40 Best Christmas Movies of All Time
Did your favorite flick make the list of the all-time best?
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Christmas movies have become a cherished part of many of our holiday traditions. Lounging on the couch with your loved ones, snuggled under a blanket, and a hot cocoa steaming in your favorite mug while a Christmas movie plays on your television could possibly be one of the best feelings in the world. We have come a long way since A Charlie Brown Christmas, and although it’s a classic, there is now a holiday movie out there for everyone. This list narrows it down to the best of the best, from the old cartoons all the way to Netflix originals that debuted this year. And don’t miss the best Christmas movies for kids for the most festive family movie night.
The Polar Express
This whimsical, dreamy animated tale follows a group of pajama-clad kids, roused from slumber, and pulled aboard a train bound for the North Pole. Tom Hanks voices a variety of characters, including the conductor who looks just like him. The kids end up on a variety of adventures where they confront whether or not to believe in Santa—especially once they awaken. It’s a magical classic, based on a storybook, that families enjoy watching together again and again. Here are 15 of the best Christmas movies for kids.
This star-studded rom-com features the ol’ switch houses over the Christmas holidays plot line. Kate Winslet stars as the owner of an English cottage who trades it with Hollywood mogul, Cameron Diaz, for a stay in her mansion. Both women find love while vacationing in their new abodes. Jack Black and Jude Law star as the leading men on hand for some holiday romance. Learn what it’s really like to be a Hallmark holiday writer.
Christmas in Connecticut
Return to classic Hollywood in this fun rom-com from 1945 starring screen legend Barbara Stanwyck as a woman who pens the popular “Diary of a Housewife” column. Her writing features sumptuous recipes and tales of her life on a farm with her husband and child. The only problem? It’s all lies. Bigger problem? When her publisher insists she host a Christmas dinner on the farm for a vet returning home from the war, she may just fall in love with him. This movie is one of the best Christmas movies for lovers of fluffy holiday romance. Here are 17 Christmas cookie recipes you’ll want to make this year.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Steve Martin and John Candy both give stellar performances in this classic comedy about making it home for Thanksgiving. Both play stranded businessmen who end up on a disaster-filled trek to finally get home. Candy plays the hapless and sweet salesman set against Martin’s exasperated curmudgeon. The clash works to create laughs galore and just enough holiday sentiment to make your eyes tear up. Don’t miss these anything-but-traditional holiday movies we can’t stop talking about it.
The Shop Around the Corner
One of the best Christmas movies is this classic love story from 1940 that inspired multiple mistaken identity rom-coms, including You’ve Got Mail. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play shop co-workers who fully annoy one another. Little do they know they are also exchanging lovestruck, but anonymous letters with one another that started up through a newspaper ad. Christmas Eve revelations finally bring love to light. See which 13 original holiday classics originally bombed at the box office.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
It’s one of the best Christmas movies that seems to gain fans as it grows older; it premiered in 1964 and everyone has been watching it ever since. Based on the classic song of the same name, this stop-motion animated television special captures audiences with its motley crew of characters from the island of misfit toys, including the goofy, but lovable Abominable Snow Monster. The sweet story about accepting differences captures the heart of Christmas. Create the best holiday ambiance in your home with these easy DIY Christmas decorations anyone can make.
Babes in Toyland
Contemporary children may not be as enraptured by its Mother Goose-inspired whimsy, but this 1934 classic still lulls with a nostalgic merriness and impressive visuals. Recent restorations are colorized and filled with iconic scenes like the three little pigs, and the cat with its fiddle playing alongside a delightful, if bizarre Mickey Mouse. You’ll also see magical set pieces and lots of toy soldiers. Famed comedians Laurel and Hardy star. Don’t miss these 18 photos that show what Christmas looked like one hundred years ago.
Reese Witherspoon shines as the star of this comedy about heading home for Christmas—to four different homes, that is. Vince Vaughn plays her longtime boyfriend. They’re perfectly matched because they hate spending the holidays with family—they’d rather head to Fiji. But when they get stranded, they’re forced to make the visits home. Prepare for hilarious family scenes and sweetness when it counts. Laugh some more with the funniest Christmas jokes to share with your family.
