70. Christmas with the Kranks
Awful people celebrate Christmas too, you know! Based on a novel by John Grisham, the quality of this Tim Allen/Jamie Lee Curtis comedy depends mostly on one’s tolerance for oafish comedy and the manufactured elements of the holiday.
69. Fred Claus
Meet the Parents director David Dobkins throws millions at the screen to bring Santa’s workshop to life, even recruiting the perfect modern actor, Paul Giamatti, to the play the big guy. And then Vince Vaughn shows up to be a cynical asshole and ruin it.
68. Four Christmases
Oh hey, another Vince Vaughn Christmas movie feels more like a chore for the holiday completist than a dose of cheer. Four Christmases is Reese Witherspoon’s Sweet Home Alabama act transplanted to December and loaded with stars (Dwight Yoakam!) and yet, it’s a total bust. Vince Vaughn may not be cut out for the “nice” list.
67. Santa Claus: The Movie
This movie sounds like gold on paper: A Santa Claus mythos story decorated like the Superman franchise. The film has the sheen of the superheroic franchise, but little of the heart.
66. The Family Man
Brett Ratner teams up with Nicolas Cage for his own twist on the It’s a Wonderful Life model. Saccharine beyond comprehension and a gingerbread cookie cutter script makes this acceptable, but never required holiday viewing.
65. The Perfect Holiday
Dredged from the bottom of the generic romantic comedy gutter, Morris Chestnut plays an aspiring musician working as a mall Santa who falls for Gabrielle Union. That’s it. There are angels, to ensure the Christmas stamp of approval.
64. Jack Frost
A magical harmonica brings rock star Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) back from the dead to inhabit the body of a snowman. Which is creepy as all hell — and a little sweet.
63. The Nativity Story
From the director of Twilight comes the greatest, and most repeated, story ever told. Catherine Hardwicke’s version of the Nativity is a little on the ho-hum side, straightforward and glossy, but her Thirteen instincts have her playing up the “teen pregnancy” angle, making the film palatable in the modern age.
62. The Nutcracker (1993)
George Balanchine’s Nutcracker ballet is a treasured work of holiday culture. The movie version starring Macaulay Culkin is not.
61. A Christmas Carol (2009)
Thanks to the magic of motion capture animation, Jim Carrey was able to play Ebenezer Scrooge at every age and all three of the visiting Ghosts. That didn’t really addanything, but it’s fun to say that. The highlight here is the film’s frightening tone. Director Robert Zemeckis wanted to turn the spirit-filled tale into a certified ghost story.
The sad part about Prancer is that if a little ginger girl really started whining about how she had a flying reindeer in the barn, everyone would brush her off. Super annoying. Prancer aims for the E.T. magic and woefully misses the mark, enough to earn it some nostalgia points.
59. Jingle All the Way
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s holiday entry seemed like a ridiculous farce in 1996. “Shopping would never get that crazy!” Wrong. Like a fine wine, time transformed Jingle All the Way into a frightening reflection of modern consumerism complete with the walking, talking
A Christmas movie was inevitable for “white people problems” connoisseur Nancy Meyers. The fact that she tapped the holidays to draw out one of Jack Black’s best (and undervalued) performances is the real surprise.
57. Lethal Weapon
Great buddy comedy, pretty good Christmas movie. There isn’t a ton of Christmas cheer in Richard Donner’s whacked out (read: costarring Gary Busey) action flick, but kicking things off with “Jingle Bell Rock” sets the mood just right.
56.Ernest Saves Christmas
You’re either in or your out when it comes to Jim Varney’s bumbling, yokel funnyman Ernest P. Worrell. He’s dumb, but loving — the perfect Christmas movie character.
55. Reindeer Games
John Frankenheimer’s final film is a twisty, turny journey down holiday road, with a manic Ben Affleck in the driver’s seat. Full of weird angles, snappy language, and sadistic humor, the movie has gone unappreciated since it debuted to horrid reviews in 2000.
54. The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs Clause
Progressive thinking has never been one of Christmas movies’ strongest suits, so it’s no surprise the sequel to Tim Allen’s Santa Clauseinvolved the ticking-clock search for a Mrs. But the film is a sweet romance between Allen and Elizabeth Mitchell, so the archaic thinking is easy to overlook.
53. Unaccompanied Minors
Based on a This American Life segment, pre-Bridesmaids Paul Feig wrote and directed this holiday movie about a group of kids trapped in an airport. Hijinks and bonding ensue.
