What are the best Christmas movies? It’s a difficult question and one without an easy answer. There are tons of festive films of varying quality from across almost every genre. We’ve got Christmas horror movies, romance movies, comedies, and even action movies.
Compounding matters is that many of these films form part of people’s Christmas traditions, and who are we to tell you that watching Bone Alone over the Yuletide might not be the best choice. Still, it’s undeniable that some Christmas movies are a step above their peers, and we needed to work out which were the best.
To that end, we have trawled through a sledge load of films, weeding out the bag eggs, to bring you a list of the best Christmas movies. We’ve everything from a story about a world-weary skeleton searching for a purpose to the story of a police officer trying to reunite with his ex-wife and ending up in a life-or-death battle with terrorists. So without further adieu, here are the best Christmas movies of all time.
What are the best Christmas movies?
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Christmas Vacation
- Jingle All The Way
- Die Hard
- Home Alone
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- The Muppet Christmas Carol
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
A staple of the festive season Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of the world-weary Jack Skellington who’s bored of being the King of Halloween. A chance encounter with a magical door gives Jack a taste of Christmas and he decides he wants more, eventually conspiring to steal the holiday from Santa Claus.
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Under its macabre wrapping paper Nightmare is a beautifully animated stop-motion film, that boasts catchy songs, and surprisingly deft character work. While it may seem a little gloomy for the most wonderful time of the year, if you cut this animated movie open, it would bleed tinsel and baubles.
Like A Christmas Carol and It’s A Wonderful Life, Nightmare is ultimately about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone. Stop-motion, monsters, and a skeleton grappling with a mid-life crisis what more could you want?
It wouldn’t be a Digital Fix list without a Bill Murray movie, and this one’s a doozy. Richard Donner’s dark take on the classic Christmas Carol story is as cynical as its lead actor, and it pulls no punches when it comes to laying bare the hypocrisy at the heart of the entertainment industry.
Murray is at his most reprehensible as the selfish and greedy Frank Cross. Yet, despite being the biggest cinematic b*stard since Mr Potter, Murray’s natural wicked charm comes to the fore and you can’t help but root for this misguided yuppie. Some quirky supporting characters and seriously creepy ghosts are just the bows on top of this gift of a Christmas movie.
Christmas Vacation (1989)
No film captures the chaos of the festive season quite like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. From trying to buy the perfect Christmas gift, putting up with rude distant relatives, and even decorating the house there’s no festive headache that Christmas Vacation doesn’t cover.
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Yet despite this, the movie manages to be incredibly optimistic in its tone, suggesting that ultimately we wouldn’t have it any other way. A lot of that comes down to its charming leading man the king of the pratfall Chevy Chase.
Jingle All The Way (1996)
Legitimately one of the worst movies that has been rightly derided for celebrating the over-commercialisation of Christmas; we wouldn’t dream of not putting Jingle All The Way on this list. Sorry, we’ve tried to be impartial, but the rose-tinted nostalgia goggles are welded to our face on this one.
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Howard Langston, a desperate dad who’s frantically trying to get his son the year’s hottest toy Turbo Man. A delightfully silly farce that allows Schwarzenegger to drop groan-inducing one-liners, Jingle All The Way is definitely in the ‘so bad it’s good’ camp. It also features the late great Phil Hartman as Schwarzenegger’s deliciously sleazy neighbour, and that’s got to be worth something.
Die Hard (1988)
Directed by Predator’s John McTiernan Die Hard is a masterclass in bombastic action cinema. Bruce Willis stars as John McClane a hard-edged New York cop who flies out to his estranged wife’s office Christmas party. While there the building is attacked by terrorists (it happens) and John’s forced to step in and stop them.
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There’s been a lot of debate surrounding Die Hard’s Christmas credentials, but we’re not here to fight that particular battle. We’re here to say Die Hard is one of the best action movies ever made featuring, for our money, Willis at his very best, facing off against Han’s Gruber – one of the finest movie villains to ever grace the silver screen.
Home Alone (1990)
You wouldn’t expect a film that’s essentially about child neglect to feature on a list of the best Christmas movies but here we are. Home Alone stars Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister a precocious kid who, thanks to an accident involving a glass of milk, is left behind when his family go on a trip to Paris.
Thrilled by his newfound freedom Kevin relishes having the house to himself but things change when it becomes clear two thieves have plans for the McCallister home.
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It’s easy to forget just how good Home Alone is, such is its ubiquity this time of the year, but it really is an incredible film. In terms of performances, Culkin is brilliant as the cute but kind of sadistic Kevin and he plays brilliantly off Joe Pesci and Daniel Sterns witless thieves. It’s Catherine O’Hara though who’s the unsung hero of the film finding real drama in the slapstick silliness.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
A genuine feel-good masterpiece the story of George Bailey and how he makes the lives of his friends and neighbours better is more Christmassy than figgy pudding and a hell of a lot sweeter.
On paper, it’s a bleak story about a man considering ending it all but Jimmy Stewart’s incredibly performance elevates it out of the dour doldrums and into the mystical realms of a feel-good masterpiece.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
We’re firm believers here at The Digital Fix that everything is improved by the Muppets and nothing proves this more than their lively take on Charles Dicken’s most famous story.
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Michael Caine stars as Ebeneezer scrooge but the rest of his co-stars are made of felt and fluff, and it’s wonderful. Genuinely enchanting, and rollicking good fun The Muppet Christmas Carol is an unexpectedly accurate adaptation of Dicken’s work that reminds us there’s good in all of us.
Will Ferrell’s finest film (sorry, Anchorman fans ), Elf is a joyous explosion of a movie, and if you disagree you’re a cotton-headed ninny muggins. Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf – a human who was accidentally adopted by the elves in Santa’s workshop – who travels to New York City to meet his biological father and get him off the naughty list.
It’s as silly as you might expect, but Ferrell is nothing if not charming, and his fish-out-of-water status allows for some great gags. More than that there’s a real warmth to Elf, there’s not a cynical bone in its entire body, and that’s something to be celebrated in this day and age. If you want to know more about this magical movie check out our Elf cast guide.