The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

If nothing else, we know this: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. Songs sing it to us, ads sell it to us, and those credit card bills that arrive in January remind us all over again. So, with all the hubbub, it’s no wonder that Hollywood and television have a long tradition of joining in that holiday spirit. But that doesn’t mean it’s all Santa, snowmen, and chestnuts roasting on open fires. Sure, there’s plenty of traditional fare out there, some of which have become classics and must-sees each and every holiday season. But there are also plenty of alternative takes on this festive season and even films that, like the song goes, don’t even seem to know that it’s Christmas. So, here are our very favorite movies set around the Christmas holiday. And whether there are yuletide lessons to be learned, laughs to be had, or even murders to be covered up, all of the movies on this list remind us just how wonderful, or at least interesting, this time of the year really can be.

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25. DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS! (1966)

grinch The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Dr. Seuss’ despicable, green-furred, red-eyed, cardiovascularly challenged, Christmas-hating Grinch implements a diabolical plot to disguise himself as Santa and steal the holiday from his Christmas-adoring neighbors in Whoville.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Not only does the Grinch learn that you can’t stop a good thing like Christmas, but we see him transform, like Ebeneezer Scrooge before him, into a goodhearted soul — a reminder that Christmas truly is a time for miracles. Now, pass the roast beast. Actually, what’s the vegan option?

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

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24. TOYS (1992)

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Toys brings war to a landscape of joy and innocence: a toy factory, where Robin Williams has to stop his evil uncle from jump-starting drone warfare. Barry Levinson’s surreal fable is as eerie in its precognition as it is beautiful.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Christmas, in all its idyllic FAO Schwartz glory, frames Toysand is key to ushering viewers into the film’s left-of-reality world. This visually stunning black comedy also houses a spectacular score/soundtrack, crowned by Wendy and Lisa’s goosebump-inducing holiday single “Closing of the Year”.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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23. SCROOGED (1988)

scrooged The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Bill Murray finds his inner Ebenezer Scrooge in this incredibly ’80s black comedy that further embellishes the eccentricities of Richard Donner’s filmography. Guy has done every genre.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… It’s funny, it’s spooky, and it’s a little macabre, but Scroogedstill holds up as a go-to Christmas classic, if only to watch Murray go toe to toe with a bedlam of ’80s ghosts — literally and metaphorically.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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22. IN BRUGES (2008)

in bruges The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… After a hit goes about as horribly wrong as a hit possibly can, two contract killers (Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell) are instructed to lay low in the picturesque town of Bruges, Belgium, during the most wonderful time of the year. Soon, restlessness and the specter of Ralph Fiennes’ foulmouthed crime boss rear their heads to bring chaos to the idyllic town.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Martin McDonagh’s directorial debut is one of astounding quality and the kind of skewed take on the aesthetics of Christmastime that some will find themselves craving after so many carols and so much tinsel. It’s a violent, profane, lonely movie, and somehow it’s also funny as hell without ever caving on any of those other traits.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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21. RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964)

rudolph the red nosed reindeer The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Sam the Snowman recalls the year that Christmas almost got cancelled due to a terrible snowstorm. Luckily, a certain red-nosed reindeer and his misfit friends saved the day and allowed Santa to ring in Christmas on schedule. Ho ho ho.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… It’s the pinnacle achievement of the Rankin/Bass claymation specials, featuring now-classic songs sung by the likes of Burl Ives, unforgettable characters from Hermey (an aspiring elf dentist) to Yukon Cornelius (a kind, oafish prospector), and the timeless message that our differences should be embraced and serve to bring us together, not cast us apart.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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20. A CHRISTMAS TALE (2008)

achristmastale The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… A French family overseen by an assured matriarch returns under one roof for the first time in years to celebrate Christmas, and as is usually the case with dysfunctional families, this unearths all manner of long-held secrets, resentments, and vendettas.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Arnaud Desplechin’s story of forgiveness, contempt, and death might not exactly instill the kind of warm fuzzies that many chase in their holiday movies, but A Christmas Tale stands as one of the best-ever holiday-centric stories of the ties that bind. Nobody’s ever capable of being more loving or more truly cruel to you than your family, something that the film understands well. And Catherine Deneuve is absolutely exceptional, as is her custom.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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19. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)

miracle on 34th street 1947 The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) takes over as the Santa at the Macy’s flagship store in New York, only to find himself embroiled in legal turmoil when his insistence that he is in fact the real Santa Claus leads to his being forced to stand trial for his alleged insanity.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… One of the original Christmas movies also remains one of the best, from Gwenn’s unforgettable performance as an iconic Santa to the film’s message of laying aside skepticism in favor of mirth and magic. There’s a serious case to be made that the subgenre of the Christmas movie wouldn’t exist at all without Miracle on 34th Street paving the way, and in a list full of movies that take an odder glance at the season, we can’t help but succumb to its idealistic charms all over again.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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18. KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005)

kiss kiss bang bang kilmer monaghan downey The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Shane Black takes us back to Los Angeles in this neo-noir black comedy that sends Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, and a fiery Michelle Monaghan through one warped holiday whodunnit.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… With Christmas once again his backdrop, Black wraps all of his taped-together action into a razor-sharp script that matches the 120 mph mannerisms of Downey, Jr. and the cutting stoicism of Kilmer.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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17. ELF (2003)

