Total Recall

11 Most Disastrous Movie Thanksgivings Ever

We look at the most awkward, uncomfortable, and downright unpleasant Thanksgivings portrayed on film.

by | November 22, 2017 | Comments

Everyone has the day off work, there’s a big bird on the table, and relatives you haven’t seen in awhile are sitting around watching parades and football. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Now, obviously, Thanksgiving doesn’t have quite the rich cinematic tradition that certain other holidays have enjoyed, but we’ve still watched the fourth Thursday in November unfold on the big screen enough times to inspire us to look back at some of the most noteworthy not-so-thankful Thanksgivings in movie history. We’ve gathered together an eclectic group for our list, including old favorites (Hannah and Her Sisters), indie upstarts (The House of Yes), and even a critical dud or two. Plus, as a special bonus, we’ve included the trailer for a movie that never was — so tuck in your napkins, wait for Sis to say grace, and let’s all dig in!


Addams Family Values (1993) 77%

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

For many, the Addams Family movies trigger memories of MC Hammer more than anything else, but 1993’s Addams Family Values actually received better reviews than its predecessor — and it’s also noteworthy for containing one of the most hysterical Thanksgiving pageants in movie history, one which begins with turkeys singing “Eat me!” and culminates with Christina Ricci’s Wednesday Addams, playing Pocahontas, departing from the script written by unctuous summer camp director Gary Granger (played by Peter MacNicol) to air a list of grievances against the pilgrims before directing her tribe to burn their village to the ground. It might read like a tryptophan-induced dream of Howard Zinn’s, but it’s actually very funny — and certainly a big part of why the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum called Addams Family Values “one of the funniest, most mean-spirited satirical assaults on sunny American values since the salad days of W.C. Fields.”


Alice's Restaurant (1969) 63%

Only in the ’60s could an 18-minute talking blues song by a 19-year-old white kid from New England become such a big hit that it inspired a movie helmed by an A-list director like Arthur Penn, but that’s exactly what happened with Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant.” It’s a rambling tale of a pair of Massachusetts hippies who found themselves dragged to court for illegally dumping garbage on Thanksgiving Day — only to watch the arresting officer break down in tears of frustration when he discovers that the presiding judge is blind and can’t see the glossy color photos meticulously taken of the scene of the crime. And you thought you had it bad, watching the parade on your grandmother’s couch! As a movie, Alice’s Restaurant is arguably most interesting as a ’60s relic, or an early example of meta filmmaking (the real-life Alice makes a cameo, and officer William “Obie” Obanhein stars as himself), but critics have been generally kind to it; as Roger Ebert succinctly put it, the movie is “good work in a minor key.”


Brokeback Mountain (2005) 87%

(Photo by Focus Films)

Thanksgiving, like any family holiday, can be something of a double-edged blade: It has the potential to both bring loved ones together, but in doing so, it also has the ability to exacerbate tensions — and given that the protagonists in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (adapted from the short story by Annie Proulx) spend their adult lives struggling with their barely expressed love for one another, you might expect that turkey and mashed potatoes would serve as a garnish for some remarkably tense moments. You’d be right, too — both Ennis (played by Heath Ledger) and Jack (Jake Gyllenhaal) suffer through some bleak Thanksgivings, none more awkward than the one which acts as a prelude to Ennis’ wife Alma (Michelle Williams) confronting him about his secret affair. Awk-warrrrd — and all part of what Metromix.com’s Matt Pais called “a gorgeous meditation on the sorrow of finding everything you want and not knowing how to keep it.”


