The Best Christmas Movies of All Time

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The Best Christmas Movies of All Time

While any list of favorites or “best” contain a strong dose of subjectivity, a list of the Best Christmas Movies of All Time is even less constrained by questions of cinematic quality and other, objective criteria. After all, if your holiday comfort food is Last Christmas or Christmas with the Kranks, who are we to judge? Still, that doesn’t mean some films haven’t distinguished themselves over time (and, often, through critical consensus) as go-to holiday fare, and while we won’t judge you, we will absolutely judge—or at least rank—those.

Here are the best Christmas movies of all time:


35. Happiest Season (2020)

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Happiest Season was one of the best cinematic gifts we received for last year’s Christmas. Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis) are going to the latter’s family home for Christmas but both have very different versions of how they’re expecting to celebrate the holiday season. Abby’s preparing to propose while Harper is trying to summon the courage to tell her girlfriend she’s not yet out to her family and, more so, tell her family Abby’s not just a friend. It’s a touching comedy that recognizes the weight of its subject. Like many festive titles, Happiest Season revolves around coming home for Christmas. Yet, through a queer perspective, the film is a revamped rendition of all the typical holiday plights. Additionally, the rom-com’s supporting characters—the excellent Dan Levy and the brilliant Aubrey Plaza—offer some of the film’s most charming moments. With an all-around terrific ensemble, Happiest Season is a delectable festive treat. —Emily Maskell


34. Krampus (2015)

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Krampus begins on a fantastically sour note. Bing Crosby’s “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” plays during the film’s opening credits sequence as consumers pummel one another all in the name of a good Christmas bargain. Women get punched in the face, children scream and store employees stare on in slack-jawed apathy. It’s clear from these opening moments that director Michael Dougherty has his tongue planted firmly in cheek. Krampus is a horror film, filled with horrific imagery (it’s one of the harshest PG-13 films in recent memory), but it also has a solid sense of humor, albeit a nasty one. In fact, Krampus owes a lot to Joe Dante’s Gremlins: Both films inject the holiday with zany violence, and Krampus, in the spirit of Gremlins, makes heavy use of practical effects over CGI. The actors (Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Allison Tolman, David Koechner) fight with actual, physical creations, and as a result the terror seems more realistic and brutal. Dougherty, after all, is no stranger to holiday-themed horror comedies—he also directed the superb Halloween horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat—which means we’ve maybe got a new anti-Christmas classic on our bloody hands. —Andy Herren


33. Arthur Christmas (2011)

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Though this animated feature from Aardman and Sony Pictures Animation strays from Aardman’s usual claymation (Wallace & Gromit) and claymation-simulating CGI (Flushed Away) style, this feel-good family film works beautifully as vividly colorful Christmas treat. For children, the film gives its own take on the age-old questions about Santa Claus—how does the old fella do it all in a single night? (The answer, a is high-tech melange of spaceships, military precision, armies of elves, GPS systems, palatial computer power stations, and more.) Watching the new and improved North Pole in action feels more like scenes from an adventure film than a family Christmas flick, and makes for a delightful family viewing. Maryann Koopman Kelly


32. Tangerine (2015)

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One of filmmaker Sean Baker’s best, Tangerine’s fable of Christmastime sex workers navigating love and loss in Hollywood is everything the indie great is known for: intimate, warm, silly, heartfelt and just scuzzy enough. Shot entirely on iPhones, this subversive holiday film celebrates found family in donut shops and laundromats and bar bathrooms. It reminds us that sometimes, the best gift of all is a friend who’ll lend you their wig while yours is in the wash. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor carry the film in all its emotional and tonal complexity, while Baker’s compassionate interest in folks just outside the margins make the filmmaking’s guerilla-esque stylings seem more loving than exploitative. Approaching his subjects with empathy, and giving them so much space to suck us into their world, is utterly within the holiday spirit—even if a car wash sexual encounter might not be as wholesome as something from Jimmy Stewart. But for a certain kind of person, and for Tangerine’s very certain kind of friendship, “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch” is all that needs to be said. —Jacob Oller


31. It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

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Another of the 1940s Christmas tales, It Happened on Fifth Avenue involves a classic melange of seasonal ingredients—impoverished veterans, hidden identities, a rich person whose heart needs to expand a few sizes. A comedy and a Christmas tale, viewers won’t have to worry too much about the outcome, but the film still finishes leagues ahead of the modern Hallmark variety of comfort food. —Michael Burgin


