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Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The 20 best Thanksgiving movies for your post-feast viewing

Save room for these delectable cinematic sides – the 20 best Thanksgiving movies to finish off your feast

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Andy Kryza
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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... except maybe the one about actual turkeys

Best Thanksgiving movies

  • 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.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

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. Candy finds the perfect foil in Steve Martin’s tightly wound traveling buddy, and director John Hughes found the best in both performers via a road movie that is at once hysterical and deeply forlorn. That gravy boat never seemed so distant.

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  • Movies
  • Comedy

The film takes place in summer (and Charles Addams’s macabre family brings vibes closer to Halloween), but this sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s well-loved ‘90s reboot earns its place in the Thanksgiving canon thanks to its most memorable sequence. Stuck in a WASP-y summer camp, Christina Ricci’s Wednesday is forced to act in a strangely timed Thanksgiving pageant. Yet instead of breaking bread with pilgrims, her Pocahontas stages a scene of righteous retribution, sending pilgrim limbs flying and stage blood gushing during a massacre that would do Tarantino proud. The sequence also includes Pugsley delivering the line: ‘I am a turkey, kill me’ while dressed as a bird during a twisted musical number. 

The Ice Storm (1997)
  • Movies

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. As you’ll see further down the list, the young actress had a thing for Thanksgiving disruptions.

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Avalon (1990)
  • Movies

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.

She's Gotta Have It (1986)
  • Movies
  • Comedy

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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Krisha (2015)
  • Movies
  • Drama

There are stressful Thanksgiving dinners, then there’s the feast at the center of indie powerhouse Krisha, the story of a family gathering completely disrupted by the return of an estranged aunt. We won’t reveal exactly how this grounded, gut-wrenching and semi-autobiographical film frays the nerves with such efficiency, but suffice to say that the family dinner at its centre somehow makes director Trey Edward Shults’s harrowing follow-up, It Comes At Night, seem welcoming… and that movie was an apocalyptic horror film, not a family drama set on Turkey Day. 

  • Movies
  • Comedy

Jodie Foster’s sophomore directorial effort is an ode to dysfunction that we all endure in the name of Thanksgiving, with Holly Hunter playing a single mom reuniting with her sparring blue-collar family over pumpkins pie and gravy. More grounded than the Griswolds and considerably less funny, the family at the center nonetheless brings the charm thanks to likable performances by Robert Downey Jr, Claire Danes and Anne Bancroft. It’s a slight film, but one that still hits close enough to home to warrant a revisit. 

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‘Thanksgiving’ (2007)

9. ‘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.

Scent of a Woman (1992)
  • Movies

Forever the film that finally won Al Pacino his Oscar (and thus, always a target for unfair comparisons to better films), 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)
  • Movies

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.

Rocky (1976)
  • Movies
  • Action and adventure

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.

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The Last Waltz (1978)
  • Movies
  • Documentary

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.

The House of Yes (1997)
  • Movies

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).

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  • Movies

Arlo ‘son of Woody’ Guthrie wrote perhaps the only enduring Thanksgiving comedy song of the pre-Adam Sandler era, so it only made sense that the singer starred in an Arthur Penn-directed film adaptation. Guthrie plays himself as a hippie hitchhiking back to his home back east, where he’s tasked with making an ill-fated dump run after Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a mixed bag and hard to find, but it remains a fascinating relic of cinema’s emerging countercultural boom. Plus, the song still holds up. 

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