Christmastime is upon us! And what better way to celebrate than by watching ridiculous amounts of Christmas movies? Grab some baked goods and hot chocolate and settle in on the couch for a long winter’s movie marathon.
We have tons of holiday-related films to choose from, and most of them are at least good enough to be background noise while you write out Christmas cards or bake cookies, but not all of them are important enough to watch every year.
So which ones are the best? Which ones are worthy of annual Christmastime viewing? Let’s count ’em down! In no particular order:
1. Home Alone (1990)
A bratty young boy wakes up to find that his family accidentally left him at home when they rushed to the airport for a Christmas vacation to France. Oops! Of course all sorts of shenanigans ensue, including his setting a thousand booby traps to ward off two doofy bandits who are dead set on stealing his wealthy family’s goodies. It’s the movie that made Macaulay Culkin a household name, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s time to remedy that situation. Keep the change, ya filthy animal. (For extra fun, make it a triple feature with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and Home Alone 3.)
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Everyone loves a good old fashioned family Christmas, right? Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) sure does, and he’ll stop at nothing to make sure his family has the most epic Christmas season ever. There’s only one problem: he’s got the most dysfunctional family ever, and not even the best party planner could pull off a Griswold Family Christmas without a hitch. By the time Cousin Eddie shows up in his RV, any chance of holiday normalcy went down the tubes of Eddie’s on-the-road toilet and right down the sewer drain. Fun fact: the youngest Griswold kid, Russ, was played by Johnny Galecki, who now appears as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory.
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
The title of best Christmas movie of all time probably belongs to It’s a Wonderful Life, which has been making audiences cry tears of joy around the holidays for decades. It may be an old black-and-white offering, but it’s amazing just how relevant it still is today! The film tells the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a man whose dreams of an adventurous and glamorous life far away from his po-dunk hometown are constantly put on the back burner as he gives up his interests in order to help his friends and family. After something goes horribly wrong with his business, it’s the last straw for George. Luckily, his guardian angel comes to the rescue, showing him how much worse off the world would be if he had never been born. If you don’t laugh, gasp, and cry while watching this movie, you may not have a soul.
4. The Santa Clause (1994)
In The Santa Clause, Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a man whose life gets turned upside-down when he accidentally causes Santa Claus to fall off of his roof on Christmas Eve. When his son urges him to put on the suit, it sends him on a whirlwind adventure in which he becomes the new Santa Claus. You can’t go wrong with this holiday classic. You just can’t. (Skip the sequels, though. They pale by comparison.)
5. Elf (2003)
Elf is hands-down the best Christmas movie to be released since 2000. Starring Will Ferrell and a very blonde Zooey Deschanel, it tells the story of a human baby who gets adopted by an elf at the North Pole after he sneaks into Santa’s bag while he was visiting the orphanage on Christmas night. After he grows up, he discovers that he is human and sets off on a journey to New York City to meet his birth father. Will Ferrell’s movies tend to be a bit raunchy, but that isn’t the case with Elf! It’s perfectly acceptable viewing for children, and it’s fun for all ages. I highly recommend that you check it out if you haven’t already!
6. A Christmas Story (1983)
There’s a reason that A Christmas Story is played on television for 24 straight hours every Christmas Day: it’s an incredible Christmas movie that is beloved by just about everyone! In the movie, a boy named Ralphie meets up with all sorts of obstacles when he tells his family and schoolteacher about the one gift he wants to receive: a Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock and “this thing which tells time.”
7. Just Friends (2005)
Just Friends is a comedy movie starring Ryan Reynolds and Anna Faris that is set entirely within the Christmas season. When recording executive Chris Brander (Reynolds) winds up stranded in his home state of New Jersey around Christmastime with his latest music client/ex-girlfriend/crazy person Samantha James (Faris), he’s in for quite an experience. As it turns out, he hadn’t been home in 10 years after a humiliating experience at a high school graduation party, in which he expressed his love for his best friend, Jamie, and was mocked by the entire school and “friend-zoned” by Jamie, who said that she loved him “like a brother.” Upon his return, he runs into Jamie at the town bar and takes it upon himself to woo her with his newfound charm, good looks, and suave attitude. Of course things don’t go exactly as he had planned, and hilarity ensues when Samantha finds out about his plot.