30. The Family Stone (2005)

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“I do well with families” is the mating call of many a serial monogamist. (I swear I am reformed.) The inherent assumption is that in-laws are impossible to deal with, a group of people who have their own rituals and language which you will never fully understand. And Christmas is a time when those traditions and other insularities make anyone else feel like an interloper. When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) brings his girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet the family, she spends the entire trip with her foot lodged firmly in her mouth. All this plays out as matriarch Diane Keaton is waiting to tell everyone that she has a terminal illness and that this will likely be their last Christmas together as a family. I dated a Meredith once, and it didn’t work out for a number of reasons. This family Christmas movie manages the feat of foregrounding that kind of discontent without making Meredith unsympathetic, or making the family out to be the villains. The ending would all be too tidy, if it weren’t for the fact that not everyone gets to be at the next Christmas when all that dust has settled. —Kenneth Lowe


29. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

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This sometimes confusing, sometimes endearing genre mish-mash is one part zombie comedy and one part high school musical, but has a tendency to throw itself entirely into one or the other until you’ve forgotten quite what it is you’re watching. Anna (Ella Hunt) is a British teen looking to toss her “uni” plans aside and live abroad for a while—plans that are derailed by the sudden holiday arrival of what certainly seems to be a zombie apocalypse. Peppered with hyperkinetic song-and-dance numbers that have a decidedly Broadway vibe, the film starts a bit slow, feeling for all intents and purposes like a lost entry in Disney’s High School Musical series before it blooms in its second and third acts into a surprisingly satisfying (and plenty gory) zombie-slaying farce. Capable of more pathos than you’d give it credit for, Anna and the Apocalypse tosses most character archetypes aside and can boast a few genuinely toe-tapping numbers, especially once the world has gone to hell. It’s a film you may need to warm up to, but Game of Thrones fans will enjoy the presence of Paul Kaye, one Thoros of Myr, as the school’s draconian principal. —Jim Vorel


28. The Polar Express (2004)

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While achieving the status of Christmas classic often requires an inherent level of quality, we’d be remiss if we ignored another crucial ingredient—repetition of viewing. For most of the films on this list, that repetition came from a prolonged period of seasonal availability on TV—especially back in the days when there weren’t countless channels and subscriptions to feed that content. Polar Express may be the one entry on this list that logged those repeated viewings mainly in the classroom. A stalwart teacher standby for those half-days with a classroom full of children and a few hours to kill before the holidays, Robert Zemeckis’s adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 children’s book is a movie whose tale is wild and unexpected even as the early mo-cap of it all causes some viewers to flinch in the face of those early steps into an uncanny valley that still hasn’t been completely crossed. —Michael Burgin


27. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

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If history has taught us anything, it’s that nothing makes for a better rom-com than featuring a couple who has spent the majority of the film actively hating each other finally realize that they are actually soulmates. That’s certainly the case with The Shop Around the Corner, legendary director Ernst Lubitsch’s 1940 comedy about two rival employees at a Budapest gift shop who—unbeknownst to them—have been carrying on a flirty correspondence via mail. This film marked the high point of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan’s four collaborations together. What’s more, replace the mail correspondence with an email correspondence and replace Jimmy Stewart with Tom Hanks, our modern-day Jimmy Stewart, and you have the 1998 remake, You’ve Got Mail. —Mark Rozeman


26. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

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A modern viewer might be surprised at how many movies from the 1940s can be found on any substantial list of Christmas classics, but it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that during and immediately post World War II there would be a longing for those traditions centered around celebrations of home and family. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet, Christmas in Connecticut provides its particular dose of seasonal cheer packaged in another classic form of the 1930s/1940s—the screwball comedy. Stanwyck plays a popular food writer who is asked to host a returning war hero for Christmas dinner at her home. The only problem? Her entire persona (home and family) is make-believe. For those who prefer their Christmas comfort sans Santa origin stories or other supernatural trimmings, who would rather just watch two strangers overcome misunderstandings and comic setups to find each other, Christmas in Connecticut is just what the earnest movies editor ordered. —Michael Burgin


