The best movies to watch at Thanksgiving that everyone will love
Thanksgiving is the time of year where households and liked ones come together to stuff themselves on platefuls of scrumptious goodness prior to taking a food-induced nap on the living-room sofa. However likewise … motion pictures. Big, broad, coma-friendly movies. From heartwarming rom-coms to tense sci-fi thrillers to big dumb action flicks, there’s a good movie for every family gathering around the hearth of a bright television screen in search of some communal entertainment.
We’ve pulled together a list of some of our favorite crowd-pleasing movies to watch over the holidays. Whether it’s time-honored classics or recent favorites, we’ve got something that’ll please just about everyone … or well, at least almost everyone!
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
John Hughes’ uproarious take on the road movie ends with a sentimental gut punch that missed me the first time I saw it. Dad took me and my brother, on the Friday after Thanksgiving 1987, to see this movie and give our Mom a much needed afternoon alone. My brother and I howled at its many Kodak moments — I especially appreciated Steve Martin and John Candy pretending to make manly small talk about the Chicago Bears after Neal (Martin) wakes up with Del’s (Candy) hand between his ass cheeks. And I might have been a decade away from battling rental car customer service for myself, but Neal’s F-bomb barrage to Edie McClurg — and her laser-beam riposte — was a lunchroom favorite for the next several months.
But the meaning of this movie, and its everlasting beauty, escaped me until the next Friday after Thanksgiving, in 1988, when Planes, Trains, and Automobiles premiered on HBO. Dad suggested we all watch it together as a family. Mom wasn’t really up for Dad’s brand of pathetic humor, where life sucks for the protagonists and gets worse from there. Still, he goaded her into watching.
That ending, when Neal adds up what Del’s real situation is, and finds him on the El platform, that’ll take the starch out of you. As my old P.E. coach Bud Hall would say after seeing it, “That was real rough.” Mom turned to Dad and said, “You didn’t tell me I was going to cry!” and I had to get out of there, go to my room, and cry it out for myself. What a wonderful, good-hearted movie. —Owen S. Good
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles is available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.
Whenever I think of Thanksgiving, I can never shake the thought of watching 2007’s Transformers from my head. Why? I have absolutely no idea. It’s been ages since I last sat down to watch it, and yet it firmly sits in my mind as the quintessential “big dumb action movie” for family occasions. There’s not much in the way of a story: two factions of transforming gigantic robots crash-land on Earth and start duking it out over a magic glowing McGuffin called the “All Spark,” some teenage kid named Sam Witwicky and his maybe-sorta-could-be love interest Mikaela get wrapped up in the whole mess; John Turturro is a secret agent or something; a yellow robot named Bumblebee ‘pees’ engine coolant onto a human; there’s an inexplicable masturbation joke thrown in there somewhere; to be honest, it’s just big huge blur in my mind that just screams brrrrrrr.
In truth though, that’s an best description for the movie as a whole, and why it feels like such a perfect one to watch with a whole bunch of folks with varying tastes; a bright, cacophonous display of Hollywood brand synergy, pyrotechnical explosions, and overly-complicated robots soliloquizing about morality before transforming into suped-up automobiles that would make Dominic Toretto red with envy. If seeing cars and buildings blow up before listening to Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” is your idea of a good time, Transformers is the perfect movie for the holidays. —Toussaint Egan
Transformers is available to stream on HBO Max.
Finding a movie that will entertain the whole family is a near impossible task. Our tastes run the gamut from action thrillers to rom coms — add in the extended family, and you’ve got several generations of people to please. In the past, I’d go one of two directions: Either selecting a popular Pixar classic like The Incredibles or a classic Blockbuster like Jurassic Park. But it got to a point where everyone in my family felt like we were recycling the same thing, in order to find something we could agree on.
These days, we mostly look for whatever we can easily find via streaming — and Netflix seems to have that easy, crowd-pleasing film category down to a formula. Enter Enola Holmes, a film I have shared with individual family members, without a hitch, and one I fully intend on making everyone watch with me. The film is colorful, charming, fairly straightforward, and absolutely watchable. It’s not an indie darling, Oscar contender, nor big Blockbuster — basically, it’s a fun time, the platonic ideal of an airplane movie (and the kind of movie I love watching in theaters), and pretty family friendly.
