11 Movies to Get You Into the Thanksgiving Spirit
After finishing your October horror movie marathon, you may be tempted to dive right into Elf (2003), some Rankin Bass holiday specials, and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). But there’s a whole category of cinema to watch between the Halloween and Christmas seasons that viewers often ignore.
What makes a Thanksgiving movie isn’t always clear-cut—some are conceived around the holiday, and others feature one memorable scene with a turkey on the table. Like the holiday itself, Thanksgiving movies are the offbeat, sometimes melodramatic stepsiblings to their Christmas counterparts. If you’re looking for something other than football or parade coverage to watch on the holiday, check out the Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving-ish) films below.
1. Addams Family Values (1993)
If you’re still in the mood for something spooky after Halloween, Addams Family Values (1993) is the ideal transitional film. The sequel features Anjelica Houston, Raul Julia, Christina Ricci, and Christopher Lloyd reprising their roles as the titular family, with Joan Cusack and David Krumholtz playing memorable new characters. The plot isn’t Thanksgiving-centric, but one scene in particular makes it a great film to watch around the holiday. While reenacting the first Thanksgiving at camp, Wednesday Addams breaks from the script and delivers a speech listing the injustices Native Americans have endured since the pilgrims arrived. It ends with the line: “And for all these reasons, I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground.” It’s the perfect antidote to the feel-good content flooding airwaves this time of year.
2. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
This 1987 comedy focuses on the lead-up to Thanksgiving rather than the meal itself. Steve Martin plays a marketing executive who is desperately trying to make it home to his family for Thanksgiving while dealing with the antics of a shower curtain ring salesman played by John Candy. The film also marks an early foray into holiday movies for writer John Hughes, who penned Home Alone (1990) a few years later.
3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
If you’re feeling more festive than spooky in the days between the Halloween and Christmas seasons, put on Miracle on 34th Street. While it’s generally considered a classic Christmas movie, the film opens with Edmund Gwenn as Santa Claus riding in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so it has a foot planted in both holidays. Fun fact: Gwenn really did play Santa in the parade in 1946, and that scene consists of actual footage from the event.
4. The Ice Storm (1997)
Christina Ricci also appears in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm—another movie that features an acidic Thanksgiving speech. Over the course of the holiday break, a Connecticut family in the 1970s is pulled apart by alcohol, sexual experimentation, and an extramarital affair. Things come to a head at Thanksgiving dinner, when family matriarch Wendy (played by Joan Allen) thanks the lord for “letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands. And stuff ourselves like pigs, even though children in Asia are being napalmed.”
5. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Watching the Peanuts holiday specials is an annual tradition in many households. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) isn’t quite as iconic as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) or A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), but it’s still a seasonal classic. While it won’t be airing on network television this year, you can stream the cartoon on Apple TV+.
6. Spider-Man (2002)
Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man has one of the superhero genre’s best ensembles, and the cast is at its best during the film’s Thanksgiving scene. You have Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) quipping about cranberry sauce; Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) letting his inner goblin come through while carving the turkey; and Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) trying to keep everyone on their best behavior. The movie also features a parade set piece. Even if it’s technically set at the fictional Unity Day Festival and not the Macy’s Parade, the balloons Spidey and the Green Golbin spar around are reminiscent of Thanksgiving in New York.
7. You’ve Got Mail (1998)
The spirit of fall and the comfort of a good meal are two things Nora Ephron movies are famous for. That makes her 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail the perfect film to watch around the third Thursday in November. One of the best scenes, in which Tom Hanks helps out Meg Ryan in Zabar’s cash-only line, takes place on Thanksgiving and expertly captures the chaos of the holiday.
8. The Humans (2021)
Writer-director Stephen Karam’s screen adaptation of his Tony Award-winning play (which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama) takes place over one Thanksgiving day. The cast features Richard Jenkins, Amy Schumer, Beanie Feldstein, and Steven Yeun as members of a dysfunctional family whose simmering tensions begin to boil over. Watching it ahead of Thanksgiving may make you feel better about your own family dramas.
9. Scent of a Woman (1992)
In Scent of a Woman, Chris O’Donnell plays a student who accepts a job to spend his Thanksgiving break looking after a blind, retired Lieutenant Colonel and alcoholic played by Al Pacino. Pacino won an Oscar for his portrayal of the cantankerous Frank Slade, and the Thanksgiving dinner scene above demonstrates why.
10. Home for the Holidays (1995)
Most Thanksgiving movies aren’t as warm-and-fuzzy as their Christmas counterparts. This Jodie Foster-directed feature follows yet another dysfunctional family gathering around the dinner table for the November holiday. Holly Hunter plays a recently-unemployed single mom, and Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, and Claire Daines fill out the ensemble cast.
11. The Gold Rush (1925)
Before comparing your aunt’s turkey to shoe leather, watch the scene above from The Gold Rush. In the silent film, writer, director, and star Charlie Chaplin prepares Thanksgiving dinner for himself and Big Jim (played by Mack Swain) in a remote cabin in Alaska. The boiled leather shoe he serves makes even the most overcooked bird look appetizing.
Looking for a new movie to watch, or at least a movie that's new to you? Mental Floss’s new book, The Curious Movie Buff: A Miscellany of Fantastic Films from the Past 50 Years, offers behind-the-scenes details and amazing facts about some of the greatest movies of the past half-century. And it’s available now at your favorite place to buy books, or online right here.