Falling for you: Movies made to be watched in autumn
By Jeff Mezydlo
November 16, 2023
The autumn season tends to be popular for its outdoor beauty, crisp bite of the air, and Halloween. It’s also been highly profitable as a film setting. Here is our list of movies that are particularly ideal to watch in the fall.
Listed in chronological order.
1 of 25
“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966)
Lee Mendelson Productions; Bill Melendez Productions; United Feature Syndicate
Here’s an animated classic — and rite of passage to watch (less than 30 minutes of one’s time) for those of all ages — for any time during the fall, especially amid the Halloween season. As the Peanuts gang celebrate Halloween, Linus hunkers down in a pumpkin patch to await the arrival of the legendary — if not mythical — Great Pumpkin. If there’s any reason for appointment viewing before, during, and even after the Halloween season, it’s for families to get together and enjoy It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
2 of 25
“Animal House” (1978)
The first days of a college fall semester mean it’s time for students to rush fraternities and sororities. In the realm of fictional educational institutions, there is no more popular fraternity than the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house at Faber College. The house has boasted quite the cast of characters over the years, like Bluto (John Belushi), Otter (Tim Matheson), and Flounder (Stephen Furst). There’s also the rival, strait-laced (but evil) Omegas, to deal with. The University of Oregon is the setting for the fictional Faber campus, and the fall tradition of a homecoming parade provides the raucous finale to this comedy classic.
3 of 25
This is where it all began. Sure, we can label this as the collective Halloween franchise of films (more than 10), but the original remains the gold standard among the work. Whether addressing longtime, die-hard horror fans, or those new to the genre, this is a solid starting point. Yes, it’s nearly 40 years old, but the original Halloween sill holds up well. Directed and co-written by John Carpenter, Halloween introduced one of the most iconic horror characters of all time in Michael Myers, and turned Jamie Lee Curtis — making her film debut — into a scream queen for the ages. Oh yeah, then there’s the eerily memorable musical score.
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“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)
One of the most beloved movies of all time, Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming classic takes place in the Los Angeles area during fall. We see kids in sweatshirts, their breath visible in the cool autumn air, and the Halloween season plays a major role in the film. For those looking to keep an alien from your parent or parents, just dress it up as a ghost (any white bed sheet should do) and head out for a night of trick-or-treating. It’s another great family movie, though might be a bit frightening for younger children. However, very rewarding in the end.
5 of 25
“The Goonies” (1985)
The actual time of year is not really established, though high school cheerleaders are practicing outside and the gloomy, rainy conditions of the “Goon Docks” in Astoria, Ore., just screams fall. It’s a truly special movie for kids and families, and while it’s certainly a comedy of good fun, it’s also heartwarming and genuine. The adventure of trying to find a lost treasure is the focal point, but The Goonies is also a great example of friendship and pride. The legacy of the film, which stars Sean Astin and Josh Brolin, was enhanced when the gang got together for a virtual 2020 reunion via Zoom.
6 of 25
“St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985)
Sony Pictures; Columbia Pictures
The Brat Pack at its finest. Well, at least in terms of volume. Young ’80s hot shots Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Andrew McCarthy, Emilio Estevez and Ally Sheedy make up the cast of this coming-of-age flick about Georgetown University post-graduates dealing with life and love amid the fall backdrop of the Washington D.C. campus. College environments and fall imagery just go hand-and-hand, even if the dialogue and friendships of this group tends to be more than a bit obnoxious — and none of the characters predictably likable.
7 of 25
“Mystic Pizza” (1988)
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
We’re sticking with the coming-of-age theme during the 1980s. This time, three female friends (Julia Roberts, Lili Taylor, Annabeth Gish) experience life-altering romance amid the hard-working, seaside community of Mystic, Conn. It’s all set against the time of year where oversized sweater weather is the norm for the trio, while the place is the soon-to-be legendary Mystic Pizza parlor that has become an institution within the community. There’s just something about fall along with the Eastern seaboard that makes life seem okay, even if things are falling apart, at times, for the film’s main cast.
8 of 25
“Dead Poets Society” (1989)
The beauty of Vermont’s Welton Academy prep school perfectly captures the beginning of the academic year: fall images, changing leaves, and whispering winds. Makes one want to crack open a book and read while leaning against a 100-year-old tree. Set in the late 1950s, this tale follows unorthodox prep school English teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) and his influence on junior Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) and his classmates. Keating is passionate about teaching and literature and encourages his students to “seize the day.”
