While there are thousands of Christmas movies, Thanksgiving is often overlooked on film. In fact, many Thanksgiving films are even mistaken for Christmas movies.
Just look at this cover art for Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
It makes sense considering both holidays share many similarities, from the focus on family to the same time of year. And just like with Christmas, there’s nothing like a good Thanksgiving movie to really get you into the holiday spirit. Whether you're getting dinner ready or winding down after the big feast, it’s amazing how the right film can put you in just the right mood. Fortunately, there are still plenty of feel-good Thanksgiving films out there for you to choose from. Here are a few that will leave you feeling warm, fuzzy, and ready for the holiday season.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Even the Elf Squad agrees: holiday travel is an absolute nightmare. But it’s a lot harder if you can’t find reasons to laugh or ways to help each other out. And that’s the basis for John Hughes’ 1987 seminal comedy, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, starring Steve Martin and the late John Candy. No list of Thanksgiving films would be complete without this absolute classic comedy on it.
Ad executive Neal Page is heading home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, when a sudden snowstorm reroutes his flight to Kansas City. An already bad situation gets worse when he’s forced to bunk with a friendly but annoying salesman, Del Griffith. While going through one mishap after another, both men realize that they have to work together in order to get back home. And who knows… in the midst of all this chaos, a very unlikely friendship just might form.
You’ve Got Mail (1998)
It’s not your typical Thanksgiving movie, this one features an autumn setting and several key scenes on or just before Turkey Day. Based on the 1937 Hungarian play, Parfumerie by Miklos Laszlo, You’ve Got Mail continues to be a favorite for rom-com fans today. Here, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan reunite on screen for the third time, with Norah Ephron serving as writer and director.
Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly are rival bookstore owners — he owns a chain of megastores while she runs her mom’s independent shop. What these two don’t know is that they’re in an online relationship… with each other. And it’s all thanks to a mutual decision to remain anonymous. For months, Joe and Kathleen clash in person while growing closer through emails and chat rooms. But how will they react when they each discover their real identities?
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Our next film is also an unlikely holiday favorite… at least at first. After all, Scent of a Woman is best known for two things — its memorable tango scene and Al Pacino’s Oscar win for Best Actor. But when you really watch it, you’ll find that its Thanksgiving setting is a perfect backdrop for a surprisingly tender story.
To earn money for a Christmas trip back home, college student Charlie needs a job over Thanksgiving break. He agrees to look after an older man named Frank, a blin, retired army lieutenant with a horrible temper and plans of his own for the holidays. What should have been a lowkey weekend goes sideways when Frank takes Charlie on a chaotic trip to New York City. Yet, in the end, their time together becomes more meaningful for both men than they first realized.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
Our busy schedules and long-distance moves often make the holidays the one time of year that we can see our families. But for some — like Claudia in Home for the Holidays — these trips remind you why you left in the first place. Jodie Foster directs an ensemble cast — starring Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., and Dylan McDermot — that showcases all the highs and lows of family gatherings.
Things aren’t going well for single mom Claudia Larson — she’s lost her job, kissed her former boss, and her daughter is spending the holidays with her boyfriend. With nothing else to do, she reluctantly flies to Chicago to be with her very dysfunctional family for Thanksgiving. As expected, she gets tired of her overbearing parents, insufferable sister, and eccentric aunt very fast. But when she meets her brother’s handsome friend, Leo, it seems like things won’t be so bad after all this year.
What’s Cooking (2000)
Have you ever wondered what your neighbors or friends do for Thanksgiving every year? Our last entry introduces you to four nuclear families, each with a different cultural background — African American, Jewish, Latino, and Vietnamese. With this kind of variety, you might even see your own celebration as you sit down to watch What’s Cooking.
Four different families are getting ready for Thanksgiving Day. Each has their own way of preparing the big feast, along with their own set of problems. The Seeligs struggle to come to terms with their adult daughter’s sexuality. The Avilas’ divorce and their daughter’s new boyfriend make things extra tense this year. The Williams contend with a meddling mother-in-law, conservative guests, and some ugly secrets. And the Nguyens experience culture clashes with their Americanized children.
BONUS PICK: ADDAM'S FAMILY VALUES
Addam's Family Values is not a Thanksgiving movie. In fact, a large portion of the film takes place at a summer camp. It is there where one of the most iconic Thanksgiving scenes takes place. The campers put on a play about the first Thanksgiving and chaos ensues. Why is a summer camp performing a Thanksgiving play? We have absolutely no idea, but it is absolutely perfect and enough to earn an honorary mention on this list. Plus, the overall loving family dynamic does fit the theme of the holiday!