Thanksgiving weekend may not have the box office luster of, say, Christmastime or Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t seen its fair share of hits over the decades. Here are the movies that this year’s Hugo, The Muppets and Arthur Christmas all hope to join – or top – as the best Thanksgiving releases of all time.
8. Unbreakable (2000)
M. Night Shyamalan, hot off A Sixth Sense, unveiled Unbreakable during Thanksgiving in 2000, indulging every family’s post-turkey appetite for a heavy drama/thriller. No one expected it to eclipse his previous effort, but the film was intriguing in its own right. As was its acting—especially the performance from Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass. Almost as mysterious as Unbreakable, though, was what happened to Shyamalan’s career soon thereafter.
7. Scrooged (1988)
Before Bill Murray went all “dark comedy” on us in earnest, he went “dark comedy” on us Christmas style, in this retelling/reimagining/update of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. To this day, some love Scrooged, some hate it. It helps to be a die-hard Murray fan, and it helps to have left the channel on when basic cable runs its annual Scrooged marathon.
6. Back to the Future Part II (1989)
The magic was somewhat gone from the generational landmark that was Back to the Future, but that doesn’t mean Part II was anything close to a failure (no, that would be Part III the following year). For all its laughably goofy scenes, BTTFPII had many a memorable moment, like showing the threequel’s trailer to end the film!
5. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Robin Williams in his heyday set the holiday box office ablaze with this romp about a divorced dad-turned-granny-nanny. Time hasn’t been kind to it, as tends to happen with most silly-in-hindsight comedies about “appearance altering” – perhaps explaining why the long-rumored sequel has never really gotten underway – but Doubtfire will always be a ‘90s-comedy staple.
4. Bad Santa (2003)
Ah, the greatest Christmas-Grinch movie without Grinch in the title. Billy Bob Thornton – who at the time was in the midst of quite a run of movies – did fantastic work as the title character, but Bad Santa benefits the most from its director, Terry Zwigoff, who truly committed to making an unconventional holiday movie. Which is to say, a good one!
3. Aladdin (1992)
To those of us who were kids when Aladdin came out, it was pure pre-Pixar magic, the kind that we all used to look for in a Disney animated movie – and “A Whole New World” was, dare we say… cool?? (So was Robin Williams’ voice role as Genie!) The times have changed, but Aladdin remains proof that great fast-paced storytelling – and songs – are all kids really need from a movie.
2. Toy Story 2 (1999)
There was, amazingly, no discernible drop-off between Toy Story and its sequel; on the contrary – Toy Story 2 was the rarest of cinematic phenomena: a sequel that manages to top its predecessor in some ways. It’s tough to say which was the better Story, and insignificant, as the two films made a lot of families’ Thanksgiving weekends a lot better, if not memorable.
1. Toy Story (1995)
The Pixar revolution – and thus essentially the end of hand-drawn animation – began over Thanksgiving weekend in 1995. The visuals at the time were groundbreaking and mind-blowing, and they still most certainly are a sight to behold. But the sheer imagination at work in every aspect of the movie was what set Toy Story apart from everything that came before it and ushered in a new breed of animated films, one that could be enjoyed as much by kids as by their parents.