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The Best Christmas Movies of All Time


Ah, Christmas! An experience you wish could last all year long (Happy Christmas in July!). But since that’s not really possible, we have Christmas movies. And they’re more than just holiday entertainment. They’re a visual treat, a window of delight, that takes you into the spirit of the festival and gives you a free pass to stay there for as long as you want. From tear-jerking romantic comedies to animated musical adventures, the best Christmas movies encapsulate the true meaning and magic of the season in ways that are endearing and affectionate.


After all, nothing quite mimics the feeling of Christmas like settling in with a festive flick that gives you familiar tropes like snowy little towns blanketed in white, carolers singing away on street corners, and families reconnecting with one another. And yet, what remains constant is the uplifting nature of these different storylines and variations. These movies remind us of what really matters at this special time of the year – being with our dear and beloved, sharing gratitude, and serving others from a place of honesty and care. Even if you have to crawl through an air vent in a skyscraper to do it.

Updated on November 24th, 2023, by Ben Hathaway: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.


20 Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands

Release Date
December 5, 1990

Director
Tim Burton

Cast
Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Kathy Baker, Robert Oliveri

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Drama

Quite possibly Tim Burton’s best film (and right up there with Batman Begins in terms of being the most personal), Edward Scissorhands is the thematically resonant tale of a particularly bizarre outcast. The narrative follows the title character, a scientist’s creation, as he finds himself pulled into the society that lies just outside his castle. Suffice it to say, it’s a different world, and he’s not going to be easily accepted.

What Makes It So Great?

The leading work by Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder (not to mention the chemistry shared) is enough to make Edward Scissorhands an all-timer. But then there’s the production design, Burton’s incredibly tight direction, and the supporting performances (especially those of Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest).

Available to stream on Max and DIRECTV

19 How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Release Date
November 17, 2000

Director
Ron Howard

Cast
Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, Bill Irwin, Molly Shannon

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Comedy

Easily one of the best Jim Carrey movies, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an underappreciated classic. The narrative, not unlike the animated original short, follows a mountain-bound green meanie who was ostracized by his community long ago. And, now, with Santa on his way, the Grinch decides it’s time to exact vengeance.

What Makes It So Great?

Back in 2000, The Grinch dominated the box office, and it did so week after week. What’s impressive is that it did so in the face of poor critical reviews, most of which called it over-produced and filled with unnecessary fluff. Perhaps the latter point has merit, but even The Grinch‘s fluff (AKA the mayoral stuff) is wildly enjoyable.

Available to stream on DIRECTV

18 Carol (2015)

carol

Carol

Release Date
November 20, 2015

Director
Todd Haynes

Cast
Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Kyle Chandler, Sarah Paulson, Jake Lacy, John Magaro

Rating
R

Main Genre
Drama

A forbidden love story set around the holiday season, Todd Haynes’ moving Carol tells the story of a 20-something department store worker and an older housewife who realize they haven’t been living their lives to the fullest potential. Why? Because they’d yet to meet one another. And damn the close-minded 1950s mentality that surrounds them.

What Makes It So Great?

Carol is an incredibly well-put-together film. It does a tremendous job of replicating 1950s aesthetics, not to mention society’s general way of thinking at that point in time. But then there are the dynamic lead performances by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom deliver Oscar-caliber performances.

Available to stream on Netflix and Kanopy

17 The Ref (1994)

The Ref

The Ref

Release Date
March 9, 1994

Director
Ted Demme

Cast
Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Glynis Johns, Raymond J. Barry

Rating
R

Main Genre
Comedy

For the vast majority of its runtime, The Ref focuses on just three characters: a husband, a wife, and a thief. Too bad for the thief, played by the great Denis Leary, the husband and wife are decidedly not happily married.

What Makes It So Great?

For those who like to feel uncomfortable around the holidays, The Ref is a solid choice. The chemistry between Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey is rock solid, never failing to ensure the audience that, for one, they were once happy, and, two, they aren’t now. Toss in the volatile Leary (who is, for all intents and purposes, playing a heightened version of himself), and The Ref is a very different but very enjoyable Christmas classic.

Available to stream on Hoopla

16 Batman Returns (1992)

batman returns

Batman Returns

Release Date
June 19, 1992

Director
Tim Burton

Cast
Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Michael Murphy

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Action

Related: 10 Best Christmas Movies on Disney+ to Watch Right Now

Batman Returns picks up where 1989’s Batman left off. But, now, Harvey Dent isn’t the mayor, and if anything, the favored son of Gotham isn’t the mayor (or the Bat) at all, but rather a businessman with no scruples: Max Schreck. And Schreck, who claims to be “Gotham’s Santa Claus,” has found a strange Penguin man who may very well be able to help him cover up some of his dirty work.

