It’s time for my yearly magnum opus: an overly comprehensive roundup of holiday movies. In 2020 and 2021, I limited myself to Netflix original films (and you can catch up on those rankings right here!)…but today, I want to expand the pool a bit. After chatting with the rest of the EHD team, we identified four key Christmas movie categories – romantic comedies (because our team is a little corny, obviously), movies that are comfortable to watch with your adult friends and family (no awkward encounters!), classic films that are fun for the whole family (you’ll know these by heart), and picks that kids will love (both new and old!).
The other kicker: the movies had to actually be pretty good (or SO bad that it circles back into being hilarious – it’s weird how that works, isn’t it?). A lot of holiday films are formulaic, or forgettable, or just not worth your time (looking at you, Falling for Christmas – a devastating disappointment!), so I only included movies that are fun to watch. It’s a big list – get ready to skim, and keep an eye out for any new titles to add to your streaming service queue of choice! – but I’m sure there are a ton of other great Christmas movies out there that I missed or haven’t seen yet, so feel free to drop your favorites in the comments. LET’S BEGIN.
Love Actually (2003): Nine (!!!) intertwined storylines; too many iconic moments to count. (Fun fact: Kiera Knightley was 18 and Thomas Brodie was 13 when this film was released.)
The Family Man (2000): A high-rolling Wall Street banker wakes in an alternate reality to find himself married to his college sweetheart. It’s nice to finally see a man have to choose between career and love in a Christmas movie for once, you know? (No shade to the whole “domineering woman meets small-town single dad” genre, of course).
Last Holiday (2006): After learning of a surprise terminal illness, Queen Latifah quits her job, cashes out her life savings, jets off to Europe, and lives the rest of her life to the fullest. (Spoiler: her work crush follows her across the world, too). This is my favorite Christmas rom-com, y’all!
Love Hard (2021): An LA blogger with a cute apartment (I’m halfway there, guys) spends the holidays in Lake Placid, NY (my childhood haunt!) with the guy who catfished her and his family. It’s sweet and fun.
The Holiday (2006): Two women swap homes for the holidays – one moves into a Hollywood mansion, the other takes residence in an English village – and naturally fall in love with local men. (Poll: would you go for Jack Black or Jude Law? I’m a Jack Black girl all the way!!!)
Holidate (2020): Two strangers-turned-friends agree to become each other’s platonic plus-ones for a year’s worth of holidays before catching feelings. It’s a Christmas movie you can watch all year long!
Serendipity (2001): John Cusak and Kate Beckinsale fall in love after reaching for the same pair of black cashmere gloves (cute). 10 years later – and living on opposite coasts – they trust fate to bring them together again. A must-watch for all my fellow ~woo woo~ “put it out into the universe” pals out there!
Single All The Way (2021): Tired of his family’s pestering, a man convinces his best friend to pose as his boyfriend on a trip home for the holidays. (Added bonus: Jennifer Coolidge also stars in it).
The Preacher’s Wife (1996): An angel is sent to answer a preacher’s prayer and then he, uh, falls for the preacher’s wife. Beyond that: Denzel! Whitney Houston! What else do you need?
New Year’s Eve (2011): Not totally Christmas, but still seasonally appropriate. It’s the Garry Marshall version of Love Actually, with an all-star cast and cheesy intertwined plot.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001): It’s not not a Christmas movie, you know? An early 30s woman finds herself in a love triangle with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. It’s famously relatable (except for the fact that most of us will never find ourselves in a love triangle with Colin Firth and Hugh Grant).
Happiest Season (2020): A woman plans to propose to her girlfriend at a family Christmas party before learning that her partner hasn’t come out to her conservative parents. (Bonus: it was written and directed by Clea DuVall, who played Marjorie on Veep!).
Last Christmas (2019): Emilia Clarke works as an elf in a year-round Christmas store. Henry Golding sweeps her off her feet. Michelle Yeoh plays Santa!!! Why isn’t this movie bigger?!
While You Were Sleeping (1995): Festive, but not overwhelming, with lots of classic tropes – mistaken identity! A coma! Amnesia! Love triangles! Wedding disruption! It’s an easy watch.
Why Him (2016): This was an EHD team recommendation that’s also not technically a Christmas movie, but still pretty Christmas-y – a dad travels to Silicon Valley for the holidays and realizes that his daughter’s boyfriend, a tech multimillionaire who’s a little bit of a loose cannon, is about to propose. (I don’t know if you can tell from the poster, but he’s not a fan). FYI this is more of a “watch with friends,” not family:)
Friends & Family
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017): Christmas wasn’t always this big of a deal, you know? Based on a true story, the film tells the story of Charles Dickens – who was nearly broke after three consecutive flops! – and his creation of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ which changed the world (and the literal meaning of Christmas) forever. If you’re going to watch one new holiday movie this year, this should be it.
