Noovie 9: Thanksgiving Movies We're Thankful For

A bit of warmth on this different kind of holiday in 2020. 9 Thanksgiving movies you can watch and be thankful for, with the promise of better times ahead.

By Chuck Walton

  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    © Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    This year, it's good to stay home. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't travel vicariously – and this T-Day movie road trip is a classic!

    Steve Martin and John Candy are, respectively, the uptight straight man and gregarious interloper who somehow get stuck together over and over in a mad-dash attempt to make it from NYC to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner. The John Hughes comedy features all kinds of funny set-ups involving all kinds of vehicular travel. It also has a lot of heart, much of that belonging to the two leads and especially the warm big bear hug of a performance from the late, great John Candy.

    Planes, Trains and Automobiles

    Comedy / 1987 / R

    Easily excitable Neal Page (Steve Martin) is somewhat of a control freak. Trying to get home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his wife (Laila Robins) and kids, his flight is rerouted to a distant city in Kansas because of a freak snowstorm, and his sanity begins to fray. Worse yet, he is forced to bunk up with talkative Del Griffith (John Candy), whom he finds extremely annoying. Together they must overcome the insanity of holiday travel to reach their intended destination.

  • Home for the Holidays

    (c)Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

    Jodie Foster directs this 1995 comedy that's pretty much the epitome of what's good, bad, ugly and hilarious about coming home for the holidays with all your insane relatives.

    Holly Hunter stars as a single mom whose teen daughter opts out of the family Thanksgiving dinner (to stay home and have sex with her boyfriend no less). Mom's left solo then to cope with her crazy aunt (Geraldine Chaplin), her indifferent sister (Cynthia Stevenson), her snobbish brother-in-law (Steve Guttenberg), her doting parents (Charles Durning and Anne Bancroft), her just-married (secretly) brother (Robert Downey Jr.), and his attractive new (available?) friend (Dylan McDermott).

    Home for the Holidays

    Holiday / 1995 / PG-13

    When her teenage daughter opts out of Thanksgiving, single mother Claudia Larson (Holly Hunter) travels alone to her childhood home for an explosive holiday dinner with her dysfunctional family. Claudia quickly tires of her parents, her long-suffering sister (Cynthia Stevenson), her snobby brother-in-law (Steve Guttenberg) and her nutty aunt (Geraldine Chaplin). But the evening gets interesting when sparks fly between Claudia and her brother's handsome friend Leo Fish (Dylan McDermott).

  • Pieces of April

    (c) United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

    Two severely underrated Katie Holmes performances and movies: 1999's "Go," which finds Holmes and a merry band of Gen X pranksters leading a thrilling and definitely dangerous lifestyle on Christmas Eve on the streets of Los Angeles and Las Vegas; and 2003's "Pieces of April." The latter is a comedy-drama that finds Holmes' red-haired, punk-styled character April volunteering to host and cook Thanksgiving dinner for her family in her small New York apartment. Estranged from her family, she's hoping to make the peace, especially since her mom (Patricia Clarkson) is suffering breast cancer.

    The tough part…she doesn't really know how to cook…at all. With a little luck and some help from the residents in her complex, everything may still turn out!

    Pieces of April

    Comedy Drama / 2003 / PG-13

    Quirky and rebellious April Burns (Katie Holmes) lives with her boyfriend in a low-rent New York City apartment miles away from her emotionally distant family. But when she discovers that her mother (Patricia Clarkson) has a fatal form of breast cancer, she invites the clan to her place for Thanksgiving. While her father (Oliver Platt) struggles to drive her family into the city, April -- an inexperienced cook -- runs into kitchen trouble and must ask a neighbor (Sean Hayes) for help.

  • Scent of a Woman

    © Universal / courtesy Everett Collection

    Al Pacino won the Oscar for Best Actor for his larger than life role as a blind, retired Army officer who convinces the high school prep student (Chris O'Donnell) watching over him for the Thanksgiving holiday to take a trip into New York City. It's not the traditional Thanksgiving adventure, but there's a lot of humor and genuine bonding that take place as Pacino's embittered vet learns as much on decency and integrity from the kid as he provides in grit and strength.

    Scent of a Woman

    Drama / 1992 / R

    Frank is a retired Lt. Col. in the US army. He's blind and impossible to get along with. Charlie is at school and is looking forward to going to college. To help pay for a trip home for Christmas, he agrees to look after Frank over Thanksgiving. Frank's niece says this will be easy money, but she didn't reckon on Frank spending his Thanksgiving in New York.

