Paramount / Everett Collection
Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a movie that features not just one but three Thanksgiving celebrations, all hosted by Mia Farrow's earth-mother Hannah character over three consecutive Novembers, that come off without a hitch. They're picture-perfect holiday gatherings worthy of Norman Rockwell or Martha Stewart, even though her extended family is so big it requires two impeccably golden-brown turkeys at the feast table.
That's the exception.
In most films depicting the November holiday, Thanksgiving is a disaster. From travel nightmares to squabbling relatives to kitchen catastrophes, almost no one in the movies is able to stage a Thanksgiving that looks even remotely like a Rockwell painting or a Stewart magazine spread. Of course, since most of us fall similarly short of perfection at our real-life Thanksgivings, we can identify with both the frazzled hosts and irked guests we see on the big screen.
So, if you need to feel better about your own thankless Thanksgiving, here are 11 terrible Turkey Days you can watch. Have a little schadenfreude with your candied yams.
Gallery | 11 Thanksgiving Movies That Will Make You Very Thankful for Your Family
- 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' (1987)
Businessman Neal Page (Steve Martin) has a potentially perfect Thanksgiving waiting for him back home in Chicago, but getting there from New York, he encounters every travel snafu in the book. Plus one that's not in the book -- being accompanied by relentlessly chatty shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) the whole way. The punchline, in this sentimental John Hughes comedy, is that the widowed Del is heading off to a lonely holiday with nobody, so Neal brings him home to his own family. Whether that counts as a sweet ending or a nightmare depends on your point of view.
- 'Addams Family Values' (1993)
Young Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) are forced to endure the tacky indignities of summer camp, which include staging a pageant (overseen by cheery camp directors Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol) about the first Thanksgiving. Wednesday, her brother, and the other outcasts are assigned to play the Indians. But Wednesday goes off script and, after a speech anticipating the centuries of abuse the white man will inflict on her people, launches a pre-emptive rebellion, complete with flaming arrows. With their parents watching from the stands, the campers playing Pilgrims flee in terror while Baranski and MacNicol wind up roasting on a spit. The whole thing is as bizarre as anything else in Addams-land, but this Thanksgiving sequence is the movie's comic high point.
- 'The Ice Storm' (1997)
Christina Ricci helps ruin Thanksgiving again, this time as Wendy Hood, a '70s Connecticut teen who manages, during a holiday toast, to bring up the injustices against the Indians and the then-simmering Watergate scandal. To be fair, Wendy's not the only one turning the holiday weekend into a catastrophe. There's also the neighbors, who throw a spouse-swapping key party at which both of Wendy's parents make fools of themselves. And there's the title freeze-out, which traps Wendy's brother (Tobey Maguire) on a commuter train all night, and which leads to the electrocution of a careless neighbor boy.
- 'Scent of a Woman' (1992)
Scholarship prep school kid Charlie (Chris O'Donnell) can't afford to go home for Thanksgiving, nor can he afford to go skiing in Vermont with his rich classmates. So he ends up with strangers, getting paid to babysit the family's blind uncle, embittered Vietnam veteran Frank Slade. Of course, Slade is played by Al Pacino, in full holiday-ham mode, so keeping Frank from killing himself or from killing Charlie (with the blind man test-driving a sportscar in lower Manhattan) Not only does he have to deal with the handful that is Frank, but he also has a disciplinary matter hanging over his head once he gets back to school. Sure, he and Frank end up teaching each other life lessons, but first, he has to put up with all of Frank's "hoo-ah."
- 'Home for the Holidays' (1995)
For Thanksgiving, Claudia (Holly Hunter) is returning to Baltimore to visit the family that she finds alternately embarrassing and lovable. While she worries about the mess back home (she just lost her job, her teenage daughter has announced she plans to lose her virginity while Mom's away), she has to deal with her dotty parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), her mischievous gay brother (Robert Downey Jr.), her uptight sister (Cynthia Stevenson), and her eccentric Aunt Glady (Geraldine Chaplin), who picks the holiday meal as the time to reveal her lifelong crush on her brother-in-law. A winter coat gets lost, a turkey ends up in someone's lap, feelings get hurt, and family rifts widen, perhaps forever. Still, director Jodie Foster's underrated film maintains a funny-because-it's-painfully-true tone throughout.
