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Great Thanksgiving Movies

These 6 amazing flicks are anything but turkeys

There's only one time when it's OK to combine the words "Movie" and "Turkey" — and that's when you're talking about great Thanksgiving movies. Here's my list of favorite films (in no particular order) in which the fourth Thursday in November plays a featured role.

Talia Shire and Sylvester Stallone in Rocky, Thanksgiving movies

Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire ice skating in 'Rocky.' He's got his street shoes on, and they have the rink to themselves. — United Artists/Everett Collection

Rocky (1976)

It's on Thanksgiving that the struggling fighter Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) goes home for dinner with his friend Paulie (Burt Young) and finally convinces Paulie's sister Adrian to go out on a date with him. Well, actually, it's Paulie who forces the issue, by pulling the turkey that Adrian is baking from the oven, throwing it away and insisting that the two go out. What follows is Rocky and Adrian's impromptu visit to an ice rink, and in one of the loveliest first-date scenes ever filmed, we witness two people, unsteady on their feet, awkwardly and inevitably slipping into love. In 35 years as a writer, director and actor, Stallone has hit his share of sour notes — but not this time. In all the Rocky films, right through his thoroughly satisfying coda in 2006's Rocky Balboa, Stallone always got the chemistry between Rocky and Adrian sublimely right, and it all began on that Thanksgiving night when Paulie threw out the turkey.

The family gathers at the table for Thanksgiving dinner in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986.

Now that's Thanksgiving. Hannah, her sisters, Woody and the rest of the family chow down for a traditional feast. — Orion Pictures/Everett Collection

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Woody Allen's story of three sisters and their romantic misadventures bridges three Thanksgivings, and each observance provides a benchmark for the women's various relationships. There are the usual Allen-esque complications — illicit affairs, treacherous deceits and lots and lots of neuroses, particularly on the part of Woody's character Mickey, the ex-husband of Hannah (Mia Farrow). As with lots of Allen movies, the family's annual gatherings sound more scripted than familial, but there is still a ring of authenticity, thanks largely to the reassuring presence of Maureen O'Sullivan and Lloyd Nolan (in his last role) as the girls' parents.

Steve Martin, John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and other Thanksgiving movies

Steve Martin and John Candy, two very funny men, try to find their way home by any means necessary in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.' — Everett Collection

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)

Anyone who has ever endured a seemingly doomed voyage home for the holidays will find this John Hughes comedy at once hilarious and vaguely disturbing. Steve Martin is the family man and executive who just wants to get home from Manhattan to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner; John Candy is the effusive shower curtain ring salesman who somehow becomes joined at the hip with Steve as the short intercity hop rapidly devolves into an abyss of transportation modes that variously break down, take wrong turns or simply burst into flames. To repeat the gags is to ruin them (but do remember the line, "Those aren't pillows!"), and at times Hughes slathers on the pathos with a spatula — but really, isn't sentiment what Thanksgiving is all about?

Next page: Two difficult films ... and a Boomer holiday classic. »

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Video Extra

In 2005, Arlo Guthrie performs his perennial Thanksgiving favorite, "Alice's Restaurant," from his 1967 debut album — plus Guthrie in scenes from the 1969 movie.

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