Sit back, sip something pumpkin spice, and enjoy the autumn vibes of these quintessential fall films.
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Sweater up, people, as it's almost time for autumn, when cable knits, pumpkin lattes, and festive gourds abound. But as excellent as these items are, we believe the best way to reach a russet state of mind is by pressing "play" on a fall-set film. Autumn tropes abound in our favorite cozy classics — sweaters, artfully-scattered orange leaves, East Coast academic settings, Matt Damon. There's really just one trope we're not on board with: death. Man, screenwriters just love a funeral in the fall — as if the parallel between dying leaves and dying characters is some kind of new idea. Could someone please tell Autumn in New York and Stepmom that axing the leads sours our pumpkin spice?

But don't worry, the movies on this list keep maudlin to a minimum, celebrating the season the way it deserves. So light the fire, grab something pumpkiny and break out that knitting project you abandoned when the A/C clicked on — it's time to dig into this feast of the fall-iest fall movies ever.

MOONSTRUCK
Credit: Everett Collection

Moonstruck (1987)

If you haven't seen Moonstruck, are you even a fall movie fan? Like a good ragú, a fine wine, or a widow in need of a makeover (Cher's Loretta Castorini), this is a movie that gets better with age. Set in November in Brooklyn, which means the brownstones are lamplit and cozy, the moon is heavy, and fall leaves scatter across damp streets, the look and feel of this film is to die for, capeesh? 

Directed by Norman Jewison and written by John Patrick Shanley, this movie literally does not make a single misstep as it explores the concept of love and romance through multiple stories and generations. And while each tale is indeed romantic, the script never veers into (parmigiano reggiano?) cheesiness. 

Nicolas Cage is a revelation here, a sexy devil working amid the fires of hell (ok, ancient stone bread ovens) and gesticulating with a wooden hand in ways both moving AND hilarious. His performance — and Cher's charming, lived-in, completely natural portrayal of the put-upon Castorini — are perfection. Better with every re-watch, preferably on the night of (Cosmo's) full moon, this is a portrayal of a family for whom fighting (in a kitchen to die for) is a love language. Now that's amore.

Practical Magic, Nicole Kidman, Goran Visnjic, Sandra Bullock
Credit: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Practical Magic (1998)

Just past Stars Hollow, there's another charming little East Coast town full of eccentric ladies. But where the Gilmore Girls were all about speed talking and junk food, the Owens sisters (Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock) have a different sort of skill — magic. Yes, the Owens are witches with amazing hair, daffy aunties (Dianne Weist and Stockard Channing) and a curse to deal with, namely, the men they love all die. Forgive us if that sounds dramatic — it isn't. 

Nope, the guys are just cardboard cutouts and their deaths don't really hurt, because Practical Magic is witch-lite — setting up "spells" that seem more suited to slumber parties and looking at giant antiquey magic books to a twinkly soundtrack. In other words, this is a movie about witches that could be mistaken for a movie about a book club… with way more candles (and writhing). Not that there's anything wrong with that! 

Practical Magic knows what it is — fun and entertaining — and the fact that the ending features a Stevie Nicks song playing as a single leaf of fall foliage drifts in front of a harvest moon is exactly the kind of on-the-nose touch we live for. Adapted from an Alice Hoffman novel of the same name, reviewers have called it out for awkward tonal shifts, but as anyone who has actually read an Alice Hoffman book already knows that's a feature, not a bug.

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK 1987 CHER SUSAN SARANDON MICHELLE PFEIFFER WOE 049, Photo by: Everett Collec
Credit: Everett Collection

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

You can have your Hocus Pocus, our favorite witchy trio will forever be the glam-mystical combo of Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Cher. Oh yeah, Jack Nicholson is here, too, but who's paying attention to anything other than these ladies at the peak of their power? (Their hair alone deserves a standing ovation...) 

