Ranked: Must-Watch Christmas Movies For The Holidays
The holiday season surrounding Christmas really lends itself to some stellar movie watching time. It’s not a coincidence that many big releases come out the Friday before, or on Christmas day. However, when it comes to movie-watching over the holiday season, from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah to Christmas, Festivus, Kwanza and New Years, the best place to watch movies is at home, on the couch, snuggled up with a beverage of choice. Here are some great flicks to put on your list!
2001’s Serendipity is one of the most criminally underrated romantic films of the 2000’s let alone of the most underrated holiday films of all. The film stars John Cusack as Jonathan Trager and Kate Beckinsale as Sara Thomas, two strangers who meet while Christmas shopping for their significant others. Although the film spans several years and changes in the two characters’ lives, the whole thing begins and ends at Christmas, making it a holiday must-watch.
29. Jack Frost
1998’s Jack Frost is an emotional roller-coaster and stars Michael Keaton as Jack Frost, who passes away in a snowy car crash but is reincarnated through a snowman built by his son, Charlie who is mourning the loss of his father. Although a great movie, it is also a tough one, and there are many other more heartwarming holiday movies out there to watch.
28. The Christmas Chronicles
Any movie that stars Kurt Russell as Santa Clause is one that deserves a place in the regular rotation of go-to Christmas movies and that is what Netflix’s 2018 film The Christmas Chronicles delivered. With so many of the usual films being watching again and again, it is nice to have something new that holds up the magic of Christmas along with an important journey along the way.
27. Trading Places
No movie can go wrong with Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis, especially when it is set at Christmas! The 1983 comedy Trading Places is a modern take on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, and is an awesome watch anytime of the year but especially during the holidays.
26. The Santa Clause 2
The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen is ranked much higher than the sequel, but The Santa Clause 2 still deserves a spot on this list! Fans had to wait over 10 years for the sequel which brought back Tim Allen as Santa Clause/Scott Calvin, Eric Loyd as Charlie, Wendy Crewson as Laura, Judge Reinhold as Dr. Neal Miller and David Krumholtz as Bernard, but it was worth the wait, unlike the third movie which the franchise could have done without.
25. The Nightmare Before Christmas
There always seems to be quite a bit of debate over whether or not Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas film or a Halloween one, but the good news is you can start watching it on October 31st and continue right through November and December. For those who don’t love traditional Christmas films, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a nice way to change things up while staying in the spirit.
24. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas
Due to how incredibly iconic Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is, its Christmas sequel, 1997’s Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, often gets overlooked which is a shame. The events of Belle and Beast’s first Christmas together are told by Mrs. Potts reminiscing on how their relationship grew after Beast saved Belle from the wolves in the first movie. With some new characters, ice skating and Tim Curry as the new villain Forte, the Christmas film is definitely one worth watching every holiday season.
23. Die Hard
Probably one of the most debated “Christmas films” of all-time is the iconic 1988 Bruce Willis film Die Hard. This film is perfect for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the love-filled romances that are often on at Christmas time, and would rather watch Detective John McClane save his wife’s office building who are taken hostage during their Christmas party.
22. It’s A Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life is often categorized as a Christmas film, because it resounds with Christmas spirit as the final credits roll, but it is a great film to watch at any point of the calendar year. The film chronicles George Bailey, a beloved member of Bedford Falls community. George is portrayed by the late Jimmy Stewart. The screen legend takes the audience on a ride in this parable about finding the wonder in, and appreciation for life. It has some elements of Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, and it has influenced the writing of scripts like Forrest Gump. It’s a Wonderful Life is recognized as one of the greatest stories ever told for screen. For the right person, at the right time, it can be a life-changing experience. It’s certainly a great one to watch the week leading up to Christmas.
21. While You Were Sleeping
Sandra Bullock has had so many fantastic films in her career, it is difficult to remember the early years which included 1995’s romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping. On Christmas Day, Lucy (Bullock) saves her secret crush Peter Callaghan after he is pushed on to the L train tracks, and is quickly mistaken for his fiancee, setting off a chain of events which brings Lucy incredibly close to Peter’s family while he is in a coma. With a lot of new Christmas films coming every year, take time to take a look back at some of the best from year’s past which includes While You Were Sleeping.
20. A Charlie Brown Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas is the perfect addition to anyone’s roster of holiday films because it works for the whole family! From those who enjoy the nostalgia of the timeless 1965 classic to those first seeing the cartoon, the 30 min. short film never gets old or less entertaining!
19. Jingle All the Way
Many choose to hate on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1996’s holiday film Jingle All the Way, but for many it has become a part of the core list of must-watch holiday movies. The acting might not be spectacular, but the humor is amazing, and it is always fun to take a break from the classics with a different holiday movie, especially when Arnold Schwarzenegger is the star.
