We’ve been there. You’re sitting around with your family and/or friends, bellies full of turkey, trying to decide how best to let all that delicious Thanksgiving food digest. You’ve got the television, of course, but what’s something you can put on that everyone will agree with? What could you watch that will keep everyone engaged, moods light, and that holiday spirit churning? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered.
We here at Collider have compiled a list of the best films to watch on Thanksgiving. Now these aren’t all necessarily Thanksgiving-themed movies. We thought it best to put together a diverse library of films that are agreeable in nature—movies that everyone can enjoy, no matter their age or sensibility. Some of these will get you in that pre-Christmas holiday spirit, while some are just a seriously good time. All are, we think, solid picks to watch with your friends and family on Thanksgiving.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
If you’re in the mood for something that’s both a classic and holiday-appropriate, you can’t do much better than John Hughes’ brilliant and sneakily emotional road trip comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is anchored by a pair of brilliant performances by Steve Martin and John Candy as a mismatched duo who are forced to share a ride to Chicago from New York City in order to make it home in time for Thanksgiving. From stellar physical comedy to pitch-perfect chemistry to the emotional gut punch “I like me” scene, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is immensely satisfying from start to finish. – Adam Chitwood
A good Thanksgiving movie doesn’t necessarily have to be about family. You don’t need family values reflected back at you when you spend time with your relatives. A good Thanksgiving movie can just as easily be a film that plays in the background and pleasantly amuses you with well-made, inoffensive action while you digest the ungodly amount of food you just devoured.
National Treasure fits the bill perfectly. It will just come on TV (TNT, probably), Nicolas Cage will be trying to make sure that the secret treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence doesn’t fall into Sean Bean’s grubby mitts, and you will have a good time watching action-comedy antics unfold. Cage is playing it straight, Justin Bartha is top-notch as the comic relief, and it’s light fare for a weekday afternoon where you don’t have to worry about anything. – Matt Goldberg
Meet Me in St. Louis
Are you and yours more the musical type? Then spring for Vincente Minnelli’s 1944 musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The Judy Garland-fronted picture follows the adventures of an American family living in St. Louis at the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair, and charts their story over the course of all four seasons with a significant pit stop at Christmas time. It’s wholesome fun that also has a bit of a bizarre edge to it—the young sister Tootie goes on an unhinged snowman-destroying rampage—and the songs are swell. While the movie itself isn’t holiday-specific, the central theme of family and the focus on the fall and winter seasons makes it an appropriate watch for Thanksgiving evening. – Adam Chitwood
Pieces of April
Sure, Thanksgiving’s got historical and political context, but at the end of the day it’s about bringing together family, friends, lovers, and loved ones for a day of feasting and reconnecting, and yes, probably arguing. Pieces of April is a movie that understands the power of seating all your loved ones around a single table, even if they make you crazy. The film stars Katie Holmes as April, a pierced and tatted young woman who decides to mend fences with her estranged, straight-laced family, and especially her terminally ill mother (Patricia Clarkson), by preparing and hosting a Thanksgiving dinner in her shitty Lower East Side Apartment. Already overwhelmed and wholly unprepared to chef up an entire feast on her own, things take a turn for the worse when April discovers her oven doesn’t work and tries, with limited success, to find a neighbor willing to help.