 The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) knows he’s not like the other elves at the North Pole. His voice is lower, he’s terrible at toymaking, and he’s several feet taller than anyone else. So Buddy takes off for the magical land of New York City in hopes of finding his real father and bringing his own brand of Christmas cheer to a jaded modern world.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Ferrell’s joyous delivery of every Buddy line is as infectious as the film itself, which remains one of Jon Favreau’s better directorial outings. It’s a movie that not only understands how singularly creepy “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is, but that the most earnest Christmas warmth comes from the most cynical among us setting aside their adult bitterness in favor of seasonal kindness.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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16. TRADING PLACES (1983)

trading places The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… The Duke brothers, a couple of white-collar “bookies,” run a social experiment with a one-dollar wager riding on whether they can turn a rich man to crime and send a poor man to the penthouse all for their holiday amusement. These old fogies are some festive fucks, aren’t they?

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Of course, some yuletide justice gets dished out when the unknowing pawns in their game — a snobby Dan Aykroyd, a hustling Eddie Murphy, and a street-walking Jamie Lee Curtis — find out they’re being manipulated and develop their own plan to bankrupt the rich bastards. So, what do you want for Christmas this year, little boys? Um, we’ll take some revenge, Santa!

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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15. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)

carol 1951 The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… It’s hard to imagine Brian Desmond Hurst’s Scrooge, known as A Christmas Carol in the United States, will ever entirely fade from the hearts of those who truly love Charles Dickens’ tale. For more than three decades, it reigned as the quintessential popular adaptation of the classic, and many argue that it’s never been surpassed. Much of that credit must go to Alastair Sim, who delivers perhaps the most realistic portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in cinematic history.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… This Scrooge, and therefore this adaptation of A Christmas Carol, endures because it’s so easy to see how we sometimes fall into the same traps of indifference. In this film, Scrooge’s intervention feels like our own, as does his giddy redemption.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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14. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

nightmare before xmas The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… From the then-magical mind of Tim Burton comes this twisted stop-motion masterpiece that’s equal parts musical, monster movie, and holiday stunner. You’ll sing, you’ll cringe, you’ll … want candy.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Apart from being downright gorgeous — those scenes in Christmas Town alone should elicit visceral reactions to the eyes and belly — The Nightmare Before Christmas is a timeless gem of seasonal juxtapositions.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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13. EMMET OTTER’S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS (1977)

emmet otters jug band christmas 1977 The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… The Muppet Christmas Carol and A Muppet Family Christmas are also deserving, but if we’re only going to pick one holiday film featuring Jim Henson’s creations, we’ll opt for the earlier classic Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, which tells the tale of a widow otter and her son risking all they have in order to buy each other the perfect Christmas present.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… While these one-off characters aren’t as popular as their Muppet counterparts, Henson’s team, including the great Paul Williams penning songs, brings to life a charming tale of how selflessness can lead to a rare occurrence: good things happening to good people, well, otters anyway. Plus, “Golly, they got mashed potatoes!”

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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12. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

black christmas The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Long before he won the holiday with A Christmas Story, director Bob Clark turned the chummy season into an unnerving event with the still-terrifying slasher flick Black Christmas.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Whereas Halloween gave us The Shape to run away from on All Hallow’s Eve, Black Christmas offers up an inhuman voice, one that dwells in the shadows where the candy-colored lights don’t shine.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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11. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (1965)

a charlie brown christmas 1965 e1511986942871 The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Christmastime is a magical time for everyone in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts gang — everyone, that is, except for Charlie Brown, who struggles to understand the true meaning of the holiday season through all the lights, bells, and ricketa-racketa.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… It’s got skating, dancing, and amateur psychiatry — pretty much all anyone could want in a holiday special — but also that beautiful moment where even a crummy, little tree (let’s say the Charlie Brown of Christmas trees) ends up looking worthy and beautiful. Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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10. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Tim Burton writes his signature in dark, black ink with this deeply controversial sequel to his 1989 juggernaut hit Batman. It’s a wonder this gift ever made it under the proverbial Christmas tree.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Michelle Pfeiffer claws her way to the top of this freakish ensemble film with arguably her greatest performance to date as Catwoman. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing Batman film to ever hit the silver screen.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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09. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)

christmas vacation The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) always wants the very best for his family. Unfortunately, when he tries to give them the perfect anything, including the ultimate, old-fashioned family Christmas, one hilarious disaster after another ensues.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… It’s an endlessly quotable annual classic that registers on both the naughty and nice lists, unleashes enough gags to last all 12 days of Christmas, and features so many yuletide mishaps that somehow it all turns out alright in the end. And, really, isn’t that about the best most of our family Christmases can hope for? Damn, shitter’s full.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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08. TANGERINE (2015)