25. A Christmas Tale (2008)

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A Christmas Tale is a lively, capricious, mischievous ensemble delight—the kind of movie Noah Baumbach would make if he were French and a little more hopeful about humanity. Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and Junon (Catherine Deneuve) have three grown children, two of whom have long been estranged. Now, as Junon needs a dangerous transfusion to survive cancer, everyone convenes in the family home to celebrate Christmas together. Though the film deals with many exceptionally depressing topics (mental illness, hatred, life-threatening disease, lost love, betrayal) director Arnaud Desplechin never veers into maudlin territory. Instead, with a lightly stylized touch, A Christmas Tale avoids taking itself or its characters’ foibles too seriously. Family members might hate each other, but something like love is underneath it all. On top of his story about a hilariously contentious family reunion, Desplechin has heaped cinema itself, spinning up a maelstrom of irises and dissolves, Vertigos and Tenenbaums, Minguses and Herrmanns, to end up with something that feels almost, maybe, strangely, ever so slightly touching. —Alissa Wilkinson


24. Klaus (2019)

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Sergio Pablos’ lauded Netflix film Klaus would be a Christmas mythology origin for the ages just on its looks alone, but its complex and mature telling should woo plenty of adults and savvy kids by being a (wood)cut above pretty much all of its animated ilk. The story of its isolated people—from its postman (Jason Schwartzman) to its toy-making hermit (J.K. Simmons) to the ferryman (Norm Macdonald) connecting them all—and feuding clans might contain too much narrative for younger viewers, but its message is crystal clear: Even if started for the wrong reasons, good actions can bring about good results. Some incredible, complex lighting gives the hot-and-cold film’s interiors the look of a fireside, while its exaggerated characters are a delight to watch navigate its realistic world. Not every piece of pop culture needs an origin story, but if they’re as nuanced and beautiful as Klaus, they stand to stuff the stockings of our legends with more than coal. —Jacob Oller


23. A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

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Given that Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is the defining role of the second half of Bill Murray’s career, it’s no surprise that his Coppola-directed Christmas special trades heavily on that image. A Very Murray Christmas plays right into that idea of Murray as a boozy wiseman. It’s a story about finding community in failure, with sad, lonely people forming an ersatz bond at a hotel bar one lonely Christmas Eve during a blizzard. Murray’s holed up in New York’s Hotel Carlyle, where he’s contractually obligated to host a live network Christmas special. That blizzard has killed the night, though, keeping both audience and guests away, including marquee appearances from George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. He has to do the show-within-the-show with or without guests, and the special starts with Murray, drunk and disappointed over this unfolding disaster, tie and shirt undone, plush reindeer ears on his head, singing “The Christmas Blues” with Paul Shaffer on piano. It immediately lets you know that this is going to be a bit sadder than the chintzy old Hollywood-style special that most of the promo material hinted at. The result may be uneven, but as a riff on the holiday special that rides the established charms and mannerisms of the Murray persona, the special manages to be a somewhat unique destination for holiday viewers. —Garrett Martin


22. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

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Of all the films that have attempted to tackle Christmastime mythology through the lens of horror, none have done it with half the gonzo weirdness of Finland’s Rare Exports. Although the subject of Krampus became popular horror fodder in the back half of this decade, the Fins were definitely laying some foundations here, dredging up the figure of Joulupukki, the so-called “Christmas goat” of Scandinavian folklore, who like Krampus punishes wicked children for their sins instead of dispensing candy and gifts. We see this particular story through the eyes of rural Finnish kids and their destitute parents, their livelihoods trampled by the engine of economic progress and consumerism, in a message that reflects the cynicism of Joe Dante’s Gremlins. It seems fitting, then, that it’s a government research team that dredges up horrors from beneath the crust of the Earth, representing the greed of adult children as they do. With a magical Nordic setting that perfectly suits its fantastical vibe, Rare Exports settles in alongside chilly, Scandinanvian horror contemporaries such as Let the Right One In or Dead Snow, although it never strives for the emotion or gravity or the former. It does, however, build to a formidable conclusion, giving us perhaps the most oddly unique origin story for Santa Claus that has yet been brought to the horror genre. —Jim Vorel


21. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970)

