Feast on the Best Thanksgiving Movies
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means we’re all looking for some Turkey Day movies to watch. Unfortunately, Thanksgiving isn’t quite as popular as Halloween and Christmas in terms of filmmaking. We have plenty of Halloween and Christmas classics, but not too many Thanksgiving classics. Fortunately, there are a few films and TV specials centered on Thanksgiving that can quickly become part of your tradition.
The one good thing about the lack of Thanksgiving films is that there is no precedent to follow. For example, Halloween films are inevitably expected to be scary, and Christmas films are expected to be feel-good and cheerful. With Thanksgiving, though, there aren’t many standards to abide by. As a result, Thanksgiving films come in an assortment of rom-coms, dramas, children’s films, and coming-of-age stories.
The Thanksgiving holiday is rarely the same for any two families. While some enjoy a more traditional family-centered Thanksgiving, others dread the holiday due to family dysfunction, grief, or loneliness. Here are 15 great Thanksgiving films to choose from.
Black Friday (2021)
If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving horror comedy, Black Friday is right up your alley. The 2021 film stars Bruce Campbell, Devon Sawa, Ivana Baquero, and Michael Jai White, and follows a group of retail workers who find themselves and their shoppers under attack by a parasitic organism while trying to work the hectic Black Friday shift.
Black Friday is quite fun, as long as you don’t take it too seriously. It’s not particularly groundbreaking and memorable, but it’s a watchable take on the holiday horror genre. There is lots of dark humor and gore, and the cast gives their all to the performances. Additionally, it does touch lightly on the bleaker side of Black Friday and how terrible shoppers can be to retail workers. Ultimately, Black Friday is a fun film for those who want some campy horror mixed into the holiday.
Home for the Holidays
Home for the Holidays is a dramedy that perfectly captures what it’s like to go home for the holidays when your family is less than ideal. Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) decides to attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving with her dysfunctional family rather than spend it alone as a single mother with a daughter who isn’t interested in spending the holiday with her.
Home for the Holidays is a lighthearted and hilarious take on holiday family get-togethers. It’s a familiar premise with the family reuniting and squabbling, but eventually coming away a little bit changed. It sometimes dips into family stereotypes, but it’s still a funny and entertaining ride. Viewers who can relate to family dysfunction will definitely enjoy it.
Instant Family isn’t explicitly a Thanksgiving film, but it does feature a Thanksgiving get-together, and its focus on family makes it a heartwarming film to watch over the holidays. The film follows Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne), a couple who decide to adopt a child from foster care after struggling with fertility. While they initially plan to foster one child, they end up fostering three children at once to keep a group of siblings together.
Instant Family is a fun and heartwarming depiction of family and foster care. It offers a glimpse at the triumphs and trials that foster parents face, including acknowledging the possibility of a foster child’s reunification with their parents and combating the stigma and stereotypes around foster care. While it may not get everything right about foster care, it does tackle a serious topic with authenticity and humor. The emphasis on family and how it encourages parents to consider foster care and adoption is a great sentiment to share during the holiday season.
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving is a Hallmark movie loosely based on Louisa May Alcott’s short story of the same name. The film follows Mary Bassett (Helene Joy), a widow struggling to provide for her children. However, when one of the children summons Bassett’s estranged mother for aid, it results in a very different Thanksgiving than the one they anticipated.
An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving is very much a Hallmark film; there’s a bit of the melodrama and cheesiness that typically comes with the branding. However, as long as viewers go in knowing to expect a made-for-TV film, it can be quite sweet and nostalgic. It definitely has an old-fashioned feel and delves into the topics of family estrangement and how asking for help can sometimes be challenging. Fans of Alcott will love this nostalgic and heartwarming depiction of the Bassett family as they learn about love, gratitude, and generosity.