Based on the John Cheever novel, The Witches of Eastwick is a horror-comedy light on the horror — though some real gross-out moments could scar you (or put you off fresh cherries) for life. And if the makeup artist responsible for Pfeiffer's oozing cold sore didn't get an Oscar, they were robbed. Directed by the ever-morphing George Miller (of Mad Max AND Babe: Pig in The City) this is a confection with edge — massively entertaining, extremely silly, and with way more heft than you might expect, due to the commitment of the leads.

MYSTIC PIZZA (1988) l-r: Annabeth Gish, Lili Taylor, Julia Roberts
Credit: Everett Collection

Mystic Pizza (1988)

You could play a Mystic Pizza fall-themed drinking game — one beer per cable-knit sweater — but we wouldn't recommend it, because by the end, you'd be three sheets to the wind. And the wind, in this case, is both salty and filled with burnt-orange leaves, making this one of the fall-iest fall films of them all, and that's before you notice the fireplaces, rainstorms, and outfits (more sweaters and flannels than a Lands' End outlet). 

A solid rom-com with some nicely rough edges, this seaside-set indie pretty much introduced the world to both Julia Roberts (Daisy) and Lili Taylor (as the fabulously monikered JoJo Barbosa). Their natural, bubbly performances (along with Annabeth Gish's fresh-scrubbed Kat, Daisy's sister) are reason enough to watch this cozy-with-a-capital-C movie. The girls (employees at, yes, Mystic Pizza) are each caught up in their own tangled romantic drama, some predictable, others… not so much! A perfect snuggle-in-front-of-the-fire flick, Mystic Pizza is a warm little slice of fall.

The Royal Tenenbaums
Credit: James Hamilton/Buena Vista

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

There are more cinematic versions of New York City than there are Ray's Pizzas, but Wes Anderson's cluttered, bookish, what-decade-are-we-in version in The Royal Tenenbaums is tough to beat. This tale of a gently dysfunctional family comically moving from one disaster to the next is enhanced by a perfectly melancholic soundtrack (Nico, Nick Drake, and Vince Guaraldi) and easy pace. 

Though the movie takes place during all four seasons, many of the memorable scenes (like when Gene Hackman's Royal takes his jumpsuited grandsons for a ride on the back of a dumpster) happen before an autumnal backdrop of bare trees and marmalade skies. A sepia-ish, antiquely filtered light seems to saturate every moment, exuding a retro fall vibe that comes straight from a '70s middle school library (hello, From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Watch it on a rainy night, or whenever you want to luxuriate in that good kind of sad.

RUDY
Credit: TriStar Pictures/Everett Collection

Rudy (1993)

Fall goes with football like popcorn with butter, and the cinematic gridiron film Rudy is one of the all-time greats. Samwise Gamgee (oops, Sean Astin) plays Rudy Ruettiger, a "5 foot nothing" kid from Joliet, Illinois, with a seemingly-impossible dream — to play football for Notre Dame. But the odds are stacked high as a field goal against him: Rudy's not only small, he has dyslexia, too, meaning his grades aren't good enough to get into his school of choice. Oh, and did we mention he's dirt-poor? 

Since this is based (amazingly) on a true story, we bet you can guess if the kid gave up or sallied forth in true fighting (Irish) style. With the formidable Ned Beatty as Rudy's dad (and Jon Favreau as Rudy's tutor!), this underdog tale may be slightly predictable, but we're not here for the twists — we're here for the genuine performances and the warm, all-American glow. Set in an Indiana autumn where the light seems filtered through bonfire smoke and just-turned maple leaves, it's an inspirational tale with substance, heart, and style.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Based on the Roald Dahl story of the same name, Wes Anderson took a simple plot and ran with it, creating a claymation universe so enchanting you'll want to step through the screen and take up residence. Starting where the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials left off, the level of detail is beyond lovely, and worth freezing each frame to stare at like a fine painting. 

