20 Family Films to Watch on Thanksgiving Day
We’ve watched the marching bands and giants balloon characters parade by on TV, we’ve watched college football, we’ve had our fill of turkey and all the trimmings… now, what better than to cuddle up with our loved ones and watch some good, wholesome family favorites on Thanksgiving Day? After all, we need our rest so we can rise and shine before the sun comes up on Black Friday to catch all the sales. So, in honor of the holiday and as a way to give you a jump on your holiday viewing schedule, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite family-friendly movies to watch on Thanksgiving Day.
WIZARD OF OZ
For many years this 1939 masterpiece was truly event television. Before home video and cable TV, the only way to see this (outside of revival movie theatres and colleges), was once a year (usually on CBS). Families would gather around the tube for a chance to visit that magical enchanted land (just think of seeing it on color TV for the first time!). Now that it’s easily available, get the kids away from the electronics and internet and share this film fable full of bright, bouncy songs, funny lovable heroes, and horrible hiss-able villains (those winged monkeys are still creepy, just ask Captain America!). “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” exists this legendary achievement that’s an everlasting entertainment jewel from Hollywood’s Golden Age.
SUPERMAN THE MOVIE (1978)
After a summer cinema season filled to the brim with costumed characters, it’s a great time to introduce your little ones to the original, first superhero (hey, they got that phrase from him!) in 1978′s epic. Sure he had been depicted in live action before (Kirk Alyn in two low-budget movie serials and George Reeves on TV), but here, forty years after his four-color debut, the last son of Krypton finally got the deluxe big screen treatment. And how smart were the producers to go with a relatively unknown actor in the lead? There have been many terrific actors playing comic heroes, but Christopher Reeve is the gold standard. The ads touted, “You’ll believe a man can fly!” The much missed Mr. Reeve made us believe that man of steel had a very human heart.
THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979)
For the current 30-40 something generation, there were few things we looked forward to more than The Muppet Show. So, naturally, when we found out about the first film to feature The Muppets on the big screen, well… we likely had a genuine Beaker moment. THE MUPPET MOVIE was not just a landmark achievement of puppetry, sorry… Muppetry… but it solidified itself forever in the minds of children from that era. THE MUPPET MOVIE is both a literal road movie and also a nostalgic trip down memory lane. If for no other reason, Kermit and Miss Piggy’s duet of “Rainbow Connection” is both timeless and perfect, easily one of the best onscreen musical numbers ever filmed. When you finish devouring the turkey, loosen your belt and kick back with the whole Muppet gang and relish the good ole days.
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG
MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949) was a wonderful family adventure movie that is kind of a childlike version of KING KONG but with a happy ending. And that was not a bad thing, as it really is a touching and charming classic with enough action to propel the story forward and enough drama to keep it interesting. The Golden Safari nightclub, where much of the action takes place, is marvelously designed with lions roaming in a glass cage behind the bar, the orchestra playing from a tree hut, a foliage-encased staircase at the entrance, native dancers it’s a fantastic tribute to Hollywood kitsch and brazen showmanship. The special effects by wizard Willis O’Brien, with Ray Harryhausen by his side, are actually superior to KONG’s.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES
Neal (Steve Martin) is just trying to make it home for Thanksgiving with his family. Instead, he ends up on a wild, chaotic ride with Del (John Candy). Once the two meet, their worlds are turned upside down by a series of wild events. This is one of the best pairings in a film that I have ever seen. Martin and Candy are incredible together. If you haven’t seen this film, you need to add it to the top of your list!
INCREDIBLE MR LIMPET
See wimpy Barney Fife get his revenge as a Nazi-hating carp! THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (1964) was a part-animation, part live-action but mostly silly fantasy directed by Arthur Lubin that followed the World War II underwater adventures of a meek clerk (Don Knotts) who, after falling into the ocean and turning into a cartoon fish, helps the Navy clear the Atlantic of Nazi subs. THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET gave the public in the mid-60′s a little escapism, a lot of laughs and a reason to watch animation outside of Disney and it still holds up today as perhaps the most fondly remembered of the Don Knotts features.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
“No man is a failure who has friends.” Before you consider yourself a failure, think long and hard on what would have happened to the people in your life if you weren’t around. That’s the simple but heartfelt conceit around which this holiday favorite, and it makes for some frothy but well-earned schmaltz.