  • Krisha

    © A24 / courtesy Everett Collection

    Trey Edward Shults' directorial debut is an emotional stunner.

    The indie drama won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, and the cast includes members of Shults' own family, including Krisha Fairchild as Krisha, a woman who has been estranged from her family for many years. She finally reconciles with them at Thanksgiving, but due to the pressure, falls back on past addictions with drink and drugs in secret – until emotions and secrets explode between them all.


    Holiday / 2015 / R

    Tensions rise at a Thanksgiving gathering when a troubled woman (Krisha Fairchild) reunites with the extended family that she abandoned years earlier.

  • Free Birds

    ©Relativity Media/courtesy Everett Collection

    For a lighter, family-friendly movie course, try this appetizing cinematic fare featuring an all-star cast of voices including Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Woody Harrelson, George Takei and more. The breezy animated comedy finds two time-travelling turkeys headed back through the generations to see if they can switch up the traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu – specifically the main course.

    Free Birds

    Animated / 2013 / PG

    Pardoned by the president, a lucky turkey (Owen Wilson) named Reggie gets to live a carefree lifestyle, until fellow fowl Jake (Woody Harrelson) recruits him for a history-changing mission. Jake and Reggie travel back in time to the year 1621, just before the first Thanksgiving. The plan: Prevent all turkeys from ever becoming holiday dinners. Unfortunately, the two birds encounter colonist Myles Standish (Colm Meaney), out to capture feathered friends for all the hungry Pilgrims.

  • Nobody's Fool

    (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

    Nominated for Best Actor for his performance here, screen legend Paul Newman is, as the marketing proclaims, "absolute perfection" as Sully, a care-free, cranky and cantankerous 60-something hustler/construction worker in a sleepy New York town. When his grown son and young grandson arrive at Thanksgiving, Sully finally begins to own up to the responsibilities of his life.

    Nobody's Fool

    Drama / 1994 / R

    Donald "Sully" Sullivan (Paul Newman) is an expert at avoiding adult responsibilities. At 60, he divides all his time between a local bar and the occasional construction job. When his estranged son, Peter (Dylan Walsh), arrives in town, bringing with him a son of his own and a sob story about his failed marriage, Sully finds himself assuming the roles of both father and grandfather. After a life of unchecked self-indulgence, he wonders if he is up to the task.

  • The Oath

    © Roadside Attractions /Courtesy Everett Collection

    Nowadays, our country can appear pretty divided, and we'll admit, the premise of this Thanksgiving comedy might be a little too close for comfort for many.

    For others, though, it might be just the thing to defuse all the tension. If you can laugh at it, you can probably laugh through anything.

    The story involves a future America where citizens are requested to sign a document (the Oath) swearing loyalty to the US government by Black Friday. Ike Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish play an interracial couple who have issues with the order and the sitting President. When two government agents arrive at their door after the Thanksgiving holiday, communications between them and their extended family are strained more than a little bit. Here, it's best just to sit back, enjoy the fireworks and be thankful it's not your family.

    The Oath

    Comedy / 2018 / R

    When Chris, a high-strung news junkie, and his more levelheaded wife learn that citizens are being asked to sign a loyalty oath to the president, their reaction is disbelief. As the Thanksgiving deadline to sign approaches, the combination of sparring relatives, Chris' own agitation and the unexpected arrival of two government agents sends an already tense holiday gathering completely off the rails.

  • The Blind Side

    ©Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

    The hugely popular "The Blind Side" earned over $300 million at the box office, and a Best Actress Oscar for Sandra Bullock. It's an inspiring, family-friendly, real-life story about the obstacles overcome by Michael Oher, a kid from an impoverished background who went on to defy his circumstances and become a first-round draft pick in the NFL. A key moment in the movie comes when Oher sits down to Thanksgiving with his adopted family, and everyone realizes how blessed they truly are.

    The Blind Side

    Drama / 2009 / PG-13

    Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless black teen, has drifted in and out of the school system for years. Then Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), take him in. The Tuohys eventually become Michael's legal guardians, transforming both his life and theirs. Michael's tremendous size and protective instincts make him a formidable force on the gridiron, and with help from his new family and devoted tutor, he realizes his potential as a student and football player.

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