The curious case of the non-Thanksgiving film


Jackson Piercy

Neal Page (Steve Martin) and Del Griffith (John Candy) making their way to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Photo courtesy of

Thanksgiving! The holiday is placed precariously in between what are arguably the two biggest holidays here in the states, Halloween and Christmas. Two holidays that, for the last 50 years or so, have dominated box offices and their own genres. Naturally, one would imagine that it would not be much of a stretch to say that there is something of a bustling Thanksgiving film scene, right?

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving’s intricacies and history do not make much for an intriguing film. Halloween has the thrills and scares of the horror genre to lean on. Christmas has basically the whole bible film genre on lockdown, and for some, there is a reason that some channels on Christmas day play “A Christmas Story” on repeat for twenty four hours straight. Thanksgiving? Well, Thanksgiving has the cutesy tales about Pilgrims and Native Americans eating turkey together and being best friends, a contentious story at best, and sitting at a table with large dead birds and yelling at people who might be related to your parents. How exciting.

So, where are all the Thanksgiving movies? To start, they are not all advertised as explicitly “Thanksgiving” movies. Pretty much every football movie could be categorized as a Thanksgiving movie. Football movies are a monolith that are better served for a different story. Every other film that has a big dinner with a turkey or a time frame that includes November has enough grounds to be considered a Thanksgiving movie.

Movies that fall into that category include “Rocky,” where Sly Stallone’s debut picture has one scene between the eponymous Rocky and his girlfriend Adrian sharing a Thanksgiving meal. “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” where Steve Martin and John Candy brave the elements in rural Kansas to get back to Chicago for Thanksgiving. “North by Northwest” is a film that has absolutely nothing to do with the Thanksgiving festivities but has a newspaper that puts the events of the film just around Thanksgiving. “Miracle on 34th Street” is conventionally a Christmas feature due to the prominence of a Santa Claus-like person but takes place initially in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Normally, these films have absolutely no singular thing in common, much like the actual holiday. However, Thanksgiving is there, whether the viewer knows about it or not. Thanksgiving tends to be a holiday that is not always on people’s minds, but is more something that people realize is a holiday due to some very specific circumstances. Circumstances include playing Christmas music directly after Halloween or the endless advertisements for Black Friday, or in this year’s case, Cyber Monday. One does not often see countdowns to Thanksgiving on their Facebook feeds or decorated profile pictures dotted with turkeys and leaves.

Should this be the case? Should Thanksgiving be a film genre of its own? Probably not. It would be dishonest to say that it is not an interesting framing device, and Thanksgiving is not really good for much more than that. Not to say that it is a bad holiday, but when something fits in a niche, it is not really good for much more. Thanksgiving’s place in film is not at the front of the stage, and there is always something to appreciate when something Thanksgiving-related pops up–and that is all we can really ask for, isn’t it?