The name “Thanksgiving” might feel a bit ironic in your household. You might scoff at the idea of giving thanks, considering how you’re more or less forced to deal with disagreeable relatives. It’s certainly ironic that a holiday about giving thanks for the blessings in our lives is immediately followed the very next day by a chaotic stampede towards the nearest store for Black Friday savings.
Ironic or not, so long as we have breath in our lungs, we have something to be thankful for. And if we have the ability to afford a Thanksgiving feast or come together with friends and/or family, we have even more for which we can thank God.
Whether your family struggles to find reasons to be thankful or your Thanksgivings are filled with genuine gratitude, we’ve compiled a list of seven movies that remind viewers of the many blessings we truly have. Maybe, just maybe, when your relatives gather on the couch to watch with you, they’ll feel just a little bit more reason to give thanks. And hopefully, you will, too.
It’s A Wonderful Life (PG, 1947)
George Bailey is at his breaking point, and he’s about to throw himself off a bridge to what will certainly lead to a cold and watery doom. He’s absolutely convinced that the world would be better off if he had simply never existed. That’s when an angel appears to show George just how different the world would be if his wish came true—and without George, this alternate reality looks pretty grim.
It’s A Wonderful Life has certainly stood the test of time—and for good reason. The film reminds us that our lives are inherently valuable. Our worth isn’t based on fleeting things like money or life experiences. And when George gets a bit of perspective of just how bad the world would be without him, he realizes that he hasn’t appreciated just how wonderful life truly is. And as the movie’s message emphasizes, we can look at our own lives and appreciate the blessing we have, knowing that our value as people isn’t tied to any of them. The movie is included for free with Amazon Prime Video.
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Apparently, Carl Fredricksen never got the memo. He had a great life, spent enjoying his marriage with his wife. But those were better days. Now, his wife has died, and he’s old, achy and alone—and the world wants to throw him into a retirement home. But the balloon salesman has an idea: he’s going to literally fly his home out of the city and park it right next to Paradise Falls down in Venezuela—where he and his wife always wanted to visit.
Things quickly go south, however, and not just literally. Carl finds his home miles from the Falls and his dwindling balloon supply to leave him and his home stranded in the jungle. There’s also the matter of Russell, a somewhat absent-minded Wilderness Scout who’s inadvertently found himself along for the ride. And as the two make their way through the dangerous jungle, Carl will learn that there’s more to life than living in the past. “Few of us live our lives exactly as we plan them,” writes Plugged In’s Paul Asay. “Yet even in the midst of final exams, trips to the grocery store and even tragedies we can never prepare for, we’re still impossibly, gloriously blessed.” Up is available for streaming on Disney+.
A Beautiful Mind (PG-13, 2001)
If you’ve ever attended an economics class, you’ve likely heard of the Nash Equilibrium. It’s a concept in game theory named after John Nash, and it describes the optimal solution for all players in a non-cooperative game to take—where no single player has an incentive to change his or her behavior. This often means both sides have to compromise—not getting the best result their personal incentives could gain in order to avoid the worse results.
John Nash is in such a non-cooperative game with his schizophrenia. John would prefer to not be playing, but his schizophrenia would rather dominate every moment of his life. And unless he can learn to find the Nash equilibrium between the two options, John may end up with the worst outcome possible. A Beautiful Mind can be intense and has some adult content concerns. But as the film guides us through John’s struggle with mental illness, the economist tells us that before all logic and numbers, what he is truly grateful for is his loving and ever-supportive wife. “I have made the most important discovery of my career—the most important discovery of my life,” John says. “It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logical reasons can be found.” A Beautiful Mind can be watched on Hulu with a STARZ subscription or Amazon Prime Video for rent. It can also be watched on the Roku Channel.
