Many of us this Thanksgiving will be spending time with family and friends, and with that often comes a time where you need to pop in a movie. So, I’ve curated a list of Thanksgiving movies that could do the trick!
But there’s a catch: none of these movies are about Thanksgiving, take place at Thanksgiving, or are in any way related to the holiday. Instead, I think they embody the themes of Thanksgiving, including thankfulness, family, rest in the midst of busyness, cross-cultural communication and restoration. These seven films are listed in no particular order.
(P.S: as always, before gathering the family around any of these movies, be sure to check the rating and content of these films to determine if they are appropriate for your audience)
1. Horton Hears a Who! (2008)
This animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s beloved work is driven by the combined super-sonic energy of Jim Carey as the voice of Horton and Steve Carell as the mayor of Who-ville, along with clever visual gags and storytelling. The film is all about Horton caring and advocating for the dignity and protection of the Whos, and a sweet subplot about the Mayor coming to understand his son for who he is- and not who he wants him to be- makes the film a lesson in parental love, community, and tolerance, with the ever-important message that a person’s a person, no matter how small.
2. The Space Between Us (2017)
This earnest teen romance is about Gardner (Asa Butterfield), the son of an astronaut, who is born on Mars and comes down to earth to meet his long-time penpal Tulsa (Britt Robertson). Tulsa and Gardner go on the run from NASA, pursued by Dr. Shepherd (a delightfully hammy Gary Oldman). Along the way, Gardner experiences life on Earth and shows a jaded Tulsa the beauty around her.
On Earth, Gardner asks everyone he meets, “What is your favorite thing about Earth?” He helps people be grateful and realize how being alive is a gift unto itself. It’s an expression and exercise in thankfulness. Another driving storyline is Gardner trying to find his father, with the help of Tulsa, who is in the foster system herself and has never had a real family of her own. The revelation of Gardner’s father’s identity is, well, predictable, but like all of this movie, it’s so charming and sincere that it might make you hug your family members a little tighter this Thanksgiving.
3. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Another animated film based on a beloved children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatball tells the story of Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) an oddball inventor/scientist who builds the machine that turns water into food, making food rain over the town.
Most obviously, the food on display here is as scrumptious as your Thanksgiving spread, (although the film does take a dark turn into a warning against overconsumption), but there are other connections to Thanksgiving beyond the turkey. This film also focuses on the relationship between a father and son, and the importance of looking beyond each other’s eccentricities. It also shows the importance of taking responsibility for your actions and getting help from others, and that everyone has something to offer.
4. Christopher Robin (2018)
Ewan McGregor stars as a grown-up Christopher Robin, now a jaded, workaholic father who finds himself playing again with his childhood friends like Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet. The “dad you work too hard” narrative isn’t a new one by any means, but Christopher Robin is one of the best of the genre. Bringing Winnie the Pooh and company to life could easily veer into uncanny-valley territory, but Christopher Robin doesn’t, through marvelous special effects and some very game actors. Here are lessons about the importance of resting, not putting your identity in your work, and the value of childlike wonder.
5. Little Miss Sunshine* (2006)
No movie quite puts the fun in dysfunction like Little Miss Sunshine! The family dramedy is a classic road trip film that pulls great performances out of its ensemble cast, including Steve Carrell, Abigail Breslin, and Paul Dano. Whether you identify with the Hoover clan or not, you can probably relate to the ups and downs of being with family, and the ultimate joy of strong family bonds.
6. Coco** (2017)
Pixar’s film about a young boy traveling through the Land of the Dead during Dia de los Muertos is a gorgeous animated treat. While Dia de los Muertos isn’t the Mexican version of Halloween or Thanksgiving, it does touch on some of the same ideas as these holidays do.
I said in my review of Coco that the film “acknowledges death, believes that there is an afterlife, teaches children that death isn’t something to be afraid of, and celebrates family.” Thanksgiving is a time often spent with family, and as such, it will be, for many of us, the first time without a certain family member, those who have passed away. Or maybe we are spending it alone, or are spending it with unsafe/toxic family members. Coco explores all of these dynamics and can be a comfort as you navigate this holiday and the rest of the holiday season.
7. The Unknown Girl (2017)
This is one of my all-time favorite movies so I kinda just wanted to put it on the list so that more people will be aware of it, but it really does have Thanksgiving themes! After she refuses to open the door to a woman one night, Dr. Jenny Davins (a mesmerizing Adèle Haenel) learns the woman was murdered soon after. Dr. Davins, feeling guilty over not helping the woman, goes on a quest to learn the woman’s name and what happened to her, becoming unrelenting in the face of those who want to keep her silent.
The movie is all about the question of our responsibility to strangers. How much of the suffering of others do we really need to care about? When tragedy hits a community, what should be the community’s response? How much should we put ourselves on the line to cross cultural boundaries and thresholds? What does it mean, practically, to believe in the sanctity of life and give someone dignity posthumously? I believe Thanksgiving is a time to survey our communities and their culture, and ask these kinds of questions.