What’s for Dinner? Spielberg’s Top 10 Dining table scenes.

The latest in my Spielberg top 10s is a closer look at the times that Spielberg has utilised the most practical of all props, the humble dining table. Sometimes these can be small, intimate scenes such as the mimicry between a father and son at the breakfast table or much grander settings, such as the “feast of beasts” at Pankot Palace. Spielberg uses this familiar setting to bring comedy, revulsion and sometimes just some exposition but the scenes below are all performed beautifully by the cast and are often the more underrated parts of his films. Please let me know if I’ve missed any of your favourites.

10. The make believe feast – Hook (1991)

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Where better for Spielberg to explore the idea of lost innocence and memories of childhood than the Dining table. Hook has often been accused of being too loud, too over the top, I once heard someone inexplicably describe it as too much fun. I think this scene captures the point perfectly. As the Lost Boys sit down for their dinner of what appears to be empty pots and pans, Peter looks on bewildered commenting “eat what? There’s nothing here, even Gandhi ate more than this”. Stuffy adults the World over are in agreement with it’s ridiculousness. There then follows a perfectly played trading of insults between Peter and self-appointed Lost Boy leader Rufio “Substitute Chemistry Teacher” is an insult I still throw out there to this day.

Egged on by the Lost Boys who want nothing more than the cranky, old Peter to rediscover his former glories, Peter starts to get into it, launching a brutal tirade on the stunned Rufio culminating in the poetic “hey Rufio, why don’t you go suck on a dead dogs nose” and flicks his spoon with imaginery icing to land perfectly with a splat on Rufio’s face. Peter was starting to let himself go, to stop himself being so uptight, to enjoy himself. There is the lesson right there.

9. A loving game of copycat – Jaws (1975)

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Where better for Spielberg to showcase the loving bond between father and son, than you guessed it the dining table. In a film dominated with scenes of terror and carnage, this quiet unassuming scene at breakfast showing the bond between father and son is 90 seconds of pure beauty. It is a scene that shows despite the chaos going on in Brody’s professional life that the people that matter most are still there for him.

It’s also poignant during these unusual times that young Sean is oblivious to the challenges that his dad and the adult world that surrounds him are going through. He is not interested in the political point scoring that his dad is having to deal with, he just loves spending time with his dad. It also demonstrates to Martin that when all the frustrations consume him, he need not look any further than his biggest supporters, his family “Give us a kiss”, “Why?” “because I need it”.

Worth noting that Spielberg goes someway to recreate this scene in E.T when Elliot first brings E.T into the house to demonstrate the bond that it already forming between the two.

8. The paranoia scene in Chuck’s cafe – Duel (1972)

The Frights of Mann: Duel's Paranoid Scene at Chuck's Cafe | From ...

Where better for Spielberg to show a man wracked with paranoia clumsily order a sandwich? That’s right, a dining table.

The centrepiece of Duel and possibly it’s stand out scene isn’t on the open road and doesn’t involve a car or a truck (although the latter is glimpsed out the window). Instead taking momentary refuge in Chuck’s roadside cafe, David Mann (that’s M.A.N.N) takes a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up and returns to see his chief tormentor nonchalantly parked up outside. Mann immediately jumps to the same conclusion as us, namely the driver is in the cafe.

What follows is almost 15 minutes of carefully constructed Hitchcockian suspense as Mann eyes up the several redneck truck driving patrons of the cafe. An intrusive voice over is an unnecessary addition but the tension is palpable, and the numerous red herrings are sumptuously served along with a Swiss Cheese on RYE, ooh and an aspirin.

This is Spielberg at his most showy, a young director trying to demonstrate that he can bring something different to a bog standard thriller, and this scene showcases a lot of the visual bravado that would be shown over the next 5 decades.

7. Scrumdiddlyumptious breakfast with the Queen – The BFG (2016)

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Where else would Spielberg put a giant having breakfast with a Queen? Of course, the dining table (albeit a bloody big one).

Growing up The BFG was my favourite book, as someone who had to be forced to read anything as a kid (reading just wasn’t as exciting as Star Wars), The BFG managed to break through my self imposed barrier and even managed repeat reading. Imagine my delight, therefore, when my favourite director announced he was going to make a film of it. The finished film didn’t quite meet my expectations, a few too many of the grizzly moments were left out for it to be a truly satisfying adaptation however, there was still loads to enjoy, none more so this note perfect, hilarious breakfast scene.

