A collage of the best Christmas films including A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story Christmas, Bad Santa, Miracle on 34th Street, and Home Alone

15 Best Christmas Movies of All Time, Ranked

Christmas is fast approaching, which means it is time to dig up the timeless Christmas classics. These films age well and are all largely family-friendly. Additionally, they are touching, humorous, and feel-good films that offer an escape from the stress of the holidays. It is no wonder that many of these films have become yearly traditions for families across the globe. The rise in streaming services has also made revisiting these films easier.

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A few films on this list are modern, but many were made over a decade ago. Films today have struggled to perfectly capture the feel-good spirit of Christmas flicks like Elf or to wholly capture what Christmas looks like from a child’s perspective as A Christmas Story does. Several modern films shake up the genre in unique and compelling ways, though. With that being said, here are the 15 best Christmas films ever made, ranked.

15. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Jim Carrey as The Grinch in Santa hat, looking at ornament on tree
(Universal Pictures)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas sees Jim Carrey take on the role of the grouchy green Grinch, who tries to destroy Christmas for everyone. This is a highly debated Christmas film. It received mixed-to-negative reviews upon its release, but today, it boasts a loyal fanbase who adamantly defend its status as a Christmas classic.

Some of its criticism stems from the fact that it is a semi-dark, chaotic, and bizarre production. Yet, it is also a compelling work of art with groundbreaking makeup and costumes, a charismatic performance from Carrey, and a clever meta-premise that pokes fun at the commerciality of Christmas. For those who can understand and appreciate it, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a true Christmas classic.

14. Dashing Through the Snow

Ludacris, Teyonah Parris, and Madison Skye Validum as the Garrick family in Dashing Through the Snow

Dashing Through the Snow is a new Christmas film from Tim Story, the director behind The Blackening and Ride Along. The holiday film follows Eddie Garrick (Ludacris), a father who has turned his back on Christmas after a traumatic childhood experience. However, he finds he can’t ignore the holidays when a man claiming to be Santa (Lil Rel Howery) shows up in his life.

Dashing Through the Snow is a hilarious and, at times, emotional holiday adventure. Howery is brilliant as an impulsive and humorous Santa, while Ludacris shines as his tired and impatient social worker. There is plenty of Christmas magic and a tear-jerking conclusion. While the film often treads into silly territory and could delve a bit deeper into its topics of trauma and complex family dynamics, it’s enjoyable as a light Christmas film with a unique spin on it.

13. The Christmas Chronicles

Santa flies his sleigh with two kids in the back and presents flying out

The Christmas Chronicles is the ultimate Christmas comfort film. It follows siblings Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis), who are struggling to get along and celebrate the holidays for the first Christmas after their father’s passing. However, their lives will never be the same after they get swept up in an adventure to save Christmas alongside Santa Claus (Kurt Russell).

The Christmas Chronicles has a familiar storyline—some kids meeting Santa and helping save Christmas. However, Russell’s unconventional Santa elevates the film greatly. He’s not a regular Santa; he’s a cool Santa who has musical numbers and high-tech gadgets. Meanwhile, holding the film together is a touching story about family and grief. With adorable kids, a cool Santa, and a familiar and comforting story about Christmas magic, The Christmas Chronicles is an enjoyable holiday film for any audience.

12. Bad Santa

Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Stokes in Bad Santa
(Columbia Pictures)

Bad Santa is a vulgar, non-kid-friendly, and cynical take on Christmas. While going completely against the “feel-good” nature of Christmas films, it proved very effective. The film follows Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thorton), the worst con Santa, who narrowly misses being the worst human ever when a young, bullied boy, Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly), develops a liking for him. Bad Santa is chaotic, hilarious, and compelling, but only to a select audience who can take a bit of dark humor. There’s a tiny bit of heart in it, too, enough to be touching but not enough to be cheesy. Ultimately, it is a more realistic take on the holidays that captures the realities of depression and flawed humanity but also captures the hope in human connection.

