Super Dark Times, Kevin Phillips’ debut feature and one of the best movies of the year, is a horror movie that starts with an injured deer flying through a high school window. It is gross and scary, and a good way to set the mood for a horror movie. However, Super Dark Times’ second scene takes it all back with a much more familiar image: a group of friends rolling into a gas station to buy some snacks.
The teens weigh various purchases before landing on Starburst, Skittles, and dried squid. One of them holds up a bottle of melon soda and asks the other three if they think it will be gross. “They wouldn’t make it if it was gross,” one suggests. “They make gross stuff all the time. Pickles are gross,” another argues. “Pickles are not gross,” the conversation continues.
It is not such a fascinating debate, now that I’m laying it all out. However, this scene calls to mind a universal human experience and an excellent setting for drama. Everyone needs a pee break and an Arizona Iced Tea once in a while. So, ever since the advent of highways, directors across genres have used the junk-food-pit-stop as an opportunity to lull movie-goers into the cozy frame of mind of debating “cherry or blue raspberry,” then surprise them with a revelation, a spat of violence, or important character work.
Here are — objectively, and don’t argue — the best examples of a beautiful trick.
10. Superbad (2007)
What they ate: Red Slushee, Red Bull.
Why it’s good: The entire conversation young Jonah Hill and extremely young Michael Cera are having during this scene is very disgusting, but I do like the part where Hill describes an acquaintance that we will never meet by saying, “Have you ever stared into his eyes? It was like the first time I heard The Beatles.” Boys are always being gross, drinking corn syrup, and talking about The Beatles.
9. Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle (2004)
What they ate: Doritos Extreme Cheddar (Cheetos Puffs and Lay’s Stax opened, but not eaten).
Why it’s good: Extreme kayaking! Extreme Cheddar! I like how the product placement in this movie is relevant to the plot.
8. Juno (2007)
What they ate: Blue Slushee, licorice rope, SunnyD.
Why it’s good: Though I know I consumed gallons of SunnyD between the years 1999 and 2004, I am not sure what it is. According to the product’s Wikipedia page, it has been reformulated several times in the last few years by the Dr. Pepper Snapple group, with varying proportions of real fruit juice, and people have mostly stopped buying it. It was good while it lasted — as were all of Rainn Wilson’s one-liners in Juno, which were repeated so many times in my middle school that they ceased to seem like English words.
7. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
What they ate: Sunflower seeds, Hostess Snowballs, mini chocolate donuts, mini white-powdered donuts, potato chips, bottled water, tortilla chips, peanuts, entire display of gum and lollipops.
Why it’s good: Go big or go home.
6. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
What they ate: Trident gum.
Why it’s good: If you absolutely must have a scene involving several minutes of gunfire and John Cusack wearing sunglasses indoors, it is funny to make some of the bullets bounce off of a promotional cutout of the lead cast of Pulp Fiction and then through several bags of Lay’s products. I have to wonder when a gas station has ever arranged its snacks like this:
But I also have to suspend disbelief when I am watching a film, or risk being a heinous pedant that no one wants to go to the movies with.
5. End of Watch (2012)
What they ate: Technically nothing, but shortly before this clip they do open the Arizona Iced Tea case to cool down. I think the intention, when Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña walked in, was to buy some beverages that might help the body heal after running into a burning house, but Jake and Michael then get distracted by arguing over whether they should have run into a burning house.
Why it’s good: End of Watch is a fantastic found footage buddy cop movie from the director of … Suicide Squad. If you’re about to ask me a dumb question like “How?,” I’ll remind you that I have already said — twice now — that it stars Jake Gyllenhaal. This spartan gas station junk food haul scene is included in this list because it nimbly establishes the conflict for the third act of the movie, which is, I hate to tell you, very, very sad.
(Earlier, Jake Gyllenhaal falls in love with Anna Kendrick and they make out to Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You,” a beautiful song. You could just watch that part.)
4. Logan (2017)
What they ate: Sour Skittles, Pringles, Hypno energy drink.
Why it’s good: This is a great way to establish the dynamic between Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and his sort-of-daughter, who he does not know is his sort-of-daughter yet. Dafne Keen is not only adorable, but a wry little comedian. I love the way she walks and grabs, walks and grabs, and gets violent when she is questioned.
It’s so inappropriate when Hugh steals a cigar, honestly. I love him otherwise, though!
3. The End of the Tour (2015)
What they ate: Pepsi, Snapple iced tea, Red Vines, Hershey bars, Pop-Tarts, chewing tobacco, Oreos, Diet Rite, peanut M&M’s.
Why it’s good: In the aftermath of a delightful gas station junk food haul, in which Jesse Eisenberg’s David Lipsky informs Jason Segal’s David Foster Wallace that they can buy as much as they want and he’ll just submit an expense report to Rolling Stone, we get to see an Oscar-hungry Eisenberg attempt to chew tobacco and nearly barf. We also get to think about how loosey-goosey print magazines were with their budgets in the ‘90s. We also hear an ardent defense of the sequence we just watched, and of candy in general:
WALLACE: If you ate this stuff all the time, what would be wrong with that?
LIPSKY: Except for your teeth falling out and getting really fat?
WALLACE: Yeah, it doesn’t have any of the nourishment of real food, but it’s real pleasurable masticating and swallowing this stuff.
LIPSKY: Like seductive commercial entertainment.
WALLACE: Exactly, and what saves us is that most commercial entertainment isn’t very good.
LIPSKY: What about good seductive commercial entertainment — like Die Hard?
WALLACE: The first Die Hard? Great film.
LIPSKY: No, it’s a brilliant film.
WALLACE: The best.
Fantastic! Another classic boy conversation.
2. Reality Bites (1994)
What they ate: Rippled Pringles (I had absolutely no idea this was ever a product), beef jerky, Thomas’ bagels, Minute Maid fruit punch (in cans?), Evian, Twinkies, Coke, corn chips, pre-wrapped sandwich.
Why it’s good: Asking a gas station attendant to turn up the volume on an objectively annoying song so that you can have an impromptu dance party with your friends who were already being sort of loud and disruptive is so rude it’s almost unbelievable. Then again, it makes Ethan Hawke’s god-awful character Troy feel uncomfortable, and it makes Winona Ryder and Janeane Garofalo feel happy. Therefore, I love it! Winona’s vest is great. Winona’s hair is great. Winona forever.
1. Magic Mike XXL (2015)
What they ate: Cheetos, Aquafina.
Why it’s good: Stop asking me personal questions!