A scene that is packed full of slapstick and toilet humour, it’s possible Spielberg hasn’t had this much juvenile fun since the scene at number 10 in this list. From the chandelier smashing entrance to farting corgis and wind breaking monarchs this classic comedy trope of fish out of water is just an absolute delight, and my word, that breakfast looks good, and thats before the Frobscottle makes an appearance.

6. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – A.I (2001)

AI: Artificial Intelligence: Does Not Eat

Where better for Spielberg to showcase just how creepy a married couple’s new robotic child actually is? Oh yes, the dining table.

Opening the scene with David perfectly captured in the halo esq light fitting, the family embark on their evening meal in an atmosphere of awkwardness. David silently observes Henry and Monica eat their food and drink their drink, replicating their actions with his own empty glass and plate, whilst both Henry and Monica look on with a growing sense of unease. The deafening silence is alarmingly shattered as Monica struggles to get all of her noodles into her mouth by a terrifying cackle from David.

For me it is one of Spielberg’s finest jump scares, completely unexpected and out of context with the scene. Monica and Henry’s momentary shock is quickly replaced by nervous laughter as David continues to laugh maniacally. The darkness in this scene is very much in keeping with the mood of the first hour of A.I as Spielberg paints an uneasy utopia and shows humans barely able to understand on how best to cope with their new family member. The fact that David doesn’t understand why he laughs at Monica’s gastronomic short comings adds to the sinister feel. The start of the scene has David bathed in angelic light, by the scenes conclusion we are plunged further into a creepy, nerve jangling thriller.

5. Celie’s triumph – The Color Purple (1985)

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Where better for Spielberg to stage a grand standing moment that puts a true coward in their place? Of course, the dining table.

Everyone loves it when a bully gets their comeuppance, think about George McFly flattening Biff in Back to the Future and tell me there isn’t a little smile forming on your face.

For the first two hours of The Color Purple, Celie (a quite stunning Whoopi Goldberg)is bullied, humiliated and abused by Mister (a monstrously buffoonish Danny Glover). Celie submits to everyone one of Mister’s demands and the people around her accept that is just the way things are. However the introduction into Celie’s life of the electrifying Shug helps Celie realise that perhaps she doesn’t need to lead a life of suffering and hardship. After discovering that Mister has been hiding letters from Celie’s sister Nettie for years, Celie finally finds the courage to confront Mister. This time Celie gives Mister both barrels in front of the whole family to tell him what a weak man he is and how unafraid of him she now is.

“Nettie and my kids be comin’ home soon, and when they get here we gonna’ set around and whip your ass” Nettie says with a quiet determination. It is a genuine punch the air moment, leaving a bewildered Mister speechless. It’s the finest moment in a film that has plenty of glorious moments but can on occasions descend into Sunday afternoon melodrama.

4. Maybe it was an iguana – E.T (1982)

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Where better for Spielberg to demonstrate the after effects of a failed marriage? That’s right….the dining table.

Among all the magic and wonder in E.T there are scenes and story themes of sadness, loss and loneliness.

This scene towards the start of the film perfectly captures the new family dynamic, as departed father now leaves mum and older brother to act as surrogate parents to Elliot and Gertie. From the moment we meet Elliot we feel his isolation, he is on the outside looking in, and like any kid he wants people to respect him, he wants them to listen to him when he has something important to say, instead he just gets teased by his older brother. Older brothers are meant to do that, it’s in their job description.

Here we see Elliot’s frustration grow to the point where he announces that his brother may not have the most fragrant aural scent. The shock of that moment (which Spielberg refused to let the BBC edit out for it’s Christmas Day premiere in 1990) is followed by a pause before Elliot delivers an even greater sucker punch by telling the occupants of the dining table that his absent father would believe him.

From light hearted teasing to awkward atmosphere with one line of spiteful dialogue. Elliot has gone to far but doesn’t appear to care, not even by a clearly upset mother, a fuming big brother and a confused little sister.

