When it comes to how movies depict winter holidays, Christmas — just like at CVS in real life — gets the lion’s share of attention. Thanksgiving, meanwhile, is stuck milling around in the background.
Though there’s an entire industry dedicated to Christmas-themed movies, the more low-key holiday serves as the backdrop for quite a few interesting films. Since Thanksgiving is about families coming together, it's a natural place for college students to take temp jobs keeping a blind person company or a man to fall in love with his ex-wife’s sister.
Also, there’s food. So, everybody wins.
Pieces of April
A young woman living in New York invites her estranged small-town family to her rundown apartment for Thanksgiving. By the way, her mom, played by Patricia Clarkson, is dying. What could have been a paint-by-numbers tearjerker is frustrating, funny, and bittersweet — kind of like a real Thanksgiving with your family. It’s the best thing Katie Holmes has ever done, except for divorcing Tom Cruise. Also, there’s a fundamental Thanksgiving truism here: Nobody likes canned cranberry sauce. Nobody.
Hannah and Her Sisters
The height of the Mia Farrow/Woody Allen partnership was this movie, which opens and closes with Thanksgiving dinners held a year apart. And, just like an actual Thanksgiving dinner, there’s plenty of meat — here, it's the sisters’ complicated romantic entanglements — in the middle.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Pretzel sticks and popcorn might not make up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s an adorably accurate version of how kids might celebrate the holiday in their own way. Charlie Brown is at his most winsome in this classic movie, which has all the kids singing as they go off to Grandma’s house — er, condo — to celebrate Turkey Day. Remember, boys and girls, Thanksgiving isn’t about what you eat; it’s about the people you eat with.
Addams Family Values
Some kids have to act out the Thanksgiving story in school. But, when Wednesday Addams gets assigned Pocahontas (who wasn’t part of the original Thanksgiving, but whatevs) in her camp’s play, she goes off-book in a beautifully memorable, Addams Family-appropriate way. It’s the “are they made with real Girl Scouts?” line amped up to sequel-worthy level.
Scent of a Woman
In his baby-faced, pre-Batman & Robin days, Chris O’Donnell played a young prep-school student who got some extra money by “babysitting” a blind former military officer over the Thanksgiving holiday. There’s very little pilgrim-and-Indian talk in this movie; instead, there’s Al Pacino winning a long-overdue Oscar for teaching a young woman how to dance the tango and a young man how to live his damn life.
The House of Yes
Isn’t it romantic when your fiancé invites you to join his family for Thanksgiving? Unfortunately, poor, naïve Tori Spelling didn’t realize that she was going to get caught up in the creepiest brother/sister relationship this side of Flowers in the Attic. New holiday rule: Stay far, far away from the carving knives.
The Ice Storm
College students sometimes think that world is changing around them, but in the case of the one played by
Thanksgiving creates tons of delicious leftovers. And, it also creates a lot of trash. In this movie, based on the Arlo Guthrie folk song of the same name, a few Thanksgiving guests try to take their next-day garbage to the dump and end up accidentally running afoul of the law.
The Last Waltz
Why spend Thanksgiving at home watching football when you could spend it witnessing the last-ever performance by The Band? Luckily, if you couldn't weasel out of mealtime, Martin Scorsese captured The Band's last show in this documentary. Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan or your annoying cousin? The music wins every single time.
If Evil Dead met I Know What You Did Last Summer and was directed by Ed Wood, you might end up with ThanksKilling, a completely unhinged parody of a slasher movie about five college kids who are hunted by a homicidal turkey whose catchphrase is “Gobble, gobble motherf*cker.” The people who made this movie may not be able to place commas correctly, but they sure know how to make a camp classic.