Christmas movies are a quintessential part of the holiday season. This is a cherished sub-genre of films reflecting some of our most powerful nostalgia and family traditions. Here’s our top 10 essential Christmas movies for you to still enjoy before the holiday hits next week:
10.) JUST FRIENDS (2005)
For the past 10 years, Just Friends has provided us with the perfect holiday date movie; it’s time to recognize. This romantic comedy is both hilarious and charming while never straying too far away from Christmas movie territory. Ryan Reynold’s delivers his greatest comedic performances (fat suit) and Anna Faris shines in her supporting role as pop star Samantha James. Amy Smart is also adorable. Tell me Jamie Palamino isn’t the greatest name for a legendary long-lost hometown crush; it is. Oh, and Julie Hagerty (Airplane) plays the funniest movie-Mom we’ve seen in a while.
(Writing song lyrics) “Mall people, they come and go. Small people, they just don’t know” – Samantha James
9.) BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
1992 marked the pinnacle of Tim Burton’s visual stylization, and it revolved around Christmas in Gotham. Boy, what a bleak Christmas it was. The entire movie is dark and sinister; we love it. As a Christmas movie, Batman Returns certainly delivers the right pageantry: lots of snow, mistletoe, and a tree lighting ceremony where The Penguin unleashes a murderous gang of circus folk into the streets as his gift to the people of Gotham; real holly jolly stuff. We watched this as kids, and we’re probably much tougher today because of it -- Thanks, Tim. Finally, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman remains one of the sexiest movie characters ever.
(Enters apartment) “Honey, I’m home. Oh, I forgot, I’m not married.”– Selina Kyle (Catwoman)
8.) A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
A Christmas Story can only be described as revisiting a cherished holiday memory you hold onto, but never actually lived. The movie is so vintage and dreamlike; it creates a sentimental connection for its audience. Ralphie is the epitome of any child at Christmas, whose only real concern is getting what he or she has asked for. This character desire resonates within anyone who grew up celebrating the holiday, making it undoubtedly the most celebrated Christmas movie of the past 50 years.
(Reacts to Ralphie’s desire for BB gun) “You’ll shoot your eye out!” – Ralphie’s Mother, Teacher & Mall Santa Claus
7.) DIE HARD (1988)
We’re so glad that one of the great action films of our time doubles as a Christmas movie – a very mature and violent Christmas movie, that is. Die Hard is ideal for a late-night December screening, maybe over some beers with the fellas, because let’s face it; it’s the ultimate man’s (Christmas) movie. And, on the right night, there’s no better place to spend two hours than in the Nakatomi Plaza fighting off terrorists at a company Christmas party from Hell. The film made Bruce Willis a movie star, and Alan Rickman a legendary bad guy. Also, the Christmas spirit here is explosive. This is a terrific movie, and for 1988, well before its time.
(Reading what John McClane wrote on dead terrorist’s shirt) “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.” – Hans Gruber
6.) THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
From the mind of Tim Burton (again), and the genius of stop-motion director Henry Selick, comes the most innovative Christmas film on our list: The Nightmare Before Christmas. We love the movie for many reasons, but mainly for how it utilizes the same stop-motion animation technique used in the classic ‘60s TV specials Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman. The difference is, Nightmare broke the ceiling for achievement in stop-motion, while creating a grim world, almost too grim for little ones. Revisit the movie and relish in the extraordinarily stunning visual effects, along with a beautiful score by acclaimed composer Danny Elfman.
(Discovers Christmas Town) “What’s this?” – Jack Skellington
5.) ELF (2003)
Elf is the best Christmas movie of the 21st Century thanks to an uproarious performance by the funniest man of the 21st Century: Will Ferrell. It’s a match made in heaven -- Christmas movie-heaven -- and an instant holiday classic. The concept is awesome; a basic fish-out-of-water tale overfilled with situational humor that arises from taking a 6-foot something human “elf” from the North Pole and placing him smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, and then, sugar-coating it in Christmas clichés. It’s an absolute treat, and we have a feeling in 20-30 years when reflecting back on Ferrell’s career, Elf will be in his top 5, as it is for our Christmas movies.