The cast is recognizable enough to appeal across a few generations, with Millie Bobby Brown at the center, charismatic as ever. And the story beats — or at least the setting and tenor of the film — are somewhat recognizable too, thanks to being a riff on the Sherlock Holmes story. This is an added bonus for Thanksgiving, as you don’t have to be 100% plugged into the story to be able to pick it back up, and enjoy the antics and performance. —Nicole Clark
Enola Holmes is available to stream on Netflix.
This Queen Latifah and LL Cool J comedy is a top-shelf pick for entertaining guests, and one I pull out at family gatherings after the younger kids go to bed. It starts out sounding bleak, but the movie is feel-good, I promise. Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), a department store worker, finds out she has only a few weeks to live — and so she takes herself on an extravagant vacation, full of spa days, incredible meals, skiing lessons, and other splurges.
The film is that perfect level of corny that inspires genuine emotion. There’s a harshly relatable reality to the scenario that initially drives Georgia to drop everything — though she’s insured, her plan won’t cover the cost of surgery, making care totally unaffordable. But the real draw is watching Queen Latifah subsequently enjoy the fuck out of this vacation, and charm every single person she comes in contact with. The film absolutely succeeds off of her killawatt performance. She leans into every comedic beat, from careening down a skiing slope, to jumping into the plush hotel bed.
It’s also one of those movies where the hotel workers become a kind of found family for her, and where the ensemble chemistry is genuinely convincing. Every time I watch it, I’m not sure whether I want what she’s having — or if I just want to be her friend. —NC
Last Holiday is available to rent on Amazon, Apple, and Vudu.
The Final Countdown
Once the tryptophan kicks in, I’m pretty much useless for the rest of Thanksgiving day. That’s why I tend to prefer films that you can pick up in the middle, or just fall asleep half-way through and not feel so bad about it. The Final Countdown is just so batshit, start to finish, that you really don’t need to pay all that much attention. It’s still a lot of fun in small doses.
Basically, this enormous nuclear-powered aircraft carrier sails right through a wormhole and gets stuck in the 1940s. Slowly but surely the crew and commanders all come to the realization that it’s Dec. 6, 1941 and they have the chance to prevent the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. You have never known joy until you’ve looked out from beneath heavy eyelids, the smell of mashed potatoes and gravy still hanging in the air, only to see a Tomcat go supersonic and tear through a formation of A6M Zeros like butter.
This science fiction war movie was a staple of my childhood viewing since it was in the regular rotation on WGN television. It stars Kirk Douglas as the captain of the USS Nimitz, an aircraft carrier armed to the teeth with a wing of F-14 Tomcats from VF-84, also known as the Jolly Rogers. There’s also an alarmingly young Martin Sheen whose job it is to explain the science stuff and the potential paradoxes. Charles Durning does an excellent job of looking confused. Whatever. Pew pew. Tomcats go brrrrrrr. —Charlie Hall
The Final Countdown is available to rent on Amazon and Apple.
Will Smith’s new biopic of Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams who coached the pair to superstardom, is a tender, inspirational sports movie … about getting a $12 million shoe deal. Welcome to modern life.
While the movie is brand new, therefore untested as a fun-for-the-whole-family viewing experience, I can say without a doubt that it will please every crowd and therefore deserves the title of “crowdpleaser.” Served straight down the court by director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Joe Bell), the two-hour drama gives Smith the space to swing. As Richard, he delivers loving speeches to his family; he stands on the sidelines and shout tennis instruction like he’s Gene Hackman in Hoosiers; he eats sufficient crow for being slightly overbearing in his quest to mold Venus and Serena into titans; and he farts as a way of mic-dropping during a pivotal deal. It’s movie star material, and the supporting cast — the far-too-unsung Aunjanue Ellis as his wife Oracene, Jon Bernthal as the Williams’ mustachioed good guy coach Rick Macci, and the wise-for-their-age Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena — keeps up. With tennis that moves at the pace of a real match, King Richard really checks the boxes, and I can’t wait to watch it with people who do not like any of the harder-to-swallow prestige movies I drag them into around this season. I finally have a guaranteed winner! —Matt Patches
King Richard is available to stream on HBO Max.
For slight context, this became an indispensable Thanksgiving favorite when a small child attendee of our Thanksgiving festivities became obsessed with it several years ago, so it was just constantly on in the background to entertain her (this was before Frozen).