What Makes It So Great?

To this day, even with The Dark Knight taken into consideration, there’s an argument to be made that Batman Returns is the best installment of its respective IP. And, watching it now, it’s just so crushingly obvious how special Returns was. It was fully a single artist’s vision, and that’s a great thing, but it was just a vision that didn’t quite gel with marketing toys to kids.

Available to stream on Max and Prime Video

15 The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Release Date
December 10, 1992

Director
Brian Henson

Cast
Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, Frank Oz, David Rudman

Rating
G

Main Genre
Comedy

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the Muppet retelling of the classic Dickens tale. It follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who does not believe in Christmas, being visited by the ghosts of past, present, and future Christmases. From his childhood to his coldest present, the miser gets a glimpse of all that has and will conspire in his life. Along the way, he interacts with Muppet characters like Gonzo, Kermit, and Miss Piggy.

What Makes It So Great?

With Michael Caine as Scrooge, Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, and Rizzo the Rat as his wisecracking sidekick, there isn’t a single element of the film that is not enjoyable. Apart from being a timeless story that brings its authors’ tale to life, the movie also captivates the festive spirit and the introspection provided by Christmas, even to those who are a little skeptical of it.

Available to stream on Disney+

14 Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis

Meet Me in St. Louis

Release Date
November 28, 1944

Director
Vincente Minnelli

Cast
Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames, Tom Drake

Genres
Family, Comedy, Musical, Romance

Honestly, we’d even take Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” for two hours straight over the movie. Still, let’s look at this classic Christmas tale, Meet Me in St. Louis. Set at the turn of the 20th century, the movie features the Smith family preparing for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The four Smith sisters navigate the possibility of life in New York after their father gets a transfer, leaving behind first crushes and blossoming love.

What Makes It So Great?

Christmas is best told through small-town stories, and where there is a major life change looming on the horizon for the characters, the starling portrait is both charming and profound. Meet Me in St. Louis shows us a picture of a bygone American Era, where Esther, Tootie, and Rose are conveying their reluctant and bittersweet feelings of new beginnings and Christmas cheer. Over 70 years later, its legendary songs like “The Trolley Song” remain timeless.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

13 Gremlins (1984)

gremlins

Gremlins

Release Date
June 7, 1984

Director
Joe Dante

Cast
Hoyt Axton, John Louie, Keye Luke, Don Steele, Susan Burgess, Scott Brady

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Comedy

On Christmas Eve, young Billy Peltzer receives a strange creature called a Mogwai as a gift. Now, children are used to getting presents during the holidays, but following the instructions that come with them? Not so much. Billy exposes this pet creature to bright lights and water, and feeds it after midnight, causing him to multiply into numerous little destructive gremlins waiting, delightful might we add, to wreak havoc on the town.

What Makes It So Great?

Gremlins is directed by Joe Dante. It manages to mix horror and comedy in a way that is clever and visually entertaining. First, it captures the small town’s beautiful and relatable Christmas morning mayhem perfectly. Second, it makes the family and tradition element creepy. Third, despite blending genres, the film also honors the festive spirit. And lastly, the cult classic uses stunning practical effects and an incredible score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

12 A Christmas Tale (2008)

A Christmas Tale

A Christmas Tale

Release Date
May 16, 2008

Director
Arnaud Desplechin

Cast
Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Anne Consigny, Mathieu Amalric, Melvil Poupaud, Hippolyte Girardot

Rating
NR

Main Genre
Comedy

Christmas is a time when families shed their differences and come together to forgive one another and have a good time. The same spirit extends towards the troubled Vuillard family, who’ve met for the first time in six years. During their reunion, long-buried secrets and past traumas come to the surface and stir deep conflicts around the dinner table. As the booze flows and tensions reach boiling point, they slowly begin to forgive past mistakes.

What Makes It So Great?

If you’re expecting mushy endings and feel-good drama, do not turn to A Christmas Tale. Director Arnaud Desplechin crafts this intimate French film as a portrayal of a multi-generational family filled with drama. Each character is nuanced and complex, and the tender moments they share counteracts all the resentment. Beautifully filmed, it captures the side of Christmas that most movies tend to overlook.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

11 Die Hard (1988)

die hard

Die Hard

Release Date
July 15, 1988

Director
John McTiernan

Cast
Bruce Willis, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason, William Atherton, Hart Bochner

Rating
R

Main Genre
Action

Related: Best Santa Claus Movies of All Time

John McClane, an NYPD cop visiting his estranged wife and children with the hopes of spending Christmas with them, arrives in Los Angeles only to find himself trapped in a building under siege. German terrorists stopped the party and the celebrations and had innocent people held hostage in an atmosphere of dread. With no enforcement and against a heavily armed group, McClane becomes the solo hero fighting back the only way he knows how – with fists, bullets, and kicks.

