Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer became an instant classic soon after its release. This animated film tells the tale of a reindeer who doesn’t seem to fit in with all of the other reindeer in the North Pole. We all know how this story ends, but it doesn’t make watching Rudolph save Christmas a tad less meaningful.
However, there is something to be said about Santa's abhorrent behavior in this film. The dude bullies Rudolph along with the other reindeer and doesn't care about him at all until the end of the film where he finally has a use for him. Good thing Christmas is about giving rather than just receiving, because Rudolph doesn't get any respect until they exploit him.
A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In this heartfelt tale, an old man playing Santa Claus in the Macy’s Christmas Day parade claims to be the real Santa. He is institutionalized because people question his sanity. As anyone with a heart would, a lawyer steps up to defend him. This movie restores our hope that good people still exist in the world!
The end of the movie begs the question as to whether Kris Kringle is in fact the real Santa Claus. Of course, the answer is that it doesn't really matter. What matters is that he's not hurting anyone by living every day in the Christmas spirit and that he gives hope to a child in need of something to believe.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
What’s more classic than a Charlie Brown Christmas? This movie gives us plenty of laughs and tears as Charlie battles depression and bullying to find the true meaning of Christmas. It’s certainly one of the best animated Christmas films of all time and it will bring you to tears at the end.
Probably one of the most iconic images from this cartoon is Charlie Brown's Christmas tree which is basically a twig with a bulb on it. Charlie Brown chose that tree out of the sea of aluminum trees because it was the only tree that was real and captured the true meaning of Christmas.
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
In this classic tale, a magic hat brings Frosty the Snowman to life until the evil professor Hinkle attempts to take the hat back. Frosty’s friends have to get him away from Hinkle and to the North Pole. This is the perfect feel-good film that will make you want to go out and build a snowman!
However, it also has a touch of sadness, because you know that Frosty has to go to the North Pole and that the Christmas snows will melt, and all good things come to an end. And although Frosty may come back in time, sometimes things lose their magic when you get older. Eventually, that little girl is going to be 30 and not talking to a snowman anymore. Just saying.
A Christmas Story (1983)
This classic Christmas tale plays to the underdog and the child in all of us. As we watch little Ralphie fend off bullies, argue with his dad, and yearn for his dream Christmas gift (a Red Ryder BB gun), we all remember how amazing and joyous Christmas time was as a child.
This movie has some funny moments sprinkled throughout and for people that grew up with the movie, it really captures the holiday season. It's a good movie to watch while sitting by the fireplace with some warm cider or a glass of eggnog. And then you watch it again next year... or not.
In this movie, a gadget salesman picks up a mogwai as a special gift for his son, but he doesn’t realize how destructive this small gift can be. After he breaks some of the rules the seller set forth, more gremlins appear and set out to destroy the town on Christmas Eve. It’s the perfect amount of funny, scary, and heartwarming!
Gremlins is a classic '80s film full of funny moments, scary moments and a nice break from all the warm and fuzzy feeling movies of the holidays. It would be a bit difficult for anyone who wasn't born in the '80s to appreciate this movie but it's certainly worth a try to share it with posterity.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those movies that no matter how old it gets, it still remains relatable and inspiring to all of us. An angel shows a down-on-his-luck businessman what the world would have been like had he never existed. Be prepared for all the feels when you watch this flick.
It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time, and many families watch it every year at Christmastime. It’s the perfect balance between bittersweet and optimistic, and the story resonates throughout the decades. And there's an important message about no man being a failure who has friends. Looking at you Mr. Potter, ahem.
Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard isn’t quite as mushy and uplifting as most other Christmas movies, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t excellent! This action-packed movie takes place at an office Christmas party that is soon attacked by a gang of terrorists. If you need some Christmas-themed badassery in your life, this is the movie to watch!
