Thanksgiving Day movies: What to watch this holiday

’Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ with Steve Martin (left) and John Candy
’Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ with Steve Martin (left) and John Candy

It’s Thanksgiving, and you don’t feel like watching football. Well, don’t worry, even though you’ll likely be ridiculed for daring to not wanting to watch football.

In order to help you find some alternative choices, here’s a short list of Thanksgiving Day movies. Each features the holiday in some form or another, and in some cases, you can be thankful that you’re not on of the characters in the movie.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

This 1987 movie should simply be at the top of any list, but it’s a classic comedy and one of Steve Martin and John Candy’s best films (and the only time the two legendary funnymen ever shared it). Written and directed by the late John Hughes, it’s about two men who are making their way across the country. One (Martin) is a stuffy businessman looking to get home to be with his family for Thanksgiving, the other (Candy) a boisterous salesman who unintentionally turns the trip into a nightmare of a journey. It’s funny, touching, and probably Candy’s best onscreen performance.

Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest in 'Hannah and her Sisters'
Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest in ‘Hannah and her Sisters’

Hannah and Her Sisters

Back when Woody Allen still made films that were funny, there was this flick. Starring Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher and Mia Farrow, this 1986 release is about cheating husbands, love, life and more. It’s bookended by Thanksgiving get togethers, and was one of Allen’s last really good movies.

Home for the Holidays

This Jodie Foster-directed drama from 1995 is a light-hearted exploration of the American family. Although at first glance it may seem like something to avoid, it’s actually quite charming, and stars Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, and Dylan McDermott. Hunter plays a single mom who goes home for Thanksgiving where she deals with the drama of her gay brother (Downey) and her tight-assed sister (Cynthia Stevenson).

What’s Cooking?

Gurinder Chadha’s tale of four families in Los Angeles each trying to have their own family Thanksgiving and running into problems. The immigrant family is having troubles with assimilating into their new culture. The broken family finds that the son has invited his father to dinner, even though Dad is estranged from mom. The parents of one half of the lesbian couple won’t talk about their daughter’s relationship. And the seemingly happy couple aren’t, but won’t let his mother see that. Four separate stories intertwined by Thanksgiving and a surprising final scene.

Paul Newman in ’Nobody’s Fool’
Paul Newman in ’Nobody’s Fool’

Nobody’s Fool

Paul Newman was one of the America’s greatest onscreen talents, something that appeared to become even greater the older he became. This charm is the centerpiece of this 1995 film, about a father is visited by his son and grandson on Thanksgiving and tries to repair a damaged relationship with them. A well acted, well made tale of redemption, it also featured Bruce Willis, Jessica Tandy and Melanie Griffith.

Pieces of April

Released in 2004, the future Mrs. Tom Cruise Katie Holmes goes punk as she invites her family over to her New York City apartment for Thanksgiving. As our contributor Aliza Hausman wrote that year: “Pieces of April is a refreshing independent film that successfully showcases a family drama while inviting us to share in the altruistic aspects and anxiety that help construct Thanksgiving togetherness.” (Read review here)


It may be a shock, but yes, Pauly Shore is on this list. He only made a handful of films, and only one or two was worth watching, but this 1999 entry is honestly pretty charming. It features Shore (who isn’t completely obnoxious) going off to his gal pal’s (the beautiful Carla Gugino) farm after befriending her at college in California. She’s become something of a free spirit, but is this new attitude and Shore’s wild ways contrast with the down-home country life of her family. There are some laughs to be had here, and would make for some good chuckles with the loved ones.

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