Many things can be missed in a black Friday shuffle: forgiveness of Turkish people, thanksgiving parade, NFL football, family time, great food, and of course, thankfulness for the things you have. Yet one aspect of Thanksgiving is ignored more than often, including by the fervent devotees of holiday traditions: the plethora of Thanksgiving films you can catch as you digest your meal. The actual film theatres, Creed II, Ralph Breaks The Internet, or Green Book, will indulge at the theatres as the trip to-phan coma breaks out. But if you kick it home, the choices are much more diverse. Whilst it does not have as many faithful classics as Halloween or Christmas, Thanksgiving has a cinematic leg during this vacation and the films are full of genres, if you prefer, each falling into its own specific group.
However, you may like to celebrate the holiday, gathering with your loved ones around a movie never goes out of style. For that occasion, we’ve pulled together the best Thanksgiving movies to pick from. Any of these films are genuinely cherished holiday classics, and others may be less clear about Thanksgiving, even though they carry their appreciation for a holiday on their sleeves. And perhaps others will bring a special respite: a streak of irony among those who believe Thanksgiving is for the birds. So, go over the potatoes and enjoy the support of a nice film cheer below.
1. Alice’s Restaurant
Alice’s Restaurant is an unforeseen Thanksgiving sitcom directed by Arthur Penn, who re-envisioned Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow as counter-culture anti-heroes in his 1967 gangster classic, Bonnie and Clyde. Penn did the same thing with Arlo Guthrie, the son of folk hero Woody Guthrie, the devoted anti-fascist who wrote: “This Land is Our Land.” The film is based on a 1967 folk song Alice’s Restaurant Massacree by Arlo Guthrie. The restaurant was not renamed “Alice’s Restaurant.” That’s just the name of the song, which is quite talkative, like the movie, which is also pretty violent and very drug-fuelled. The film doesn’t start with Thanksgiving, but at the Army Recruiting Centre, where Arlo, as himself, is trying to escape the draught. Turns out he doesn’t have a legitimate excuse to stay out of fighting. However, the Thanksgiving setting gives the film its focus and the key cause to be grateful. The key plot is to get rid of some garbage after a holiday meal. Arlo and his friends load a few month’s worths of trash into their red VW microbus, along with “shovels, rakes, and other destructive devices,” and head to the city landfill, which is closed for Thanksgiving. They’d never heard of a landfill that had been locked on Thanksgiving before, but with tears in their eyes, they’d head away to find some spot to store the trash.
2. The Oath
With this directorial debut, Ike Barinholtz has created a sharp satire of America during the Trump era with all the political divisions that it entails. The film takes place in America, where everyone must sign an oath of allegiance before the day after Thanksgiving. Liberal couple Chris and Kai are pushing back against such an oath, but they are more concerned about having to deal with a politically fractious Thanksgiving family. The holiday becomes even more chaotic as two special agents appear at the house answering questions. What makes The Oath such a delight is that Barinholtz does not attempt to cling on to his liberal persona as the one who has all the answers but rather displays a spectrum of opinions that inevitably lead to heated discussions with no clear answers. And if the film gets darker as it goes on.
3. Free Birds
Critics didn’t gobble up this computer-animated film featuring two turkeys (spoken by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson) that brought the time machine back to the first Thanksgiving in history – an altering quest to keep the turkey from being a traditional holiday meal. (‘Is Hollywood trying to turn your little ones into strident vegetarians?’ panicked The New York Post.) The film directed by Jimmy Hayward has received negative feedback for his commercial relationship with Chuck E. Cheese and his controversial portrayal of Native American characters. Despite the criticism, this PETA-approved film has a sweet spot in the hearts of parents who want a meat-free Thanksgiving, and who won’t mind a bedtime conversation about where the meat comes from. Like a movie about Santa Claus, “Free Birds” scores points for “Babe”—like a defiant message—who wants a turkey for Thanksgiving? —that calls for a sanctified holiday tradition with a child-friendly sass. It’s a misfit movie that’s a perfect family pick.
