From ‘Home Alone’ to ‘Die Hard’: A definitive list of the 15 greatest Christmas films of all time
Christmas is here and Covid-’The Grinch’-19 cannot take the feeling of love and cheer away. With people setting up Christmas trees, decorating their fireplaces with wreaths and fixing up fancy dinner tables, the sad realisation hits that this time we cannot go around making merry. Stuck at home, Zoom calls seem to be the only connection between families, the only present we shall receive is the promise of a better and healthier year.
However, Christmas classics have always provided the warmth to the loneliest of souls. With stunning visuals, wonderful background scores which are mostly stylised versions of classic carols and a surge of nostalgia and love, watching Christmas classics is like taking a bite of the crunchiest festive cookies dunked in milk. They are sappy and fill our melancholic hearts with an inexplicable sense of belonging and togetherness.
‘Tis the season to watch Christmas classics and finally settle the debate as to which are the best holiday films. As your not-so-secret Santa, we have compiled this list—a gift that will keep giving—comprising 15 best and timeless Christmas classics for you to cherish and bask in the adjoining Yuletide spirit. Let’s get started!
15 greatest Christmas films
15. The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004)
The film revolves around a group of children who embark on an adventure during Christmas Eve to visit Santa Claus. The protagonist is a young boy who does not believe in Santa Claus. However, the journey he undertakes onboard the Polar express changes his perception forever.
The stunning visuals are the highlight of this film. Christmas holidays were never the same without this film being aired on the television in the mid-2000s. As the boy slowly gains faith, the imagery of the ringing of the bell is significant and wonderful. The film reminds us to never let go of this faith which has magic in store for “all who truly believe”.
“Seeing is believing, but, sometimes, the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
14. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)
Imagine yourself as a young child who got to know that Santa Claus will be living at their place for some time. What if, instead of giving presents, Santa was an alcoholic sex addict who burglarised shopping malls along with his accomplice disguised as an elf. However, this ‘Bad Santa’ stands up to a young boy’s bullies and quickly befriends him before having an epiphany.
Adding a dash of twisted yet riotous comedy to the spirit of Christmas, this film sees the raunchier version of Santa Claus who picks up girls with Santa Claus fetishes and turns up to work, drunk. However, the friendship that Santa strikes up with the chubby Thurman is the highlight of the film.
While it was criticised for trashing the beloved and impure image of Santa Claus, it was well-received for its loud humour, and even prompted Roger Ebert to praise the film for its “demented, twisted [and unreasonably funny work of comic kamikaze style”.
“I beat the shit out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself. It was like I did something constructive with my life or something. I don’t know. Like I accomplished something.”
13. Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940)
Warm and tender, oozing with the sappy feelings of love and endearment, this 1940 film sees Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck at their finest. Leisen even credited Stanwyck for pushing other actors to be the best version of themselves as “she never blew one line through the whole picture. She set that kind of pace and everybody worked harder, trying to outdo her.”
The film revolves around the spirit of forgiveness and love that comes with the arrival of Christmas. After Jack allows Lee to be bailed even after knowing she has stolen a bracelet, he offers to drive up to her mother’s house. On their way, as they get lost in Pennsylvania, they converse and eventually fall in love. However, Jack’s mother disapproves of a ‘criminal’ as Lee may sabotage Jack’s hard-earned image. It ends on a cliffhanger where we wonder if their love will indeed stand the test of law and that of time.
“ Now there’s nothing as dangerous as a square shooter. If all men were like you there wouldn’t be any nice girls left.”
12. Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)
When Randall Peltzer gifts a pet mogwai to his son Billy for Christmas, they conveniently ignore the ominous instructions which asks them not to expose the mogwai to sunlight, let it come in contact with water or feed it after midnight. This results in evil gremlins spawning out of this mogwai, Gizmo’s back and these little creatures wreak havoc, killing and injuring several people.