What Makes It So Great?

Die Hard starts as an incredible action-packed thrill ride, but underneath the high-stakes heroism is the touching story of a father reconnecting with his family. What’s more is the way Bruce Willis holds the fort with his sharp-tongued wit and humorous tension, making the film arguably the greatest Christmas action movie of all time.

Available to stream on Hulu

10 About a Boy (2002)

Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, and Toni Collette star in this beautiful film, About a Boy. The story goes as follows – Will Freeman is a wealthy man-child living in London. He often attends single-parent meetings in hopes of connecting with women. When Marcus, the twelve-year-old son of Fiona, who is one of the single moms from the meeting, strikes a friendship with Will, something shifts inside him. He takes Marcus under his wing, they deal with bullies and family issues and spend the holidays together.

What Makes It So Great?

Adapted from the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby, the film is heartwarming and genuinely funny. Hugh Grant is the heart of the movie. He shines as the selfish Will learning the newfound joys of friendship, compassion, and making a positive impact on someone’s life. Hoult also charms as the wise-beyond-his-years Marcus. Overall, the movie taps into your emotions in a way a modern Christmas classic should.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

9 Bad Santa (2003)

Bad Santa

Bad Santa

Release Date
November 26, 2003

Director
Terry Zwigoff

Cast
Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly, Lauren Graham, Lauren Tom, Bernie Mac

Rating
R

Runtime
91

Genres
Comedy, Crime, Documentary

Bad Santa follows a miserable conman Willie and his equally unpleasant little helper Marcus, who spend every December impersonating Santa and his elf to rob shopping malls. But one Christmas, their plans go awry because they end up forming an unlikely friendship with a troubled eight-year-old kid.

What Makes It So Great?

Bad Santa, written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, certainly pushes the limit of what the holiday envelops with its profane language and dark themes. However, in its heart, lies an ultimately sweet redemption story. Billy Bob Thornton delivers a career-best performance as the disdainful yet emotionally complex Father Christmas, making fans root and cheer for his anti-hero because beneath it all, he just wants love, acceptance, and a fresh start.

Available to stream on Paramount+

8 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

christmas vacation

christmas vacation

Release Date
November 30, 1989

Director
Jeremiah S. Chechik

Cast
Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, John Randolph, Diane Ladd

Rating
PG-13

Main Genre
Comedy

The 1989 classic by Jeremiah S. Chechik follows Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, who is obsessed with the idea of the perfect suburban Christmas, but his quest devolves into a hilarious disaster for the extended family. No matter how carefully Clark plans everything down to the T, things go quickly and comedically south. From decorations and light displays to family activities, every over-the-top attempt made by him to create the picture-perfect old-fashioned Christmas sees faults and mishaps.

What Makes It So Great?

Co-starring Randy Quaid and Juliette Lewis as Clark’s scheming Cousin Eddie and teenage daughter Audrey, this beloved comedy elevates itself into the holiday movie hall of fame with one hilarious sequence after another. Overall, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a story of family, humor, and heart.

Available to stream on Max

7 A Christmas Carol (1951)

A faithful and truly special adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale, A Christmas Carol stars Alastair Sim in a brilliant performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is a businessman who blazes his way through life without so much as a care for his deceitful ways. But he is given a life-changing visit by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future on Christmas Eve. The spirits offer him warnings and glimpses at what his life has been and could become if he doesn’t change his selfish ways until they can crack Scrooge’s tough exterior.

What Makes It So Great?

The movie is very dark, but it creates a clever balance between the goth aesthetic of Dickens’ novella and genuine humor and warmth. Alastair Sim shines through in bringing humanity to his character of Scrooge. Plus, the cinematography of the time and the entire vibe are quite nostalgic and beautiful.

6 The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Release Date
October 9, 1993

Director
Henry Selick

Cast
Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Animation

Related: What Are the Best and Worst Rated Christmas Movies of All Time?

Jack Skellington, king of “Halloween Town,” has grown weary of scaring people and now wishes to spread Christmas cheer by kidnapping Santa and taking over his role. But Jack’s selfish and unconventional methods threaten to ruin the holiday for children everywhere. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a beloved stop-motion animation classic surrounding Jack’s adventures between the worlds of Halloween and Christmas.