- 'Broadway Danny Rose' (1984)
Two years before "Hannah and Her Sisters," Woody Allen and Mia Farrow made this hilarious farce that culminates in the most sad-sack Thanksgiving ever filmed. Allen plays Danny, a talent agent for Z-grade novelty acts, though he also has one Italian-American crooner on the verge of a comeback. Farrow is Tina, the singer's big-haired Jersey Girl, and Danny is forced to pretend to be her boyfriend in order to fool the crooner's wife. Unfortunately, the ruse gets both Danny and Tina in trouble with some Jersey mobsters, climaxing in a shootout at the warehouse where the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons are stored. ("I'm just the beard!" cries Allen, in a helium-altered voice.) Danny survives these scrapes, only to have Tina persuade her beau to betray Danny by signing with another agent. So Thanksgiving is a pretty depressing party, held at Danny's office for his family of low-talent, high-loyalty clients.
- 'The House of Yes' (1997)
Poor Lesly (Tori Spelling). She makes the mistake of going home for Thanksgiving with new fiance Marty (Josh Hamilton). Unfortunately, the favorite holiday pastime for Marty and his twin sister (Parker Posey), who calls herself Jackie O and wears a pink Chanel suit like the one Jacqueline Kennedy wore in Dealey Plaza, is ritualistically reenacting the JFK assassination. Oh, and also incest. Unfortunately, a hurricane traps the group at home, so Lesly is easy prey for little brother Anthony (Freddie Prinze Jr.) who pretends to be dying in order to seduce Lesly. The storm also forces her to stick around and watch the twins' scenario play out, over and over, with a real gun. Not really much to be thankful for here.
- 'Son-in-Law' (1993)
What could be more horrifying for a parent than to have your daughter bring home Pauly Shore for Thanksgiving? That's what freshman Carla Gugino does, knowing that her parents will be so appalled that they'll let her date the guy she actually wants to date. Shore, playing a character named Crawl (but who is the same Angeleno slacker he always plays) takes surprisingly well to life down on the farm, whether its carving his name in the cornfield with a tractor or giving a makeover to Gugino's mom. Of course, Dad still needs to be won over, and once Gugino and Shore start falling in love for real, it's clear that Dad's nightmare will never end.
- 'Pieces of April' (2003)
April (Katie Holmes), who lives in Manhattan's then-grungy Lower East Side, invites her suburban family to her tiny apartment for Thanksgiving. Complications are plentiful, including the fact that Mom (Patricia Clarkson) has breast cancer, that April hasn't introduced her white family to her black boyfriend (Derek Luke), and (worst of all), April's oven isn't working, forcing her to interact with her reclusive neighbors in order to find one willing to lend her a place to roast her turkey. Deadpan comic high jinks ensue.
- 'The Myth of Fingerprints' (1997)
Here's a WASPy New England Thanksgiving that's perfectly, thoroughly miserable, undiluted by even a moment of joy. Much of the blame can be traced to patriarch Hal, played by Roy Scheider with the same oily, sinister charm he brought to "All That Jazz." Son Warren (Noah Wyle) is still mad at him for hitting on his girlfriend a few years back. Brother Jake (Michael Vartan) brings home his girlfriend, Margaret (Hope Davis), and Dad hits on her, too. Mia (Julianne Moore) is carrying a permanent chip on her shoulder; only Leigh (Laurel Holloman), the youngest, appears well-adjusted and happy. During the holiday celebration (at which Dad tries to pass off a store-bought turkey as one he shot himself), confrontations occur, but nothing gets resolved, and everyone goes home unhappily ever after.
- 'Avalon' (1990)
Of all the indignities inflicted upon immigrant families throughout American history, this one is pretty novel. Barry Levinson's multi-generational saga of the Krichinsky clan finds son Jules (Aidan Quinn) moving out to the suburbs of Baltimore, making it tough for the family to get together on Thanksgiving. Awaiting Uncle Gabriel's (Lou Jacobi) arrival, the family grows impatient and starts to carve the bird. Gabriel finally arrives but is horrified to discover that the others have started without him. "You cut the toikey?" he shouts in disbelief, over and over. (This is not supposed to be funny, but it is.) Thoroughly offended, Gabriel storms out, leading to a permanent feud between him and Jules's father, Sam (Armin Mueller-Stahl). You have to admit, that's one Thanksgiving faux pas you haven't seen in another movie.