When it’s time to get into the holiday spirit, nothing makes the heart grow three sizes quite like a good Christmas movie. In this festive face-off, holiday movie heavyweights complete for the title of best yuletide flick.
Could anything top a classic like “It’s a Wonderful Life”? Will Buddy the Elf’s antics outpace Kevin McCallister’s “Home Alone” booby traps? The competition is fierce. So, mix up some hot chocolate, snuggle up by the fireplace and cast your votes. May the best holiday film win!
Holiday Movie Showdown: Round 1
Holiday Movie Polls
While we’re at it, let’s get your thoughts on a few more controversial holiday film questions.
Holiday Movie Watchlist
While the debate for best holiday movie may never truly be settled, we’ve put together a holiday movie watchlist of essentials that could put anyone in a jolly mood. To help us choose, each movie here has an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 68% or higher.
Oldies but Goodies
These classic holiday movies from the 1940s and 1950s bring the nostalgia.
“Holiday Inn” (1942)
This classic, seasonal Irving Berlin musical follows a trio of performers (played by Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Virginia Dale) who try their hand(s) at running a country hotel.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
When a downtrodden father and husband, George Bailey (James Stewart), wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel (Henry Travers) pays him a life-saving visit. A must for any holiday movie watchlist!
“Miracle On 34th Street” (1947)
After an old man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) fills in for Santa in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, he changes the lives of those around him.
“A Christmas Carol” (1951)
There are many adaptations of this holiday classic, but this version comes highly rated and is one of the most faithful to the original story, telling the tale of a crotchety businessman who’s visited by ghosts.
“White Christmas” (1954)
This romantic comedy musical follows two singers (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) who join a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to put on a Christmas show.
*Some honorable mentions for this category include “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) and “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940).
These G-rated movies and shorts are perfect for young kids – and kids at heart.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)
This stop motion film is filled with iconic imagery and songs while telling an important lesson that’s equal parts nostalgic, heartwarming and festive.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
The first Peanuts special to air on television, this animated classic tells the story of Charlie Brown and his friends as they learn the true meaning of the holidays.
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966)
The original adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s beloved tale, watch as the grouchy Grinch goes from hating and trying to steal Christmas, to fully embracing it.
“Frosty the Snowman” (1969)
A magical top hat brings a snowman to life in this classic animated film that makes a great singalong for little ones. (Get tips to build your own snowman here.)
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
Introduce young kids to Charles Dickens’ iconic tale with this version of “A Christmas Carol” told by everyone’s favorite Muppets.
‘Nice’ Holiday Movies
These holiday movies are filled with adventure, laughs and holiday spirit. Check out these ‘nice’ – PG-rated – flicks fit for the whole family.
“A Christmas Story” (1983)
This fan-favorite holiday classic follows a young boy, Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), who wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
“Home Alone” (1990)
In this iconic movie, 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left behind when his family goes on vacation. Hijinks ensue when two bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) target his home.
“The Santa Clause” (1994)
When divorced dad Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) spends Christmas Eve with his young son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), things take a turn for the magical.
In this flick, Will Ferrell’s portrayal of Buddy, a grown man who thinks he’s an elf, is hilarious and heartwarming, making a feel-good holiday movie for everyone in the family.
“Arthur Christmas” (2011)
When Santa (voiced by Bill Nighy) misses delivering gifts to one child on Christmas Eve, his youngest son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) steps up to try and save the day.
Although it’s a newer addition, the hybrid animation style of “Klaus” gives a nostalgic holiday feel while telling the story of a postman who discovers the location of Santa.
Movies for ‘Scrooges’
From action and horror to fantasy and other less conventional themes, these holiday movies – ranging in rating from PG to R – stray from the classic formula but are still festive in their own way.
The focus is more on the creatures than Christmas in this flick where a father gifts his son a “mogwai” with a specific list of care instructions.
“Die Hard” (1988)
This action classic stars Bruce Willis as a New York City policeman who’s attending a corporate holiday party with his wife. Things go awry when a group of terrorists threaten the festivities.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
This stop motion masterpiece tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, who discovers the magic of Christmas.
“Tokyo Godfathers” (2003)
This Japanese animation is beautiful while telling the story of a trio of homeless people who discover an abandoned newborn baby on Christmas Eve.
“Better Watch Out” (2017)
This horror follows a young woman babysitting a boy during the holidays when danger threatens the peace. This movies starts out a little cringe-inducing, but its many twists will keep you on your toes.
‘Naughty’ Holiday Movies
These holiday flicks – rated PG-13 and R – are for more mature audiences. Focusing on humor and adult situations, these ‘naughty’ holiday movies will have even the biggest ‘Grinches’ feeling festive.
“Trading Places” (1983)
Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy star in this social satire where two men change places, experiencing opposite socio-economic lifestyles during the holidays.
Bill Murray stars in this comedy about a cold-hearted television executive. “Scrooged” is crude and hilarious – but also nostalgic and festive thanks to the “Christmas Carol” formula it follows.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
This slapstick comedy follows husband and father, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), as he tries to prepare the perfect Christmas for his family, but things go off the rails.
“Bad Santa” (2003)
A raunchy black comedy, “Bad Santa” stars Billy Bob Thornton as a grouchy conman and his partner in crime, Tony Cox, who pose as a mall Santa and elf in order to steal from outlet stores.
“Love Actually” (2003)
Focusing on several intertwining stories, “Love Actually” uses an ensemble cast to show the nuances of different types of relationships.
“The Best Man Holiday” (2013)
In this comedy drama, a group of college friends reunite after 15 years to celebrate the holidays together, reigniting old rivalries and romances.
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What’s your must-watch movie every holiday season? Tell us in the comments.
Illustrations by Sarah Hopkins