Ah, Christmas, an experience some of us wish could last all year long. But since that’s not really possible, we have Christmas movies. And they can be more than just passive holiday entertainment — they’re a visual treat, a window of delight that can take you into the spirit of the season 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 cultural meaning and magic of the holiday 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. 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. These are our favorite Christmas movies, ranked according to these metrics:
- How directly related the film is to the Christmas holiday.
- How it explores cultural Christmas themes like family and the joy of giving.
- How unique and original the narrative is in a landscape of tropes.
- How aesthetically perfect or stylistically distinct the movie is.
- How rewatchable it is to make it an annual Christmas tradition.
30 Jingle All the Way (1994)
A tremendously silly and over-the-top movie filled with some very cringe moments, Jingle All the Way is still a very funny and unique movie that's wonderful for the whole family. Arnold Schwarzenegger continued his attempt to be funny in Hollywood with this immensely festive flick that plays very straight despite its honestly surreal story. A giant, muscular, Austrian mattress salesman in the Minneapolis suburbs tries to prove he's a good dad by finding a very popular action figure to give his son for Christmas. Unfortunately, there aren't many left, and he ends up in an epic fight with a United States Postal Service worker over the last toy.
Jingle All the Way Is Bonkers and Nostalgic
That plot alone is pretty silly, but the extent to which director Brian Levant takes it is even more absurd. From Arnold fighting a warehouse full of black market Santas, to he and Sinbad engaging in an airborne fight with jetpacks, Jingle All the Way is simply nuts. It's also very nostalgic for a certain time, when there were massive toy trends that shook the nation (like Elmo and Beanie Babies). Now, we click a few links and order anything. It's also very sweet to see the greatly missed Phil Hartman, who is hilarious here as an obnoxious neighbor; he would be murdered two years later. Whether Jingle All the Way is a clever satire about capitalism and the nuclear family, or just a bonkers good time, is up to you.
29 The Ref (1994)
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 a great Denis Leary), but the husband and wife are decidedly not happily married, forcing him to put up with the most dysfunctional bitterness he could ever imagine.
An Uncomfortable Shouting Match with a Great Cast
For those who like to feel comically uncomfortable around the holidays, The Ref is a solid choice. The anti-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, despite a dumb ending. Available to stream on Hoopla
28 About a Boy (2002)
Hugh Grant, a young Nicholas Hoult, and Toni Collette star in the beautiful About a Boy. The story follows Will Freeman, a wealthy man-child living in London. He often attends single-parent meetings in hopes of connecting with women. When Marcus, the 12-year-old son of 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 a sweet holiday season together.
A Mature, Quiet Rom-Com with Great Music
Adapted from the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity), 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 in a movie that doesn't condescend to kids. Add to that the wonderful indie rock soundtrack from Badly Drawn Boy, and you have a surprisingly mature early 2000s rom-com classic. Available to buy/rent on Apple TV
27 Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York follows Kevin McCallister as his family embarks on another holiday trip, and somehow loses sight of him once again, with him boarding a plane to New York. That's a little more rational than the illogical first movie, though the fact that he runs into Marv and Harry, the Sticky Bandits from Home Alone, is utterly ridiculous. Kevin spends some magical time in New York, meeting people like the Pigeon Lady and Donald Trump before helping the police capture the Sticky Bandits again.
A Pretty Portrait of New York at Christmas
However silly Home Alone 2: Lost in New York may be, it does a wonderful job at expanding the world of the first film by putting the self-sufficient and sarcastic Kevin in New York City. From capturing the snowy skyscrapers and endless decorations of the city, to exploring the upper class of the city (Trump Tower) and the downtrodden (the beloved Pigeon Lady), director Chris Columbus has a knack for filming the multiple facets of an epic, wondrous place in winter (something he would do again with Harry Potter and The Christmas Chronicles).
26 Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
If you're looking for something a little different for Christmas, Anna and the Apocalypse scratches all the itches. It's a pop musical about a zombie outbreak in a small UK town on Christmas, and follows some high school students as they attempt to survive senior year (literally). It doesn't get more seasonal than watching a zombie in a snowman outfit get beat down by a teenager wielding a giant candy cane decoration. From the snow to the lights, costumes, and decorations, this film screams (or sings) 'Christmas.'
Great Music and Heartfelt Emotions in a Weird Christmas Musical
The music is surprisingly catchy and thematically important in Anna and the Apocalypse, and most main characters get a chance to sing something character-specific. It's the kind of cast performance that will melt the hearts of music theater geeks everywhere. There are also some deeply emotional moments that speak to growing up and moving on from friends, family, and home as people go from high school to college or beyond. The film is a sweet, dark delight.
25 Edward Scissorhands (1990)
One of Tim Burton's best films (and right up there with Batman Begins in terms of being the most personal and Christmasy), Edward Scissorhands is the thematically resonant tale of a particularly bizarre outcast. The narrative follows the titular Edward, 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 very different world, and he's not going to be easily accepted.
Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, and the Supporting Cast Are 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 are beautiful. Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest are wonderful in the film, but it's Vincent Price that chokes us up in his final performance, playing Edward's caring creator. Available to stream on Max and DIRECTV
24 How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
One of the most physical Jim Carrey performances, 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. Now, with Santa on his way, the Grinch decides it's time to exact vengeance on a small village with the help of his hesitant dog, Max.
A Masterpiece of Psychedelic Production Design
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. Two decades later, the film has had somewhat of a critical reappraisal, with people growing up to love the practically hallucinatory production design, costumes, and makeup effects. Director Ron Howard has created a very literal manifestation of the story, which dances through the uncanny valley with tremendously designed characters giving their all with very physical performances. Available to stream on DIRECTV
23 Batman Returns (1992)
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.
Batman Returns Is a Dark Vision That Perfects the Batman IP
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 character. Watching it now, it's just so crushingly obvious how special BatmanReturns was, the result of an auteur with unlimited resources, and that's a great thing, but it was just a vision that didn't quite gel with marketing toys to kids. It's a movie with some incredible performances, from the disgusting to the sexy, and feels like you're trapped in a gothic snowglobe. Available to stream on Max and Prime Video
22 Arthur Christmas (2011)
Arthur Christmas is a genuinely hilarious little movie that is perfect for kids and their parents to watch together. It's one of the rare feature-length animated Christmas comedies to do such a thing and not feel stupid, sappy, or annoying to adults. Sony and the great Aardman Animations scored a big win with this sci-fi comedy about Santa's sweet fail son Arthur who goes on a quest with his grandfather and a passionate elf to deliver an undelivered present.
A Laugh Out Loud Funny Christmas Spectacular
Director Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham's brilliant screenplay comes to imaginative life, as we're treated to Santa's Workshop as a kind of corporate technocracy engineered by Santa's most egotistical son. The commentary on technology and capitalism is very clever, and the antics that Arthur gets into are flat-out funny in this quick, delightful gem.
21 White Reindeer
If you're in the mood for more of a weird indie vibe, White Reindeer is an excellent, highly unique choice. The film follows a married Christmas enthusiast who has to discern an identity of her own after her husband dies ahead of the holiday. When she discovers that he was not only having an affair but was actually in love with a Black stripper, the young suburban blonde feels drawn to meet her and try to understand this hidden and very different part of her dead husband's life.
Anna Margaret Hollyman Gives the Performance of a Lifetime
White Reindeer is funny in an off-kilter, unpredictable way, with the film introducing the restrained woman to sex parties, cocaine, theft, and all sorts of debauchery as she seeks to comprehend a part of the man she loved who is now gone. The relationship she develops with the stripper (and her family and friends) is funny and moving. Everything is held perfectly together by Anna Margaret Hollyman, an actor who deserves big roles all the time. She oscillates between hilarity and heartbreak as a subdued woman who is kind of losing her mind, which is all part of the process of self-identification. It's a breathtaking performance.
20 The Ice Harvest (2005)
A comically grim neo-noir helmed by the brilliant Harold Ramis, director of National Lampoon's Vacation, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest is so cool it's cold. The nihilistic noir follows John Cusack as a lonely loser involved in a criminal scheme on Christmas. The film hilariously introduces us to his drinking session with the man who stole his wife and family (played by a pathetic Oliver Platt), and the rest is essentially a chronicle of his decision to no longer be cucked by life.
A Perfect Cast Kills It in The Ice Harvest
Aside from a perfect John Cusack (playing kind of a more depressed version of his utterly cool Grosse Pointe Blank character) and Oliver Platt, the film stars Billy Bob Thornton as a confident criminal, Connie Nielsen as the wise femme fatale, Randy Quaid as the scumbag manager of a strip club, and more. The perfect cast is filmed through kitschy decorations and neon Christmas lights, with snow raging outdoors as the thievery and double-crosses take place, making for a perfect holiday thriller.
19 The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppet Christmas Carol is the Muppet retelling of the classic Dickens Christmas tale. It follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who does not believe in the holiday or humanity, 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.
A Wonderful Use of The Muppets to Transform Dickens
With Michael Caine as Scrooge, Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, and Rizzo the Rat as his wisecracking sidekick, there isn’t a single role in this film that isn't wonderfully cast. A Christmas Carol is a timeless classic that has been done so many times, but a Muppet update is immensely clever and makes it one-of-a-kind even 30 years later. Caine is wonderful in the film, which captures the festive spirit and the introspection provided by Christmas, even to those who are a little skeptical of it. Available to stream on Disney+
18 Elf (2003)
Starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who was raised by elves at the North Pole, Elf 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. His childlike innocence and unfamiliarity with the big city makes it seem like he's been living under a rock, which helps other people see the world and Christmas with new eyes.
