30 Best Christmas Movies of All Time
There's no more festive time of year than Christmas, which over the years has been the backdrop for plenty of old-school classics and modern favorites that have gifted moviegoers with an abundance of warm-and-fuzzy cheer. When the trees go up, the lights start twinkling. And when the egg nog starts flowing, there are a lot of opportunities to to get in the Christmas spirit by revisiting (or checking out for the first time) our choices for the 30 best Christmas movies.
Here's a collection of reverent holiday fare that have brought joy for generations, plus some picks that skewer the traditions (either through irony or, say, murderous Clauses). Avoid thinking about all you have to do to get ready for the holiday (such as saving up for presents) and instead embrace the joy and cheer as we head into the Christmas season.
30| Batman Returns
Sure, it's the kind of action movie that isn't really about Christmas despite being set during the holiday season. Tim Burton's second chance at a Batman film has all of the trimmings of his similarly gothy Christmas tale, The Nightmare Before Christmas—only this one is violent, dangerous, and sexy (we dare you to name a more memorable mistletoe moment on screen).
29. Happy Christmas
Christmas gets the mumblecore treatment with Joe Swanberg's indie feature, which sees the flighty young Jenny (Anna Kendrick) descending upon her brother and his wife's idyllic, grown-up life and creating a fissure in their tight-knit domestic bliss.
28. The Holiday
Nancy Meyers is the Queen of Cozy, and this Christmas-set romantic comedy might be her most warm and snuggly film yet. Two women—one in London (Kate Winslet), one in Los Angeles (Cameron Diaz)—face simultaneous romantic disappointments, which leads to them swapping apartments over the holidays and, in turn, finding new men to swoon over.
27. Love Actually
Richard Curtis's star-studded ensemble romantic comedy is probably equally beloved and reviled. Even if you're a hater, you can't deny the multi-narrative film's influence on holiday-centered comedies over the last decade—and it's as cheesy of a Christmas movie as you can get on the big screen.
Whit Stillman's debut feature follows a tony crowd of Upper East Siders (infiltrated by a young man from the opposite side of the park) as they banter and schmooze over the holiday debutante season in late-'80s Manhattan.
25. Silent Night, Deadly Night
Doing its best to sully everything good about Christmas, this notorious slasher film—which, due to its subject matter, was pulled from American theaters—concerns a psycho who goes on a murder spree while wearing a Santa suit.
24. Edward Scissorhands
Johnny Depp's pale, leather-suited, scissor-handed Edward stands out amidst the colorful suburban Christmastime landscape of Tim Burton's 1990 fantasy, although his story is one that ultimately proves perfectly in tune with the season's spirit of open-hearted inclusiveness.
23. A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas
John Cho and Kal Penn's stoner buddies find themselves at odds after the latter destroys their Christmas tree, leading to an all-night adventure of holiday madness in the best of the duo's big-screen outings.
22| Die Hard
Ho-ho-ho, he's got a machine gun—Bruce Willis's John McClane, that is, while battling terrorists in John McTiernan's peerless one-against-many action classic.
21| Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Writer-director Shane Black sets virtually all of his films around Christmas (see also: Lethal Weapon and Iron Man 3), although none embrace the season quite as heartily as the filmmaker's 2005 neo-noir comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer as a thief-turned-actor and a private eye, respectively, who wind up partnering on a case.
There's far more naughtiness than niceness on display in Joe Dante's terrific 1984 horror comedy in which a cute, mystical Chinese creature known as a "mogwai" named Gizmo—when fed after midnight, or touched by water—gives bubbling birth to mischievous monsters.
19| The Shop Around the Corner
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are employees at a Budapest leathergoods shop who can't stand each other—even as they're falling in love as anonymous pen pals—in this memorable romantic comedy set during the holidays.
18| A Christmas Tale
French auteur Arnaud Desplechin crafts a sprawling, spellbinding portrait of familial dysfunction—and, ultimately, reconciliation and togetherness—with this 2008 drama about a clan reuniting, uneasily, at Christmas–only to learn that their matriarch (Catherine Deneuve) is dying of leukemia.