11. Violent Night

David Harbour as Santa in Violent Night
(Universal Pictures)

Violent Night is a unique mash-up of Home Alone, Bad Santa, and a violent action comedy. The film follows Santa Claus (David Harbour), who is disillusioned by modern Christmas’s greedy and materialistic nature. However, his perspective changes when he finds a little girl needing help and decides there’s nothing he won’t do to save her.

Violent Night is unique while also pulling the best elements from its inspirations. In this film, Santa has the angst and cynicism of Thornton’s “bad” Santa but is a lot less despicable and a lot more hardcore. There’s also a bit of Home Alone‘s premise, but the home invasion and the booby traps are a lot more entertaining when they’re not confined to a PG rating. Ultimately, it’s hilarious, bloody, and Christmasy all at once. For viewers who can stomach the violence, Violent Night is a Christmas film that isn’t quite like any other.

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
(Warner Bros.)

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a hilarious and entertaining holiday film that follows Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), an overworked family man embracing the stress of the holidays because he thinks a holiday bonus awaits him at the end. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the perfect portrayal of a dysfunctional and imperfect family and features a hilarious and unexpected sequence of events that culminate in a SWAT team infiltration. The unpredictable nature of the film makes it almost too goofy, but it will keep you entertained and greatly amused throughout its entirety. Meanwhile, it also tackles some serious themes of corporate corruption and labor conditions that hold up surprisingly well today. Aside from Chase being the leading man, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a breezy, funny, and enjoyable holiday watch.

9. The Santa Clause

Tim Allen as Santa and Eric Lloyd as Charlie in The Santa Clause
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

The Santa Clause premiered in 1994 and sees Tim Allen suit up as Santa Claus, a.k.a. Scott Calvin, a single father who becomes Santa’s successor after he accidentally kills the jolly figure and is subjected to a piece of legislation called “The Santa Clause.” The Santa Clause is hurt a bit by introducing a “clause” that can’t be fully explained in one film. However, it is undeniably funny as Allen brings his signature humor to the film. He was quite iconic in the role and offered up one of the best and most memorable portrayals of Santa. Additionally, The Santa Clause is a unique tale brimming with the holiday spirit but is also a surprisingly touching story of a single father keeping the magic of Christmas alive for his son. It might be worth revisiting as the franchise has continued to expand, including with the recent TV series The Santa Clauses.

8. The Holdovers

Paul Giamatti as Paul Hunham in The Holdovers
(Focus Features)

The Holdovers is a new film from Alexander Payne that plays out in the style of a 1970s movie. It follows Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti), a grumpy teacher who stays at his prep school’s campus over Christmas break to look after the students who have nowhere to go. Some of his grumpiness starts to wear off when he learns the stories of those left behind for the holidays.

The Holdovers is a beautiful film that impressively brings the style, filmmaking, and storytelling of the 1970s to modern audiences. In addition to its unique framing, it is a very touching and powerful holiday film. It is a simple and intimate portrait of loneliness and the power of human connection and kindness. While it might feel a little too sentimental to audiences at times, it’s hard to find anything else to dislike about this funny, touching, and thoughtful holiday movie.

7. A Christmas Story Christmas

Peter Billingsley as Ralphie in A Christmas Story Christmas
(Warner Bros.)

A Christmas Story Christmas is the long-awaited sequel to the holiday classic, A Christmas Story. It picks up 33 years after the original and sees an adult Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) try to carry on his father’s legacy by giving his own children the best Christmas ever.

A Christmas Story Christmas doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first film, but it does achieve the very difficult task of being a worthy sequel to one of the most beloved holiday films of all time. It is exciting to see the majority of the characters return 33 years later and portray their aged characters perfectly and naturally. Additionally, it is a very emotional and powerful story about how, even in grief, some parents will do anything to give their children the Christmas they deserve. Heartfelt, nostalgic, and warm, A Christmas Story Christmas is easily the best Christmas movie sequel out there.