As for the debate whether it is actually a Christmas movie, I will say this: John McClane is attending his wife's office Christmas party. Without the party, he has no reason to be there. The movie has themes of love and friendship - also Christmas - and helping someone in their time of need when nobody else will. Alan Rickman is pretty much the Grinch in that movie because he's ruining the office party. It all makes sense if you don't think about it.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
The Griswolds are certainly one of our all-time favorite Christmas movie families, so it’s always fun to go down memory lane and experience a Christmas gone awry. We can all relate to the crazy relatives and mean bosses, but this movie shows us that in spite of all of those things, family and love will always prevail.
You'll also learn from this story too. Like, don't go out in the woods to cut down a random tree when you should buy it from a tree farm. That tree is probably covered in sap and has squirrels in it. Also, if you have a brother you don't like, never tell them where you live and they won't find you and show up without asking.
Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone is great to watch year-round, but it’s best when it’s getting cold outside and you can snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa and laugh at Kevin McCallister’s antics. We all love rooting for the little guy, especially when he’s clever enough to outwit two adult robbers!
Home Alone definitely isn't the best-made holiday movie ever and it's really only entertaining for kids and anyone that grew up with the movie. But what makes it the best is how memorable it was at the time and how even with a terrible sequel, people still want to watch this one.
Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
This is one of the best feature film adaptations of a Dr. Seuss book. Jim Carrey’s performance as the Grinch was incredible, and he truly steals the show in this film, no pun intended. Carrey was a perfect choice for a character as intense and over-the-top as the Grinch from the classic children's story.
Much of the film alludes to the classic cartoon version. It even includes the classic song from that cartoon. The rest of the film takes some liberties with the story which is understandable because it's a fairly short story getting stretched out into a live-action feature-length film. Still pretty good though!
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Talk about a film that’s quintessentially Christmas. This classic sees two rival fathers pitted against one another, each trying desperately to buy a Turbo-Man action figure for their sons. Not only that, but those fathers are portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad! What’s not to like? Okay, it's not for everyone, but still!
Upon the film's release, Jingle All the Way was not well-received by critics nor audiences - and none of that has changed, for the most part. However, the film does have a fairly strong cult following, particularly among Arnold Schwarzenegger fans. Now it's a Christmas classic and the subject of many memes.
The Polar Express (2004)
This ambitious fantasy film was the first feature film to be completely digital motion capture. It even earned a spot in the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records for it. Because the film utilized this technology, Tom Hanks was able to play six different characters in this retelling of the classic children’s book of the same name.
Most films starring Hanks are well-acted, but a film with six Tom Hanks—how could it not be a classic? We have to say though, that at first, the hyper-realistic CGI models come off as somewhat creepy. They look human and act human but something about them is off just enough that it's uncomfortable. But once you get past that, you can really enjoy the movie.
This film worked its way firmly into the Christmas canon in the early 2000s. Will Ferrell’s performance as Santa’s overgrown helper is incredibly charming and what makes the entire film work. It’s no surprise that now this film airs each Christmas season, alongside classics that have been airing for decades. The story also spawned a Broadway musical and a 2014 stop-motion TV special.
If there is a quintessential holiday movie for the 21st century, Elf is that movie. It has a wonderful blend of modern absurdist comedy, heartwarming moments, some great singing from Zooey Deschanel and James Caan. What more do you need? Spaghetti with maple syrup and marshmallows? Well, the movie has that too, for real.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
No holiday film list would be complete without this entry. Few films (possibly none) can claim to be classic Christmas films AND classic Halloween films. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is the exception. This highly original, stop-motion classic was released to positive reviews and has since garnered even more acclaim.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was fairly popular upon its release but it gained a huge cult following afterward, enough that Hot Topic stores around the country were filled with Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise and the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland was transformed into a ride commemorating the movie and is changed again every year starting at Halloweentime.
The Nutcracker (1993)
If you’re looking for a more traditional Christmas story, look no further. This musical, also known as George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, follows the traditional storyline in the original, Russian, two-act ballet by Tchaikovsky. If you love the classic musical, you will likely appreciate this movie as well.
