A surprisingly good amount of films touch upon Thanksgiving yet it’s not really a holiday that prompts traditional movie-watching. Along with Christmas comes a whole bunch of movies people watch every year – Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, of course, and Scrooged, my own personal Christmas Eve movie tradition. Halloween has a whole genre dedicated to it – horror – and Easter has a horror movie about Jesus directed by Mel Gibson. Thanksgiving movies exist but only a handful have really crossed the line into annual viewing territory – Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Scent of a Woman, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. In this article, I will explore those classics along with underseen Thanksgiving movies or movies that aren’t technically Thanksgiving movies but share the core themes of the holiday – family, gratitude, and elaborate meal prepping.
Joining me for this article is gravy expert and comedian, Genevieve Rice. We’ll each give you our ten favorite Thanksgiving movies along with four Thanksgiving TV episodes and my pick for the absolute worst Thanksgiving movie ever. Let’s get started with my list…
10. Scent of a Woman (1992)
Why Should You Watch It?: HOO-AHHHH! YA HONOR! P*SSY!!!!! All things that come barrel rolling out of Al Pacino‘s mouth in this somewhat charming, way overlong, but nostalgic diet drama that takes place over Thanksgiving weekend. Pacino is a blind veteran whose family is totally afraid of him because he’s a total Grinch. They leave him home for Thanksgiving while they go to a family member’s house because Pacino DOES NOT WANT TO GO! HOO-AHHH! In comes a struggling local boarding school student (Chris O’Donnell) who is on financial aid and can’t afford to go home for the holidays. He decides to make a little extra money by babysitting Pacino and what starts off as an odd couple of sorts ends with Pacino teaching Chris to stick up for himself, and Chris teaching Pacino not to be such a crab apple. hoo-ah! Watch out for a very young and very wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman as Chris‘ school bully.
When Should You Watch It?: NOT THANKSGIVING DAY. This is one to watch in preparation for the holiday, maybe on that Tuesday, when you’re just hanging around the house cause remote work is slow or even the night before Thanksgiving. But don’t watch this on Thanksgiving Day. Your family will find it too long and crass, and even if you celebrate alone, there are better movies to watch on Turkey Day 2021.
Genevieve’s Comments: I originally watched this as a teen with a crush on Chris O’Donnell (who is in his prime in this by the way), not realizing I was in for more than two and a half hours of a suicidal Army colonel who loves to yell, smell ladies and spend money. Frank (Al Pacino) forces Charlie (O’Donnell) into a largely delightful long weekend in New York City of staying at the Waldorf-Astoria, tangoing with a pretty woman and test-driving fast cars. The only trade offs are an awkward Thanksgiving family with Frank’s family in White Plains where Frank tells Bradley Whitford he should eat his wife’s pussy (Frank’s right) and, of course, Frank’s imminent threat to “blow his brains out.” But offing himself keeps getting put off as Frank gets more and more involved with Charlie’s stupid prep school trial, which takes place the Monday after Thanksgiving. A big, yell-y showdown at the trial between a shitty dean and Frank is a satisfying watch. This movie was the big break of Philip Seymour Hoffman, and boy do I miss him being a dick in movies.
Where Should You Watch It?: Peacock
9. The Santa Clause (1994)
Why Should You Watch It?: I know, I know, it’s a Christmas movie, but the end of November is the perfect time to start your Christmas binge and why not start with something as insignificant as this. The Santa Claus is not a good movie at all, but I think there’s a certain element of hate-watch to be had mixed in with ’90s childhood nostalgia. Tim Allen‘s character in this is quite simply, an absolute prick. He’s a dismissive jackass with an arsenal of stupid, punching-down dad jokes, and thank God nobody in the movie asks him for his take on reparations or border control or this would have quickly transitioned into American History X. He begins having these self-aggrandizing delusions that he’s Santa Claus, so much so it affects the mental stability of his young son. He begins imagining an imaginary elf and eating like a total pig in boardroom meetings. Peter Boyle is his prick boss, and you could argue this dick is more of a cock than Tim Allen, but he at least discourages this behavior. The hero of the movie is Beverly Hills Cop II‘s Judge Reinhold as the only sane man in the room. He’s a psychiatrist which also means he’s the smartest man in the room. He rightfully sees Tim Allen as dangerous but he ends up giving into his delusions because Tim Allen buys him a weenie whistle.
When Should You Watch It?: While prepping your Thanksgiving meal. Look, this is a movie you can afford to miss little chunks of here and there, and at least peeling potatoes or giving your bird a deep tissue butter massage will give you a reprieve from some of the more egregious moments. Plus, having a movie that’s vaguely Christmas on in the background will get you into that warm holiday spirit for December.
Genevieve‘s Comments: It’s a tale as old as time. A very divorced dad is a piece of shit to everyone, including his young son, but much more to Santa Claus, whom he accidentally kills. And as part of a surprisingly complicated curse, he is legally obligated by the North Pole to take on the role of Old Saint Nick. Over the next year, he transforms into Father Christmas, much to the horror of everyone around him. He sucks, but people get way too mad at him for just getting a little bit fat, bearded and old. Like, he even briefly loses custody of his kid because of it, which seems a bit too harsh? Last time I checked this is America, and we all have a god-given right to look like Santa Claus if we want to or, as in the case of this man, have been compelled to by holiday magic. I haven’t watched this since I was a kid, and I forgot about how cute David Krumholtz is in this as Bernard the head elf. Also, my hometown newspaper named this one of the best movies of 1994.
