For too long, candy at the movies has been relegated to the concession stand. Well, no more! It’s time we celebrate their sweet, sweet acting abilities in some of our greatest films. After all, only the finest actors could convincingly entice adorable alien critters to do their bidding, or believably depict shit on screen (I’m looking at you Reese’s Pieces and Baby Ruth). And so, without further ado, here are the best performances by candy in a major motion picture…
Best Candy-As-Metaphor-for-Life: The Box of Chocolates in Forrest Gump
“Let me say this: bein a idiot is no box of chocolates.” Those are the opening words of Forrest Gump, the novel written by Winston Groom that went on to become the Oscar-winning Tom Hanks drama. In the film, the line was memorably changed: When we first meet Forrest, he offers candy to a woman sitting next to him at the bus stop, observing, “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re gonna get.”
To this day, it’s hard to imagine anyone digging into a box of chocolates and not having that Forrest Gump quote stuck in their head. The line has become shorthand for the film’s simple/profound worldview, which is either lovely or grating, depending on your temperament. Perhaps no candy in the history of cinema has had to do more metaphorical heavy lifting than that box of chocolates.
God, Forrest, can I just enjoy some candy without all the existential musing?
Best Last-Minute Fill-In: Reese’s Pieces in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Yes, it’s true: M&M’s were supposed to be the candy that Elliott used to lure a skittish, kindly alien into his home in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. (Why M&M’s executives decided to pass on Steven Spielberg’s movie remains a mystery, however.) When that plan fell through, Hershey stepped up, thrilled to have Reese’s Pieces be featured so prominently in what ended up being a Best Picture-nominated commercial colossus. Reportedly, sales for the multi-colored candy jumped 65 percent after the film, which made Reese’s seem like a delicious, inviting treat just five years after it was first launched in the U.S. (Clearly, the candy was already big with kids: The legend goes that it was Spielberg’s young son who told his dad that he should stop waiting for M&M’s to get back to him and go with Reese’s, which the boy liked more anyway.)
Decades later, Reese’s is still synonymous with E.T. — so much so that, when the family classic celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2002, Hershey ran an ad highlighting the candy’s close connection to the movie.
Best Shitty Performance: Baby Ruth in Caddyshack
Companies will pay for product placement in movies that show their wares in a positive light. And then there’s an instance like Caddyshack, which forever linked in viewers’ minds a Baby Ruth with poop.
You probably know the scene: An opened Baby Ruth finds its way into a public pool, causing widespread panic. (Director Harold Ramis shot the sequence like a parody of Jaws, complete with Johnny Mandel’s riff on John Williams’ iconic shark-attack score.) The sequence features so many menacing shots of a seemingly innocent candy bar that it’s actually nauseating: Once you get it into your head that it looks like doodie, you can’t not see it that way. Which, of course, made Carl Spackler’s (Bill Murray) blasé biting down on the Baby Ruth all the more disgusting.
Best Candy Bonding: Sloth and Chunk’s mutual affection for Baby Ruth in The Goonies
When aging Gen-Xers get nostalgic about The Goonies, remind them that it’s a terrible film — also, that it included a character named Sloth, who has a facial disfigurement and is treated like a big, weird freak because of it. Nowadays, that depiction is more than a little cringe-inducing, even if the movie is meant to be a tribute to all different types of outcasts and misunderstood souls.
Played by John Matuszak, Sloth bonds with the dorky, overweight Chunk (Jeff Cohen) over their shared love of Baby Ruth, and Sloth’s excited reaction — “Ruth! Ruth! Ruth! Baby… Ruth!” — has become the way a lot of Goonies fans now think of the confection. Nabisco paid $100,000 to have Baby Ruth featured in The Goonies, which in hindsight was a bargain. For years, the candy largely staked its popularity on consumers’ incorrect assumption that it was connected to baseball great Babe Ruth. But after The Goonies, it became a 1980s touchstone. In fact, the candy has never come up with a better tagline than the one Sloth unintentionally gave it.
