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Curling up with a cup of eggnog, some sweets, and a great Christmas movie is one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays. And thankfully, there are some pretty great movies with Christmas cheer.
But what makes a Christmas movie? The topic is a hotly debated one, but setting personal choice aside, we believe a Christmas movie promotes togetherness with one’s family. After that, the actual content of the movie could be anything, so long as you’re enjoying it with the people you love. For some, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. For others, they can’t call it a successful holiday season without running through all eight of the Harry Potter films. And for others still, no Christmas is complete without The Santa Clause.
Regardless of your preference, you can’t find fault with our list below. From scary movies to family-friendly movies to some black and white classics, here are our top Christmas movies of all time.
Happiest Season (2020)
Going home for the holidays can be difficult and that’s definitely the case for the closeted Harper (Mackenzie Davis), the daughter of a politician who is running for mayor. Harper decides that after living with her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) for a year, it’s time to come out to her parents. A reluctant Abby, who has skipped Christmas since losing both her parents, agrees to celebrate the holidays but is stunned when she finds out that Harper is not as out as she previously claimed and begins to reconsider whether she wants to propose. Abby finds solace in her bestie (Dan Levy) and Harper’s ex-girlfriend (Aubrey Plaza), while Harper must decide how long she’s willing to lie to her family about who she is and who she loves. The sweet Christmas movie boasts an impressive cast of supporting characters and delivers a sweet message about love and acceptance, which is important during the holidays and year-round.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
For a guy who gets all the credit with bringing toys to girls and boys around the world every year, Santa Claus sure does require a lot of help. In The Christmas Chronicles, two children are mourning the loss of their father when they devise a plan to catch Santa (a very bearded and cool Kurt Russell) on Christmas eve in a bid to prove he’s real. The children’s plan works and they end up sneaking into Santa’s sleigh, which has a crash landing. With millions of toys waiting to be delivered and the Christmas spirit dwindling, the children must help Santa fix his sleigh and complete his one night of work per year. Really, Santa has the best gig. A second Christmas Chronicles is also available on Netflix and includes the person who does the heaviest lifting on December 24 — Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn).
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
For a Christmas movie that is both a visual and musical delight, your holidays should include a screening of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. The imaginative 2020 film stars Forest Whitaker as Jeronicus Jangle, a brilliant toymaker who falls on hard times when his former friend and apprentice Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) steals his inventions. With the help of his granddaughter, Jeronicus tries to regain his passion for toy making before he loses his beloved store. Jingle Jangle also features Hugh Bonneville, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Ricky Martin, and music by John Legend. Like we said, a delight for the ears and eyes.
Being the only single person at your family or friend function around the holidays can be tiresome, which is why Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) take a note from Sloane’s Aunt Susan (the always hilarious Kristin Chenoweth) and become each other’s ‘holidate.’ The friends-with-no-benefits arrangement works for the first few holidays, but as the pair near Christmas, the feelings start a-catching. Mistletoe, anyone?
Last Christmas (2019)
Admittedly, Last Christmas didn’t have the same success as the Wham! song that inspired actor Emma Thompson to pen the holiday film, but it has a great cast and puts an interesting twist on the typical Christmas romance film. Kate (Emilia Clarke) works as an Elf all year in a Christmas shop and is stuck in a rut. Her future finally seems a little bit brighter when she meets the charming Tom (Henry Golding), but all that glistens isn’t gold, even on December 25.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Most of us know the story of Charles Dicken’s famous A Christmas Carol, but what we don’t know is how the tale of Scrooge came to be. The story behind the story comes to life in 2017’s The Man Who Invented Christmas, which stars Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as the original Scrooge, who came to life through the extraordinary imagination of one of the most celebrated authors of all time.
Operation Christmas Drop (2020)
Fans of Hallmark holiday films, Netflix has heard your demands for more Christmas romance and delivered. The predictable but sweet Operation Christmas Drop follows Congressional Aide Erica (Kat Dennings) as she’s sent to investigate a military base that is using government equipment to drop off toys, as well as food and medicine to people living in remote islands. The operation is headed by Captain Andrew Jantz (Alexander Ludwig), who must convince Erica and her bosses that the mission is worth saving. They’re both ridiculously good-looking, so you know, a Hallmark-adjacent ending takes place.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
For those who are looking for a non-traditional Christmas movie, Anna and the Apocalypse checks all the boxes. A bloody fun romp, the musical horror film stars Anna (Ella Hunt) as a teen who finds herself as one of the few people who haven’t been turned into a zombie on Christmas eve. You know, that old story. The hilarious and heartfelt film has all the blood and gore horror fans will love while also packing some holiday magic. Think Black Christmas, but more singing and less tension.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
What do parents do when their kids aren’t around for Christmas anymore? In the case of Christmas with the Kranks, Luther (Tim Allen) and Nora Krank (Jamie Lee Curtis) try to ditch the whole thing and go on a cruise. But as Scrooge learned a long time ago, avoiding the infectious Christmas spirit is harder than it sounds…
Christmas horror-comedy might raise some eyebrows, but director Michael Dougherty somehow made it work with Krampus. The movie brings to life Krampus, a European folklore monster who comes out at Christmas time to punish naughty children. The beast comes after the Engel family, who’s dysfunction has crushed the Christmas spirit — and angered Krampus. In a fight that slides between funny and genuinely scary, the family bonds over some good old-fashioned demon fighting.
