Christmas is right around the corner and what better way than to forget all the stress of shopping and cooking than settle down with a good old fashioned list of the greatest festive movies of all time?
We all love Christmas and we all love movies so here are the 20 best Christmas movies of all time.
20. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Jim Carrey lent his voice for 2009’s fairly forgettable animated version of the famous Christmas Carol story, but his live-action adaptation of a classic Dr Seuss tale from the 50s just about squeezes into our list. Luckily for the movie, Carrey was on top form as Ron Howard’s big-budget project lacked in pretty much every other regard. So, simply for the comic genius of Carrey and the striking look of the film, it scores enough points to warrant a place propping up the top 20.
19. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Another John Hughes-written classic. The late filmmaker would create another memorable Christmas cracker just a year later with Home Alone (which you’ll of course see later on), but before that he assembled Chevy Chase and co for a likeable festive romp. While it may not match up to some of the other entries in this list, it delivers enough laughs and cheer to qualify as a solid seasonal treat.
18. Jingle All The Way (1996)
An absolutely terrible film, yes, but one that we still love. Arnold Schwarzenegger took his comically inept acting to new highs/lows for this family flick centring on Arnie’s work-obsessed and neglectful executive father and his Christmas Eve dash to find his son a Turbo Man doll. Although the script is laughably bad, it’s worth 89 minutes of your time just to indulge our blind love for Arnie.
17. Lethal Weapon (1987)
Over the course of this list, you’ll find a number of Christmas movies that aren’t technically about Christmas itself. Yes, some films are merely set around Christmas but at the risk of shunning some truly great films, we decided to go ahead and honour them. In case you didn’t realise Richard Donner’s brilliant police buddy comedy was set around the holidays, the opening scene is set to “Jingle Bell Rock. So there, Christmas all over the place! Oh yeah, there also happens to be the unforgettable Christmas tree shootout and coke deal scene. Giving White Christmas a whole new meaning…
16. Elf (2003)
In this Charming yuletide yarn, Will Ferrell gives one of his most memorable (if slightly manic) performances as Buddy the Elf, who finds out that he’s in fact human. He travels from the North Pole to New York City in search of his biological father (James Caan). The film is hopelessly light and optimistic, but it has a real heart of gold and the undeniable blend of irreverence and farcical humour makes it a damn fine Christmas film in its own right. It also features a pre-Game of Thrones Peter Dinklage as a tempestuous marketing exec.
15. Trading Places (1989)
Two immensely wealthy brothers decide to hire a top broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a homeless guy (Eddie Murphy) for their Philadelphia firm after debating the importance of genetics or upbringing in someone’s life. Then they fire Aykroyd’s whizz, forcing him to essentially live on the street with no money, while they train Murphy’s broke guy to see if he can become a commodities broker. The whole movie takes place around several days starting before Christmas and going through New Year’s and there are Christmas (and Christian) themes throughout for all to enjoy. If you haven’t seen it, you need to rectify that this Christmas.
14. Arthur Christmas (2011)
There aren’t a lot of Christmas movies from the last ten years on this list – because the vast majority of them have sucked, to be perfectly honest – but Arthur Christmas is a diamond in the rough. The animated adventure follows Santa (Jim Broadbent) and his hi-tech operation beneath the North Pole as he attempts to deliver billions of presents around the globe in just one night. But when there’s a glitch in the system, which means a little girl is not going to get her new bike on Christmas morning, it falls to Santa’s clumsy son Arthur (James McAvoy) and Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to leap into action to make sure she isn’t disappointed. A clever and earnest family film with a surprisingly resonant emotional message at its heart.
13. Scrooged (1988)
It’s Bill Murray and it’s Christmas – what’s not to love!? Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas Carol tale got a grouchy update into the 80s with Murray’s scroogeful TV executive planning to spend Christmas working and spreading no small share of misery throughout his family and friends until he is confronted by the ghosts of Christmas past, in memorably Tim Burton-esque fashion. The movie itself is hideously uneven but there are enough fits of hilarity and inspiration to hold it together and make our top 20. Oh yeah, it’s also comfortably superior to Murray’s misguided Netflix effort this year – which was undeniably one of the most disappointing things we’ve seen this year.
12. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
It may not seem like the most obvious choice, but Shane Black’s brilliant noir-meets-comedy/action hybrid involves Robert Downey Jr (in the role that truly reinvented his career before he sold his soul to Marvel) play a thief who attempts to steal a Christmas toy. Bah, humbug. Harry (RDJ) teams up with Val Kilmer’s gay PI solve the mystery of the suicide of his childhood sweetheart (Michelle Monaghan), getting themselves into all sorts of hilarious jams along the way. Warm, charming and crackling with excellent dialogue throughout, Black’s greatest film is a criminally-underrated Christmas classic.
11. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Tim Burton and Christmas, on paper, don’t go together at all. Well, his association with this film alongside Batman Returns and Nightmare Before Christmas (both featured below) would beg to differ. The maiden collaboration between Burton and Johnny Depp is Christmas at its most gothic. Among the memorable Christmas sequences are the decorations scene, when Edward creates a massive angel ice sculpture. Christmas got a whole lot darker 25 years ago.
10. Batman Returns (1992)
Ah, Mr. Burton, we meet again. The director’s second stab at creating a Batman franchise for the modern era provides a stinging commentary on the commercial, mass-produced elements of the holiday. Burton also introduces us to Gotham’s own sadistic version of a Santa Claus in Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck, the callous industrialist scumbag who teams up with Danny de Vito’s Penguin to orchestrate the villain’s mayoral electoral campaign. Burton and his outrageously talented artistic department create a Gotham sheeted in Christmas, a glistening nightmarish community haunted by the Penguin and fed lies by a corrupt media system. Anti-Christmas Christmas movies have never been greater.
9. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
The best Christmas film to truly tackle the myth and existence of Father Christmas himself. Richard Attenborough was charming in the remake, but the original will always be definitive tale of Chris Cringle. Set in a cynical and industrially hollow post-war New York, Edmund Gwenn’s Claus assumes the role of being Santa for Macy’s department store. While he wins many hearts and captures the imaginations of those youths he spreads cheer to, he is also accused of being mentally unstable by a group of suspicious grinches. The film was hailed as an instant classic and alternative Christmas tale, winning Oscars for the screenplay and Gwenn’s performance. Witty, heart-warming and beautifully sweet, a Christmas film that stands up well after its 70-year lifetime.
8. Bad Santa (2003)
The film that really put the rum in the egg nog was Terry Zwigoff’s no-holds-barred comedy that gave us a sex-crazed, hard-drinking interpretation of Santa by the effortlessly brilliant Billy Bob Thornton. Stuffed with benders, jacuzzi sex and all the profanity you can possibly consume, it’s definitely not a Christmas film for the whole family to enjoy. Thornton is supported excellently by Lauren Graham’s kinky bartender with a Santa fetish, Tony Cox’s acid-tongued dwarf and performances from two late comedy greats in John Ritter and Bernie Mac, resulting in the perfect Christmas film to bring out the holiday hell-raiser in you. And there’s a sequel coming tool! Rejoice!
7. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
You may think this a Halloween film, but we think it’s Christmas. You could undoubtedly make a case for either but it’s so infused with a macabre Christmas spirit that we couldn’t possibly leave it off this list. Contrary to popular belief, Tim Burton did not direct this movie. He didn’t write it either, but he did originally conceive the story and characters which were adapted by screenwriter Michael McDowell and director Henry Selick, who did Burton’s tortured vision proud. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town who stumbles upon the different world of Christmas Town. Packed with a gorgeously designed world and a ghoulish delight for all to enjoy, this is easily one of the most unforgettable and strikingly original Christmas movies ever made.
