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’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’s Eric Melin dismisses The Doors simply as “a pretentious movie about a man haunted by a naked Indian.”

Dutch (1991) 17%

(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) 64%

(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) 86%

(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) 92%

(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

CBS All Access Apple young adult know your critic Tokyo Olympics mcc Sci-Fi sitcom Mystery stoner festivals twilight Family Shudder Lionsgate halloween tv reviews GoT ABC Comedy Central SXSW BAFTA period drama Hear Us Out series The Arrangement Thanksgiving romance TV One Pet Sematary streaming movies Hollywood Foreign Press Association Film National Geographic comic book movies ID marvel comics psychological thriller canceled TV shows CW Seed TNT 2015 Netflix Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys rt labs critics edition romantic comedy psycho justice league Reality Awards WGN stop motion saw Animation TCA 2017 french Sneak Peek Lifetime Christmas movies LGBTQ vs. popular gangster hispanic heritage month spider-verse 79th Golden Globes Awards godzilla 71st Emmy Awards doctor who rotten Amazon Prime Video Trophy Talk robots Brie Larson all-time Ellie Kemper space blaxploitation die hard Rom-Com crossover Fox News Summer The Academy YA crime thriller The Walking Dead 21st Century Fox Holidays Star Wars diversity BBC SundanceTV screen actors guild supernatural scary mob OneApp documentary miniseries Heroines composers scary movies disaster The Witch canceled AMC sequels Extras lord of the rings leaderboard Video Games trophy versus TCA RT21 legend target game of thrones live event DirecTV free movies 93rd Oscars Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cartoon Paramount Rock Podcast Premiere Dates unscripted batman OWN obituary PaleyFest Pirates politics remakes Peacock BBC America olympics discovery prank TV black comedy kong emmy awards Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt technology Country a nightmare on elm street book adaptation teaser japan 1990s new zealand 99% First Look Apple TV+ thriller japanese halloween TIFF 007 nbcuniversal directors Britbox Apple TV Plus comedies DGA joker Paramount Plus dogs war Music Lucasfilm 2017 marvel cinematic universe Mary Poppins Returns ITV football WarnerMedia south america Nat Geo Arrowverse movie kids DC streaming service werewolf IFC NYCC El Rey Fall TV Emmys stand-up comedy dexter breaking bad Infographic Mudbound best Trivia Black Mirror critic resources CMT harry potter crime Paramount Network Film Festival ViacomCBS mutant Awards Tour Pop TV rt labs Western Showtime Walt Disney Pictures Hallmark Christmas movies Instagram Live comic book movie Ovation documentaries based on movie Prime Video serial killer Classic Film Binge Guide 2020 fast and furious pirates of the caribbean science fiction streaming Universal Pictures james bond The Purge boxoffice Trailer cooking Baby Yoda name the review Pop news Black History Month Christmas IMDb TV scene in color Rocketman TV renewals Holiday singing competition Alien Musical king arthur Watching Series archives Esquire TV movies latino Warner Bros. Rocky game show Sundance TV E3 kaiju action-comedy zombies heist movie razzies hidden camera YouTube YouTube Premium renewed TV shows festival A&E jurassic park YouTube Red asian-american travel DC Comics cats television australia nfl PBS Mary poppins adaptation Interview Winter TV new star wars movies Crackle Pride Month Writers Guild of America cancelled biography indiana jones VICE PlayStation trailers Dark Horse Comics indie E! deadpool Photos ESPN Marathons movies foreign Toys ABC Signature Grammys NBC Marvel Studios USA Network feel good Box Office Turner Classic Movies Cartoon Network TCA Winter 2020 Food Network Marvel Television HBO Go Tumblr Vudu Superheroes X-Men independent rom-coms TruTV art house king kong 2016 Tomatazos HFPA posters Opinion Action Quiz Captain marvel Bravo classics MSNBC CNN elevated horror social media superman Teen rt archives Travel Channel universal monsters Fox Searchlight Television Critics Association Sundance Now cinemax rotten movies we love Wes Anderson Disney Logo sag awards mockumentary 2019 Spike HBO Max hollywood American Society of Cinematographers live action Sundance Epix Image Comics San Diego Comic-Con quibi TBS Cosplay toronto comics Marvel boxing Hulu christmas movies high school cancelled TV series Comic-Con@Home 2021 criterion Pixar Tubi Legendary book spanish language SDCC Amazon Prime biopic Best and Worst CBS green book royal family Oscars police drama Universal revenge Disney Plus ratings Starz The CW cars laika dc franchise video on demand casting anthology cancelled TV shows ABC Family Tarantino animated Amazon Studios child's play Nickelodeon Shondaland Super Bowl Musicals Disney Channel BET Awards President dreamworks FX 20th Century Fox First Reviews Comics on TV dark 2018 anime VH1 Discovery Channel See It Skip It sports vampires cops FX on Hulu Superheroe Martial Arts Adult Swim reboot debate what to watch chucky Star Trek satire BBC One Funimation Red Carpet Mindy Kaling witnail 2021 Song of Ice and Fire Spring TV Turner golden globes dceu dramedy TCA Awards docuseries Syfy Lifetime Biopics films 45 transformers FXX Stephen King monster movies 24 frames cancelled television A24 Calendar Avengers worst movies FOX blockbusters Columbia Pictures BET AMC Plus spanish Exclusive Video Emmy Nominations HBO suspense 72 Emmy Awards parents video sequel NBA screenings adenture adventure Comedy telelvision cults Nominations ghosts Elton John Sony Pictures Netflix scorecard Reality Competition crime drama Polls and Games Set visit Disney+ Disney Plus spy thriller TCM Masterpiece genre mission: impossible Crunchyroll slashers TLC GLAAD tv talk natural history venice political drama Character Guide MCU Election aliens Chernobyl RT History Valentine's Day APB Hallmark VOD Certified Fresh Drama Neflix strong female leads Fargo 73rd Emmy Awards critics comic 90s spain zero dark thirty slasher Freeform Horror dragons comiccon sopranos 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Mary Tyler Moore jamie lee curtis blockbuster 4/20 children's TV Schedule wonder woman worst black spinoff Amazon golden globe awards History spider-man Kids & Family The Walt Disney Company basketball Disney streaming service hist aapi Television Academy italian TV Land Women's History Month Acorn TV true crime Year in Review IFC Films Countdown USA nature new york GIFs international Tags: Comedy theme song richard e. Grant Cannes Fantasy Ghostbusters zombie Comic Book award winner comic books LGBT medical drama binge DC Universe superhero MTV Endgame Pacific Islander women fresh hispanic historical drama Academy Awards concert toy story facebook Anna Paquin docudrama Winners Broadway Spectrum Originals New York Comic Con finale talk show