Essential Thanksgiving Movies To Watch This Season

Addams Family Values Angelica Huston thanksgiving movies

Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it comes the numerous holiday movies you'll find playing on every TV channel and streaming platform.

Thanksgiving might not have a ton of movies to watch for the holiday compared to, say, the hundreds of horror movies to watch during Halloween or the dozens of Christmas movies to watch in December, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of decent amount of Thanksgiving movies to watch this holiday season.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains and Automobiles Steve Martin, John Candy
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

The undisputed king of Thanksgiving movies, John Hughes' classic '80s comedy, Planes, Trains and Automobiles offers pure holiday entertainment through and through. As closely tied to the holiday as A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, it's the movie everyone should make an effort every Thanksgiving, bar none.

Two days before Thanksgiving, a straight-laced advertising executive (Steve Martin) attempts to return home from New York, encountering numerous travel problems and an overly-friendly shower rod salesman (John Candy) that joins him on the way back to Chicago. As the two travel across several states via numerous transportation methods, they begin to bond the more time they spend together.

Praised upon release in 1987, there's not one bad thing about this movie, with Hughes' direction and script both on point, and Candy and Martin managing to deliver two of their finest, most memorable performances in their individual careers (Martin as the comedic straight man with Candy as the eccentric, obnoxious shower rod salesman).

The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm Elijah Wood
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

A film in a very different vein from other Thanksgiving movies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Ang Lee's The Ice Storm takes a far more dramatic approach to the holiday, using it as a reference point to show the deterioration of two upper-middle-class families in the early 1970s.

Set over Thanksgiving weekend in 1973, The Ice Storm follows two families—the Hoods and the Carvers—as they each grapple with their own alternative lifestyles they keep hidden from their families, whether it's substance abuse, extramarital affairs, or the growing pains of physical maturation.

Praised for its audacity and dual-sided portrayal of American family life (happy and content on the surface, yet inwardly struggling with alienation, uncertainty, dissatisfaction, and insecurities), The Ice Storm proved to be one of the earliest movies in Lee's career that helped cement his successful transition from Taiwanese to American film.

Hannah and Her Sisters

Hannah and Her Sisters
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

Similar to The Ice Storm, 1986's comedy-drama Hannah and Her Sisters boasts an ambitious portrait of three families and the problems they endure over the course of two years. Beginning the film and ending it with Thanksgiving dinners year apart from one another, Hannah and Her Sisters follows a extended family linked through Hannah or either of her sisters.

Hannah (Mia Farrow) is married to the adulterous Elliot (Michael Caine), who is cheating on her with her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Hannah's ex-husband, Mickey (Woody Allen), suffers from bouts of depression and hypochondria, leading him to an existential crisis. Holly (Dianne Wiest), Hannah and Lee's sister and a former addict, struggles with her personal and professional aspirations to be an actor and, later, a writer, drawing inspiration from Hannah and Elliot's own domestic problems.

In many ways, Hannah and Her Sisters is perhaps director Woody Allen's most far-reaching and aspirational movie of the 1980s, a peak period in his career. If there's any main message behind the film, it's that no matter how serious the problems or tensions that might manifest between family members, mutual appreciation and love can still exist amid said issues.

You've Got Mail

You've Got Mail Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

It's hard to find a better Thanksgiving romantic comedy than You've Got Mail, the third pairing between cinematic co-stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan after earlier Joe Versus the Volcano and Sleepless in Seattle.

In You've Got Mail, Meg Ryan plays an independent children's bookshop owner whose business is threatened by the arrival of a mass chain bookstore led by Tom Hanks' rich, successful businessman. Though fierce professional rivals by day, the two share an anonymous romantic affair over A.O.L., not knowing each other's real-life identities.

Made in 1998, certain aspects of the movie have aged about as well as A.O.L. has, but You've Got Mail continues to remain a superior romantic comedy in every sense. Hanks and Ryan have always been a great onscreen romantic pairing, and their evident comedic and romantic chemistry is on full display here. 

