In the spirit of my list of movie corn (one of my favorites to compile), I’ve decided now to turn my sights on another vegetable that has found its way onto movie screens: the humble potato. That’s right, we’re going full spud here, and all manner of cinematic uses for this tuber qualify. Cue the Bubba voice— you got potato chips, potato salad, potato casserole, French fries, hash browns, latkes, knishes, potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, baked potatoes, tater tots, potato bread, potato soup, potato pancakes, twice-baked potatoes, and…that’s about it.
In truth, most of these picks actually feature whole potatoes rather than anything made from them, but there are notable exceptions. I have tried to compile this list with all diligence, even leaving off a few tenuous choices. For instance, I found that the root that Scarlett O’Hara digs up in the “I’ll never be hungry again” scene of Gone with the Wind is actually a radish, not a potato. Likewise, I’ve never seen many films that actually have potato in the name, such as Mashed Potatoes; Hot Potato (several movies by that name); One Potato, Two Potato; Who Made the Potatoe Salad?; and Sex Lives of the Potato Men, some of which apparently don’t even have anything to do with actual potatoes.
Plus, I’m ignoring certain vulgar potato scenes I know of, as in Soul Plane and Sausage Party. In addition, I haven’t forgotten significant potatoes in other media, such as the potato girl from Attack on Titan, the A.I. GLaDOS as a potato battery in Portal 2 (see top picture), and that ridiculously epic potato chip scene from the anime Death Note. (I wonder if they’ll keep that scene in the live-action movie this year.)
So without further ado, here are my top twelve instances of potatoes in movies. I hope you like potatoes.
- A Fish Called Wanda
There’s something I deeply despise about this scene. Oh, yeah, it’s Kevin Kline as the most charmingly despicable jerk imaginable. I honestly can’t stand this movie, but it’s certainly a memorable scene. And yes, thank you, England, for the culinary contribution that is the chip.
While Ralphie’s little brother Randy complains about meatloaf, he apparently loves mashed potatoes, as long as he can eat like a piggy. I’m glad I was never a finicky eater.
- Animal House
Ah, the famous zit scene in the cafeteria, featuring a grown-up version of Ralphie’s brother. This is one I debated for a while, mainly because I still can’t verify that it’s actually mashed potatoes that John Belushi blows out of his mouth. It’s some scoop of white food, but is it potatoes, cottage cheese, a hard-boiled egg, or something else entirely? It looks like mashed potatoes to me, though, and until I learn otherwise, it counts.
- Ladies in Lavender
In this lesser-known drama about two elderly English sisters (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith) who care for a young Pole (Daniel Bruhl) who washes up on the beach, peeling potatoes transcends the language barrier.
- Everything Is Illuminated
This quirky but deceptively serious tale is about a Jewish-American (Elijah Wood) traveling to Ukraine to investigate his family history from the Holocaust, and a lonely potato serves to illustrate both his compulsive collecting habits and the cultural divide between himself and his guides.
How the mighty have fallen when once-affluent Englishmen crave a mere potato! Young Christian Bale’s Jim experiences this fall to desperation firsthand after the Japanese occupy Shanghai. “People will do anything for a potato.”
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind
I’m not enamored of this Spielberg sci-fi staple, but you’ve got to love Richard Dreyfuss’s obsessive molding of his mashed potatoes into a tiny model of Devil’s Tower.
I am enamored of this beautifully charming anime film about a single mother raising her half-wolf kids. When she moves out to the country, her inexperience at farming shows, but a gruff neighbor provides her a crash course in growing plenty of potatoes.
Say it with me now. “Po-ta-toes! Boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew!” As Sam could tell you, there’s only one way to eat a brace of coneys, and ideally it’s with taters.
Most of you probably saw this one coming, since it’s a more recent movie. After being stranded on Mars, Mark Watney (Matt Damon) uses his incredible botany powers to grow potatoes in his own dung and stretch his food supply. I’m sure they taste much better with ketchup than with Vicodin.
- Faith Like Potatoes
At least I have one movie that actually has potatoes in the name. This Christian film about a real-life South African farmer and speaker makes a stirring comparison between faith and potatoes, both of which remain hidden beneath the surface until harvest time, with inspiring results. Some may find it preachy, but it’s one of the better faith-based films out there.
- Toy Story franchise
And the number one spot goes to none other than Mr. Potato Head, plus his Missus. Don Rickles and Pixar made a lovably irritable character out of the old Hasbro toy, which originated as an actual potato with removable body parts. Thanks to Toy Story, Mr. Potato Head is still popular and even has his own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Now that’s a famous spud.
And here are a few runners-up, albeit not many, since there weren’t nearly as many movie potatoes to choose from as there were corn scenes.
The Benchwarmers – Explains that hot potatoes are actually hot.
Barefoot Gen – Two brothers fight over a sweet potato in this disturbing anime film a la Grave of the Fireflies.
Frenzy – This Hitchcock thriller has a killer rummaging through sacks of potatoes for something his latest victim took from him.
Men at Work – Don’t ever mess with a man’s fries.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding – There are no small gatherings when the potato peeling starts.
Napoleon Dynamite – “Give me some of your tots.”
Sling Blade – “I like them French fried potaters.”
Steamboat Willie – The first cartoon with synchronized sound ends with Mickey Mouse peeling potatoes for his musical antics.
The Terminal – A bag of potato chips serves as a messy metaphor for a foreign coup.
Maybe I’ll continue this food theme for future lists, but my top twelve cauliflower in movies may take some time. Thanks to everyone who reads this list, and perhaps now you’ll keep in mind the star power of that tater the next time you peel or eat one. Remember, the spuds have eyes.