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The Greatest Performances by Meat in a Film

Celebrating cinema’s best (and worst) brats, burgers, buns and barbecues

Fourth of July means lots of things, but one of the holiday’s great pleasures is that it gives people an excuse to cook massive amounts of meat over an open flame. Burgers and hot dogs never taste better than they do on Independence Day — especially if you’re not the sucker stuck manning the barbecue all afternoon. And so, MEL has decided to salute the season by highlighting the best performances by grilled meats at the movies. Tasty burgers, freaky hot dog sex, euphoric munchies, creepiest barbecue scenes: Feel free to feast on our favorites.

Best/Worst Hot-Dog Eating Contest: ‘Meatballs’

Cinema’s greatest eating competition is either the pie contest in Stand by Me — cue the projectile vomiting — or Lucas Jackson’s attempt to consume 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour in Cool Hand Luke. But when it comes to meat, the champ is 1979’s Meatballs, which starred Bill Murray as a terrible camp counselor, long before Caddyshack, Stripes and Ghostbusters would make him a movie star. In this cult comedy, Murray’s camp takes on its rival, those jerks at Camp Mohawk, in a series of different events — including a hot-dog eating competition. Fink (Keith Knight) squares off with a world-class eater, known merely as The Stomach (Peter Hume), and for once, Fink wins. But like with all hot-dog eating contests, watching this Meatballs scene is disgusting and makes you never want to consume any food ever again.

Best First Words for an Iconic Cartoon Character: ‘The Karnival Kid’

Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in 1928, but it wasn’t until the following year that he spoke his first words. And those words were “hot dogs” in The Karnival Kid, in which Mickey is trying to sell franks at a carnival. He may have a problem, though: Apparently, his hot dogs are alive. Or, we’ve dropped acid and it just looks like the franks are singing along with Mickey.

Most Creative Barbecuing: ‘Pain & Gain’

The sights, sounds and smells of a grill are undeniable, as synonymous with summertime as sunburns, fireworks and bad blockbusters. Speaking of bad blockbusters, Michael Bay has made a ton of them. Ironically, though, one of his better recent films didn’t come out during the summer. Based (loosely) on a true story, Pain & Gain was released in April 2013, telling the story of some dumb bodybuilders who try to execute the perfect crime. Not surprisingly, the plan goes awry, and some people die as a result.

In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, one of the meatheads (Dwayne Johnson) finds an inventive way of getting rid of the bodies, throwing their hands on the barbecue. “It was one of those moments where I would wake up understanding that I am going to shoot the craziest scene of my whole career, that involves cooking hands on a grill,” The Rock would later tell USA Today. “Then I went to bed praying for forgiveness. And I would wake up and do the whole thing again.”

Best Cheeseburger: ‘Pulp Fiction’

When it comes to hamburgers and Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning 1994 film, most people remember the long driving scene where Vincent Vega (John Travolta) describes to Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) what different American fast food items are like in Europe. (For instance, the McDonald’s quarter pounder is known as the royale with cheese.) But Pulp Fiction’s most delicious burger is actually the Big Kahuna being enjoyed by Brett (Frank Whaley), a schmuck who’s about to get wrecked by Vincent and Jules. His cheeseburger is the centerpiece of a tense scene that will eventually descend into violence, but I gotta admit: I’ve always thought about that tasty burger.

Best Burger Porn: ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’

As someone who loves hamburgers, I can say that I’ve never enjoyed a burger as much as Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn), who go on a crazy adventure to White Castle after the munchies kick in. 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle is full of nutty hijinks — the movie helped reinvent Neil Patrick Harris as a comic performer — but this great comedy ends with the guys at last getting to their destination. And when they do, they don’t just savor their burgers — they practically fuck them as they polish off dozens of sliders, washing ’em all down with a soda. White Castle burgers aren’t that good unless they’re the exact burgers you’re craving at that moment, and this White Castle scene captures that truism perfectly: The movie should have been rated NC-17 for this overly suggestive sequence.

Best Meat Sex: ‘Sausage Party’

I don’t think I laughed harder at any scene from a movie in 2016 than the orgy sequence from Sausage Party. Imagining a world of sentient grocery store items, this animated R-rated comedy starred co-writer Seth Rogen as Frank, a sausage who, eventually, gets down with Brenda (Kristen Wiig), his hot dog bun girlfriend. For every immature adolescent who did inappropriate things with a hot dog and a bun, Sausage Party was like the Citizen Kane of naughty food sex: Soon, every food in the grocery store is getting it on.

Amazingly, the creative team had to change very little to get the approval of the MPAA ratings board. “We made it dirtier than we’d originally planned because we were expecting some sort of negotiation,” Rogen would later say, “so when we first heard it was getting kickback we felt, Okay, let’s change as little as possible. Then we sent that in and [they] approved it, and we were like, ‘What?!’ We thought that would be the first of 50 back-and-forths that would happen.”

Best Use of Meat as a Punching Bag: ‘Rocky’

Because lowly pugilist Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) doesn’t have the vast resources of the champ, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he has to get creative to train. So he spends some time in a meat locker, turning the frozen slabs of beefs into his personal heavy bags. It was a concept inspired by real-life fighter Joe Frazier, who once said, “I was the drain man [at a Philadelphia slaughterhouse]. My job was to make sure the blood went down the drain. But sometimes, early in the morning, I’d go down that long rail of meat and work on my punching.”

Best Exposé of the Unlawful Collusion Between the Weiner Companies and the Bun Companies: ‘Father of the Bride’

In this 1991 remake of the Spencer Tracy comedy, harried dad George Banks (Steve Martin) is flipping out over how expensive his daughter’s wedding is. (He’s also having major separation anxiety.) In the midst of his angst, he makes a grocery store run, only to have a nervous breakdown when he discovers that hot dogs and hot dog buns are sold in different quantities. So, he does what any mental patient would do, deciding he’s only going to pay for the amount of buns he needs to go along with his hot dogs. George is tired of Big Hot Dog ruining our lives!

Best Movie Barbecue: ‘The Fast and the Furious’

The Fast and Furious franchise has lots of trademarks: the cars, the heists, the emphasis on family, the ongoing feud between co-stars Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. But don’t forget that food scenes often double as crucial story moments. In the 2001 original, that’s especially true, as undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) breaks bread with Dom (Diesel) and his crew during a mouth-watering barbecue. These guys may be thieves, but even criminals have rules: As Dom explains to Jesse (Chad Lindberg), because he grabbed chicken off the grill before anyone else, he’s the one who has to say grace. Ever since The Fast and the Furious, grilling has become an important undercurrent of the franchise, hinting at the sense of community that’s always been crucial to these films.

Worst Movie Barbecue: ‘The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover’

This scandalous 1989 art-house sensation starred Helen Mirren as the unhappy wife of a murderous crime boss and restaurateur (Michael Gambon), falling into an affair with a bookstore owner (Alan Howard). The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover is well-known for its violence and nudity, but it also contains one of the most shocking scenes of cannibalism ever. Spoiler Alert: The wife’s husband kills her lover, and she gets revenge by having his restaurant staff prepare the corpse for dinner, forcing her husband to eat the man. After watching this film, you’ll instantly be vegetarian.

Least Appealing Kool-Aid: ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’

For kids, a summertime barbecue goes great with a sweet beverage. Just don’t go over to Cousin Eddie’s — his daughter Vicki has a really gross way of mixing Kool-Aid. (And, yes, that is Jane Krakowski.)