Right in between the two most popular holidays, Thanksgiving is repeatedly overlooked by the masses, and even in movies as well. While there's a multitude of films that are staples of Halloween and Christmas, there's not as big of a cinematic market for Thanksgiving movies.
In the past we've talked about favorite films for Halloween and Christmas, but never included Thanksgiving because we didn't really think there was enough to talk about. But were we wrong... sorta.
For a list like this, we have to open the criteria just a bit. Instead of just talking about movies that exemplify the tone of the season, like horror movies for Halloween, or where the driving force of the movie is the holiday itself, here we've had to include movies that simply take place at Thanksgiving or cover the holiday in the grand scope of the plot.
'Jack and Jill'November 11, 2011
This movie alone is why I didn't call this list "The Best Thanksgiving Movies". The movie is a terrible cinematic abomination, yet it was so bad that its worth noting.
Jack is dreading the impending visit of his annoying identical twin sister Jill for Thanksgiving, knowing that each time she visits she extends her stay even longer. Instead of leaving just after the holiday, Jill takes advantage of her open-ended ticket and decides to leave after Hanukkah, crashing the family's holiday plans.
Sandler's performance as Jill was bad enough, but made even worse having film legend Al Pacino play himself, trying to woo Jill whenever he can. Though a financial success, it was widely slammed by critics, having only a 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and breaking the record of most Razzie awards by a single film, winning in every category of the Golden Raspberry Awards.
Yes, there was in fact a time when America wasn't sick of Pauly Shore. After his success as the scene-stealing sidekick in 'Encino Man', Shore was given his own film, playing the embodiment of the 90s coming home with a small town farm girl for Thanksgiving, getting caught in up in a lie and inadvertently posing as her fiancee so she could avoid breaking her boyfriend's heart when he proposed, and flipping her family's lives upside-down for the better.
Not a tremendous critical success, 'Son in Law' is still considered the last time Pauley Shore did a movie worth watching.
'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles'November 25, 1987
Possibly the most popular movie to deal directly with the Thanksgiving holiday, the movie was an iconic pairing between two comedic legends, Steve Martin and John Candy. Martin plays Neal Page, a business man trying to get home to his family for the holiday, only to be repeatedly delayed. Apart from bad luck, his delays also stem from the incompetence of his unintentional traveling partner, Del Griffith.
The film was a financial and critical success, praising the comedic performances of Martin and Candy, but also writer/director John Hughes' departure from teen angst films.
At the height of his success as Al Bundy on 'Married with Children', Ed O'Neill attempted to venture out of his typecasting with the comedy 'Dutch'. Playing the title-character boyfriend of a divorcee, Dutch offers to drive from Chicago to Georgia to pick up his girlfriend's son at boarding school and bring him home for Thanksgiving after Doyle's father cancels his plans to have the holiday with his son. Unfortunately for Dutch, Doyle is as spoiled and arrogant as his father, causing tension on the trip while Dutch tries to bond with the boy.
The film was a critical and financial failure, but has gained a cult following since.
'Four Brothers'August 12, 2005
Another film that takes place at Thanksgiving, but isn't necessary about the holiday. A re-imagining of the John Wayne classic 'The Sons of Katie Elder', Evelyn Mercer is gunned down in a convenience store while shopping for Thanksgiving. Her four delinquent foster sons return for the funeral, only to discover that the seemingly robbery-gone-wrong was actually a hit ordered by a local mob boss to take Evelyn out. Unable to trust the police, the brothers decide to avenge their mother's death themselves.
The film received mixed reviews, praising the chemistry of the four principle actors, but criticizing the imbalance caused by the graphic violence and vigilante murders depicted.
On a side note, my mother-in-law loves this movie simply for the shot of Garrett Hedlund's naked butt when he steps out of the shower.
'Rocky' & 'Rocky II'December 3, 1976 & June 15, 1979
The initial films in the series about the iconic underdog both take place around Thanksgiving. In the first film, Rocky spends Thanksgiving with his girlfriend Adrian and her abusive, alcoholic brother Paulie, only for Paulie to flip out and start throwing the food. After the fight ending in a tie, Apollo is accused of many things from taking a bribe to carry Rocky for the whole fight to being a worthless champion, so Apollo challenges Rocky to a rematch (the second movie), taking place on Thanksgiving night in Rocky's hometown of Philly.
The success of the film are probably already well know, but both films received a tremendous amount of praise, being called among the best movies of the years they were respectively released. 'Rocky' was the highest grossing film of 1976 and also won the Academy Award for Best Picture .
'Scent of a Woman'December 23, 1992
Chris O'Donnell plays Charlie, a prep-school student who takes a job over the Thanksgiving break, working for the blind retired Army Ranger Lt. Colonel Slade, played by Al Pacino. Slade takes Charlie on an impromptu trip to New York City to have Thanksgiving dinner with Slade's family. While in New York, the two bond while Charlie helps Slade live life to its fullest before his planned suicide and Slade advises Charlie on an uncomfortable situation at Charlie's school.
The biggest thing to note about this movie is that Pacino FINALLY won an Academy Award for Best Actor after losing out the previous four times he was nominated. Unfortunately, this fact was also brought up in 'Jack and Jill' when Jill mistakenly breaks his Oscar statue.
'Grumpy Old Men'December 25, 1993
The original Odd Couple returned in 'Grumpy Old Men' as John and Max, two former childhood friends who live next door to each other and have had a lifelong rivalry over a woman who chose John over Max. Both now widowers, their rivalry is rekindled when Ariel moves in across the street. While both are too nervous to approach the beautiful Ariel, their mutual friend and bait shop owner Chuck is the first to make a move, stopping by Ariel's home on Thanksgiving while John and Max look on from their windows.
We mentioned during our Non-Christmas Christmas Movies list that this movie spans both Thanksgiving and Christmas, totally falling into neither category and not recognized as a "holiday movie". Nevertheless, the film was a success and even received recognition from the American Film Institute for its humor.
'Prisoners'September 20, 2013
Nothing says Thanksgiving like abduction and torture! After his daughter and her friend are kidnapped on Thanksgiving, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) takes matters into his own hands when a key suspect is released. Keller kidnaps the suspect, keeping him locked up in an abandoned apartment and torturing him for information.
'Prisoners' received high critical praise and showed up on several Top Ten lists for the year, but its definitely not a film you'd want to break out after a big turkey dinner. The film by itself is rather disturbing with its depiction of child abductions and torture, but the original cut of the film was so disturbing that the MPAA gave it the dreaded NC-17 rating before it was cut down for the R rating it was released with.
'Addam's Family Values'November 19, 1993
This is a weird one for the list, not taking place at Thanksgiving, but still having to do with it. Not only was the film originally released during November, part of the plot deals with the villain convincing Gomez and Morticia to send Wednesday and Pugsley to a summer camp for rich children. The children's time at camp culminates with a musical performance, written by one of the camp owners, about the first Thanksgiving. With the popular children cast the Pilgrims, the camp owners cast the unpopular and minority children as the Native Americans, with Pugsley as the turkey and Wednesday as Pocahontas. Tricking the owners and popular children to think that she's changed and is eager to play the role, Wednesday and the rest of the unpopular children stage an uprising during the play and take over the camp.
Another critical and financial success, the movie also marked a rarity in Hollywood where a sequel was as well received as its predecessor. Angelica Huston received another Golden Globe nomination for her role as Morticia and the movie received honors from the American Film Institute.