Love It or Hate It, Will Ferrell Is a Great Elf
Ferrell is truly wonderful as the hilarious and overly enthusiastic Buddy. From his affection for the holiday and humanity itself to his love for elf culture and unflinching zest for the little things in life, Buddy’s story is brimming with joy and optimism. Elfexplores the joy that is often missing from Christmas, and allows adults to see the awed perspective of children in a very different way. Many people find the film to be completely obnoxious, and yet it has remained a special classic to many others, so this one is (North) polarizing. Available to stream on Max.
17 Bad Santa (2003)
Relatively shocking when it was released (we were so young then), Bad Santa follows miserable con man 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.
Billy Bob Thornton Is Brilliantly Funny and Awful
Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and directed by the legendary Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World), Bad Santa 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 one of his best performances as the disdainful and debauched yet emotionally complex Father Christmas impersonator, making fans root and cheer for his anti-hero. Beneath it all, he just wants love, acceptance, and a fresh start. Available to stream on Paramount+
16 Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Honestly, we’d even take Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for two hours straight over many other movies. Still, let’s look at the classic Meet Me in St. Louis, which is a perfect film that would normally rank higher here if it was more devoted to Christmas. 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.
A Classic Small Town Christmas
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
15 Gremlins (1984)
On Christmas Eve in the delightfully disturbing kids movie Gremlins, 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 it to multiply into numerous little destructive gremlins waiting to wreak havoc on the town.
A Horror Comedy View of Family Christmas
Gremlins is directed by the iconic Joe Dante (Piranha, The Howling, Matinee). Like several of his films, it manages to mix horror and comedy in a way that is clever and visually entertaining. It captures a family's relatable Christmas morning mayhem perfectly while somehow making the Christmas and gift-giving tradition feel somehow surreal. The cult classic uses stunning practical effects and an incredible score by Jerry Goldsmith to make an Amblin-style classic that's great for everyone. Available to buy/rent on Apple TV
14 A Christmas Tale (2008)
Christmas is a time when families shed their differences and come together to forgive one another and have a good time. Or, at least, that's the idea. The same spirit extends towards the troubled Vuillard family, who are meeting for the first time in six years in A Christmas Tale, one of the best films about family dysfunction. During their reunion, long-buried secrets and past traumas come to the surface and stir deep conflicts around the holiday dinner table. As the booze flows and tensions reach boiling point, they slowly begin to forgive past mistakes.
An Intellectual Christmas Drama
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 much of the resentment. Beautifully filmed, it captures the side of Christmas that most movies tend to avoid. Available to buy/rent on Apple TV
13 Die Hard (1988)
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. 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.
Die Hard Is a Christmas Movie
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 and learning what's most important in his life. That, along with the skyscraper Christmas party where the film is set, indisputably makes Die Hard a Christmas movie. Bruce Willis holds the fort with his sharp-tongued wit and humorous tension in a way that inspired a generation of actoin protagonists, making the film arguably the greatest Christmas action movie of all time. Available to stream on Hulu
12 Klaus (2019)
A deeply emotional animated film, Klaus feels like a timeless folk tale. The movie follows a determined young postal worker who is stationed in a sad town consumed by feuds and bitterness. The man discovers a widowed toymaker living in the woods and enlists him in mailing toys to children despite the burly man's antisocial tendencies. The result is a beautiful story of compassion, healing, and love.
Klaus Is a Poignant Reinvention of the Santa Claus Story
With J.K. Simmons' heartfelt performance as Klaus, Jason Schwartzman's innocent voice work as the postal worker, and Rashida Jones perfect as the teacher love interest, Klaus makes the most of its great voice cast. The script is a clever and emotional reworking of the Santa Claus mythos, and the film doesn't try to be too kid-friendly, instead inviting smart young children to participate in the movie with adults. Netflix's Klaus was the first animated film by a streaming service to be nominated for an Academy Award (along with I Lost My Body the same year), and deservedly so.
11 Blast of Silence (1961)
"Lose yourself in the Christmas spirit with the rest of the suckers," snarls the vicious voiceover of Blast of Silence, which is one of the few in film history to be second-person. The film follows a misanthropic loner who travels to New York City to fulfill a contract — and his business is murder. Allen Baron co-writes, directs, and stars in this infamous indie which helped invent guerrilla filmmaking alongside Carnival of Souls by secretly filming in public places throughout New York.
A Nasty Noir for Every Christmas Grinch
Blast of Silence is a great hit man film, but also an excellent Christmas movie, using the life of a contract killer to illustrate the loneliness and alienation many people feel during Christmas (especially in a big city). Baron wanders the streets, meets old acquaintances, reconsiders his life, and studies his hit in this angry, fatalist classic that's friendly to any antisocial misanthrope who is alone during Christmas (or wishes they were).