The New World

The New World Christian Bale
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

When thinking about Thanksgiving itself, it's important to think back to the beginning, namely about the first settlers arriving from Europe and attempting (and failing) to co-exist peace with the Indigenous Americans who occupied the land before them. When it comes to movies that depict this initial meeting between Native Americans and their European counterparts, few movies compare to the ethereal 2005 period epic, The New World.

Directed by reclusive auteur Terrence Malick, The New World follows the first English explorers who founded Jamestown, led by John Smith (Colin Farrell) and Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer). As the English attempt to establish a colony in this hostile land, they must combat the hostile elements and starvation, all the while trying to broker a peace with the neighboring Powhatan tribe.

Also starring Christian Bale as English settler John Rolfe and Q'orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas, The New World is an eye-opening exploration of what the first contact between the Native Americans and the settlers might've looked like. Though loosely based on historical fact, it's a lot more endearing and accurate a work than Disney's Pocahontas, focusing more on the struggles to co-exist between the settlers and the Natives as well as the hardships of establishing a colony in the new world. 

Editor's Note: Please consider donating to the Warrior Women Project, building a comprehensive, community-based archive of oral history with key organizers and activists of the Red Power Movement of the 1970s into modern Indigenous struggles.

The Blind Side

The Blind Side e1668846724761
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

What's Thanksgiving without football? Even for those uninterested in the Thanksgiving Day game, there's a sizable amount of options when it comes to movies that spend as much time portraying feel-good stories of family and friendship as they do showing the action on the field. With that in mind, it's difficult to find a better football movie that touches upon the hallmark of family as well as The Blind Side.

Based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, The Blind Side follows the early life of Michael Oher (Quentin Aaron), an offensive lineman who rose from an impoverished childhood upbringing to play professional football for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, thanks to the help of his adopted parents (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw).

One of the best films about football ever, The Blind Side’s greatest strength is the performances from its principal cast, including Aaron and a scene-stealing Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the assertive, direct woman responsible for taking Oher in and making sure he received the love and support of a family. 

Addams Family Values

Addams Family Values Christina Ricci, David Krumholtz, Jimmy Workman
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

As odd as it might seem, this 1993 sequel to the earlier, campier 1991 The Addams Family surpasses the first movie in every way, aiming for a far darker, more macabre sense of humor, managing to lampoon Thanksgiving in true Addams Family fashion.

After they discover their new nanny (Joan Cusack) is a serial killer who marries and then kills her husbands for their insurance money, Wednesday and Pugsley (Christina Ricci and Jimmy Workman) attempt to prevent their beloved Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) from falling under her hypnotic spell. The nanny, however, manages to thwart them, convincing Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Angela Huston) to send the two off to a joyful, preppy summer camp.

In numerous ways, Addams Family Values marks a massive improvement upon the earlier 1991 movie, utilizing a more satirical, albeit darker approach in both its comedy and frights, much to critics' and fans' delight. Funny, inspired, and gothic, Addams Family Value may not be the best Thanksgiving movie ever, but it's one that doesn't pull any punches when it comes to its exploration of it, either.

Krisha

Krisha Krisha Fairchild
Image Credit: A24.

Director Trey Edward Shults has made quite a name for himself in the independent film scene, producing memorable movies for A24 like the psychological horror, It Comes At Night, and the family drama, Waves. Now a successful director with a promising future ahead of him, Shults's meteoric rise in the independent film industry began with his 2015 directorial feature-length film, the drama film Krisha.

Based on a short film Shults had made in 2014, Krisha follows a troubled elderly woman (Krisha Fairchild) who, after years apart from her family, reaches out and offers to make them all a nice Thanksgiving meal. As the family gathers to celebrate the holiday, past tensions among them soon rise up, threatening to ruin their long-awaited reunion.

Made on a shoestring budget, Shults used every independent filmmaker trick in the book to make this gut-wrenching familial drama. Similar in its overall subject matter to the more dramatic films on this list—The Ice Storm and Hannah and Her Sisters, especially—Krisha explores the sometimes devastating issues that sometimes manifest between family members during the holiday. It may not be the most lighthearted movie to watch for Thanksgiving, but its unique approach to the holiday sets it apart as a fresh, unique spin on traditional Thanksgiving movies.

