10 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.
While modern Christmas films are made yearly, the majority of films on this list are at least a decade old. Many films today fail 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 like A Christmas Story does. Modern films try to shake up the genre, but not in abstract or compelling ways like How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Bad Santa. With that being said, here are the 10 best Christmas films ever made.
10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas sees Jim Carrey take on the role of the grouchy green Grinch, who is set on destroying Christmas for everyone until a little girl softens his cold heart. This is one of the most highly debated Christmas films. 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 and largely 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.
9. Bad Santa
Bad Santa is a vulgar, non-kid-friendly, and cynical take on Christmas. However, while going completely against the “feel-good” nature of Christmas films, it proved very effective. The film follows Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thorton), who is the worst con Santa ever, but narrowly misses being the worst human being 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.
8. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation premiered in 1989 and is a deeply entertaining holiday film. The film 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 unexpected 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.
7. The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause premiered in 1994 and sees Tim Allen suit up as Santa Claus, a.k.a. Scott Calvin (Allen), 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 possibly be fully explained in the course of 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 that is 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.
6. A Christmas Carol (1999)
There have been dozens of adaptions of Charles Dickens’s 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)
Miracle on 34th Street premiered in 1947 and is a film that practically 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
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 a powerful and moving holiday film, though it sometimes features overly religious tones.
3. Home Alone
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 home 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
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 days leading up to Christmas 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 still rally to keep the magic alive for their kids.
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 and steeped in holiday cheer his whole life. The film is so hilarious, and Ferrell 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 of 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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