The color palette? Extreme Fall — inspired by, it seems, the orange fur coat of Foxy (lead fox George Clooney, a role he's well-acquainted with) and his lovely wife Felicity (Meryl Streep). And the earth tone festival doesn't stop there. Jackets are brown and corduroy, fields are quilts of color, leaves are turning, sky is sepia, Felicity likes to paint autumn landscapes in her spare time — it's harvest city, people, and Anderson is all in

The off-kilter tale of a brave fox leading the fight against a comically noxious group of farmers (immortalized in the classic "Boggis, Bunce and Bean") satisfies like the grand victory feast ("roasted chicken, sizzling duck…") at Badger's (Bill Murray) table. The way the animals appreciate, fight for, and scarf down their food (including, yum, warm-from-the-oven nutmeg ginger apple snaps) makes it an ideal Thanksgiving viewing tradition.

t's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) / A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)
Credit: Everett Collection; ABC

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973)

Charles Schulz was a master of melancholy, and this pair of seasonal specials proves it. If our claim surprises you, just remember: this was the man who introduced the words "depression" and "psychiatric help" to American children. Especially suited to autumn, this pair of animated specials remain all-time sweet-n-sour classics. The mellow, jazzy Vince Guaraldi score paired with the stark, lonely-looking backdrops of bare trees and smudgy clouds elevate this beyond typical kiddie fare — it's almost as if Schulz (and director Bill Melendez) were trying to create art instead of something with mega-commercial appeal. 

It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is awash in harvest tones with a looming, slightly-threatening moon, setting the scene for the worst take-down of any character (outside of Charlie, the usual scapegoat), when Sally freaks out on Linus for making her miss Halloween. The Thanksgiving saga includes more angst, even as it serves up an 8-year-old's dream dinner: toast, jelly beans, popcorn, and pretzels (we remain baffled at Peppermint Patty's rage about it). Watching both of these back-to-back is to sink into a delightful sort of seasonal depression, a serving of sadness with a side of sugar. Schulz' work remains beautiful and groundbreaking all these years later, reminding us, always, that childhood is a complex thing.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY..., Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, 1989, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection
Credit: Everett Collection

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Famous for Meg Ryan's iconic "I'll have what she's having" deli scene (if you were unlucky enough to sit through her fake orgasm with your parents when it came out, we feel your pain) and the chemistry between Ryan and co-star Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally is pure rom-com gold. 

In this smart and hyper-witty gem, screenwriter Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner spare no expense in creating the perfect NYC fall fantasy — Central Park's gloriously turning elm and maple trees, Casablanca on matching black-and-white TV's, the Shakespeare & Co. book store, Ryan and Crystal's sweater collections, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry Connick Jr. singing "Autumn in New York," lunch with Carrie Fisher at the Boathouse in Central Park…sigh. If you can't afford a New York weekend, this movie — a celebration of how true love is worth waiting for — will do the trick.

Rushmore
Credit: Everett Collection

Rushmore (1998)

Only a director with Wes Anderson's skill could transform Houston (where Rushmore was filmed) into Boston. But how he willed grey skies and drizzle into nearly every scene, well, that's between him and Mother Nature. This story of an over-under-achiever (Max Fischer, played by Jason Schwartzman) attending a tiny private prep school on scholarship has a lot going for it — charmingly prickly characters (Bill Murray as Max's mentor and Seymour Cassel as Max's father), a devotion to creativity, and the best school play of all time — but maybe the most magical thing about it is the world Anderson has created. Cozy, oddball, and very much autumnal, this movie is one of the great fall classics.

LOVE STORY
Credit: Everett Collection

Love Story (1970)

We know… we said we weren't going to support a fall movie where the (uh, 50-year old spoiler alert?) main character dies. But we're NOT going to say we're sorry because this, the grand poobah of tragic love stories, manages to avoid sappiness for most of the running time, remaining cool, upbeat, and fairly unsentimental until… you know what. 

