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The best movies to watch for Thanksgiving

More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is really about family. It’s a holiday that, in its design, is built around coming together to share a meal and interact with one another. Once you’re done with the meal, though, you may be looking for something else to bond over or discuss as a family. Thankfully, there are a number of great films set around Thanksgiving that will surely prompt plenty of discussions.

As many of these movies make clear, bringing family together isn’t always easy. There can be conflict and strife, and it can be difficult to remember who thought bringing everyone together once a year was a good idea anyway. Beneath all that, though, these movies are also an excellent reminder of why family is so uniquely able to frustrate and delight us in equal measure. Not all of these movies are guaranteed to make you feel good, but they will remind you why Thanksgiving can be such a uniquely emotional day.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Genre Comedy
Stars Steve Martin, John Candy, Laila Robins
Directed by John Hughes

Likely the first movie everyone thinks about when they think about Thanksgiving, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is so good that it more than deserves a spot on this list. The film tells the story of Neal, an uptight businessman who wants to make it home to his family for Thanksgiving, but finds that his flight has been rerouted by a freak snowstorm.

Forced to travel with a boisterous, outgoing man he finds incredibly annoying, Neal begins breaking apart at the seams as he attempts to hide how annoying he finds his travel companion. While the film initially seems like a fun comedy about holiday travel, what has allowed Planes, Trains and Automobiles to endure is the way we ultimately appreciate that Thanksgiving is about kindness and care, not getting what you want at any cost.

PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES | Official Trailer | Paramount Movies

Little Women (2019)

Little Women
Genre Drama, Romance, History
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson
Directed by Greta Gerwig

Little Women is technically a movie that takes place at a number of different times of the year, but few movies have a more autumnal, Thanksgiving-type vibe. The 2019 adaptation of this era-defining novel follows the four March sisters as they grow up and become y0ung adults.

In jumping around in the timeline, though, director Greta Gerwig creates some astonishing parallels that are only hinted at in most other adaptations. Thanks to a stellar ensemble cast that includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, and Timothée Chalamet, Gerwig’s adaptation may be the best one out there, and it will leave you feeling deeply grateful for the family you have.

LITTLE WOMEN - Official Trailer (HD)

The Humans (2021)

The Humans
Genre Drama
Stars Richard Jenkins, Jayne Houdyshell, Steven Yeun
Directed by Stephen Karam

Another more recent title, The Humans is a chilling, frequently staggering adaptation of the play of the same name. The film follows a small family reuniting in New York City for Thanksgiving, and features the highs and lows that often accompany that kind of family get-together. The Humans can, at times, play a bit like a horror movie, as it is filled with the unexplained sounds of a crumbling New York apartment.

What’s really terrifying about it, though, is the way that the family at its core seems to come at least partially unhinged. In the end, the story of The Humans is one of love, even if it’s the kind of love that almost always makes family impossible to deal with.

The Humans | Official Trailer HD | A24

Krisha (2016)

Genre Drama
Stars Krisha Fairchild, Alex Dobrenko, Robyn Fairchild
Directed by Trey Edward Shults

In an ideal world, Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for your family. What Krisha understands, though, is that it can often be exactly the opposite: a time filled with stress and panic as everyone attempts to create the perfect day. The film follows a troubled middle-aged women who attempts to reunite with her extended family years after abandoning them, only to discover that the familial connections she once had may be severed for good.

It’s a harrowing, often deeply uncomfortable watch, and may not be the ideal movie for anyone looking for comfort. What Krisha is, though, is a reminder of how limiting even the ties that bind a family can be when they are pushed past their breaking point.

Krisha | Official Trailer HD | A24

The Ice Storm (1997)

The Ice Storm
Genre Drama
Stars Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver
Directed by Ang Lee

Set over a tumultuous Thanksgiving break, Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is a humanist masterpiece. The film tells the story of a fairly affluent family that seems, at least on the outside, to be happy. As soon as you take a closer look, though, the entire calm facade starts to fracture and break.

The entire ensemble is perfectly cast, including Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Tobey Maguire as a trio of young kids stuck in suburban ennui. Like so many of the best Thanksgiving movies, The Ice Storm is about watching a family completely break apart, only to tentatively move toward coming back together again in the the film’s final, heartbreaking moments.

The Ice Storm Trailer #1 (1997) | Movieclips Classic Trailers

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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