The Doors (1991) 57%

(Photo by TriStar Pictures)

The surviving members of the Doors disputed a lot of the material that ended up in Oliver Stone’s wildly over the top Jim Morrison biopic, including the infamous scene that depicts the late Doors frontman locking girlfriend Pamela Courson in a closet and setting it on fire — and the Thanksgiving dinner sequence in which Patricia Kennealy (played by Meg Ryan), the woman who may or may not have been his wife, ends up throwing the turkey at Morrison (Val Kilmer). Critics more or less agreed with the remaining members of the band, shrugging The Doors down to a 54 percent Tomatometer rating, although their main concern was not historical accuracy, but the problem of spending two hours watching the exploits of a guy who, despite his talent and charisma, isn’t terribly likable. As Time’s Richard Schickel noted, “the film really proves only that Jim was a bad drunk and a worse friend, and that in no way was his life exemplary,” while Lawrence.com’s Eric Melin dismisses The Doors simply as “a pretentious movie about a man haunted by a naked Indian.”


Dutch (1991) 14%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

Like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1991’s Ed O’Neill-led Dutch bears the stamp of John Hughes, who wrote the script; unlike its classic listmate, however, Dutch was a commercial non-starter at the box office, and bore the brunt of many irate reviews from critics like the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, who called Hughes “a man more prolific than Stephen King and less inspired than Aaron Spelling” and declared that Dutch “shouldn’t even be allowed on planes.” The venom is easy to understand — it isn’t that Dutch is a horrible movie, per se; it’s just that Hughes had already written more than one very similar script — and Dutch, which pits O’Neill against his girlfriend’s prepubescent son during a pitfall-laden journey home for Thanksgiving, didn’t benefit from its superficial resemblance to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.


Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) 91%

Ah, Thanksgiving. What would it be without turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and lustfully eyeing your wife’s sister? Actually, most of us wouldn’t know about that last item on the list, but for Michael Caine in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, it’s a different story. The film opens with Caine’s Elliot conducting some Allen-esque hand wringing over his secret crush on his sister-in-law, Lee (Barbara Hershey), who he takes every opportunity to “bump into” around town (Manhattan, natch). It makes for a rather uncomfortable holiday for Elliot — but few writers do grown-up angst as well as Allen, and he was near the top of his game here; as Combustible Celluloid’s Jeffrey M. Anderson wrote, “It’s a masterwork.” (Hannah‘s final act centers around a different kind of Thanksgiving celebration, but we don’t want to spoil the ending for you here.)


Home for the Holidays (1995) 63%

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

Unlike some of the films on this list, Home for the Holidays doesn’t rely on Thanksgiving as a backdrop or a plot device — it’s actually the whole reason for the movie. In Jodie Foster’s second directorial outing, Holly Hunter plays a beleaguered single mom whose life is falling apart just in time for a holiday feast with her highly dysfunctional family. Despite a solid cast, including Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, and Claire Danes — not to mention a November release date and generally favorable reviews — Holidays failed to gain much traction at the box office, going on to gross just over $17.5 million. Still, if you manage to make room for it on DVD, you may have an experience similar to the Palo Alto Weekly’s Jim Shelby, who wrote, “I found myself shaking my head in embarrassed, smiling recognition.”


The House of Yes (1997) 62%

(Photo by Lionsgate)

We’ve covered some unbearably awkward Thanksgivings on this list, but Tori Spelling’s holiday in The House of Yes — which finds her joining her fiancee’s family for the meal, meeting them for the first time, only to discover that his relationship with his mentally unstable twin sister is much more, ahem, complex than she’d been led to believe. Matter of fact, pretty much everyone in the family has some something lurking under the surface, and much of it will become known to poor Tori before the weekend is over. And did we mention there’s a hurricane going on during all of this? Don’t feel too bad for Ms. Spelling, though; for one of the only times in her career, she earned some of the movie’s highest marks, including praise from TV Guide’s Ken Fox, who declared her House‘s “real surprise,” calling her “perfectly cast as a lamb among wolves, and her naivete is strangely affecting.”


The Ice Storm (1997) 85%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp.)

