Twelve Must-Watch Christmas Movies


#12: Nightmare Before Christmas

Now the real question is, did Tim Burton make this movie intended as a Halloween tradition, or a Christmas tradition? Regardless, Jack Skellington's journey of discovery through Christmas Town is sure to tickle your holiday funnybone while wrapping presents and thinking up your costume for Halloween 2018. 


#11: Love Actually

This movie is a fairly recent addition to people's Christmastime movie line ups, and it's a controversial addition for many. 

The schmaltzy romances on display have already been endlessly debated in a thousand thinkpieces already. And sure, there are problems with the script (I mean, one guy falls in love with his best friend's brand new bride - that's not exactly romance), but we excuse those. Why? Because people really want to believe in the idea that love, actually, is all around us. 

Besides, that song really is catchy. 


#10: Elf

Will Ferrell's overly enthusiastic elf became an instant Christmas classic among teenagers and adults alike. 

However, there's one thing I'd like to take a moment and talk about with this movie since it's the first one on our list that qualified. Something that's always bothered me about these 'Santa really does exist, even though parents don't believe' movies is: how exactly do parents think Santa's gifts get under the tree in the first place? Obviously they didn't buy them, so, why aren't parents FREAKING out every year when there are these gifts from Santa Claus under the tree? How do they not already believe in Santa? 

That aside, Elf gave us dozens of quotable moments that you invariably run into every five minutes on social media. If anything, Will Ferrell cemented his status as most giffable human being in existence with this movie alone. 


#9: Bad Santa/Bad Santa 2

Billy Bob Thorton's Bad Santa isn't exactly a traditional Santa Claus story, but, it does have some of the biggest heart out of all the entries. 

Thorton's miserable drunken conman isn't redeemed through his story like so many other movies on this list, but the movie makes the point that there is good in everyone - all we have to do is look for it. 

Also - keep in mind, this one is Rated R (for good reason), so maybe watch this one after the kids go to bed. 

Bad Santa 2 was an obvious cash grab so you're better off avoiding it unless you need/want a double feature. 


#8: Scrooged/Muppet Christmas Carol/A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold in a hundred different ways. Most sitcoms/television shows have their version of three ghosts visiting their crotchety protagonist. The Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future have become staples in Christmastime story telling for generations. 

People usually already prefer one specific version of A Christmas Carol over the others. Whether it's the brilliant Bill Murray going toe-to-toe with the Ghost of Christmas Present, or Michael Caine being taught a lesson by Kermit and friends, there are infinite retellings of Dickens' classic tale for everyone to enjoy.   

This story endures as a Christmas tradition for dozens of reasons, but chiefly among those is because it offers people the idea that it's never too late. A Christmas Carol tells a story that is one of redemption, that we are the protagonist in our own story and nothing is holding us back from creating a better future for ourselves. 

All we have to do is want that and actively participate in life for it. 

That's a simple message that resonates for many during a time of family and togetherness. 


#7: The Santa Clause/The Santa Clause 2

Tim Allen accidentally kills Santa Claus and then, thanks to a bit of magical legal trickery, has to take over for the jolly red elf. While doing so, he reconnects with his family as well as deliver toys to all the deserving good boys and girls. 

The Santa Claus starts off pretty morbid when you think about it - Tim Allen kills Santa. That's not exactly the kind of lighthearted fare your grandmother wants to watch while wrapping presents. There's a few sequels, including one that stars Martin Short for some reason. They're forgettable enough in that you won't remember why you watched it last year, but decided it should make the list anyway, even though, the movie again, is pretty creepy when you think about it. 

If I were pitching a new Santa Claus movie, I would make it about a worn-out beat cop, only a few months away from retirement who discovers someone killed Santa. It's pretty creepy when you think about it. Honestly, The Santa Claus is really just a retelling of The Talented Mr. Ripley


#6: Gremlins

At least this creepy Christmas movie knows it's being creepy and has a lot of fun with it. Joe Dante's Gremlins is another non-traditional Christmas movie that has found its way into the holiday binge-movie line ups for many. 

Does it qualify as a Christmas movie? It takes place during Christmas, but the characters don't really learn any Christmas lessons other than; 1) Don't feed a Mogwai after midnight and 2) Really, don't get them wet. The spirit of giving is there of course, since the Mogwai was a gift, so I think you can call it a wash.  