The Best Man Holiday (2013)
The Best Man Holiday proves that a good Christmas movie doesn’t have to be about dads in sweaters and Christmas cheer. The movie begins when a group of college friends getting together for the first time in a while, but instead of a nice reunion, old rivalries and steamy romances spark back up again.
Randall Peltzer just wants to get the perfect Christmas gift for his son Billy. He thinks he’s found it in Chinatown when he comes across a store that sells mogwais, small furry creatures. But the shopkeeper gives Randall a stern warning: don’t expose the mogwais to bright lights or water, and don’t feed it after midnight. Of course, these rules are broken, all hell breaks loose, and the town’s Christmas Eve becomes a nightmare.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Dr. Seuss’ iconic Christmas story gets the live-action treatment in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. An over-the-top performance by Jim Carrey, who plays the Grinch, colorful sets, and a wild delivery has made the movie somewhat divisive, but we think it belongs on any Christmas movie list.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The first screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is still one of the best Christmas movies around (although it’s technically a 25 minute TV special). The iconic story is made even better with Dr. Seuss-esque animation (that still looks great over 50 years later) and an incredible score. Plus, Boris Karloff’s baritone voice as the narrator and the Grinch is enough to keep you watching (or, well, listening) the whole time.
The Night Before (2015)
Stoners celebrate Christmas as well, and you can probably guess who made the movie for stoners to watch around Christmas time: Seth Rogen. In The Night Before, three old friends meet up to celebrate Christmas in their own naughty-list way, as they do every year. But looming fatherhood for one member means this will be their last time, so the boys decide to up the ante and go out with a bang by finding the mythical Nutcracka Ball in New York. The wild ride that ensues is sure to make anyone laugh (stoned or not) and makes a refreshing watch after Christmas classics.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
We all know Dickens’ story of grumpy Ebenezer Scrooge and his hard-working assistant Bob Cratchit, but The Muppet Christmas Carol puts a fresh, funny twist on the classic tale. It includes Kermit as Cratchit, Michael Caine as the stingy Scrooge, and other muppets such as Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear.
The Polar Express (2004)
As a young boy trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve, Billy isn’t sure he believes in Santa. Luckily, the Polar Express arrives outside his door and whisks him away to the North Pole. While on the magical train, Billy meets other skeptical children and is returned on Christmas morning with a different outlook.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa’s most famous reindeer was brought to the screen in 1964 with the stop-motion classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The movie follows Rudolph’s origin as a young fawn who is mocked and rejected for his peculiar glowing red nose. We all know how the story ends, but it’s still a worthwhile watch (just 55 minutes long) for the whole family during the holidays.
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Over 80 years ago, comedy pioneers Laurel and Hardy brought serious laughs to Christmas time with Babes in Toyland. The duo play Stannie and Ollie, two toy-makers for Santa who rent rooms in Mother Peep’s shoe. But when Mother Peep falls on tough times with the bank, Stannie and Ollie must help save her daughter, Little Bo-Peep, from Silas Barnaby. It’s the oldest movie on our list, but you can’t call yourself a true Christmas film aficionado without seeing it.
Trading Places (1983)
We’re taking some liberty by calling Trading Places a Christmas movie, but the Eddie Murphy-starring comedy deserves it. In a bulletproof premise with clear social commentary, Financial top-dogs Mortimer and Randolph Duke make a bet that hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) could out-perform the Dukes’ obnoxiously WASP-ish employee, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). Valentine ends up doing well, but once he and Winthorpe discover the nasty game, they plot to get back at the Dukes.
We all know Dickenson’s classic story of Scrooge and the three ghosts of Christmas. There have been several adaptations, but the 1951 film holds up as one of the best and the truest to Dickenson’s tale. Unlike most of the newer adaptations, this one is set in Dickenson’s Victorian era and features a fantastic performance from Alastair Sim as the crotchety Scrooge.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Scott’s (Tim Allen) Christmas Eve goes awry when he accidentally kills a big fat man dressed as Santa. But things get really crazy when he and his son are suddenly in the North Pole, where Scott is told he has to become Santa before next year. Scott dismisses it as a dream, but when he starts to gain weight and grow a white beard, he realizes it might have been real. If you’re looking for The Santa Clause, you can find it on Disney+.
