Top 15 Thanksgiving movies and TV episodes to watch

Some entertainment seekers put as much thought into their Thanksgiving-related viewing as they do their holiday meals.

A morning parade appetizer is followed by football gluttony.

Others simply count down the minutes until it’s societally acceptable to watch “Love Actually,” “Die Hard” or some other Christmas classic.

In part, it’s because there are nowhere near as many great movies or TV episodes that deal with Thanksgiving as there are for its December counterpart with a better marketing team. Sure, you could reach and argue that “Rocky” qualifies — for instance — since it includes a holiday dinner from hell, but Thanksgiving is a distant memory when Rocky and Apollo fight on New Year’s Day.

It’s also because some people haven’t done the work to look for some gems for viewers to enjoy leading up to and on Thanksgiving from the world of movies and TV — essentially, anything that’s streaming. Those who have, by the way, know that most of the best were on the small-er screen.

Here are our top 15 picks for Thanksgiving movies and episodes and where you can find them:

15. “Home for the Holidays”

Streaming on Paramount+

Talking turkey: What it lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for with the type of family melodrama that makes many want to skip the festivities. The supporting cast is loaded, and Holly Hunter is terrific, as usual. But unless you really want a holiday-themed movie with her, maybe try “Broadcast News” or “Raising Arizona” instead.

14. “M*A*S*H”

Season 8, Episode 10: “The Yalu Brick Road”

Streaming on Hulu

Talking turkey: A few members of my family once ate bad turkey at a stop we had to make before our final destination; I passed and avoided food poisoning. The only ones to escape at the 4077th missed the Klinger-procured bird with salmonella. Laugh a bit with this one and be warned.

13. “The Last Waltz”

Streaming on Tubi and Freevee

Talking turkey: What does this Martin Scorsese-directed documentary about The Band have to do with Thanksgiving? Other than music lovers’ gratitude for the most amazing list of special appearances ever, the show in San Francisco was held on Thanksgiving after the crowd of 5,000 was served a turkey dinner. Maybe try the YouTube appetizer of “The Weight” and see if you can resist the full meal.

12. “Succession”

Season 1, Episode 5: “I Went to Market”

Streaming on Max

Talking turkey: Hindsight makes this early episode richer than it once seemed. So much was about to happen in the Waystar Royco world, and this lays the groundwork for a lot of it. Logan Roy clearly was down when playing the episode’s titular — and post-holiday dinner — game, but he was far from out.

11. “Scent of a Woman”

Streaming on Prime Video and Apple TV+

Talking turkey: Follow your family meal with a debate over how this was Al Pacino’s only Oscar win when he’d had so many more deserving roles (start with Corleone, Michael and go from there). Or perhaps just enjoy how his Lt. Col. Frank Slade charms his way into a tango and a Ferrari but pretty much offends the rest of the world. A better spin on the mentor-mentee bond is the new “The Holdovers,” but that’s set at Christmas.

10. “How I Met Your Mother”

Season 3, Episode 9: “Slapsgiving”

Streaming on Hulu

Talking turkey: It’s hard enough to host Thanksgiving for the first time. But when her friends/guests are too busy dealing with the fallout of a breakup or plotting a slap for the ages to help, it’s enough to make Lily want to give up. Orson Bean as Robin’s “older” boyfriend and Jason Segel’s post-slap song are added bonuses.

9. “Cheers”

Season 5, Episode 9: “Thanksgiving Orphans”

Streaming on Hulu

Talking turkey: The best two food fights ever shown on a big or small screen? John Belushi’s Bluto starts a classic in “Animal House,” and the cast of “Cheers” lets loose in this celebration of found family. The madness carries through to the running joke that we never see the face of Norm’s mysterious wife Vera, even though she makes an appearance.

8. “Friends”

Season 6, Episode 9: “The One Where Ross Got High”

Streaming on Max

Talking turkey: No sitcom embraced Thanksgiving as thoroughly as “Friends,” which delivered Turkey Day-themed episodes in nine of its seasons. The football-heavy offering in Season 3 is a favorite, but this one gets the edge as a nod to recently departed Matthew Perry. His Chandler is at the top of his game here as he tries to win over Monica’s parents.

7. “Gilmore Girls”

Season 3, Episode 9: “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving”

Streaming on Netflix

Talking turkey: In case you haven’t learned this somewhere else, Melissa McCarthy is hilarious. Sure, her Sookie is helped here by the brilliant writing of Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, but she delivers so much in quick bursts. And the loquacious mother-daughter duo of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore brave four Thanksgiving meals to try to please everyone.

6. “This Is Us”

Season 1, Episode 8: “Pilgrim Rick”

Streaming on Hulu

Talking turkey: Anyone have two list appearances by Milo Ventimiglia on the Bingo card? His small role in the “Gilmore” festivities is overshadowed by the legend of Jack Pearson — super dad and, in a pinch, Pilgrim Rick. If you ever watched “This Is Us,” you know you’ll cry. But this one is a special examination of the things parents do for and because of their children. Some of those things become lifelong traditions; others are accompanied by pain.

5. “Hannah and Her Sisters”

Streaming on Max

Talking turkey: If you get past the family debate about watching anything by Woody Allen, this one serves up an equal number of Thanksgiving dinners and Oscar wins: three. Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest won for their supporting turns in a cast that includes Mia Farrow, Barbara Hershey, Carrie Fisher, Max von Sydow and Allen. With Allen, who won for his screenplay, the love and family stories are complicated.

4. “Planes, Trains & Automobiles”

Streaming on Paramount+

Talking turkey: It’s only the No. 2 John Hughes holiday movie — more on that in a moment — but it claims the top spot among Thanksgiving flicks. And, no, it’s not just about the “pillows.” Steve Martin and John Candy are a dream nightmare pairing, and this arguably is Candy’s best movie. His Del Griffith is too much for any stressed traveler to handle, but he wears you down with sweetness, sincerity and vulnerability. Don’t miss Martin’s car rental confrontation with scene-stealing Edie McClurg. And Hughes’ best holiday movie is “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” not “Home Alone,” by the way.

3. “WKRP in Cincinnati”

Season 1, Episode 7: “Turkeys Away”

Streaming on Apple TV+

Talking turkey: There are promotional stunts gone awry, and then there is the great WKRP turkey giveaway of 1978. In case you’ve somehow missed this in the past 45 years, we won’t spoil how said turkeys were given away. But when award-winning newsman Les Nessman cries out, “Oh, the humanity!” on the air, the only reasonable explanation comes from his boss, Arthur Carlson: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

2. “Master of None”

Season 2, Episode 8: “Thanksgiving”

Streaming on Netflix

Talking turkey: This showcase for Lena Waithe’s acting and writing is a beautiful tale of family that takes her character, Denise, through several Thanksgivings with her mother, grandmother, aunt, best friend and love interests. Waithe delivers her story of coming out to her mother — played brilliantly by Angela Bassett — and finding the right woman, as opposed to the one with a hilarious Instagram name we won’t spoil.

1. “The West Wing”

Season 2, Episode 8: “Shibboleth”

Streaming on Max

Talking turkey: Aaron Sorkin created three of the best Christmas episodes of series TV ever and takes our title for the ultimate Thanksgiving offering. The A plot is about refugees who seek religious freedom in America, arriving by boat. While he’s dealing with that crisis, President Jed Bartlet also needs to pardon a turkey, educate a delivery driver and secure a new carving knife because the one a silversmith named Paul Revere made for his family soon will have a new owner.

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