Four Christmases (2008): After their yearly holiday vacation is canceled, a couple visits all four of their divorced parents’ homes on Christmas Day.
The Family Stone (2005): An uptight career-oriented woman finally meets her boyfriend’s free-wheeling, relaxed family at Christmas…and it doesn’t go as planned. (Also, the casting here is incredible. Diane Keaton should be in every Christmas movie).
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944): It’s the musical that launched “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” everyone! Track a year in the life of the Smith family leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. (Fun fact: Judy Garland and director Vincent Minnelli were dating while filming, and Liza Minnelli was born 2 years after the film’s release!).
The Dog Who Saved Christmas (2009): This is – and I am not joking – the worst movie I have ever seen. I loved it. A dog needs to learn to bark by Christmas, lest his family return him to the shelter for failing to live up to his guard dog duties. Mario Lopez voices the dog. It’s a mess. Make a drinking game out of it or throw it on when you’re a little slaphappy and overtired with friends. It’s awful. You’ll have a blast.
The Knight Before Christmas (2019): This is similar to the film above. It’s supposed to be romantic – a time-traveling medieval knight falls in love with Vannesa Hudgens – but it’s absolutely goofy. My mom and I have never laughed harder at a Christmas movie.
Scrooged (1988): A curmudgeonly but wildly successful TV executive (Bill Murray!) is haunted by three ghosts after firing a staffer on Christmas Eve. (I’m sure you can guess where this is going, right?).
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017): This is an Em recommendation! Three stressed-out moms are overwhelmed by the holidays (they’re juggling crafting memorable experiences for their families while hosting their own moms – woof) and they decide to rebel against expectations.
Die Hard (1988): It takes place during a holiday office party. There are 4 Christmas songs throughout the film. It’s a Christmas movie. Case closed.
El Camino Christmas (2017): But if Die Hard isn’t overtly holiday enough for you, this one may do the trick – a guy ends up barricaded in a liquor store with five other people during a shootout on Christmas Eve. (This is a great choice for those who are looking for something a little less saccharine – like, your stoic dad would probably watch this with you).
Christmas on the Square (2020): A wealthy woman plans to sell her small town to a developer – putting all her neighbors’ homes and businesses at risk – and then Dolly Parton (an angel both in the movie and in real life, I think) shows up. It’s kind of a slog, but you’ve gotta watch it once, you know?
Jingle All The Way (1996): A workaholic dad spends Christmas Eve hunting down the hottest toy on the market for his son. Classic 90s vibes.
Gremlins (1984): This is a movie about what happens when men don’t listen to directions. (I’m kidding…but I’m also not kidding?) A guy doesn’t take care of his new pet (a Gremlin, obviously) and ends up unleashing a horde of tiny monsters on his idyllic town on Christmas Eve. (Bonus: this film was one of the reasons the PG-13 rating was created, so proceed with caution if you have younger kids!).
Fred Claus (2007): Santa’s brother, Fred, gets bailed out of jail and heads to work at the North Pole in an attempt to pay off his debts. It’s a cute sibling rivalry and enjoyable for the whole family (…but maybe skip this one if you don’t want your kids to see Santa getting beat up by his bitter older brother).
Trading Places (1983): Christmas meets social commentary meets insider trading – it’s almost 40 years old (and some of the jokes haven’t aged well, to be fair), but this film still feels relevant. Two financial firm owners take the “nature v. nuture” debate to the next level when they frame a wealthy manager for a crime and hire a street-smart unhoused man (Eddie Murphy!) to take over his position, betting that Eddie Murphy will turn into a rich jerk and that the disgraced manager will fall into poverty. It’s pretty heavy, but served with a big dose of Christmas cheer. (It also apparently plays every Christmas Eve in parts of Italy, which is hilarious).
Edward Scissorhands (1990): Group this in with Gremlins and Die Hard on the “alternative Christmas movie” list. I mean…the whole thing is a long story about why it always snows on Christmas, you know?
Jack Frost (1998): Michael Keaton, a touring musician who prioritizes fame over family, dies in a car accident on Christmas Day (no!) but is brought back to life as a snowman the following year after his son plays a sad tune on a harmonica. Can a father and son make amends? (I’ll let you guess how it turns out.)
A Very Murray Christmas (2015): An all-star cast (Bill Murray, George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Jason Schwartzman, Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph, Michael Cera, Rashida Jones…I’m only stopping because I’m running out of space) stars in a quick and unassuming holiday special. The original song by Phoenix is the icing on the cake.
Classics for Everyone
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): The Muppets and Michael Caine take on the classic Dickens tale. (I think this is my all-time favorite Christmas movie, everyone! I loved it as a kid and I still love it in my 30s. It’ll never get old).
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): I KNOW, I KNOW. It’s technically a TV special, not a movie. TOO BAD – it’s a classic. Charlie Brown is disappointed by the commercialization of Christmas (me too, cutie!) and searches for the meaning of the season. It’s very tender!