This tough edge is due to Ali MacGraw's ahead-of-its-time performance as Jenny (of course, in a plaid skirt and matching scarf) hurling offhand insults like an original mean girl, baiting Oliver (Ryan O'Neil) by calling him preppy with the kind of venom that could only lead to two things: homicide or a proposal. The sight of our two love birds strolling and bickering along the Harvard quad as leaves wither, falling quickly and madly into love as the seasons change, pretty much set the bar for every fallish love story that followed. And hey, the really sad part happens with a snowy background, leaving our beloved season out if it. But we're not going to cry, see, because Jenny's a tough cookie, and she doesn't want us to cry… or say we're sorry… so we won't. We'll just be over here, chopping onions, don't mind us. 

Ben Affleck Movies
Credit: Everett Collection

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is a Bah-ston local with a genius brain and no desire to do much of anything with it. Best pal Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck) disagrees. Eventually, the third leg arrives to provide much-needed balance in the form of Robin Williams, playing his therapist. Helping Will overcome his mental obstacles and figure out what's really bothering him, while revealing his own pain, Williams' innate tragi-comic sense makes him ideal for the role. 

Co-written by Massachusetts natives Damon and Affleck (and earning the yet-to-be-A-listers an Oscar for Best Screenplay), this film portrays Boston (and Ha-vahd) not just as a pretty background, but as the complex place it actually is, with an authenticity you can't fake.

LITTLE WOMEN
Credit: Wilson Webb/Columbia Pictures

Little Women (2019)

Director Greta Gerwig is clearly a member of the Fall Fan Club, and we love her for it. Autumn in New England, through Gerwig's lens, is a land of books, ink pens, books, costumes, books, fireplaces, books, feasts, books, and ever-turning leaves. And has there ever been a cozier spot than Jo's attic when autumn's chill descends? The end of this film has some of the fall-iest scenes (and clothes!) in recent memory, from Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie's (Timothée Chalamet) Wuthering Heights-style face off to Jo's deliciously ink-stained writing sesh in the attic. And if you can't get enough of Little Women, check out the 1994 version with Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon as Marmee.

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, from left: John Candy, Steve Martin, 1987, © Paramount/courtesy Ever
Credit: Everett Collection

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

The amount of snow-related mishaps in this Thanksgiving movie puts it into a Christmas category for many people, but as all Midwesterners know, a November snowstorm is not a far-fetched concept. Steve Martin plays a businessman who wants to go home for Thanksgiving before running into a wonderful (for us), frustrating (for him) obstacle — John Candy in his ultimate performance. Every challenge is thrown at the mismatched duo, who stumble forward in that terrifyingly vulnerable pre-cell/pre-internet/pre-historic time. Funny, touching, and filled with a certain late '80s malaise captured in a grainy, practically indie film way by the Bard of the Midwest: the late, great director John Hughes.

Meet Me in St. Louis
Credit: MGM

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Thought of as a Christmas classic (home of Judy Garland's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"), Meet Me in St. Louis has a secret Halloween heart. Yup, tucked inside Vincente Minnelli's jewelbox of a film is an October treat so delicious, we had to include it here. Divided into four "chapters" (one per season) makes it easy to skip ahead to the autumn portion of the film, though you won't understand why Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) almost gets run over by a train, or why Garland runs next door and starts slugging her crush in the face. 

But what you will see is the most jaw-droppingly cool Halloween sequence ever filmed, a pre-Goonies, kids-on-a-mission prank-fest, costume show, and history lesson wrapped up into one flour-dusted, fiery package with suspense to spare. We dare anyone of any age to watch this and not be fascinated (they used to do WHAT on Halloween?). This color-saturated turn-of-the-century fairy tale is so packed full of festive charm, we bet it becomes a regular in your autumn rotation.