After all the sequels, tech advances, and follow-up features from other studios, the original computer animated full-length film from all the way back in 1995, has lost none of its considerable charm and heart. The little tykes will love getting to know Woody and Buzz while their parents and grandparents will get nostalgic revisiting old buddies from their childhood like Mr. Potato Head and Slinky Dog. Surprisingly, the first time I saw this in a theatre the adults were laughing more than the kids! This movie spawned two equally wonderful sequels which you can enjoy throughout that long Thanksgiving weekend. This started Pixar’s reign as the family film box offices king and the folks from Emoryville, CA show no signs of stopping.
E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL
Wow, it’s been 30 years since the world fell in love with the waddling alien with the Einstein eyes. This was Steven Spielberg’s biggest box office hit. Perhaps it’s his greatest screen fantasy that is also one of his most personal films. The tots will enjoy the magic of the title hero (the first five minutes of his abandonment on Earth are dialogue free), but the older kids and adults will appreciate the story of Elliott having to deal with his parents’ divorce and yearning for a friend. Everyone will delight in John Williams’s soaring music score (one of his very best!) and the adorable Drew Barrymore as kid sister Gertie (a new member of a celebrated acting dynasty). Look for another fantastic film alien during the big Halloween trick-or-treating scene!
JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS
A superb Greek Mythology adventure with Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion creatures taking center stage, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS is a masterpiece by any definition of the term. Neglected at the time of release by those who dismissed it as yet another sword and sandal spectacular (a genre popular at the time) JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS has increased in reputation over the years and is now regarded as a bona fide classic. This is because Harryhausen’s creations are filled with personality. When Talos, the bronze titan first turns his head, you can tell that he’s royally ticked off. When the skeletons first rise, there’s this moment when they look at each other as if to say, “Check it out dude, we’re a bunch of badass skeletons”. The effects are more than just effects, they’re characters. That sense of personality was Harryhausen’s gift, and it’s on full display throughout JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, the animator’s finest achievement.
In our opinion, there is never a bad time to watch GOONIES. Mikey and his friends are spending their last weekend together in the “Goon Docks” hunting for a legendary treasure. This movie is filled with booby traps, pirates, and slick shoes. Oh, and if you remember anything this holiday season (especially when the family gets a little crazy), remember “Goonies Never Say Die!”
THE NEW WORLD
Sure, maybe it’s not so much a family film, but it could be given a responsible amount of parental guidance. Instead, let’s call this a valuable entry into the adults’ consideration for Thanksgiving viewing. Terrence Malick’s epic film recounts the basic story of Pocahontas and Captain Smith (Colin Farrell) in a light much closer to reality than that of Disney’s rendition. What’s better than a good love story? How about one that also tackles the more historically accurate back-story of a time and place that led to what we now call Thanksgiving. Oh, its such a downer to think about that on the holiday, you say? Well, suck it up buttercup… that’s the way the world works, but it doesn’t mean we still can’t appreciate and enjoy this fine film, and in turn… be that much more thankful for what we have now. Trust me, they didn’t have it so good back then.
“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.” It’s hard not to love the 1960s slant on Batman, it’s so fun and colorful. The Batman TV series was one of those rare moments when all the elements combined perfectly – casting, writing, set design, music, acting, etc. – and the BATMAN movie, shot between the first two seasons, contained all the same wild nonsense, glorious imagination and sheer appeal of the show. The Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle were all created on the budget of this movie, (the Batcycle was completed early and used in several episodes of the first season). While it’s all fine and good to make “darker and more gothic” translations of our comic book icons, the kid in me sometimes just wants to see colorful heroes with silly weapons vying against wacky villains. This is the very essence of the old-school comic book, and while I certainly wouldn’t want all comic adaptations to be this gleefully silly, BATMAN did a picture-perfect job of capturing these heroes in their campy mid-60′s heyday.