The Merry Gentleman
Michael Keaton directed this art-house drama that features gorgeous visuals that capture the stark isolation for those who are alone at Christmas. Kelly Macdonald gives a lovely performance as a woman who has fled an abusive husband and tries to find some joy, however bleak, during the cold holiday season in Chicago. A darker one of the best Christmas movies, Keaton also stars as a suicidal hitman who comes into the woman’s life after she unwittingly saves him on a snowy night. This film offers a brooding and lyrical vision of the Christmas season for those in the shadows of conventional society. Check out these Christmas movie locations that actually exist in real life.
The Best Man Holiday
The whole cast returns in this sequel to the 1990s hit The Best Man. Meet up with the group of friends as they descend upon a Christmas estate for tense dinners, some choreographed dancing, and plenty of melodrama. Starring an ensemble featuring Taye Diggs, Regina King, and Morris Chestnut.
Tim Burton’s moody holiday noir takes place in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood beset by a boy who has scissors for hands. The neighbors can’t quite accept the kind, but dangerous outsider and the movie climaxes during Christmas when Edward (played with melancholic humor by Johnny Depp) carves sculptures and shaves ice into Christmas snowfall for the girl he loves, portrayed by Winona Ryder. After the best Christmas movies, check out the best Christmas town in every state.
Danny Glover stars as a recent widower who invites his grown kids home for Christmas. They all have to face the loss of their beloved mom in addition to other rampant dysfunction. Mo’Nique, Gabrielle Union, and Omar Epps turn in solid performances in this family melodrama that offers platters of romance and comedy alongside its plentiful moving moments. Check out these Christmas battles that families wage every year.
This indie drama starring Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey offers a tonal reset on the usual holiday family fare. After a break-up, Kendrick moves in with her brother, his wife, and their two-year-old child, and tries to put her life back together during the Christmas season. The return-home-during Christmas film genre usually offers shouting matches and sentimental lessons, but in this mumblecore variation, you’ll watch Kendrick and Lynskey make sense of their life choices in much more realistic terms. Most of the dialogue is improvised, and the acting is understated but stellar.
The Santa Clause
If something should ever happen to Santa, don’t worry, there’s a little-known clause that assures he’ll carry on. Tim Allen plays the dad destined to become Santa in this heartwarming comedy about belief. Prepare for Allen to develop a taste for milk and cookies, grow a white beard, and pack on some weight—just like the jolly old toymaker himself in this comedy that’s one of the best Christmas movies. Don’t miss these secrets your mall Santa will never tell you.
Amp up the Scrooge vibes in this crass take on the Christmas spirit. Billy Bob Thorton stars as a real-life Grinch—he poses as a mall Santa so he can rob stores. When he takes a liking to a young boy being bullied, he just might get reformed and find out if his soft spot actually exists. This one’s the perfect crude and criminal Christmas comedy if that’s what you’re looking for.
Return to the heyday of 1980s comedy in this retelling of the classic A Christmas Carol story starring Bill Murray. Ghostbusters made Murray a mega-star, and in this movie, he’s back with ghosts and doing his dry brand of sardonic humor. The film doesn’t transcend its time, but it provides charm and a few laughs along the way to the Scrooge character’s sentimental and inevitable reformation. Don’t miss these Christmas Eve traditions you’ll definitely want to start this year.
A Bad Moms Christmas
The whole point of being a bad mom is to give up on impressing people. Instead, cut loose and call it a day on perfectionism. In that sense, this holiday comedy is the perfect trifle. Watch with a spiked eggnog in your hand, sit back, and wait for the laughs in one of the best Christmas movies. Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn, and Kristen Bell return as seasoned moms forced to put on the perfect Christmas for their families and generally failing at it.
