DISCUSSION

gargsy
Gargasmell

M&Ms: M&Ms melt quickly”

I’m not a big “popcorn and” snack person, so please forgive my ignorance, but isn’t M&M famously the candy that doesn’t melt?