15 Movies to Watch With the Whole Family This Thanksgiving
Weâve all been in this situation one or two thousand times: After dinner, the whole family gathers in the living room, lounging near the fire, picking at some pumpkin pie and scrolling through Netflix and Hulu and HBO Max and â well, before you know it, an hour has passed and you still donât have a movie to watch. Flicking through streaming platforms and cable channels to find that elusive film everyone can agree on is the original "doomscrolling," but, if you prep in advance, it doesnât have to be that way this year.
Whether youâre celebrating the day with others in your household or doing a virtual meetup via Netflix Party, weâve rounded up 15 choice movies to help mitigate that day-of film-picking stress. From classics centered around Thanksgiving to films that capture a holiday-appropriate sense of family, fun and coziness, these movies are sure to excite even the pickiest film lovers.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
First on our list is likely first on everyoneâs mind when it comes to naming a Thanksgiving film. Strangely, for all the Christmas movies that flood our screens in December, there really arenât too many (quality) films set against the backdrop of Turkey Day. John Hughesâ Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one glaring exception to that strange phenomenon.
Starring the ever-hilarious Steve Martin and John Candy, this holiday comedy follows Neal Page (Martin), a rather high-strung suit, and Del Griffith (Candy), a kindhearted shower curtain ring salesman, as they embark upon a three-day odyssey to get to Chicago in time for Nealâs Thanksgiving dinner. This classic "odd couple" formula holds up â and, hey, we can all relate to travel plans going awry, especially around the holidays.
Now Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV.
Pieces of April (2003)
If thereâs one thing you can say about Pieces of April, itâs that itâs very early aughts. And if thereâs a second thing you can say about Peter Hedgesâ comedy-drama, itâs that it is a surprisingly great film that bears repeat viewings annually. This is in large part due to the filmâs star-studded cast, which includes Katie Holmes, Derek Luke, Sean Hayes, Alison Pill, Oliver Platt, John Gallagher Jr. and Patricia Clarkson.
Our main character here is the titular April (Holmes), who struggles to prepare a far-from-perfect Thanksgiving meal for her estranged family. Her cramped, Lower East Side apartment in Manhattan â with its non-functional oven â and a bunch of other hurdles crop up, making Aprilâs day all the more stressful. To make matters more fraught, Aprilâs mother, Joy (Clarkson), believes this to be her last Thanksgiving due to her recent breast cancer diagnosis. Both funny and wrenching, the film earned Clarkson both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations â and itâs easy to see why.
Now Streaming On: Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV.
The Farewell (2019)
Few films in recent years have captured a familyâs dynamic with such precision as The Farewell. When you watch it you get a full sense of the characters outside of the filmâs central storyline. While this one isnât about Thanksgiving, it does see a family come together and navigate each otherâs (often conflicting) needs in a way that makes it feel like must-watch when youâre gathered with loved ones.
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is based on her What You Donât Know segment on NPRâs This American Life program. And that segment? It was based on Wangâs experience visiting her terminally ill Nai Nai (paternal grandmother) in China â at a time when Wangâs family agreed it was best to keep the diagnosis from Nai Nai. In the film, the often comedic Awkwafina plays Wangâs stand-in character, Billi, delivering a "fish-out-of-water physicality and emotion-on-her-sleeve sincerity that acts as a catalyst for the family to address issues theyâd rather leave unspoken" (IndieWire). If youâve ever felt a bit out of sorts in your own family â if youâve ever kept a secret or worried about not being fully honest with a loved one â then The Farewell will hold space for you as it does for its onscreen family.Â
Now Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video.
Happiest Season (2020)
While Happiest Season is a Christmas movie, weâre more than happy to add it to the list of Thanksgiving must-sees. Namely, weâre happy to do so because Hulu released it the day before Thanksgiving and, when it comes down to it, all wintry rom-coms feel pretty suitable for Turkey Day viewing, no matter what holiday theyâre actually situated around. Here, director Clea DuVall makes the yuletide (and genre) gay with a story based, in part, on her own experiences as a queer woman.
The film stars Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis as Abby and Harper, a happy queer couple who are headed to Harperâs familyâs home for Christmas. Abby, who isnât a huge fan of the holidays, is excited to meet Harperâs parents â and even more excited to propose to the love of her life. The only problem? Harper isnât out to her parents and wants to keep that part of herself hidden until after the holidays. Bolstered by standout performances from Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Mary Steenburgen and Mary Holland, Happiest Season is an instant classic. It queers the genre and tackles well-trodden coming-out tropes with more nuance than other movies, all while hitting those rom-com beats that are sure to have you grinning.
Now Streaming On: Hulu.
Love & Basketball (2000)
Sure, football might be the unofficial official sport of Thanksgiving, but a great sports movie is a great sports movie, regardless of the field â or court â and Love & Basketball delivers. In addition to giving audiences all the heartache and romantic high notes they could ask for, this classic also provides sports film thrills and deftly captures what it means to be a woman athlete.