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Rankin/Bass was firing on all cylinders by the late 1960s, and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town continued that streak with another winning special. Where The Life and Times of Santa Claus leaned toward gritty fantasy in explaining Santa Claus’ origin, this special is more in line with the light-hearted cheeriness one would expect when talking about elves and an immortal toymaker. As narrated by Fred Astaire, the reason Santa wears red, has a beard and sneaks into houses at night to put toys in stockings starts to make perfect sense, especially as the charming (and kinda dreamy) younger Santa faces off against the Burgermeister Meisterburger, the toy-hating curmudgeon of a mayor living in the nearby town. I haven’t even mentioned the fantastic designs for characters like the villain-turned-ally Winter Warlock, or the future Mrs. Claus’ trippy song straight out of the ’70s, but that just goes to show how much this special has going for it. Santa Claus was a character that Rankin/Bass always fell back on in their specials, and it’s easy to see why when his life story is so captivating. Ryan Voyles


20. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

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Tokyo Godfathers is something of an outlier, not only among Satoshi Kon’s films, but across the medium of anime as a whole. After all, anime features that depict Christmas as something more than a backdrop are few and far between, especially one that offers such an inspired modern take on the Three Wise Men and the birth of the Christ. Tokyo Godfathers is the story of Gin, Hana and Miyuki, three homeless friends who discover an abandoned baby while rifling through the trash in search of a Christmas present. They resolve to find the child’s parents and bring her safely home, embarking on a journey that takes them to every far corner of the city and inevitably face-to-face with lives they had each abandoned. Named after Robert Ford’s 1948 western take on the christian nativity story, Tokyo Godfathers is Christmas story in the purest sense—a redemptive fable about fallible people and the extraordinary extent through which they go to set one piece of the world, however small, right. Compassionate and hopeful without once cheapening itself with saccharine sentimentality, Tokyo Godfathers resonates with a raw and honest appeal to emotion that merits comparison to the likes of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. If you’re a bit burnt out over Christmas cheer, do yourself a favor and put this one on around the holidays. You won’t regret it. —Toussaint Egan


19. Bad Santa (2003)

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Billy Bob Thornton is sublimely degenerate, as only he can be, but the film’s ending has one of the most redemptive turns this side of It’s A Wonderful Life. A true masterpiece of a dark comedy, in Bad Santa we see the titular Anti-St. Nick pee himself, get wasted, swear at kids, disrespect authority and plan on robbing the very mall in which he (barely) works. That the aforementioned Bad Santa is not just a vulgar caricature is testament to Thornton’s these-are-the-facts deadpan, countered by two brilliant supporting performances from the late greats John Ritter and Bernie Ma, as well as Thornton’s genuinely touching rapport with innocent cherub Thurman Murman (Brett Kelly). —Greg Smith


18. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1972)

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While Rudolph set the template for a Rankin/Bass special, The Year Without a Santa Claus is the one that puts all the pieces together in perfect harmony. With improved Animagic, great original and cover songs, memorable characters, and the right amount of engaging weirdness, this is the rare special that hits its mark on every level. There’s so much cheer and jubilation that works in this special, from Shirley Booth’s engaging and witty turn as Mrs. Claus, to the Miser Brothers’ iconic ditty, to a surprisingly touching children’s choir version of “Blue Christmas.” It’s understandable why this was the first Rankin/Bass special put on Blu-Ray, and one that has continued to spawn sequels and remakes of varying quality to this day. Though they would try, Rankin/Bass could never match the pure Yuletide cheer captured here. —Ryan Voyles


17. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

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John Hughes’ script hits every exhausting holiday obligation, from picking out the far-too-big tree, to hosting ungrateful and weird family members, to the elaborate outdoor lights, to senile relatives who bicker and give lame gifts, to the inevitably ruined turkey. Hughes would return to the suburban Christmas the very next year in Home Alone, another comedy pitched straight to the cheap seats that manages to dig deep into some of the uncomfortably familiar things about my own Christmases growing up. Christmas Vacation reminds us how Christmas as we know it here in the United States is basically a construct for white Baby Boomers, a piece of social infrastructure in the same way the interstate highway system is a piece of transportational infrastructure. A country that makes things and buys things needs to have an excuse to do that. You listen to a Christmas carol from the late ’40s or the ’50s like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” or “Sleigh Ride,” and they’re unsettlingly fixated on things and how nice it is to have them. There’s a kernel of honest-to-goodness sentiment buried in Clark’s oneupmanship and largesse—an earnest wish for the magical Christmas of his bygone youth—but it’s only become more fun to laugh at Clark’s misfortune as the ensuing 30 years have revealed that guys like him remain just as hopelessly stuck in their ways. —Kenneth Lowe


16. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

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Viewing it more than 50 years after it first aired on NBC, it’s amazing how such an odd children’s show became a cultural milestone. From the elf who longs to be a dentist and an island of misfit toys (A Charlie in the Box? Absurd!) to the seemingly thrown-in subplot about Santa needing to fatten up before Christmas Eve, there’s a lot to unpack here. But it all works toward the central message of the special: embracing one’s unique qualities regardless of what society thinks. —Ryan Voyles


15. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

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You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch. Lean and mean, one might say. The 25-minute special How the Grinch Stole Christmas! from Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones might not be feature-length, but its dense holiday charm beats the Santa hat off of most of its genre contemporaries. The Seussian mainstay keeps Whoville in the mainstream, while Boris Karloff keeps things deliciously and childishly camp thanks to his vocal performance. But on top of Jones’ instantly recognizable art (no lips have ever curled like those of Jones’ scamps), Karloff’s voice and Seuss’ whimsical way with words, rests the special’s show-stopping tree-topper: Thurl Ravenscroft’s Grammy-winning delivery of kid-friendly burn after burn on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” An enjoyably secular and fantastical holiday tradition, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is utterly accessible and truly timeless. —Jacob Oller


14. Scrooged (1988)

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We learn all we need to know from Bill Murray’s modern-day Ebeneezer in his introduction: After viewing the latest promos for his television network, Frank opens his desk drawer, catches his reflection in a small mirror, smiles, fixes his hair and then closes it. In case it’s not clear: Frank Cross has a drawer in his desk devoted to a vanity mirror. While the rest of the film sometimes devolves into over-the-top nonsense, it’s Murray’s committed touches like these that make Frank Cross so memorable, and it helps this particular version of the Dickens classic stand out among the slew of adaptations. —Greg Smith


13. Black Christmas (1974)

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Fun fact: Nine years before he directed holiday classic A Christmas Story, Bob Clark created the first true, unassailable “slasher movie” in Black Christmas. Yes, the same person who gave TBS its annual Christmas Eve marathon fodder was also responsible for the first major cinematic application of the phrase “The calls are coming from inside the house!” Black Christmas, which was insipidly remade in 2006, predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by four years and features many of the same elements, especially visually. Like Halloween, it lingers heavily on POV shots from the killer’s eyes as he prowls through a dimly lit sorority house and spies on his future victims. As the mentally deranged killer calls the house and engages in obscene phone calls with the female residents, one can’t help but also be reminded of the scene in Carpenter’s film where Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) calls her friend Lynda, only to hear her strangled with the telephone cord. Black Christmas is also instrumental, and practically archetypal, in solidifying the slasher trope of the so-called “final girl.” Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is actually among the better-realized of these final girls in the history of the genre, a remarkably strong and resourceful young woman who can take care of herself in both her relationships and deadly scenarios. It’s questionable how many subsequent slashers have been able to create protagonists who are such a believable combination of capable and realistic. —Jim Vorel


12. A Christmas Carol (1951)

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For any list of Christmas movies, the question is not “Will a version of Charles Dickens’ classic tale make the list?” but rather which of the many versions will make it. This list has three, but of the traditional versions of Scrooge’s redemption arc, the 1951 movie starring Alastair Sim as the miserly businessman stands out. This is “Scrooge Classic,” with each character of the tale a televised template to adhere to or deviate from in future versions. As such, it’s a great pace to start (after the novella itself) for anyone wanting to look at the “bones” of this particular holiday classic. —Michael Burgin


11. Gremlins (1984)

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In the same vein as Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins is a yearly Christmastime argument waiting to happen: Both are annually tossed onto “best Christmas movie” lists, but when it comes to the latter, at least, those debates often overlook the dark comedy of an expertly crafted ’80s horror film from Dante at the height of his powers. Taking the lessons he learned as a ’70s Roger Corman protégé, Dante borrows character actors like Dick Miller to create a cynical, biting rebuke of maudlin sentimentality and children’s entertainment. The film’s surprising counterpoint between comedy and graphic violence was a source of consternation that matriculated it into the early class of genre films that led to the PG-13 rating, but its more important impact was shaping the aesthetic of nearly every horror comedy to come. —Jim Vorel


