There are few things more closely associated with summer than a barbecue, and specifically, a great hot dog. Say what you will about ‘furters, but they’re a slice of Americana firmly tied to baseball games, poolside BBQs, and Independence Day celebrations. Even apple pie doesn’t say “summer” like a hot dog; we love nothing more than to grill ’em up on hot summer days.
That love is reflected in movies. Scenes with hot dogs – especially NYC’s famous hot dog carts – have been immortalized in Hollywood films, an ode to the small sticks of processed meat that we should hate and instead love. Frankfurters, weiners, coneys, franks, and red hots – call ’em what you want, but the humble hot dog has established its place in cinema. In celebration of summer, here are some of our favorite movie scenes involving hot dogs.
1. Father Of The Bride
First off, I’d be remiss if I were to put together any list about hot dogs in movies if I didn’t include Steve Martin’s epic rant from Father of the Bride. It’s not even a scene that involves someone eating a hot dog, but it’s perhaps the most memorable scene involving one. The frazzled George Banks, at the end of his rope with preparations for his daughter’s wedding, has an absolute meltdown in the store when trying to buy hot dogs. His rant revolves around one of the most enduring mysteries of our time: Why are hot dogs and hot dog buns not sold in packs of the same number? It’s a question that has haunted me ever since I was a kid and Steve Martin opened up my eyes to the great hot dog industry conspiracy.
You knew we couldn’t get through this list without at least one entry involving one of NYC’s famous hot dog vendor carts. There’s nothing quite like walking down a busy Manhattan street on a summer day and snagging a sizzling hot dog from a cart, smearing it with some mustard (never ketchup), maybe some sauerkraut, and going on your way. Even ghosts can’t resist the allure of a good NY hot dog, as the gluttonous Slimer shows in the first Ghostbusters. The gooey green ghost chowing down on a mouthful of hot dogs was brief but so memorable that dozens of Ghostbusters-branded kids toys paired Slimer with hot dog accessories and the 2016 reboot had a nod to the scene from the original when they found Slimer in a hot dog cart.
3. Spider-Man 3
The first rule of Fight Club is that we don’t talk about Spider-Man 3. Because, well, you’ve seen Spider-Man 3, right? But even I have to admit that even if Sam Raimi’s sadly meddled-with third Spidey flick didn’t come together as a great movie, it still has some great individual moments that really speak to who Peter Parker is. One of those moments is the “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” montage after Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man and just be a normal college student. He hits up one of those famed NYC carts and as police cars blast past, he simply watches them and takes a huge bite out of his hot dog. The old Peter Parker would have immediately ducked down a hidden alley and changed into his Spider-Man suit, but not the new Peter Parker! New Peter Parker can finally focus on himself and take joy in simple pleasures, like something as small but significant as finally having the time to eat a hot dog.
4. The Break-Up
Has there ever been a hot dog used as a prop in a more awkward way? (Don’t answer that.) The very first scene of The Break-Up shows a wildly clueless Vince Vaughn trying to flirt with Jennifer Aniston, who is on a date with someone else, by forcing upon her a hot dog she doesn’t want at a Cubs game. As flirting techniques go, it’s an absolute bomb. As a scene that shows the awesome power of hot dogs – they do end up dating, after all – it’s perfect.
5. The Hard Way
The Hard Way is one of Michael J. Fox’s more underrated movies, but it has a hot dog scene that is truly the stuff of nightmares for any self-respecting New Yorker. While actor Nick Lang (Fox) tags along with NYC detective John Moss (James Woods) while researching for a role, they stop for a bite to eat. What follows is a travesty for a film set in NYC. Not only do they pile their fries on top of the hot dogs, they also slather them in ketchup before the mustard. It’s like a weird mashup of a Berlin currywurst and an NYC hot dog, an assault to the eyes and senses. Those poor hot dogs didn’t deserve this.