It’s a beautifully played scene that is in stark contrast to the loud, dancing, pizza scoffing, game of dungeons and dragons from the previous evening. It perfectly encapsulates the challenges that a family faces as they try to adjust to their change of circumstance, meaning things such as simple disagreements over who’s turn it is to clear the plates off the table gets blown hugely out of proportion.

3. Feast of the beasts – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Happyotter: INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)

Where better for Spielberg to exploit the Gastro fears of the characters and quite frankly the audience, that’s right the dining table.

Perhaps the most controversial entry into this top 10, a scene that hasn’t particularly aged well. On release Temple of Doom was criticised for high levels of violence, now it comes across as film veiled in thinly guarded racial stereotypes. The feast at Pankot Palace is played for laughs as repulsive course is replaced by repulsive course, whilst playing in the background we have Indy grilling the sinister Prime Minister Chatter Lal about the disturbing history of the Palace and its association with the Thugee cult.

What is great about this scene is the impeccable comic timing from Kate Capshaw. In a role often derided as a screechy, annoying damsel in distress, Capshaw realises that she is the comic relief in one of Spielberg’s darker films. Ignoring the glaring plot hole of Indy appearing to being totally oblivious to a giant snake being on the table, which when cut into has 100s of little snakes pour out of it, Capshaw’s reaction is pure slapstick gold. Follow this up with a main course of grilled beetle, a steaming bowl of eyeball soup and of course the crowning glory, for dessert, chilled monkey brains, we are witnessing a Spielberg scene that would never be made today and possibly shouldn’t have been made then but it is tremendous fun.

2. I guess you’ve noticed something a little strange with DadClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

A Close Encounter with the Devils Tower – Deano In America

Where better for Spielberg to portray a suspected mental breakdown than at the family dining table.

After having a Close Encounter with a UFO, Roy Neary starts to have strange visions of a mountain in every day objects. He becomes obsessed with this image, seeing it in every day objects including in the foam that he is about to use in his morning shave. As Roy’s obsession grows, his behaviour becomes odder, resulting in the alienation of himself from his family.

As Roy daydreams he’s handed a bowl of mashed potato to which he casually starts spooning onto his plate. A moment later and Roy sees the shape in the mashed potato and starts to ladel the potato onto the plate, using his fork to shape it into the mountain. Roy only stops when he notices the family are staring. They are not just staring, the eldest son weeps as he watches his dad emotionally fall to pieces in front of their eyes. The rest of the family watch on aghast at these strange events

It’s a tragic moment of realisation for Roy that perhaps everything isn’t quite right, a realisation that his family don’t recognise him anymore and the first real indication that they are no longer Roy’s number one priority.

1. Spared no expense – Jurassic Park (1993)

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Where better to knock an eccentric businessman down a peg or two….that’s right the dining table.

Once the dust has settled on the ooos and ahhs of the first glimpses of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, a dose of sober reality is laid out to Billionaire fantasist John Hammond by the very scientists that he had hoped would endorse his magnificent theme park. However, what Hammond encounters is a barrage of criticism from all three, who raise the practical fears of this new Eco system that has been developed in a lab without any caution given to the environmental and ecological ramifications of such a place.

Serving West Chilean seabass that has spared no expense, Malcolm, Sattler and Grant express their gravest concerns with some of the finest and most quotable dialogue in a Spielberg film. Hammond realises he only has the blood sucking lawyer on his side who eyes are wide with dollar signs. The lack of discipline in the attainment of Scientific knowledge is Malcolm’s main concern delivering the classic denouement,

“yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”

For an audience who still have their heads spinning from the wonders of the brief glimpse of the dinosaurs, it’s a real bump back down to Earth moment.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The Spielberg Top 10: Best Opening Scenes.

To grab an audience you have to start well, all the great films pull the audience in, you could argue that you need to grab them in the first 5 minutes or people may lose interest. Like writing, if I waffle on too long you won’t read the rest so without further blathering, here is my personal TOP 10 opening scenes in Steven Spielberg directed movies.

10. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

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Spielberg’s first foray into the world of motion capture is occasionally forgotten when discussions around Spielberg’s most dynamic films arise. Unfairly labelled by some as an animated Indiana Jones film, The Adventures of Tintin packs enough of an individual punch with scenes of audacity bravado as to clearly stand on it’s own two feet. None more so then this cracking opening tracking shot as the camera follows the mischievous Aristidis Silk through an outdoor market. Shot largely from the ground up the camera stops on a street artist painting a portrait of a young man who’s back is to us. On completion the Artist shows his finished article, it’s Tintin as familiarised in Herge’s collection of stories. It’s the first of a number of lovely moments in a vastly underrated film.

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

That Moment in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): First ...

“Are we the first?…Are we the first to arrive?” Yes, I annoyingly shout this whenever I go to a friends or family members house for dinner etc, in my head it never gets old, however some of the invites have dried up over the years.

The opening scene of Close Encounters is packed full of mystery and red herrings (see the headlights come out of the dust) and sets the scene perfectly for the wonders that are to come. Subtle and made with practical effects, it hooks the audience straight into the story. Where did these planes come from? Why does the old man claim the sun came out at night and sang to him? Great stuff.

8. Always (1989)

Opening scene to the Steven Spielberg film, “Always” (1989) - YouTube

A very brief moment here in one of Spielberg’s least appreciated films, but it is a moment of perfectly dexterous showmanship. Two sleepy fisherman whiling the hours away when in the background, entering the shot from above a seaplane making an unexpected landing. The plane disturbs the fishermen from their slumber but it’s breaking system doesn’t seem to be helping much. The camera stays transfixed as the plane stealthily approaches the stricken boat with its panicked occupants and just as the we the audience grip the corners of our seats as the Fishing boat is about to be made into two the plane lifts off, tickling the tops of the heads of the fishermen, who duly make a swift exit into the lake. You can watch the whole wondrous 55 seconds here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upPHSDqj5x0

7. Munich (2005)

Munich (Part 1) - YouTube

Changing tone completely now, we have one of Spielberg’s most controversial films, Munich. Starting with opening titles that tell us “the following is based on real events” we are greeted by a group of men trying to scale a fence outside the Munich Olympic village. They are given a helping hand by a group of unwitting American athletes, all the while John Williams, tense heart beat of a score pounds away in the background and Janusz Kaminski’s bleak cinematography creates an atmosphere of incredible unease. We are then thrown into the middle of the terrorism plot as we watch them change clothes, load up their weapons and move to their targets apartments. It is nerve shredding tension that never lets up in the two and half hour running time that is perhaps Spielberg’s best kept secret.

6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Fun with Franchises: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 ...

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? Who loves them even more when they last no more than 10 minutes? Indiana Jones’s third adventure is just a fantastic film, it really is, it’s packed full of laughs, family bonding and adventure. None more so than this opening salvo that returns Indy to his childhood as a Boy Scout. The casting of Sean Connery is often talked about as a stroke of genius by Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas but do not underestimate the casting of the late River Phoenix as a younger version of Harrison Ford. His screen time may be very short but that introduction of the character, including the origins of his fear of snakes and the famous scar on his chin is beautifully put together.

I could have quite easily included all four Indiana Jones films opening scenes in this top 10 as they all start with a bang in one way or another, but I plumped for Last Crusade (and spoiler alert one other) because it gives Indy a little bit of backstory, and 10 minutes in we are already grinning from ear to ear.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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I know what you are thinking, FIFTH???? Well, it’s only so low because strictly speaking it’s not the opening scene, which of course is the old man (who I won’t name in case hasn’t seen it yet) visiting the war cemetery.

Taking 25 days to shoot with over 1000 extras the Omaha Beach landing is the most visceral attack on the senses. With no accompanying score the audience are asked to dodge the bullets and mortars and they come whistling across the soundwaves as we catch glimpses of limbs being blown off, men being incinerated, men being mowed down by relentless machine guns. We want to look away, we want it to be over but we don’t.

Personally the for me, Spielberg’s greatest achievement with this scene is making the audience realise that these were not trained killers, they were ordinary men sent into an extraordinary/hellish world to try to defend their freedom. That first 25 minute is one hell of a History lesson and one that should never be dismissed as just entertainment.

