In Search of a Thanksgiving Classic

The beginning of the holiday season is upon us, and that means it’s almost Thanksgiving. Many of us will be traveling to a loved one’s house to sit down to a Turkey dinner with family and friends. Maybe you’ll watch some football. Maybe you’ll even watch a movie as you fight off a food coma.

But what movie will you watch?

If you’re like my family, more than anything, Thanksgiving is the recognized starter’s pistol for all things Christmas. Christmas is the King of movie holidays, and by a large margin. No other holiday comes close. The Hallmark Channel alone practically doubles the total number of Christmas movies in existence every year.

Around Easter, “The Ten Commandments” is usually in heavy rotation. The Fourth of July usually sees a strong dose of “Independence Day” or a Turner Classic Movies marathon of vintage patriotic cinema. Arguably the second most popular holiday (or at least in the conversation), why isn’t there a recognized Thanksgiving classic, or even a clear Thanksgiving genre, when it comes to movies?

Maybe it’s a testament to the Americana of Thanksgiving that the holiday’s preferred medium appears to be television. Who could forget the “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode that gave us the classic line, “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” Acclaimed drama “The West Wing” used Thanksgiving episodes as a way of taking stock of how fortunate President Bartlett and his staff were to be in a position to help people. “Friends” Thanksgiving episodes were practically television events in and of themselves.

So, maybe this year after you unbutton your pants and try not to make eye contact with THAT family member, you’ll run through Netflix or Hulu and pick out separate Thanksgiving episodes of your favorite shows. However, that plan seems cumbersome at best and physically/emotionally draining at worst, so how about we just try to find a Thanksgiving movie to watch?

While there are practically no movies with Thanksgiving in their title, there are plenty that use it as a plot point. Here are a few candidates for your holiday viewing pleasure (and no, we will not be including “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” as it is arguably only the third best Peanuts special and in hot contention with “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown”):

PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)

The comedy classic starring Steve Martin and John Candy is all about Martin’s character Neal trying to get home for Thanksgiving, when a snowstorm forces him to find alternate means of transportation and an unwanted travel companion in Candy’s Del. While there’s very little Thanksgiving in this movie, traveling is a big part of the holiday itself, and this movie delivers plenty of laughs at its travelers’ expense.

 

 

 

SCENT OF A WOMAN (1992)

Al Pacino earned a Best Actor Oscar for his performance as blind, retired Army colonel Frank, a cantankerous man whose best years are behind him. When a young student facing troubles of his own (Chris O’Donnel’s Charlie) agrees to care for him over Thanksgiving, Frank whisks his young attendant to NYC for a glitzy weekend where he reveals he is going to commit suicide. Again, the most Thanksgiving thing about this movie is an awkward, acrimonious holiday dinner with Frank’s brother’s family, but there’s definitely something to be said about that being representative of the holiday in some way.

 

 

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1995)

Jodie Foster’s first directorial effort, this is possibly one of the most Thanksgiving movies of all time. Holly Hunter plays a single mom recently fired from her job who goes home for Thanksgiving with her loving but dysfunctional family. With an all-star cast featuring Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning and Robert Downey, Jr., “Home for the Holidays” perfectly captures what family is: a collection of weirdos fighting, yelling, judging and annoying each other who, ultimately, love and support one another. What’s more Thanksgiving than that?