What happens next is a string of frustration and desperation, including a hostage turkey, that makes Pieces of April the first movie to truly capture the high-stress culinary mania of the holiday. More impressively though, and despite a truncated ending, it captures the beautiful moment when you decide to put your differences aside, commune with your loved ones, and appreciate the fact that you have each other in spite of the fact that can sometimes feel like more of a burden than a blessing. It doesn’t matter if your cranberries are homemade or straight out of the can as long as you’re serving them to the people you love. – Haleigh Foutch
If you’re looking for something that skews a bit younger, Brad Bird’s stylish superhero film The Incredibles is fun for the whole family. Indeed, the theme of the movie is “family” so it’s certainly Thanksgiving-appropriate, but it’s also hilarious, gorgeous, and wonderfully entertaining. Plus, you get an impeccable Michael Giacchino score as a bonus and the movie serves as preparation for the upcoming sequel. The kids will be happy you chose a Pixar movie, and the adults will be entertained by Bird’s sophisticated humor. – Adam Chitwood
Hannah and Her Sisters
Hannah and Her Sisters is a complex and intimate study of three sisters (Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, and Dianne Weist) and the husbands, ex-husbands, and lovers in their life. Told over the course of two years bookended by Thanksgiving dinners, Hannah and her Sisters reveals the story through a series of interwoven vignettes that slowly pull together, forming a bigger picture as the lives of the characters intertwine, each scene informing those that surround it. The unconventional, almost literary structure allows the characters and relationships to develop gradually and naturally, exploring different forms of intimacy from the amorous to the familial.
The Thanksgiving holiday itself mostly serves as a framework and doesn’t play a huge role in the film, but as Thanksgiving does best, it serves as a means to unite the whole big twisted family, drawing the distinct threads together as the movie opens and closes. The film’s relaxed, jazzy feel makes it an ideal holiday watch, especially after that tryptophan kicks in. It’s also just a fantastically performed character drama, and there’s never a bad time to watch one of those. – Haleigh Foutch
Sorry, Fast & Furious fans, but Dwayne Johnson still hasn’t done anything better than this 2003 action-comedy. He’s at the top of his game as Beck, a “retrieval expert” (aka bounty hunter) who just wants to open a restaurant, but has to do one last job to make enough money to put up the capital: pull the wayward archeologist Travis (Seann William Scott) out of the jungle and bring him back home. Throw in Christopher Walken as the heavy and trying to explain the concept of the tooth fairy to the local indigenous people, and the film is just full-blown brilliant at times. – Matt Goldberg
The Mummy (1999)
There was a time when we accepted Brendan Fraser as a viable leading action hero, and The Mummy shows why. He plays Richard ‘Rick’ O’Connell, a former soldier who agrees to help an expedition led by librarian Evelyn ‘Evy’ Carnahan (Rachel Weisz) to find the Mummy’s tomb and the riches therein. They eventually discover the tomb isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when you read from the Book of the Dead, and have to find a way to kill an unstoppable undead sorcerer.
Fraser is charming, affable, funny, and able to convincingly pull off the big screen heroics the action film requires. Maybe it’s because I’m not as deeply attached to the original Mummy that I find the remake so enjoyable, but Stephen Sommers did an outstanding job with the flick, and it continues to hold up as a fine piece of entertainment. It also gave Rachel Weisz her breakthrough role, so we should be thankful for that. – Matt Goldberg
If you’re looking for something new and/or a pure feel-good movie, you can’t go wrong with Sing Street. This 80s-set musical/coming-of-age story hails from Once and Begin Again filmmaker John Carney and follows a young Irish boy who starts a band in order to impress a girl. In writing their original musical, they cover the various trends of the decade—there are songs that sound like Duran Duran and there are songs that sound like The Cure. At heart, it’s a story about young love and discovering who you are while not shying away from the harsh realities of real life. The songs are genuinely great, the performances are incredible (especially from newcomer Lucy Boynton), and the ending is a humdinger. It’s a crowd-pleaser in every sense of the word, and should help qualm some of the political squabbles from the dinner table. At least temporarily. – Adam Chitwood
If your family is the type that already has the Christmas tree up and is ready to start celebrating the December holiday before the Thanksgiving leftovers are cold, Elf is a fine primer for the Christmas movie-watching season. Director Jon Favreau’s new classic has become a staple of the Christmas holiday, and its somewhat throwback tone, silliness, and of course Will Ferrell’s performance all coalesce to make it an incredibly fun and sweet watch for the entire family. Christmas mode: Engaged. – Adam Chitwood
So many shows, so little time.
About The Author