The best Thanksgiving movies aren’t nearly as well known as the best Christmas movies—of which there are tons, all of which make us cry. Still, Hollywood has used this most American of holidays to frame several fine stories of redemption, be they Academy-Award-winning sports movies like Rocky, Woody Allen comedies like Hannah and Her Sisters or even a short horror movie by Eli Roth (which we had to include). Get your fill at the table, then check out any one of these winners. Guaranteed: There’s not a turkey in the bunch.
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Best Thanksgiving movies
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.Watch it now
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.
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.
All hail the reigning champion of modern sports-underdog stories, in which a Philly bruiser (Sylvester Stallone, never this good again until Creed) gets a shot at the title—as opposed to, say, a one-way ticket to Palookaville. See it again just to relive the saddest Thanksgiving scene ever captured for a Hollywood film, one in which a turkey is flung out the front door by a furious Burt Young.
Until it was dethroned by Stop Making Sense, this was the greatest concert movie ever made: Ostensibly a farewell performance by the Band, it features everybody from Neil Young to Neil freakin’ Diamond. Director Martin Scorsese appears as well (and you can hear him asking questions). Why is it on our list? Because the concert takes place on November 25, 1976, a great day to give thanks for the music.
There's something quite lethal about Parker Posey in pearls, and for that alone, director Mark Waters deserves our gratitude. The film plays like The Rocky Horror Picture Show rewritten by August Strindberg and Oliver Stone: Josh Hamilton brings his fiancée Tori Spelling home to meet the family and the glamorous Jackie-O, as Posey styles herself. This film is quite insane, very arch and viciously funny (from a play by Wendy MacLeod).
More and more, this seems like the definitive Woody Allen comedy, a perfect balance of nebbishment and nourishment. Mia Farrow is virtually unrecognizable as a big-haired, brassy mob dame in love with a has-been Italian singer whose career the Woodman, playing a small-time manager, is trying desperately to ignite. A crucial scene with all of Danny’s loser clients assembled in his apartment for a frozen-turkey dinner is heartbreakingly sweet.
This compassionate indie revolves around precocious teenage boarding schooler Oscar (Aaron Stanford) returning home to Manhattan for Thanksgiving. Oscar has a crush on his charming stepmother, Eve (Sigourney Weaver), but his dogged, patently misguided offensive to win her heart falters after he gets drunk and mistakenly sleeps with Eve’s sexually voracious friend, Diane (a dynamite Bebe Neuwirth). Overlook the low-budget, DV-shot visuals.
After sharing a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, two rural Pennsylvania families discover that their young daughters have gone missing—possibly the victims of kidnapping. Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman star in this frequently engrossing and decidedly downbeat thriller directed by Denis Villeneuve (also of Sicario and Arrival). It might not be the one to watch after your meal, but remember it for later.
Once-promising actress turned lush Alex (Jane Fonda) wakes up on Thanksgiving Day to find, in her bed, a dead man with a knife through his heart. She panics and tries to flee the state, but thwarted by airport bureaucracy, ends up taking her chances with redneck ex-cop Turner (Jeff Bridges). Focusing on the central character's struggle toward a tentative moral redemption, director Sidney Lumet creates a film that's more intense than tense—the kind of character study that wizardly actors turn into triumphs.