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Just as Christmas often overshadows Thanksgiving as a holiday, the movie studios in Hollywood tend to constantly overlook Turkey Day as a setting for great stories. With all the pressure that can come from cooking a massive meal and the awkwardness that can come from having the entire family around a table, it’s a wonder more filmmakers don’t tap into this November ritual.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some great Thanksgiving films out there — you just have to know where to look. Here are 10 of the best movies set around Thanksgiving or featuring memorable plot connections to the beloved holiday.
‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’
In 1987’s “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” Steve Martin’s character is a high-strung ad man trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving when he encounters and eventually teams up with a wacky fellow traveler played by John Candy. Misadventures via many forms of transportation ensue. The latest 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version, which just came out this month, also has an hour of otherwise unseen deleted and extended scenes that were found in director John Hughes’ archive.
“It’s a great road trip movie. A classic buddy film. A terrific slapstick comedy. A heartwarming drama,” wrote Richard Roeper, of the Chicago Sun-Times, about the film. “And one of the best Thanksgiving movies of all time.”
‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’
This 1973 TV special aired almost a decade after the iconic “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and maintains the same breezy mood while highlighting the magic of another holiday. In “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” the Peanuts crew gets together for a Thanksgiving meal hosted by Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock and Linus.
However, Chuck isn’t much of a cook, and Peppermint Patty is especially irate at the prospect of a Thanksgiving feast consisting of snack food and toast. Luckily, the Brown family’s grandmother saves the day in the end. In typical Peanuts fashion, all the members of the fun-loving gang get a reminder about the importance of being together for holidays.
‘Scent of a Woman’
“Scent of a Woman” follows a sheltered prep school student named Charlie, played by Chris O’Donnell, who is paid by the niece of a blind and irascible retired Army officer named Frank, played by Al Pacino, to spend time with him over Thanksgiving weekend.
However, Frank unexpectedly decides to travel to New York, and Charlie is along for the ride. There’s a memorable, intense scene involving a Thanksgiving meal at the home of Frank’s brother, and strong acting throughout the movie. Pacino won an Oscar for his role in this 1992 holiday-set drama.
‘Home for the Holidays’
In 1995’s “Home for the Holidays,” recently fired Claudia (Holly Hunter) reluctantly goes home to spend Thanksgiving with her dysfunctional extended family. Lots of famous faces and a holiday romance are mixed into the movie, and Jodie Foster notably directed the film.
Roger Ebert wrote in his review (3 1/2 stars out of 4) that the film’s flawed family isn’t that much of an exaggeration beyond each of our own.
“Have we not all, on our ways to family gatherings, parked the car a block away, taken several deep breaths, rubbed our eyes and massaged our temples, and driven on, gritting our teeth? That is not because we do not love our families, but because we know them so very, very well.”
‘You’ve Got Mail’
Set over the fall in New York City, “You’ve Got Mail” is a late-’90s update of the Jimmy Stewart Christmas classic “The Shop Around the Corner.” While the plot — which involves two people who can’t stand one another in person falling in love anonymously online without realizing it — is a little wonky, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks have so much chemistry as the leads that you will be drawn right in.
The memorable Thanksgiving tie-in? Hanks’ wealthy character rescues Ryan’s from embarrassment when she accidentally uses a cash-only lane during the crush of Thanksgiving shopping at a New York grocery store.
While we personally think Garfield’s Christmas outing is the best of the feline’s holiday specials, “Garfield’s Thanksgiving” also brings out our inner child.
In this 1987 favorite, Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle, is trying to impress his pet’s comely veterinarian. She tells Jon that Garfield needs to go on a diet while he’s trying to get her to come over for a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. The only problem is that Jon’s a horrible cook.
Garfield’s sarcasm pairs well with Jon’s dog, Odie, and the cluelessness of their owner. Let’s not forget a cameo by Grandma Arbuckle. Gen Xers and elder millennials will enjoy introducing their kids to this classic, which you can even buy on DVD along with the Christmas special.
‘Pieces of April’
Katie Holmes is the title character in 2003’s “Pieces of April.” Hosting Thanksgiving for her estranged family, including her mother, who is facing terminal cancer, doesn’t go at all as planned for April. Her oven breaks, her boyfriend gets beat up, and her family changes their plans suddenly. But in the end, this indie flick shows how both strangers and family can come together for a shared meal.
‘Grumpy Old Men’
“Grumpy Old Men” features legendary co-stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau at their bickering best as frenemies who have known each other most of their long lives. The two are upset to see one of their mutual friends having Thanksgiving dinner with an attractive newcomer to town, played by Ann-Margret.
The estranged old men must figure out how to reconcile by the film’s end. In his review, Ebert said in 1993 that Matthau and Lemmon “are fun to see together, if for no other reason than just for the essence of their beings.”
‘The New World’
When you talk about Thanksgiving films, at least one of them should touch on the time period in which the holiday originated.
“The New World,” which came out in 2005, was extensively researched for accuracy and tells the story of European colonist John Smith and the Powhatan Pocahontas in the earliest days of the Jamestown colony. Directed by Terrence Malick and starring Colin Farrell and Q’orianka Kilcher, the film did poorly in theaters but has since become regarded as a modern classic by critics.
Based on the Richard Russo book of the same name, “Nobody’s Fool” stars Paul Newman, along with Jessica Tandy, Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and a number of other familiar faces. Newman was nominated for an Oscar for his lead performance. The fool in question is grumpy Sully (Newman) who finds his estranged son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons in town for Thanksgiving. There’s also a funny side story in this 1994 dramedy involving the theft of a snowblower.
Honorable mention for best things to watch over Thanksgiving includes all of the “Friends” Thanksgiving episodes compiled into one binge-watching session!
What’s your go-to movie for getting into the Thanksgiving spirit?
By Anna Weaver, for Newsy.
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