The film stars most notably stars Macaulay Culkin who was just about the most famous kid in the '90s. Even so, the movie was a box office failure, only earning $2 million. The film was made for $19 million, which is a pretty big loss for the movie studio that produced it: Warner Bros.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
When Santa gets too old to deliver toys, who saves Christmas? Ernest, of course. This film was the third to feature Jim Varney’s Ernest character and by far the most festive of his appearances. Unlike the rest, this film features no real villains. Though it wasn’t a critical or financial success, the film remains a Christmas classic.
For those not familiar with this film, the film is about a cab driver named Ernest who attempts to help a retiring Santa Claus find his replacement. Santa chooses a local celebrity named Joe Carruthers as the new Santa. It's a bit like the movie The Santa Clause, except Santa doesn't die in it.
Trading Places (1983)
In a modern take on Mark Twain’s The Prince and The Pauper, this film sees Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd’s characters trade lives. Given that they have very different social standings, hilarity ensues. The combination of Murphy and Aykroyd was enough to quickly make the film a commercial success, but its content holds up, which makes it an obvious choice for this list.
While not commonly thought of as a Christmas movie nor advertised as one really, Trading Places does take place during Christmastime. Many moments in the film include holiday gags, including an instance of a drunk Santa Claus. And even though the film is almost 40 years old now, it is surprisingly relevant to modern times.
Love Actually (2003)
If you’re into the mushier Christmas classics, then this film is the one for you. Featuring an ensemble cast, this film is told through nine interweaving stories, making it quite a unique viewing experience and setting it apart from other romantic comedies. Though it’s impact on critics was a mixed-bag, audiences loved it and it’s now considered a classic by many.
The thing this film is probably best known for is its inclusion of so many popular British actors - or at least they are popular now. You've got Liam Neeson, Colin Firth Martin Freeman, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant - probably the biggest star at the time - as well as Alan Rickman. And then there are the American actors too like Laura Linney. Now we have an endless string of ensemble holiday movies that followed.
The Santa Clause (1994)
This film is the first and most appreciated installation in the Santa Clause trilogy. In this classic, Calvin Scott (Tim Allen) has to take the place of Santa (who fell of the Scott family’s roof) and prove to his family that he is in fact becoming Santa Claus. The film was a box office hit and was appreciated by critics for what it was: a fun-spirited holiday classic.
Unfortunately, the inevitable sequels that followed were super cringy. But none of that takes away from this movie. At the time Tim Allen was a pretty big star but now his name couldn't draw in a single patron and that's probably why he was replaced with Chris Evans for the Buzz Lightyear movie. Anyway, still a good movie for the kids.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
This film has been considered a classic for a long, long time. When it was made nearly 80 years ago, the story itself was already well-known, as it existed in a novella of the same name by Charles Dickens. However, for many, this film would be the first introduction to the classic character of Ebenezer Scrooge and his holiday redemption.
There have been many different versions of this story on television and in film but this version is one of the original ones. But its a story so well-known and recognized that people have had no problems taking liberties with the story. Some of the other one's you will also find on this list.
It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)
This film deals largely with the vanity and apathy of the rich. In it, a property owner has his New York home boarded up for the winter before he heads South to enjoy some warmer weather. Before he leaves however, he makes sure to evict some of his tenants into the harsh cold. The main character, a drifter, unboards the house and begins squatting, even inviting one of the now homeless tenants into the luxurious home.
The comedy film starred Victor Moore, Ann Harding and Gale Storm among many others. The film was overshadowed by a heartwarming classic that you saw on this list: Miracle on 34th Street. While it was nominated for Best Story at the Academy Awards, that award went to Miracle on 34th Street.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Though many might not consider this a full-blown Christmas film, it ends with a touching Christmas sequence and is undoubtedly a classic. So, technically, it fits the build for this list. Though the buddy-cop movie has been done and done and done again, Lethal Weapon is the gold standard for the genre—and for good reason.
And if you want to give this the Die Hard treatment and argue against it being a Christmas movie, we'd argue it's even more of a Christmas movie than Die Hard even. It's got a lonely guy who finds a family to spend the holidays with, it's got a fight with Garey Busey with Christmas lights in the background and plenty of holiday music. So, like get real.