Best Performance by an M&M: Eminem in 8 Mile
Because Eminem has been a global superstar for so long, it’s very possible that many fans don’t even register that his name is a play on the super-popular Mars candy. And, early in his career, the man born Marshall Mathers actually went by M&M, a reference to the initials of his first and last name. Soon, though, he switched it to Eminem, quickly delivering a series of big hits and critically-acclaimed albums. And unlike a lot of rap artists, he also proved to be a pretty great actor.
In 2002, he starred in 8 Mile, a semi-autobiographical look at his life in which he played B-Rabbit, a starving Detroit rapper trying to make his name. Mathers earned great reviews — and his song “Lose Yourself” won the Oscar — but outside of the random cameo (Funny People, The Interview), he hasn’t acted much since. (Eminem was supposed to star in the boxing drama Southpaw, but ultimately passed, opening the door for Jake Gyllenhaal.) But the guy has presence — appearing opposite pros like Kim Basinger, Anthony Mackie, the late Brittany Murphy and Mekhi Phifer didn’t seem to phase him — so hopefully he’ll give it another try later in his career.
Best Candy Porn: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Before Sammy Davis Jr. made it a hit, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory introduced the world to the catchy tune “The Candy Man,” a tribute to Wonka’s magical candy-making abilities. The entire 1971 film, part musical and part freaky kids’ movie, is a salute to candy as a balm to solve all of life’s woes — especially if you’re a child. No film has been a better advertisement for candy, including the magical Golden Tickets hidden in random chocolate Wonka bars that allow boys and girls to visit the surreal Wonka factory. In Willy Wonka, candy is a metaphor for temptation and excess, and only the virtuous Charlie (Peter Ostrum) gets out of Willy’s tour unscathed because he’s not greedy or spoiled. No wonder some of us still have complicated relationships with treats — this movie turned them into a morality tale.
Best Candy Villain: Candyman in Candyman
If things had worked out differently, Eddie Murphy might have played the titular killer who torments Chicago in this cult 1992 horror film. (Reportedly, the comic was the producers’ first choice, but his fee was too high.) Instead, Tony Todd became Candyman, the menacing African-American phantom who doubles as a critique of white racism. (Candyman takes place in the public housing project Cabrini-Green, which long served as a symbol of the city’s economic and racial inequality.) Although never a box-office smash, the film has held onto the culture’s imagination nearly three decades after its release: Does anyone dare say “Candyman” five times into the mirror?
Best Emergency Candy: Milky Way in This Is the End
One of the most underrated recent comedies, This Is the End draws a lot of laughs from the idea that actors like Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and James Franco are, in real life, exactly how they are in their movies: vain, horny, stoned idiots. Add in the fact that the world seems to be ending, and it’ll be a miracle if such morons survive the night.
Early on in This Is the End, these celebrity survivors of an L.A. earthquake are forced to camp out in Franco’s lush pad, figuring out what supplies they have to battle the apocalypse. Turns out, the bone of contention is a Milky Way that Franco really, really wants — he’d been saving it, guys, and he doesn’t feel like sharing. What results is a great example of what happens when dudes get hangry.
The Single Best Candy: John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
It’s now been 25 years since John Candy died at the age of 43, and no star has been able to replicate his precise mixture of sweetness and backslapping humor. The Canadian comic could do fine dramatic work — he’s great in Oliver Stone’s JFK — but he’ll always be remembered for his broad comedies, like Stripes, Splash, Spaceballs and Uncle Buck. Still, his finest performance came in something a little more nuanced.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles found him co-starring alongside Steve Martin, who played Neal, an uptight executive on a business trip who just wants to get home for Thanksgiving. Instead, he and a boisterous stranger named Del (Candy) are stuck together due to bad weather, trying every mode of transportation possible to reach Chicago, all to no avail.
“We’d look into each other’s eyes, and it felt good together,” Martin recently recalled of his pairing with Candy. “We had great timing.” Indeed, what makes Planes such a holiday standard is that, no matter how much Del’s rampant cheerfulness annoys Neal, you never doubted how much Candy and Martin loved working together. In Planes, Candy got the chance to convey some real pathos as a loud guy dealing with genuine pain. The movie is only more poignant because he didn’t have the opportunity to build on its promise.