By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Nov 23, 2023 at 10:26 AM

Snuggle up with some holiday cheer as OnMilwaukee shares stories of everything merry and bright in the spirit of the season.

The OnMilwaukee Ho Ho Holiday Guide is brought to you by Educators Credit Union, Harley-Davidson Museum and MolsonCoors

Thanksgiving gets none of the fun. Yeah, it gets football games and big delicious meals, but after Halloween (heck, before Halloween these days), Christmas gets all the spotlight. It becomes the loud party guest, hogging all of the attention, TV specials, special songs, movies and eggnog. Meanwhile, Thanksgiving sits quietly in the corner, watching his fellow holiday make a loud, garish spectacle of itself.

Every now and then, though, a Thanksgiving movie (or at least a movie where there's a Thanksgiving meal or maybe just a turkey) squeezes through all the Christmas craziness and makes its way onto our screens. Here are five Thanksgiving-themed movies that are certainly worthy of giving thanks (and a post-meal stream).

1. "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"

Christmas may have a whole stockpile of cinematic classics ("A Christmas Story," "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" – the animated original, obviously), but Thanksgiving has one undisputed reigning film champion: 1987’s "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." It’s funny, sometimes scathingly so (Steve Martin’s car rental tirade is so profanity-laden, even "Bad Santa" would blush), but it’s also remarkably sweet, charming and relatable.

In other words, it’s exactly what you would expect from a John Hughes movie.

Martin and Candy make for a delightful comedic pairing as well, especially Candy. We should be irritated by his character for all of his wildly destructive hijinks, but his sweet-natured charm and massive on-screen heart make him impossibly lovable. It’s a balance that few of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"' imitators ("Due Date," for instance) have managed to find. Maybe that’s why it stands alone as the king of Thanksgiving movies.

Available to stream on Paramount+, Fubu and Pluto TV.

2. "The Ice Storm"

Ang Lee’s 1997 dark family drama certainly isn’t the kind of movie you gather the family around the television and watch for heartwarming sentiment. It’s no surprise that it technically flopped when it first hit theaters. With sex, drugs, alcoholism, adultery and death all making an appearance, it’s definitely a Thanksgiving movie for cynics and film connoisseurs. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As expected from the director of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Life of Pi," the film is gorgeously shot. Lee also gives "The Ice Storm" a suitably chilly tone that matches the frosty family relations but still keeps the audience emotionally intrigued. It’s more depressing than most holiday movies (though a death late in the film edges close to "Final Destination"-esque silliness), but what’s wrong with a little dark meat to go along with the lighter stuff? Hm, is anyone else hungry?

Available to stream on Max, and to rent on Amazon, Google Play, Apple TV and YouTube.

3. "Pieces of April"

This might blow your holiday-themed socks off, but before her relationship with Tom Cruise made her a gossip rag mainstay, Katie Holmes was an actress. Stunning, right? It’s too bad because she’s a very capable actress as well, particularly in the sweet and occasionally bitter little 2003 indie charmer "Pieces of April."

As an estranged daughter attempting to make peace with her family by hosting Thanksgiving dinner, Holmes makes for a compellingly strong lead, finding the character’s soul while also being pretty adept with the comedy. It also helps to have a terrific, Oscar-nominated supporting performance from Patricia Clarkson as April’s sardonic cancer-stricken mother. Together, the two hold up Peter Hedges’ directorial debut, making it overall as a warm, flavorful and satisfying as a big spoonful of buttery mashed potatoes. Seriously, I’m so hungry.

Available to stream on Max and Tubi, and to rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Apple TV

4. "Krisha"

In case "The Ice Storm" isn't grim enough for you, here's "Krisha." OK, so Trey Edward Shults' critically-acclaimed directorial debut isn't exactly what you'd watch to be warmed with the spirit of the holidays, either. But if you want to see one of the best performances of its year and one of the most intriguing rising voices in cinema, "Krisha" should be the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving film feast. 

On paper, "Krisha" sounds like a classic indie family drama: An estranged matriarch (a brilliant turn from Krisha Fairchild) finally gathers her family together for the holiday, only for tensions to heat up and turkeys to fall down. But what makes Shults' film fascinating is the tone and mood of the movie, playing more like an intense thriller or almost even a horror movie than your normal dysfunctional family shenanigans. The not-at-all typical drama is perfect for a not-at-all typical Thanksgiving screening, like adding a dark, rich bourbon to your Thanksgiving pecan pie. Oh my gosh, I'm freaking starving. 

Available to stream on Max and Kanopy, and to rent on Amazon, Google Play, YouTube and Apple TV

5. "Grindhouse"

About two minutes of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s 191-minute opus to sleazy cinema is dedicated to Thanksgiving, and it arrives in the form of the fittingly titled "Thanksgiving," a short fake movie trailer for a grotesque horror movie featuring a murderous and depraved pilgrim.

And what a wildly entertaining two minutes of absurdity they are.

Coming from Eli Roth, the writer/director behind the "Hostel" films (and the entertaining full-length version of the clip in theaters now), it’s pretty much a guarantee that good taste isn’t going to make an appearance. Still, the fake slasher trailer packs its short runtime with ridiculous, devilishly comedic moments. It serves as the perfect little holiday-themed treat, splitting up "Grindhouse"'s equally fun main stories of B-movie entertainment, gleeful gore, graphic dismemberment, bloody murder and oozing, decomposing zombies.

You know what? I’m not that hungry anymore.

Available to rent on Vudu

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.