Compared to Christmas, Thanksgiving is a relatively untapped market for holiday movie potential — there just isn’t quite the same repertoire of classics! But with families reuniting around the table, the fall festivities are actually perfect fodder for cinematic drama, both high-stakes (shocking secrets revealed!) and low (someone burned the turkey!). This month, the CW airs a new Thanksgiving special featuring the characters from The Waltons, and it makes for a great first entry in this 10-course menu of Turkey Day–themed films. Be warned: You won’t want to watch on an empty stomach, so we’ve paired each movie with a dish that will get you in the holiday spirit.
The Waltons Thanksgiving (2022)
The plot: Last holiday season, 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 an autumnal sequel that sees the rural Virginia clan gathering for Thanksgiving in 1934 during the Great Depression. Original John Boy actor Richard Thomas, 71, narrates, while the updated cast includes many recognizable faces from your favorite TV shows, such as Bellamy Young, 52 (First Lady Mellie Grant from Scandal), as the matriarch Olivia and Logan Shroyer (teen Kevin Pearson on This Is Us) as John Boy.
The dish: Pies, like the ones being judged at the town’s annual Harvest Festival Fair
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
The plot: In this John Hughes odd-couple classic, uptight marketing executive Neal Page (Steve Martin, 77) 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, the 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
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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, 62) and Joy (Patricia Clarkson, 62), 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)
What’s Cooking? (2000)
The plot: This L.A.-set dramedy features a sprawling ensemble — including Alfre Woodard, 70; Julianna Margulies, 56; Joan Chen, 61; and Kyra Sedgwick, 57 — 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 chili-paste-rubbed turkey that causes the Vietnamese daughter to ask, “Why do you want to make the turkey taste like everything else we eat?”
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, 68) and Becky (Christine Baranski, 70), 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
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, 71), new and ex-lovers, mutual friends (Aisha Tyler, 52, and Deon Cole, 50), 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, 58; Margaret Cho, 53; and Fortune Feimster).
The dish: ’Shrooms (but maybe opt for stuffed or sauteed instead of psychedelic)
Tower Heist (2011)
The plot: When he loses his pension in a Ponzi scheme masterminded by Wall Street businessman Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda, 86), luxury apartment building manager Josh Kovaks (Ben Stiller, 56) hatches a plan to break into Shaw’s penthouse and steal back the money. He enlists his coworkers — a petty criminal (Eddie Murphy, 61) and a bankrupt investor (Matthew Broderick, 60) — to pull off the heist of the century during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The dish: Revenge — best served cold
Home for the Holidays (1995)
The plot: Jodie Foster, 59, 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, 64) 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., 57, 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, 78) will eat only the ones she made herself.
Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow (2015)
The plot: Following Yuletide classics like The Muppet Christmas Carol and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Jim Henson Company set its sights on a new holiday with this family-friendly Lifetime movie, with a story first conceived by Henson back in 1968. When a divorced dad (Jay Harrington, 50) takes his family to the town of Turkey Hollow for an unplugged Thanksgiving with his eccentric Aunt Cly (Mary Steenburgen, 69), the kids set out into the woods and meet a musical quartet of furry puppet monsters called Squonk, Zorp, Burble and Thrink. 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
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
The plot: This Emmy-winning TV special is as comforting as buttery mashed potatoes, with memorable moments that include Linus’s 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
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Nov. 18, 2020. It has been updated with additional movies and links where you can stream the films on this list.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.