Gobble, Gobble! November is here and it’s time to give thanks for the filmmakers who chose Thanksgiving as the backdrop for their movies. While most Turkey Day films are often overshadowed by the abundance of films set at Christmas, there are still some enjoyable films for those who are not yet ready to put up the tree.
If you seek out a list of Thanksgiving movies on the web, you’ll see many titles that may have just one scene at the dinner table or subtly mention the holiday. However, the movies I am suggesting in this list are essentially based around the Thanksgiving setting or people traveling to get home for Thanksgiving.
Adding that qualifier to the list dwindles the choices even further, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t some great titles to enjoy. In fact, the top pick for most Thanksgiving movie lists is widely considered one of the best comedies of the 1980s, if not all time. And just to be clear, don’t think of this Thanksgiving movie list as recommendations but more like suggestions to watch this season as I have not seen all of them.
So as you dream of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and giblet gravy around the table, be thankful for these films that can either help you share the Thanksgiving spirit or make you want to throw a dinner roll at your Uncle Fred.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
There is nothing that gets me in the holiday spirit before Christmas then watching the journey (physically and relationally) that Neal Page and Del Griffith take to get back to Chicago for Thanksgiving. This film has everything you want in a comedy but also takes several serious turns which ends in a great story.
Son in Law (1993)
My favorite of Pauly Shore’s short-lived film career and a very fun spin on the “fish out of water” story that has circled Hollywood countless times.
Home For The Holidays (1995)
This film has escaped me over the years and I’m putting it atop my list to watch this year. The cast alone should have been enough to make me push play.
Hanna and Her Sisters (1986)
I admittedly have never seen this Woody Allen film (and not many Allen films overall) so I cannot comment if this twisted family tale that takes places between two Thanksgivings is worthy of a holiday watch.
Did not know this film existed until researching for this list. Sigourney Weaver and Bebe Neuwirth in a tale of seduction over Thanksgiving weekend? Yes, please. Also stars the late, great John Ritter.
Free Birds (2013)
Our family has a tradition of going to movie theater on Thanksgiving and I watched this one in the theater. There are a few laughs for the parents, but it is mainly a silly movie meant for kids. (Be prepared to explain the actual events of the first Thanksgiving after you watch it.)
The Oath (2018)
The Oath sounds like a cult horror film but the only horror shown in this movie is a guy just trying to make it through Thanksgiving without murdering his family.
I’ve not watched this film, but a plot that involves a “a dysfunctional, comical and chaotic Thanksgiving dinner” is enough to peak my curiosity (and also Kat Dennings.)
National Lampoon’s Holiday Reunion (2003)
I’ve watch many films under the National Lampoon’s heading but this isn’t one of them. However, Brian Cranston and Judge Reinhold is enough for me to give this film a chance at becoming a Thanksgiving tradition.
- Free: The Roku Channel
What’s Cooking? (2000)
Another film that I had never heard of until doing research for this list. What’s Cooking? stars Julianna Margulies, Kyra Sedgwick, and Dennis Haysbert in an ensemble cast of four ethnically diverse families who come together at Thanksgiving for a traditionally meal.
You could almost call this movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Light” as it was also written by John Hughes and stars Ed O’Neill and Ethan Embry on journey home for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately (and criminally) Dutch is currently not available on streaming services, but if you are lucky enough to find it on DVD, do not hesitate to purchase.
- Buy a DVD copy on Amazon
The Thanksgiving Promise (1986)
This Made-For-TV movie produced by Walt Disney stars Beau Bridges who also directed the film. It features a young boy looking after the chosen goose for Thanksgiving dinner and has to convince his family and the town to save the bird. This film is a true family affair featuring Beau’s son Jordan Bridges, his parents Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, and an uncredited role by brother Jeff Bridges.
- Free: YouTube
Movies Traditionally Screened on Thanksgiving
If you are old enough to remember when network television and cable channels screened certain films on Thanksgiving, here are a couple choices that hold nostalgia for this time of year.
Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz garnered high ratings over the years on network television. CBS owned the broadcast rights for many years and traditionally screened the film between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When Ted Turner bought the rights in the late ’90s, it was typically broadcast on TBS around Thanksgiving weekend and in more recent years, on TNT around the Christmas holiday
March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934)
Also known as Babes in Toyland, this classic Laurel and Hardy film has been traditionally broadcast on Thanksgiving and Christmas over the years. My memories of watching the film center around Thanksgiving Day on WPIX which was a cable channel we received in central PA.