What do Ang Lee and Christina Ricci have against Thanksgiving, anyway? In her second appearance on this list, Ricci plays Wendy Hood, one in the series of cynical, borderline misanthropic teens she portrayed in the ’90s — and in a slight (albeit far less humorous) echo of her turn as Wednesday Addams in Addams Family Values, she uses Thanksgiving as an opportunity to lift the veil on the holiday’s darker side, delivering a soliloquy about the inherent cruelty of the celebration. Painful to watch? Indubitably — and appropriately, for a film that hinges on crushing ennui and alienation. Lee, who also directed Brokeback Mountain, which appears elsewhere on this list, received high marks for adapting Rick Moody’s tense, sad novel about suburban families in the ’70s; as the Globe and Mail’s Rick Groen put it, Lee manages to “[duplicate] on screen exactly what the writer achieves on the page.”


Pieces of April (2003) 84%

(Photo by United Artists)

Katie Holmes earned critical praise for her brief appearance as a gleefully manipulative murder victim in 2001’s The Gift — and then entered a fallow period, taking roles in little-seen projects like Abandon and The Singing Detective. 2003’s Pieces of April, about a woman who invites her estranged family to her apartment to meet her boyfriend over Thanksgiving dinner, ended up being another non-starter at the box office, but at least in this case, critics applauded the film, sending screenwriter Peter Hedges’ directorial debut all the way up to 84 percent on the Tomatometer. Somewhat stereotypically for an indie production, nothing much really happens in Pieces — but given that Holmes spends much of the film struggling to get dinner made, it could be said that this is one of the few movies on this list that accurately captures the culinary drama behind the holiday. It is, in the words of Empire’s Natasha Aitken, “a shining example of just how compelling and affecting low-budget filmmaking can be when you’ve got a good story and strong cast.”


Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) 91%

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

Perhaps the quintessential Thanksgiving film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles represents a critical and commercial high point for all of its principals, including Steve Martin (as repressed ad executive Neal Page), John Candy (as unintentionally obnoxious shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith), and John Hughes (as the writer and director of a film not starring Molly Ringwald). On its face, there’s very little about Planes to distinguish it from other films — how many ’80s movies feature an uptight ad exec going on some kind of transformative journey, anyway? — and where John Hughes goes, broad humor inevitably follows. But Martin and Candy play off one another brilliantly, and if any movie deserves to have a big, gooey heart beating at its center, shouldn’t it be one about the true meaning of Thanksgiving?


Finally, here’s the trailer for Eli Roth’s fake slasher film Thanksgiving, which promises “you’ll come home for the holidays… in a body bag.”

[The following clip is highly NSFW.]