Remember the Night (1940)
Released over 80 years ago, this black-and-white film combines elements of trial films, romantic comedies, and Christmas films. Because of its age, it might be seen as an unexciting entry compared to some on this list. However, its wholesomeness and charm are ageless, as fans of this classic can attest.
Remember the Night is a romantic comedy about a district attorney who falls in love with a shoplifter after taking her to his home for the holidays. He does this after postponing her trial for after the holidays since he feels guilty about keeping her in jail during that time. Because after all, who wants to spend Christmas in jail?
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This one is a classic your parents or your grandparents will remember. Though not all of this film takes place during the Christmas season, it’s still an undeniable Christmas classic. The song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which has since become a Christmas classic in its own right, actually came from this musical film.
The fact that this film stars Judy Garland also helps crank up the nostalgia factor, helping to make this film a staple for many during the holiday season. She has the voice of an angel, after all, and the songs in this film are absolutely terrific. You'll definitely find something to love about this film if you've never seen it before.
Mixed Nuts (1994)
This classic is an interpretation of the French comedy, Le Père Noël est une ordure, which means “Santa Clause Is a Stinker.” This American version sees Steve Martin playing the head of the suicide-prevention hotline on Christmas eve and follows his chaotic life. Though the film wasn’t a commercial or critical success, it still is remembered fondly by many for its ensemble cast and holiday humor.
You are probably surprised to see this dark comedy film on the list but it's there for a reason. If you've never seen this classic Christmas film, it's about time you did. It also features the late Madeline Kahn who is always funny and always a delight in every role. May she rest in peace.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
This film serves as an early example that Christmas stories and romantic comedies go hand-in-hand. This American classic follows a newspaper writer living in New York who writes as though she owns a farm in Connecticut. Once her editor (unaware she’s fabricating all her stories) insists that she treat a devoted fan and veteran to a dinner at her farmhouse, she’s forced to create a charade in order to hide the truth.
This film is an early example of a romantic comedy set during Christmastime. It paved the way for movies like Love Actually. We’re thankful for that considering romantic comedies are some of our favorite films. The film even has the drama, misunderstandings and humor of movies like Love Actually as well.
This comedy is a fresh take on the classic Dicken’s story, A Christmas Carol. This modernization sees Bill Murray star as the Scrooge character, though in this film he’s named Frank Cross. Since the film was made a few years after the highly successful Ghostbusters, it just seemed natural to put Murray in another movie about ghosts.
The film even has some of the classic lines from the original story because the film centers around a live television broadcast of the story. It also has some hilarious original lines and a completely original opening that you won't forget. And let's just say it involves Santa Claus holding an assault rifle.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This classic Dickens story has been told dozens of times over, but never with Muppets. This classic is more modern version of the classic tale, featuring more puppets than actual actors. Aside from that, it very closely follows the source material. The repackaging of this classic story is what’s made the tale more accessible to a new generation and kept the name Ebenezer Scrooge a recognizable since 1843, when the story was originally written.
Michael Caine makes an amazing Ebenezer Scrooge and since everything is made better with Muppets, you really have the perfect retelling of the classic story, particularly for kids. There is another version that deserves an honorable mention however and that's A Mickey's Christmas Carol. But this one is feature length and has some great songs in it and hilarious moments.
Deck the Halls (2006)
This contemporary but classic Christmas movie captures the more competitive side of holiday decorating. This is done by pitting Danny DeVito and Mathew Broderick’s characters against each other in a war of one-upsmanship. Each are aiming to decorate their houses in such a grand manner that they can be seen from space.
Danny Devito and Matthew Broderick seem like the most unlikely pair imaginable but the film really captures the holidays, the competitive nature of man and how easily commercialism can ruin the holidays. Of course, they all learn a valuable lesson at the end - perhaps. The film was not well-received initially but that will likely change like all the holiday classics.