It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
In this American classic, an angel shows a compassionate but depressed businessman the value of his life by showing him how the world would be without him. The heartwarming story coupled with some of the greatest acting in cinema history makes this movie a must see Christmas classic.
Love Actually (2003)
By following the lives of eight different couples, this movie captures Christmas from a ton of unique angles. From an ex-heroin addicted rock star searching for a comeback at any price, to the eleven-year-old boy learning to play the drums to impress the prettiest girl in school, this movie has it all.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The movie’s somewhat dark plot – Kris Kringle facing life in a mental asylum – makes the classic Christmas movie elements of love, happiness, and spirit more endearing.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Generations of children have grown up watching Charlie Brown search for the true meaning of Christmas in this charming animated film. The soundtrack alone can put you in the Christmas spirit.
The Santa Clause (1994)
With one of the least creative titles on the list, this movie has an original plot: a divorced father accidentally kills Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, becomes Santa Claus, takes his son to the North Pole, and saves Christmas.
A Christmas Story (1983)
There’s nary a scene to forget in this near-perfect nostalgic look at where Americana and Christmastime meet. The story of a young boy’s epic quest to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun provides the hilarious backdrop for a timeless tale rife with family hijinks, frozen tongues and, of course, sex oozing leg lamps.
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Also known as “Scrooge,” this 1950s version of “A Christmas Carol” is hailed as the best for its definitive Ebenezer Scrooge, fittingly played by a man named Alastair Sim, who gives a superb performance. Though a colorized version exists, I’d recommend kicking it old school and watching it in its original black and white beauty.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
This movie may not have the most heart, but it certainly has the most blood. In this Bruce Willis action movie, Willis kills a team of terrorists who threaten to his wife’s plane. “Die Harder” was the best movie of the tetralogy, though the first installment, “Die Hard” (1988) was also a Christmas movie worth watching.
A recent entrant onto the Christmas chart, but one that went straight to the top of the list, and for good reason, “Elf” is a hysterical and potently quotable film. You’d have to be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins not to love this one.
Trading Places (1983)
It’s a Christmas-set story where a couple of evil old bankers get their comeuppance, but the Frank Capra comparisons end there. After all, George Bailey never hung out with prostitutes, nor did he have the fast-talking street-slang of Eddie Murphy in his prime. Still, this is a morality tale, and while it doesn’t all take place over Christmas, that marks the low point in the fortunes of disgraced stockbroker Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) after his bosses, the Duke Brothers (Ameche and Bellamy) ruin his life on a whim. And that alone makes a nice change from some films’ ultra-happy Christmases.
Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone may not be big or even clever but it’s a lot of fun and, in its own way, emphasizes the importance of love and family just as much as “It’s A Wonderful Life.” As in Capra’s tale, being deprived of family and safety makes little Macauley Culkin realize how much he needs them, and fending off burglars all alone gives him a unique appreciation of the Christmas spirit. Also, he gets to drop a hot iron on someone’s face, so that’s nice.
Only Bill Murray could so expertly walk the fine line between pathos and hilarity, as he does playing miserly TV exec Frank Cross. Complete with a taxi-driving Ghost of Christmas Past and a (literally) ball-busting Ghost of Christmas Present, this Dickens send-up is so offbeat and fun, Yule love it!
Bad Santa (2003)
As a swearing, hard-drinking, bullying, self-loathing, chain-smoking, safe-cracking, store-robbing son-of-a-gun, Billy Bob Thorton’s Santa Claus is somehow more loveable than ever. If he learns anything, it’s mostly by accident, and if he adopts the Christmas spirit, it’s largely in self-defiance, making this perfect viewing for those who consider themselves immune to the season.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The framing device of this entire story is a grandmother telling her grandchild why it always snows at Christmas – so while the images that linger in the memory are mostly sundrenched and pastel, as you’d expect of the 1950s California setting, the beginning and end, and one of the most emotional scenes on the way through, are snow-covered and Christmassy. Edward’s finest hour sees him sculpting ice for the girl he loves, producing a shower of snow in which she dances – and when it emerges, at the end, that he’s continued to make snow for her every year despite their long separation, well, you’d be forgiven for having a bit of trouble with something in your eye.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Despite laboring under about three feet of latex, Jim Carrey still comes across loud and clear in this adaptation of the popular Dr. Seuss poem. Carrey’s improvising all the way, and you’ll be laughing all the way after seeing this festively funny film.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Sleigh bells and shrunken heads? They’re great together! Or so thinks Jack Skellington, who tries to take over Christmas in this awesomely ghoulish Tim Burton movie. With a sweet fable for kids and the torture of Santa for grown-ups, it’s like ‘The Grinch’ on acid. (Um, kid-friendly, exclusively red and green acid.)
This most festive of monster movies has great fun ripping the trappings of Christmas to pieces and cackling gleefully all the way. Just be careful of any new pets you receive this year, and don’t feed the little buggers after midnight.
Joyeux Noël (2006)
Get out the tissues for this one. This moving Oscar-nominated drama tells the true story of German, French and Scottish troops in WWI who called a ceasefire for Christmas Eve. If nothing else, this emotional movie of soldiers in the bloodiest war in history finding peace for a night, it should help you keep the in-laws in perspective.
White Christmas (1954)
Aren’t we all dreaming of a “White Christmas?” The movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye is as charming as the tune, with all the elements to warm the heart: Two GIs come home from WWII, fall in love with singing-and-dancing sisters and help their general with his failing Vermont inn.
The Polar Express (2004)
While the performance-capture technology may have rendered the children a touch frightening to look at in this otherwise beautiful Christmas classic, there’s still plenty of joy to be had in this fast-moving adaptation of the beloved children’s book starring an ensemble of Tom Hankses.
Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
New York may be one of the most romantic cities during Christmastime, but the Ghostbusters manage to make it the slimiest, too. In this family favorite, the gang is back with more ghost-busting laughs and, well, ghost-busting — well worth revisiting!
Holiday Inn (1942)
Plot? Who cares? Starring the dream team of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and ringing with classic Irving Berlin tunes, “Holiday Inn” is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer [TV] (1964)
There are many TV Christmas specials and movies involving Christmas. Some are good. Some are average. And some are just plain bad. But “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” shall remain the king of all TV Christmas specials. All the characters are wonderful and memorable, and Burl Ives is just perfect for the snowman, who sings those unforgettable songs. A must see every Christmas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas [TV] (1966)
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a must see film for the Christmas season. The Grinch and Max are two of the most memorable characters since Santa Claus, and this is a touching story of how Christmas can be about more than just gifts.
Frosty the Snowman [TV] (1969)
“Frosty” is a story that reinforces a child’s love of Christmas time and the wonder of the first snowfall – not to mention the power of friendship, kindness and good old Santa Claus.