We’ve 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 — well, before you know it, an hour has passed and you still don’t 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 doesn’t have to be that way this year.
Whether you’re celebrating the day with others in your household or doing a virtual meetup via Netflix Party, we’ve rounded up 14 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 everyone’s mind when it comes to naming a Thanksgiving film. Strangely, for all the Christmas movies that flood our screens in December, there really aren’t too many (quality) films set against the backdrop of Turkey Day. John Hughes’ 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 Neal’s Thanksgiving dinner. This classic “odd couple” formula holds up — 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 there’s one thing you can say about Pieces of April, it’s that it’s very early aughts. And if there’s a second thing you can say about Peter Hedges’ comedy-drama, it’s that it is a surprisingly great film that bears repeat viewings annually. This is in large part due to the film’s 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 — with its non-functional oven — and a bunch of other hurdles crop up, making April’s day all the more stressful. To make matters more fraught, April’s 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 — and it’s easy to see why.
Now Streaming On: Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Sling TV.
The Farewell (2019)
Few films in recent years have captured a family’s dynamic with such precision as The Farewell. When you watch it you get a full sense of the characters outside of the film’s central storyline. While this one isn’t about Thanksgiving, it does see a family come together and navigate each other’s (often conflicting) needs in a way that makes it feel like must-watch when you’re gathered with loved ones.
Written and directed by Lulu Wang, The Farewell is based on her What You Don’t Know segment on NPR’s This American Life program. And that segment? It was based on Wang’s experience visiting her terminally ill Nai Nai (paternal grandmother) in China — at a time when Wang’s family agreed it was best to keep the diagnosis from Nai Nai. In the film, the often comedic Awkwafina plays Wang’s 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 they’d rather leave unspoken” (IndieWire). If you’ve ever felt a bit out of sorts in your own family — if you’ve ever kept a secret or worried about not being fully honest with a loved one — then The Farewell will hold space for you as it does for its onscreen family.
Now Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video.
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 — or court — 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.
It’s 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?
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 Foster’s 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, Claudia’s family is rather dysfunctional — that is, bad at communicating. In the end, secrets spill out, feelings are hurt and hilarity ensues. Standouts include Foster’s directing, Hunter’s charm and Downey Jr.’s performance as Tommy, Claudia’s gay brother and longtime confidante.
Now Streaming On: Hulu, Starz, Sling TV.
If you’re anything like us, the lyrics “Remy, the ratatouille, the rat of all my dreams” have been on repeat in your head thanks to TikTok’s 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 can’t help but live out his dreams of chefdom — well, sort of. Remy meets a hapless restaurant employee (and human), Linguini (Lou Romano), and proceeds to direct the boy’s cooking while hiding under his chef’s hat. There’s 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 isn’t a holiday film, but the sheer amount of incredible jackets and cozy cardigans — and, most importantly, Chris Evans’ iconic cable-knit sweater — 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 isn’t a turkey — it’s the family’s wealthy, mystery novel-writing patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).
The film follows Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s caretaker, and the rest of the zany, opinionated family as they try to piece together Harlan’s suspect demise. Rian Johnson’s whodunnit feels like a snappier, saltier, twistier Clue (1985), one that’s 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 Craig’s 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 didn’t have anything to do with the content of the film, but, instead, the movie’s availability. Since launching its streaming service, Apple acquired the exclusive streaming rights to all the Peanuts heavy-hitters, from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) to A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965).
If you have access to Apple TV+, you’ll still be able to enjoy the special, which opens with the Peanuts’ iconic “football gag” — 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, you’d be a real “blockhead” to miss this one.
Now Streaming On: Apple TV+.
Dan in Real Life (2007)
There’s just something about extended family gathering in a big, old house that screams “happy holidays” — even if there’s 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, now’s 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 parents’ (Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney). Of course, Dan’s 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 Binoche’s Marie in a local bookshop, Carell’s performance feels so grounded — heartwarming and also stinging. You know, perfect for the holidays.
Now Available to Rent On: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
Speaking of love interests and bookshops…You’ve Got Mail! Arguably, this is the best Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-com team-up of the ’90s. Directed by Nora Ephron, this classic isn’t 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, Ryan’s Kathleen owns an indie bookstore that’s about to be put out of business by Joe (Hanks), our ’90s 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 wouldn’t want to spend Thanksgiving with two of America’s 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 film’s 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 — 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. It’s not a requirement, per se, but there’s a strict deadline — Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This provides the backdrop for Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai’s (Haddish) messy Turkey Day meal. While the couple is rather disturbed by the oath, other members of their politically divided family aren’t as upset by it. Long story short, it’s the ultimate awkward, infuriating Thanksgiving dinner — turned up several notches.
Now Streaming On: Hulu.
Lez Bomb (2018)
In many ways, Lez Bomb is the original Happiest Season — 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 parents’ — played by Kevin Pollak and Dierdre O’Connell — 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 Lauren’s family. Almost immediately, Lauren’s parents mistake Austin for her boyfriend and, when a flannel-clad Hailey does show up, the thought that she is actually Lauren’s 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)
“Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah” might not exactly be the mantra of 2020’s Thanksgiving season — and isn’t exactly the mantra of Disney’s Parent Trap remake either. Nonetheless, this is one of the remakes that’s — fight us on it! — better than the original. (Apologies to Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills and her stylish ’60s outfits.) As most moviegoers know, director Nancy Meyers’ 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 they’re 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, they’ll need to be switched back, right? Right.
Now Streaming On: Disney+.
Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
If the wondrously bright animation and fanciful character and world design don’t draw you in, the story of Howl’s 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, Howl’s 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 witch’s 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 kingdoms’ war, Sophie finds herself charmed by the wizard’s motley crew — a fire demon named Calcifer, Howl’s young apprentice Markl — and the characters she meets along the way — a wheezing dog, an enchanted scarecrow, a washed-up witch. In the end, Howl’s Moving Castle is all about love, in all its variations, and chosen family — and no other non-Thanksgiving film captures the spirit of togetherness, in all its permutations, like this film.
Now Streaming On: HBO Max.