The Turkey Bowl
The Turkey Bowl is a sports comedy that follows businessman Patrick Hodges (Ryan Hansen) as he’s tricked into returning to his hometown in Oklahoma to compete in the Turkey Bowl—a high-school football game between Hodges’ alma mater and a rival school that ended up getting snowed out. 15 years later, the teams reunite to finish the game over the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Turkey Bowl is a light and fun film that will especially appeal to those who associate the Thanksgiving holiday with football. It’s fairly predictable and can get into some silly territory, but it’s a humorous take on what happens when former football players reunite for one last game. With a blend of humor, Thanksgiving, and football, The Turkey Bowl is a perfect light-hearted film for the holiday.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving comedy that premiered in 1997. The film follows Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy), two mismatched travelers stuck in holiday traffic. Page, a businessman, wants nothing more than to make it home in time for Thanksgiving in Chicago, IL, after a business trip to New York City. However, multiple delays leave him in the company of the eccentric but well-meaning Griffith. Though Griffith’s impulsivity and overt optimism cause problems, he is wholly devoted to returning Page for Thanksgiving on time.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles makes for hilarious Thanksgiving viewing. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and is delightful in terms of comedy. Martin and Candy play off of each other brilliantly as they portray opposites forced together. While largely comedic, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles does hold some emotional themes such as loss, grief, and loneliness. Also, it ultimately encourages viewers not to lose their humanity over a hectic and superficial holiday, which is a message many need to hear around this time.
Hannah and Her Sisters
Hannah and Her Sisters is a Thanksgiving family saga that truly encompasses the meaning of a dysfunctional family. The film tracks Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her family across two years and two Thanksgiving holidays. Specifically, it follows Hannah and her younger sisters, Lee (Barbara Hershey) and Holly (Dianne Wiest), who desire to live fulfilling lives. However, the trio is tested to their limits as they deal with infidelity, family secrets, and addiction.
Hannah and Her Sisters is the type of holiday film meant to be more realistic and representative of humanity’s flaws rather than a cliché, feel-good story. The film doesn’t pull punches as it explores long-held family grudges and dramas. However, it is still comedic, charming, and poignant. The film is beautifully written with well-developed characters and strong actors, making Hannah and her Sisters an excellent choice for film enthusiasts and more mature viewers. However, beware, the film comes from Woody Allen, which may ruin it for some.
Holidate is a seasonal film that makes for a great Thanksgiving rom-com. The film premiered on Netflix on October 28, 2020, and follows Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) across multiple holidays. Sloane and Jackson agree to pretend to be each other’s dates for the holidays to avoid prying questions from relatives about why they’re single. While the arrangement is supposed to be platonic, they start catching feelings for one another.
Holidate makes for a comedic, light-hearted holiday romance. While it touches on multiple holidays, it still has a very Thanksgiving/Christmas vibe to it. The film won’t be for everyone as it is a bit cheesy, predictable, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, if you’re looking for a film that is pure comedic entertainment, Holidate is the perfect choice for this Thanksgiving holiday.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Would Thanksgiving even be Thanksgiving without watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving? The TV special has become nearly synonymous with Thanksgiving since it premiered in 1973. It follows Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee), who struggles to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for his friends after Peppermint Patty (Christopher DeFaria) invites herself and all their friends to his house for the holiday.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a holiday classic that is hard to go wrong with. It is simply pure and adorable entertainment. Kids will love the animation and Snoopy’s antics, while adults will feel nostalgia for the childish predicaments and the Peanuts’ shenanigans. While largely light-hearted fun, it does remind viewers of the true spirit of Thanksgiving—gratitude. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a perfect Thanksgiving special for viewers, young and old.
If you’re tired of classics and looking for something different to ring in Thanksgiving this year, The Oath might be for you. The 2018 dark comedy follows suburban couple Kai (Haddish) and Chris (Barinholtz), who host a Thanksgiving family get-together. However, the get-together is disrupted by a new oath the government asks citizens to sign to swear their allegiance to the United States. The family quickly gets divided between those willing to sign it and those who resist.