9 of 25
“When Harry Met Sally…” (1989)
This Rob Reiner-directed, Nora Ephron-penned romantic comedy hit spans the seasons, but fall in New York City seems to stand out the most, not least for the sweaters or tweed sport coats donned by Harry (Billy Crystal). Not to mention the changing of the colors in Central Park, taking in an afternoon at The Met or Harry Connick Jr. crooning on “Autumn in New York.” Sure, winter provides some of the movie’s most beloved moments, but this is a movie that certainly captures the spirit of the Big Apple in fall, which won’t be the first time we’ll talk about that particular setting and experience on this list.
10 of 25
“School Ties” (1992)
Another prep school setting in the Northeast that showcased the splendid beauty of fall. Of course, the subject matter of this popular early 1990s drama isn’t as pleasant. David Greene (Brendan Fraser) is a 1950s star high school quarterback from blue-collar Scranton, Penn., recruited to quarterback the St. Matthew’s prep school football team for his senior year. The prestigious school is filled with old-money students destined for the Ivy League, and many are not fond of Greene’s Jewish faith. Once some of his so-called friends, like Charlie Dillon (Matt Damon), discover his spiritual secret, David becomes embroiled in a battle to remain at the school and continue his progression toward Harvard. The old-timey football uniforms and helmets are fun to watch, though.
11 of 25
Sony Pictures; Columbia Pictures; TriStar Pictures
This beloved football tale based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger spans several years. However, the frequent shots of outdoor college life at Notre Dame and the football action within the famed South Bend stadium just exude everything we love about a college football Saturday in the fall. Meanwhile, there might not be a bigger individual sports underdog than Rudy — in real life or on film. It was Sean Astin’s career-defining role (in another memorable film written by Angelo Pizzo) as the undersized, under-talented wannabe Notre Dame football player. Of course, he defied the odds and the naysayers to fulfill his dream of attending the prestigious university and playing for the Fighting Irish.
12 of 25
“Soul Food” (1997)
20th Century Fox
Those large, weekly Sunday family dinners just seem better when the air is crisp and the colors outside are vibrant. Plus, the mouthwatering offerings of homemade comfort food only enhance the experience. Especially in the Midwest, and Chicago, more specifically, which is the setting for this 1990s favorite. Now, we can’t guarantee the conversation and drama will be as entertaining if the likes of the film’s stars Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer are not at your table to break bread. If not, enjoy the movie, instead.
13 of 25
This Wes Anderson favorite, starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams, doesn’t necessarily scream fall, but the outside scenes conjure up some feelings associated with the season. This prestigious prep academy in Houston aims to offer a well-rounded, enriching experience for all students. In addition to its rigorous academic standards, Rushmore offers such popular extracurricular activities as French Club, Stamp & Coin Club, Kung Fu Club, the Astronomy Society, Fencing, Bombardment Society, Kite Flying Society, and the Rushmore Beekeepers.
14 of 25
“You’ve Got Mail” (1998)
More from Meg Ryan. In this late ’90s favorite Nora Ephron rom-com, Ryan and Tom Hanks team up again — along with New York City itself as another important character — as competing bookstore owners who begin a blind internet friendship. The movie starts in fall, with both main characters boasting about how much they love NYC during that time. The Upper West Side backdrop, with leaves changing and families and friends out and about on the weekend, just seems like a nice way to help unwind and take in a autumn-themed flick that just makes you feel good about life.
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“Autumn In New York” (2000)
With a title like that, this movie must be on our list. Now, caution to those who know nothing about the Joan Chen drama — it’s a full-on tearjerker. However, one of the better elements to this tale, about a May-December romance between characters played by Richard Gere and Winona Ryder, is more glorious scenes of New York in the fall, particularly the scenic beauty of Central Park at this time of year. In terms of the storyline, Gere’s womanizing Will Keane is rather tough to like, but Ryder delivers one of her more underrated roles as Charlotte Fielding, his younger love who’s in a battle for more than affection.
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“Remember the Titans” (2000)
Walt Disney Pictures
Another brilliant football movie, this time focusing on a real-life story where a high school football team — and its coaches — helped ease racial tension and bring needed social harmony. While football is the obvious backdrop of this classic, the true inspiration is coach Herman Boone (Denzel Washington) and his ability to integrate a team and turn the players into winners. Will Patton also shines as assistant coach Bill Yoast, who swallows his pride and shuns his prejudice for the greater good of the team, school, and community — much like most players — to come together for a common purpose.