Where Should You Watch It?: Disney+
8. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – Extended Edition
Why Should You Watch It?: Thanksgiving weekend is long, with stretches where you’re not doing shit. Sure, you tell yourself you’re going to clean out your filthy car, clean out the fridge, change your air conditioning filters, but you always find yourself in sweatpants on the couch, aimlessly flipping through streaming menus. But hey, you’ve been saying you’ve wanted to rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy for close to a decade now, and you no longer have the excuse of “I just don’t have the time.” This weekend, you do. The extended version (arguably superior to the theatrical cut) is now on HBOMax but by the time you finish close to four hours of that, you’ll realize you actually have a shitload of projects you HAVE to do over Thanksgiving weekend, and in your head, you’ll be like “Well, I’ll just watch the extended cut of Two Towers the following weekend…”, but it will never happen. So just be content with watching The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s actually the best one too, so you’re really getting the good end of the deal!
When Should You Watch It?: Friday mid-morning after Thanksgiving, after your early morning, post-turkey day gorge jog. Gotta sweat out all that gizzard gravy first! I suggest putting this on your TV around 10 or so while you make breakfast – some kind of turkey-potato-stuffing leftover egg scramble with an arugula side salad topped with a spicy and sweet cranberry sauce vinaigrette. It’s a long movie so at the 3-hour mark, make yourself some lunch – turkey and stuffing sandwiches topped with some of that arugula and cranberry vinaigrette from breakfast and also add swiss cheese. Yes, it’s gotta be swiss! Wash it all down with a mid-day beer or two. Not three, you can’t be drunk and responsibly watch the baby while your significant other meets her sister for brunch or shopping or something.
Genevieve’s Comments: I’m not a big Lord of the Rings person (when this was originally out in theaters, I saw Ghost World, The Royal Tenenbaums and Death to Smoochy (twice!) instead). But even I can’t deny this Middle Earth epic. Come for the beautiful visuals of New Zealand/Viggo Mortensen and stay for the healthiest portrayal of straight male friendship we have in mainstream cinema.
Where Should You Watch It?: HBOMax (theatrical cut also available)
7. Big Night (1996)
Why Should You Watch It?: It’s not technically a Thanksgiving movie but oh my mother lord, this is a FOOD MOVIE if I’ve ever seen one. A triumphant celebration of fresh ingredients prepared with love all culminating with that delicious Timpano, which is handmade pasta, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, salami, and cheese, encased in a giant pie crust that resembles a timpani drum. Another familiar Thanksgiving trope is present – preparing a party/big meal for a big group of people and the inherent stress that comes along with that. Big Night presents this through a 1950s North Jersey Shore-set story about two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo and Segundo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci, respectively), who own and operate an Italian restaurant. They refuse to give the customers the pandering Jersey Italian food their fat mouths want, so their bottom line is struggling. Their friend (a wonderfully eccentric Ian Holm) suggests they plan a big party for a famous jazz musician he can get to come. The press of a jazz icon coming to the restaurant might be the PR boost they need! This is a very cute, wonderfully written 90s indie film filled with spectacular performances and one of my favorite dialogue-free endings of all time.
When Should You Watch It?: NOT THANKSGIVING, it will instantly depreciate the meal you make for your family. Not that you’re a bad cook, but this is one of the most extravagant, ridiculous, and absolutely mouth-watering meals I’ve ever seen in a film. Watch this in the days leading up to Thanksgiving as inspiration for meal planning. By the time you serve your turkey day dinner, you won’t remember how inferior it is to what Big Night came up with.
Genevieve’s Comments: As Margetis already pointed out, this isn’t explicitly a Thanksgiving movie. But even among the Thanksgiving-heavy hitters we’ve laid out here, none of them deal with the sky-high expectations of planning and executing a very special meal quite like Big Night. Brothers Primo and Secondo have everything riding on the success of the evening, and they pull out all the stops. By almost all counts, they knock it out of the park. But it turns out the game isn’t quite what they thought. While this film doesn’t deliver a warm and fuzzy ending, it does fill you with hope that the brothers will live to cook a perfectly executed timpano another day. Also, I must second the advice to not watch this on Thanksgiving. I actually did this last year while I was cleaning up the kitchen, and I just ended up depressed that I didn’t make any risotto.
Where Should You Watch It?: Paramount+
6. Addams Family Values (1993)
Why Should You Watch It?: Addams Family Values is better, funnier, and more entertaining than you remember it and one thing I didn’t pick up on as a kid, is the camp play’s commentary on the colonization of Native Americans explored through the WASPy, religious upper-middle-class white kids and their mocking, singling-out and persecuting of the kids who are different – minorities, the asthmatic Jewish kid (played wonderfully by a young David Krumholtz) and of course, Pugsly and Wednesday Addams. This movie is also so fast-paced it’s almost unbelievable. In 97 short minutes, so much shenanigans happens. Hell, in the first seven minutes of the movie, almost twelve things happen. Raul Julia, Anjelica Houston, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lloyd and Carol Kane are all back as the Addams family, and they’re all in top form. Gomez and Morticia have a new baby that Wednesday and Pugsly are trying to kill, and this gold-digging, pastel-wearing, serial-killing sociopath, brilliantly played by Joan Cusack, is trying to marry Uncle Fester to kill him and inherit all of his wealth. Peter MacNicol and Christine Baranski are also wonderful as the camp counselors, and Nathan Lane even has a small role as a cop. For a movie with so much attempted baby homicide, this is really entertaining.
When Should You Watch It?: Show this one to your kids when they get off school for Thanksgiving break. Make it a fun parent/child activity before you task them with helping out in the kitchen.
Genevieve’s Comments: When people talk about the sequels being better than the original, they often bring up Godfather II, but to me the crown firmly belongs to Addams Family Values (and Paddington 2, but that’s a topic for another time). As I was a weird, dark-haired kid who grew up in a sea of cheerful blonde Amandas, there is no more thrilling scene in film history than the vengeful takeover of the camp Thanksgiving play. I longed for a boyfriend like David Krumholtz, who I’m glad to see is making his second appearance on this list. Every millennial woman I know who is even slightly goth-y has been low-key in love with him since the early ’90s. Speaking of romantic ideals, Morticia and Gomez Addams are the hottest married couple and it’s not close. I haven’t even gotten to the wonderful Joan Cusack, who is always a welcome addition to anything but especially when she’s playing a deranged gold digger. This is a perfect movie, and we should all watch it year round.