Gremlins 2, by the way, while a lot more fun and self-aware, is definitely NOT a Christmas movie. 


#5: Charlie Brown Christmas Special 

What can you say other than this is one of the most pure Christmas stories ever told? Charlie Brown's Christmas Special first appeared on our screens in 1965 commissioned and sponsored by Coca-Cola. 

Written over a period of several weeks, the TV special has become an annual tradition for many families in the United States and has won both an Emmy and Peabody Award. The soundtrack to the special is also become a commercial success, selling more than 4 million copies in the US alone.


#4: Die Hard/Die Hard 2: Die Harder

The action hero who can never die: John McClane, the hero of Nakatomi Tower and to millions of 12-year-olds everywhere. Every person in the world who has a plan about what to do if terrorists invaded their work can thank John McTiernan and Bruce Willis.

Die Hard's turn to a Christmas movie is nearly thirty years in the making. The phenomenon of assigning it Christmas movie status has been argued over in article upon article. Writers of every stripe have defended their love of Die Hard as a Christmas movie, but it really comes down to one thing: People love this movie and it takes place around Christmas. That's good enough. If a father and son who don't talk much during the year can come together and cheer while Hans Gruber falls off of Nakatomi Tower every holiday season, then that's all the Christmas magic you need.

It might not surprise you to learn that Die Hard didn't start anywhere close to being a Christmas movie. It debuted on Friday, July 15, 1988 (another member of the 88/89 Christmas movie brethren), with a nice generic action movie trailer that seemed to pigeonhole it as just another summer action movie. But as time wears on, Die Hard has earned its Christmas movie status, if only because we all love seeing John McClane take out terrorists. 

Die Hard 2, also takes place during Christmas and can make for a nice movie to fall asleep to, but it's missing the same magic Die Hard gave us.


#3: National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

Clark W. Griswold and his family have had many adventures. Wally World. Vegas. Europe. But nothing can compare to the Griswold Christmas Vacation. 

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a story about a man who has achieved success in the business world and wants to share it with his family by bringing them the kind of Christmas he's always wanted. Of course, Clark's zeal and idea of what a perfect Christmas should be often collide with reality, making for a humorous set of circumstances that don't get old, no matter how many times you see the movie. 

Whether it's dealing with in-laws overstaying their welcome, or finding the perfect Christmas tree, Clark's enthusiasm for Christmas is unmatched by anyone (with the possible exception of Will Ferrell's Elf). His only goal is to provide the best Christmas experience he can for his family. 

When the dust settles, it's hard to see how he can call his Christmas a success, but, his family is together, singing on the lawn, embracing one another in the Christmas spirit. 

That's about the best anyone can hope for the holiday season. 


#2: It's A Wonderful Life

Another annual tradition for many, It's a Wonderful Life shows us how much one person can affect others. No matter how small you think your impact is on the world, George Bailey and his humble story helps remind us that our actions are meaningful.

The story of how It's A Wonderful Life became an annual tradition is almost as notorious as the movie about Clarence the Angel and George Bailey itself. When it debuted in 1946, the movie was considered a failure at the box office, and prompted rumors that Capra had lost his touch. It's A Wonderful Life didn't achieve Christmas staple status until a television station discovered a clerical error had prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974. 

A lot of Christmas movies on this list are about rediscovering or rekindling the love you already had with your family. With It's a Wonderful Life, Capra showed us how important our love for other people can be.

It's also a good reminder that that you don't always have to be the one who takes the worries of the world on your shoulders. The movie shows us that when you give a little your whole life, it can come back a thousand-fold. 

It's A Wonderful Life isn't just one of the best Christmas movie to watch, it's just a great movie.


#1: A Christmas Story

This Christmas movie tradition has been codified by no less than TNT itself. The cable-TV station has been running a 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story on Christmas day since 1997, and shows no signs of slowing down. 

The 1983 comedy is based on Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, and was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2012. 

People love this movie so much, an entire cottage industry has sprung up around it. Not only can you purchase the much desired Red Ryder BB-Gun, you can also buy the genuine FRA-GILE (I think that's Italian), Leg Lamp online at Amazon (truly, they have everything). If you're really into it, you can even visit Ralphie's house, which has been turned into a museum for all things A Christmas Story. You can even stay the night, but you'll have to bring your own pink bunny pajamas.


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