5 Movies Worth Seeing in Theaters This Thanksgiving

The average adult American sees no more than three movies a year in a theater. At least that’s the latest statistic I’ve seen. However, with Thanksgiving upon us we are entering into one of the busiest moviegoing periods of the year. So, chances are high that a lot of people who rarely make a trip to a theater are going to soon find themselves in increasingly unfamiliar territory. If you haven’t been to a theater in a while, heed the following warning: you can expect an average of 20-minutes of trailers before every movie. It’s, well, it’s not great, but, hey, that’s just more time to get concessions. Also, advanced assigned seating is a widespread thing now. So, you might want to look into buying your tickets early.

That’s all fine and good, but is there even anything worth seeing?

Hollywood always rolls out a new selection of high-profile movies this time of the year, usually one big animated movie along with several smaller awards contenders. This year is no different with Frozen 2 dominating everything and Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Queen & Slim, 21 Bridges, and Knives Out battling over the scraps. However, there are also several releases from earlier in the month to consider.

Out of everything that’s out there, here are the five options I’d recommend, with an emphasis on those titles that probably hold a wider appeal and should be available in most theaters.

1. Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The Elevator Pitch: Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers but it isn’t a biopic.

The Actual Plot: A cynical, perpetually angry journalist (Matthew Rhys) is assigned the task of writing a puff piece about Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks), America’s favorite kids show host. He quickly learns you’re never too old to stop learning life lessons from Mister Rogers.

The Reason to See: It’s a giant hug of a movie, a crowd-pleasing awards contender, and features Hanks’ best performance in years. In a time of tribalism and communication breakdowns across the societal board, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a plea for emotional honesty and the things that make us better as humans.

Target Audience: Anyone who remembers Mister Rogers and/or admires Tom Hanks and/or cares about seeing the major awards contender. Also, just anyone looking for a cathartic, emotional experience at the theater.

2. Ford v Ferrari aka Le Mans ‘66

The Elevator Pitch: Matt Damon and Christian Bale in a sports movie based on that time in the 1960s when the Ford Motor Co. took on Ferrari.

The Actual Plot: In a bid to rebrand itself for the new generation of the 60s, Ford hires a retired stock car driver (Matt Damon) to help build a racer capable of defeating Ferrari at the annual 24-hour race known as Le Mans. He hires his own driver/expert, a tempestuous British fellow (Bale) who got a late start on his career, and together they form a perfect partnership, usually succeeding in spite of and not because of Ford’s incessant meddling.

The Reason to See: You could say this about a lot of movies on this list, but they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore – a big-budget movie for adults, led by two mega-movie stars. If you’re a sports movie fan, this is going to hit all the familiar beats. If not, the bromance between Damon and Bale provides just enough weighty drama. If you don’t know anything about car racing and/or can’t stand Nascar, Ford v Ferrari patiently explains all the rules and helps you realize the following: when Christian Bale is behind the wheel of the race car and the camera is stuck inside the cockpit with him, car racing is suddenly super fascinating.

Target Audience: Adults

3. Frozen 2

Elevator Pitch: The next, unmissable step in your kid’s obsession with all things Frozen. Also, it’s the sequel to one of the most monumental animated musicals of all time.

The Actual Plot: When a mysterious, magical wind forces everyone out of Arrendale, Anna, Elsa, Olaf, Sven, and Kristof head into the woods to solve an age-old mystery. Along the way, they encounter their biggest challenge of all: growing up and moving on.

The Reason to See: Wanna build a snowman…again? Of course, you do! If not, your kids probably do. The critical consensus seems to be that this sequel isn’t as good as the first film, but the fans don’t seem to care.

Target Audience: Families and animation enthusiasts.

4. Knives Out

The Elevator Pitch: A bunch of famous people (how many can you name in the picture above?) in a murder mystery movie directed by that Last Jedi guy, Rian Johnson. Think Succession meets Agatha Christie.

Slightly More Refined Elevator Pitch: Chris Evans aka Captain America playing kind of an asshole!

Still More Refined Pitch: Daniel Craig doing his Logan Lucky southern accent again!

Ok, Now You’re Just Shouting Compliments: Yes, I am!

The Actual Plot: After a famous, wealthy murder mystery novelist dies of an apparent suicide (Christopher Plummer), his family gathers in his New England mansion to hear the reading of the will. However, someone has hired a famous detective (Daniel Craig) to figure out if the death happened by suicide or if it was…murder! Wouldn’t you know it, everyone’s a suspect.

The Reason to See: It’s Rian Johnson doing his best Agatha Christie impression with able help from an all-star cast led by Daniel Craig. It’s a bunch of cool people in a familiar story being directed by a guy who loves to both subvert and reaffirm famous film genres. So, you’re going to get exactly what you want from a murder mystery story but also a whole lot that you don’t.

