The 15 Best Christmas Movies: Ranked
- Craig Angus
- 27 October 2020
From heartwarming classics to festive thrills, we make the case for why these films top our movie tree
What really makes a Christmas film? It can't just be something you watch over the holidays, otherwise Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit's A Close Shave and The Wrong Trousers would count (classics they maybe be, but Christmas classic is a bit of a stretch). Is it enough that the events of the movie take place at Christmas? Well, there are those who insist the events of Nakatomi Plaza aren't festive (and they'd be mightily wrong). Quite frankly, giving you a list of the best Christmas films is the sort of controversial topic we wouldn't normally dream of touching, but yet here we are, doing not only just that, but then having the audacity to rank them too.
15. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Jim Carrey's skill as a physical comedian is central to the success of this Dr Seuss adaption. His depiction of the Grinch is exaggerated in every sense of the word, whether he's parading around his Mount Crumpit home alongside faithful dog Max, gleefully fixing it so that the citizens of Whoville get blackmail and jury duty rather than presents, or singing along with his new friends at the close of the movie. An unhinged portrayal of a mean-spirited favourite.
14. Love Actually (2003)
The king of the British rom-com is Richard Curtis and, gosh, this is without a doubt his most schmaltzy movie. Probably because of that it's become beloved, treasured on screen, reborn as a meme, and recently parodied by political leaders in an attempt to make them look like actual humans and not heartless, fridge-hiding megalomaniacs. A whopping two-and-a-half-hours long, it features an all-star cast that includes Hugh Grant (obviously), Colin Firth (of course), Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson and Kiera Knightley, all exploring love and the myriad ways it manifests itself.
13. Black Christmas (1974)
To be absolutely clear, we're talking about the original – Bob Clark's classic sorority house slasher from 1974 – not the uninspired remake from 2006. Some Christmas films leave you with a message, something about family, home, money or love. If there's a message to take from Black Christmas, it's that switching the lights off and watching a madman run around your screen with a knife is always entertaining, and if there's snow on the lawn and presents under a tree – all the better.
12. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
Charles Dickens' Scrooge is the best Christmas character ever written, bar none. Old Ebenezer has lived a remarkably varied existence since A Christmas Carol was published. He's been portrayed by everyone from Albert Finney to Ross Kemp, been the subject of musicals and cartoons, and recently popped up in a Netflix sketch show to fight bloodthirsty skeletons. Mickey's Christmas Carol is a faithful retelling of the classic tale, with Mickey taking on the role of Bob Cratchit, Goofy playing the ghost of Jacob Marley and introducing Scrooge McDuck (Donald's cranky uncle) in the classic leading role.
11. Meet Me In St Louis (1944)
If you need to know one thing about Meet Me In St Louis, it's that it's the film in which Judy Garland debuted the festive classic 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas', which would go on to be a massive hit, and 75 years on is still one of the most recognisable songs of the holiday season. The soothing poignancy of that standard is in keeping with the tone of the film, a heart-warming musical to warm your bones during the cold nights.
10. Arthur Christmas (2011)
So we can't let Aardman into our list just because their best known creations (everyone's favourite eccentric northern inventor and his underappreciated brainiac of a pooch) are never off the telly at Christmas. Fortunately their collaboration with Sony from 2011, which follows Santa's clumsy but big hearted son (voiced by James McAvoy) is worthy of inclusion in itself. Arthur Christmas features the voice-acting talents of Jim Broadbent, James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie and Ashley Jensen and, arguably, is Aardman's best big-budget collaboration, a fresh and original script full of heart and humour.
9. Scrooged (1988)
More proof, if it were needed, that Dickens' is directly responsible for so much of the Christmas content. For those disappointed by the lukewarm A Very Murray Christmas, go back to the eighties for this festive gem, which has Bill Murray at his strange, idiosyncratic best. Murray plays the selfish television exec Frank Cross, who is visited by a succession of ghosts on Christmas Eve. Scrooged has more range than most Christmas films, a hybrid of Saturday Night Live-style comedy and grotesquely dark surrealism.
8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Another Dickens adaptation, this time by Jim Henson's crazy gang of Muppets - ably assisted by Mr Maurice Micklewhite, better known as Michael Caine. Inevitably this musical is the funniest of all the Christmas Carols, and the best of the Muppets' movies too with a show stealing turn from Kermit's nephew Robin as Tiny Tim.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
A masterpiece from the imagination of Tim Burton, a film that approaches the festive spirit in a unique way, with Jack Skellington (the enthusiastic de-facto boss of Hallowe'en town) accidentally stumbling on a portal that takes him into 'Christmas town' where the children are 'throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads'. The music, written by Danny Elfman, is fantastic and the supporting characters (the creepy as hell antagonist Oogie Boogie, the eccentric brain-tampering Doctor Finklestein, and the – literally – two-faced Mayor of Halloween Town) provide further evidence of several creative minds working at full capacity.
6. Gremlins (1984)
How cute are the Mogwai? Impossibly cute. You'd be grateful to get one of these furry critters as a gift, surely? Think again. Written by Christopher Columbus and directed by Joe Dante, Gremlins is a brilliant black comedy, the horror at its core is given such an adorable face, but is capable of such wanton destruction. This is the greatest trick it plays, a simple one, but the foundation on which this classic is built upon.
5. Home Alone (1990)
Suspend your disbelief, all of it. Leave all of that at the door. And then admit it, the violence perpetrated by Macaulay Culkin's Kevin McCallister on the burglars set on ruining Christmas (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) is hilarious, a cathartic trail of destruction that's both cartoonish and brutal. A sequel (Lost In New York, from 1992) is equally enjoyable – and no city says Christmas like the Big Apple) but the original wins out.
4. Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton's Willie T. Soke is a Christmas misanthrope to rival any. The concept of Bad Santa – a crass, alcoholic anti-hero – was developed by the Coen brothers, and the script written by Glenn Ficarra and John Faqua takes things to extremes, giving Billy Bob a foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children character to work with. The result is something deliciously demented and twisted.
3. Elf (2003)
The best Christmas movie of the century so far, genuinely sweet, completely strange and laugh-out-loud funny. Will Ferrell's Buddy The Elf is such a bizarre sight, out of his element in the big city, but Elf is much more than a screwball comedy – while it hits the funnybones over and over, it's a film with a heart and brain too. For all the comic value of what amounts to an overgrown-child running rampant in New York, Elf's real triumph is that it's genuinely sweet, but never strays into the overly saccharine territory that Christmas films often enter in their third act.
2. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
There's a reason why watching Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life remains so integral to Christmas culture today, broadly speaking its central message from 1946 (of the joy of giving, of looking out for your fellow man, of the dangers of greedy man who want to own everything) resonates in the present day – even if, inevitably, certain elements of it have dated. Jimmy Stewart, one of the great leading men of classic Hollywood, delivers an emotionally charged, charismatic performance. If we're still celebrating Christmas in fifty years, people will still watch this film.
1. Die Hard (1988)
The perfect action film, and a Christmas classic. The script is knowingly funny, with most of the zingers reserved for Alan Rickman (everyone knows about 'Yippee-ki-ay', but Hans Gruber's stony-faced delivery of 'Mr. Takagi did not see it that way, so he won't be joining us for the rest of his life' is one of the great line readings). The shootouts, explosions, and thrills are second to none. Not a Christmas movie? Christmas should consider itself lucky to have Die Hard.