(Speaking to little person) “He’s an angry elf.” – Buddy The Elf
4.) THE SANTA CLAUSE (1994)
What might be the most imaginative Christmas movie of all time is definitely the greatest Santa Claus movie of all time: The Santa Clause. This movie is absolutely ingenious for its juxtaposition between the real life-adult world of disbelief, and the fantastical-childlike world of belief. This is a stark contrast initially for Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) who doesn’t believe in Santa, until he becomes him, and sees his grounded-professional life turn into one full of magic and Christmas duty. There’s no better family film that deals in the power of believing in something, specifically the most prestigious figure of Western folklore. It’s also incredibly careful with protecting the truth behind the myth all while acknowledging that most adults don’t believe in Santa Claus. Impressive. And, there’s something forever touching about the sentiment “just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
(Shaking belly far for doctor) “Does this look like a little weight to you?” – Scott Calvin (Santa Claus)
3.) CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
How is Christmas Vacation not the most relatable family comedy of the holiday season? It would be blasphemous to place it anywhere else but in the top 3, and our reasoning is simple: Clark Griswold. He’s the ultimate movie-Dad. We’re not saying Clark is the perfect father, just that his character personifies parts of pretty much every Dad. Clark just wants a “good old-fashioned family Christmas” and he makes it his duty to ensure this happens. Of course – in typical Griswold fashion – he screws up along the way, making it extremely difficult for him to maintain his composure and keep fighting to give his family (who doesn’t care) something special. Meanwhile, we get to kick back, relax and laugh at him. Ha. Good ol’ Dad. Also, John Hughes wrote the script.
(Cuts rope holding down branches of giant tree, and branches shoot out, breaking windows and engulfing him) “Lotta sap in here! Mmm…looks great! Little full, lotta sap.” – Clark Griswold
2.) IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life is in one word: timeless. Not just a deeply thoughtful and richly thematic Christmas story, but also one of the finest and most inspirational films ever made. Watching this movie around Christmas is a special kind of tradition, one that reaffirms the purpose of living and continually gives generation after generation of audiences hope, and a refreshed perspective into their own wonderful lives. We should all be reminded, like Clarence the guardian angel, who reminded Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey, “No man is a failure who has friends.” Which is true. This isn’t our absolute favorite Christmas movie, but it is undoubtedly the most important one.
(After showing George what life would be like without him) “You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?” – Clarence
1.) HOME ALONE (1990)
This was the easiest selection on the list. Why? No other Christmas movie encapsulates the warmth and spirit of the entire season the way Home Alone does. Finishing the movie is like completing an advent calendar, and now you’re ready for Christmas. The second movie in our top 3 to be written by John Hughes, it’s really the heartfelt touch of director Chris Columbus that makes the picture so transcending. Thematically comparable to It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas Vacation, Home Alone reinforces the value of family, and not taking yours for granted. The film taught us at a young age that regardless of what you think you want for Christmas, being with your family on December 25th is the greatest gift of all. Oh yeah, and the burglars getting hurt is pretty funny.
(To Santa’s Helper, after it all makes sense for Kevin) “This is extremely important. Will you please tell Santa that instead of presents this year, I just want my family back. No toys, nothing but Peter, Kate, Buzz, Megan, Linnie, and Jeff. And my aunt and my cousins. And if he has time, my Uncle Frank. Okay?” – Kevin McCallister
Well, that’s our list. Hope you enjoyed reading, and will consider fitting as many of these into your remaining holiday screenings as possible. Here are some honorable mentions:
KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005)
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)
JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996)
HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000)
BAD SANTA (2003)
IRON MAN 3 (2013)
LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)