Where Should You Watch It?: Netflix
5. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
Why Should You Watch It?: Hannah and Her Sisters is Big Mac bookended by Thanksgiving family celebrations. That means there is one which opens the film, one which closes the film, and one somewhere in the middle, like the middle bun in a delicious McDonald’s Big Mac. The opening celebration introduces you to a seemingly charming family but slowly reveals little dysfunctions within. Michael Caine is married to a woman (Mia Farrow) but being a creeper with her youngest sister (Barbara Hershey). The middle sister (Dianne Wiest) is awkwardly asking the oldest sister (Mia Farrow) for money for her catering business aptly titled “Stanislavsky Catering Company” but is met with a “Hey, this isn’t for cocaine this time, is it?” The movie then jumps into the following year to see how their little gambits play out, mostly terrible. Then we’re back at Thanksgiving again, where promise is on the horizon, we see their years play out mostly amiably. Then we close on the following Thanksgiving, some lives significantly different, some the exact same. It’s not about Thanksgiving in the traditional sense, but it’s about family and how we’re always thrust together whether we like it or not. It’s also remarkably written both from a dialogue and structure perspective, I’d argue Woody Allen‘s best work, and Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest both won Oscars for it. Wiest, in particular, is brilliant here as the odd duck sister. It made me want to do cocaine with Dianne Wiest.
When Should You Watch It?: This isn’t really a family movie with all the sex, cocaine and Woody Allen, so I’d say maybe a couple nights before Thanksgiving, maybe after a day of heavy grocery shopping.
Genevieve’s Comments: Look, there are plenty of reasons not to fuck with Woody Allen any more. But if you still do, Hannah and Her Sisters endures as one of his best films and is among the strongest of Thanksgiving movies. The complex nature of families is a big topic in Thanksgiving films, and Hannah and Her Sisters handles it with humor and grace. It helps that the film is anchored by three badass women, including Dianne Wiest who is just amazing in this movie. The men are all garbage. Michael Caine plays a straight-up sociopath. He tells Barbara Hershey to read E.E. Cummings like that isn’t a well known poet and she isn’t a well-educated woman in her late thirties. Gents, we know about E.E. Cummings and classical music; you don’t have to give us homework. I hope there’s a future Thanksgiving where the sisters have ditched all these men and are just living their best lives.
Where Should You Watch It?: Starz
4. Son in Law (1993)
Why Should You Watch It?: This was a movie I always used to watch the Wednesday before Thanksgiving growing up because it was always on TV. It’s a terrible film, but it’s a compulsively fun watch and I guess one of the better films in Pauly Shore‘s oeuvre. Shore plays this grungy 30-year-old man attending college named Crawl. This gorgeous girl from his college (Carla Gugino) who he has a crush on, takes him home to her family’s farm for Thanksgiving. Immediately everyone thinks Crawl is a real turd and starts calling him “Crap.” Still, he’s trying to make his college crush fall in love with him but she has a hometown boyfriend who is pressuring her into marriage while screwing around on her with a Baywatch actress. Can the weirdest, most unfuckable dude score with Carla Gugino? Only in the movies!
When Should You Watch It?: The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, on your phone, while you’re at work. It’s what Crawl would do.
Genevieve’s Comments: The first Thanksgiving back home from college is always uniquely weird. You bust back into town with new clothes, new hair and new ideas. And even though it’s been a few months, your old digs look smaller, dingier, more quaint. Perhaps nothing characterizes that odd metamorphosis better than Son In Law. Crawl may be a student, but he sure teaches a North Dakotan farming community how to live and how to love. And he rides the hell out of a pig to boot. While it’s hard to argue that Son In Law is a great movie, it’s better and more charming than you might think.
Where Should You Watch It?: $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime
3. Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
Why Should You Watch It?: Let’s just be straight. If you wanna be somebody. If you wanna go somewhere. You better wake up, and paaaayyyyyyyy attention. That’s what Sister Mary Clarence (the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg), a Vegas showgirl posing as a nun, has to say to these kids. The kids are members of a Catholic School that Big Education wants to shut down. They have nothing worth saving at this Catholic school so Whoopers is asked by Sister Maggie Smith and Kathy Najimy to pose as a music teacher and make choir students into superstars. She succeeds, of course. She’s Whoopi Goldberg! This is a fun movie I’ve been watching around Thanksgiving for the past decade or so. Why? Because it’s the epitome of a cheesy but warm, inspirational feel-good movie. It also introduced the world to Lauryn Hill.
When Should You Watch It?: As soon as your relatives fly in. Just park them in front of the TV while you get that last-minute cleaning done.
Genevieve’s Comments: Who doesn’t want to spend Thanksgiving with infectious R&B-infused gospel and visions of the stunning Lauryn Hill reverberating through our heads? Harken back to a simpler time when Whoopie Goldberg was in pretty much every movie, and we were much better for it. As a bonus, you also get sly commentary on the potentially transformative power of a quality arts education in schools. Art makes everything better, bitches!
Where Should You Watch It?: Disney+
2. The Ice Storm (1997)
Why Should You Watch It?: Speaking of WASPs, good mama! Ang Lee’s fascinating but crushingly sad, The Ice Storm, uses eastern music and Asian visual flair to tell a story about trouble in white suburbia almost like an old Buddhist morality play. Set over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973 Connecticut, the story follows a seemingly healthy (but anything but) family. There’s the lecherous adulterer father (Kevin Kline) having an affair with a frigid and cruel housewife (Sigourney Weaver), the wound-too-tight mom (Joan Allen), the angsty, Nixon-hating 14-year-old daughter (Christina Ricci), and the 16-year-old nerdy son (Tobey Maguire) returning home from boarding school. Rounding out the cast is a very young Elijah Wood and Allison Janney. It’s extremely powerful and rewarding stuff.
