The humble American diner has provided the backdrop to countless movies, but not all diner scenes are equal. Here we list five of the best that may not promote the food service element of diners but does prove that the best place to fake an orgasm, meet up with a foe, learn you’re about to get whacked, pontificate about tipping or generally act like a douche is a diner.
Heat (Dir. Michael Mann, 1995)
Diner: Kate Mantalini’s diner in Beverly Hills
The daddy of all diner scenes, the iconic moment when grizzled yet pathologically committed LAPD Lieutenant Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) meets his quarry, the laser focused yet combustible master thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) for a cheeky coffee. The scene is notable as the first time these legendary actors shared screen time together in a film (no, they are never in the same scenes in The Godfather Part II). Pacino’s reaction to De Niro’s “barbeques and ballgames?” line is pure gold and just edges out his improvised “she’s got a great ass!” earlier in the film.
Reservoir Dogs (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 1992)
Diner: Pat and Lorraine’s, Eagle Rock Boulevard, Eagle Rock, Los Angeles
Tarantino loves a diner scene, indeed, it was a close run thing with the opening heist from Pulp Fiction, but Reservoir Dogs introduced the world to the maverick writer-director. The diner scene is distilled Tarantino, a seemingly random conversation about the ethics of tipping, filled with staccato vulgarity and wise guy posturing showcases his ear for dialogue. But, listen carefully and there’s an awful lot of too-clever-by-half foreshadowing and character portraits. We learn Mr. Pink is a mouthy so-and-so and more importantly (spoiler alert!) that Mr Orange is a rat as he rats out Mr Pink for not tipping.
When Harry Met Sally (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1989)
Diner: Katz Delicatessen, New York
Perhaps the only thing people remember from this Nora Ephron penned rom-com is the ‘yes, yes, yes’ fake orgasm scene that takes place in one of New York’s most famous eateries. As well as Meg Ryan hamming it up, the scene gave us the most quoted movie line by bourgeois baby boomers, probably, ever. After Sally ‘climaxes’ a woman sitting nearby tells her server “I’ll have what she’s having.” OK, pedants will point out that a deli is not a diner, but really if you’re feeling the urge to point that out you need to consider your life choices.
Swingers (Dir. Doug Liman, 1996)
Diner: Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop, Hollywood.
For some inexplicable reason there was a swing revival in the mid 1990s and Swingers was the benign and acceptable face of that trend that makes people forget about Brian Setzer and Lou Bega. There are actually two diner scenes in Swingers (hey, kids in the 40s loved diners) the second one, at the end of the film, is the “fun little baby games” where Vince Vaughn beclowns himself. But the first scene at the late night diner is why Vaughn, as obnoxious as he is funny, became famous (and why he’s never going to reach those heights again).
Goodfellas (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1990)
Diner: Clinton Diner (now called Goodfellas Diner), Maspeth Avenue, New York.
Oh Henry, Henry, Henry. If ever there was an advert for not doing cocaine then Henry Hill’s unravelling up to this scene is it. Here, the audience as well as Henry realise the jig is up as Jimmy is sizing him up to get whacked. Aside from the great acting and look of cold dread on Henry’s face, what makes this scene doubly memorable is the final line to the waitress: “You know what? I think I’ll have an English muffin”.