Tag Cloud

worst Pixar Superheroes Discovery Channel Marvel Sundance Trailer Family Spring TV Calendar National Geographic docudrama free movies USA Network miniseries child's play LGBTQ Nat Geo name the review 72 Emmy Awards Women's History Month zero dark thirty Amazon Prime NBC Tarantino 45 teaser X-Men Mystery space 20th Century Fox singing competition renewed TV shows crossover Logo elevated horror CBS ITV Kids & Family Marathons based on movie Schedule streaming American Society of Cinematographers 2016 Paramount BAFTA BET Awards SundanceTV Podcast science fiction Music San Diego Comic-Con 2019 Super Bowl Vudu adventure Stephen King El Rey OWN reboot rotten Set visit Walt Disney Pictures 71st Emmy Awards DC Universe cancelled TV series comics Hallmark Marvel Television Lionsgate die hard latino Chernobyl screen actors guild sitcom VH1 Britbox Western Cartoon Network Lifetime TIFF festivals Grammys Esquire Starz CW Seed RT History travel blockbuster harry potter TCA Awards robots BBC Ellie Kemper political drama GIFs nbcuniversal Tumblr Holiday disaster franchise true crime cancelled dramedy crime drama CBS All Access Disney President Netflix IFC Films Binge Guide dceu Film Festival concert scary movies south america stand-up comedy E! green book twilight stop motion natural history cancelled TV shows Pop Columbia Pictures Countdown sports classics finale TruTV ratings Comic Book indiana jones quibi police drama DirecTV vampires hist documentaries movies spanish language PBS Drama Comedy Central Amazon Studios television Amazon Rom-Com Red Carpet FX The Walking Dead ABC Family hollywood Brie Larson films The Witch universal monsters RT21 news theme song justice league psycho crime The CW batman The Arrangement christmas movies 2017 Apple TV+ Musicals Black Mirror Sony Pictures romance aliens game of thrones Turner Valentine's Day children's TV fast and furious screenings Mary Tyler Moore Netflix Christmas movies Superheroe Premiere Dates sag awards HBO spider-man TNT Dark Horse Comics Travel Channel independent Lucasfilm criterion boxoffice social media dogs TCA Winter 2020 series Mudbound 2018 Marvel Studios award winner talk show Disney+ Disney Plus Cannes Thanksgiving 2015 Certified Fresh LGBT Polls and Games animated Trophy Talk Peacock Television Critics Association Year in Review Tomatazos YouTube Red Anna Paquin TV renewals CMT parents Sundance TV versus Song of Ice and Fire Rocketman revenge composers Musical 2020 zombies Pop TV 21st Century Fox Extras Crackle cars best Classic Film Crunchyroll Martial Arts TCA Avengers Pride Month politics dark CNN TLC documentary The Purge VICE game show Interview FXX doctor who slashers AMC cooking facebook HBO Go Syfy Lifetime Christmas movies stoner reviews superhero movie comedies Biopics Writers Guild of America canceled Infographic WGN discovery mutant Hulu jamie lee curtis anthology comic mission: impossible Mary poppins emmy awards adaptation period drama dc Sneak Peek Disney Plus Star Wars Holidays Quiz dragons unscripted 24 frames History canceled TV shows FOX Spike Emmy Nominations Warner Bros. Hear Us Out technology hispanic TV Winter TV biography DGA breaking bad werewolf GLAAD OneApp comiccon medical drama Teen video Emmys Rocky directors Box Office TBS Academy Awards ghosts richard e. Grant spy thriller Animation Freeform a nightmare on elm street Pirates A24 Paramount Network Tubi spain Horror asian-american joker BBC One VOD Winners Shudder Oscars what to watch PaleyFest Fox News strong female leads Star Trek WarnerMedia Best and Worst Ghostbusters Masterpiece Pet Sematary anime obituary Acorn TV Toys Comedy all-time supernatural YA Television Academy New York Comic Con First Look Apple halloween See It Skip It Opinion TV Land NYCC Apple TV Plus Rock rotten movies we love historical drama ESPN YouTube Premium ABC Cosplay cartoon book Ovation casting cults Spectrum Originals MCU psychological thriller cinemax Sci-Fi DC Comics witnail serial killer Elton John MTV thriller PlayStation HBO Max SXSW Turner Classic Movies Adult Swim Endgame toy story Hallmark Christmas movies critics Christmas golden globes Reality spinoff Black History Month foreign zombie Arrowverse video on demand 007 Food Network Film Nominations Baby Yoda kids romantic comedy BET Nickelodeon transformers Shondaland BBC America Universal Mindy Kaling APB Creative Arts Emmys Epix IFC Fall TV crime thriller cancelled television TCA 2017 FX on Hulu First Reviews MSNBC sequels Disney streaming service Summer Awards TCM Amazon Prime Video Showtime A&E Election E3 tv talk Action Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cats GoT USA Captain marvel YouTube Sundance Now cops Mary Poppins Returns laika blaxploitation indie Character Guide chucky Reality Competition Heroines Photos Watching Series SDCC Country Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Fantasy mockumentary Disney Channel Bravo war Awards Tour nature diversity sequel Funimation satire Video Games Comics on TV Trivia binge DC streaming service 4/20