When Should You Watch It?: Thanksgiving evening, after all your guests have left and you’ve just finished washing three rounds of dishes and wiping off all your counters. Grab a bottle of wine, curse, and mumble to yourself about who was a pain in the ass that year, and press play on Ang Lee‘s The Ice Storm.
Genevieve’s Comments: I can confidently say that no other film has taught me more about key parties and winter storm safety. The early 1970s were characterized by a creeping malaise brought on by the Nixon presidency, the Vietnam War and avocado green being a dominant color. And that malaise is personified by two upper-class Connecticut families trying to deal with a gnawing ennui with sex, drugs and ignoring inclement weather bulletins. Also, The Ice Storm marks the third inclusion of a movie with David Krumholtz on this list. Both he and Tobey Maguire compete for the affections of Katie Holmes, and it’s no surprise that our beautiful boy David comes out on top. If that’s not enough to sell you on it, Little Man Tate also gets laid in this.
Where Should You Watch It?: $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime
1. Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
Why Should You Watch It?: It’s the definitive Thanksgiving movie because it takes two comedy icons at the height of their careers and merges them together in a way that conveys a tumultuous odd couple while somehow still coming across as completely, 100% harmonious. It has a fantastic, tight screenplay on top of that, one doesn’t drag, that manages to land its comedic and heartfelt moments with equal power. Steve Martin is great, especially his major “fuck” monologue”, but the film ultimately belongs to the late John Candy who just about brings you to tears in the more tender moments. Twenty-three years later they remade it as a Robert Downey, Jr. / Zach Galifiniakis project called Due Date. It’s nowhere near as good as Downey, Jr and Galifinakis have nowhere near the chemistry that Martin and Candy had.
When Should You Watch It?: Thanksgiving with family…if they’re cool. If they aren’t cool, watch it without them and bar them from your house. They’re not cool people, you don’t need them in your life. They’re holding you back. Cut ties.
Genevieve’s Comments: This is arguably the quintessential Thanksgiving movie, and yet it maybe shows only a few seconds of an imagined Thanksgiving dinner? Steve Martin, John Candy and a murderers’ row of side characters are marvelous as they navigate holiday travel gone horribly awry. I don’t think any movie before or since has ever captured so elegantly the specific melancholy of traveling from Kansas to Illinois in cold weather. I can’t watch this without thinking of the back stories I’ve cooked up for Neal (Martin) and Del (Candy). Fussbudget Neal has clearly been estranged from his family, probably because he blew up at his family on the fourth of July. Banished until he gets his temper under control, the missus finally agrees to reunite and give him another chance, but only if he can make it by Thanksgiving. And I think we can all agree that Del’s wife Marie died eight years before in a mysterious hit and run, and ever since he’s been roaming the North American transportation system trying to avenge her death under the guise of being a shower curtain salesman. Del and Neal may seem like a ragtag team, but in each other they have found a brotherhood forged in the fire of a Chrysler Le Baron.
Where Should You Watch It?: $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime
Before Margetis invited me to help with this post, I did my own little research project where I decided to watch all the Thanksgiving movies this month. They included everything from movies that center on Thanksgiving to movies with a Thanksgiving scene or two to movies with “Thanksgiving vibes.” At this point, I’ve seen so many sad, dysfunctional families eat turkey in New England that I can hardly look at a J. Crew sweater without crying. The following is a selection of some of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in my extensive studies, but you can see everything I watched here: https://letterboxd.com/genevieverice/list/thanksgiving-movies/.
10. The House of Yes (1997)
Why Should You Watch It?: I know I’m coming in real hot by making my first movie suggestion about mental illness, incest and the JFK assassination, but hear me out. The House of Yes isn’t a masterpiece, but it is captivating and nothing out there is quite like it. Set on the 20th anniversary of JFK’s fatal shooting and right before Thanksgiving, Parker Posey stars as Jackie, a mentally ill young woman fixated on Jackie Kennedy. She lives in a stately house with her resigned mother (Genevieve Bujold) and her goony younger brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze, Jr.). Rounding out the clan is Jackie’s twin brother Mason (Josh Hamilton), who comes home from college, and much to everyone’s horror, brings along a surprise fiance Lesly (Tori Spelling). The family isn’t exactly welcoming to the sweet, naive Lesly. They make it abundantly clear that she has disrupted the status quo, which, to clarify, is Jackie and Mason reenacting the JFK assassination and then going to pound town on each other. Posey is absolutely phenomenal in this, and it’s worth it for her performance alone. Spelling got a Razzie nomination for her trouble, but honestly, who better to play a young woman out of her depth? The House of Yes is based on a play, which I think is a more effective medium for it than film. Playwright Wendy MacLeod has said that the play was inspired by the insularity of the upper class and “people who have never been said no to.” Honestly, what could be better for Thanksgiving? Lots of other things, but at least you won’t forget this one any time soon.
When Should You Watch It?: On November 22, the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, naturally. Bonus points if you watch it with a family member you are currently fucking.
Margetis’ Comments: I really didn’t care for this when I saw it last holiday season, but I was really blown away by Parker Posey‘s performance. The actor and her character deserve a better movie. I thought Josh Hamilton was weak as her brother but we’re really just dancing around the elephant in the room. This is a movie a comedy about incest, which is super tricky and while it doesn’t come across as outrageously offensive, it just comes across as not funny. I wish I could consult my notes from when I watched this last year, but I didn’t take any cause I just watched this for fun. Jokes on me I guess.