6. The Santa Clause (1994)
Tim Allen stars in this holiday piece of escapism that is a deft mix of sentimentality and comedy. An engaging and light-hearted yuletide adventure, it sees Allen – in his movie debut – as Scott Calvin, a divorced advertising executive sharing custody of his son with his ex-wife, who finds himself legally roped into becoming the new Santa Claus after he dons the Jolly One’s suit and accepts his business card. Just like that, he’s transported to the North Pole and is forced to carry out Saint Nick’s annual duties all while trying to make the world believe he’s not crazy and, is in fact, Father Christmas himself.
5. Gremlins (1984)
This year’s Krampus was a weak effort attempting to emulate Gremlins’ mix of horror, comedy and festive spirit. Leave it to the pros. Released in the summer, Gremlins is set at Christmas and is a memorable monster movie with a big heart. It also features the Phoebe Cates’s iconic monologue, as seen below:
“The worst thing that ever happened to me was on Christmas. Oh, God. It was so horrible. It was Christmas Eve. I was 9 years old. Me and Mom were decorating the tree, waiting for Dad to come home from work. A couple hours went by. Dad wasn’t home. So Mom called the office. No answer. Christmas Day came and went, and still nothing. So the police began a search. Four or five days went by. Neither one of us could eat or sleep. Everything was falling apart. It was snowing outside.
“The house was freezing, so I went to try to light up the fire. That’s when I noticed the smell. The firemen came and broke through the chimney top. And me and Mom were expecting them to pull out a dead cat or a bird. And instead they pulled out my father. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. He’d been climbing down the chimney… his arms loaded with presents. He was gonna surprise us. He slipped and broke his neck. He died instantly. And that’s how I found out there was no Santa Claus.”
4. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
A universally recognised and adored Christmas classic, It’s A Wonderful Life amazingly flopped at time of release and was even denounced by the FBI for being supposedly sympathetic to Communism. It eventually became a much-loved and irrefutable holiday movie thanks to TV broadcasts in the 70s. We don’t have the wool over our eyes, it’s much darker than a lot of people care to remember. The suicidal George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is shown how life would have been without him by his guardian angel Clarence. It’s a novelistic portrait of American life and never forgets to convey the power of family and community. And that’s what Christmas is all about – family.
3. Home Alone (1990)
A zippy, spirited comedy that inspired a whole generation of kids to set booby traps around their houses for their unsuspecting parents to fall into. But the parents deserve it, of course, they did leave Kevin (Macauley Culkin) behind and jettison off to snowy Paris. Culkin was never better than when he was orchestrating elaborate traps to thwart the hilariously inept Sticky Bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Yes, it’s juvenile, overblown and utterly ludicrous, but just shut up, switch off and enjoy the damn movie. It’s also wincingly cheesy, but when has that ever been a bad thing for a Christmas movie?
2. Die Hard (1988)
John McTiernan’s perfectly constructed thriller is a Christmas movie. Big whoop. It may have been released in July and uses Christmas merely as a backdrop in the grand scheme of things, but it will always be a Christmas movie to us. NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to LA to win his wife back, only to be caught up when terrorists occupy the building she works in, lead peerlessly by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. The backbone of the film is about reuniting with estranged family and if that’s not Christmassy, I don’t want to know what is. Enough said.
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Nobody in their right mind would have ever thought Charles Dickens’ timeless novella would have been best adapted with a bunch of muppets as its stars. This surprisingly faithful take features Michael Caine’s miserly Ebenezer Scrooge shown the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, featuring Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy and Mr and Mrs Cratchit respectively and Sam Eagle as the schoolmaster. It’s a heap of fun, but also sincere and poignant and an addition to the Muppets canon for everyone. Caine also delivers one of his finest ever performances as Scrooge and the ending always brings a tear to our eye. Some may defy this as the greatest Christmas movie, but in terms of personal taste, there was no hesitation in placing it right at the top.
What do you think of our list of the 20 greatest Christmas movies? You probably disagree, so make sure to fire back your personal top 20!