ENTERTAINMENT

Why Aren't There More Movies About Thanksgiving?

The answer is more complicated than you might think.
In a movie based on this wholesome family portrait, three people did all the cooking (keeping in mind Laura th
In a movie based on this wholesome family portrait, three people did all the cooking (keeping in mind Laura the vegetarian), two aren't on speaking terms, and one has (gasp!) an embarrassing secret that will come to light at the worst possible time.

It's pretty much a rule that stockings and snowmen get big-budget productions, but turkey and stuffing do not. While Hollywood dutifully puts out at least one big Christmas-themed film each year -- look out for "Krampus" Dec. 4 -- there aren't too many movies that center on Thanksgiving-time drama. In nine decades' worth of cinema, you'd think more than one or two such movies might come to mind. But they don't.

The answer is more complicated than you might think. It's not simply a collective disinterest in the message of gratitude that keeps us from two hours of Thanksgiving hijinks -- it has to do with how the industry works. Thanksgiving is just too close to Christmas on the calendar to be worth the effort. 

If the goal of financing a movie is to make that money back -- ideally with profit -- studios want to finance movies that will have a wide appeal for a long time. And a Thanksgiving movie is the "opposite of evergreen," Paul Dergarabedian, Rentrak Senior Media Analyst, told The Huffington Post. It would only be relevant for a very small window of time, approximately consisting of those weeks between Halloween and Black Friday, at which point you can't ignore those Christmas displays in store windows any longer, and might be inclined to munch your popcorn in front of something like "Elf." It's a big risk for studios, and studios don't like big risks.

By comparison, other holidays are typically treated to broader genre-based fare that makes them watchable year-round. Valentine's Day might be acknowledged with a big romance, like this year's "50 Shades of Grey." And "Crimson Peak," the horror flick with a $55 million budget, arrived just before Halloween. Both of these have a longer shelf life than the few weeks around their respective releases.

Thanksgiving also doesn't have extraordinarily wide appeal compared to other American holidays where it matters these days: outside the U.S. With studios looking more and more toward international theaters, particularly in China, a U.S.-centric holiday movie is a tough sell, BoxOffice.com senior analyst Shawn Robbins noted. Film historian David Bordwell also stressed the industry's shift toward pleasing audiences abroad, adding that producing a holiday movie pegged to Christmas would have "much better prospects overseas," since Christmas is celebrated around the world.

And yes, pretty much everyone knows Christmas is a bigger, flashier, spend-ier deal than other holidays. A quick look at Google analytics shows us as much: Searches for "Christmas" outpace "Thanksgiving" each year by a wide margin, and with many more international origins. 

There are a few Thanksgiving movies to break out around this time of year. We have Jodie Foster's 1995 "Home for the Holidays" and "Pieces of April," starring a young Katie Holmes in 2003. Each held its own at the box office. John Hughes' 1987 "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" even became a classic. Films that center more broadly on the period between mid-November and New Year's Day sometimes include a Thanksgiving scene -- "Miracle on 34th Street" kicks off on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, for example -- but the main action and denouement inevitably unfolds a month later. Therein lies another reason Thanksgiving presents a challenge: It can easily restrict the plot to a very narrow timeframe and setting.

"The Thanksgiving experience is really about sitting around a table and breaking bread. How do you create a whole movie around that?" Dergarabedian asked. 

So there are plenty of complications when it comes to making a Thanksgiving movie -- timing, relevance, plot. But when we spoke with representatives of some major U.S. theater chains, B&B Theaters and Carmike Cinemas, both suspected that if Hollywood put out a bonafide Thanksgiving movie, their audiences would want to go see it. 

"I think people are excited to get together and spend time with their families for a little while," B&B Theaters marketing manager Paul Farnsworth told HuffPost. "Until they want to go sit in the dark and not talk to their relatives anymore." 

 

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