Jingle All the Way
Some Christmas classics are destined to be panned by critics but watched again and again each year by willing audiences anyway. This Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad comedy falls into that category. One of the best Christmas movies, the plot is based on the Christmas toy frenzies inspired by parents who did anything for Cabbage Patch Dolls, Tickle Me Elmos, and other must-have seasonal toys. In this case, two rival Dads vie for the rare, but intensely desired Turbo-Man action figure. Look for scenes shot at the Mall of America that unwittingly celebrate holiday commercialism at the same time they put forth a critique. Don’t miss these heartwarming stories about meeting Santa that will make you believe in magic.
A Christmas Prince
Audiences fell in love with Netflix’s rolled-in nuts cheese log of a Christmas movie about the kingdom of Aldovia. The plot follows the intrepid reporter Amber and some lighthearted nonsense about the rightful heir to the Aldovian throne. There’s a sequel, but the first chapter falls right in line with Hallmark Christmas movie romances that offer fluff, flounce, and sugar-coated love stories set during the holidays. Speaking of, these are the best Hallmark Christmas movies ranked.
If you’re looking for a weird alternative to the Frosty the Snowman cartoons, try this 1998 fantasy starring Micheal Keaton as a rocker snowman. Critics hated the icy puppet (created by Jim Henson’s creature shop) at the center of this story that’s ultimately about a boy’s grief over losing his father. Some of the best Christmas movies thrive on themes of angels, ghosts and other magical entities coming along to teach people what the holidays are really about. In this case, it’s a wry snowman come to life who wants one last chance to show his family he cares.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol story endures because it’s all about the Ebenezer Scrooges of the world. (We’re looking at you, Mr. Grinch!) The Muppets version of the Scrooge tale ends up being one of the best Christmas movies because it’s so relatable. Everyone gets a little grouchy when the Christmas spirit doesn’t come easily. Scrooge is a mean old man who gets visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past and learns a few valuable lessons along the way. Out of all the remakes and adaptations, the Muppets version rises to the top. Michael Caine is perfect as Scrooge, and the beloved Muppets manage to be both witty and heartwarming in a way that both kids and adults enjoy together.
The Preacher’s Wife
This updated remake of the Cary Grant classic Christmas movie, The Bishop’s Wife, is even better than the original. It stars Denzel Washington as a super handsome angel who comes along to help out Whitney Houston with some family problems right around Christmas. Houston gives show-stopping gospel performances in the church choir. Meanwhile, her preacher husband, played by Courtney B. Vance, learns how to pull together his marriage and congregation with the help from the dashing Christmas angel. This is one of the sweetest Christmas movies to warm your heart with music and a little bit of angelic magic during the season when you need it most. Don’t miss another inspiring tale about Christmas.
This 1980s Christmas comedy catapulted Eddie Murphy to super-stardom. He plays the hapless man who falls victim to the schemes of two ultra-rich stockbroker bad guys, but he turns the joke on them. This zany romp is set during the Christmas season with a theme involving taking down class structures and critiquing wealth. You don’t want to miss Dan Ackroyd’s scenes as a Santa who upturns all the social conventions we hold so dear—there’s a lesson in there too! And all the gags hold up over time. Look for Jamie Lee Curtis’ winning performance as a character who redefines what class is all about.
One of the best recent Christmas movies is this CGI animated tale that brings a contemporary entry into the best Christmas movies. Arthur Christmas is an unexpected delight with a heartwarming story that captures audience members of every age. You’ll find the voice talents of James McAvoy and Hugh Laurie with Jim Broadbent as Santa himself. The story follows Santa’s son Arthur on his quest to deliver a lost toy before the deadline is up! Cleverness and wit elevate the familiar scenario and give it a sophisticated punch packed with the delights of sentiment done right! Check out this surprising Christmas trivia you never knew.
Nothing Like the Holidays
During the holiday season, nothing hits the spot like a great family Christmas movie set around the dinner table. This one seems like traditional fare, and the critics missed its essence. Its charm relies on strong emotional performances by the largely Latino ensemble cast featuring such underrated talents as Luis Guzman, John Leguizamo, Jay Hernandez, Freddy Rodriguez, and the late Elizabeth Pena, among others. The story follows a Puerto Rican family in crisis: The parents are about to divorce and the youngest son has just returned from Iraq. Sentimental and straightforward, it’s also a family melodrama that depicts strong bonds and the love that ties us together in relatable and heartfelt scenes by great performers.
