In the rich history of television and cinema, there may not be a more under-appreciated space than the kitchen. To be fair, kitchen scenes can be used by directors in unremarkable ways, often for dull segues featuring conversational fluff (you heard us, 7th Heaven). But take a closer look and you’ll realize that stovetops and marble counters are fertile territory for establishing all sorts of drama and emotion: knife-wielding tension, unbridled passion, manic hilarity, and even murderous revenge.
While the kitchen, in modern American terms, may seem like a place of sunny, undisturbed domesticity, these film and TV series shook things up with these iconic scenes. From Walter White’s solemn farewell, to the bloody, Spaghetti Western mess in Kill Bill, we bring you the most memorable on-screen kitchen moments to date.
Alvy and Annie speak shellfish in Annie Hall
Given the palpable chemistry between Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, you wouldn’t know this was the first scene shot for the 1977 Best Picture-winning romantic comedy about neurotic funny-man Alvy Singer and his on-again-off-again fling with Annie Hall. Shot on-location in the Hamptons, this famous scene not only establishes Alvy’s irrational fear of things like, well, lobsters and spiders; it also shows how nutty (and perfect) Alvy and Annie are for each other. There’s a subtle comedy to the way Annie and Alvy revel in this moment, even as they’re about to put a couple of lobsters to death.
Walt bids Skyler adieu on Breaking Bad
Much of the wildly popular AMC drama’s premise revolved in and around the idea of a “kitchen,” where Walter White and his protégé Jesse Pinkman whipped up their signature blue-crystal recipe. But the series took one of its most harrowing and tragic turns in an actual kitchen. In this farewell scene, shot in tight close-ups that don’t shy away from how weathered these two sad sacks have become, Walt is finally honest with Skyler in admitting his true reasons for breaking bad: “I was alive.” This is the honesty and candor we’ve been awaiting all season. Cinematographer Michael Slovis, though a bit on-the-nose, cleverly highlights the pillar separating Walter and Skyler who, as we understand in this scene, have finally put their dreams and delusions to rest.
The Bride says hello to Vernita in Kill Bill: Vol. 1
Tarantino pictures are riddled with food fetishisms, from the subtly menacing (when Bill makes a sandwich in Volume 2), to the explicit and gory—as seen here in one of the director’s best scenes, the piece de resistance of Kill Bill: Volume 1. First on The Bride’s (Uma Thurman) avenging agenda is hit-girl Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), now a single mom living in suburbia who keeps loaded firearms in her daughter’s cereal boxes. A dexterously choreographed mash-up of the blood-splattered Spaghetti Western and martial-arts picture, this scene encapsulates Tarantino’s trademark humor and well-timed wit.
Tony takes out Ralphie on The Sopranos
The long-overdue death of the sycophantic captain Ralphie in season five of The Sopranos hangs over the rest of the series like a gloomy, sickening shadow: it’s perhaps Tony’s ugliest, though most vindicated, crime, as he’s figured out that Ralphie was responsible for the death of his prized horse Pie-O-My. And in Ralphie’s kitchen, Tony finally breaks, enlisting Christopher to help dispose of the corpse (in a rather grisly fashion involving amputation and dismemberment). Fun foodie fact: Just before Ralphie prematurely shakes the mortal coil, he offers a handy breakfast-making tip—scrambled eggs turn out a lot better when you beat them with a little sour cream.
Jack has a “surprise” for Wendy in The Shining
What’s left to say about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a fresh off-the-wagon writer (Jack Nicholson) who runs murderously amuck in a haunted old hotel? Actress Shelly Duvall, understandably little-seen after this harrowing role, endured the brunt of Kubrick’s piteously cruel on-set behavior. And in this infamous scene, rumored at more than 120 takes, Jack— locked in the kitchen pantry—lays into Wendy with psychopathic zeal, promising a “surprise” to come (a surprise that turns out to be the Snow Cat, her only way out, busted). This kitchen-set scene is the only moment where the supernatural world of the film physically interacts with the tangible real world of the living, as Jack is freed by the ghost of former Overlook caretaker Delbert Grady.
McNulty and Bunk check out a crime scene on The Wire
In this definitive scene from season one of the HBO crime series, we get a sense of the working rapport between booze-swilling detective Jimmy McNulty (Dominic West) and his no-nonsense partner-in-crime Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce) as they investigate the aftermath of a grisly murder. The loose editing and expletive-fueled banter lighten up the tension, providing comic relief from this otherwise dense procedural: “fuck”: “fuckity-fuck-fuck,” “fuckin’ A,” etc.
Clemenza teaches Michael to make meatballs in The Godfather
Gourmands, take note: No iconic kitchen scenes list is complete without a nod or two to Francis Ford Coppola’s unforgettable 1972 crime saga. In this scene, Corleone capo Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano) teaches Michael (Al Pacino) his recipe for meatballs and gravy: “You see, you start out with a little bit of oil. Then you fry some garlic. Then you throw in some tomatoes, tomato paste, you fry it; you make sure it doesn’t stick. You get it to a boil; you shove in all your sausage and your meatballs.” When they’re not killing each other, even mobsters need to take a little time off for family togetherness.
Kramer and Newman make sausages on Seinfeld
Though much of Larry David’s and Jerry Seinfeld’s sitcom revolves in and around a kitchen, episode four from season nine, titled “The Blood,” features this hilarious and classic physical comedy routine in which Kramer and Newman are learning how to make their own sausages (set to mambo music, of course.) And because the show’s two biggest oddballs are involved, it barely registers as a surprise to Jerry when he walks through the door. Coincidentally, this is the same episode where George feels compelled to add food to his sex life, and soon becomes addicted to eating pastrami while in the bedroom.
Crispin Glover is making his lunch in Wild at Heart
Of all the mordant, funny little detours and digressions that pepper David Lynch’s dazzling travelogue Wild at Heart, one that stands out is Lula’s (Laura Dern) story of Cousin Dale (Crispin Glover), whose obsession with Christmas, he claims, is dictated by aliens in black rubber gloves. Glover’s fleeting but potent performance reaches a comic fever pitch toward the end of this sequence when, in the dingy lighting of a middle American kitchen, he’s gloomily cutting up mounds of sandwiches with psychotically lapidary precision and screaming, “I’m making my lunch!”
Leo and Jonah take ‘ludes in The Wolf of Wall Street
This hilarious drug-addled Scorsese picture might be the director’s first and only stoner-bro comedy, but it definitely piqued our collective nostalgia for the now-extinct Quaalude. In this scene, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill—who make up one of the best screen pairing of the new century—flop wildly around like beached seals after gorging far too many expired pills. It’s among the most deftly coordinated slapstick sequences in recent memory, and the bright spot of this rather unexpectedly sad, macho epic.