The Blind Side (PG-13, 2009)
It’s easy to look at a celebrity and assume they just got lucky, never facing any hardship and simply stumbling into success. We rarely see the humble beginnings. Consider Michael Oher, former NFL offensive tackle. Before his fame, everything he owned—a spare shirt, that is—he carried in a plastic bag, and he really had no place to call home. But when Leigh Anne Tuohy sees Michael walking in the rain, she looks at everything God had blessed her with, and she offers extend those blessings to incorporate Michael.
Lest we get wrong ideas about any sort of savior complex, The Blind Side shows us that it’s not only Michael who expresses gratitude—Leigh Anne reciprocates. “When a friend of Leigh Anne’s tells her how wonderful it is that she’s changing this boy’s life, Leigh Anne smiles and says, ‘No. He’s changing mine,’” writes Plugged In’s Paul Asay. Gratitude rests as the foundation of this film—Michael’s gratitude toward Leigh Anne’s kindness, Leigh Anne’s gratitude toward how Michael fell into place as a family member. And when we see Michael’s pain-filled beginnings, we’ll be reminded by how we can be grateful for even the smallest of God’s blessings in our own lives. The Blind Side can be streamed via HBO Max.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (PG, 2013)
Walter Mitty’s in trouble. He works as a photo editor for a major magazine, but a critical photo has gone missing. His new bosses want that shot in the worst way, and if Walter can’t get it, they’ll give him the boot. Only one thing Walter can do: He must track down the photo’s creator–brilliant, enigmatic and painfully elusive—and find out what happened to it. The problem: The photographer could be, literally, anywhere. Afghanistan. Iceland. Across the street. And given that Walter rarely leaves his apartment, tracking the photographer down will push the guy several light years past his comfort zone.
But a funny thing happens to Walter on his journey. He discovers courage and talents he never knew he had, and that he never would’ve found while sitting at his basement desk. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty reminds us that, of all the many blessings we should be thankful for, we should also be thankful for our trials. Our discomforts. Because it’s by going through difficulties that we may discover ourselves—and get a little closer to the person that God wants us to be. The movie is streaming on both Hulu and the Roku Channel for free.
Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris (PG, 2022)
Times are tough for Ada Harris, a widowed cleaning lady in the 1950s. Her job doesn’t exactly put her on a social pedestal in society. Even her clientele pays her about the same amount of attention as they do for her services—that is, not very much. But when Ada suddenly receives a large sum of money, she knows exactly what will make her feel seen: purchasing a beautiful Christian Dior dress.
During her journey, Ada touches the hearts of the somewhat pompous employees of Christian Dior, and they come to appreciate Ada’s charisma and contagious practicality. Likewise (and debatably more importantly), Ada learns that her image in society doesn’t matter. As I wrote in my review, “Ada slowly realizes she isn’t ‘just’ the cleaning lady, the invisible woman who takes care of the house and leaves without a trace—she’s her own person. As one character notes, Ada is beautiful inside an extravagant Dior dress, but she was beautiful before she had it, too.” Ultimately, many of the characters in the film realize that it’s the relationships they’ve built along the way that they should be grateful for. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is available to watch on Peacock.
Cast Away (PG-13, 2000)
It only takes a single disaster before life is put in perspective. Such is the case with Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems engineer whose fast-paced career sends him onto a plane which crashes in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, leaving him the sole survivor stranded on an uninhabited island. As days turn into months, it becomes quickly apparent that no one is coming to save him. Suddenly, all of the hustle and bustle doesn’t seem so important.
There’s much to be said about Cast Away. Certainly, Chuck comes to understand that he neglected his relationships for his career, and he comes to appreciate the value of human connection as a result of his predicament. And (spoiler alert) when Chuck finally does make it back to society, he has a newfound gratitude for the things of life that the rest of us take for granted: light at the flick of a switch and limitless food at a buffet certainly cause him to reflect on how difficult such things were for him to obtain while on the island. The movie reminds us all that we’ve been blessed with much, even things that we just might take for granted. Cast Away is available on Hulu for free or Amazon Prime Video to rent.