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15 Heartwarming Thanksgiving Movies and Specials

Get into the holiday spirit with these tasty films and shows

spinner image Charlie Brown and his friends sit around the dinner table in a scene from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
A scene from "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving."
AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo

As families reunite around the table, Thanksgiving is perfect fodder for cinematic drama, both high-stakes (shocking secrets revealed!) and low (someone burned the turkey!). This month sees the release of a slasher flick called Thanksgiving, set in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and starring Patrick Dempsey, 57, but we tend to prefer our holiday films to be filled with more family fun than, well, serial killers. From Pieces of April to Addams Family Values, these are our picks for a 15-course menu of Turkey Day–themed entertainment. Since you won’t want to watch on an empty stomach, we’ve paired each with a dish that will get you in the holiday spirit.

A Waltons Thanksgiving (2022)

The plot: In 2021, the CW made a surprising programming move when the usually teen-focused network aired The Waltons’ Homecoming, a new movie featuring the characters from the beloved 1970s drama. It was such an unexpected hit that the creators whipped up this autumnal sequel that sees the rural Virginia clan gathering for Thanksgiving in 1934 during the Great Depression. Original John Boy actor Richard Thomas, 72, narrates, while the updated cast includes many recognizable faces from your favorite TV shows, such as Bellamy Young, 53 (first lady Mellie Grant from Scandal), as the matriarch, Olivia, and Logan Shroyer (teen Kevin Pearson on This Is Us) as John Boy.

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The dish: Pies, like the ones being judged at the annual Harvest Festival Fair on Walton’s Mountain.

Watch it: A Waltons Thanksgiving on Prime Video, YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

The plot: In John Hughes’ odd-couple classic, uptight marketing executive Neal Page (Steve Martin, 78) tries desperately to get home to his family for Thanksgiving after a business trip. Along the way, he keeps coming into contact with an annoying but lovable fellow traveler, shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy). A series of mishaps — including a blizzard and a burglar — leave them bonding and bickering, crisscrossing the Midwest on various modes of transportation.

The dish: The tiny airplane bottles of international liquor they share in the motel. 

Watch it: Planes, Trains and Automobiles on Prime Video, Apple TV, Paramount+

Pieces of April (2003)

The plot: Get the tissues ready. In this heartfelt dramedy, April (Katie Holmes) cooks Thanksgiving dinner in her Lower East Side apartment in an attempt to reconcile with her estranged parents, Jim (Oliver Platt, 63) and Joy (Patricia Clarkson, 63), who is dying of breast cancer. Clarkson was nominated for an Oscar for the role. When her oven breaks, April turns to the neighbors in her building to help her get the meal on the table in time.

The dish(es): Sweet potato soup with buttered pecans, herbed oyster stuffing, giblet gravy, lemon-rosemary green beans, sautéed red Swiss chard with garlic, hickory nut ice cream and maple pumpkin pie (her neighbors’ gourmet menu, which puts April’s canned cranberry sauce to shame).

Watch it: Pieces of April on Prime Video, Apple TV

What’s Cooking? (2000)

The plot: This L.A.-set dramedy features a sprawling ensemble — including Alfre Woodard, 71; Julianna Margulies, 57; Joan Chen, 62; and Kyra Sedgwick, 58 — and follows four different families (Vietnamese, Jewish, Black and Latino) as they celebrate Thanksgiving in their own unique ways. The menus — which include fresh tortillas, macaroni and cheese, and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes — may all be different, but you’ll be happy to know that generational gaps and political squabbles cross all cultural divides.

The dish: The chile-paste-rubbed turkey that causes the Vietnamese daughter to ask, “Why do you want to make the turkey taste like everything else we eat?”

Watch it: What’s Cooking? on Prime Video, Apple TV

Addams Family Values (1993)

The plot: Leave it to the creepy, kooky crew to poke a hole in a great American tradition. In this cult classic sequel, Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are sent off to a summer camp, where the counselors, Gary (Peter MacNicol, 69) and Becky (Christine Baranski, 71), try to break the kids of their macabre habits. They cast the siblings in a Thanksgiving pageant — Wednesday as an apocryphal Pocahontas, Pugsley as a turkey — but things take a turn when Wednesday delivers a blistering monologue about Native American history, stages a coup, burns down the set and escapes in the camp van.

The dish: The apple Wednesday shoves in the bully’s mouth before attempting to burn her at the stake.

Watch it: Addams Family Values on Prime Video, Paramount+

​Friendsgiving (2020)

The plot: Best friends Molly (Malin Åkerman) and Abby (Kat Dennings) are all set to spend a low-key Thanksgiving together, until the invite list begins to spiral out of control. Soon, the table is filled with Molly’s Swedish mother (Jane Seymour, 72), new and ex-lovers, mutual friends (Aisha Tyler, 53, and Deon Cole, 51), children, potential suitors and a “shawoman” (Chelsea Peretti). As the wackiness begins to reach a boiling point, magic mushrooms make an appearance, leading to the arrival of three imaginary “fairy gay mothers” (played by Wanda Sykes, 59; Margaret Cho, 54; and Fortune Feimster).

The dish: ’Shrooms (but maybe opt for stuffed or sautéed instead of psychedelic).

Watch it: Friendsgiving on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube

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Tower Heist (2011)

The plot: When he loses his pension in a Ponzi scheme masterminded by Wall Street businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, 87), luxury apartment building manager Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller, 57) hatches a plan to break into Shaw’s penthouse and steal back the money. He enlists his coworkers — a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy, 62) and a bankrupt investor (Matthew Broderick, 61) — to pull off the heist of the century during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The dish: Revenge — best served cold.

