Next month everyone’s going to post their list of Christmas movies—and while there are so many that everyone’s list could be significantly different, they’ll all still include Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and Die Hard. You know what holiday doesn’t get enough cinematic love though? Thanksgiving. Although the holiday certainly has questionable roots, this month we’ll undoubtedly all get together to feast (with leftovers for days to come), and there are some great Thanksgiving movies out there that deserve some love. I’ve tried to limit this to movies with Thanksgiving as an entire focus, not just one scene, but I may have broken that rule once or twice.
1. Son in Law
Don’t underestimate the Weasel. Pauly Shore was huge in the ’90s and his second movie was a Thanksgiving film. During her freshman year of college, Rebecca (Carla Gugino) brings Crawl (Shore) home from college to meet her family. The small town farmers freak out at the possibility of Crawl becoming her husband. It’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for the grunge generation.
2. Pieces of April
April (Katie Holmes) tries to make a Thanksgiving dinner for her estranged family but has trouble with basic things like cooking the turkey. While she negotiates for oven time with her neighbors, her family prepares for an uncomfortable night. Her mom (Patricia Clarkson) assumes it will be a disaster so takes the family to dinner first. By the end, the family may come together a little in the trying times that the holiday exacerbates.
3. Paul Blart: Mall Cop
Hear me out. Paul Blart gets the Black Friday shift. That makes it a Thanksgiving movie. Blart has to stop the bank robbers before all the shoppers get there for door busters! This movie was so beloved it got a sequel so it must be a great Thanksgiving movie. Give thanks you have more balance than Kevin James pratfalling all over the mall with his physical slapstick.
4. The Ice Storm
Ang Lee used the great American holiday to deconstruct the American Dream in the story of a family at Thanksgiving in the ’70s. Key parties, drugs, puberty and death confront the characters and audience. It might sound like a downer but it’s really worth exploring. Consider it a cautionary tale. Don’t be like them. Then watch a Thanksgiving comedy to pick yourself back up.
5. Alice’s Restaurant
This movie also has the rare distinction of being based on a song. The Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” goes through the story of a Thanksgiving good deed gone wrong and the film illustrates it in all its glory. A group of friends tries to drive a church’s piled up trash to the landfill on thanksgiving night. When the landfill is closed for the holiday, they try to find another spot to dump the garbage and get nailed for littering. Since it’s the ‘60s, there’s also an anti-war anti-draft message!
6. Hannah and Her Sisters
It’s not just one Woody Allen Thanksgiving, but two Woody Allen Thanksgivings! Hannah (Mia Farrow)‘s husband Elliot (Michael Caine) has an affair with her sister (Barbara Hershey) between two Thanksgivings. Meanwhile, Hannah’s ex (Allen) had an affair with her other sister (Dianne Wiest). If that isn’t enough for you, this film won Oscars for Michael Caine, Diane Wiest and Allen’s screenplay. I’m sure they were thankful for that too.
7. Addams Family Values
This one might be my cheat. It clearly takes place over the summer as Wednesday and Pugsley go to summer camp, but their camp play is about the first Thanksgiving. Maybe the camp extended to the holidays. This is a surreal world. The way Wednesday (Christina Ricci) turns the performance into an expose on the pillaging of Native American people is so good it makes the movie, and makes a great Thanksgiving movie.
8. Home For the Holidays
This has been a personal favorite of mine both as a Thanksgiving movie and compared to any dysfunctional family that may or may not gather for a holiday. It’s just so dark, it’s truly honest about how family does not support you. I particularly enjoyed Steve Guttenberg‘s turn as perhaps the most bitter member of the family taking no crap even from his kids. It’s a landmark Robert Downey Jr. Performance as a gay man with an unsupportive family. This portrayal in a studio movie in the 90s helped a lot of gay people see they were not alone. But it’s Holly Hunter‘s exasperated character who anchors the film as our vessel. Director Jodie Foster controls the chaos of a family gathering expertly.
9. Scent of a Woman
Perhaps Thanksgiving break is most palpable when you’re in college. You live in this bubble all year but around the holidays it dissolves and you’re left to your own devices. If you don’t have the money to visit family you may just take a job escorting a blind man around New York. This is Al Pacino at his Hoo-ah best and Chris O’Donnell‘s coming of age as a leading man. A classic whether or not it took place at Thanksgiving but this week is as good a reason as any to Hoo-ah!
10. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
By far the worst part of any holiday is the travel and Thanksgiving may be worse than Christmas. And so this John Hughes classic milks every possible travel disaster for laughs. Steve Martin and John Candy are on fire as an odd couple forced to travel together. A plane is grounded, a train breaks down, they burn their rental car (but the radio still works) and so much more. The classic “those aren’t pillows” is the film’s signature bit but every scene has bite, and they get you with heart at the end.