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Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of “Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the ’70s and ’80s,” as well as “The Totally Sweet ’90s.” If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she’ll be first in line.
Movie fans can easily list their favorite Christmas films, rom-coms, sports movies … but Thanksgiving movies? It’s not exactly a huge genre. But maybe it should be. People who celebrate the holiday with a big dinner are perfectly set up to flop on the couch and watch something. Here’s a rundown of 10 of the best films with some relation to Thanksgiving, plus information on where to watch them. (Sadly, Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant isn’t streaming, or it would be included here.)
Warning: Spoilers for some of the movies ahead.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles might be the most well-known Thanksgiving movie of all Thanksgiving movies. The 1987 comedy was directed by John Hughes, who directed practically everything in the 1980s, and stars Steve Martin and John Candy as two travelers who spark an unlikely friendship as Martin haplessly tries to get home for Thanksgiving. Martin and the late Candy have the perfect personalities to play this odd couple, making the film a chaming and hilarious Thanksgiving treat.
Where to watch: It’s free if you have Paramount Plus, or you can rent it at numerous streaming sites, including Prime Video, YouTube and AppleTV.
Spike Lee’s first full-length feature is 1986’s She’s Gotta Have It. (It’s in black and white, but a fan apparently colorized the scene below.) Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is a Brooklyn graphic artist juggling three men who all join her for an awkward Thankgiving dinner. Lee adapted the film into a Netflix series that ran for two seasons, from 2017-2019. Note that Lee himself later regretted a rape scene from the film, and it wasn’t used in the series.
Where to watch: The film and the series are both on Netflix.
Forget turkey and stuffing. Anyone who’s seen the Emmy Award-winning 1973 movie A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving knows it’s not a real Thanksgiving without popcorn, jelly beans, pretzels and toast.
Where to watch: Apple TV Plus.
There’s a Thanksgiving scene in the original Rocky, and while it’s not exactly full of family warm fuzzies, take any excuse to watch (or rewatch) the best picture winner of 1976 about a struggling Philly boxer who overcomes all odds. Star Sylvester Stallone reportedly wrote the screen play in just three days, but it’s been an American legend for more than 45 years.
Where to watch: You can rent it on Apple TV, Prime Video, YouTube and other streaming sites.
Sure, Miracle on 34th Street is a famed Christmas movie. But it starts at Thanksgiving, and since you’re probably watching it after the turkey has been carved and the pies put back in the fridge, it’s time to start the Christmas season anyway.
Where to watch: Free on Disney Plus or Prime Video for subscribers, or rent at numerous streaming services.
Muppet creator Jim Henson died in 1990, but his namesake company, run by his children, is still making movies and shows. Rapper Ludacris narrates Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, a Thanksgiving-set family-friendly film, which includes goofy monsters that will be familiar to any Muppet fan.
Where to watch: Buy it on Prime Video for a whopping 49 cents (for standard definition).
Not a lot of Grumpy Old Men centers around Thanksgiving, but the 1993 comedy still belongs on this list. You may be gathering with older generations for Thanksgiving, and this comedy set in Minnesota is one of the few that recognizes the friendships, romances, and feuds of more seasoned folks. Star Ann-Margret is still with us at 81, but Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon have, of course, passed on.
Where to watch: Watch it with a Paramount Plus subscription, or rent it on YouTube or Apple TV.
There’s a Thanksgiving scene in Barry Levinson’s 1990 coming-to-America saga, Avalon, that many people quote whenever someone is late for their own family gatherings. (“You cut the turkey without me?”) That scene aside, this beautiful family drama is the kind of period piece they just don’t make anymore, and the young ones at Thanksgiving can learn a lot about their ancestors by watching it.
Where to watch: Rent it on Prime Video, Apple TV, or YouTube.
Al Pacino won an Oscar for Scent of a Woman, a 1992 drama in which Chris O’Donnell plays a prep student hired to watch over Pacino’s character, blind and cantankerous Vietnam War veteran, Lt. Col. Frank Slade. It’s at a Thanksgiving dinner where viewers learn the cause of Slade’s blindness.
Where to watch: Rent on Prime Video, Apple TV or YouTube.
Addams Family Values is the 1993 sequel to 1991’s The Addams Family, which brought the monstrously funny 1960s TV characters to the big screen. It may seem like more of a Halloween flick, but there’s a great Thanksgiving scene involving everyone’s favorite Addams, Wednesday (Christina Ricci).
Where to watch: Stream it free if you subscribe to Netflix or Paramount Plus, or rent it on Prime Video, YouTube, or AppleTV.