52The Polar Express
Despite soulless characters who look like walking, talking mall mannequins, Robert Zemecki’s foray into motion capture animation is a whirlwind of imagination. Defying physics is the name of the game, while the artwork of illustrator/writer Chris Van Allsburg gives the movie a glowing appearance.
51. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Before the days of motion capture, Ron Howard padded Jim Carrey with actual makeup to play Dr. Seuss’ furry, green bastard. It’s an ideal role for Carrey, whose bravado can prevail through the Seussian facade. Howard doesn’t have anything new to add, but seeing it realized is a wonder all its own.
50. One Magic Christmas
The movie that made everyone wish Harry Dean Stanton was their guardian angel. Mary Steenburgen stars as a working class woman who loses her faith (OK, “Christmas spirit”) and revives it Christmas Carol-style. Or with the help of Santa, because it is a Disney movie, after all.
49.Mickey’s Christmas Carol
Fact: Mickey’s Christmas Carol was nominated for the animated short film Oscar in 1983. And it’s simply okay! I guess the folks at Disney felt they needed to embrace the Ebeneezer Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck crossover at some point.
48. About a Boy
A wry coming-of-age tale that remains one of Hugh Grant’s few non-rom-com roles. About a Boy is quite touching amidst its Christmas backdrop, but works even more successfully as a launching pad for Badly Drawn Boy’s holiday soundtrack.
As if Bruce Wayne’s life wasn’t tortured enough, masochist Tim Burton posited how the superheroic millionaire would feel during Christmas. Or perhaps the snowy holiday was a quick way to enliven the gothic production design. Either way, audiences won.
It’s a Christmas miracle that a third Harold & Kumar is remotely watchable, let alone wildly entertaining. Why has Waffle-bot still not received a spin-off?
45.The Family Stone
If The Family Stone is basically a Lars von Trier movie without the NC-17 moments of intimacy or genitalia mutilation. A family’s worth — Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams — of life problems explode during the holidays. Even the deaf gay brother is all too believable.
44. The Best Man Holiday
A shockingly enjoyable sequel to the 1999 dramedy The Best Man wrangles the entire cast back for a hard R-rated holiday weekend. There’s weed smoking, sex talk, terminal illness, and football. The movie does not skimp on the melodrama and it shouldn’t — it’s Christmas, after all.
Albert Finney sings and dances through the timeless Christmas story. His Ebenezer sings a song called “I Hate People” which everyone should learn the lyrics to in time for this year’s Christmas dinner.
42.Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Setting a Home Alone sequel anywhere but home sounds like an awful idea. Yet New York, a bustling Christmas metropolis, plays directly into everything that worked in the first movie. Toy shops and frightening old people and apartments that are so run down, they’re basically booby trapped already.
41.The Little Drummer Boy
One of the few Bible-inspired Rankin & Bass films, The Little Drummer Boy tells the story of the Nativity from the perspective of the titular character. The film revealed the question everyone was dying to know: What was the Little Drummer Boy doing before he met Jesus?
40. Mixed Nuts
There’s nothing wrong with unbridled comedy if it’s in the right hands. Nora Ephron’s Mixed Nuts is pure lunacy pulled off by Steve Martin and a cast who’s ready to run the required race. Liev Schreiber deserved an Oscar for his transvestite dance moves.
39.While You Were Sleeping
A staple of early 2000s HBO programming, Sandra Bullock’s romantic comedy of mismatched coma victims is staged against Christmas, adding to the pressure surrounding the big reveal (the guy who was hit by a train isn’t her fiancé!).
38.Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
The real gem of this rehash isn’t Sir Richard Attenborough or Mara Wilson, as good as they are. It’s Elizabeth Perkins, who adds wit and emotional damage to the mother character. Writer John Hughes is credited for many of the finest young adult scripts of the ’80s and ’90s, but the key was that he always nailed the parents.
That first year you come home from college to see your high school friends and everyone’s different. That’s why Metropolitan, a cultural essay more than a Christmas-themed movie, belongs on this list.
36.The Lemon Drop Kid
Bob Hope is a riot as a con man raising cash during Christmas time by swindling Salvation Army donators. He nails it all: the quick wit, the physical comedy, the musical numbers (the movie introduced “Silver Bells”).
35. White Christmas
After 60 years, White Christmas, a musical scored by Irving Berlin, is fortified and tolerated as a Christmas classic. Will induce sleep if viewed after 6 P.M.
“What if David Cronenberg directed A Christmas Carol?” “He’s unavailable.” “We’ll get Richard Donner.” “Eh, doesn’t sound very enjoyable.” “OK, it’ll be funny because we’ll hire… Bill Murray!”