The Oath is a surprisingly funny and poignant political satire. Political satire is difficult to pull off, but The Oath does a fairly good job of making its point and creating a discussion on the state of politics in today’s world and the wedge it can drive between families. Of course, it isn’t a perfect film and derails a bit into some off-the-rails shenanigans. However, it maintains its comedic tone throughout the entirety of the film. The Oath is an entertaining and enjoyable film but also a lot more thought-provoking than the typical holiday flick.
Krisha is a heartrending holiday drama that offers an honest and painful depiction of addiction. The film follows Krisha (Krisha Fairchild), a woman in her 60s who struggles with addiction and has become estranged from her family, including her son Trey (filmmaker Trey Edward Shults). However, one Thanksgiving, she promises to host her family for the holiday. Unfortunately, her family’s mixed opinions of her make the day particularly difficult to get through.
Krisha is a brilliant film if you can stomach it. The mature themes it tackles may make it difficult for some to watch. However, it is a very poignant and accurate depiction of addiction and the toll it can take on family relationships. Meanwhile, Shults directs the film brilliantly with cinematography and pacing nothing short of hypnotic. Krisha is a film that isn’t afraid to make viewers uncomfortable. In putting viewers into the uncomfortable shoes of its protagonist, it proves to be a holiday film that will resonate with viewers long after it is over.
Turkey Hollow is a fun, family-friendly film to watch around Thanksgiving. The film follows Tim (Graham Verchere) and Annie (Genevieve Buechner), who head to the town of Turkey Hollow to spend Thanksgiving with their Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen). While searching for the legendary Howling Hoodoo, they uncover a conspiracy in Turkey Hollow and employ the help of some otherworldly creatures to foil it.
Turkey Hollow may not be the most complex or sophisticated film, but it is pure, wholesome, family-friendly fun. It has a fairy tale vibe, fantastical creatures, cute kids, and a relatable family. Even though it does have a rather cliché plot, it is a little more unconventional and far less cheesy than typical children’s holiday films.
Hollidaysburg is a funny and heartwarming Thanksgiving-themed coming-of-age comedy. The film follows a group of former high school pals who return to their hometown of Hollidaysburg on Thanksgiving break from college. However, their reunion isn’t quite what they expected as they deal with the changes that have occurred since high school.
Hollidaysburg is a fun coming-of-age story, even if it isn’t groundbreaking. It is a genuine and honest portrayal of the struggles students face when adjusting to college life and grappling with returning home again. However, it also has a light comedic tone and boasts strong performances from its cast as they form new relationships. It is warm, clever, funny, and charming, making it a perfect Thanksgiving film for anyone who has doubts about going home for the holidays.
The Blind Side
The Blind Side is a heartwarming biographical sports drama that follows 17-year-old Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless teenager who is taken in by the Tuohy family, allowing him to excel athletically and academically.
The Blind Side is based on the true story of Michael Oher, a teen in foster care who was taken in by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy and went on to become an NFL football player. The Blind Side, while not explicitly centered on Thanksgiving, captures the spirit of Thanksgiving poignantly as it emphasizes the importance of family and encourages viewers to not just be grateful for their good fortune but to share it with others. It has received criticism, though, for its white savior narrative and is now the center of a court battle as Oher alleges the Tuohys didn’t give him his fair cut of the profits from the film.
Pieces of April
Pieces of April is another hilarious yet poignant family drama with a Thanksgiving setting. The film follows April (Katie Holmes), who is estranged from her wildly dysfunctional family. Despite the estrangement and dysfunction, she invites her family over for Thanksgiving dinner, knowing it will likely be her mother’s, Joy (Patricia Clarkson), last holiday as she has breast cancer. However, things fall apart quickly as April struggles to prepare Thanksgiving dinner, and her family approaches the dinner negatively.
Pieces of April is another film anyone with a dysfunctional family can relate to. Additionally, it features a typical holiday disaster storyline to lighten the tone with humor. At its core, though, it is a very touching story about a family reuniting. No matter how dysfunctional or estranged a family is, there is always the hope of mending broken relationships when they are forced together once or twice a year for the holidays.
(featured image: Paramount Pictures / Roadside Attractions / A24)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]