6. A Christmas Carol (1999)

Patrick Stewart as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

There have been dozens of adaptions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but none quite captured the legacy of his tale as well as the 1999 live-action adaption starring Patrick Stewart. The film retells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge (Stewart), a sour and bitter man who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve as they strive to change his fate.

Stewart is iconic as Scrooge, boasting the acting skills to effectively portray him as fearsome, intimidating, and arrogant. Meanwhile, the film offers a dramatic but faithful adaption of Dickens’ work. The film masterfully switches between being a feel-good Christmas flick and a film bordering on horror as it encompasses the dark and meaningless future that wealth, corruption, and greed can cause. It is ultimately a well-made, emotional, and mesmerizing holiday drama.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Natalie Wood as Susan Walker and Edmund Glenn as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street
(20th Century Fox)

Miracle on 34th Street is a film that dares you to believe in Santa Claus. The film follows Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), a beloved department store Santa Claus who sparks controversy when he begins to claim that he is truly Santa. Miracle on 34th Street has largely held up over the years because of the performances of the beloved, heartwarming Gwenn and the adorable yet surprisingly mature Natalie Wood as Susan Walker. It is a film that is almost too sentimental with its holiday spirit and almost too cynical with its portrayal of humans who seek to tear down anything that brings others joy. Ultimately, it’s a touching, festive film that challenges viewers to decide for themselves what they believe.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life

How to Stream It's a Wonderful Life
(RKO Radio Pictures)

It’s a Wonderful Life premiered in 1946 and is a film that is equal parts festive and tear-jerking. The film follows George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who decides the world would be better off without him on Christmas Eve until he is visited by an angel who shows him what the world would’ve been like if he had never existed. It’s a Wonderful Life offers powerful performances, an emotional premise, and a festive conclusion. It is also a surprisingly mature film that tackles depression and despair but also explores the impact that many individuals forget they have in the world. It’s a Wonderful Life is powerful and moving, though it sometimes features overly religious tones.

3. Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin as Kevin in Home Alone
(20th Century Fox)

Home Alone premiered in 1990 and has been hailed as one of the greatest Christmas films ever made for over three decades. The film follows a fairly simplistic tale of a resourceful little boy, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), who gets left home alone for the holidays and has to protect his house from burglars. Home Alone isn’t the best-made or most meaningful film on this list. However, it is one of the purest, most wholesome, and most nostalgic Christmas films ever made. It is witty enough for adults to enjoy, captures every child’s dream of being home alone, and capitalizes on the importance of family.

2. A Christmas Story

boy and his friends wearing winter hats and jackets looking shocked

A Christmas Story premiered in 1983 and perfectly captured Christmas through the lens of a child. The film follows a memorable Christmas for Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who spends the days leading up to the holiday dreaming of getting his very own Red Ryder air rifle. A Christmas Story is one of the best Christmas classics because it doesn’t overdo it. It acknowledges that you don’t need Santa Claus, elves, and miracles for Christmas to be magical. The real magic is found in how a child’s sweet and innocent eyes view Christmas and in the eccentric and dysfunctional parents who always rally to keep the magic alive for their kids.

1. Elf

Will Ferrell as Buddy in New York in Elf
(New Line Cinema)

Elf premiered in 2003 and sees Will Ferrell at his very best as Buddy, a man who arrives in New York City to find his selfish businessman of a father after being raised as an elf in the North Pole. The film is hilarious, and Ferrell is so charismatic and pure that viewers can’t be unaffected by his contagious joy. Buddy goes against the status quo, eats sweets, sings at the top of his lungs, and finds unparalleled joy in the smallest things. The film encourages every viewer to go against the cynicism, judgment, and mundanity of the world and to dare to be so spirited, joyful, and filled with lust for life that others can’t help but be inspired by you.

(featured image: MGM)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.