Where Should You Watch It?: Showtime
9. The Daytrippers (1997)
Why Should You Watch It?: Most of the action of this ‘90s indie takes place immediately after Thanksgiving, but don’t worry, it still has that Thanksgiving vibe. Eliza (Hope Davis) and her husband Louis (Stanley Tucci) seem to be a loving couple, but Eliza finds a mysterious letter addressed to her husband that indicates he’s possibly had an affair. So Naturally, Eliza turns to her Long Island family, including overbearing mom (Ann Meara), reticent dad (Pat McNamara), bored sister (Parker Posey) and her sister’s high-minded boyfriend (Liev Scriebner). So they all pack into the station wagon to travel to New York City to help Eliza piece together the puzzle, lend her their support and maybe get some jasmine tea blends. I love the oddball energy and surprising emotional punch of this debut from writer/director Greg Mottolla (Adventureland, Superbad). A terrific cast really makes fun, quirky fare into something real and grounded. I particularly love Scriebner in this. He plays a walking, talking essay sort that ‘90s indies were so fond of but manages to imbue him with this really endearing sweetness. If cramming into a car with your family to do some boundary-overstepping sleuthing doesn’t say Thanksgiving to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.
When Should You Watch It?: The day after Thanksgiving, preferably with your entire meddling family.
Margetis’ Comments: I really liked this when I watched it last year, especially the performances of Liev Schrieber and Anne Meara. I didn’t love that ending though, and I’m a big Stanley Tucci guy. Made me audibly groan, as well as the corgi I was dogsitting that weekend. I think this is the best of the mid 90s indie comedies about suburban young folks.
Where Should You Watch It?: HBOMax
8. Rocky (1976)
Why Should You Watch It?: That’s right, Rocky’s a Thanksgiving movie! What I love about Rocky is that, if you haven’t seen it, you probably think it’s just this big-time sports movie, but really it’s about these two goofballs falling in love with a little bit of boxing thrown in there. Rocky walked so that Ted Lasso and other sports shows that aren’t really about sports can run. The eponymous Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is an amateur boxer and occasional thumb breaker for a local bookie who is sweet on Adrian (Talia Shire), a mousy clerk at the pet shop where Rocky frequently gets supplies for his turtles (that’s right, Rocky’s a turtle man). Adrian won’t give him the time of day, so he appeals to his corner man and Adrian’s brother Paulie (Burt Young) for help. Paulie helps the best way he can, which is surprising Adrian by bringing home Rocky on Thanksgiving. It gets off to a, um, rocky start with Adrian hiding in her room and Paulie throwing the turkey out into the alley (I believe they call this a Philly Goodbye) to get her to leave with Rocky. But thankfully things improve as Rocky convinces an ice skating rink to open for a few minutes for them to have what has to be, if by nothing but default, the best Thanksgiving date ever. Eventually, they fall in love, and heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) plucks Rocky out of obscurity for a life-changing match. I feel like Rocky gets overlooked, but you can’t make a sequel with a robot if the original wasn’t pretty great.
When Should You Watch It?: The best time to watch this is immediately after someone has thrown your turkey away out in the alley. But even if that doesn’t happen to you, this is a good after Thanksgiving watch. There’s nothing better than watching someone else do sports when you yourself are stuffed to the gills.
Margetis’ Comments: Watched this for the first time earlier this year, along with all the other Rocky movies. This is a really good, feel-good underdog story that absolutely should not have won Best Picture over Network, Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men, but hey, it’s pretty inoffensive. Well, except for Paulie (Burt Young). He’s a real piece of crap and he ruins Thanksgiving. He’s maybe the biggest low-key villain of the franchise.
Where Should You Watch It?: HBOMax
7. Avalon (1990)
Why Should You Watch It?: Bickering with your family at Thanksgiving is a cornerstone of the holiday as much as sweet potato casserole. Providing one of the best examples of this is Avalon, which follows three generations of a Jewish-American family in Baltimore as they marvel at, assimilate into and chafe against life in America. First generation includes Sam (the fantastic Armin Mueller-Stahl), his brothers Hymie (Leo Fuchs) and Gabriel (Lou Jacobi) and his wife Eva (Joan Plowright), all Polish immigrants enamored of America and its opportunities. The next generation includes Sam’s son Jules (Aidan Quinn), his wife Ann (Elizabeth Perkins), Jules’ cousin Izzy (Kevin Pollak) and his wife Dottie (Eve Gordon), who Americanize their last names, achieve success and move out to the suburbs, much to the consternation of their elders. And the third generation is repped by Michael (Elijah Wood, who was the most beautiful child. My ovaries hurt just looking at his big, blue eyes), who is obsessed with TV and movies. Based loosely on director Barry Levinson’s own family who emigrated from Poland to America around the beginning of the 20th century, Avalon has a lot of lightly comedic moments big and small that feel genuine to being in a big, loud, opinionated family. There’s even several Thanksgiving scenes, including a particularly memorable one where Gabriel loses his shit when they cut the turkey without him.
When Should You Watch It?: I recommend watching this before cooking because it has some good info on fire safety, but try to do it before you cut the turkey too early and cause a years-long rift with your brother.
Margetis’ Comments: I’ve heard of this but never seen it. It’s in a blind spot of late 80s/early 90s mild dramas that I just seemed to miss. I’ve always heard lukewarm things if I heard anything at all, but I do love me some Armin Mueller Stahl.
Where Should You Watch It?: Amazon Prime
6. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Why Should You Watch It?: I should clarify that A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is more a television special than a movie. As something that has become an annual watch in North American households for nearly 50 years, I think it’s firmly in its own category and, at the very least, worthy of mention on a blog post by two randos. Anyways, if you’re mad about it, you can stay that way until you’re in your grave. In A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown is all set for Thanksgiving at his grandparents when he gets a call from Peppermint Patty. She tells him her parents are out of town (!!) and invites herself over to his house for Thanksgiving. And quicker than you can call child protective services, Marcie and Franklin have added themselves to the guest list. Understandably overwhelmed as he is an eight-year-old child forced to throw a last-minute party, Charlie Brown enlists the culinary services of Snoopy, Woodstock and Linus to help him set up a ping-pong table and make a feast of toast, popcorn, pretzels and jelly beans. Honestly, they kinda kill it. But Peppermint Patty is not impressed at all and is not quiet about it (I’m starting to see why her parents left her alone tbh). Awkwardness ensues until Charlie’s grandmother saves the day by inviting the whole gang over to Thanksgiving at her place. Although not as well known as the Peanuts’ Christmas and Halloween specials, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a delightful little romp about the holiday and child neglect.
