Holiday streams: what to watch over the Thanksgiving weekend

Emma Watson and Dan Stevens in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

So Thanksgiving dinner is over, the dishes are done (or at least shoved to the side), and the family is settling in for the post-meal hibernation. The question comes up: what to watch? Sure, you’ve got Netflix or Amazon Prime or Hulu but there’s so much sort through and it’s easy to get lost in the menus.

Here’s a short list of streaming possibilities that you may have missed when they came out, or simply just never gotten around to, that are fine for family viewing, plus a few more grown-up titles for the adults in the room. This is limited to the three major streaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. The other, smaller services with fewer options are easier to sort through.


Family viewing:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, PG-13), starring Felicity Jones a scruffy survivor who takes on the Empire with a team of outcasts and mavericks, is an action packed mission thriller plays out in the margins of “Star Wars” with a darker portrait of rebellion and war.

A little less dark are Beauty and the Beast (2017, PG), Disney’s lavish live-action remake of their animated musical starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, and Tim Burton’s remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, PG) with Johnny Depp as an odd duck Willy Wonka.

Disney’s animated musical adventure Moana (2016, PG) sends a different kind of Princess on a quest with a demigod (voices by Dwayne Johnson) in ancient Polynesia. “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda co-wrote the original songs.

The animated odyssey Kubo and the Two Strings (2016, PG) from Portland’s Laika Entertainment is a family-friendly epic of imagination steeped in Japanese culture and mythology.

Sing (2017, PG) presents a cast of animated animals singing their hearts out with the voices of Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, and Tori Kelly.

Other animated options include Disney’s Pocahontas (1995, G) but why not expand your horizons and sample the steampunk imagination of April and the Extraordinary World (France, 2015, PG, in English), and the Oscar-nominated My Life as a Zucchini (France, 2016, PG-13, English and subtitled versions)?

Charlotte’s Web (2006, G), the second big screen version of the children’s classic, features Dakota Fanning and the voices of Julia Roberts, Steve Buscemi, and Sam Shepard.

There are now two seasons of Netflix’s binge-worthy Stranger Things, the wonderfully weird series about a group of school friends who face strange doings in their rural Indiana, a show filled with eighties nostalgia and grounded in childhood friendships and imagination. May be a little too intense for young kids but adolescents and teens should love it. Adults too.

Anne with an E offers a fresh take on “Anne of Green Gables” with Amybeth McNulty as the red-headed orphan in 19th century Canada. One season of eight episodes now available.

And for a family-friendly superhero series, try The Flash, a show with a likable, spirited speedster hero, a loyal team of friends, and a colorful cast of villains—including a telepathic gorilla! Three seasons available.

For the older crowd:

Mudbound (2017, not rated), Dee Rees’s drama of two families—one white, one black—living and farming in the poverty of the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s, debuted at Sundance and won numerous awards on the film festival circuit. Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, and Mary J. Blige star.

The Oscar-nominated Lion (2016), based on a true story, stars Dev Patel as a lost boy in Calcutta adopted by Australian parents (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) who goes searching for his lost family in India.

Todd Haynes directs Carol (2015, R), a touching and evocative love story between a society woman (Cate Blanchett) and a department store shopgirl and budding photographer (Rooney Mara) in 1950s New York City.

Meryl Streep is the worst singer who ever lived in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016, PG-13), an unexpectedly tender and compassionate comedy based on a true story.

And here are a few more suggestions:

  • Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017, not rated) with Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman;
  • Our Souls at Night (2017), which reunites Jane Fonda and Robert Redford;
  • The Homesman (2014, R), a frontier western directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones;
  • 42 (2013, PG-13) with Chadwick Boseman as baseball legend Jackie Robinson;
  • The sprawling Cloud Atlas (2012, R), from filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski and Tom Tykwer;
  • The Queen (2006, PG-13) starring Helen Mirren in an Oscar-winning performance

TV binge

It’s a great time to catch up with The Crown, the drama about the life of Queen Elizabeth created by Peter Morgan and starring Claire Foy as the young Queen. The second season begins in December.

Alias Grace, the based on historical novel by Margaret Atwood, dramatizes the true story of a servant girl (Sarah Gadon) convicted of murder in 19th century Canada in a six-episode series.

The intimate and introspective drama Rectify follows the life a man (Aden Young) released into the world after spending 19 years—over half of his life—on death row for a crime he may not have committed. It’s powerful and moving and self-contained in 30 episodes over four seasons.

The superior Canadian crime drama Intelligence: The Complete Series (2006-2007) explores the intersection between the Vancouver crime underworld and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The entire 20-episode series is available.

And you can always revisit your favorite episode of the BBC Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson in a modern take on the characters.

Amazon Prime

Family viewing:

Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon star in Gillian Armstrong’s Oscar-nominated Little Women (1994, PG), held up as the best film version of the novel by many fans.

Once it was an annual TV event for the family. Now the original The Wizard of Oz (1939, G), starring Judy Garland skipping down the yellow brick road, is streaming on Amazon.

Classics: Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot (1959, not rated), starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians in female drag and Marilyn Monroe as an unlucky-in-love singer, was voted the best American comedy of all time in a poll conducted by the American Film Institute, and William Powell and Carole Lombard star in the sparkling screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936).

For the older crowd:

Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson star in James Gray’s The Lost City of Z (2016, PG-13), which dramatizes the true story of British explorers in the uncharted jungles of Bolivia. A grand adventure of early 20th century exploration and a savvy portrait of western arrogance, it is vivid and dreamy and mesmerizing.