But if you think about it, Mamma Mia is truly the perfect Thanksgiving movie. It’s all about unexpected family coming together, and learning to grow up while still holding onto your loved ones. And the power of ABBA! When you’re stuffed with carbs and turkey and just want to be transported away to the sunny beaches of Kalokairi, Mamma Mia is the perfect fit. Everyone filming it was absolutely drunk and having a good time, and ideally that is how you want your post-Thanksgiving meal experience to be like. There could be familial strife, as the three would-be dads battle it out, but everyone just respects each other and gets along! Isn’t that what we all want?
Likewise — the post-Thanksgiving carb daze is the perfect time to wrangle all your loved ones into singing ABBA. You just have to take the first step. Be the dancing queen you wish to see in the world. Build it, and they will come. —Petrana Radulovic
Mamma Mia is available to stream on Amazon and Hulu (via Showtime) and Fubo.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
At this point, me recommending Taika Waititi’s 2016 comedy Hunt for the Wilderpeople for family gatherings has become as much of a personal holiday tradition as anything involving gift wrapping, Rankin-Bass TV specials, or turkeys and mashed potatoes. But that’s because I have yet to see anything that matches Wilderpeople for all-ages charm.
It’s a weird little movie about a teenage boy (Deadpool 2’s Julian Dennison) who becomes the ward of a rural New Zealand couple (Sam Neill and Rima Te Wiata), and ends up on the run with one of them after some shenanigans, but that plot description just really doesn’t do this movie justice. It’s one of my least favorite subgenres — plucky orphan redeems bitter crank through unlikely bonding — and it does a spectacular job of validating the existence of that subgenre, and proving you can tell any familiar old story in ways that drop the clichés and find new life in old ideas.
Mostly, it’s the humor that makes this movie stand out — it’s a kid-friendly story about a kid having adventures, but it isn’t cloying, cutesy, or patronizing. The humor is surprising enough to keep adults engrossed, and it’s also downright weird — Waititi himself showing up to preside over a funeral with a bizarre sermon about Fanta and “burger rings” is a particular highlight. It’s also an action-focused film with a steady and engaging build from small origins to a big, ridiculous blow up. It’s good stuff for a mixed-generation gathering, but it’s also safe to park kids in front of, or to watch on your own to get some laughs after a stressful family get-together. —Tasha Robinson
Hunt for the Wilderpeople is available to stream on Netflix and Hulu.
Addams Family Values
It’s easy to forget that Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family sequel is like a Borscht belt comedy version of Fatal Attraction because Christina Ricci almost steals the show as a distraught Wednesday sent off to Christian-friendly conversion camp. But it’s extremely funny, brilliantly composed, and Joan Cusack is at the top of her game as a murderous grifter. Unhinged for the adults in the room, kooky enough for the kids — it’s a gem of the 1990s. And the Thanksgiving musical number still slaps, which is key to the holiday. —MP
Addams Family Values is available to stream on Paramount Plus.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
For someone who spent the first three decades of his life in India, my dad has an impressive knowledge of American pop culture. I think it’s more because he’s very well read than because he’s actually experienced motion pictures and TV shows firsthand. I get the sense that he has a general awareness of this stuff — y’know, enough of an understanding of pop culture touchstones to ease his assimilation into American society.
Ours was not a very film-oriented household when I was growing up. My parents’ work hours left little time for sitting down on the couch as a family for multiple hours — and forget about the expense of a night out at the motion pictures. When we finally got a VCR, my brother and I cared more about renting Genesis and PlayStation games than movies.
At some point, we discovered that our local public library offered movies in addition to books. Borrowing VHS tapes for free was obviously preferable to paying for Blockbuster’s rentals, but the downside was that the library’s catalog consisted primarily of older films. That’s where my dad came in, suggesting that we check out a film that none of us had ever heard of: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. (This might’ve been somewhere around the release of 2001’s Rat Race, which is basically a modern remake of the film.)
The four of us laughed so hard at this madcap comedy — like, so hard that your sides hurt — that watching it became a Thanksgiving tradition in our house for many years, supplanting the first two Home Alone motion pictures. With an ensemble cast containing a murderers’ row of comedy legends like Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and Jonathan Winters, and led by the great Spencer Tracy, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a rollicking slapstick adventure about the lengths to which people will go to make a lot of money. And it’s “fun for the whole family” without being for children, which is something we see less and less of these days: I’ll guarantee that it’ll unite the entire space in laughter this holiday season. —Samit Sarkar
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is offered to stream on Kanopy totally free with a library card.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.