10. Die Hard (1988)

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Die Hard may be the “stickiest” film of its decade—how many best-laid plans have been derailed by running across John McTiernan’s masterful actioner on cable? As Officer John McClane and Hans Gruber, respectively, Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman steal the show in career-defining roles, but even Henchman #10 (Asian man who eats candy bar, or Uli, to his friends) comes across more realized than most lead roles in today’s run-of-the-mill action flicks. Tightly plotted with clever to spare, Die Hard welcomes the scrutiny of multiple viewings without losing its humor or heart. Yippie ki-yay, indeed. It was also one of the first “actually is a Christmas movie” hot takes—which has long since cooled into a given—as Christmas references, both explicit and figurative, abound. —Michael Burgin


9. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

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Your favorite version of A Christmas Carol may depend heavily on when you first encounter the holiday classic, and by that logic, the Muppets have an immediate “first exposure” advantage for a very impressionable demographic—kids! After 1992, by the time someone first watched Scrooged or the 1951 release with Alistair Sim, or Albert Finney’s 1970 musical—if they ever did at all—odds are they’d already have seen The Muppet Christmas Carol one or more times as kids. And with all due respect to Murray, Sim, Finney and the rest, it’s hard to compete with Kermit and the gang. —Michael Burgin


8. White Christmas (1954)

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For generations, this movie has held a kind of Yuletide nostalgia rivaled maybe only by It’s a Wonderful Life. Similarly, the Bing Crosby musical revels in warm feelings of the past: The war is over and former commanding officer Gen. Waverly (Dean Jagger), a “four-star general unemployed,” can’t make a living running a ski lodge, because even snow doesn’t fall the way it used to. Whether that’s a good feeling or not hardly matters when, in the end, doors open to reveal a world of swirling snowflakes, and all the soldiers who see salute, and us southerners leave the film yearning for a snow-laden Christmas. —Mary Kate Varnau


7. Home Alone (1990)

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Home Alone is a dark movie in a lot of ways—it’s about home invasion and family estrangement, in part. But it’s also about the joy of just not having to deal with your family during the holidays. And because it’s written by John Hughes, it is about not having to deal with your family during the holidays specifically as a kid, when most “bah, humbug!” entertainments are aimed at stressed out adults. It’s a point of view the film commits to fully, and sometimes quite literally: There are shots in this movie that explicitly put the viewer in the young protagonist’s shoes, calculated to make them feel small and helpless. It’s hard to say how much of this movie is cathartic slapstick and how much is dissonant dread. Home Alones is really about how powerless some kids can feel, and like Die Hard and Christmas Vacation, it offers some catharsis for us: John McClane shoots assholes, Rusty survives his insane family Christmas, and Kevin takes matters into his own hands for once and gets to punch the bullies and make himself the focus of his family’s attention for just one day. It’s why I think it’s still fondly remembered by so many, critics be damned. —Kenneth Lowe


6. A Christmas Story (1983)

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To wring something as genuinely warm and heartfelt as it is hilarious from a central theme of rampant consumerism is a rare thing. To supplant Christmas Day TV scheduling previously reserved only for classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street is quite another. Director Bob Clark assembles a pool of onscreen talent who were clearly born to inhabit Jean Shepherd’s treasured story of childhood amidst Major Awards, first swear words, cynical Mall Santas, and—of course—the ruminations on what it truly means to shoot your eye out. —Scott Wold


5. Elf (2003)

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In a sense, making Christmas “funny” can be as easy as responding to something meant to be sincere and joyful with cynicism and darkness. Is there any comedic Christmas character that embodies a genuine love of Christmas? Thankfully, we have Will Ferrell’s fearlessly committed performance as the titular elf to answer this question with a resounding yes. Nothing represents Christmas cheer better than Will Ferrell in yellow tights, a green parka and cone-shaped cap. He wrings a ton of comedy out of responding to everything with wide-eyed, childlike wonder. Arguably our generation’s classic Christmas movie, watching Buddy the Elf makes you laugh, makes you smile and, to paraphrase from the Grinch, makes your heart grow three sizes bigger. Even if the movie devolves into a formulaic, race-against-the-clock flick in the last 30 minutes, its myriad gifts outweigh its problems. From endlessly quotable nuggets like “cotton-headed ninnymuggins”; the hysterical fruit spray scene; Zooey Deschanel showcasing her pre-She & Him singing chops; Mr. Narhwal and the arctic puppets (a band name if I ever heard one); to, finally, Ferrell’s infectious enthusiasm, Elf is instant holiday merriment. —Greg Smith & Jeremy Medina