18. A Christmas Prince Trilogy
Netflix found a definite hit with 2017’s A Christmas Prince which was followed up by 2018’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding and 2019’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby. The trilogy is heartwarming, cheesy, romantic and light, which is just about everything that audiences love about Christmas films, plus each film has its own mystery that needs to be solved adding just the right amount of intrigue.
17. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie
Everyone knows about the Rankin/Bass stop-motion Rudolph Christmas classic, but one that often gets overlooked is the 1998 animated film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie. The 92 minute film stars John Goodman as Santa Claus, Bob Newhart as Leonard the polar bear, Whoopi Goldberg as Stormella, Kathleen Barr as Rudolph, and Debbie Reynolds offering the voices of Mitzi, Mrs. Claus and Mrs. Prancer. Aside from the star-studded voice cast, the movie offers up an exciting and thrilling journey for Rudolph as he needs to defeat Stormella to save Christmas!
16. Polar Express
There was no better way than to bring the classic Christmas children’s book The Polar Express to life than with Tom Hanks leading the way. The 2004 film is something that will be enjoyed by Christmas lovers of all ages and is a true visual masterpiece as the story leaps from the pages to the screen.
Elf has become a Christmas classic. And it is laden with Christmas trivia. There are elements of the story that are very Miracle on 34th Street, and there are actors in the mix who have been part of even bigger Christmas movies. Aside from being one of Will Farrell’s top three, the film was directed by Jon Favreau and featured one of his regular collaborators, Peter Billingsley–who often produces for Jon–as Ming Ming the elf. Peter is none other than the man who was once the boy who played Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Elf was also a film that was pitched some 10 years earlier, with the idea that Jim Carrey would star as Buddy. We love Jim, but we’re glad this one hit the back burner–it’s about as close to perfection as a holiday film can get. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”
14. Original Rudolph
Rankin/Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is really only a TV special but has become one of the most important parts of television around Christmastime. The 1964 film features a Santa that is actually quite less than jolly and really pretty mean to everyone from his reindeer to his elves, but the stop-motion film is one of the top classics all the same, and the holidays are not the same without watching it at least once.
13. How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Ron Howard knocked this one out of the park. It didn’t hurt having Jim Carrey lead an all-star cast in Whoville. And how about the once adorable, and now quite sultry Gossip Girl star, Taylor Momsen as Cindy Lou Who? For those who grew up before this film was released (2000) it was a dream to imagine more of a Whoville world than what was offered in the 25 minutes of an animated television special in 1966 and passed down for the next couple of generations. Those imaginings came to fruition with the release of this film, which holds up splendidly 15 years later. Jim Carrey is at his best, and he pushes the boundaries in ways only he can–or is consistently allowed to by some of the world’s greatest filmmakers. This comedy of gigantic sentiment is perfect for viewing on Christmas Eve.
12. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
It is incredibly hard for any sequel to live up to the original, especially one as iconic as Home Alone, but Home Alone 2: Lost in New York has cemented its own place in Christmas movie history. It is hard to believe the McCallister’s would ever let Kevin out of their sight again, but the end result was another incredible movie of Kevin vs. The Wet Bandits, with a lot of Christmas heart at the center of it all. The holidays can’t pass without taking in both Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
11. The Holiday
There’s nothing like a film offering hope for a better tomorrow. The Holiday (2006) is just that, and stars a stellar cast: Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and for you real film buffs, the legendary Eli Wallach. The plot is pretty simple. Two women from different countries are both experiencing problems in their love lives, so they decide to swap houses and get away from everything familiar. It begins as a comedy of errors, then slides into a quaint little romantic comedy. It’s always nice to see Jack Black show his versatility and flexibility as an actor. He and Kate Winslet are dynamite opposite one another. This is a great one if you’re missing someone special during the holiday season, or if you’re wishing you had that someone special, and need some motivation to get out of the rut. Or… laughs. It’s also good for laughs.
10. White Christmas
Jumping ahead a few years, the 1954 release of White Christmas provided for more Christmas icons than anyone might have originally expected. For anyone who has ever enjoyed Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” it gave birth to an entire feature film full of Christmas. It was a show within a show, lots of romance, and four of the coolest people to ever grace the screen in the same film: Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. Yes, this is the very film and the very Danny Kaye that is referenced when Clark W. Griswold loses his mind in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. And yes, this film is full of tap dancing, as well as song, jubilation, comedy, a dash of drama and pretty much Christmas perfection for two hours. And yes, we’ll state it, and yes, George would agree with it: Rosemary is forever the coolest of the Clooney clan.
9. Frosty The Snowman
Rankin/Bass once again added to the magic of Christmas which has now spanned more than five decades when it added 1969’s Frosty the Snowman as another Christmas special. Jackie Vernon as Frosty has become a character that kids have loved no matter how old the movie gets, and is an absolute must-watch every holiday season.
8. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Any version of A Christmas Carol is a great addition to a holiday watchlist, but you are missing out if The Muppet Christmas Carol isn’t already one of your favorite Christmas movies! The 1992 film stars Michael Caine as the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge as the muppet and real-world are combined to tell the classic Christmas ghost story. From wonderful musicals to beloved characters, it is a truly magic film, and since Belle and Ebenezer’s heartbreaking “When Love is Gone” is often cut from TV versions of the film, it is most definitely worth getting your own copy or streaming the full version!
7. Miracle On 34th Street
Miracle on 34th Street is such classic storytelling, it has been remade twice since the original 1947 release, but we’re addressing the original, and the only one that needs to be viewed during the holiday season. This is the film that took the popularity of Macy’s Department Store and created something of a world brand. For those who have seen Miracle On 34th Street, it offers a little bit of everything. So much so, the execs at Fox really struggled to advertise it for its original release. It was quite unlike anything that had been made before it. The story features a department store Santa Claus, named Kris Kringle, of course, who claims to be the real Santa Claus. This frustrates his supervisor to no end, as Kris influences her daughter to believe in magical, inexplicable things. It’s almost 70 years old, and still holds up!
6. The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause was a pleasant surprise in the mid-1990s. And it is clause with an “e,” because Tim Allen entered into an unknown agreement to become Santa Claus. The film was released in 1994, and it still holds up wonderfully. Some of the VFX are a bit dated, but there aren’t so many that it’s distracting. And if you have a room full of kids, or really want to remember being a kid, this is the film to pop in somewhere between December 21st and 24th. What audiences will enjoy is Tim Allen at his best, and a rather witty script falling into the Christmas movie genre. The rest of the cast is made up of less recognizable actors, so there’s no risk of pigeonholing anyone on screen–this really helps for holiday movies. How popular was the film? It spawned two sequels over a 12 year period.
5. Love Actually
Love Actually is an all-around Christmas favorite. The unmistakable voice of Hugh Grant leads into this contemporary, holiday fairy tale. It is packed full of so many British (and a few American) talents, it’s a can’t miss during the holidays. Yes, it’s seriously contrived at times, but it is easily forgiven because the sentiment is right on point. It is one of those feel-good holiday flicks that was a sleeper hit in theaters in 2003, released just before Thanksgiving and gaining momentum up to and through the holiday season. The most enjoyable thing about Love Actually may actually be pre-The Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln, as the unabashedly, hopeless romantic–clean shaven, and barely recognizable. Or maybe it’s Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit) as a stand-in on a porn set. The rest of the cast is just as stacked: A-lister after A-lister, all doing what they do!
4. Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas
The Christmas season cannot pass by without watching the original 1966 version of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! While the Grinch is a little scarier in this classic, it is perfect for young kids and those who are just young at heart with a watching time of only 26 minutes.
3. A Christmas Story
This film could easily be at the top of any list for Christmas movies, and at some point, it certainly may be. It was made in 1983, based on the novel, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, and it served as an odd glimpse into the late 1930s/early 1940s in a way a film never had before. It stands as a great little period piece, as well as one of the finest Christmas classics to ever grace the silver or small screen. The film features the adventures and misadventures of Ralphie Parker, as well as the Parker family, as they prepare for the majesty of the Christmas season. This film has become one of the most quotable films of all-time and has introduced new generations to terms like triple-dog dares. This film hits on so many levels. It is truly timeless.
2. Home Alone
“Kevin!” We offered a retrospective on the fine members of this cast, and now we can honor the film. Home Alone was a cultural phenomenon spawning a brand. There were four films total…two worth watching…only one worth watching annually. John Hughes put together a guaranteed winner with this screenplay, handing the reins to Chris Columbus for direction. There were elements of Planes, Trains and Automobiles in this script, but dialed back from the “R” rating to accommodate the whole family. The antics in Home Alone can wear a little thin if watched too often, but the greatest thing about this film is watching with someone who is watching it for the very first time. A niece, nephew, best friend, the parental units–the season shouldn’t pass without a viewing. The comedy and sentiment are perfectly balanced–and Hughes even manages to sneak some morality into the mix.
1. Christmas Vacation
It’s hard to imagine the subculture of American entertainment without the Griswold family. What if there had never been a Clark W. Griswold Jr? We can’t even imagine. This film is as necessary at Christmastime as the trim on the tree. It is part of the holiday fabric in America. We’ll offer another nod to John Hughes, who wrote this cult classic. The craziest thing about this film? It only received a lukewarm response in 1989. Roger Ebert was boring in his review, having no foresight as to what it might become. That’s the genius of the late John Hughes. He wrote with such universality, his scripts could be placed in any time and place, and still resonate. Christmas Vacation is another perfect example. And the sentimental scene between Clark and his dad? So good.