Itâs that mix of athletic ambition, familiar romance beats and the way the film traces the lives of its two main characters that makes Love & Basketball feel like a particularly choice holiday watch. For her directorial debut, Gina Prince-Bythewood told Slate that she "wanted to make a real love story with Black people. Not a romantic comedy, but the kind that wrecks you and builds you back up." Without a doubt, Love & Basketball does just that. The film traces the relationship between Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps), two kids who love basketball, become rivals and then, throughout their lives, explore an on-again/off-again relationship. Who needs the Dallas Cowboys, right?Â
Now Available to Rent on: Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, YouTube.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Often, the mark of a great holiday movie is a stellar ensemble cast. On that front, Jodie Fosterâs Home for the Holidays, which stars Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Dylan McDermott and Claire Danes, nails it. Based on a short story by Chris Radant, the Thanksgiving classic centers on Claudia Larson (Hunter), who faces a series of unfortunate events in the lead up to the holiday.
Not only does Claudia lose her job and kiss her ex-boss, but she also discovers that her daughter has made separate Thanksgiving plans, leaving Claudia adrift and Chicago-bound. The only problem? As with all holiday films that stand the test of time, Claudiaâs family is rather dysfunctional â that is, bad at communicating. In the end, secrets spill out, feelings are hurt and hilarity ensues. Standouts include Fosterâs directing, Hunterâs charm and Downey Jr.âs performance as Tommy, Claudiaâs gay brother and longtime confidante.
Now Streaming On: Hulu, Starz, Sling TV.
If youâre anything like us, the lyrics "Remy, the ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams" have been on repeat in your head thanks to TikTokâs internet-meme-meets-musical-theater-collab Ratatouille the Musical, a crowdsourced, but unofficial, bid to turn the beloved Pixar film into a Broadway-esque hit. While we do recommend watching the various videos that make up the viral "Ratatousical," it might be best to stick with the real deal on Thanksgiving.
For the uninitiated, Ratatouille follows the story of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a blue rat with a penchant for cooking. When Remy finds himself in Paris, he canât help but live out his dreams of chefdom â well, sort of. Remy meets a hapless restaurant employee (and human), Linguini (Lou Romano), and proceeds to direct the boyâs cooking while hiding under his chefâs hat. Thereâs no one who appreciates the precision and beauty of cooking more than Remy, so why not spend some time with him and his pals this Thanksgiving?
Now Streaming On: Disney+.
Knives Out (2019)
No, Knives Out isnât a holiday film, but the sheer amount of incredible jackets and cozy cardigans â and, most importantly, Chris Evansâ iconic cable-knit sweater â could fool you. So, why watch this one on Thanksgiving? Well, Knives Out is all about familial dysfunction and betrayal and secrets. Much like Thanksgiving, a death brings a difficult family together, but this time the death isnât a turkey â itâs the familyâs wealthy, mystery novel-writing patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).
The film follows Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlanâs caretaker, and the rest of the zany, opinionated family as they try to piece together Harlanâs suspect demise. Rian Johnsonâs whodunnit feels like a snappier, saltier, twistier Clue (1985), one thatâs made for, and about, the present day. But it still gives you the (weirdly) cozy feeling those classic capers are known for, in part because of Daniel Craigâs stellar performance as private eye Benoit Blanc. In addition to Craig, de Armas, Plummer and Evans, the film also features wonderful performances from Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon and Lakeith Stanfield.
Now Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Earlier this year, a somewhat-scandal cropped up around A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. It didnât have anything to do with the content of the film, but, instead, the movieâs availability. Since launching its streaming service, Apple acquired the exclusive streaming rights to all the Peanuts heavy-hitters, from Itâs the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) to A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).
If you have access to Apple TV+, youâll still be able to enjoy the special, which opens with the Peanutsâ iconic "football gag" â you know, Lucy enticing Charlie Brown to kick a football, only to pull it away at the last moment. Apart from the classic hijinks, the special aims to tell a heartwarming story about friendship: Charlie Brown, Snoopy and other members of the gang throw a Thanksgiving dinner for Peppermint Patty after the Birkenstock-wearing kid is left home alone for the holiday. In the words of Lucy, youâd be a real "blockhead" to miss this one.
Now Streaming On: Apple TV+.
Dan in Real Life (2007)
Thereâs just something about extended family gathering in a big, old house that screams "happy holidays" â even if thereâs nothing remotely seasonal about the film in question. Such is the case with Dan in Real Life, a comedy-drama directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). You may remember this film for its iconic poster, which features a glum Steve Carell using a stack of syrupy pancakes as a pillow, but if you never got around to actually watching it, nowâs the time.
In one of his earliest dramedy turns, Carell plays Dan Burns, a newspaper advice columnist and recent widower who takes his daughters on a trip to Rhode Island for an annual family reunion of sorts at his parentsâ (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney). Of course, Danâs other siblings show up too, including his perennial bachelor brother Mitch (Dane Cook). From managing his depression to having a meet-cute moment with Juliette Binocheâs Marie in a local bookshop, Carellâs performance feels so grounded â heartwarming and also stinging. You know, perfect for the holidays.