When Should You Watch It?: At a mere 25 minutes, this is a really good one to watch with the kiddos. But be sure to leave plenty of time after to field questions such as, “Where are their parents,” “Why doesn’t our dog cook Thanksgiving,” and “Why is everyone such a dirty dick to Charlie Brown?”
Margetis’ Comments: Yeah, it’s fun! It’s a classic! There’s really nothing wrong with it from what I can remember. But I’ve never really been a big Peanuts guy (more into pistachios), even though one of my all-time favorite stage roles was playing Snoopy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. That’s a great musical!
Where Should You Watch It?: Apple TV+
5. The Oath (2018)
Why Should You Watch It?: In the past few years, political issues have gotten more heated, creating chasms in families and making for some awkward holiday gatherings. Look, some of us think hot dogs are sandwiches, and some of us are right. The Oath sends up these political differences in a smart, fully satire written, directed and starred in by The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz. Set in the near future, Americans are asked to sign a vague but ominous-sounding oath by Black Friday. Chris Montana (Ike Barinholtz) is a staunch hold out on signing it, but many in his life feel differently like, for instance, his conservative brother (Ike’s real-life brother Jon Barinholtz), his girlfriend (a delightfully shitty Meredith Hagner) and his parents (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis). Or his sister (Carrie Brownstein) who signed it just to avoid trouble. And then there’s his politically aligned but over-it wife (Tiffany Haddish) who wishes he’d just stop ranting. They’re all gathering together for Thanksgiving where Chris has agreed not to bring up politics and keep the peace. But as increasing unrest from the outside world over the oath spills into their festivities, all bets are off. Like politics, black comedies can be divisive, and this won’t work for everyone, particularly the surprisingly violent third act. But in my humble opinion, The Oath deftly and hilariously takes on a scenario that, unfortunately, a lot of us will experience.
When Should You Watch It?: Before Thanksgiving, particularly if you’re gearing up for a Turkey Day feast this year with relatives who think Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero and not a murderous sack of Miracle Whip.
Margetis’ Comments: Never seen this. Ike Barinholtz didn’t sell me, I guess. I remember seeing it pop up places but I never watched it.
Where Should You Watch It?: Kanopy (free with a library card)
4. Krisha (2015)
Why Should You Watch It?: You’re goddamn right I’m going to try to get to watch an A24 film. And what a film. Krisha is an absolute triumph and, a word of warning, not an easy watch, particularly if you or your family has been through the ringer with addiction. The titular Krisha (a phenomenal Krisha Fairchild) is an older woman in recovery from many decades of alcohol and drug abuse.Trying to make good for a long history that includes abandoning her son Trey (Trey Edward Shults, the director of this film), Krisha offers to cook Thanksgiving for her large extended family at the home of her sister (Robyn Fairchild). Though Krisha is visibly nervous, the cooking starts well. But as she gets overwhelmed by the task of cooking and the sky-high hopes she’s put on the day, Krisha crumples under pressure, gives into urges to use alcohol and drugs and devolves into a sloppy, loaded mess. Made for a mere $30,000 with many of his own relatives over a few days, Krisha is one of the best films I’ve seen that deals with the ugliness of addiction and its effect on loved ones. At times, it feels like a documentary with many lived-in details that could only come from having direct experience with just this sort of thing. If the above description doesn’t sell you on watching Krisha, it will definitely make you feel better about your Thanksgiving cooking.
When Should You Watch It?: Definitely when you are sober because, well, Jesus Christ.
Margetis’ Comments: Out of all the Thanksgiving movies on this list, this is probably the best film. It’s impressive seeing what Trey Edward Shults can do with such a small budget and a really talented unknown actress, Krisha Fairchild, just knocks it out of the park. Did she win anything for this? She should have. This is easily the most disturbing movie on either of our lists, especially the last ten minutes which give Uncut Gems a real run for its money in terms of edge-of-your-seat squirmies.
Where Should You Watch It?: Showtime
3. Alice’s Restaurant (1969)
Why Should You Watch It?: Based on Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” Alice’s Restaurant is the feature film version of the 18-minute 1965 folk song, which is an exaggerated but largely true story from Arlo’s own life. The song has become an enduring Thanksgiving tradition, with many rock stations around the country playing it annually on the big day. Starring as himself, Arlo is a college dropout looking to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. He visits his friends Alice (Pat Quinn) and Ray (James Broderick) in Western Massachusetts who run the eponymous restaurant and have taken up residence in a desecrated church. Alice and Ray throw a lovely Thanksgiving for Arlo and a lot of their friends in the church and to thank them, Arlo and some buddies offer to throw away trash from the feast. Finding the local dump closed, Arlo and friends dump the garbage elsewhere. This attracts the ire of the local police, who arrest Arlo and pals and then launch into a rather elaborate investigation that, for all their trouble, results in simply a $25 fine. Later in the movie, Arlo gets called up to a military induction center for the draft. To avoid being drafted, Arlo pulls out all the stops, including acting like a homicidal maniac. But the thing that gets him declared unfit for service is the littering charge. Now I’ve had some good Thanksgivings, but I’ve never had a Thanksgiving so good that it got me out of going to war. Alice’s Restaurant provides a fascinating look at the counterculture movement of the 1960s and a sly takedown of mainstream society and its strict adherence to rules. Also, it’s kinda refreshing to see littering save some lives for once.
When Should You Watch It?: Watch it at noon on Thanksgiving when many rock stations play it annually.
