Movie dinners to make your Christmas look like The Waltons

Cannibalism, killer aliens, awkward conversations… These terrifying on-screen get-togethers prove your festive family lunch could be worse

The crackers are ready, the timings confirmed and the food intolerances accounted for, but if the mere idea of your annual family festivities has you reaching for another hot toddy, spare a thought for the characters forced to sit through these dreadful dinners. From the mildly awkward to the bizarre to the downright terrifying, these 10 movie dinner scenes will make those questions about your love life, the dry turkey and the screeching nephews seem like the stuff of dreams.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

When you’re not so much invited for dinner, but kidnapped in a sack and tied to a chair made of human remains, it’s clear someone hasn’t been reading their Delia Smith. Sally (Marilyn Burns) has already seen all her friends killed and hung from meat hooks in the cellar, and now she’s had her finger cut open by a crazy man in a leather mask and a desiccated geriatric Grandfather is sucking on it. As the family laughs maniacally and the music swells, director Tobe Hooper cuts to extreme close-ups of Sally’s horrified eyes.

We feel panicked just watching – and we have the screen and the fact that it’s not real between us. But at the time it was all too real for the actors, who’d been working ridiculously long hours in the middle of a scorching Texas summer. Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) got so giddy on the heat and the stench of his own mask that he cut Burns’ finger for real to hurry the shot along. The infamous third-act sequence goes on for a good five minutes before Grandfather’s impotent attempts to kill Sally with a hammer leave her a window to escape.

Meet The Parents (2000)

For a movie already centered on one of the most awkward relationships of modern times, we never really expected a dinner between Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) and Pam’s (Teri Polo) parents to go smoothly. The disaster looms from the moment Greg mistakes an urn holding Jack’s (Robert De Niro) mother’s ashes for a vase. We have a feeling we know what’s coming. But on the way there’s a symphony of butt-clenchingly awkward moments from Greg reciting the words to Day By Day from Godspell instead of saying grace to Jack reading out a bizarre poem about his dead mother and Greg miming milking a cat (alongside the educational line “Oh yeah, you can milk anything with nipples.”).

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It’s when Greg starts opening a bottle of champagne that we know for sure the urn is going to bite the dust. As the conversation unfolds revealing Pam was engaged to her previous boyfriend, Kevin, the tension mounts to unbearable heights. Boom – the champagne cork pops, hits the urn, which wobbles tantalizingly then crashes to the ground. Horrified reaction shots of all four characters. And finally, enter Jinx the cat, who proceeds to use Jack’s mother’s ashes as cat litter. Welcome to the family.

Alien (1979)

Sometimes, after a tricky few days with a facehugger suctioned onto your head, all you want is to chill with your buddies and have a nice meal. That’s where John Hurt’s Kane is at when he sits down with the crew of the Nostromo in the now infamous scene from the original Alien. They lull us into a false sense of security, bantering around, complaining about the menu, until Kane casually says “The first thing I’m going to do when I get back is to get some decent food.” Which is basically as good as “I’ll be back”.

Then he’s in trouble and its clear a packet of Rennies isn’t going to do it. A few seconds later a baby xenomorph has burst out of his chest, along with a geyser of blood. There’s initial panic, then an eerie silence before the critter hotfoots it out of there. The effects have really stood the test of time, and the scene is as shocking now as it was when it made audiences throw up, and unsuspecting cast members fall unconscious (Veronica Cartwright, who plays Lambert, passed out after receiving a surprise spurt of blood to the face).

Back To The Future (1985)

It may not be Focker territory, but Great Scott, it’s still awkward. When Marty (Michael J Fox) travels back to the 1950s and accidentally takes his own father’s place, getting hit by a car, he ends up back at his mother’s house, sitting at the dinner table with his future grandparents and aunts and uncles. Nobody knows who he is, ovbs, especially his mother Lorriane (Lea Thompson) – who has a super inappropriate crush on him. So he’s stuck in some kind of reverse Oedipal nightmare, where the family are glued to their new TV set, while his mother stares at him all starry eyed over the meatloaf (because, of course it’s meatloaf).

“Marty, you look so familiar to me. Do I know your mother?” asks his future grandmother. All we want to do is make it stop, but Marty continues to squirm until his mother asks if he can spend the night in her room and slides her hand onto his knee under the table. Finally, Marty jumps up and makes a sharp exit. His grandfather says if Lorraine ever has a kid that acts like that he’ll disown her. But she’s not really listening – she’s staring off into the distance, full Mills & Boon.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Next time the dinner conversation threatens to bore you to death, you might wish for something – anything – to happen to liven it up. Don’t. When Delia and Charles Deetz throw a dinner party for their stuffy, obnoxious guests, it’s the perfect opportunity for everyone’s favourite recently deceased couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, to crack out some parlour tricks in an attempt to scare off their new housemates. Delia (Catherine O’Hara) opens her mouth to scrabble for a new topic, when low and behold the voice of Harry Belafonte comes out. The nest thing you know the entire table (bar eye-rolling Goth daughter Winona Ryder) are dancing to Day-O (The Banana Boat Song), with no control over their mouths or limbs.