All the important adventures take place on Christmas Eve—including one of the best Christmas movies to feature a heist on the Nakatomi skyscraper. Detective Jack McClane to the rescue! Who needs Santa when Bruce Willis delivers the goods on Christmas morning? Willis saves the day in epic battles with German terrorists. In the end, he gets the girl (his estranged wife) and proves that he’s a blast at office Christmas parties. Holiday seasons need a little action, and Die Hard is the best of the genre that pumps adventure into a Christmas movie.
Love Actually feels like a ridiculous and romantic trifle! And it is. Giving into its implausible plots and nutty scenarios is part of the ever-watchable charm that makes it one of the best Christmas movies. The opening sequence depicting airport reunions (in the aftermath of September 11th) captivated the hearts of audiences who needed some feel-good love to go along with heartbreak. Liam Neeson’s dad character endures loss, as do characters played by Emma Thompson and Laura Linney. Meanwhile, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant get the girl in unlikely, fantastical ways. It’s an up-and-down romp that ends with a Christmas pageant replete with lobsters, a little embarrassment, and dollops of gushy romance. Get ready for Andrew Lincoln’s card scene because “To me, you are perfect!” Merry Christmas!
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Christmas lights will never be the same after you see the Griswold display. Chevy Chase plays the dad who tries to do what’s right for his family amid nonstop epic and hilarious fails. Beverly D’Angelo is perfect as his long-suffering wife. The Griswolds try to host the perfect Christmas, but what fun would it be if everything went right? Laugh your heart out at a family Christmas gone wrong and be glad your own Christmas bonus didn’t go up in flames! Somebody check the lights and make sure you’ve got the fuse box covered! Don’t miss this story about a real-life extravagant light display that may be a hazard.
The Charlie Brown Christmas Special
When television movies are this iconic they almost automatically make the list of the best Christmas movies ever. Nothing quite captures the spirit of Christmas like Charlie Brown’s forlorn little Christmas tree. His friends ridicule it, and Charlie’s sadness represents the frailty of the human condition—that sometimes grows during the holidays. Charlie Brown feels like a cynical failure and a social outcast. Snoopy saves the day, with some help from the ultimate wise man, Linus, plus the crowd of kids who learn the meaning of Christmas. We all could use some reminding and the Peanuts Gang never fail! This is one to watch every Christmas.
Don’t miss Mary J. Blige as the Christmas angel in this musical drama based on Langston Hughes’ famous play. Jennifer Hudson stars (and sings!) as a single mom whose son (Jacob Latimore) makes his way home to her parents, played by Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. The movie comes alive during the musical numbers which are both lyrical and sometimes ultra-realistic. Quick: can you name the classic Christmas movie based on one-liners?
The Family Stone
Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson hold court as the supportive parents of your dreams in this family dramedy about going home for the holidays. Sarah Jessica Parker and Claire Danes play visiting sisters having crisscrossed romantic hijinks with the Stone brothers. Things go haywire on Christmas Day right during crucial food prep. Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, and Luke Wilson round out the charming cast. Get ready for slapstick comedy mixed with tragic heartbreak. The Family Stone is the kind of Christmas movie you can rely on for laughs, tears, and watching again and again each Christmas.
Elf sits in the top ten list of best Christmas movies because it offers the kind of feel-good hilarity the whole family can enjoy. Will Ferrell stars as a human raised among Santa’s elves since infancy in a Tarzan-style plot. Ferrell’s Dad (James Caan) happens to be on the naughty list, so his grown elf son is dispatched to redeem him. Prepare for tender moments that depict loneliness and the need to fit in interspersed with Ferrell’s brand of madcap comedy. In the end, the Christmas spirit prevails and that keeps audiences watching again and again every Christmas. Here are more fun movies the whole family will enjoy.
Meet Me in St. Louis
Judy Garland’s iconic rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” bumps Meet Me in St. Louis onto any list of best Christmas movies. Garland plays big sister Esther who sings to little sis Tootie. The famous tune comes out somber and nostalgic and ends with a harrowing knockdown of snow people in the family’s front yard. All because there’s no place like home—and it really is hard to move forward. That’s why Garland’s tune continues to pull your heartstrings every Christmas. Here are the best practices for building the perfect snowman.
