“Merry Christmas, you filthy animal.” – Home Alone
For anyone who is truly a lover of “the most wonderful time of the year”, the Christmas movie should be a staple of your festive celebrations, bringing warmth to your heart and tears of joy to your eyes. Defying generations, beliefs and creeds, the greatest Christmas movies are those that have the heart of the holiday season at their very core and inspire hope and happiness no matter the decade.
For many, the sheer definition of a Christmas movie is, in itself, a contentious topic, after all, what makes a Christmas movie truly ‘Christmassy’? By our definition, a Christmas movie must be set in the month of December, be concerned with a festive story, and crucially must have a moral tale at its very core. Controversially you won’t be finding the likes of the ‘80s action movie classic, Die Hard on our list.
From modern Christmas classics to age-old festive favourites, we have taken our time to devise the definitive list of the top ten best Christmas movies of all time. Including films from directors such as Frank Capra, Jon Favreau, Chris Columbus and Michael Curtiz and many more, dive into our picks for the then very best festive films of all time.
The 10 best Christmas movies of all time:
10. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)
Injecting a bit of delightful Christmas cynicism into the festive season, Terry Zwigoff’s adult comedy, Bad Santa is both a hilarious and surprisingly heartfelt piece of respite from the indulgence of December saccharine.
Led by the fantastic Billy Bob Thornton playing a miserable conman, Bad Santa takes its audience on a crude comedy caper, tracking the wrongdoings of Thronton and his sidekick who pose as Santa and an elf to steal department stores on Christmas Eve. With the help of co-stars, Brett Kelly, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham and Tony Cox, Terry Zwigoff’s film is elevated far beyond the status it deserves from the outside looking in.
9. White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954)
The favourite Christmas film of Love Actually director Richard Curtis, White Christmas is a timeless festive classic, directed by the same mind behind Casablanca, Captain Blood and Mildred Pierce, Michael Curtiz.
A comedy, musical with an impressive ensemble cast that includes Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, White Christmas follows a successful song-and-dance team who become romantically entwined with their sister act. Illustrating a truly heartfelt message and joyous tone, it’s no wonder Curtiz’s film is celebrated as such a classic with musical numbers like ‘The Old Man’, ‘Sisters’ and, of course, White Christmas.
8. A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
A festive staple in America, A Christmas Story from Bob Clark is a traditional Christmas film for the modern era, following a young boy who tries to convince his parents and teachers among others that a BB gun would be the perfect gift.
Rather consumerist in its outlook, A Christmas Story is ultimately a film about family, friends and comradery around the festive period. Based on the novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepard, the film stars Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and Scott Schwartz. Heartwarming and creative, A Christmas Story relies on its sharp script from Leigh Brown and Bob Clark to give it an everlasting appeal.
7. Klaus (Sergio Pablos, 2019)
The most recently released film on our list, Klaus is a heartwarming Spanish-animated treat released by Netflix that defies the preconceived limits of its cliched restrictions to bring a genuinely charming tale to the screen.
Directed by Sergio Pablos, the film follows a postman, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) in a faraway, frozen world who convinces the local toymaker, Klaus (J.K. Simmons) to help him deliver toys to children from around the area. Brought to life with a spellbinding feat of animation that was shockingly denied an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film at the 2020 Academy Awards, Klaus is a modern classic and the unsung gem in Netflix’s glittering crown.
6. Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
Though the film has been remade several times, including in 1994 with Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins and Mara Wilson, nothing can beat the original 1947 version of the iconic Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street.
With Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, George Seaton’s film follows a mother who hires a Santa Claus to play at a department store only for him to claim he is the real thing. A genuinely charming piece of festive cinema, there’s a reason that Miracle on 34th Street has been remade so many times with the film possessing a timeless allure that has kept audiences enthralled for generations.
5. Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
Certainly one of the most iconic Christmas films of all time, Chris Columbus’ Home Alone is a beloved festive classic starring a young Macaulay Culkin at the very peak of his impressive, fleeting stardom.
Starring as Kevin, a boy who is mistakenly left home alone by his family who has left the country for a festive break to Paris, Culkin steals the show as the delightfully devious young boy keeping the thieves, donned the ‘Wet Bandits’, at bay. Co-starring John Heard, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern and John Candy, Home Alone has kept its status as a Christmas classic for over 30 years.
4. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
Remarkably, The Muppet Christmas Carol is possibly the greatest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ influential novel that we’ve ever had, showing off the iconic story in all its glory, hilarity and festive heart.
Joining the likes of Miss Piggy, Kermit and Gonzo is Michael Caine as Scrooge in this classic retelling of Dickens’ novel that sees the inclusion of gags and even catchy musical numbers. Where other Muppet adaptations quickly lose momentum or don’t stick to their assignment, here they remain faithful to Dickens’ novel, playing out a definitive version of the story that doesn’t shy away from the grief of the story nor Scrooge’s rotten cynicism.
3. Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003)
If It’s a Wonderful Life is considered the Christmas staple of the 20th century, then Elf from John Favreau should be considered a contemporary classic, appearing at the very top of many favourite lists from modern audiences.
With the eternally loveable Will Ferrell in the lead role as Buddy, an overgrown elf who travels to New York in search of his father, Jon Favreau’s film transcends generations and brings cheer to one and all, old or young. Alongside Peter Dinklage, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner and James Caan, Ferrell ties the film together with his surreal sense of humour and wonderfully composed quirks.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Containing all the magic and morality of an iconic Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is well known as one of the finest festive films of all time, inspiring the blueprint for what is now considered a classic of the genre.
Loosely adapted from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Frank Capra’s film stars James Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore and tells the story of a businessman who is shown the bright side to life by an angel sent from heaven. Voted as the most inspiring movie of all time by the American Film Institute, It’s a Wonderful Life is a rousing story of hope, faith and family in an ever consumerist world.
1. The Snowman (Dianne Jackson, 1982)
A film that truly encapsulates the magic and ethereal beauty of the Christmas period, The Snowman from Dianne Jackson is an animated masterpiece that inspires joy and happiness every time you hear ‘We’re Walking in the Air’ by the Sinfonia of London.
Adapted from the iconic children’s novel by Raymond Briggs, the pages of the novel are lovingly brought to life by Dianne Jackson and her animation team that involved the influential designer behind When the Wind Blows, Jimmy T. Murakami. The story itself follows a young boy who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve who comes to life overnight and takes the child on a voyage to meet Father Christmas at the North Pole. It’s a mesmerising watch.