17 of 25
“Friday Night Lights” (2004)
Nothing embodies the spirit of fall more than a high school football Friday night, especially in a small town in a football-crazed state like Texas. The entire community is at the game, and the players are treated like celebrities. It’s both impressive and disturbing, and brilliantly depicted in this Peter Berg film based on the popular chronicling of the 1988 season at mighty Permian High in Odessa, Texas. Nothing less than a state championship will do for this football factory, and the pressure is daunting for the likes of quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), running back Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), and James “Bobbie” Miles (Derek Luke), whose future is based on his football success.
18 of 25
Walt Disney Pictures; Pixar Animation Studios
The early-November holiday known as Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is widely celebrated in Mexico, and by those of Mexican heritage elsewhere in the world. It’s also the instituted into this Disney smash hit that was lauded for its authentic humor and emotion. Young Miguel’s journey into the Land of the Dead is a riveting and impactful journey that tugs at the heartstrings, while also expressing the importance of family and culture. A perfect family film to enjoy with children who are coming into touch with their own feelings and emotions, regardless of nationality.
19 of 25
“Little Women” (2019)
Sony Pictures; Columbia Pictures
Another film adaptation of the cherished Louisa May Alcott classic novel. However, this most recent, celebrated film take — starring Emma Watson, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh — does a rather fine job of capturing the feel of the book through the imagery and setting. Viewers can practically feel the autumn New England air through the screen of this Greta Gerwig version. This seems like the proper Sunday afternoon movie to curl up with in October or November to decompress before tackling the seemingly hectic week ahead.
20 of 25
“Knives Out” (2019)
There’s just something about this recent murder-mystery hit that makes it an ideal fall watch. Maybe it’s the abundance of sweaters or wool coats that are worn. Not to mention the foliage, which provides a nice backdrop to this Clue-like film with an ensemble cast that features Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon, just to name a few. This is the perfect fall weekend evening movie to watch with friends, trying to figure out how bestselling author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) really died.
21 of 25
There are plenty of Thanksgiving-themed movies worthy of making this list, but we’ll go with this likely forgotten offering from Nicol Paone (in her directorial debut).Plans for a quiet Thanksgiving dinner between friends Molly (Malin Åkerman) and Abby (Kat Dennings) go awry when various friends, family, and acquaintances eventually show up for one reason or another. There are plenty of amusing and endearing moments in this comedy-drama. Critics hated the picture, but other strong names (Jane Seymour, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti, Christine Taylor, and Wanda Sykes) make this holiday film more tolerable.
22 of 25
“Hubie Halloween” (2020)
We know that Adam Sandler films can be a little too much for some. However, this Halloween-themed comedy-horror picture about pedestrian and oft-ridiculed delicatessen worker Hubie Dubois (Sandler), who tries to save his Salem, Mass., town from a kidnapper, is smart and entertaining for just about any level of Sandler fans. Julie Bowen, Kevin James and Maya Rudolph also lend quality support amid a cast that doesn’t need to cover for Sandler’s overzealous antics that we’ve become accustomed to — or loathed — over the years.
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“The Humans” (2021)
OK, let’s give another Thanksgiving-related shoutout to an underappreciated movie. Noted funny girls Beanie Feldstein and Amy Schumer stand out in this dramatic film adaptation of the play of the same name by Stephen Karam, who also wrote and directed the movie. A family comes together for Thanksgiving at the run-down New York City apartment of Brigid (Feldstein), whose boyfriend is depressed and still longing for the approval of her usually disapproving parents. Schumer provides the most comic relief to a film heavy on dialogue and emotion. At the same time, veteran actor Richard Jenkins delivers a subtly gripping performance as the family’s patriarch. Maybe not wholesome family fare, but a good film to watch if staying in on a fall Saturday night.
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“Hocus Pocus 2” (2022)
Walt Disney Pictures
OK, hear us out, please. The 1993 original Hocus Pocus, starring resurrected goofy witches (Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) was not a success — at the box office or with fans. However, it’s earned cult status over the years and spawned a franchise of movies, television, and book versions. On the film front, Hocus Pocus 2 is actually better than the first offering, and worth the time, especially with the three witches back in the fold, and not taking themselves too seriously. Obviously, autumn and the Halloween season is the perfect time of year to enjoy a flick that’s fun for the whole family.
25 of 25
A wildly entertaining, modern take on the time-honored tradition of the high-school s?x comedy, but in a highly satirical, almost dark comedy-like, manner. ?esbian friends PJ (Rachel Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri) begin a new school year each looking to have s?x for the first time. The beginning of a new school term tends to be a reliable base for filmmakers, but Bottoms is not only unique in this updated, and important take, on the te?n-s?x romp genre. It also successfully balances friendship, female empowerment and some good old-fashioned camp .