When it comes to holidays and movies, Christmas has religious and family films, Halloween has horror, and Independence Day corners the market of patriotic, flag-waving action pictures. However, the holiday marked by family feasts, football, and turkey dinners has very few movies where it stands center stage.
While Christmas is the granddaddy of holidays, with 46% of Americans citing it as their favorite holiday, Thanksgiving comes in at number 2 with a respectable 19% of the vote. Being sandwiched between Halloween and Christmas, and being a holiday about family, Thanksgiving is less commercial by nature and, therefore, might be harder to convince audiences to pull themselves away from the turkey to catch a movie. It’s also not celebrated outside of North America, making it harder to market to international audiences (or even Canadians, who celebrate it in early October).
With so many Americans agreeing that they enjoy the November holiday, it may be time to reconsider Thanksgiving as an apt subject for a film. If you’re looking for an alternative to football or just something good to watch as you crash on the sofa, there are a few gems that have done Turkey Day justice. These are Screen Rant’s 10 Best Thanksgiving Movies of All Time.
While boxing isn’t necessarily a Thanksgiving tradition, there’s a scene pivotal to the entire series of films that involves a Thanksgiving dinner gone wrong in this classic fight film.
Rocky’s (Sylvester Stallone) pal, Paulie Pennino (Burt Young), brings the boxer home to set Rocky up with his sister Adrian (Talia Shire). Adrian declines because she’s spent all day preparing a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Drunk and belligerent, Paulie proceeds to throw the bird into the alley to free up Adrian for a date with Rocky. Without Paulie’s brutish actions, there’d be no cries of “Adriiiian” and she probably would not have served as Rocky’s inspiration to succeed.
While the movie features more beef than turkey, Rocky does offer an excellent sports-themed alternative to football. So, if you want something to occupy your entire day, you can check out the series of films, all currently available on Netflix. Or, you can check out Creed, the highly-anticipated spinoff to the series that opened this Thanksgiving weekend.
House of Yes (1997)
For a holiday that’s a prime target for tales of dysfunctional families, House of Yes may just take the pumpkin pie. Marty Pascal (Josh Hamilton) is coming home for Thanksgiving with his fiancée Lesly (Tori Spelling) for the first time. Unaware of anything out of the ordinary, Lesly gets a crash course in the Pascal family’s strange behaviors.
Starring Parkey Posey as Marty’s twin sister Jackie, a woman suffering from an obsession with both former first lady Jackie Onassis and her brother Marty, House of Yes isn’t a movie you want to watch with the kids around. With themes of incest, murder, and mental illness, this is a great dark comedy, which is far less saccharine than the traditional holiday fare.
Addams Family Values (1993)
In recent years, it’s become important to understand the history of Thanksgiving and know that it’s not a positive event for everyone involved. Luckily, the kids of the Addams Family showed empathy toward Native Americans and had an opportunity to act out some revenge in 1993’s Addams Family Values.
During a summer camp play about the first Thanksgiving, including a song titled “Eat Us,” Wednesday Adams (Christina Ricci) and her brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) mutiny and organize the “reject” children into a band of Chippewas to raid the pilgrims. In the typically grim tone of various Addams Family incarnations, the children go so far as to burn the set to the ground, roast their counselors over a spit, and burn the especially annoying Amanda (Mercedes McNab) at the stake.
For Your Consideration (2006)
A Christopher Guest mockumentary following the stars of an independent film, For Your Consideration follows the efforts required to turn a run-of-the-mill prestige film into an Oscar contender. When the idea of a movie about the Jewish festival of Purim is considered to be “too Jewish,” the reunion of a mother and daughter during Purim is replaced by a Thanksgiving setting, just one of many compromises required to get into contention for an Academy Award.
Starring some Guest’s regular cast members, including Harry Shearer, Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Jane Lynch, and Fred Willard, For Yor Consideration is a great self-reflection on the ridiculous nature of Hollywood. A perfect movie to watch right before Oscar season gets into full swing.
In the early ’90s, Paulie “The Weasel” Shore was one of teenage America’s biggest stars, and one parental America’s greatest fears. Bringing those fears to life in Son-in-Law, Shore stars as Crawl, a campus RA who befriends and corrupts the new-to-campus farm girl Becca (Carla Gugino). She invites him home to South Dakota for Thanksgiving. Interrupting her high school boyfriend’s proposal by stating that they’re already engaged, Crawl works hard to impress the family by helping on the farm, to disastrous results.
One of many stoner fish-out-of-water films, this is Paulie Shore’s second most successful film, earning a total of $36 million dollars. Don’t expect too much in terms of high brow humor, but if you’re looking for some light, cheap laughs, you can never go wrong with “The Weez.”
