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The eight best Thanksgiving movies

Save room for these delectable cinematic sides—the most excellent Thanksgiving movies to finish off your feast

Pieces of April

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, and while your stomach may already be growling with visions of golden fowl and the city's best pies, the holiday doesn't have one definitive film, unlike Christmas, which has so many classics. Rather, Thanksgiving is most commonly used as a dramatic springboard for domestic tensions (to add to your own family’s dysfunction around the table). But even while the collection of truly great Thanksgiving movies isn’t large, we can guarantee you there’s not a turkey in the bunch here. Any one of these eight would make an excellent choice as belts loosen and postdinner relaxation kicks in. Trust us—you can do better than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

RECOMMENDED: A full guide to Thanksgiving in NYC

Best Thanksgiving movies


Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Woody Allen used the annual holiday meal—and Mia Farrow's actual Central Park West apartment—as a repeated motif in one of his most sophisticated romantic comedies. Suffused with urbane chat and book-lined coziness, these scenes provide instant nostalgia for a generation of New Yorkers. Bonus T-day points: The movie is actually about giving thanks—to the people who love and endure you, to the fates that keep you healthy and to the Marx Brothers for providing a reason to live.

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The Ice Storm (1997)

A brittle Connecticut family comes together for its 1973 Thanksgiving weekend (laced with bad weather and marital recriminations) in Ang Lee's expert take on the Rick Moody novel. Christina Ricci, playing the subversive daughter, ruins the festive mood with her heavily politicized grace.

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Avalon (1990)

Assimilation chafes with tradition in Barry Levinson's magnificent evocation of 1950s Jewish life in Baltimore, a movie with a heartbreaker of a Thanksgiving argument. "You cut the turkey without me?" fumes an uncle late to the feast, as family tensions spill over into a fierce front-lawn confrontation.

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She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Spike Lee's essential indie debut boasts a snippy Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the lovely Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns), who invites three suitors to the same Brooklyn table. Lee's Mars Blackmon steals the night with his Jesse Jackson story and the retort, "What do you know? You're a Celtics fan."

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Gone too soon, John Candy gave one of his more deceptively complex performances in this bad-luck comedy about two business travelers flung together on an odyssey after their Thanksgiving flight is waylaid in Kansas. That gravy boat never seemed so distant.

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“Thanksgiving” (2007)

Barely two minutes long and not for the squeamish, Eli Roth’s hilarious and disgusting contribution to Grindhouse is a fake trailer for a feature we wish he’d actually make. “White meat…dark meat…all will be carved,” says the croaking narrator as cheerleaders, jocks and one very unfortunate mascot get served up in fine slasher tradition. The gooey music comes from John Harrison’s score for Creepshow.

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Scent of a Woman (1992)

Forever the film that finally won Al Pacino his Oscar (and thus, always a target for unfair comparisons), this drama about the bonding between a blinded, alcoholic Army officer—“hoo-ah!”—and the young prep-school student who sees to his rages actually works perfectly fine as an afternoon diversion. A little shameless in parts, it’s the kind of charming, midsize Hollywood movie that’s all but extinct now.

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Pieces of April (2003)

Riding high with Dawson’s Creek, Katie Holmes confidently anchors this dark Sundance comedy about a young Lower East Sider who draws her bitter, broken relatives to her shitty apartment for a Thanksgiving reunion. The oven doesn’t work, Mom’s dying of breast cancer and everyone’s in a foul mood, but this one deserves a spin for its concentrated inventiveness and touching finish.

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One of the best Thanksgiving movies--one that celebrates what Thanksgiving is, or ought to be, about--is "What's Cooking?"  This film is certainly more worthy of mention than a creepy two minute trailer.