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This classic TV special is an obvious must-watch around Christmastime! If you don’t know the story of Rudolph by now, here’s the skinny: Rudolph is a reindeer who, instead of getting blessed with a normal black nose like the rest of his peers and family members, was born with a bright red nose. When he’s mocked and mistreated for his silly-looking “deformity,” he runs away from home. Eventually, though, [SPOILER ALERT] it’s discovered that his red nose has its benefits, and he winds up saving Christmas when he joins Santa’s sleigh team and guides the rest of the crew through a major snowstorm on Christmas night.
9. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
One year after Rudolph took the TV world by storm, another classic Christmas TV special debuted: A Charlie Brown Christmas. This short film featured the entire Peanuts gang, including Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy, Linus, etc. As a depressed Charlie Brown struggles to discover the true meaning of Christmas, the gang works to put together a Christmas nativity play.
10. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
While we’re on the topic of classic Christmas specials, here’s another one that I’ve always loved: Frosty the Snowman! This one tells the story we all know from the Christmas tune, in which Frosty is a snowman that comes to life when some local kids put a magic hat on his head. Unfortunately, snowmen melt, and thus Frosty’s life is in danger, but not only because winter will eventually draw to a close; the magician who owns the hat that brought Frosty to life fights against the kids to get his hat back. If you don’t know how this one plays out, give the song a listen or watch the special! Spoiler alert: everyone lives happily ever after.
11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The last 1960s TV special on the list is How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which was of course based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name. Here’s a quick plot rundown: The Grinch hates Christmas, so he sets out to destroy the holiday for everyone in Whoville. After he steals all of the food, decorations, and presents and stows them away at his mountaintop lair, he’s surprised to hear the whos still celebrating. When he realizes that he didn’t ruin the holiday at all because it wasn’t about the material objects, he changes his ways and returns everything to the town just in time.
12. White Christmas (1954)
Another old school Christmas movie that everyone should see is White Christmas, which stars Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby as two army buddies who join forces after World War II to perform as a music duo. As a result, the film contains a lot of incredible music numbers, including “Sisters,” “Snow,” and “White Christmas.”
13. The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
I’m not generally a big fan of remakes, but in this case I make an exception! The Preacher’s Wife stars Denzel Washington as a guardian angel named Dudley who visits a preacher’s family around Christmastime as they are struggling with their church’s finances. As Dudley gets closer to the preacher’s wife, Julia (played by Whitney Houston), he begins to see the strained relationship between her and her husband. Though Dudley has the best of intentions, his efforts start to complicate the situation when he gets a bit too close to Julia and their relationship comes into question by her mother and husband.
14. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, 1994)
Some may disagree, but I enjoyed both versions of Miracle on 34th Street: the original 1947 film starring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood, and the 1994 version featuring Mara Wilson. Whichever film you choose to watch is up to you, but either way you’re in for a treat!
15. Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
I know, I know. A lot of people despise Ernest films, and more power to them. But they’re totally my thing, and I grew up with them. Therefore, I couldn’t live with myself if I left this Christmas movie off of the list! Know what I mean? In Ernest Saves Christmas, our favorite lovable goofball Ernest finds himself giving a taxi ride to the real Santa Claus, who is in town to find his replacement. As the story develops, we find that his chosen replacement isn’t so keen on the idea of becoming Santa (and he doesn’t really believe the story in the first place), so Ernest and Santa have to find a way to convince him to take the job before Christmas Day arrives.
16. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Yep, you read that right! Now we’re talking about the Jim Carrey-fronted modern remake of the classic TV special. Since you already know the basics, I’ll just say this: they added enough new material to this film to make it great in its own right. To really fill out your holiday season, make sure to fit both movies in to your viewing schedule!
17. Love Actually (2003)
The British romantic comedy film Love Actually follows the stories of many characters and their various related and unrelated story lines as Christmas approaches. It would take paragraphs for me to fully explain all of the relationships in the film, so you’ll just have to watch it for yourself to find out! The movie stars Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, and Rowan Atkinson.
