Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day in America, and for good reason: Thousands flock to be with birth families and families of choice, to share a meal, some old stories, and maybe a little drama. This year’s celebration will likely look a little different, with COVID-19 restrictions making most trips impossible. Swap the family dinner for a virtual group rewatch of one of these classic films; though the T-Day movie isn’t as solid a tradition as the Christmas tale or the summer blockbuster, you’ll see from this list that none of the films set at this special time are turkeys.
Addams Family Values (1993)
Who could forget Wednesday Addams’ iconic and hyper-violent deconstruction of the Thanksgiving story during a posh camp pageant? Christina Ricci’s dry-as-toast, delightfully morbid character takes the air out of many of the myths about the holiday, and almost takes camp counselors Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol out in the process. Meanwhile, across town, Joan Cusack gives one of the greatest performances ever captured onscreen as Debbie Jellinsky. A winner all around.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Jodie Foster’s directorial debut features Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, and Robert Downey, Jr., as members of a highly dysfunctional but loving family. Hunter’s character has lost her job and fears losing her relationship with her daughter. She returns to the place where it all began to sort herself out.
While the cult classic family film doesn’t exclusively take place during Thanksgiving, it has somehow become a Thanksgiving staple. Is it because the eponymous giant St. Bernard, like most people at T-Day, likes to stuff himself with food? Is it because it’s about the unconventional bonds of family? Who can say? Regardless, it pops up on TV every year around the holiday and has spawned seven sequels and a video game, so they clearly got something right.
The Big Chill (1983)
While the majority of the film takes place during a reunion weekend for a group of college friends, a key flashback during a college Thanksgiving sets much of the present-day action in motion. Featuring excellent performances from an all-star cast including Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Kline—it also garnered three Oscar nominations—this wise and melancholy film is perfect for that time of year when the temperature dips and memories rise.
House of Yes (1997)
This offbeat cult classic confirmed Parker Posey as an indie film star. She stars as a Jackie O-obsessed twin who has trouble dealing with her brother’s fiancée (Tori Spelling) over one slightly absurd Thanksgiving.
Pieces of April (2003)
Katie Holmes has rarely been better than in this low-budget gem about a family’s black sheep who tries to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for her folks and her salty sister. Patricia Clarkson and Oliver Platt are phenomenal as April’s parents, and Alison Pill steals every scene as her golden child sibling.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
A comedy classic (and notable rejecter of the Oxford comma), Planes, Trains and Automobiles follows unlucky travelers Steve Martin and John Candy as bad weather disrupts their journeys home and thrusts them, uncomfortably, together as they seek alternate means of reaching their families.
Barry Levinson’s heartwarming love letter to his childhood in Baltimore, Avalon uses the occasion of a Thanksgiving gathering to tell the story of multiple generations of an American Jewish family. Joan Plowright stars as the family’s matriarch and a very young Elijah Wood co-stars.
The Ice Storm (1997)
An Ang Lee masterpiece that ranks alongside House of Yes for its scandalizing portrayal of family dynamics. Set in a picture-perfect suburb in the mid-1970s, the film follows two families with members undergoing a sexual awakening at the most inopportune of times.
Scent of a Woman (1992)
A prep school student (Chris O’Donnell) agrees to hang out with Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who is blind, over Thanksgiving break as a way of making money to pay for his trip home at Christmas. As often happens in these kinds of movies, Pacino’s character shakes up the stodgy prep student and shows him how to really live.
The Myth of Fingerprints (1997)
Julianne Moore stars in a film written and directed by her husband Bart Freundlich about a dysfunctional family’s attempts to have a happy holiday. Blythe Danner, Roy Scheider, Hope Davis, and ER‘s Noah Wyle co-star.
What’s Cooking? (2000)
An overlooked gem! What’s Cooking is very early-2000s in its fashion and storytelling, but is a delight nonetheless. The plot focuses on three families, who celebrate the holiday in very disparate ways. Julianna Marguiles, Kyra Sedgwick, Joan Chen, and Mercedes Ruehl are cast standouts. An intergenerational, multicultural fave!
For Your Consideration (2006)
Technically, this should be on the list of best Purim movies. In this Christopher Guest creation, a cast of C-list and below actors film a movie called Home for Purim. When awards buzz improbably springs up around the film, a studio head (Ricky Gervais) advises them to change the name of the film within the film to Home For Thanksgiving. And lo, a T-Day classic is born.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
While generally regarded as a Christmas film, this classic actually starts at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. When a man is called in to replace a drunk Santa at the last minute, no one expects it will end in a trial. But it does! The man says his name is Kris Kringle and swears he’s the real Santa; when he’s institutionalized, a lawyer decides to represent him at trial, claiming he’s telling the truth.
Over Thanksgiving break on the ultra-wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan, Oscar Grubman (Aaron Stanford), a precocious and handsome 15-year-old who’s also annoyingly wise for his age, sets his romantic sights on the one woman in New York City he can’t have: his stepmother Eve (Sigourney Weaver). Tadpole is basically Cruel Intentions gone on turkey holiday and it’ll satisfy your itch for kitsch… Maybe don’t watch it with your stepmom, though.
Trey Edward Shults of It Comes at Night made his directorial debut with Krisha back in 2015 and, believe it or not, the film stars his actual real-life aunt Krisha Fairchild. The drama finds Krisha at her sister’s house for a tumultuous Thanksgiving after being estranged from her family for many years. Completely overtaken by anxiety in the situation, Krisha, the black sheep of her family, turns to alcohol and pills as everything around her starts to unravel. “Krisha is a combination of addicts and different family members,” Shults has said. “[It is] very much inspired by the relationship I had with my biological dad, who passed away a year ago from pancreatic cancer. Before he passed, I hadn’t seen him for five-plus years because of his issues with alcoholism and addiction.”
This 1996 low-budget dramedy has a star-studded cast, including Stanley Tucci, Parker Posey, Hope Davis, and Liev Schreiber. While home for Thanksgiving, Eliza (Davis) discovers a love letter she believes is proof that her husband Louis (Tucci) is romping around with another woman. Eliza decides to drive to New York City and confront him in person—and brings her entire family, in their station wagon, along for the ride.
Mistress America (2015)
Barnard student Tracy Fishko (Lola Kirke) has trouble adjusting to college life in the Big Apple. She turns to her eccentric soon-to-be stepsister (Greta Gerwig) for company, but the duo have a falling out after Tracy writes a short story about their friendship in the university’s literary magazine. The story ends on a Thanksgiving day with Tracy, as narrator, saying: “Being a beacon of hope for lesser people is a lonely business.” It’s a fairly hectic but fun watch about the ups and downs of female friendship in New York City. Plus, it’s got a killer soundtrack with bops like “Dream Baby Dream” by Suicide.
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