“Love and marr-iage… love and marr-age… go to-geth-er like a…” Oh, sorry. Wrong show, but you know where we’re going with that. From 1987 through 1997, actor Ed O’Neill became a household icon for his portrayal of Ed Bundy, the Chicago-suburb dwelling, working class everyman. While it took O’Neill some time to shake off a lot of that persona in the public’s eye, we were fortunate to be blessed with a 1991 feature film called DUTCH. One part PROBLEM CHILD and one part UNCLE BUCK, DUTCH utilizes O’Neill’s sarcastic, average Joe demeanor to make the film yet another popular John Hughes production. Directed by Peter Faiman, DUTCH follows a man’s attempt to befriend his girlfriend’s son when he picks him up from prep school, but he quickly realizes he may have bitten off more than he could chew. You’ve heard of “the battle of the sexes,” well… this one’s the “battle of the ages.” Hilarious, sometimes painful, both characters are flawed, but when they discover how to like each other, few moments in film could be more fitting for Thanksgiving viewing.
“Father Christmas,” “Thank You Very Much,” and “I Like Life” were all songs heard in the 1970 musical version of the Charles Dickens classic holiday tale, with Albert Finney starring in the title role as Ebenezer Scrooge. While this version may not be widely appreciated, mostly due to it being infused with 11 songs, it’s still a lovely version you can watch with the whole family. The film also features Alec Guiness, Edith Evans and Kenneth More as the 3 Christmas Ghosts of Past, Present and Future. Nominated for four Academy Awards, Finney rightly won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. However, Guinness didn’t get a kick out of doing this movie. It actually required much more time than he expected – with the need of wires and a harness for his floating character – he ended up with a double-hernia that required surgery to repair.
HANNAH AND HER SISTERS
Let’s play a little game. Two thing that don’t typically go together… and, go: Thanksgiving and Woody Allen. Good job! But, wait… there’s always an exception. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) puts Woody Allen on the Thanksgiving map, exposing the holiday to his trademark style of adult-oriented sex and death obsessed neurotic humor. The story takes place between two Thanksgivings, where Hannah’s (Mia Farrow) hubby falls head over heels for her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey) while her ex-husband finds renewed love with her sister Holly (Dianne Wiest). As usual, tempers flare and nothing works out like a storybook romance, but we have so much fun in the process. The talented ensemble cast also includes Michael Caine, Max von Sydow, Lewis Black and Carrie Fisher.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC
Over-brimming with maddeningly catchy songs that deal with all manner of sugary nonsense, this perennial family classic is probably the lightest movie ever to involve Nazis. In its time, it unseated GONE WITH THE WIND as the highest-grossing film ever, although it was loathed by the critics. Pauline Kael said that, “we have been turned into emotional and aesthetic imbeciles when we hear ourselves humming the sickly, goody-goody songs.”
GRUMPY OLD MEN
GRUMPY OLD MEN… need we say more? I mean, old people fighting is funny, right? If that doesn’t sell the movie, than putting Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau back on the big screen together should do the trick. Not only was this a monumental comedic milestone, but it was a marvelously jaded and bitter good time. One could say this is what Statler and Waldorf are like when not heckling The Muppets, instead heckling each other. John (Jack Lemon) and Max (Walter Matthau) are two elderly men who have been life-long rivaling neighbors since childhood, which means we get to watch two old farts make each others’ lives Hell for an hour and 40 minutes. Who says a good grudge can’t be entertaining?
CURLY SUE not only stole to help keep her stomach full, she stole the hearts of audiences around the globe in 1991 as the lead character in the last film of John Hughes directing career. James Belushi aides in the laughter as Bill, Curly Sues caretaker. This heartwarming tale reminds us to be thankful for what we have, and also that not every John Hughes movie follows the same formula.
Perhaps the most unconventional choice for Thanksgiving… we’ll make this one short and sweet: ALICE’S RESTAURANT, directed by Arthur Penn, is folk icon Arlo Guthrie’s classic story song adapted into a feature-length film. If we need say more, then — given the theme of this list — you surely know what to do.