‘Tis the season to curl up on the couch with a cup of cocoa — and binge on nostalgic, feel-good movies. While rating the best holiday films is purely subjective, here’s a list of the season’s 50 best:
These are the films that your grandparents approve of and for good reason: they’re wonderful.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
Arguably the most-watched film each holiday season, George Bailey’s never-been-born adventure is sure to make you cry tears of life-is-beautiful joy.
2. Holiday Inn
Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire: what more do you need? How about the debut of the now-classic song “White Christmas”? Warning: this film will make you want to quit your job and only work on holidays.
3. White Christmas
After you’ve seen Holiday Inn, watch its Crosby-starring spin-off, “White Christmas.” Rosemary Clooney is a dream — as are the fur-trimmed capes and painted Vermont landscapes.
4. A Christmas Carol (1951)
The classic Dickens novel has countless adaptations. A top recommendation: the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. It will destroy your inner “bah, humbug!”
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In this 1947 Oscar winner, Santa Claus is on trial. By the inspirational movie’s end, you’ll believe again.
6. The Bishop’s Wife
The non-musical inspiration behind The Preacher’s Wife, this film stars Cary Grant as an angel-slash-marriage-counselor. Enough said.
7. The Bells of St. Mary’s
More Bing Crosby, the face of classic Christmas movies. This 1945 film features a Christmas pageant at the run-down school he and a nun are trying to save.
8. Meet Me in St. Louis
This Judy Garland classic is on the list merely for the scene in which she sings a magical rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
9. Babes in Toyland
Laurel and Hardy rescue Tom Tom and Bo Peep from Bogeyland in this 1934 adaptation of Victor Herbert’s operetta. Disney’s adaptation was released in 1961.
Image courtesy: Liberty Films
These are our classics, the ones we’ll make our grandchildren watch one day.
10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
This hilarious, irreverent, everything-goes-wrong Chevy Chase vehicle will make you so thankful that your crazy family isn’t that crazy.
11. A Christmas Story
It’s probably cinema’s most famous Christmas wish list: Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun. The super-quotable funny flick has been on must-watch lists since its 1983 premiere.
12. Home Alone
A kid has to fight off burglars after his semi-dysfunctional family accidently leaves him behind during the Christmas holidays. Hilarity ensues, but so do the warm-and-fuzzies.
13. Home Alone 2: Christmas in New York
Arguably better than the original, Kevin McCallister ends up in New York — alone. Ignore the plot impossibility and be charmed by a precocious Macaulay Culkin and the near-perfect score by John Williams. Note: Home Alone 2 was the most successful film of 1992.
14. A Muppet Christmas Carol
Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit; this charming adaption is surprisingly faithful to the original story. The Muppets are trendy again, so why not include them in your holiday-movie plans?
This film is fast becoming a can’t-avoid classic. It has everything a holiday film needs: humor, hope, music, quirky romance, candy overdoses, and Ed Asner as Santa Claus. Even non-fans of Will Ferrell admit to being charmed by the man who believes he’s an elf.
16. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
This remake of the classic film holds its own against the original. Richard Attenborough probably is the real Santa. He’s that jolly.
17. The Preacher’s Wife
We’ve mentioned The Bishop’s Wife, but we can’t ignore the remake. Denzel Washington makes for the perfect modern-day Cary Grant, and Whitney Houston’s powerhouse vocals will have downloading the soundtrack in no time.
18. The Family Man
This alternate-reality holiday film has Nicolas Cage in a George Bailey-like role, waking up one morning to a life he could have had. This film might encourage you to look up “the one who got away,” so avoid if you’re feeling a little vulnerable to Facebook stalking.
19. The Nativity Story
If “Jesus is the reason for the season,” then why not check out a Biblical account of that first Christmas?
Image courtesy: New Line Cinema
The holidays bring out the child in all of us. Here are our favorite animated and claymation films for this time of year:
20. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Bogged down by the chaos at the mall? This classic animated Christmas special seeks to discover the real meaning of Christmas. Spoiler alert: scripture trumps commercialism.
21. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
The 1964 stop-motion classic is a giant hug in storytelling form. Rudolph and Hermey the Misfit Elf feel like outcasts, but end up saving the day.
22. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
The 1966 animated musical adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic book will make your heart grow three sizes with each viewing.
23. The Snowman
The book is wordless and so is the short film. The only silent entry on the list, this snowman-comes-to-life story is no Frosty the Snowman. It’s a dreamy, Academy Award-nominated masterpiece that airs in Britain (and around the world) every holiday season.
24. Frosty, the Snowman
The kid in us is still looking for that magic hat that will bring our front-yard snowman to life. If our Frostys ever did come to life, we’d go to extreme lengths trying to keep him from melting, too.
25. The Polar Express
A gorgeous motion-capture adventure, The Polar Express takes skeptical children to meet the man they no longer believe in. It’s narrated by Tom Hanks, everyone’s favorite everyman.
26. The Little Drummer Boy
It’s another short film based on a holiday tune. This 1968 claymation special follows the story of a humanity-hating drummer as he encounters the three magi.
27. Robbie the Reindeer
For die-hard fans of Rudolph, these BBC tales feature the adventures of Rudolph’s son.
28. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
The final Rankin-Bass claymation special in this list, Fred Astaire narrates the 1970 Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town special.
