Food Porn Scores at Box Office as World Burns

Food Porn Scores at Box Office as World Burns

How could a pair of food-related films like Chef and The Hundred-Foot Journey compete with the summer’s noisiest blockbusters?

Talk about an unfair fight.

Yet both Chef and Journey, films that traffic in the wonders of a well-cooked meal, are hanging tough at the end of summer. Credit solid storytelling for some of those results. It also could be a sign that audiences want cinematic comfort food while the daily headlines roil with news of ISIS, beheadings and more Russian aggression.

Jon Favreau’s Chef returned to theaters over the weekend to push its box office tally to $30 million. The film co-stars Sofia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey, Jr. but they all have relatively small parts. It’s Favreau’s film as the star/writer/director, and the talent behind Swingers isn’t exactly an A-list attraction.

Journey, starring Oscar-winner Helen Mirren as an unctuous restauranteur battling an upstart Indian competitor, is nearing $40 million after a weekend in which it dropped a mere 9.9 percent.

Even The Trip to Italy, an English import featuring two old pals perusing that country’s best restaurants, scored a robust $8K per screen average. Nothing says box office poison better than two-middle aged men bemoaning how women no longer find them appealing. Yet the numbers speak for themselves.

These box office tallies are modest if the movie in question has the words “Guardians” or “Turtles” in it. For indie fare with few of the flourishes summer films offer, they’re huge.

The food angle clearly is resonating with the movie-going public. Chef follows a troubled cook (Favreau) who reinvents his career by starting his own Cuban sandwich food truck. We get countless scenes in the kitchen, with Favreau’s character effortlessly preparing mouth-watering dishes.

Journey offers even more sumptuous treats. The story concerns a young chef (Manish Dayal) who hopes to leverage his family’s restaurant into a serious culinary career. Again the camera lingers on an array of dishes, lovingly prepared for our approval.

When it comes to the box office, timing is everything. Journey hit theaters last month just as blockbuster fatigue had set in. Yet Chef came out May 9 in limited release, when the first wave of big-budget films hit cineplexes.

Clearly, other factors are at play.

Escapism often rules the day at the box office. These food-related stories–dubbed “food porn” in some circles–appeal to something deeper within us. Our lives are often too full to replicate these dishes at home, and with the still struggling economy it’s often impossible to afford actual meals created by signature chefs. A $10 ticket is far more affordable than an $70 dollar meal in our latest Recovery Summer.

In recent weeks, the world outlook has grown more bleak. The rise of ISIS, the realization that our president lacks a strategy to deal with it and the sense that Russia will continue to taunt the Western world as it sees fit are all blaring across our media screens.

Who wouldn’t crave some cinematic cooking as a distraction?

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