John Hughes hit all the right notes in this Christmas movie hit that dramatizes every parent’s worst nightmare and every kid’s best fantasy. Macaulay Culkin beat out hundreds of other child actors to score the iconic role. The 1990 comedy was a powerhouse at the box office, spawning a franchise based on the premise of a kid on his own. Culkin’s charm steals the show as he fights off bungling burglars while Mom and Dad (Catherine O’Hara and John Heard) freak out from afar. Christmas Day brings a happy ending that makes this one of the epic the feel-good holiday movies audiences enjoy year after year.
In this romantic comedy, a young woman played by Kristen Stewart plans to propose to her girlfriend after being invited to her family’s holiday party. Stewart’s character soon discovers that her girlfriend has not come out to her conservative parents. This film explores wanting to be accepted by those you love most, being true to your own identity, and not wanting to ruin a Christmas tradition. This hilarious film also stars Daniel Levy, Aubrey Plaza, and Alison Brie. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and most importantly, your heart will warm in a way that only really happens during the magic of Christmastime. Check out the best Christmas songs—ranked.
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie classic is a television staple during the Christmas season. Play it in the background during last-minute wrapping sessions or while you trim the tree. Donna Reed stars in Frank Capra’s timeless take on the Christmas Carol scenario. What happens when an angel shows you an alternate timeline of events? In Jimmy Stewart’s case, it brings happiness for all. Have a hankie handy for the happy reunion at the end with a decked-out Christmas tree set, a crowded party, cute kids, and your favorite line, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
The Nightmare Before Christmas
One of the best Christmas movies has a little bit of Halloween in it. Holiday traditions are weird (admit it!), and the way time flies between putting away your Halloween costume and pulling out the Christmas decor means festive mash-ups make their own kind of sense. That must be why Jake Skellington, the Halloween Pumpkin King, is such a fetching hero when he makes it through the portal to Christmas Town and wreaks a little good-natured mayhem. The stop-motion animation looks charming and eccentric while the songs make you tap your foot and sing along. And Santa ends up safe and sound too!
Miracle on 34th Street
The young Natalie Wood stole everyone’s heart in this drama about the power of belief. Maureen O’Hara stars as Wood’s mom, a no-nonsense career woman who doesn’t believe in fairy tales and assorted nonsense. Just the kind of woman who needs a little romance and magic from a department store Santa who just might be the real thing! The 1994 remake is also winning, but for legit Christmas movie magic, check out the first film—it’s the real thing! Here are 8 gentle ways to talk to your kids about Santa.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Jim Carrey starred in the 2000 live-action movie, but nothing beats the animated TV movie from 1966. Boris Karloff (who starred as Frankenstein and the Mummy) voices the Grinch and the narrator. Karloff was a talent at turning a monster into a sympathetic human. And that’s the prime lesson at the heart of Dr. Seuss tale. The TV classic boasts terrific animation based on Seuss’s iconic and bizarro illustrations. And it contains the added tune “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” with its genius lyrics that roast any scrooge-like meanie. But the madcap tale captures the essence of the holiday in the forgiving spirit of little Cindy Lou Who who still believes in goodness even if the Grinches out there don’t.
A Christmas Story
The best Christmas movie of all time was a sleeper when it was released in 1983 without much fanfare. Great art isn’t always recognized in its own time, but it ages well. A Christmas Story hits the mark because it’s got something for everyone watching—no matter their age. Most of us can relate to being totally misunderstood by our parents. Or aching for a present they just don’t want us to have—while being forced to be thankful for a dud gift. Like bunny footie pajamas. A Christmas Story is where most of us learn to never touch our tongue to a frozen flagpole. It’s always playing round the clock on TV right around Christmas because you can catch any scene and still enjoy. At times, it’s dark and cynical and then gives way to nostalgia and sentiment. Next up: check out the best Christmas cartoons to watch this holiday season.