4. Funny People
After the commercial success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up writer-director Judd Apatow paired up with his old pal Sand-man for a slightly meta, James L. Brooks-an an exploration of humor, sickness, and death. And for certain moments, this film is like nothing else you’ve ever seen and Sandler feels caustic, cutting, and alive in ways he’s never been on the screen before, playing a famous comic who’s diagnosed with a terminal illness. As he recruits a hard-fought comic (Seth Rogen) to be his assistant and reconnect with old friends, it’s a dark yet cozy friendship movie—fitted with his own Friendsgiving scene—that feels like returning home. It’s exciting to think that Sandler, a risk-averse comic who appears to use most of his movies as holiday gifts for his friends and family, has chosen to star in a film that’s weird, dirty, and intimate.
5. You’ve Got Mail
Not only does this classic Nora Ephron film give us the signature bittersweet agony of “but will they work out? Remade from Ernst Lubitsch’s zippy 1940 rom-com The Shop Around the Corner, based on a 1937 Hungarian book, Ephron’s script offers Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan a chance to moan as they click their words on the keyboard, their charisma in full effect. (Thanks, particularly, on the scene where he intervenes for Ryan’s Kathleen, in the Zabar’s Thanksgiving cash-only checkout line, concluding with the clerk’s classic “Happy Thanksgiving back.” deadpan.) While the internet chatroom jokes have been obsolete, Hanks’ joke about Starbucks orders still prevails.
6. Hannah and Her Sisters
The film that won Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest Oscars, Hannah and Her Sisters is a family tale framed between two Thanksgivings and the year that brings them together. With a meticulous glimpse into the heights and anxieties of upper-middle-class life among Manhattan intellectuals, the film is really the work of Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Holly (Dianne Wiest) and Lee (Barbara Hershey). There is also the passion of Hannah’s husband Elliot (Caine), who has an affair with Lee, but the film is mainly told from the viewpoint of three women of differing ages grappling with how they see themselves and their futures in New York’s year of life. Writer-director Woody Allen is also here in this family, dealing with his own fears of death, but his and Elliot’s positions are ultimate as outside spectators who come every Thanksgiving to watch the sisters and their parents renew their family ties… and close ranks.
An old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner is for ham, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. What you don’t need is a family, at least not the one you’re born with. This is the idea behind this new comedy, written and directed by Nicol Paone, about a wildly chaotic “Friendsgiving,” a portmanteau that depicts a pre-Thanksgiving meal shared by friends, usually before they go home to see their parents. Kat Dennings and Malin Akerman starred as gal pals who broke bread with a sexually and racially varied assortment of quirky peers, bewildered strangers, and party crashers. In her Times review, Lovia Gyarkye said that the film takes a surprisingly charming and funny approach to a traditional holiday.” Watch Jane Seymour as a prowl sexpot mom and cameos from Fortune Feimster, Wanda Sykes and Margaret Cho as a wizard of “fairy gay mothers.”
8. Home for the Holidays
Jodie Foster’s film career spanned six decades; she won two Oscars, two Golden Globes, and three BAFTAs. However, her only appointments to Emmy come from her tenure as a producer, and while her work behind the camera is pale in comparison to her acting career, she merits a spot on the list of the best actors-turned-directors. An example of this is Home for Holidays, her third feature film, which adeptly blends grounded drama with funny humor in the story of a down-to-ear-luck single mother who spends Thanksgiving. Holly Hunter and the pre-rehab Robert Downey Jr. excel as beleaguered brothers, and as a manager, Foster manages the irony of the holiday by never turning too far away from his emotional crosshairs.
9. Pieces of April
Katie Holmes’ career will almost inevitably be dominated by her now-defunct marriage to Tom Cruise, but movies like Pieces of April illustrate just how much of a shame it is—in the right circumstances, Holmes can bring a film of both comedy and emotional weight. After Holmes’ title, April, invites her stray relatives to Thanksgiving, including her terminally ill mum, Joy, and her family to bring things together, making a funny but serious indie film that would be real for anybody who has ever struggled to get ready for an imminent family visit or vacation, particularly on holidays.