tangerine The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… On Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, a pair of trans best friends navigate the perils of shady ex-boyfriends, crack-binging mistresses, and the difficulties of getting people to show up for a club performance so close to the holidays. Elsewhere, a lonely Armenian cab driver finds his own life forever changed by his connection with the duo.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Sean Baker’s deeply empathetic movie gets a lot of well-deserved praise for chronicling people on the fringes of “polite” society with candor and love, but Tangerine is also just a great, utterly wild Christmas movie. It’s funny, it’s occasionally devastating, and it speaks endless truth to how when the world is at its cruelest, sometimes you just need a friend.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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07. HOME ALONE (1990)

home alone The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… After a holiday fallout, snotty Kevin McCallister wishes that his entire family would disappear. When he gets his wish, he quickly discovers that the more the merrier beats being home alone for Christmas, especially when two bumbling burglars have targeted his house. Woof!

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Sure, its sequel was a beat-for-beat copy and cash grab, but the original, miraculously carried by Macauley Culkin on his narrow, nine-year-old shoulders, deftly combined childhood fantasies, madcap slapstick, and heartfelt holiday charm to go along with its be-careful-what-you-wish-for message. It’s a frudga-fridga-frudgin’ good time and now a holiday classic.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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06. DIE HARD (1988)

die hard original The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… It’s Christmastime in Los Angeles (and also Hollis, Queens), and John McClane (Bruce Willis) decides to come out to the coast, get together with his wife, and have a few laughs inside the lavish Nakatomi Plaza. That is, until Hans Gruber and his coalition of terrorists take the party hostage and McClane has to save the day.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Okay, we know, WE KNOW. Die Hard is a movie that takes place during Christmas, more than a “Christmas movie,” as many would argue. But it’s also a staple of the season by this point, and its dryly sarcastic optimism even works well within the holiday milieu, at least as much as a movie can when it ends with a terrorist ringleader slowly plummeting to his doom.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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05. GREMLINS (1984)

gremlins The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Director Joe Dante, writer Chris Columbus, and executive producer Steven Spielberg combine their respective wizardry to tell a cozy story about a Rockwellian small town overrun by huggable terror.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… The genius of Gremlins is its ability to spawn feelings of shock and awe. Gizmo is every kid’s dream gift, but the little guy’s side effects are a nightmare for the ages. They’re far, far worse than a BB to the eye.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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04. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

wonderful life The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… On Christmas Eve, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is on the verge of taking his own life. He sees his life as futile, his failures as insurmountable. So it’s up to Clarence, his guardian angel, to show him just how much worse off the world would be without George in it.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… To many, there isn’t a more quintessential Christmas movie than It’s a Wonderful Life. Frank Capra’s classic is the rare film that’s actively informed the world around it in the years since, as a tale of kindness and of the value of every human life. Bedford Falls may be no more perfect than the rest of the world, but it’s a place where a guy like George can be loved by those around him. And isn’t that the point of the holidays?

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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03. LETHAL WEAPON (1987)

lethal weapon The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Shane Black’s affinity for Christmas began with this Los Angeles roller coaster that oozes with all kinds of seasonal magic. There’s a reason this franchise wasn’t too old for three sequels.

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… What ultimately sends Lethal Weapon over the edge is how it feels both real and fantastical. Black dislocates the story’s tough-guy stakes with an unorthodox bromance that redefines the orthodox concepts of “family.”

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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02. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)

a christmas story The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… Ralphie Parker only wants one gift this year for Christmas: A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. The problem is that everyone he drops hints to, even Old Saint Nick himself, tells him he’ll shoot his eye out. It’s a bloody conspiracy, I tell ya!

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… It’s slowly become the ultimate Christmasy Christmas movie and not just because of marathons on cable television. Bob Clark’s film perfectly captures that childhood feeling of Christmas being a magical time — one we build up in our imaginations and anticipate the whole year round. And in the Parkers, we see our own flawed families, yes, but also a group who pull it together come the holidays and ultimately create memories worth Ralphie retelling years later. It’s always humorous, charming, and authentic — even on your 12th viewing in 24 hours.

Greatest Gift to Cinema:

 

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01. EYES WIDE SHUT (1999)

eyes wide shut cruise The 25 Greatest Christmas Movies of All Time

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas… For the ennui-ridden New York couple (Tom Cruiseand Nicole Kidman) who have everything, what’s there to do when the holidays come around? Well, in the world of Stanley Kubrick’s surrealist masterpiece, a descent into perversion, danger, and abject paranoia will do the trick. Merry Christmas!

It’s the Most Wonderful Film… Kubrick’s swan song isn’t just a great holiday movie because of the ways in which the director mines the lights and sounds of the season for melancholy and ominous foreboding alike, but because it speaks to the dysfunctions within everybody at what’s ostensibly the most innocent time of the year. It’s a film of longing in several different senses, and it speaks to that incomplete feeling that sometimes afflicts even the happiest people at the height of their reveries. It may not be your favorite Christmas movie, but it’s sure as hell ours.

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