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) 76%

(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) 88%

(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) 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

President RT21 kaiju MCU Geeked Week streaming toy story Heroines Food Network Neflix Disney+ Disney Plus Reality Paramount Network vs. rt archives stop motion CBS All Access Music spy thriller twilight AMC Amazon Studios Holidays TV renewals FX Comics on TV richard e. Grant Apple TV+ Tokyo Olympics psycho comedies HBO Apple international NYCC Amazon Prime Video DC Universe psychological thriller South by Southwest Film Festival Pacific Islander 2019 The Arrangement Biopics cartoon The Walking Dead cops king kong Red Carpet game show king arthur screen actors guild classics Academy Awards scene in color criterion Tumblr space HBO Max Superheroes Set visit mission: impossible Image Comics independent Masterpiece spider-man Super Bowl BET Awards Trivia comic dreamworks Cartoon Network black comedy australia Black Mirror gangster Kids & Family Rock kids anthology Writers Guild of America Mindy Kaling ID Star Wars SDCC directors DC streaming service First Look police drama lord of the rings rotten movies we love 99% Showtime cancelled sitcom dexter slasher Tubi The Witch thriller Instagram Live Sneak Peek Rocky Sony Pictures Comedy FX on Hulu cancelled TV shows GoT saw Amazon Prime discovery Christmas Oscar TV RT History halloween tv TruTV Binge Guide Quiz History satire Countdown basketball boxoffice mutant summer preview TCA 2017 94th Oscars razzies leaderboard french Universal new york TV One HFPA marvel cinematic universe genre YouTube Premium batman doctor who aapi Awards Native Film 79th Golden Globes Awards monster movies Shondaland vampires slashers 20th Century Fox ABC Mary Tyler Moore Prime Video jamie lee curtis olympics worst movies Bravo Anna Paquin foreign supernatural Paramount Pop ABC Family OWN posters VH1 ABC Signature cults Disney Plus marvel comics Infographic Best Actor Alien Premiere Dates 2017 2016 IFC Valentine's Day 73rd Emmy Awards biography VICE CBS Marvel Television technology docudrama heist movie screenings mockumentary 2021 serial killer Fall TV Discovery Channel spanish YouTube hidden camera Avengers Video Games Sci-Fi cancelled TV series scary docuseries Brie Larson Hallmark Grammys comic book movie art house royal family pirates of the caribbean diversity TV movies Broadway Reality Competition Exclusive Video halloween 21st Century Fox singing competition Lionsgate justice league 1990s Turner Classic Movies Western critic resources interviews prank Oscars latino Character Guide Ellie Kemper zero dark thirty 71st Emmy Awards cinemax Indigenous Esquire adenture Star Wars Celebration Winter TV Fox Searchlight cats nature WarnerMedia blaxploitation Rocketman news documentaries Marathons CMT japan Election universal monsters Polls and Games child's play parents reviews 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Cannes war archives animated fast and furious sag awards Best Picture GLAAD Rom-Com Best Actress witnail hist crossover The Academy spider-verse wonder woman feel good Marvel blockbuster strong female leads medical drama comic book movies TBS Comic-Con@Home 2021 Creative Arts Emmys live event TCM italian Nat Geo Crunchyroll die hard tv talk movies Opinion Freeform stand-up comedy indiana jones Calendar book movie Disney Channel mcc social media SundanceTV Hear Us Out Sundance Now dramedy binge romance DGA facebook 45 Fargo rom-coms Pop TV Funimation Drama biopic aliens Endgame telelvision Universal Pictures legend summer TV obi wan 93rd Oscars Spring TV joker Epix Martial Arts golden globe awards Pride Month talk show indie TNT Sundance TV Walt Disney Pictures PBS chucky Elton John A24 football MGM television LGBTQ Trailer APB adventure dc Mudbound YouTube Red 2018 rt labs critics edition Emmy Nominations Columbia Pictures miniseries FXX sequel young adult Holiday Dark Horse Comics composers See It Skip It what to watch Turner Trophy Talk casting revenge new star wars movies crime thriller Netflix Christmas movies trailers E! zombies spanish language TLC Captain marvel crime rt labs scorecard teaser jurassic park streaming movies sequels Mary Poppins Returns Fox News dragons festivals Schedule Disney nfl PlayStation franchise disaster laika OneApp CW Seed game of thrones Tags: Comedy cooking Star Trek Family DC Comics venice TV Land Country Best and Worst ghosts Thanksgiving green book scary movies 007 Box Office emmy awards Watching Series Wes Anderson theme song Sony First Reviews BBC One Summer YA hollywood Animation BBC stoner hispanic heritage month MTV Winners 72 Emmy Awards Television Academy romantic comedy USA Britbox Netflix SXSW robots breaking bad GIFs Pirates Year in Review TCA name the review Awards Tour Baby Yoda Lifetime Christmas movies video on demand broadcast Tomatazos HBO Go Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Interview Paramount Pictures 4/20 high school golden globes all-time godzilla Spectrum Originals Classic Film dceu Tarantino action-comedy unscripted Pixar cancelled television Extras children's TV Spike The Purge Fantasy Nickelodeon james bond Ovation Mystery Paramount Plus best 90s asian-american rotten Comedy Central blockbusters X-Men boxing remakes canceled TV shows series USA Network Arrowverse New York Comic Con zombie natural history documentary dark Travel Channel BET book adaptation scene in color film series Lifetime Disney streaming service Apple TV Plus Shudder TCA Winter 2020 popular Pet Sematary 24 frames Hallmark Christmas movies cars Syfy IFC Films women A&E science fiction streamig harry potter TIFF Crackle 2020 Vudu Stephen King Black History Month comiccon Amazon Women's History Month travel nbcuniversal target scene in color fresh finale Ghostbusters Teen El Rey worst Emmys Superheroe Legendary Television Critics Association dogs American Society of Cinematographers new zealand TCA Awards spinoff PaleyFest transformers a nightmare on elm street toronto Sundance Photos E3 free movies know your critic Logo Starz LGBT The CW period drama video MSNBC Horror christmas movies SXSW 2022 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Best Director based on movie Peacock historical drama Warner Bros. suspense critics black concert Acorn TV FOX festival ratings Podcast mob films trophy comic books award winner Focus Features spain IMDb TV BAFTA BBC America werewolf japanese Lucasfilm south america kong superman NBA elevated horror quibi summer TV preview 2015 AMC Plus reboot Nominations Musical The Walt Disney Company Song of Ice and Fire San Diego Comic-Con deadpool Film Festival Mary poppins political drama NBC Toys comics true crime sports CNN Comic Book live action Marvel Studios obituary Chernobyl anime ViacomCBS versus crime drama canceled target superhero ESPN adaptation renewed TV shows DirecTV politics Certified Fresh Musicals Hollywood Foreign Press Association ITV debate Adult Swim hispanic Action National Geographic Hulu WGN scene in color series sopranos Cosplay VOD