The best movies to watch at Thanksgiving that everyone will love

Thanksgiving is when loved ones and families gather to share delicious meals, before relaxing on the couch with a good book. Also, movies. 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 Nearly everyone!

Cars, trains, and planes

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Image by Paramount Pictures

John Hughes’ uproarious take on the road movie ends with a sentimental gut punch that missed me the first time I saw it. My brother and I went with Dad to this film on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving 1987. We wanted to give Mom an afternoon of solitude and dad took us. 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.

I was unable to grasp the true meaning and beauty of the movie until Friday, Thanksgiving 1988. Cars, trains, and planes It premiered on HBO. It was suggested by Dad that we watch the movie 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. She was still coerced into following his lead.

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. My old P.E. teacher would say, “That was real rough.” 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. This movie was so goodhearted and wonderful. —Owen S. Good

Cars, trains, and planesIt is currently available for rent Amazon, AppleAnd Vudu.


Optimus Prime in Transformers (2007)

Image by Paramount Pictures/ DreamWorks Pictures

Whenever I think of Thanksgiving, I can never shake the thought of watching 2007’s Transformers From my head. Why? It’s a mystery to me. 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, TransformersThe perfect holiday movie. —Toussaint Elgan

Transformers It is now available for streaming HBO Max.

Enola Holmes

two men stand behind their younger sister

Photo: Robert Viglaski/Netflix

It is almost impossible to find a film that entertains the entire family. 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 Amazing ThingsOr a Blockbuster classic like Jurassic Park. It got to the point that everyone felt as though they were all recycling the same thing in an effort to come up with something common.

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. You can enter Enola HolmesA film that I shared with family members without any issues and which I plan to make everyone see. The movie is very watchable, colorful and charming. 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.

Millie Bobby Brown, the charismatic center of the cast, is easily recognisable enough to be appealing across generations. 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 You can stream it on Netflix.

Last Holiday

Image by Paramount Pictures

Queen Latifah’s and LL Cool J’s comedy are top-shelf and great for entertaining friends. I also love to use it at family get-togethers when my younger children go to bed. The movie sounds dark and gloomy at the beginning, but it is actually quite uplifting. 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.

It is a perfect blend of humor and 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. The real attraction is seeing Queen Latifah enjoy this trip and be charming everyone she meets. Her amazing performance is the reason that this film succeeds. Her comedic moves include skiing, jumping on the hotel beds, and even careening down a ski slope.

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 Available to Rent Amazon, AppleAnd Vudu.

The Last Countdown

Photo by United Artists

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 Last 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.

This is basically how the enormous, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier navigates straight through a wormhole into 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.

The science fiction movie about war was a favorite of mine as a child, since it was shown on WGN television. Kirk Douglas stars as Captain USS Nimitz. He is an air carrier armed to all the bells with a wing made of F-14 Tomcats. Also known as Jolly Rogers, he has a crew of F-14 Tomcats. There’s also an alarmingly young Martin Sheen whose job it is to explain the science stuff and the potential paradoxes. Charles Durning is a master at looking confused. Whatever. Pew pew. Tomcats burrrrrrrr. —Charlie Hall

The Last CountdownIt is currently available for rent AmazonAnd Apple.

King Richard

Warner Bros. Pictures

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. Modern life is here.

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. Tennis moves at the speed of an actual 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. Finally, I have a winner. —Matt Patches

King RichardThe stream is now available HBO Max.

Mamma Mia

Universal Pictures

To give you some context, it became a beloved Thanksgiving tradition when a little girl who was attending our Thanksgiving festivities became obsessed. She would play it in the background and it would entertain her. Frozen).

However, if you stop and think about it. Mamma MiaThis is the ultimate Thanksgiving movie. It’s all about unexpected family coming together, and learning to grow up while still holding onto your loved ones. The power and beauty of ABBA! When you’re stuffed with carbs and turkey and just want to be transported away to the sunny beaches of Kalokairi, Mamma MiaThis is the right fit. The entire crew was drunk, having fun and that’s what you want for your post-Thanksgiving dinner experience. You can see the entire thing. couldAlthough there is some familial conflict as the fathers-to be battle it out, everyone seems to respect each other and get along. Isn’t that what we all want?

Also — the post-Thanksgiving carb daze is the perfect time to wrangle all your loved ones into singing ABBA. It’s easy to start. You can be the dance queen that the world needs. You can build it and they will soon follow. —Petrana Radulovic

Mamma MiaAvailable to stream via Amazon or Hulu Showtime Fubo.

Wilderpeople – Hunt

Julian Dennison, left, and Sam Neill in Taika Waititi’s “Hunt for the Wilderpeople.”

Credit to The Orchard

At this point, me recommending Taika Waititi’s 2016 comedy Wilderpeople – HuntFor family gatherings is as much a tradition as any gift wrapping, Rankin-Bass TV shows, turkeys or mashed potatoes. But that’s because I have yet to see anything that matches WilderpeopleCharm for all ages

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

Wilderpeople – HuntYou can stream it on NetflixAnd Hulu.

Families Values of Addams

Lurch, Pugsley Addams, Gomez Addams, Morticia Addams, and Wednesday Addams at an outdoor summer camp in Addams Family Values (1993)

Paramount Pictures – Photo

It’s easy to forget that Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family sequel is like a Borscht belt comedy version of Fatal Attraction Christina Ricci is almost the star of this show. She plays a distraught Wednesday, who has to be sent off for a Christian-friendly 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. It’s the key to Thanksgiving, and the song that plays is still hilarious. —MP

Family Values by AddamsYou can stream it on Paramount Plus.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Image: Criterion Collection

My father is an American cultural expert, despite having spent three decades in India. I think it’s more because he’s very well read than because he’s actually experienced movies 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.

My family wasn’t very film-oriented when I was growing old. 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 movies. My brother and I were more interested in renting Genesis games and PlayStation video games when we got our first VCR.

We discovered at one point that the local library had movies available 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 movie 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(It is basically a remake of the movie.

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 movies. 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 WorldIt’s a hilarious slapstick tale about people going to great lengths for a good laugh. 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 room in laughter this holiday season. —Samit Sarkar

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldYou can stream it on KanopyGet a library pass for free.

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