Elf (2003): “I thought maybe we could make gingerbread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands.”
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974): Watch this Rankin/Bass original that inspired the art direction of Elf – it’s sweet and heartwarming. When Santa comes down with a cold and a bad case of ennui, Mrs. Claus and the elves need to lift his spirits. SO HEARTWARMING. (And not just because of Heat Miser!).
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): Tune in for more Elf inspiration here – like, Buddy’s outfit was ripped straight outta this film). The stop motion is timeless and gentle and kind – if it’s been a few years since your last watch, take an hour, grab some hot chocolate, and enjoy. (Also, we need more movies inspired by songs).
The Home Alone Franchise (1990): This is the most popular Christmas movie in America for a reason. (Let it be a lesson to all of us that precocious troublemakers are surprisingly self-sufficient).
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946): Believe it or not, a movie about a man’s suicidal ideation on Christmas Eve was not an immediate hit!!! This film initially tanked at the box office and didn’t even come close to breaking it even – it only became a classic after it entered the public domain, which allowed it to be broadcast without licensing or royalty fees.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020): A depressed toymaker finds new hope when his jubilant granddaughter shows up on his doorstep. It’s like the Greatest Showman, holiday edition – a modern classic for sure.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947): A man named Kris Kringle fills in for a drunk Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (some stories really do last the test of time, right?) and is eventually hired to make regular appearances as Santa at the Macy’s in Manhattan. When Kringle claims that he really is Santa, he’s taken to court (of course) to judge his mental health and authenticity. It still feels timely, doesn’t it?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): I mean…a guy who cares this much about getting the perfect tree and setting up the most beautiful decorations kind of seems like a keeper, no?
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): It’s a Q4 hit. Enjoy it in October! Enjoy it in November! Enjoy it in December! It’s got everything the end-of-the-year needs, from the Pumpkin King to Sandy Claws.
It Happened On 5th Avenue (1947): Two unhoused men move into a seemingly-vacant NYC mansion while its owner is vacationing in the south. It’s a classic tale of “money poor, but rich where it counts.”
A Christmas Story (1983): “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966): Technically another TV special, but…it’s my list, and I’m making the rules. It’s bright, it’s cheery, there are some iconic (and now gif-able) animation moments, and it’s almost entirely narrated (which almost feels fresh today!). Set aside 25 minutes and tune in – it’s worth it.
Klaus (2019): A failed postman is exiled to a frozen town, where he forms an unlikely partnership with a reclusive toymaker. Together, they bring a lot of joy to a dark town that needs it most. IT’S GORGEOUSLY DONE.
The Santa Clause Franchise (1994): A divorced dad becomes Santa (both physically and occupationally) while everyone thinks he’s a nutjob. His son – the world’s cutest kid, I think – steps in to help save Christmas. It never gets old, does it?
The Polar Express (2004): If you’re a fan of the uncanny valley, this is for you. (It’s not for me, but I can acknowledge that it’s still a good movie!). After the entire town has gone to bed on Christmas Eve, a skeptical boy boards a magical train for the North Pole in an attempt to learn the truth about Santa.
The Snowman (1982): This, however, is WAY more my speed. A boy makes a snowman on Christmas Eve; it comes to life and brings him to meet Santa. The animation is so soft and lovely. (Still great for adults, too! It’s like a bubble bath for your eyes).
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000): Little ones love Jim Carrey and his dog in this movie, y’all. Ron Howard directed this version and it’s safe to say that he is a national treasure.
Alien Xmas (2020): This is my favorite Netflix animation special (and it’s from Jon Favreau, the director of Elf)!! When aliens team up to steal the earth’s gravity (and, consequently, all of the presents), a tiny alien named X falls in love with the Christmas spirit and works to thwart their kleptomaniac plans. So much heart and SO, SO CUTE.
Arthur Christmas (2011): When Santa forgets to deliver presents to one child (out of, uh, 600 million), it’s up to his youngest son, Arthur, to deliver a present before Christmas morning. Super underrated.
Eloise at Christmastime (2003): Eloise (of the Plaza Hotel, of course) decides to involve herself in everyone’s business. (Literally, SO much happens in this movie that it cannot be condensed into a small blurb.) Julie Andrews stars as the nanny, too.
The Christmas Chronicles Franchise (2018): After two siblings accidentally crash Santa’s sleigh, they team up with Santa to save Christmas. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn should play Santa and Mrs. Claus in EVERY MOVIE. They’re incredibly endearing (and a little sarcastic? It’s refreshing).
PHEW. Lotta words here. Did you find anything new to watch? Do you have any recommendations or synopses to share? What’s your favorite Christmas movie? LET’S TALK ABOUT IT. Happy Friday – see ya in the comments 🙂 xx
Opening Photo Credits: Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Emily’s “Messy” But FULL Of Memories Christmas Family Room