33. The Dead (1987)
Supposedly John Huston directed his final film while incapacitated — wheelchair, breathing tubes, the works. It doesn’t look like it. Based on a James Joyce short story and starring his daughter Angelica Huston, The Dead casts a haunting spell over the screen, turning Christmas dinner into scorching drama.
32. Arthur Christmas
Aardman Animation (Wallace & Gromit) took a stab at CG animation and did what few other studios can ever achieve: heart. Their take on modern Christmas saddles Santa with the concept of going back to the basics, with his son Arthur as the remaining North Poler who finds joy in the holiday event.
I’ll bet you $1 that there will never be a Christmas movie focused on Wall Street stock trading that’s as funny as this Eddie Murphy/Dan Ackroyd comedy.
This could have gone horribly wrong — who wants to see Santa turned into a boozin’ sex-aholic? But juxtaposing iconography only works to the benefit of this sad sack story, despicable and gleefully Grinchy.
29.A Christmas Carol (1951)
The no frills adaptation of Dickens’ story turned Alastair Sim into the definitive Ebenezer Scrooge. There’s a colorized version of the film out there in the world, completely inferior to the sharp black & white original.
What if your present turned to pure evil? All it takes is the mention that Gizmo and the Gremlins are Christmas gifts to ignite Joe Dante’s horror comedy with extra layer of flavor. There’s never been an anti-materialism parable quite like this.
27 Love Actually
Little known fact: Richard Curtis’ Crash-esque Christmas romance can actually be tapped for syrup. It’s that sappy. And it’s impossible to turn off.
26. Meet Me in St. Louis
Judy Garland debuted the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in this romantic musical, which is just as much a love letter to the World’s Fair as it is about men and women hooking up. Lame plotting aside, Garland is dazzling in the musical numbers and that’s what really counts.
25. Eyes Wide Shut
Christmas can be intoxicating, even without endless amounts of alcohol. Stanley Kubrick captures the holiday’s mesmerizing ambiance in Eyes Wide Shut, a sexual odyssey fueled by desire and passion that all seems to stem from the December atmosphere.
Eight women, one murder, a house in the middle of nowhere. Swimming Pool director François Ozon delivers a musical Christmas version of Clue that’s every bit as zany as one would hope.
23.The Santa Clause
Santa Clause preys on Tim Allen’s history of “masculinity.” It takes his persona — too straight and narrow to ever believe in Christmas magic — and fluffs it up. There have likely been dissertations written on the choice to make the Jewish David Krumholtz Santa’s #2, Bernard the Elf.
22.The Bishop’s Wife
The Whitney Houston remake The Preacher’s Wife is OK, but the Cary Grant/Loretta Young/David Niven original is the right kind of Christian-themed Christmas story. It’s one where Godly forces can’t provide, because in the end, angels are still human. That’s provocative – and easy to swallow with its cheery casing.
21. The Shop Around the Corner
Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic comedy is a legitimately tense experience. We see Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart bickering with one another, knowing full well that they’re in love with each other. It’s a rom-com with stakes; will they actually get together? A question we never ask in the modern age.
20. The Apartment
Billy Wilder’s classic comedy is rarely remembered for its Christmastime setting. The holiday looms in the background behind the down-on-his-luck Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon), but it’s essential to why he’s able to change his life in the end.
19.A Christmas Tale
Family comedies arrive by the truckload during the holidays, but how rarely we find one that’s reflective of real life get-togethers — frantic, grim, and even affirming.
18.Meet John Doe
Frank Capra can get away with anything — even a holiday-themed suicide movie. After penning a fake suicide note for the paper, a reporter searches for a John Doe to stand-in as the letter’s author. He becomes a phenomenon as a man preaching in the name of the downtrodden — a 99%-er before that was even a thing.
17. Die Hard
The legacy of John McClane may be sullied by lame sequels, but his rampage through Nakatomi Plaza continues to kick ass and act as the perfect metaphor for the season. Christmas music plays, terrorists invade, and it all begins to feel a little like a family gathering.
Stretch that stirring battlefield truce scene from War Horse over two hours and you have the heartbreaking Christmas tale Joyeux Noël. French, Scottish and German soldiers during World War I put down their guns for one night, just like you and your Republican cousins.
15.Remember the Night
This Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray romantic drama from 1940 is almost like 25th Hour, but with shoplifting and Christmas decorations. Stanwyck’s character is inevitably going to jail, but her case has been postponed for Christmas. So MacMurray takes her and, without too much sentimentality, falls for her.