20th Century Women (2016, R) stars Annette Bening as a single mother of a teenage boy determined to give him good life lessons with the help of Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, and Billy Crudup.

Paterson (2016, R), Jim Jarmusch’s meandering tour through a week with Adam Driver’s bus driver-poet, is a warmly eccentric character piece that celebrates everyday American dreamers.

Cynthia Nixon is Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion (2017, PG-13), an intimate drama from Terence Davies.

The documentary Obit. (2016, not rated) profiles the staff obituary writers of The New York Times and the increasingly rare art form they keep alive (so to speak) on a daily basis.

Foreign affairs: The sexy South Korean drama The Handmaiden (2016) spins a compelling tale of con artists, forbidden love, pornography, and poetic justice (not rated, with subtitles).

A few more suggestions:

  • Denial (2016, PG-13) starring Rachel Weisz in the true story of a historian sued by a Holocaust denier;
  • Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility (1995) with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet;
  • Oscar-nominated baby boomer classic The Big Chill (1983, R) with Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and William Hurt;
  • Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Departed (2006, R) with Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, and Jack Nicholson

TV binge:

Amazon now has all five seasons of The Americans, the drama of two Soviet spies posing as ordinary suburban parents and the toll the stress takes on the family. It’s one of the best shows on American TV today.

There are also two seasons of Mercy Street, the PBS drama set in an army hospital in Union-occupied Virginia during the American Civil War.

Amazon Prime and Hulu

Family viewing:

Star Trek: Beyond (2016), the third film in the “when they were young” reboot, delivers a warp-speed adventure that leans on the youth, energy, and chemistry of the cast (PG-13). (Amazon Prime and Hulu)

Anne Hathaway is a different kind of Cinderella in Ella Enchanted (2004, PG), a playful twist on the classic fairy tale (Amazon Prime and Hulu)

Mickey Rooney co-stars in the gorgeous family-friendly “boy and his horse” adventure The Black Stallion (1979, G) (Amazon Prime and Hulu).

Jodie Foster’s Home for the Holidays (1995, PG-13) with Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr., is a comedy for the Thanksgiving family gathering (Amazon Prime and Hulu).

And, of course, Airplane! (1980, PG) has my vote for the funniest film ever made (Amazon Prime and Hulu).

For the older crowd:

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are beautiful spies in love in Allied (2016, R), a lush, old-fashioned romantic thriller from director Robert Zemeckis set in World War II. It’s a gorgeous film for adult viewers who like grown-up stories (Amazon Prime and Hulu).

Arrival (2016, PG-13), starring Amy Adams as a linguist making first contact with an alien race with no spoken language, is both a brainy science fiction drama and a touching human story. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards (Amazon Prime and Hulu).


Family viewing:

Tuck Everlasting (2002, PG), based on Natalie Babbitt’s classic young adult novel, stars Alexis Bledel as the sheltered teenager who discovers a family both blessed and cursed with eternal life.

The Rocketeer (1991, PG) is a charming comic book movie with the nostalgic charge of an old Hollywood adventure.

You can always spend your day off seeing how someone else does it with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986, PG-13).

Disney classics in the Hulu library include The Sword in the Stone (1963, G), The Aristocats (1970, G), Robin Hood (1973, G), featuring the songs of Roger Miller, The Rescuers (1977, G), and The Fox and the Hound (1981, G).

And Hulu has plenty of family-friendly TV as well, from the Emmy-winning musical series Glee to the cult animated series Futurama from “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening to the original Full House.

For the older crowd:

Winter’s Bone (2010, R), a coming-of-age survival story set in the crime and poverty of the Ozark Mountains, features a superb break-out performance by Jennifer Lawrence and won the Grand Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival.

Foreign affairs: Olivier Assayas’s delicate Summer Hours (France, 2008, not rated, with subtitles) stars Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, and Jérémie Renier in a touching story of family and Marion Cotillard earned an Oscar nomination for her raw performance in Two Days, One Night (Belgium, 2014, with subtitles, PG-13), directed by the Dardennes Brothers.

Hulu’s original series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, stars Elisabeth Moss as an enslaved women struggling to retain her identity in an oppressive dystopian dictatorship. It’s one of the best new shows of the year and you might even be able to see the entire ten-episode first season over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Jane Campion’s original 2013 New Zealand mini-series Top of the Lake with Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter and the 2017 follow-up mini-series Top of the Lake: China Girl, with Nicole Kidman, and Gwendoline Christie joining Moss in the cast, are both smart, compelling crime dramas with strong women in charge.

Try out a new service

Most streaming services offer a trial period to entice new customers. If you’ve got a few days to fill with movies and/or peak TV, why not try out one? Unlike the big three, most of the smaller services are targeted to more specialized interests. Here are a few (but by no means all) choice services that might serve your interests. Some of them are also available as add-ons to existing Amazon Prime and Hulu subscriptions.

For fans of new films, contemporary movies, and acclaimed original shows: HBO Now (one month free), Showtime Anytime (seven days free), and Starz (seven days free).

For cinephiles and fans of classic and foreign movies: FilmStruck / The Criterion Channel (two weeks free).

For fans of Hollywood movies of the golden age: Warner Archive Instant (seven days free).

For fans of independent cinema: Sundance Now (seven days free) and Tribeca Shortlist (seven days free).

For fans of international TV: Acorn TV (seven days free), BritBox (seven days free), and MHz Choice (one month free).

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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