Now Available to Rent On: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu.
Youâve Got Mail (1998)
Speaking of love interests and bookshopsâŠYouâve Got Mail! Arguably, this is the best Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-com team-up of the â90s. Directed by Nora Ephron, this classic isnât really a Thanksgiving movie either, but, like any good rom-com worth its salt, it still gives off those comforting, all-will-end-well and there-are-some-great-jackets-and-sweaters vibes.
In the film, Ryanâs Kathleen owns an indie bookstore thatâs about to be put out of business by Joe (Hanks), our â90s Amazon stand-in. This one hits all the right beats, and, to be fair, there is an iconic Thanksgiving scene that features a supremely annoyed Ryan in a grocery store dealing with money woes and an obnoxious dude (Hanks). And, hey, who wouldnât want to spend Thanksgiving with two of Americaâs most beloved Hollywood sweethearts?
Now Streaming On: HBO Max.
The Oath (2018)
Looking to liven things up this Thanksgiving? Tune into The Oath, a black comedy written and directed by the filmâs star Ike Barinholtz. Without a doubt, this comedic movie, built around a politically divided family, could only exist in a world where The Purge franchise exists â it feels like a response to that dystopian horror series, but, you know, helmed by comedic greats like Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish.
The premise is simple: In the near future, the United States government asks all of its citizens to sign a loyalty pledge. Itâs not a requirement, per se, but thereâs a strict deadline â Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This provides the backdrop for Chris (Barinholtz) and Kaiâs (Haddish) messy Turkey Day meal. While the couple is rather disturbed by the oath, other members of their politically divided family arenât as upset by it. Long story short, itâs the ultimate awkward, infuriating Thanksgiving dinner â turned up several notches.
Now Streaming On: Hulu.
Lez Bomb (2018)
In many ways, Lez Bomb is the original Happiest Season â that is, it also tells the story of a queer woman bringing her partner home for a holiday without coming out to her family first. This time, however, the holiday is actually Thanksgiving. Written and directed by its star Jenna Laurenzo, the comedy-drama follows the closeted Lauren (Laurenzo) and her loving partner Hailey (Caitlin Mehner) as they embark on a classic dysfunctional-family-meets-holidays journey.
Upon arriving at her parentsâ â played by Kevin Pollak and Dierdre O'Connell â Lauren tries her (somewhat) best to come out as gay to them, only to be cut off time and again. In the middle of all of this, her longtime friend and roommate Austin (Brandon Micheal Hall) arrives, turkey in hand, to spend the holidays with Laurenâs family. Almost immediately, Laurenâs parents mistake Austin for her boyfriend and, when a flannel-clad Hailey does show up, the thought that she is actually Laurenâs partner never crosses their minds. At times frustrating by design, this funny, sincere and heartfelt Thanksgiving film is rounded out by a charming cast, which includes Cloris Leachman, Bruce Dern and Elaine Hendrix of Parent Trap (1998) fame.
Now Streaming On: Amazon Prime Video, Tubi.
The Parent Trap (1998)
"Letâs get together, yeah, yeah, yeah" might not exactly be the mantra of 2020âs Thanksgiving season â and isnât exactly the mantra of Disneyâs Parent Trap remake either. Nonetheless, this is one of the remakes thatâs â fight us on it! â better than the original. (Apologies to Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills and her stylish â60s outfits.) As most moviegoers know, director Nancy Meyersâ Parent Trap is all about bringing families back together, making it a wonderful tonic for a year full of isolation.
In the remake, Lindsay Lohan stars opposite herself as Hallie Parker and Annie James, estranged twins who, by chance, meet at a Maine summer camp only to discover that theyâre related. The twins decide the best way to reunite their mom, London-based wedding dress designer Elizabeth James (Natasha Richardson), and their dad, Napa-based winemaker Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid), is to swap places post-summer camp. Inevitably, theyâll need to be switched back, right? Right.
Now Streaming On: Disney+.
Howlâs Moving Castle (2004)
If the wondrously bright animation and fanciful character and world design donât draw you in, the story of Howlâs Moving Castle is sure to captivate young and old viewers alike. Based on the Diana Wynne Jones novel of the same name, this animated venture was crafted with care by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. For newcomers, Howlâs is set in a fictional world where both early 20th-century inventions and magic exist, where two kingdoms war with one another and where a young milliner named Sophie is turned into an old woman by a witchâs curse.
Seeking to break the curse, Sophie finds herself working as a cleaning woman for Howl, a charming but ill-tempered young wizard who lives in an enchanted, walking castle. While Howl is pulled into the kingdomsâ war, Sophie finds herself charmed by the wizardâs motley crew â a fire demon named Calcifer, Howlâs young apprentice Markl â and the characters she meets along the way â a wheezing dog, an enchanted scarecrow, a washed-up witch. In the end, Howlâs Moving Castle is all about love, in all its variations, and chosen family â and no other non-Thanksgiving film captures the spirit of togetherness, in all its permutations, like this film.
Now Streaming On: HBO Max.