Only Will Ferrell, the master of manchildren, could create a character in the post-9/11 world with the earnestness to carry a Christmas movie. As goofy as Elf is, it’s a delicate stunt to pull off and deserves the title of “modern classic.”
13. A Christmas Carol (1938)
It’s possible that this 75-year-old adaptation is more entertaining than it was back ’38. The imperfect black & white and archaic stylings play directly into the Scrooge character. He’s crotchety and the movie is kind of crotchety. The transportive quality is there — and it may not have upon its first release.
12.Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
It’s time to stop calling the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Christmas story a “TV special.” Looney Tunes had a Christmas special. Garfield had a Christmas special. Grinch is a special film, and Whos down in Whoville would agree that it’s a vital part of the holiday, especially in the current age of snark.
11.The Nightmare Before Christmas
Let’s clear this up: This is not a Halloween movie. It’s about conformist Halloweeners breaking free of their chains to celebrate Christmas. Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s macabre stop-motion film continues to be unique (and a top Hot Topic seller) 20 years later – and for good reason.
10. Frosty the Snowman
We’re undoing Christmas cultural foundations here: The Rankin & Bass “specials” are also films, animated shorts that have burned images of carol characters into our collective consciousness. Jackie Vernon turned Frosty into one of the most gosh darn lovable anthropomorphic creepsters in movie history. He might be a grown man who hangs out with children, but we love him.
9. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Because it’s the first of the Peanuts cartoons, Charlie Brown Christmas also deserves “short film” recognition. Even if religion doesn’t factor into your Christmas, Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and the rest of the gang’s realization of the over-commercialization of the holiday serves as a timeless lesson melodically enhance by the Vince Guardaldi Trio. As an important adult once put it, “WAH WAH WAH WAH WAMP WAH.”
8.National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Christmas is filled with joy and it’s filled with nightmares. The third sequel to Vacation explores the latter. It’s pitch perfect. The uproarious sewer explosion is something we all now wish on our most annoying family members. “Merry Christmas, the shitter’s full!”. A 7.Christmas Story
Don’t hate this movie because TBS insists on playing the movie for 24 hours straight. The cavalcade of familial horrors — that leg lamp, man — are still as punchy as ever. Being a kid sucks. A Christmas Story makes remembering that fact all OK.
Before Irving Berlin repurposed “White Christmas” for the movie of the same name, it debuted in Holiday Inn, a musical romp that hits all its major beats on Christmas. The stars aligned for Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire showing off their skills in full force..
Is it wrong that I still want to live a weekend by myself, Home Alone-style? Macaulay Culkin got his Christmas wish, eating ice cream and watching gangster movies while his parents lost their minds trying to get home over the holiday. It became our fantasy. Though the climax is what sells the movie — the epic Rube Goldberg death match between Kevin and the Wet Bandits — but every moment entertains. Kevin’s preparation for the showdown set to “Carol of the Bells” is iconic.
4. Babes in Toyland (1934)
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s adventure through the fantasy world of Toyland may be one of the most uproarious movies of all time, Christmas-themed or not. You could plop the duo in a Judd Apatow movie today and their comedy would click — they’re that universal. Surrounding them is pure imagination, with costumes and sets ranging from horrifying to goofy. Laurel and Hardy at the top of their game.
3. It’s a Wonderful Life
Many will say the Frank Capra classic is too far down on the list, even at #4. The truth is, the redemptive story of George Bailey (James Stewart) is a great movie, not a brilliantmovie. It takes it’s merry ol’ time getting to the juicy stuff, but when Bailey meets Clarence the Angel, the whirlwind of feelings begins.
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Though Rudolph’s nose squeak is among the most heinous noises ever committed to film, the Rankin & Bass stop-motion cartoon is heartwarming, cheerful, and downright bizarre. I don’t know what recreational substances helped someone throw a dentist elf, misfit toys, and Burl Ives into one movie, but they did it and we’re grateful.
2. The Muppet Christmas Carol
The holidays are all about dropping cynicism to relish in the mushier spectrum of human emotion. The Muppets were born from those feelings. Pitting them against Michael Caine’s Scrooge, who never misses a cue when talking down to his felt costars, reinvents the time-honored classic. The music by Paul Williams and the framework of Gonzo as Dickens is pure magic. Despite being lauded by Christmas movie fanatics, Muppet Christmas Carol is still underappreciated.
1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
There’s nothing like the original. The ’47 Miracle has the court room gravitas of 12 Angry Men, the otherworldliness of It’s a Wonderful Life, and manages to turn Santa into a humanistic star. It’s Christmas on trial and the holiday spirit prevails — could there be a better message?