10. The Ice Storm
Based on Rick Moody’s lauded 1994 book, director Ang Lee’s (Brokeback Mountain) masterful adaptation is a scathing depiction of the upper-middle-class suburban life of the early 1970s, where all the drug, drink, and sex experiments in the world couldn’t deter anybody from feeling like their lives and culture were undisturbed. Like other dramas during Thanksgiving, the characters are not thankful enough (played with the flair of Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, among others) are all stuck in the mental dark holes of their own making. Likewise, all the decadence and mad fashions/trends of the surreal decade cannot replace the sense that something has gone horribly wrong. Lee—before he becomes fascinated with the new camera technology—charts all of this with persistence, empathy, and accuracy.
It’s surprising that more people don’t know Dutch, written by the comedy legend John Hughes and directed by the guy who did Crocodile Dundee. It may be that it was one of the few films that Ed O’Neill appeared in during his tenure as Al Bundy on Married With Children. Maybe it’s because the film turned into a grown-up guy and a snobby prep school boy, causing hi-jinx through the highways and byways of America. Anyway, it’s a touching story about a blue collar man trying to impress his girlfriend by taking her son home for Thanksgiving. This slapstick comedy bombed at the box office, but it’s easy enough to watch for those looking for something simple, dirty, and important to their holiday festivities.
12. Addams Family Values
The 1991 revival of the ’60s TV series is a spooky classic, but this is the absolute highlight of the Family Franchise. To keep Wednesday and Pugsley in place, Morticia and Gomez employ a nanny (Joan Cusack at most withering her) who has a plot of her own and send them off to terrorize other teenagers in the summer camp. While it’s not technically Turkey Day the dead-obsessed children have a chance to school their wealthy, sleep-away camp peers on the true history of Thanksgiving when they’re forced to play holiday sports. Very few Thanksgiving movies or holiday specials are as serious about the crimes committed against indigenous people in our world, but leave it to Christina Ricci to discuss them head-on in this offbeat family video. Wednesday’s deadpan is cracking you on every line. Mixing Addams’ deadpan comedy with a biting satire about the state of contemporary Native American affairs, Wednesday’s speech and ensuing arson make Addams Family Values a Turkey Day must-see.
13. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
When does the top position ever go to someone else? John Hughes’ classic holiday travel story went wrong ranks pretty high on the list of the funniest movies of all time, so there’s no way it could be counted as anything other than the best Thanksgiving movie ever. John Candy and Steve Martin are ideally cast as Del Griffith’s annoying shower curtain ring salesman and Nebbish, judgmental Neal Page, bouncing off each other with impeccable and impeccable comedic timing. Packed to the brim with great characters, amusing set pieces, endlessly rated one-liners, and a heck of a lot of heart, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is the ideal movie to sit around and laugh at your family after you stuff yourself with the heaviest food imaginable.
14. Mary Poppins Returns
The sequel to the legendary Disney movie was embraced by Mary Poppins’ new wave of fans as Mary Poppins Returns came to the theatres in 2018. Starring Emily Blunt as the famous nanny with a carpet bag, Mary Poppins Returns follows the children of Banks now all grown up and struggling with adult concerns of their own. Who else will they rely on to set it up for rights other than Mary Poppins? Starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw, and also featuring a guest appearance by none other than Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins Returns is equally fresh and nostalgic, and the new songs would get you singing in just the same way as their counterparts did and still do!
15. Fantastic Mr. Fox
There’s no talk of Thanksgiving in Wes Anderson’s Stop Motion masterpiece. Yet still, it’s hard to see The FantasticMr. Fox and not to dream of late autumn. Is this the carefully picked fall color palette that’s all sunsets and foliage? Is it the cozy family environment of the Foxes and their neighbors that makes you miss a major get-together? Is this the impeccably clad cast of animal characters, all resplendent in corduroy, flannel, and tweed, silently shaming you with their flawless sartorial choices? Or maybe it’s just their ravenous feeding habits that place you in the right state of mind. With no similarity to the Roald Dahl novel, it is based on The Wonderful Mr. Fox is instead one of the most beautiful encapsulations of Anderson’s eye for (some may argue fascination with the little details. And it’s those little details, perhaps more than their fluffy animal characters, that make this perhaps the coziest effort of the director.