4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

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We could get into plenty of arguments over which Charlie Brown animated special is best, but A Charlie Brown Christmas is my favorite pull of the bunch. Charlie Brown’s confrontation with the Christmas season’s commercialism (back in 1965 no less) and a sad little fir tree make this a cartoon classic, as the ultimate funny-pages shlimazel suffers endless social indignities (no Christmas cards) and the holiday blues. The film remains a touching, funny 25 minutes that connects to kids both young and grown—capturing the spirit of Charles Schulz’s amusingly downer strip—ornamented with slapstick gags and the delightful jazzy Christmas score from the Vince Guaraldi Trio that’s become synonymous with the Peanuts crew. The animation might be a little jagged and repetitive—the child voice acting hit and miss—but the ragtag production helps make it extra endearing, as if the precocious children at the core of the holiday film had a real hand in putting it together. You’re not going to knock this film for those kids doing their weird dances on a loop and neither am I. It just wouldn’t be Christmassy of me. —Jacob Oller


3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

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A film stuck in time, place and temperament, Miracle on 34th Street is one of the two heavy favorites, along ith It’s a Wonderful Life, in the battle for the title of “greatest Christmas movie ever,”. Your preference will come down to how well you like your schmaltz: Those with a taste for unadulterated sentimentality will likely lean more toward Capra, while those who like a healthy sprinkle of cynical realism on their holiday fare will probably go for George Seaton’s Miracle instead. Not that it’s completely cynical, mind, but it is a surprisingly frank and thoroughly practical demonstration of the stress Christmas customs—particularly shopping—visit upon us year in and year out. By showing its audience the positive side of capitalism in action, the film reminds us of its negative side, too, posturing about Christmas’s true meaning and capturing New York City at the peak of its bustling consumerist culture. That makes Miracle on 34th Street sound both drier and jaded than it actually is, of course, and more than 70 years on, it’s still one of the most effectively hokey pieces of holiday entertainment the industry has ever produced. —Andy Crump


2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better. —Curt Holman


1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Frank Capra’s Christmas fantasy actually kind of flopped at the box office when it was released, and put Capra on the out-to-pasture list as the studio decided he was no longer capable of scoring a hit. Then it was nominated for five Academy Awards and has become known as one of the most acclaimed films ever made. On Christmas Eve, suicidal George Bailey (the sublime Jimmy Stewart) receives a visit from a sort of junior angel who calls himself Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence is charged with pulling Bailey off the ledge, in return for which he will be granted wings. So he shows Bailey visions of his life, progressing from his childhood, showing Bailey all the times he made someone’s live better (or outright saved it). Ultimately Clarence jumps into the river before George can do it; activating the suicidal man to save Clarence rather than kill himself. It’s not enough, so Clarence shows him what the world would look like if he’d never been born. When George sees that his existence has had and continues to have a positive impact on the world, he goes home to his family, Clarence gets his wings and happiness ensues. Yup, it’s a Christmas story. And it’s one of the most enduring ones for a bunch of reasons, including Stewart’s amazing performance and a beautiful script by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett along with Capra. (Both Stewart and Capra commented that it was their favorite of all the films they’d respectively worked on.) Timeless, big-hearted and disarmingly sincere, this film is one I defy you to have one cynical comment about. Go on: be cynical. You can’t, right? Right. Because it’s not possible. —Amy Glynn


Your Christmas Bonus:

Fireplace for Your Home Presents: Christmas Music/Holiday Edition and Crackling Yule Log Fireplace (2011)

At a runtime of 60 minutes, this “Fireplace for Your Home” title gives viewers more screen time than several classics on the list. What it lacks in dialogue and drama, it more than makes up for in crackle, pop and the occasional snap. Without giving spoilers for a 10-year-old video, you all know how this one ends! —Michael Burgin