Margetis’ Comments: Big fan of the song, never seen the movie. Who’s that naked 12-year-old in the bowler hat?
Where Should You Watch It?: YouTube
2. Pieces of April (2003)
Why Should You Watch It?: For many, cooking your first Thanksgiving is a rite of passage. Putting on a successful Thanksgiving says something about you; if you can cook a turkey to perfection, what else can you do to perfection? Alternately, messing up Thanksgiving not only ruins the meal but tells the world you just don’t really have your shit together. There are parts of Oklahoma I can never return to because my stuffing was a touch too dry one year. In Pieces of April, black sheep April (a pre-Tom Cruise, gothed-out Katie Holmes) is desperately trying to redeem herself via a literal trial by fire by putting on Thanksgiving in her tiny New York apartment for her estranged family. Making their way to April’s is her cautiously optimistic dad (Oliver Platt), insufferable sister (Alison Pill), overlooked brother (John Gallagher, Jr.), senile grandmother (Alice Drummond) and last but not least her critical mom who is losing her battle with breast cancer (Patricia Clark, who knocks this shit out of the park). The stakes were already very high, and they get even higher as April’s oven goes out and she must turn to a series of neighbors (including the instructive Evette and Eugene and the fickle Wayne) to help finish the big job as her family gets closer and closer. It’s like Run Lola Run but with Waldorf salad and enduring disappointment instead of a bag of money and being killed by the German mob. Excellent performances, a great script and emotional poignancy make this low-budget film into a must watch for Thanksgiving and beyond.
When Should You Watch It?: Pretty much any time except when you are cooking Thanksgiving on a working oven because that would make you smug as hell.
Margetis’ Comments: Very indicative of the late 90s/early 2000s indie comedies. This one is pretty good but features an outstanding, Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson, in one of her best roles.
Where Should You Watch It?: Amazon Prime
1. Home for the Holidays (1994)
Why Should You Watch It?: Before I decided to do this Thanksgiving movie challenge this year, I could only name a few movies that had more than a passing mention of the holiday. The first was Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and the second was Home for the Holidays, a charming dysfunctional family dramedy from the ‘90s. Following getting fired from her job, learning that her teenage daughter Kit (Claire Danes, in a part I wish was larger) plans to lose her virginity and coming down with a cold, Claudia (the excellent Holly Hunter) is dreading returning to her hometown of Baltimore for Thanksgiving with the rest of the Larsen family. Her favorite, the impish Tommy (Robert Downey, Jr.), won’t be there to face it with her, so that leaves her sweet but detached father (Charles Durning), high-strung mother (Anne Bancroft), doddering aunt (Geraldine Chaplin), embittered conservative sister and brother-in-law (Cynthia Stevenson and Steve Guttenberg, who frowns the hardest I’ve ever seen a person frown) and their two entitled children. Tommy ends up making it after all, bringing with him a charismatic, handsome new friend (Dylan McDermott). The big dinner starts, and it’s a mess, with secrets revealed, resentments aired and turkeys flung. It’s an imperfect movie that sometimes suffers from trying to be too quirky for its own good, but it’s also the strongest cinematic representation of complicated family dynamics during the holiday. As Tommy puts it, “You’re a pain in my ass, and you have bad hair, but I like you a lot.”
When Should You Watch It?: After you’ve returned home from Thanksgiving, mostly to gloat about how much better your Thanksgiving went than it did for the Larsen family.
Margetis’ Comments: I really didn’t like this, none of the jokes were landing for me and none of the characters seemed to talk like human beings. The cast is great though – Holly Hunter, RDJ, Charles Durning, Cynthia Stevenson, Dylan McDermott – they try their best but the characters are just so…strange, and not in a way that checks out. Is the aunt a 30-year-old actress in bad high school stage makeup? It seems like it’s trying to be like “this is what family is like on Thanksgiving” but unless you live on Neptune, I don’t see how this is anyone’s family. Steve Guttenberg is terrrrrible, just sitting at the dinner table, making an over-the-top mad face. He’s like that older divorced dad in your acting class that quite seem to grasp the craft. I think Claire Danes choosing to lose her virginity and being super organized about it would have made for a better movie. I just think Claire Danes could have saved this movie if they gave her a chance.
Where Should You Watch It?: Free on Roku Channel
Margetis’ 2 Favorite Thanksgiving TV Episodes
Frasier – “A Lilith Thanksgiving”
MARGETIS: My favorite sitcom of all time, Frasier, is a spin-off of the popular 80s TV series, Cheers. So it makes sense for the festivities of Thanksgiving, Frasier would bring back one of Cheers’ most beloved characters – Frasier’s hilariously frigid and sarcastic ex-wife, Lilith (played to utter perfection by Bebe Neuwirth). The two are obsessed with getting their young child, Freddy, into a bougey boarding school for rich buttheads, so on the day of Thanksgiving, they leave their son behind in the care of Niles and Martin to meet with the school’s prudish headmaster. It basically devolves into them kissing his rump but becoming so obsessed with their son getting into the school that they make up some lie about Golda Meir. It’s a 22-minute laugh riot but one wishes the Martin/Niles/Freddy B-storyline was a bit stronger. BEST LINE: “I’ve got pills for everything!” – Freddy
GENEVIEVE: The Lilith episodes of Frasier are just the best. Niles always went particularly hard with the barbs, like this one:
Martin: Why does Lilith have to tag along anyway?
Frasier: Well, she just didn’t want to spend the holiday alone. Her husband is off in New Zealand exploring a volcano.
Martin: Well why couldn’t she go with him?
Niles: Well because if she accidentally fell in, the shockwave from the hottest thing in nature meeting the coldest would actually crack the Earth in two.
I also laughed harder at Frederick getting progressively more injured from spending an afternoon with Niles and Martin than I should probably freely admit. There’s no way in hell that kid didn’t turn out to be a complete monster.