Watch it: Tower Heist on Prime Video, YouTube

Home for the Holidays (1995)

The plot: Jodie Foster, 60, directs this sweet comedy that proves that you can go home again — though if you do, you might wind up watching your dad spray your brother and brother-in-law with a hose as they fight on the front lawn. When she finds out that her daughter (Claire Danes) has decided to skip Thanksgiving, single mom Claudia (Holly Hunter, 65) flies back to Baltimore to spend the holiday with her parents, played by Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning. When friends, in-laws and siblings arrive (including Robert Downey Jr., 58, as her younger brother Tommy), secrets are revealed, punches are thrown, and the turkey is dropped in someone’s lap.

The dish: Sweet potatoes — dotty Aunt Glady (played by Charlie Chaplin’s daughter, Geraldine Chaplin, 79) will eat only the ones she made herself.

Watch it: Home for the Holidays on Prime Video, Apple TV, Paramount+

Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow (2015)

The plot: Following Yuletide classics such as The Muppet Christmas Carol and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, the Jim Henson Company set its sights on a new holiday in this family-friendly Lifetime movie, with a story conceived by Henson back in 1968. When a divorced dad (Jay Harrington, 51) takes his family to the town of Turkey Hollow for an unplugged Thanksgiving with his eccentric Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen, 70), the kids set out into the woods and meet a musical quartet of furry puppet monsters called Squonk, Zorp, Burble and Thrinng. Rapper Ludacris narrates this quirky tale you’ll want to share with your grandkids. 

The dish: Rock candy, as a nod to the rocks the monsters like to eat.

Watch it: Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow on Prime Video, Disney+, Google Play

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)

The plot: Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, this Emmy-winning TV special is as comforting as buttery mashed potatoes, with memorable moments that include Linus’ prayer about the first Thanksgiving, Lucy pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown for the umpteenth time, and Woodstock and Snoopy splitting the wishbone. And even the Peanuts gang isn’t safe from a little dinner table bickering: Peppermint Patty gets annoyed by Charlie Brown’s rather unconventional menu ...

The dish: C.B.’s DIY feast (including buttered toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans and an ice cream sundae).

Watch it: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving on Apple TV+

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Garfield’s Thanksgiving (1989)

The plot: More of an amuse-bouche than a full meal, this 24-minute holiday special sees everyone’s favorite orange cat receive some devastating news from the vet over the Thanksgiving holiday: He’s overweight and must go on a strict diet — including a measly half a leaf of lettuce for lunch. Garfield’s owner, Jon Arbuckle, has a crush on the doc and invites her over for Thanksgiving, but he’s inept at cooking, resulting in an unthawed turkey and an otherwise disastrous dinner. Showing up at the last minute to save the day is Grandma, who chainsaws the frozen turkey and turns it into croquettes as Jon distracts the vet with boring tales of the first Thanksgiving.

The dish: A sensible salad, in honor of Garfield’s diet fare.

Watch it: Garfield’s Thanksgiving on Prime Video, YouTube

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving (2008)

The plot: Loosely based on a short story by Louisa May Alcott, this sentimental Hallmark Channel movie follows a widowed mother and her three children, who live on a struggling farm in New Hampshire in the 1860s. When they can’t afford a turkey for Thanksgiving, the oldest daughter (played by Emmy-winning Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany) contacts her rich, estranged grandmother (Jacqueline Bisset, 79) to ask for help, and her arrival stirs up drama and family secrets. If you like Little Women, you’ll find something to love here.

The dish: Puddings, which get shouted out by the children many times in both the film and the story on which it’s based.

Watch it: An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving on Prime Video, YouTube

Free Birds (2013)

The plot: OK, this computer-animated movie is admittedly a bit bizarre, but if you need to entertain the grandkids while you’re baking pies, they’re certain to gobble-gobble it up — pun intended. Reggie (Owen Wilson, 54), a domesticated turkey who is pardoned by the president, teams up with wild turkeys Jake (Woody Harrelson, 62) and Jenny (Amy Poehler, 52) to time travel back to the Plymouth Colony in 1621 to keep their kind off the first Thanksgiving menu. George Takei, 86, lends his voice as S.T.E.V.E., the artificial intelligence in their egg-shaped time machine.

The dish: Tofurkey.

Watch it: Free Birds on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube

Scent of a Woman (1992)

The plot: Al Pacino, 83, earned his only Oscar — so far! — for this surprisingly sentimental buddy movie, in which prep school student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell, 53) is hired to look after blind, alcoholic, tango-dancing veteran Frank Slade (Pacino) to earn some money over Thanksgiving break. During a particularly awkward holiday dinner, his nephew Randy (Bradley Whitford, 64) reveals the shocking way Frank lost his eyesight — but we won’t spoil it for you.

The dish: “John” Daniels whiskey; as Frank explains it, “He may be Jack to you, son, but when you’ve known him as long as I have …”

Watch it: Scent of a Woman on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (2009)

The plot: Slate writer Karen Han declared this slapstick-heavy Kevin James (58) action vehicle an official Thanksgiving movie, dubbing it a “suburban spin on Die Hard.” It’s Black Friday, and the mild-mannered, Segway-riding security guard must take on a gang of burglars who disguise themselves as Santa’s Village employees and plan to rob $30 million from the New Jersey mall where he works. Critics turned the film into a punchline, but it ended up grossing $183.3 million worldwide and even spawned a sequel.

The dish: A leftover turkey sandwich filled with mashed potatoes and stuffing, the ultimate way to carbo-load before a Black Friday shopathon — or a Black Friday crime-fighting mission.

Watch it: Paul Blart: Mall Cop on Prime Video, Apple TV, YouTube

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