ST. ELMO'S FIRE, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Mare Winningham, Rob Lowe, An
Credit: Getty

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

"You're not gonna believe how out of hand it's gonna be," proclaims peak '80s Rob Lowe as Billy Hicks. And while St. Elmo's Fire never quite lives up to that proclamation, it still holds a certain aggressively crazy charm. This is a caffeinated (or substitute another more, uh, '80s stimulant) trashy version of the "Autumn Romance" genre, and because it's a Joel Schumacher production, you are guaranteed at least one sweaty saxophone performance (in this case, helmed by Lowe's character). 

As subtle as Jules' (Demi Moore) Jeep crushing a pile of fall leaves, this film is full of tortured hookups, post-college apartment decor, and amazing '80s hairstyles, plus a few bizarre plots, including one with Emilio Estevez's Kirby Keager stalking a doctor (Andie MacDowell in cable knit) and even Jules' "suicide" attempt. In what might be the most glamorous, least believable cry for help ever put on film, Jules, in deep despair, decides to…open the window in her hot-pink apartment. Cue the panic/rescue scene! Critics be damned, this one's worth watching as a time capsule of '80s excess and as a Breakfast Club reunion (The Criminal and The Basket Case are Republicans! And dating!). In other words, it's a ridiculous guilty pleasure that goes perfectly with that candy you stole from your kids' Halloween stash.

THE SECRET GARDEN, from left, Andrew Knott, Heydon Prowse, Kate Maberly, 1993, ©Warner Bros./courtes
Credit: Everett Collection

The Secret Garden (1993)

Melancholy has rarely been as mesmerizing as in Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 classic children's book and it's subsequent films, which hinge on a pale, death-obsessed boy who hides in his bed and occasionally pulls back a velvet curtain to look at an oil painting of his dead mother. In other words, this is far from the sweet, old-fashioned kid stuff you might have mistaken it for. But if you're still not convinced, consider this — it's directed by Agnieszka Holland, famous for her work on Europa Europa, a dark R-rated WWII heartbreaker. 

The Secret Garden grabs your attention from the get-go, as you actually find yourself rooting for the (aggressively) unlikable female protagonist to transform (spoiler, she does), via the power of nature and friendship. Surprisingly weird, truly moving, and very much focused on the simple power of growing things, community, and dirt under your fingernails, this is one of those "G" movies that goes so far beyond "general" it's ridiculous. Note: there are many versions, but this 1993 staple is too good to miss.

Knives Out
Credit: Claire Folger/Lionsgate

Knives Out (2019)

Fall goes with mysteries like Chris Evans goes with cable knit, which is to say, perfectly. With its massive, Clue-level ensemble cast of colorful characters stuffed into a giant mansion on a misty, rain-soaked hill surrounded with harvest-toned foliage, Knives Out is a Fall Movie and proud of it. What is it about this season that puts us in the mood to solve crimes? The shorter days, the new pencils, the flickering lights, the quiet nights? Whatever the reason, we're in the mood to reflect, and this film checks all the cozy mystery boxes. 

The bare bones might sound simple — a famous writer is killed and his extended family comes forward with stories, lots of 'em — but it's the details of the thing that make it such a magical mystery, especially the stellar performances, including Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, and, with an accent more mysterious than the plot itself, Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Credit: Weinstein / TWC

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Set during football season, (just one of the many topics that drive the characters of this quirky romantic comedy wild) there are also inclusions of love, classic literature, sports betting, and something called "crabby snacks." Touchingly offbeat, Silver Linings Playbook is a rom-com that is actually romantic AND really comedic, with some verrry dark corners, too. In other words, it's a lot like life. 

For the heroes of this film, who continually make bad choices (until they make good ones), autumn in Pennsylvania doesn't mean apple picking and pumpkin carving, but instead, jogging in a garbage bag, ballroom dancing, dealing with mental health issues, and just generally flying off the handle. Each character suffers from an excess of passion:  Pat Solitano Jr.'s (Bradley Cooper) for his ex-wife (and self-improvement), Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) for her ex-husband (and dancing), and Pat Senior's (Robert De Niro) for the aforementioned Eagles. Entertaining as all get-out, these are characters you can't help but root for.

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