17| Black Christmas
Bob Clark's 1974 gem (starring Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Margot Kidder, and Keir Dullea) is the granddaddy of modern slasher movies, recounting the gruesome tale of a group of sorority girls who are preyed upon by a mysterious, psychotic killer.
16| Eyes Wide Shut
It may be better known for its other elements–like, say, that unforgettable masked-participant orgy–but Stanley Kubrick's final feature is, at heart, a study of individual desires and marital tensions encased in a velvety Christmastime atmosphere.
15| The Best Man Holiday
Director Malcolm D. Lee reassembles the cast from his 1999 feature, with his group of old friends reuniting for the first time after 15 years for Christmas, which serves as a backdrop for various interpersonal issues.
14| Meet Me in St. Louis
Vincente Minnelli's 1944 musical is comprised of vignettes set during a variety of seasons, but none are as famous as the one featuring star (and Minnelli's future wife) Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
Will Ferrell is a clownish orphan raised by Santa and his elves in the North Pole who journeys to New York City to locate his biological father–a cynical book publisher played by James Caan–in this absurd (and surprisingly sweet) fish-out-of-water fantasy.
12| The Apartment
A single man (Jack Lemmon) lets his co-workers use his residence for their affairs—but then falls in love with his boss's mistress (Shirley MacClaine). Billy Wilder's 1960 comedy won the Academy Award for Best Picture, with good reason: It's one of American cinema's all-time greats. And that, in turn, makes it one of the all-time great Christmas movies as well, given that its tale of loneliness and love takes place on and around December 25.
11| A Christmas Carol
Still the finest adaptation of Charles Dickens' legendary tale, this superb 1951 feature charts the familiar Christmas Eve ordeal of nasty miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), who's visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
10| The Muppet Christmas Carol
Jim Henson died during pre-production of this 1992 film, but his spirit lives on in its seamless blend of zaniness and heart–both of which help make this musical Dickens adaptation an underrated triumph.
9| Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton's thieving department store Santa injects some nasty deviancy into the Yuletide season in this uproarious black comedy from director Terry Zwigoff.
8| Miracle on 34th St.
You can't go wrong with this perennial Christmas staple about the trial of a man claiming to be Santa Claus (the original is great, but the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson is pretty good, too).
7| The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton produced this dark and malevolent stop-motion fable, which charts the odyssey of Jack Skellington after he inadvertently winds up traveling from his Halloween Town home to the decidedly less spooky Christmas Town.
Riffing on Dickens, Bill Murray is an arrogant and thoughtless TV executive who, while planning to stage a live production of A Christmas Carol, winds up living out a crazed variation of that very story in Richard Donner's amusing update.
5| Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin is forgotten by his family and forced to battle a couple of dimwit thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) around Christmas in this enduring children's adventure from director Chris Columbus and writer John Hughes
4| White Christmas
Featuring a new version of the song from which the film gets its title (and which was originally sung by star Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn), this 1954 musical features Crosby and Danny Kaye as music-act partners who team up with two sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to help their former military commander save his Vermont lodge.
3| A Christmas Story
Nine years after Black Christmas, director Bob Clark made another holiday classic—albeit of a very different sort—with this beloved nostalgia-soaked saga of nine-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), who wants nothing more for Christmas than an air rifle. If you have cable, it'll no doubt be playing on a 24-hour loop on some Turner network this December 25.
2| National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Rarely has a series' third installment been the equal of its two predecessors, but such is the case with this threequel involving Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo), Audrey (Juliette Lewis), and Rusty Griswold's (Johnny Galecki) mishap-besieged family get-together.
1| It's a Wonderful Life
Few films define Christmas like Frank Capra's 1946 fantasy starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, who, on the verge of committing suicide, is visited by an angel who shows him the true importance of his life.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.