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Stick Robert Downey, Jr. in a film about Thanksgiving, and it’s easy to guess what kind of tone the movie will have. Directed by Jodie Foster, Home for the Holidays squeezes all kinds of messed up family tropes into 103 minutes: a teen daughter (Claire Daines) planning to lose her virginity, a gay brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr.), a conservative sister (Cynthia Stevenson) and her privileged husband (Steve Guttenberg), and an eccentric aunt (Geraldine Chaplin). The star-studded cast does a fantastic job of carrying out the job of presenting the Larson family in a way that comes across as real, and ultimately leads us to sympathize with lead character, Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter)
Home for the Holidays was one of the last roles for Robert Downey, Jr. before his legal and personal troubles caused him to step back from his career. Arrested on drug charges on numerous occasions between 1996 and 2001, the actor was uninsurable for years, both during and after this turmoil. He finally made a comeback with 2008’s Iron Man, and he did it in a major way. Starring in both the Iron Man/Avengers and Sherlock Holmes franchises, Downey should be extremely thankful for the second chance he was given.
Free Birds (2013)
While many of us feel that the annual presidential turkey pardoning is a bit of a waste of time for the leader of the free world, the animated Free Birds shows what a pardoned turkey can do if he puts his heart into it. Underachieving turkey Reggie (Owen Wilson) is just the bird who ends up pardoned, spending his life in relative ease at the presidential retreat, Camp David.
Things change dramatically when he is enlisted by freedom fighting poultry Jake (Woody Harelson) to travel back in time to the first Thanksgiving and end the practice of turkey dinners. Leading the birds of the era to victory, Jake ends up inspiring a new tradition, a feast of pizza on the fourth Thursday in November.
Was Colm Meanie cast as pilgrim Myles Standish because he played engineer Miles O’Brien on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? It’s not certain, but hopefully the creators felt that along with having George Takei voice the time machine, that this was a nod to Trek fans.
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
One of the best comedic devices in cinema is the buddy comedy, and the best at it were Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Grumpy Old Men was the sixth time the two veteran actors worked together, and the experience pays off with a well-made movie about two old codgers harboring the same grudge against each other that they’ve held since high school.
With Ariel (Ann-Margret) moving to town, Max (Matthau) and John (Lemmon) rekindle a feud started over a high school girlfriend. Chasing the same woman, things come to a head at Thanksgiving when Max spies on John and catches him engaged in sexual acts with Ariel.
Other than some implied sex, Grumpy Old Men is a reliably PG-13 movie and the laughs might help the family ward off the post-turkey coma that inevitably follows dinner. However, avoid the sequel, Grumpier Old Men, which suffers from a heartburn-inducing 17% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Pieces of April (2003)
Not all of us have idyllic families, and getting them around the table can cause more anxiety than it’s worth. Pieces of April, starring Katie Holmes as the titular April Burns, shows this less-than-relaxing side of the holiday. Working to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for her dying mother and estranged family, who spend their trip from Pennsylvania to New York discussing their black sheep daughter, April is faced with a broken oven while her boyfriend scrounges for a suit to wear to impress the family.
Pieces of April might not be the kind of story that could be called “feel-good,” but it does show that, in the end, blood is thicker than water, and that whatever your problems might be, someone else may have it worse.
Best Thanksgiving Movie: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
If you thought family was hard, try having journeyman oaf John Candy as your traveling partner for three days.
Steve Martin plays Neal Page, an ad executive who gets held up by salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) on the way to the airport. Arriving later, Neal is bumped from 1st class to coach, where he is seated with Del. With the flight rerouted from Chicago to Wichita, Neal and Del spend three days suffering through mishaps and mistakes on the way home to make it to dinner on time.
Directed by John Hughes, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is often remembered as a Christmas film, likely because of the feelgood ending. However, the focus is actually on the “joys” of traveling over Thanksgiving. For example, you’ll never be able to rent a car without Steve Martin’s f-bomb tirade popping out in your memory.
Worst Thanksgiving Movie: Jack and Jill (2011)
If there is one movie that could turn our stomachs after a holiday feast, it’s sure to be Adam Sandler’s 2011 Jack and Jill, starring Sandler as both Jack and twin sister Jill Sadelstein. On top of the fact that Sandler spends significant portions of the film hamming up how ugly he is as a woman, the use of Al Pacino playing a crazed version of himself in love with Jill diminishes the incredible performances the actor has put on over the years.
Critics and audiences overwhelmingly despised the film, and advice to viewers: if you want to keep down your mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, avoid this movie on a full stomach.
Honorable Mention: “Thanksgiving” Trailer from Grindhouse (2007)
This mock horror trailer from 2007’s Grindhouse features almost everything needed to make a real Thanksgiving film: family at turkey dinner, a parade, and a giant turkey mascot. However, it also features some less savory items including multiple murders, nude trampolining, and a person roasted alive like a turkey.
If you’re interesting in seeing the full-length movie, it doesn’t exist. However, the idea of this joke preview being adapted to a film would not be a far stretch. Machete, another trailer from Grindhouse, was released as a successful full-length film in 2010.
Did we miss any of your favorite Thanksgiving movies? Let us know in the comments!