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It’s like being drunk but being able to see that your drunk, and that’s no fun at all. Their horrified faces eventually end up in their dinners when the shrimp cocktails turn into giant monster arms and pull them down into the bowl. It’s pretty humiliating for the uptight group – and surely that would make anyone want to go home before daylight come?

American Beauty (1999)

You know when you ask someone to pass the asparagus and it never comes your way? It’s enough to ruin your dinner and, it seems, the façade of a happy middle-class family life. Years of pent-up anger and frustration come to a head when Mr Midlife Crisis Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) announces that he quit his job. He’s pretty proud of it. His wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), not so much. “I didn’t lose it. It’s not like whoops, where’d my job go? I quit. Someone pass the asparagus,” says Spacey. But nobody passes the asparagus, and he still really wants it.

The scene is only a couple of minutes long, but the tension is so tightly wound that it feels like hours. The couple’s daughter Jane (Thora Birch) sits between her parents, silently detaching herself from what turns into one helluva fight, all the while the candles are flickering, the cutlery used correctly and the “Lawrence Welk shit” continues to play in the background. When Spacey gets up to fetch his own vegetables, which eventually end up flung against the wall, we just wish some one would have passed the damn asparagus.

You’re Next (2011)

It’s less about a fight breaking out than a group of deranged killers breaking in at the Davison family dinner. All the adult children have brought their partners over for the first time to celebrate their parents’ anniversary – what could go wrong? We’re lulled into a false sense of security when a string of offensive jibes, sibling rivalries, parental preferences and an almighty brother-on-brother argument seem to provide enough drama for one night. Until, that is, one character goes to the window (for some quiet reflection?) and is greeted with an arrow through the forehead.

It’s not exactly a sign that things are going to get any better, and then three masked invaders (wolf, lamb and tiger) enter the house and all hell breaks loose. However much you feel like your home is being invaded by family, neighbours or people drinking your best schnapps at Christmas, it’s got nothing on the slaughter-fest that ensues in this aptly titled horror.

Home Alone (1990)

Being called a “little jerk” and a “disease” and sent to your room when all you really did was punch your greedy brother in the stomach for eating your margarita pizza is up there with pretty unfair outcomes to a dinner table fight. Family dynamics can be tough and things can escalate quickly – particularly when there are an overwhelming number of children involved, as there are at the McCallister’s pre-Christmas family pizza party.

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Kevin (Macaulay Culkin in the role that would define the 38-year-old’s career) knows what he wants and he wants plain cheese, but all his stupid cousins are in his way and big old Buzz is winding him right up. When Kevin decides to fight back with a gut punch to the big bully, it sets of a chain reaction of chaos that even the biggest roll of Bounty would struggle to mop up. Milk is spilt, kids squashed, trousers soaked and all eyes are on black sheep Kevin. To be honest, we’d be more than happy to be sent to our rooms to escape that lot.

Get Out (2017)

Potential in-laws can ask some pretty probing questions, so you should really have your answers ready, but when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) goes to visit the white, middle-class family of his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams), dinner conversation gets unexpectedly intense and, well, just plain weird. For once, the parents manage to hold it together, but Rose’s jittery, unhinged brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry-Jones) makes the leap from embarrassing childhood stories to Chris’s impressive genes in the twitch of a half-crazed eyeball.

“With your frame and your genetic make-up if you really pushed your body, I mean really trained, you know, no pussyfooting around, you could be a fucking beast,” he says, like it’s the most natural comment in the world. Turns out it’s awkward as hell, and while Chris assumes the family’s strange behavior is purely down to deep-seated racism, it foreshadows the real motives behind the Armitage hospitality. The mother’s (Catherine Keener) sudden booming change of tone alone should be enough to have you reaching for your coat.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Ah, when Freddy came to dinner. Sounds like a cute children’s book. But when Freddy Krueger shows up at the Gibson dinner party, he isn’t putting those knife fingers to good use cutting up the chicken, he’s chopping up meat of an altogether different description. Poor old Greta (Erika Anderson) makes the mistake of nodding off at the table, and soon she’s tied to her chair being force-fed a tiny replica of herself.

As Freddy cuts open the doppelganger and spears the pieces of meat, he stuffs them into Greta’s cheeks until she looks fit to pop. At one point she bursts out of her friend’s refrigerator door for no apparent reason, before Kreuger pulls her back in and finishes her off in front of a table of onlookers who, as usual, can’t see what’s happening because it’s technically in her dream. It’s not one of the finest Elm Street movies, but a good and gory dinner death scene all the same, and it makes trying to get your family’s attention for a top up of wine look a lot less urgent.