19 Classic Movies to Watch With Your Family on Thanksgiving

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There’s a bounty of Thanksgiving rom-coms, feel-good family films, and happily-ever-after stories available for consumption. Each year, the holiday movie industrial complex chugs along, and with it comes a host of listicles urging you to check out The Best Thanksgiving Films Ever. But why would you want to watch extended family members sit down to drama-filled, potentially awkward dinners on your television when you’re living that scenario out in real life? Here at W, we believe in escapism. Which is why we’ve put together a list of classic films whose narrative arcs and characters are utterly unrelated to the holidays. Plus, with the winter solstice holidays right around the corner, there will be plenty of opportunities to catch up on cheesy films like It’s a Wonderful Life (or perhaps Lindsay Lohan’s very first yuletide movie, Falling for Christmas). In the meantime, occupy yourself with the titles everyone should watch at least once in their lives, below.

Comedies

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

Okay, so admittedly, we’re not beginning this list on a hard-and-fast classic, necessarily. But if you grew up in the 1990s and caught the Austin Powers trilogy when it first hit theaters, you know just how much of a goofy, fun, and entertaining film International Man of Mystery is. Mike Myers as Austin Powers and Elizabeth Hurley as Vanessa Kensington make for a perfect match, creating one of the biggest comedy franchises of its decade. Plus, all three Austin Powers movies are currently streaming on Netflix—so you won’t have to choose between Beyoncé as Foxxy Cleopatra or Heather Graham in the role of Felicity Shagwell for a binge.

Watch it on Netflix.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Many arguments have stemmed from the question, “What’s the best Coen Brothers movie?” We’re not here to answer that equivocally, but one of their finest works, hands down, is O Brother, Where Art Thou? The film finds George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson at their absolute best—and lucky for you, it’s streaming on Hulu.

Watch it on Hulu.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

There isn’t a film that’ll leave your dad in deeper stitches than a good dose of Monty Python. And now you might finally understand those “killer bunny” jokes he’s always making…

Watch it on Netflix.

Risky Business

Gen X, we’re looking at you with this one. Decades after it was released, it’s fascinating to watch Tom Cruise in one of his earliest roles, and to juxtapose his performance in this home-alone classic with the rest of his oeuvre. A fun Thanksgiving activity for the whole family!

Watch it on HBO Max.

When Harry Met Sally …

Any list purporting to name the best romantic comedies of all time that doesn’t include When Harry Met Sally is downright wrong. Just cover your little sister’s eyes when the infamous Katz’s Deli scene comes on.

Watch it on Netflix.

Classic Dramas

Cast Away

If you find yourself wishing that you were on a deserted island rather than arguing over mashed potatoes with your mother in the kitchen, throw on this 2000 feature film starring Tom Hanks. You can learn a thing or two from his character, Chuck, who learns how to survive an unfavorable environment (with the help, of course, with his volleyball comrade, Wilson).

Watch it on Hulu.

Michael Clayton

This Tom Gilroy film is a known favorite around these parts. In it, George Clooney plays the titular role of a highly esteemed fixer whose job gets messy when a litigator-turned-whistleblower named Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) suffers a mental breakdown. The addition of Tilda Swinton, who plays a ruthless corporate attorney and won a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the role, is perfection. And if that isn’t enough to entice you, know that the film’s total number of Oscar nods was seven.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Daughters of the Dust

An utter masterpiece, Daughters of the Dust tells the story of a multigenerational family in the Gullah Community living on the Sea Islands off of South Carolina. This 1991 work of art centers former West African slaves who struggle to uphold their heritage while mulling a possible move to the mainland. (The director and president of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Jacqueline Stewart, told us earlier this year that Julie Dash’s film “invites audiences to really think about the struggles and the histories of Black women, which is one of the many ways in which it’s radical.”)

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Casablanca

You should watch this movie with your friends, family, and chosen family, just so you can recite its iconic quotes as a group: “We’ll always have Paris,” “Play it again, Sam,” and, of course, “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Watch it on HBO Max.

Goodfellas

It’s been well-documented that this Martin Scorsese film is possibly my favorite, ever. This is dramatic storytelling at the highest level: impeccable narration, camera work, editing, and soundtrack, to boot. Goodfellas is a perfect rewatch (or first-timer!) any time of year.

Watch it on HBO Max.

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Nearly a century after its initial release, The Passion of Joan of Arc still contains one of the greatest performances from Maria Falconetti. Based on the actual trial record of Joan of Arc, director Carl Theodor Dreyer recreates the nightmare and crisis of faith that Joan of Arc experienced in stunning fashion.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

The Godfather Trilogy

When you’ve got nearly 10 free hours on your hands. And, after all—isn’t this the quintessential “family” film?

Stream all the Godfather films on Amazon Prime.

For the Young Ones

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (the original!)

Gene Wilder’s lead performance in the filmic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s book puts Johnny Depp to shame (please, spare your children the 2005 version and just show them this 1971 classic). It’s an oddball movie, without question, but it’s full of heart. Plus, Dahl himself wrote the screenplay, so you won’t want to miss it.

Watch it on HBO.

My Neighbor Totoro

Finally, the Japanese director, animator, and screenwriter Hayao Miyazaki’s works animated by Studio Ghibli are available on streaming platforms—and we suggest you run, not walk, to watch My Neighbor Totoro. This touching and, at times, heartwrenching film centers two young sisters, Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto), who find a crew of woodland spirits living next to the country house they’ve moved into with their dad (Shigesato Itoi) while waiting for their mom (Sumi Shimamoto) to recover from an illness. What follows is pure magic—but don’t forget some tissues.

Watch it on HBO Max.

Singin’ in the Rain

This 1952 film is widely referred to as the greatest musical of all time for good reason. In addition to putting forth incredible song-and-dance scenes, the Gene Kelly- and Stanley Donen-directed piece displays a fairly strong narrative arc. Kelly, who also stars, is utterly enchanting, while Donald O’Connor rips across the dance floor with every scene he’s in. And of course, you can’t miss Debbie Reynolds in this Hollywood Golden Age classic.

Watch it on HBO.

Thrillers

North by Northwest

For those families who don’t mind a bit of a fright on Thanksgiving, this Alfred Hitchcock film is for you. A classic work of suspense, North by Northwest tells the story of New York City ad executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), who is being pursued by the relentless spy Phillip Vandamm (James Mason) after Thornhill is mistaken for a government agent.

Watch it on HBO Max.

An American Werewolf in London

Released in 1981, director John Landis uses An American Werewolf in London as a prime opportunity to combine dark humor and pure horror. It’s sometimes hard to believe this film comes from the same guy who did The Blues Brothers, but this grittier, more frightening story still stands as one of our favorite werewolf movies ever.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Heathers

Come for Winona Ryder, stay for the costumes that have become iconic. This pitch-black comedy portrays the cruelness of popularity—and those who rebel against it—in classic ’80s form. And there’s a reason why it’s become part of the fashion canon.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

Fist of Fury

If you’ve never watched a Bruce Lee movie before, now’s your chance. Fist of Fury was only Lee’s second feature film, but it was a marked departure (and upgrade) from The Big Boss. Released in 1972, Fist of Fury follows Chen Zhen, played by Lee, who turns into a Chinese folk hero when he rebels against Japanese occupiers. Not only is it a movie that gets the heart pumping, it’s a wonderful introduction to Lee’s storied oeuvre.

Watch it on Amazon Prime.

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