Let me first say that I didn’t grow up watching Christmas movies. The headline should have given that away. I did dabble in the viewing of Frosty the Snowman as a child and I knew all the Christmas songs because I went to a public school. But classic movies like Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol were never viewed in the Stahl household. We were too busy enjoying our eight crazy nights of Hanukkah getting fried on latkes and gambling for chocolate coins in hotly contested games of dreidel.
I still love movies, have seen plenty (quote too many), and many are about Christmas – and I consider some of them my favorite movies of all time, regardless of subject matter.
Which brings us to my list: the greatest Christmas movies. In order to create such a list, I asked three questions to see if each film should be considered a Christmas movie:
– Does it convey the story of Christmas? (Celebrating the birth of a Savior and it involves multiple wise men)
– Does it imbue the Christmas spirit? (The most wonderful time of year to open your heart to helping others)
– Is there an absurd amount of decorative accouterments and consumerism? (Eggnog, trees, twinkly lights, in-laws, angry mobs at shopping malls)
If they met at least one of these criterions, they made the list.
So here is my list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time:
I almost didn’t put Elf on this list. Not because I just saw it for the first time in 2020, but because it’s simply one of the greatest comedy movies ever and can be watched during any time of year. How can you not fall in love with Will Ferrell’s simple Buddy just wanting to be everyone’s buddy while trying to spread Christmas joy throughout New York? And he takes out a few bullies with some epic snowballs in the process. I almost considered converting after watching it. I do have one question: Does Buddy ever wash his elf outfit?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Like the jelly-of-the-month club, it’s the movie that keeps on giving. And taught me everything I know about exterior illumination. Clark Griswold, you’re my hero.
Die Hard (1988)
If you start typing “Is Die Hard” into Google, the search engine will autofill the rest: “a Christmas movie.” Much like how the Virgin Mary became pregnant, this is a very controversial subject. Stop asking questions and just go with it. This hotly contested debate — about Die Hard, not the Virgin Mary — may have finally come to an end, when, in 2020, the film’s writer Steven E. de Souza came out and said Die Hard was a Christmas movie. He even produced a checklist comparing it to the “baseline” film White Christmas: Die Hard takes place during Christmas, at a Christmas party, where you can hear multiple Christmas songs; you here Hans Gruber read “Ho-ho-ho.” And the main part of the movie is a selfless act: Bruce Willis’ John McClane went from scrunching his toes into the carpet to saving his wife and others from terrorists. Does it get more Christmas than this?
Trading Places (1983)
Two old scrooges place a $1 bet to see if they can screw over one of their entitled employees. But it’s that employee, Louis Winthorp III (Dan Aykroyd) and the street con artist who took his place, Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) who had the last laugh. Also, Aykroyd’s portrayal of a ruthless gun-toting rock-bottom Santa Claus planting drugs in Murphy’s desk to then gnaw on a belly of smoked salmon (and a little bit of his Santa wig) epitomizes just how cruel the holidays can be.
Sure, Bill Murray is the most beloved person on the planet. It’s been scientifically proven. Yet, he does a marvelous job at being selfish and cynical and making sure nobody has a wonderful life. Thanks to Carol Kane he does come around. After all, he is Bill Murray.
Home Alone (1990)
I’m comfortable admitting that I cry at the end of this movie. Seeing the next-door neighbor go from being an alleged murderer who is estranged from his son to saving Kevin from the Wet Bandits and reconciling with said son pulls at my heart. Every. Friggin. Time.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Yes, it’s the same premise as the first one: family’s late to the airport, they leave Kevin behind, they try getting back to him, the Wet Bandits strike again, the old man is swapped in for the bird lady, yada yada yada. And it’s the same message: little kids are resilient and care for others. Which is a good thing. P.S. The sequel didn’t make me cry, but it did make me laugh harder, especially during the scene in the booby-trapped brownstone.
A Christmas Story (1983)
There may be more lines from this movie that have entered the pop culture lexicon than any other Christmas movie. My favorite is the mispronunciation of “fragile” (“Aaah! ‘Fra-GEE-Lay!’ It Must Be Italian!”). Though this movie may have become known more for running 24 hours a day throughout the entire month of December on TNT for 30 years. Even after all these years, Peter Billingsley still looks so darn cute as “a deranged Easter bunny.”
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Santa’s in prison. Who else is going to rescue him? Ernest P. Worrell. That’s who.
Bad Santa (2003)
How can anyone still believe in a jolly ol’ St. Nick after watching Billy Bob Thornton drag the good, wholesome image of Father Christmas through the mud? Children should definitely look away.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
So this movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 17%. So what? Has there ever been a piece of art that imitated life so much? A father does everything he can to get his son the hottest toy on the market, the Turbo Man. Though it is hard to believe that former seven-time bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger had such a hard time defeating Coach Walter Oakes. That’s right, I just made an A Different World reference. Arnie should’ve gone all Commando on Sinbad’s ass.
Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
When I said that I knew all the Christmas songs, it was really because of this movie. “O Tannenbaum” and “Christmas Time is Here” are two songs that are synonymous with this classic movie.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
There might be some scary images in this one, but it’s Tim Burton. What do you expect? This movie, known back then for its unbelievable stop-motion animation, may forever be known for its foreshadowing. With someone from Halloweentown stumbling upon Christmastown just proves that Thanksgiving isn’t a real holiday anymore.