18. The Holiday (2006)
This movie may not be on most people’s lists of the best Christmas movies, but mine wouldn’t be complete without it. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play Iris and Amanda, two women from completely different worlds who have very bad luck in the romantic department. When their lives seem to be a complete wreck, they arrange to swap homes for the Christmas season. Iris heads to California, where she meets an elderly man and also a film music composer named Miles (Jack Black) who help her get out of her rut. In the meantime, Amanda travels to England, where she falls into a steamy romance with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law). My favorite half of the movie: Iris and Miles. They’re simply adorable, and I can’t get enough of their friendship.
19. The Family Stone (2005)
I have to be honest; the first time I saw The Family Stone was in theaters, and I absolutely hated it. But I watched it for a second time this year and I have to say that I was dead wrong. It’s actually an excellent movie, albeit a tearjerker. The movie tells the story of a young woman, Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker), who goes to visit her boyfriend’s family over Christmas. His family isn’t so fond of her, and as you can imagine, things get a teensy bit dramatic as Christmas approaches. Make sure to have tissues handy for this one! My favorite characters: Rachel McAdams as Amy, Luke Wilson as Ben, and Diane Keaton as Sybil.
20. Gremlins (1984)
Looking for a Christmas movie that’s a bit out of the ordinary so you can mix things up this year? Gremlins is technically a Christmas movie! In the movie, a man gives an adorable little creature to his son as a Christmas gift with three rules: 1. Never expose it to light, 2. Never get it wet, and 3. Never feed it after midnight. But when those rules are accidentally broken, the creature turns out to be more than he can handle. After the gremlins multiply, they wreak havoc on the town, and he has to try to regain control of the situation before they destroy everything.
21. Die Hard (1984)
Did you know that Die Hard is actually a Christmas movie? It’s true. When John McClane (Bruce Willis) goes to a company Christmas party on Christmas Eve to work things out with his estranged wife, his plan is disrupted when terrorists take over the building and keep everyone inside as hostages. Then it’s up to McClane, who escaped their clutches, to save the day!
22. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
A movie that features a reindeer sweater counts as a Christmas movie, right? Let’s go with it! In Bridget Jones’s Diary, a 30-something single woman who is worried about her weight struggles to better her life and her relationships. Her efforts tend to fail horribly, but it’s entertaining to watch her try! Fun Fact: Renée Zellweger was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the movie.
23. Mean Girls (2004)
Okay, I admit it; this one isn’t really a Christmas movie. But it contains enough Christmasy goodness to make it mandatory viewing around the holidays! A teen girl (Lindsay Lohan) who was once homeschooled in Africa moves back to the states and begins attending public school, only to get sucked into the fast-paced and shallow world of American high school. Two key scenes qualify Mean Girls as appropriate for this list: 1. A student dressed as Santa Claus gives out candy canes to students (“Four for you, Glen Coco!”), and 2. The Plastics (the popular girls in school) perform a too-sexy-for-school rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock,” complete with skimpy Santa-themed costumes.
24. Love Story (1970)
In Love Story, a well-to-do Harvard boy named Oliver (Ryan O’Neil) meets and subsequently falls for Jenny (Ali MacGraw), a snarky Radcliffe graduate from a poor family. Their romance blossoms until they receive some news they never expected, and the tale comes to a close during the Christmas season. You’ll want tissues for this one, too.
25. To Grandmother’s House We Go (1992)
You can’t go wrong with the Olsen Twins! (Shhhh. They stopped working after Two of a Kind. You can’t convince me otherwise.) In this adorable TV movie, the dynamic duo go on an adventure to their grandmother’s house for Christmas when they overhear their mother saying that they are a “handful.” Fun Fact: Three of the twins’ Full House co-stars made cameo appearances, including Bob Saget, Lori Laughlin, and Candace Cameron.
There you have it! Now you’ve got a solid list of movies to check out before Christmas Day arrives. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen every Christmas movie ever made, and some of them I just haven’t seen in a very long time and don’t remember at all. One of your favorites probably falls into one of those categories, so I apologize if I somehow offended you by omitting it here.
What are your favorite Christmas movies?