Thanksgiving comes every year, with its unique brand of chaos. Whether you’re in transit to visit extended family, or waiting for the turkey to be cooked just right, there are movies that capture the kick-off to the holiday season that are always worth re-visiting. For those who need an escape from the family get together, these movies offer a built-in escape to focus on laughs and feel-good stories.
Some movies, like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, are Thanksgiving staples that capture the spirit of the holiday. Some focus more on one of the hallmarks of the holiday, including football. Rudy and Remember the Titans fit this bill. During a break in festivities, any of these movies provide an option to re-visit while digesting a festive turkey meal.
‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’ (1987)
A classic movie about Thanksgiving, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is Steve Martin and John Candy at their very best. The movie chronicles Martin’s Neal Page as he desperately tries to return home for the holidays. Hijinks ensue as this duo is continually delayed along their journey.
This movie really captures not only the spirit of the holiday season, but the unique anarchy that is just trying to get home. Anyone who has ever had to travel to reach their loved ones over the holidays will surely be able to relate to this journey. There’s a poignancy that comes with watching these two polar opposite characters bond during an intense and chaotic time of year.
‘Knives Out’ (2019)
Knives Out is a classic whodunit, with a murder, millionaires running wild, and a dapper private detective that embodies Daniel Craig in every way. There’s not much more that needs to be said before diving into the twists and turns that never let up. The entire movie is anchored by incredible performances and pointed social commentary.
Chris Evans‘ cable-knit sweaters alone make Knives Out a worthy Thanksgiving entry. The aesthetic is absolutely seasonally appropriate. It can also be incredibly validating to see such a dysfunctional family on-screen. The Thrombey crew is an exaggerated version of families everywhere. Though most of them are detestable, they’re incredibly relatable.
Friendsgiving is a buddy comedy about the power of friendship. It’s the story of a small Thanksgiving dinner that becomes progressively larger, more dysfunctional, and more fun. For those who appreciate found families, this is one worth cheering for.
Seeing friendships between adult women is thrilling. It’s also a heartbreaking reminder that this is a dynamic that isn’t shown on-screen nearly enough. For those who have their found family to support them this holiday season, this movie is a celebration of people who come together to care for one another, regardless of blood relation.
‘Home for the Holidays’ (1995)
Thanksgiving can represent a time of revelations coming out, when big families gather together. So it is in Home for the Holidays. Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr. star in this seasonal comedy about a dysfunctional family compelled to spend time together at the start of the holiday season.
Home for the Holidays is nothing if not relatable. The shenanigans get progressively more zany, and the characters get more relatable as we see them reveal the depths of their dysfunction. This is the distillation of everything that makes Thanksgiving stressful and joyful in equal measure. So many have had to navigate the holidays under similar circumstances.
‘You’ve Got Mail’ (1998)
Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan give career-high performances in You’ve Got Mail. This period piece tells the story of two people falling in love, who couldn’t be from more opposite backgrounds. It’s a classic romance, and very much a 1990s period piece.
Not only does this have perfect seasonal vibes, it tells a story for bookworms everywhere, of a small independent bookstore fighting against a massive chain. This movie is the very embodiment of the comfort and warmth that this time of year is known for. New York in the autumn is a character itself.
Rudy is a classic underdog story, chronicling Sean Astin‘s Rudy, and his dreams of playing football for Notre Dame University. He’s just such an incredibly lovable protagonist, it’s impossible not to cheer him on every step of the way. His setbacks and triumphs are relatable ones.
For those who don’t enjoy watching football itself, perhaps a movie about a character one can follow is a better option. Football is always a Hallmark of American Thanksgiving celebrations. Why not add in Rudy, one of the most beloved football movies of all time, to the festivities?
‘Remember the Titans’ (2000)
Continuing with the football theme, Remember the Titans is another football movie that can be substituted for watching the actual game. Denzel Washington is at the height of his powers as Herman Boone. His mission is to bring a recently integrated high school together is an enthralling journey to watch from beginning to end.
Again, with football being an essential part to many American households at Thanksgiving, Remember the Titans is another option who would prefer a fictionalized game to watch rather than the real thing. If you’re looking for a found family to lose yourself in, and tune into an important part of American history, this may fit the bill.
‘Scent of a Woman’ (1992)
Al Pacino‘s performance in Scent of a Woman earned him critical acclaim, and an Oscar win. He plays alongside Chris O’Donnell, and the two are a most unlikely duo. O’Donnell’s prep school graduate Charlie Simms cares for Pacino’s Lt. Col. Frank Slade over the Thanksgiving weekend.
While the tango scene may be the most memorable scene from this movie, the Thanksgiving dinner deserves recognition as well. The fact that so many things can happen over a Thanksgiving weekend is enough to make any viewer’s head spin. This is another validating example of the beautiful disarray that this time of year encapsulates.
‘Pieces of April’ (2003)
Pieces of April tells the story of April Burns (Katie Holmes) who is estranged from her family, but invites them to spend Thanksgiving in her tenement apartment. The holiday is expected to be the last for her mother Joy (Patricia Clarkson). The family’s deep dysfunction is obvious from the very beginning.
This movie captures the best and worst of what Thanksgiving can be. It might make for a too-real viewing experience. However, it’s cathartic watching a family navigate their dysfunction, and then begin to work through their issues. The movie has less of a happy ending wrapped up with a bow, and more of a lifeline of hope in the middle of reality.
‘Paul Blart: Mall Cop’ (2009)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop tells the story of Paul Blart (Kevin James), a security guard who’s main goal in life is to join the New Jersey State Police. His work at a local mall is mostly chasing after deliquent customers. However, on Black Friday, he comes face-to-face with the criminal underworld, when a gang of thugs plans a heist at the mall.
Not only does the main plot center around Black Friday, it’s a comedy that perhaps is needed more than ever during Thanksgiving. The movie takes itself too seriously, and it’s a mostly friendly comedic romp. The ultimately sweet message, and an unlikely hero who saves Black Friday, is one that’s incredibly seasonally appropriate.
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