Scrooged is another great twist on Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a successful TV executive who has lost the love of his life due to being a certified curmudgeon. The familiar story of A Christmas Carol then unfolds, but thanks to a darkly comedic performance from Murray and a modern setting, the story is fresh and definitely worth a watch around Christmas time.
Die Hard (1988)
An endless stream of sappy Christmas movies about love, gift-giving, and kindness can get boring. Those of us in dire need of some bad-to-the-bone action have Die Hard as a palette cleanser. The action movie stars Bruce Willis in his most iconic role, policeman John McClane, as he figures out how to stop a group of terrorists who are holding an entire high-rise hostage — including John’s wife and two daughters.
Bad Santa (2003)
Another great Christmas movie for adults is Bad Santa, which follows Santa Claus impersonator Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) as they knock off department stores on Christmas Eve. But this time around, Willies’ rampant alcoholism and bad decisions are causing him to deteriorate. His only hope? A troubled kid who brings out his good side.
Home Alone (1990)
When his family forgets him on their trip to Paris, Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is stoked to have the house to himself. However, he soon finds himself with a daunting job: protecting his family’s house from two bumbling criminals (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern), who are trying to rob the place.
Home Alone 2 (1992)
One year after Kevin’s parents forgot him during their vacation in Home Alone, Kevin accidentally gets on a different plane than the rest of his family in Home Alone 2. He ends up in New York (while his family is in Florida), where he cons his way into the Plaza Hotel, runs into Donald Trump and realizes that his old enemies, Harry and Marv, are in town for some thieving. They’re plotting to rip off an old man’s toy store, so Kevin plans to stop them before Christmas.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year… but holiday family gatherings might say otherwise. In Christmas Vacation, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is determined to give his family a perfect Christmas, but he encounters roadblocks at every turn, including a hick cousin Eddie, impossible decorations and a missing holiday bonus. The resulting hilarity is equal in side-splitting abilities as the other National Lampoon movies, making it an essential Christmas time family watch.
A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story is unlike any other holiday movie. It’s set squarely in real life (no Christmas magic to be found), telling the story of Ralphie Parker, a boy who just wants Santa to bring him a Red Ryder BB. But in the quest to acquire his weapon, Ralphie must wade through nightmarish trips to the mall Santa, bullying and prophecies of shooting out an eye. It’s hilarious and painfully honest, but ultimately lovable as a Holiday classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Few movies belong to not one but two separate holidays, and only one is truly great: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Director Tim Burton’s stop-motion Christmas-Halloween mash-up is almost as wacky as it is fantastic. The film follows Jack Skellington, local celebrity and Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, as he accidentally finds his way to Christmastown. Stricken by the loveliness of Christmas, Jack schemes to replace Santa Claus — and sings some incredible original songs by Danny Elfman along the way.
White Christmas (1954)
White Christmas is a classic musical with the kind of good ol’ fashioned heart that puts a smile on your face and maybe a tear in your eye (admit it). The all-star cast includes Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt), who run into the boys’ commander from WWII, Gen. Waverly (Dean Jagger). Sadly, the General’s little inn has come into hard times, so the foursome devise a Christmas miracle to put him back in business.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It doesn’t get much sweeter than the Emmy-winning A Charlie Brown Christmas. Even if you’ve seen it every year since you were born, it’s still worth throwing on to set the mood for Christmas. A lovable and sweet film with a good heart, this movie is great family film for the holidays.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In Miracle on 34th Street, a new Macy’s Santa who calls himself Kris Kringle becomes a hit by filling everyone (except his boss) with Christmas spirit. But when he claims to be the real Santa — not just a mall actor — he’s put on trial for mental health, forcing everyone to ask themselves: do you believe in Santa Claus?
Love Actually (2003)
Although it’s become slightly controversial among the too-online crowd in recent years, this is still a fun movie to watch in the background on Christmas. Few movies make you feel as warm and fuzzy as Love Actually. It’s like cookies, eggnog and the perfect holiday date all rolled into one great film. The movie follows nine intertwining love stories with characters ranging from handsome new prime minister David (Hugh Grant) to rock and roll legend Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) to stand-ins for movie sex scenes. This ambitious ensemble story is pulled off with style thanks to a huge serving of laughs, plus a happy ending that’s sure to make you excited about seeing loved ones for Christmas.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s A Wonderful Life, another Christmas classic, follows George Bailey who has decided to jump off a bridge on Christmas. But when an angel shows him how much he matters to the people around him, he begins to rethink his decision to end it all.
Buddy the elf (Will Ferrell) has always felt like he doesn’t fit in with the other elves (literally — he’s twice their size), because unbeknownst to him, he’s actually a human who was accidentally brought to the North Pole by Santa. So Buddy sets out to New York City — in full elf gear — to find his real dad. This turns out to be Walter Hobbs (James Caan), a businessman with no Christmas cheer.