10 Iconic, Ill-Fated Thanksgiving Moments on Film

Happy Holidays? Not for these poor unfortunate souls

Thanksgiving main image
(clockwise from upper left) "Home for the Holidays," "The Ice Storm," "SpiderMan" and "Dexter"

Already missing Twitter trolling? Short on material to spark resentment with extended family? Here’s a list that’ll get you in the Thanksgiving spirit. It’s not an exhaustive one, but if you really want to replicate the family feast experience, you can get liquored up and argue about it. There’s something here for every taste – even if your taste is on the “Dahmer” end of the spectrum. 

“Home for the Holidays” (1995)

Home for the Holidays Dylan McDermott Cynthia Stevenson Holly Hunter
Dylan McDermott and Holly Hunter liven up stuffy Cynthia Stevenson’s Thanksgiving in “Home for the Holidays” (Paramount)

More mischievous than mawkish, this minor masterpiece from director Jody Foster captures the spirit of family get-togethers and all their baggage. At her parents’ Baltimore home after losing her job and making out with her boss, Claudia (Holly Hunter) looks on as gay brother Tommy (pre-“Iron Man” Robert Downey, Jr.) struggles to carve the turkey and launches it into the lap of uptight sister Joanne (Cynthia Stevenson). In Joanne’s defense, who hasn’t shouted “YOU COCKSUCKER!” at the dinner table while outing your brother’s marriage as he photographs and taunts you? Watch the scene here.

“Pilgrim” (2019)

“Pilgrim” (Hulu)

A mother (Courtney Henggeler from “Cobra Kai”) hires historic re-enactors to give her blended family an educational Thanksgiving feast and teach them about their privilege, and these Pilgrims take things wayyyy too far. Sometimes you just have to learn the hard way not to take what you have for granted. In the gross-out dinner scene, the family learns another way a father can be a provider. The feature-length installment of Hulu’s “Into the Dark” series was supposedly inspired by an event from co-writer Noah Feinberg’s childhood.

“Avalon” (1990)

Joan Plowright Armin Mueller-Stahl Avalon
Joan Plowright and Armin Mueller-Stahl star in “Avalon” (Tri-Star)

In writer/director Barry Levinson’s autobiographical look at Polish Jewish immigrants in the mid-20th century, we learn that you just don’t mess with some traditions — and that doing so can unleash long-simmering resentments. Arriving late to the huge family Thanksgiving feast, Uncle Gabriel (Lou Jacobi) sputters to Sam (Armin Mueller-Stahl), “You cut the turkey without me?” He walks out and a feud begins. You wait until every relative’s there before the turkey’s cut, understand? Watch the scene here.

“Home Sweet Home” (1981)

Home Sweet Home
“Home Sweet Home” (Intercontinental Releasing)

Some of the group of friends who haven’t been slaughtered (yet) obliviously chow down on a big multi-course repast at a ranch house as an escaped mental patient is turning them into carcasses. Not just an escaped mental patient, though: a musclebound, cackling escaped mental patient on PCP played by the “Body by Jake” guy. This rare slasher film with a female director, Nettie Peña, is the cinematic equivalent of spray cheese in a can. 

“The Doors” (1991)

The Doors Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan stars in “The Doors” (Tri-Star)

Thanksgiving etiquette tip: even if you’re a freewheelin’ rock star, think carefully about inviting a nice lady you’ve previously, ah, made gravy with to a big dinner with your current girlfriend and a bunch of your wastrel buddies. This prompts some high-velocity sweet potatoes and a massive fight between Lizard King Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) and Pamela Courson (Meg Ryan), which escalates to knife-swinging, a stomped duck and the immortally festive line, “Gimme some death!” Watch the scene here.

“The Ice Storm” (1997) 

Ice Storm Tobey Maguire Kevin Klein Christina Ricci
Tobey Maguire, Kevin Klein and Christina Ricci star in “The Ice Storm” (20th Century Fox)

Amid the unfaithfulness and dissatisfaction of 1973 — key-swapping party, anyone? — sometimes a man (Kevin Kline) and his wife (Joan Allen) just want to sit down for a nice Thanksgiving dinner with no drama. But how can you do that when your daughter (Christina Ricci) opens with a prayer like this: “Dear Lord, thank you for this Thanksgiving holiday, and for all the material possessions that we have and enjoy …” Side eye. “… and for letting us white people kill all the Indians and steal their tribal lands …” Hey. “… and stuff ourselves like pigs even though children in Asia are being napalmed …” Damn. Watch the scene here.

“Spider-Man” (2002)

Spider-Man Tobey Maguire Willem Dafoe
Tobey Maguire and Willem Dafoe star in “Spider-Man” (Sony Pictures)

You’re thinking the real turkey was “Spider-Man 3” in 2007, and that’s valid. But listen: It’s going to get awkward when you invite The Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) over for family dinner, even if he’s keeping it discreet in his Norman Osborn identity. Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) has to rap him on the fingers when he goes for a taste of the sweet potato marshmallows, and things just keep going downhill. The Gobbler sees a cut on Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) arm, figures out he’s Spider-Man, bolts up to leave without carving the bird, then says some very ungentlemanly things about Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) that everyone can hear. That’s right, even superheroes can’t just have a nice meal for once. Watch the scene here.

“Blood Rage” (1987)

Blood Rage
“Blood Rage” (Film Limited)

Deliciously inept ‘80s schlock replete with large hair, synth score, gratuitous nudity and a large helping of Oedipus. The appetizer: grossed out by the sight of mom (Louise Lasser from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman”) making out with a boyfriend in the front seat at a drive-in, twin brothers (both played by Mark Soper) hop out and one of them hatchet-murders a naked guy in another car — and blames it on the other twin, who’s then institutionalized. The main course: during Thanksgiving dinner with her new boyfriend a decade later, mom finds out he’s escaped. The secretly evil twin announces, “Looks like you’re going to get a chance to meet the rest of the family. My psychotic brother just escaped. Could you pass the green beans, please?” This line from later in the movie indicates the direction things go: “That isn’t cranberry sauce, Artie. That is not cranberry sauce!” Watch the scene here.

“Thanksgiving” (2007)

Thanksgiving Eli Roth
Eli Roth directs a scene from “Thanksgiving” (YouTube)

“The table is set. The festivities have begun. One uninvited guest has arrived. And this year there will be no leftovers.” All right, this isn’t a real film. The decapi-tastic 2 ½-minute trailer for Eli Roth’s turkey day horror film is all that exists, but it became an instant classic as part of the Grindhouse feature from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. It might have become its own full movie if Grindhouse hadn’t gone over like stale dinner rolls. Watch the scene here.

Dexter, Season 4, Episode 9: “Hungry Man.”

John Lithgow Dexter
John Lithgow as the Trinity Killer in Season 4 of “Dexter” (Showtime)

So what if an episode of the Showtime series is a broad interpretation of “cinema”? Why can’t you get off my back and just enjoy something for once? Way before the series finale left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, this was a jaw-dropping high point. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) gets himself invited to the home of Trinity Killer Arthur Mitchell (John Lithgow) for Thanksgiving dinner and sees that he’s a tyrant whose family lives in abject terror of him. Resentment boils over and an outburst at the table from Mitchell’s teen son turns the old man violent. When Dexter intervenes by dragging Mitchell into the kitchen by the neck with his belt, you’ll realize you weren’t breathing and maybe wonder, Where was Dexter when I was growing up? Watch the scene here.

All right, who needs a nap?