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What are the best Thanksgiving movies? Why Hollywood loves bad Christmas movies but avoids Turkey Day

Moving directly from Halloween to Christmas misses out on a deep well of dramatic stories.
Tim Allen in the 2004 movie 'Christmas with the Kranks'.
Tim Allen stars in the objectively awful 2004 holiday movie "Christmas with the Kranks."Columbia Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

This Thursday, Americans once again indulged in the annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to wherever “family” or “home” is. Food was served, and politics were probably avoided. And when the meal was done, chances are many revelers settled around the altar of the television or the movie screen in search of an activity that everyone could actually agree on.

This is a sensible holiday tradition, and one that is repeated by many in December as well. But unlike most other major calendar events, Thanksgiving is the one holiday Hollywood has been unable to colonize. This is somewhat unfortunate, since although themed films vary widely in quality (“Christmas with the Kranks," anyone?), Thanksgiving actually is the rare holiday that lends itself to Hollywood storylines.

Unlike most other major calendar events, Thanksgiving is the one holiday Hollywood has been unable to colonize.

Like clockwork every October, theaters are flooded with a new batch of horror films tied to Halloween. There are always romantic films for Valentine’s Day, and with genre suddenly back in vogue, we can expect more new releases come February. As for Christmas, there are films galore — and even Easter has been playing a religious-themed catch up the past few years. But when it comes to Thanksgiving, the pickings are few and far between. Netflix has zero specifically tagged Thanksgiving films to stream at all, and only a handful of TV episodes, like “Friends,” “Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving” — or that memorable “WKRP In Cincinnati” episode.

What is available, mostly via streaming services like Hulu and rentals via Amazon, are Thanksgiving classics from the last century like “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” both of which are 1980s staples. Both these are hard to find, meaning most families just skip right to more accessible films like “Babes in Toyland” (a 1934 film that’s been a staple of the Thanksgiving holiday since the early 1960s) and “Miracle on 34th Street,” only a decade older. In short, the moment the food grows cold on the dining room table, everyone turns to Christmas.

Most retail stores have already accepted this reality. While everything else is commodified, Thanksgiving stays (mostly) stubbornly uncommercial. There is an aura that this is a holiday that is somehow untouchable. This is a day when most spend the afternoon watching football as the turkey roasts, and yet no one ever talks about the Thanksgiving Day commercials. And though TV shows will do 30 minutes or an hour acknowledging this staple of modern life, Hollywood continues to hesitate.

This is not for a lack of opportunities. Consider, for instance, that Thanksgiving morning begins with a massive and heavily branded parade featuring hours of iconic characters, from Mickey Mouse to Spider-Man. And all of it is served during an event named for a large department store. How is this an untouchable holiday again?

Moreover, moving directly from Halloween to Christmas misses out on a deep well of dramatic stories. The challenges of traveling across the country alone are worth a story, reminding us life is sometimes more about the journey than the stuffing. Family dramas happen around the table, as generations clash over changing beliefs and societal mores, and that’s before anyone considers the current hyper-partisan climate and Fox News brainwashing of (mostly) older relations. Consider the stress of producing the big meal, the money, the time, the labor and the gender dynamics that go into producing a table laden with food. Then, of course, there’s the bizarre pressure of Black Friday the next morning, ripe for satires of capitalism and greed. Hey, Hollywood, I just pitched four ideas that (starring Meryl Streep) could easily find themselves part of the Oscar discussion come January.

And yet these films don't happen. Perhaps, considering the climate, this is for the best. Family holidays are already fraught enough. Maybe that’s why this time of year has become popular for escapist fantasies (like the “Harry Potter” films) or animated offerings (Disney usually drops its latest cartoons right in this time frame; “Frozen,” for instance, arrived the day before Thanksgiving in 2013.) Like Target skipping over the turkeys and heading right to the sleigh bells, Hollywood is content to sit this one out, leaving us free to enjoy the mindless traditions most every family can agree on: parades, dog shows and endless sports.