I’ve put together a list of the five best Thanksgiving movies, it wasn’t easy. Few holidays serve as cinematic inspiration. Christmas and Halloween certainly represent the vast majority of calendar muses. Some holidays can be accompanied by thematic matches, while not serving as direct inspiration. Valentine’s Day pairs wonderfully with any rom-com. Military films can be enjoyed for the plethora of patriotic celebrations. But Thanksgiving tends to be forgotten as anything more than a few days off work and a great meal.
That’s not to say Thanksgiving Movies don’t exist. My favorite holiday has been represented a few times throughout Hollywood’s history. Strangely enough, the 5 best Thanksgiving movies all came within a 7 year window. I don’t know what it was about Thanksgiving between ’86 and ’93, but I approve of the results.
The following list has tried to stay true to Thanksgiving specific films. Christmas movies that start on Thanksgiving have been left out (Miracle on 34th St). Movies with themes of family get-togethers could certainly provide us with what we may be missing this COVID-19 Thanksgiving break (Dan in Real Life), but aren’t included here.
Finally, before I am pummeled with emails. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving didn’t make the list because it’s too nostalgic and not unique enough from the Christmas special or the Great Pumpkin. It’s fun and calming, but it keeps Thanksgiving living in Christmas’ shadow. I hope these 5 movies make you think about the purpose of this holiday. Not the fake history of the pilgrims or Plymouth Rock. But a time to be thankful for what we have and not to long for what we want.
5. Son in Law (1993)
Pauly Shore’s magnum opus. I’m not sure if that’s a selling point or not. The story of an innocent farmer’s daughter turned party animal after a few short months at a California college. She returns home with Pauly Shore (basically playing himself) for Thanksgiving break, where he must pretend to be her fiance in a failed attempt to keep an ex-boyfriend at arm’s length. The comedy may not be your cup of tea, but the family’s resilience and eventual acceptance of Pauly Shore is worthy of being a Thanksgiving miracle.
4. She’s Gotta Have It (1986)
Spike Lee’s first feature. Low-budget, black and white, certainly dated, but a truly fantastic Thanksgiving story. The film is most notably known for its theme of sexual liberation. Nola Darling faces her three lovers over Thanksgiving dinner, and must come to terms with a world not yet ready for her. Problematic at times, but a great introduction to the 80s indie film scene. Feel free to follow that up with the Netflix adaptation as well.
3. Addams Family Values (1993)
The sequel to 1991’s The Addams Family should be considered in the short list of “better than the original.” Returning the entire all-star cast (while adding a few more stars) and adopting a much darker comedy helps this film solidify it’s cult status. Wednesday Addams (Christina Ricci) is cast as Pocahontas in her summer camp’s Thanksgiving Play and precedes to treat it with all the sincerity such a preposterous scenario deserves. If you’ve ever wondered what the Native Americans would have done had they known what would happen to their land, you should see what Wednesday drew up.
2. Scent of a Woman (1992)
Al Pacino at his Al Pacinoist. A blind, sexist, asshole hires a 17 year old prep student, Charlie, to tour him around New York one last time over Thanksgiving break. The story is rife with conflict. Charlie, played by Chris O’Donnell, is a known witness to vandalism on campus and has been threatened with expulsion if he doesn’t snitch on his rich classmates. Pacino’s Colonel Slade is looking to have a few final experiences, including a tense Thanksgiving dinner scene at his brother’s house, before taking his own life (spoiler). Both characters find family, and purpose, in each other. Think Disney’s Up, but with Pacino.
1. Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Steve Martin and John Candy face weather, thieves, fire, bad luck, worse luck, and each other while trying to get home for Thanksgiving. Hysterical. Sad. Heartwarming. This is a perfect holiday movie and Thanksgiving is a perfect holiday. This is the perfect Thanksgiving movie.
Well, that’s the definitive list. Most of these should be found on the standard streaming services. If you are interested in less conventional streaming options to expand your movie knowledge, don’t forget to check out this piece on what’s available. Enjoy your holiday, wear your mask, try not to kill your elderly relatives.