The Sopranos – “He Is Risen”
MARGETIS: While not one of the better episodes of the series, The Sopranos‘ sole Thanksgiving episode, He Is Risen, is better than most Thanksgiving episodes. Turkey day is drawing near and Tony is still reeling over Ralphie beating that stripper to death in the Bada Bing parking lot. So much so he wants Carmela to cancel Thanksgiving with Rosalie and Ralphie. Tony has to decide if he wants to whack this meatball or not but before that, he has to deal with Janice’s new, born-again narcoleptic boyfriend. “Have you heard the good news?” Sleepy Aaron asks every time after waking up (I think he asks four or five times throughout the episode.) But it’s not all meal day horseplay, Gigi Cestone, captain of Ralphie’s crew, dies of a sudden heart attack while taking a massive shit and jerking off. Now, Tony has to consider making Ralphie a captain, after he murdered that poor woman. While Tony chews on that, guest star Annabella Sciorra shows up to make him chew on her garter belt. This episode is also responsible for my favorite @millennialsopranos Instagram meme (pictured above).
GENEVIEVE: Indeed, this is a terrific Thanksgiving episode. It’s not surprising; I feel like The Sopranos has a Thanksgiving vibe. It’s a show all about families coming together, feasting on good food and New Jersey, which is in the Northeast and that’s where Thanksgiving started.
On a personal note, I looked up how old James Gandolfini is in this episode, and he was the same age as I am now. Sorry, I don’t know what you are supposed to do with this information either.
WKRP in Cincinnati – “Turkeys Away” (Season 1, Episode 7)
GENEVIEVE: WKRP in Cincinnati may have faded from the collective consciousness, but it remains one of the best workplace comedies ever made. And it’s for sure the best Cincinnati TV show every made (take that, Harry’s Law!). Following a drastic format change to Top 40/Rock a few months earlier, station manager Arthur Carlson (Gordon Jump) is feeling a bit left out as his young, hip staff competently keeps the station humming along. He longs to be more involved, much to the annoyance of everyone. So, he cooks up a Thanksgiving promotion that will simply require “complete cooperation, absolute secrecy and 20 live turkeys.” He enlists the help of neurotic newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) to report on location and cloddish sales manager Herb Tarlek (Frank Bonner, whom we lost just this year) to find the live turkeys and ride with Arthur in the helicopter. The stunt goes about as well as expected with Les recounting the chaos of turkeys descending upon a crowded mall parking lot. Afterwards, Arthur and Herb return to the office disheartened and bedraggled, and Arthur delivers what might be the best line to end a television episode in the history of the medium. Unfortunately, WKRP isn’t streaming anywhere, but you can buy the episode on Apple TV for $1.99 or spring for the entire 22-episode first season for $9.99.
MARGETIS: Never seen this, is this one of those old-timey comedy shows? Seriously though, I’ve heard great things about this but just never got around to watching it.
Master of None – “Thanksgiving” (Season 2, Episode 8)
GENEVIEVE: Master of None can be somewhat inconsistent, but its piecemeal approach to episodes can yield some bold, inventive episodes like “Thanksgiving.” It also helps that episode focuses less on Aziz Ansari’s Dev and more on his longtime pal Denise (Lena Waithe) and her decades long struggle to come out to her family on Thanksgiving. Starting in the early 1990s and ending in modern day, Dev joins Denise and her family for the festivities, cooked by her stern but loving mother Catherine (the excellent Angela Bassett), fun aunt Joyce (Kym Whitley) and darling grandmother Ernestine (Venida Evans). In the early years, Denise chafes against her mother’s high expectations, not helping with meal prep, refusing to wear a frilly dress and smoking weed with Dev. Denise eventually comes out to Dev, who accepts her readily, and later to her mom, who is less than pleased. Catherine knows that life is hard enough for black women, so being gay will make it all that much harder. But through the years we see Catherine warm to her daughter’s sexuality, even bonding with Denise’s impressive girlfriend Michelle (Ebony Obsidian) over her lack of fashion sense. This episode even serves up two killer movie Thanksgiving movie recommendations, The Godfather and Boyz N the Hood. You can find Master of None on Netflix.
MARGETIS: This is probably the best episode of the entire show, really everything you want in a Thanksgiving dramedy boiled down to a half-hour runtime.
AND FINALLY, IF YOU REALLY HATE YOURSELF
MARGETIS: It’s important to remember that ThanksKilling was not a theatrically released film but a Loyola Marymount final project from an undergraduate film student. However, because it’s a holiday-themed horror movie it was quickly and continually purchased by streamers like Netflix and Amazon Prime. I’m sure every other film project in that class was superior in quality to ThanksKilling, but none made a fraction of the amount of money this did. I remember seeing this on Netflix during college and thinking that maybe the filmmaker was really talented and commenting on bad horror movies and then I realized I was being dumb. This is an awful, tasteless, frequently misogynistic and always stupid shoe-string budget horror film complete with lifeless performances and garbage dialogue. The first line of the movie is – “Nice tits, bitch!” – spoken by an evil turkey to a plus-size porn actress dressed as a pilgrim with her boobs hanging out of her frock for no reason. The turkey says this line right before murdering her with an ax which cues the opening credit sequence that was definitely made in Microsoft Paint. It only gets worse from there with a couple of painful music montages, poop in coffee, a turkey rape scene, and a reoccurring Jon Benet Ramsay joke that gets dumber every time. If you like truly terrible movies you might squeeze some enjoyment out of ThanksKilling.
GENEVIEVE: This year, I’m thankful for one thing, and it’s that Thankskilling is just 70 minutes. While it’s no masterpiece and seems to delight in being aggressively awful, it does include my all-time favorite way of asking for a divorce (and my least favorite way to destroy a coffee pot). I watched this on Pluto and found the lightning-fast transitions from Turkie calling someone a “f—–t” to commercials for dish soap to be pretty damn jarring.