29. Lady and the Tramp
Looking for an alternative animated option this holiday season? Lady and the Tramp opens with Lady’s arrival on Christmas day and bookends with the following Christmas — and the completion of the classic Disney family.
30. Eight Crazy Nights
Eight Crazy Nights stands apart for two reasons: it’s not about Christmas, and it’s not for kids. Take a break from the Christmas flicks and watch Adam Sandler’s hilarious ode to Hanukkah.
31. The Nightmare Before Christmas
This movie is one you can watch before the others, as early as Halloween. Perhaps a little too spooky for the little ones, Tim Burton’s classic has residents of Halloween Town taking over Christmas.
Image courtesy: Rankin/Bass Productions
The Dark, the Funny, the Action-Packed
Not every holiday film has to inspire a cuddle-fest.
32. Die Hard
On Christmas Eve, the terrorists arrive. This hilarious action-packed film stars Bruce Willis at his best.
33. Lethal Weapon
Danny Glover, Mel Gibson and Christmas. This classic buddy-cop film brings the odd couple together for the holidays.
Honorable mention: If you’re really trying to make your hilarious action movie collection work for you this holiday season, Ghostbusters II also takes place during the holidays.
A dark, satirical interpretation of A Christmas Carol, Bill Murray stars as a selfish television executive visited by Christmas spirits.
35. Trading Places
A rich man and a poor man trade places during the holidays in this 1983 American classic. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy star in this emotionally satisfying satire.
36. Jingle All the Way
It’s so bad it’s good. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a father who goes to extreme lengths to acquire the season’s must-have toy for his son. Watch this ridiculous film after surviving a long day at the mall.
37. Bad Santa
Tired of the sugary sweetness in most holiday movies? Bad Santa’s dark no-kids-allowed screwball humor attacks sentimentality and commercialism but still has enough heart to keep you from hating the holidays. Note: this is the only R-rated Christmas flick on the list.
A horror-comedy written by Home Alone’s Chris Columbus, this black holiday flick warns viewers to never get their Christmas gifts wet.
Image courtesy: Warner Bros.
Watch with the Kids
We round out our top-50 list with family-friendly holiday movies.
46. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
After you’ve watched the classic animated special a few hundred times, give the live-action adaptation a go. The second-highest grossing Christmas film of all time (following Home Alone), the Jim Carrey-as-the-Grinch comedy captures the stylized world of Whoville while targeting commercialism more directly than the original.
And, yes, the Grinch’s heart still grows three sizes.
47. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
This classic adventure tale is set in Narnia, a magical land that has been cursed so that it’s always winter, never Christmas. The arrival of Father Christmas signifies the end of the White Witch’s reign.
48. Jack Frost (1998)
In the 1998 film Jack Frost, Michael Keaton stars as a dad who comes back to life as a snowman following his untimely death in order to repair his relationship with his son. (The 1996 film of the same name is R-rated and features a snowman terrorizing a small town. So be careful which Jack Frost you sit down to watch together.)
49. Muppet Family Christmas
You can’t have too many Muppet films this time of year. This 1987 TV special has Kermit and friends visiting Fozzie’s mom’s farm for Christmas.
Also worth looking up: the It’s a Wonderful Life-inspired It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, and A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa.
50. The Santa Clause
Thanks to a rooftop mishap, Tim Allen has to take on the role of St. Nick, and in turn, bonds with his son. Nothing is more heartwarming than a father’s love for his child.
That’s our list. What movies make your must-watch list this holiday season?
Image courtesy: MGM
The Romantic Comedies, Tearjerkers and Heart-Warmers
Sometimes, all you need is love.
39. Love Actually
This love-stories-within-love-stories film has fast become the number-one romantic comedy of the season. With a soundtrack to covet, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant to swoon over, and Bill Nighy belting out a painfully amazing “Christmas is All Around” cover, this flick is hard to turn off.
40. The Holiday
We still don’t understand the Kate Winslet/Jack Black pairing, but the charming British cottage surrounded by snow trumps odd casting choices. Moral of this tale: If you hate your life, visit England and fall in love with Jude Law.
41. About a Boy
Hugh Grant is Will Freeman, a bachelor who lives off the royalties of a Christmas song his father wrote. Significant character development follows, just in time for the holidays.
42. Bridget Jones’ Diary
The third Hugh Grant film on the list, this chick flick classic understands what it’s like to be single during the holidays — and what it’s like to run down a snowy street in your underpants.
43. While You Were Sleeping
Sandra Bullock cemented her place as America’s sweetheart with this film. She plays a lonely transit worker who saves a man’s life on Christmas Day and ends up spending his holidays with his family while he remains in a coma. Sure, it’s an odd little story about falling in love, but more importantly, it’s about finding (and cherishing) family.
44. The Family Stone
Meeting your significant other’s family for the first time can be intimidating, especially if that family is an eccentric one, headed up by matriarch Diane Keaton. This stressful little family drama won’t leave you uncomfortable. It’s a feel-good holiday movie in disguise.
45. Little Women (1994)
This isn’t necessarily a Christmas film, but the numerous scenes that do celebrate the season are heartwarming enough to make the list. Just try not to cry when a weakened Beth gets her piano for Christmas, or when the March sisters share their Christmas breakfast with an impoverished family the holiday prior. Also charming, a pre-Batman Christian Bale pulls Winona Ryder and sisters through the snow on a sled.
Image courtesy: Sony Pictures