Hard to believe the holiday is almost upon us again. It really is astonishing how quickly the years seem to fly by as one gets older. Since December is right around the corner I figured it would be a good time to put together a list of the best Christmas movies of all time. One of our family’s Christmas traditions is watching one or more of these classics over the holidays. Most of these films fall under the G-rated category, but to spice the list up a little I’ve thrown in one or two that tilt towards the adult end of the scale. With that said, read on to see which of your favorite films made the cut:
20 – The Polar Express – Though classic Christmas movies like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and A Charlie Brown Christmas were animated films, they are vastly different from the technological tour-de-force that was The Polar Express. A combination of computer animation and live motion capture the movie is in the uncanny valley between a cartoon and real life. The voice acting is quite good, particularly by Tom Hanks who plays a multitude of roles. Though the story isn’t quite on par with some of the other animated Christmas films on this list, it is good enough to squeak onto the list.
19 – The Muppet Christmas Carol – Expect to see multiple versions of Charles Dickens’ beloved tale on this list. This 1992 film features Kermit and the gang and their take on the story. Michael Caine is great as Ebenezer Scrooge, and the muppets add plenty of laughter to the original tale. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a fantastic familiy movie that can be enjoyed equally by kids and adults.
17 – Bad Santa – Here is that adult Christmas material I warned you about in the intro. Bad Santa starring Billy Bob Thornton is about as far away from a family Christmas film as you can get. Definitely don’t sit down to watch this one with the kids or you are going to find yourself in some hot water. That being said this is still a great film with plenty of laughs, and in between all the swearing, drinking and sex there is even a bit of a moral to the story.
16 – Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town! – Some of the best Christmas films were never actually shown in theaters, but instead aired on TV year after year. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town! is one of those animated films like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman that as a kid I looked forward to annually in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Featuring the voice acting of Fred Astaire as the narrator and Mickey Rooney as old Kris Kringle himself this is a must-watch for any family with young kids.
15 – The Nightmare Before Christmas – This movie is equally comfortable on a list of best Christmas movies or best Halloween movies. Tim Burton puts his own uniquely twisted stamp on this spooky Christmas animated musical. Musical legend Danny Elfman provides the haunting music for the film, and Chris Sarandon is fabulous as the voice of lead character, the fleshless Jack Skellington. Though the subject matter is not particularly frightening very young children might find some of Burton’s dark imagery a little scary.
14 – Elf – Arguably Will Ferrell’s best role to date, Elf is a Christmas comedy that became an instant classic upon its 2003 release. Banished from the North Pole due to his ungainly size, a man raised as one of Santa’s elves is sent home to America to try and make his way among his own kind. As you can imagine the result is both disastrous and hilarious, and Ferrell is at his goofy best as he tries to assimilate himself into a culture that is completely foreign to him.
13 – White Christmas – Another movie that bears the same name as a popular Christmas song. It’s no surprise to see Bing Crosby starring in this musical romantic comedy. Like many of Crosby’s movies this one involves a series goofs and misunderstandings that keep the laughs coming throughout.
12 – A Charlie Brown Christmas – As a kid I don’t think there were any holiday movies I looked forward to more than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Something about Charles Schultz’s beloved comic strip come to animated life just struck a chord in me, and I could watch his work over and over again, never tiring of it. Even as a child I found this made for TV film moving, and no other movie successfully conveyed the Christmas spirit to me as A Charlie Brown Christmas did.
11 – Home Alone – Though he’d already appeared in a few films, including the 1989 John Candy comedy Uncle Buck is was this 1990 film that launched Macaulay Culkin into childhood superstardom. The film about an eight year old boy who is mistakenly left behind at Christmas while the rest of his family travels to France was a huge box office hit, and is widely recognized as one of the best comedy movies of the 1990s.
10 – The Bishop’s Wife – I go way back into the vault as I reach the top 10 Christmas movies ever made. Made over 60 years ago The Bishop’s Wife stars Cary Grant as Dudley, an angel sent in answer to Bishop Henry’s prayers. However, his answers aren’t the ones that Bishop Henry is looking for and things get complicated as Henry begins to suspect that Dudley hasn’t come to help him, but rather to supplant him.
9 – Frosty the Snowman – My favorite Christmas song of all time is also a pretty good movie. Frosty’s very life is in jeopardy as he tries to avoid letting the magic hat that gives him life from the clutches of the evil magician who covets it.
8 – How the Grinch Stole Christmas – Though the 2000 Jim Carrey film of the same name is a decent movie in its own right, this particular spot is reserved for the original 1966 made for TV short film. The incomparable Boris Karloff provides the voice of the narrator and the Christmas-hating Grinch is this classic telling of Dr. Seuss’s beloved tale. This is another animated film that does a masterful job of teaching young children the true meaning of Christmas spirit and should be required viewing for any youngster during the holidays.
7 – Christmas Vacation – As good as the original Vacation was this film gets the (slight) nod as the best Vacation movie to date. Chevy Chase is at his bumbling best as well-meaning not-so-superdad Clark Griswold as he tries to give his family the best Christmas ever, nearly ruining the holiday for them all.
6 – Scrooge – This classic Charles Dickens’ tale has been told a multitude of times over the years, including in 2009 with the recent release ofDisney’s A Christmas Carol. but the 1951 filmScrooge starring Alastair Sim as Ebeneezer Scrooge remains the best version to date.
5 – Scrooged – I thought it would be fun to put these two movies back to back, and to putScrooged one spot higher just to see how many oldtimers I could outrage. Yes, director Richard Donner’s parody of the story might not be as classic as Brian Desmond’s Hurst’s 1951 effort, but you’ve got to admit it’s a lot more fun. Bill Murray again shows his comedic genius as selfish TV executive Frank Cross, giving a new twist to this old tale.
4 – Miracle on 34th Street – If you are looking for a great, feel-good Christmas movie to share with the family this holiday then this 1947 film is just what the doctor ordered. Edmund Gwenn is brilliant as the ever-cheerful and benevolent Kris Kringle, maintaining his bubbly demeanor even when he is forced to go to court to prove he really is Santa Claus.
3 – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Though it is certainly not on par technologically and visually with The Polar Express there is something charming about the old-school stop motion animation used to make this 1964 made-for-TV film. The legendary Burl Ives voices Sam the Snowman, the narrator of this tale about a reindeer who turns a feature that others believe to be a flaw into an invaluable asset, leading to a great moment of triumph.
2 – A Christmas Story – No matter what heights Peter Billingsley ultimately reaches in his acting career he will always be known first and foremost as little Ralphie Parker, the little blond kid with glasses who wanted a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. This is Christmas comedy at its very best, and I’m sure a nostalgic trip down memory lane for those who grew up in the 40s and 50s. This is one Christmas movie that every family should have in their DVD collection, and it is a pleasure to watch from age 8 to age 80.
1 – It’s a Wonderful Life – Strangely the movie that I have pegged at the number one spot on the list of the top 20 best Christmas movies of all time isn’t really a Christmas movie at all, just a film with a message that happens to take place around the holidays. Still, despite its lack of direct association with Christmas the spirit of the message of this classic Frank Capra film embodies the holiday spirit more completely than any other film on the list. Yes, it is sappy, sometimes cheesy and over the top, but all in all It’s a Wonderful Life is a wonderful film, and is certainly deserving of the title of best Christmas film ever.