Target Audience: Everyone other than little kids. With an ensemble featuring an actor as young as 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford and as old as Hollywood legend Christopher Plummer, there’s someone in the cast for just about everyone to latch onto.

5. Last Christmas

The Elevator Pitch: Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in a Holiday rom-com set to the music of George Michael and Wham!.

The Elevator Pitch If You’re Someone Who Has Actually Watched Fleabag: It’s like Fleabag as a Holiday rom-com with a crazy twist ending ripped straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie

The Actual Plot: A year after suffering an ill-defined medical tragedy, a twentysomething fuck-up (Clarke) floats through her life as a year-round Christmas store employee by day, aspiring singer by night. She soon falls for a mysterious man (Golding) who helps put her on the path toward self-improvement. The first challenge: clean up the emotional wreckage she has left in her wake. This means fixing things with her family – a family that includes a domineering mother (Emma Thompson, who also wrote the script), meek father, and a hyper-successful sister secretly struggling with her own unhappiness.

The Reason to See: It’s cheesy, more than a bit ridiculous, and seems completely unaware of how obvious its big twist is. However, Last Christmas is anchored by Emilia Clarke kind of doing her best Phoebe Waller-Bridge impression but also just being her hilarious self. Anyone who’s seen Clarke on talk shows and wondered when her bubbly demeanor, unfiltered vocabulary, and charismatic personality would finally make it into a movie, look no further. It helps that she has great chemistry with Henry Golding.

Be Warned: There is a twist ending. It’s awful. You’ll likely see it coming a million miles away. However, it’s also the kind of thing you expect in a Holiday-themed movie this time of the year. They love to go for the emotional jugular, but it shouldn’t be the thing that solely defines the film.

Target Audience: Rom-com enthusiasts, anyone who wants to hear George Michael songs through movie theater speakers, Emilia Clarke stans

What are you planning to see this Thanksgiving, that is if you’re planning on seeing anything at all?


  1. I find that statistic really amazing. I think that needs some more deep diving. I can imagine the industry is trying to spin this into “woe is me and I need more people and the government to support us”. On the other hand, surely there’s going to be a lot of people who don’t ever go to the cinema such as babies and the elderly.

    1. The report I pulled that from is MPAA’s annual breakdown of film attendance in North America, but the MPAA doesn’t volunteer that data as readily these days. So, the statistic is a couple of years old. Either way, in said report they reach the conclusion that the film industry is carried by power users. As a reflection of the general population, very few people see more than a couple of films per year, but those that do see way, way more than just 3. So, while efforts should be made to attract more people into theaters the industry has to respond to the customers who are actually showing up week after week.

      That’s why AMC and Regal increasingly cater the filmgoing experience to those who go a lot. They have membership programs that reward max usage. AMC even has a class system set up in its lobby where those with an annual membership are granted priority access to ticket booths and the concession stand. (I’ve seen similar set-ups at pop culture conventions, and it always pits people against each other, those standing in line for ages vs. those who just pop in and get to go straight to the front.) Plus, both AMC and Regal have their own versions of MoviePass now, at around double the monthly price MP was going for. That’s another way to draw in the passionate.

  2. I just finished watching My Dinner with Herve and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. A biopic about Tattoo? You hesitate, right? Guess what? It turned out to be beautifully shot with wonderful acting by everyone involved. It’s another winner script from Sasha Gervasi. I mention Herve in context because Neighborhood seems to have the same “subject/reporter and reporter finds redemption courtesy of the subject” plotting. That Neighorhood is not a straight biopic and offers a subplot about the reporter is encouraging. A biopic about Fred Rogers? You hestitate, right? Courtesy of these reviews, Neighborhood and F vs. F are both on my Holiday weekend movie list.

    1. Good to hear about My Dinner with Herve. The reviews I saw when that debuted were not kind. So, I stayed away. However, Tattoo had a crazy life, certainly enough to pepper into a movie more about an outsider coming into his world and offering their observations. It’s interesting to think about the various ways biopics usually go:

      Cradle to grave hagiography.

      Key in on an important period in the person’s life, usually a “this is when they became great” or “this is the sad downside of their life after their star had faded”

      Juxtapose past and present or at least cut back and forth between two different time periods in the subject’s life, like Love and Mercy looking at Brian Wilson’s glory days with The Beach Boys at the same time that it delves into sad, reclusive later years.

      Go super meta and fourth-wall-breaking, like American Splendor where the actor playing Harvey Pekar frequently yields the screen to the real Harvey.

      Or make the story all about an audience surrogate/outsider figure who only occasionally interacts with the real person.

      Feels like you don’t see as much as the latter as you might expect. My Favorite Year – the 1982 Peter O’Toole movie about a fictionalized version of Erroll Flynn’s first experience with early live TV – would qualify if it had bit the bullet and just made O’Toole’s character Flynn. Don’t know why that specific movie popped into my head, but here we are.

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