Knives Out

knives out
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

Marta (Ana de Armas) is a hardworking nurse tending to the famous mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who finds that his only true friend is Marta, rather than any of his spoiled, toxic family members who seem only interested in Harlan's mass wealth. After Harlan seemingly takes his own life, a brilliant detective (Daniel Craig) is hired to investigate the case, soon uncovering the darker, dysfunctional family troubles the Thrombeys all seem to be hiding.

Relying on a huge cast of talented actors (Craig, Plummer, de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, and Lakeith Stanfield), Rian Johnson channels his inner love for Agatha Christie mysteries and comedic whodunnits like Murder by Death, Gosford Park, and Clue, creating one of the best, most original murder mysteries in recent memory.

Knives Out features numerous ingenious twists not only related to the plot, but to the entire approach to the classic whodunnit format. It’s hard to believe Johnson didn’t know what he was doing when he released the movie in November of all months, taking advantage of the film’s release date and managing to explore the nuances of a family gathering to celebrate a holiday (Harlan's birthday).

Clue

Clue
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Set in the 1950s, Clue tells the story of several individuals—all given pseudonyms to conceal their identity—who gather at a countryside manor to meet the person who has been blackmailing them. After the blackmailer ends up murdered, the group attempts to discover the identity of the killer, what weapon they used, or where the murder took place.

Perhaps the best movie based on a board game that there is, Clue is an all-too-overlooked comedy mystery. Full of sharp wit and a talented cast—Christopher Lloyd, Madeline Kahn, Tim Curry, Martin Mull, and Michael McKean—all delivering hilarious performances, it's able to stay true to the whodunnit format of the original game while combining it with the spirit of an Agatha Christie novel.

Prisoners

Prisoners
Image Credit: Summit Entertainment.

In the mundane suburbs of Pennsylvania, two families celebrating Thanksgiving together receive a sudden shock when their two young daughters go missing. As a dedicated police detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigates the case, one of the girls’ fathers (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands.

A stirring condemnation of vigilante justice, Prisoners also raises questions about how far individuals might go for their loved ones’ sake. Hurt, tired, and helpless, Jackman’s Keller feels a responsibility as a parent to find his daughter, committing horrific acts of violence to do so.

It’s a sobering Thanksgiving film to say the least, but one that benefits from incredible performances and atmospheric suspense.

Remember the Titans

Remember the Titans Denzel Washington
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Nine times out of ten, a movie featuring Denzel Washington is bound to warrant a screening. Case in point with the 2000 sports drama, Remember the Titans, which features a loose biographical portrait of Coach Herman Boone and his famous Titans high school football team.

In the early 1970s, a Virginian high school invites Herman Boone (Washington) to head the school’s recently integrated football team. Clashing with the players’ over their racial differences, Boone manages to bring the young men on his team together, helping them grow as people and broaden their own limited worldviews.

A lesson in humility, Remember the Titans also shows the powerful effect sports can have on the collective human psyche, bringing together a large group of wildly different people and encouraging them to accept each other for who they are, not just the color of their skin.

Grumpy Old Men

Grumpy Old Men Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

In snow-swept Minnesota, two older men (Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) spend their retirement engaging in a bitter feud with one another, owing to a personal disagreement from their past. After an English professor (Ann-Margret) moves in next door, the two rivals vye for her romantic affection, all the while trying to sabotage each others’ advances.

An ideal comedic pairing, cinematic legends Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau appeared alongside each other throughout 10 different movies, one of their final collaborations being 1993’s Grumpy Old Men.

A moving and hilarious film that coasts on Lemmon and Matthau’s irreplaceable comic chemistry, it’s an ideal companion piece to a film like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, containing as many jokes as it does humane lessons about friendship and the ability to let go of past traumas.

Author: Richard Chachowski

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Classic Film, Contemporary Film and TV, Video Games, Comic Books

Bio:

Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, Looper, Screen Rant, and MSN. He received a BA in Communication Studies and a BA in Journalism and Professional Writing from The College of New Jersey in 2021. He has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.