4. Jaws (1975)

Top 10 Movie Opening Sequences | Some Films and Stuff

Dur-dum………Dur-dum……..Dur-dum. Ok if you’ve never seen Jaws, then why are you reading this blog? No only kidding, but if you’ve never seen Jaws you have been stood next to a body of water, where somebody, usually your dad has made the Dur-dum sound, and you know what that means, that your dad is implying there is a man eating shark in that water. It’s universal, it’s know globally, that’s the brilliance of it.

Now on the face of it, who wouldn’t take Chrissie up on her offer for a touch of skinny dipping, fortunately for Tom Cassidy, too many sherbet lemons meant that he missed out on a night time sea based frolic and Bruce therefore had to waltz in the waves with Chrissie alone, albeit a tad aggressively.

A lot of the success of Jaws was down to onset mechanical failures, proving once and for all that the things you can’t see are far scarier than those that you can, and this opening scene continues to terrify to this very day. A real stomper.

3. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies Film Locations - [otsoNY.com]

I make no secret of my love of Bridge of Spies, I think it is a piece of immaculate film making that demonstrates that classical methods can still be effective. In an almost dialogue free game of cat and mouse the opening 10 minutes of Bridge of Spies, is a lesson in meticulousness and attention to detail that can be sadly lacking in the current age of quick cut superhero dominated cinema.

There is a quiet assurance on display here, a calmness to Mark Rylance that embodies his performance throughout. It’s one of Spielberg’s quieter opening scenes but it’s massively effective, who is the man? Why are they after him? It’s a quite wonderful opening to a wonderful film.

2. Minority Report (2002)

MINORITY REPORT (2002) - The Arrest of Howard Marks - YouTube

How do you explain a rather tricky concept to an audience without overdoing the exposition? Simple, show the entire process from start to finish in one nail biting, ass kicking 12 minute opening salvo. It worth pointing out that as slick as Spielberg is here, this is another Janusz Kaminski masterpiece. The saturated grey and blue tinge adds to the cold atmosphere of a man going through the personal turmoil of watching his life unravel as his adulterous wife is locked in the arms of her suave lover. Meanwhile, Det Anderson (Tom Cruise) pieces together the future crime, almost in balletic fashion as Schubert’s No8 Unfinished Symphony plays dauntingly over the action.

As the time ticks by we know already they are against the clock to prevent the crime, we are totally engaged from the get go. The arrival at the street the Mark’s live on a moment of pure beauty as the pre-crime officers descend on zip-wires onto the lush, green, parkland. The slight delay whilst Anderton confirms that Howard left the door open all add to the palatable tension.

It truly is a most wonderfully choreographed scene, it’s Spielberg at his most playful.

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Long-lost Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark footage found on ...

Quite possibly the greatest opening of any film, never mind a Spielberg film. It’s quite difficult to imagine now, but coming off the back of the disappointing 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark was considered a huge gamble by the studios involved. The Wonderkid had come unstuck with the commercial and critical failure of 1941. In order to start to rebuild his reputation, Spielberg has claimed that he has never been so prepared to make a film as he was for Raiders. Every scene had a storyboard, every minute detail was planned in advance, this film had to come in on budget and on schedule. He achieved both, with scene after scene of perfect action and adventure.

The opening scene has got everything, thrill, spills, gore even humour, note Indy’s face when he grabs the branch to prevent himself from falling into the Abyss, only for the branch to slightly give way, this was no superhero, this is was an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation etc.

If filmed today, this scene would have been edited within an inch of it’s life, imagine if you will Michael Bay shooting this opening scene, but thankfully Spielberg allows the scares and the claustrophobia to prevail, Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography and Norman Reynolds stunning production design instantly transports the audience into this hellish, booby trap ridden cavern.

Then the crowning glory, the rolling boulder, pure genius. The brilliance of Raiders is that as breathtakingly stunning this opening sequence is, it doesn’t peak here and keeps going for the next 100 or so minutes. The opening sequence isn’t even my favourite in the movie, I reserve that for the truck chase, but this is Spielberg at his most prepared, at his most free, at his most playful, he is here to entertain and boy does he ever. What a way to introduce you to one of Cinema’s most iconic heroes.


I dedicate this blog to commemorate the sad loss of Allen Daviau 14/6/42 – 15/4/20 – a true Spielberg legend in every way.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com