6. Sudden Impact
Thankfully, Dirty Harry has his hot dog priorities straight. After silently listening to the cop on the scene of a murder jabbering on about the scene and the evidence, the stoic, cool-headed Harry finally snaps and speaks for the first time in the scene. And what finally gets to him isn’t the aftermath of the murder, or the crime, or seeing the worst parts of humanity. No, what finally gets Harry to break his cool is that the cop has been chowing down on a hot dog the entire time, and it’s a hot dog with ketchup. “Nobody, I mean nobody, puts ketchup on a hot dog,” says Harry. You don’t argue with Dirty Harry. You just don’t.
7. Fools Rush In
We don’t usually think of hot dogs as being romantic, but hey, the heart wants what the heart wants, and in Fools Rush In, Matthew Perry’s heart wanted hot dogs from the legendary Gray’s Papaya hot dog chain. Now, we’re not going to think too hard on the logistics of how Salma Hayek got hot dogs from NYC to Nevada and kept them fresh…and then heated them up…and then kept them from spoiling during an entire car ride and picnic in the hot sun, because yonder way lies food poisoning. We’ll just chalk it up to movie magic. But we can’t deny that it’s one of the sweetest moments on screen because of how well she knows her husband and the lengths she’ll go to to surprise him with his favorite food. Who says hot dogs don’t mean true love?
8. The Secret Life of Pets
If humans love hot dogs, then dogs love them even more. Have you ever seen a dog transported by pure ecstasy when you give them one of their favorite foods? That’s what happens to buddies Max and Duke in The Secret Life of Pets when they stumble across a sausage and hot dog factory and are so overcome with joy that the entire scene morphs into a happy fever dream in which they’re convinced they’ve discovered Hot Dog Heaven. Is that what it’s like for dogs every time they’re allowed to eat a hot dog? I like to pretend it is.
9. Nothing But Trouble
There’s something inherently funny about a hot dog thanks to its shape being reminiscent of – well, you know. There are sight gags aplenty to be had with a hot dog, and almost no movie has made better use of that than Nothing But Trouble. The characters are trapped in one of the most awkward dinner party scenes ever, the guests expected to keep straight faces while they’re served enormous, flopping, fish belly-pale “hot dogs” by the crazy patriarch of the manor. It gives the comedic power lineup of Chevy Chase, Dan Akroyd, John Candy and Demi Moore time to shine. There are few things funnier than Chevy Chase’s nonverbal reactions throughout the scene while he’s confronted with being served maybe the grossest hot dog ever being eaten by one of the grossest men in the grossest way possible.
I’ve gotta be honest, I started this article really wanting hot dogs but between the last scene and this scene, now I’m wondering if I’ll ever want one again (just kidding, of course I will). Meatballs may be the underrated franchise in the fratty party movie era of the late ’70s and ’80s, but it has a classic hot dog eating scene that Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds lack. I have no idea how Larry goes this H.A.M. on so many hotdogs and beats out The Stomach, but I doubt Larry will ever want to look at another hot dog for as long as he lives.
11. Mean Girls
Regina George’s Burn Book is the stuff of high school legend. The scene in Mean Girls gets a spot on the list without being a full scene or even showing a hot dog, such is the Burn Book’s power. The epic burn on a high school student – “Made out with a hot dog!” – and her exasperated response – “Oh my God, it was one time!” are so memorable that I had to include it. Who among us has not done weird and questionable things with food items in our experimental teenage years? If you say you haven’t, you’re a Lying McLiarface.
12. The Karnival Kid
Here’s how beloved hot dogs are to American culture and Hollywood alike: Mickey Mouse’s first-ever spoken words were, “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” in the 1929 animated short The Karnival Kid. Because he was so popular in silent films, producers finally decided to give the world’s most famous mouse a few spoken lines. At a carnival, there’s all sorts going on: carnival barkers, and dunk booths, and someone selling peanuts. Our hero Mickey Mouse has a trusty cart selling good old hot dogs and his very first words are hawking his steaming, savory wares to the carnival-goers.
Hot dogs for everyone!