What Makes It So Great?

Director Henry Selick uses colorful Gothic elements to add horror, and sweetly sinister characters like Sally the rag doll to weave a story that resonates with viewers of all ages. The takeaway? At its heart, this enduring classic is about embracing change and understanding differences even when they seem too big and bothersome. Something we could all use.

Available to stream on Disney+

5 A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

Release Date
November 18, 1983

Director
Bob Clark

Cast
Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Comedy

Inspired by the wonderful writings of Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story tells the comedic tale of Ralphie Parker, who spends the month leading up to Christmas obsessively begging his parents for an official Red Ryder 200-shot range model air rifle. We get to watch Ralphie indulge in various adorable mishaps and adventures – from his dealings with a school bully to messing with Christmas advertising at the local department store.

What Makes It So Great?

Not a moment in the movie goes by without delivering a healthy dose of laughter and nostalgia for the simple pleasures of childhood wonder every year when the holiday season closes in. As for the narrative style, it is fondly detached but also very observant of the details when it comes to family traditions, something fittingly matched by its old-school aesthetic, all of which makes Ralphie’s classic tale a quintessential piece of pop culture.

Available to stream on Max

4 Elf (2003)

Elf

Elf

Release Date
October 9, 2003

Director
Jon Favreau

Cast
Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel

Rating
PG

Runtime
97

Genres
Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Romance

Starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who was raised by elves at the North Pole, the film follows his travels to New York City as he searches for his biological father. While searching for his real family, Buddy spreads Christmas cheer to everyone he meets. It’s as if he’s been living under a rock because of his childlike innocence and unfamiliarity with the big city, all of which cause him confusion and chaos.

What Makes It So Great?

Ferrell is truly wonderful as the hilarious and overly enthusiastic Buddy. From his affection towards the festival and love for elf culture to his unflinching zest for little things in life, Buddy’s story is brimming with joy and optimism. Elf explores what really makes Christmas so lovely and blends the laughs and emotion in equal proportion.

Available to stream on Max

3 Miracle On 34th Street (1994)

Miracle On 34th Street features a war between the authorities and the believers. The 1994 fantasy comedy-drama features a department store Santa who claims to be the real Kris Kringle. However believable his story, it is challenged to be false, and he is threatened to be institutionalized. But a young single mother and her daughter, Susan, become Kringle’s strongest supporters in a legal battle to prove his true identity.

What Makes It So Great?

The movie is a modern remake of the 1947 classic and is every bit as sweet as the original. The Trial of Santa relies not on high stakes or heavier drama but on simple beliefs, faith, and the joyous spirit of Christmas. Definitely a must-watch with your beloved clan during the holidays.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

2 Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone

Home Alone

Release Date
November 16, 1990

Director
Chris Columbus

Cast
Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Roberts Blossom, Catherine O’Hara

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Comedy

This is a movie that probably needs no description because, come on, you’ve all seen it. But still, let’s do a quick recap. Home Alone follows an eight-year-old prankster named Kevin, who is accidentally left behind when his family flies away to Paris for Christmas. With no adults around, little Kevin can do whatever he wants. But his freedom is interrupted when two dim-witted burglars plot to enter his house on Christmas Eve. This unwelcome company arrives with comedy, pranks, hijinks, and madcap fun while Kevin tries everything to defend his home and his holiday.

What Makes It So Great?

The movie taps into the hope and joy we feel for the festival as children – a time when the house is full of toys, sweets, and presents. It’s an absolute paradise. Macaulay Culkin perfectly captures the mixture of innocence and mischief that has defined the notoriety of his character. Meanwhile, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are deliciously wicked as the burglars. Ultimately, the film allows you to make the most of your favorite time of the year.

Available to buy/rent on Apple TV

1 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Its a Wonderful Life

Its a Wonderful Life

Release Date
December 20, 1946

Director
Frank Capra

Cast
James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi

Rating
PG

Main Genre
Drama

It’s A Wonderful Life is a movie that proves that no matter how dull life gets, there is always hope and beauty if we choose to open our hearts and see it. It follows George Bailey, a discouraged building and loan manager, as he contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve. An angel is sent to guide him through revelations that show what life would be like if he had never been born.

What Makes It So Great?

The quintessential feel-good Christmas classic is not only uplifting in every way but also deeply touching in its exploration of the importance of every single human life. Jimmy Stewart delivers one of his most memorable performances as the main lead who realizes just how loved he is. The movie’s message is simple, but it resonates particularly well during the festive season. Directed by Frank Capra, this lovely tale is truly unforgettable.

Available to stream on Prime Video



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