Billy must try and put a stop to the gremlin’s rampage. His girlfriend Kate recounts the saddest Christmas story ever and evokes sympathy. While it is quite violent and nasty for a children’s film (one of the very few PG13 films in 1984), as Gene Siskel said, it is a wonderful film which takes us on “a wickedly funny and slightly sick ride”. While it is quite a horrifying Christmas flick, it is quite enjoyable and sends the audience into titters while the little monsters are being crude and evil.
“You say you hate Washington’s Birthday or Thanksgiving and nobody cares, but you say you hate Christmas and people treat you like you’re a leper.”
11. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Bill Melendez, 1965)
Based on Charles M. Schulz’s popular comic strip Peanuts, this film revolves around Charlie Brown, the titular character, who finds himself depressed amidst the holiday cheer. The commercialism adds to his woes and he begins directing a play to keep himself occupied. However, scorned by all, Charlie starts getting disillusioned by every passing minute until a miracle happens.
An iconic holiday classic, the film is light and breezy as its jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi which achieved commercial success. We can unanimously agree with Lawrence Laurent when we say that watching the “natural-born loser Charlie Brown finally turn[ing] up a real winner last night” in A Charlie Brown Christmas is like chugging shots of happiness, laughter, quirkiness, nostalgia and Christmas.
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
10. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart light up the screen in this timeless Christmas classic. They play rival co-workers Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak who work at a shop. Unbeknownst to them, they are each other’s mystery admirers who exchange wordy letters and decide to meet. However, will they get past their rivalry and hatred towards one another for the sake of love?
Well-crafted, the film presents the perception of every character and provides us with the clarity we crave. A wonderful romantic comedy set in a period of holiday cheer, it is on Christmas Eve that the two finally find each other after a series of coincidences and missed chances.
“There might be a lot we don’t know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.”
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton, 1993)
Admired by the people of Halloweentown, pumpkin king Jack Skellington is bored with their job of scaring the inhabitant of the “real world” annually. As he stumbles upon Christmastown, he is awestruck by the brightness, warmth and grandeur and decides to bring Christmas in Halloweentown. He even ends up abducting their leader Santa Claus which leads to a series of misadventures after Jack’s plans go awry.
A bold and quirky Tim Burton classic, this film is a concoction of our favourites; Christmas and Halloween. As said by Selick, the film visuals are a marriage between German Expressionism and Dr Seuss-esque elements. With splendid visuals and adept humour, Burton’s incredible creation is a marvellous celebration of laughter, romance, songs and fantasy.
“There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads, they’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead.”
8. Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
The film revolves around Kris Kringle who insists himself to be the real Santa Claus. When his employer Doris Walker’s non-believing daughter Susan starts to gain faith staggeringly, the cynicism of the adult world which refuses to acknowledge the existence of Santa Claus is conflicted over a courtroom case. Susan’s transformation is lovely; as she utters “I believe, I believe, I believe”, we are moved to tears.
Miraculous and mesmerising in every aspect, the film’s beauty transcends adult rationality and logic. Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle was the rightful recipient of the Academy Awards as he added a dash of love, cheer and heart-rendering joy to this already refreshing film. No remake will be able to live up to the standard of the original film.
“Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a frame of mind.”
7. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
In what can be arguably considered Burton’s most touching film with its absurd yet moving storyline, Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp play the star-crossed lovers who are separated by the societal prejudices stemming from the fear of the Other. Edward Scissorhands is an unfinished creation who has blades for hands. When he is taken in by the Boggs, he is smitten by their daughter Kim, who is in a relationship with a cruel and jealous Jim.
Jim, who cannot stand Kim and Edward’s proximity, taints the latter’s image which sends the ferocious-looking, mysterious yet harmless Edward into a spiral. While he makes Kim’s ice sculpture, he rains snow on her. Depp’s performance as the gloomy and sullen Edward is charmingly sad. Winona and Johnny, who were considered one of the best duos in Hollywood, meet their impending end on-screen as Edward and Kim, who love each other fiercely yet cannot be together.
“I am not complete.”
6. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
What is Christmas without a shot of the handsome hunk Bruce Willis engaging in combat with a terrorist gang right on Christmas Eve? While meeting his daughters and estranged wife at her workplace Christmas party, New York cop, John McClane, has to save the hostages held captive by the terrorists, headed by the despicable German radical Hans Gruber.
Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber sure did get to speak Parseltongue here; he is vicious and creepy with his eerily hissable voice. Bruce Willis adds oomph to this action flick with his ‘hero saves the day’ demeanour. Watch this film to feel pure adrenaline surge through your veins as you sip on that eggnog and bite into the crunchy Christmas cookie.
“Now i have a machine gun. Ho! Ho! Ho!”
5. Elf (Jon Favreau, 2003)
Buddy, who has been raised by Papa Elf, soon comes to know of his human origins and embarks on a journey to find his biological father. However, in the busy city life, Buddy’s “whole elf thing” is taken as a pretentious act, and he struggles to fit in while vying for his father’s attention.
Entertaining and fun, will Ferrell as Buddy makes the film the holiday classic it is. The last few moments show how Santa Claus’ sleigh is powered by the spirit of Christmas cheer. The overall feeling of warmth that encapsulates the viewer’s heart with Buddy’s antics as he desperately craves acceptance in New York City, ushers in the Yuletide spirit and makes it one of my favourites.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud or all to hear.”
4. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, 2019)
Greta Gerwig’s brilliant adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic is the seventh and arguably the best adaptation. Starring heavyweight actors such as Meryl Streep, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet and more, the film revolves around the lives of four March sisters; Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy by chronicling their journey from teenage to adulthood.
A heartwarming tale focused on the love and attachments within a family as well as other romantic prospects and heartbreaks, Little Women is a celebration of all the things Christmas is all about. Their indestructible relationships are the beacon of hope, love, compassion and kindness, which is the candle-bearer in their most challenging times. While two of the most crucial and poignant scenes are set during Christmas, the entire setting bears the golden glow and the warmth that is the precursor of the Yuletide spirit.
“I care more to be loved. I want to be loved.”
3. Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
Set in London, the film features ten different stories that portray the various sides of love. From heartbreaks to proposals, romantic reunions to revelations, love triangles to rocky marriages, the film has it all. Curtis’ film is sappy, romantic, heartwarming and moving, flaunting Christmas in all its glory.
Love Actually is a classic and timeless Christmas flick that features an incredible festive ensemble. With the dashing Hugh Grant as the narrator and delightful visuals of London during Christmas, the film is exactly what Curtis had envisaged; it is “a film about love and what love sort of means”.
“Love, actually, is all around.”
2. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
When a selfless man gives up on himself and his dreams to help others in need, the burden of unhappiness slowly pushes him to financial debt and subsequent suicide. George Bailey is on the verge of putting an end to his life when his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, whose promotion depends on whether he can save bailey, arrives and shows him a world without the existence of Bailey, how his wife Mary and the townpeople at Bedford falls would have been affected had it not been for him.
In his most endearing role, James Stewart thrives as George Bailey. Keeping up the Yuletide spirit of joy, cheer and hope, the film ushers in new hope that shows nothing is lost. The Christmassy setup of the film, a man’s selfless deeds touching the lives of others along with the spirit of giving makes this heartwarming classic a must-watch during the Holiday season.
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
1. Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
Home Alone stars a young and adorable Macaulay Culkin who plays the eight-year-old Kevin McCallister who is tired of his siblings’ incessant taunts and wishes to get rid of his obnoxious family. Due to a common misunderstanding, his family goes off to Paris, leaving him alone. Very soon, Kevin’s quietude is disrupted by a pair of burglars as they embark on an intense and hilarious cat-and-mouse chase.
This film is among our top Christmas favourites besides ugly sweaters, candy canes, jingle bells and secret Santa. While it celebrates the spirit of familial love and togetherness, a feeling of warmth and nostalgia enshrouds us while watching this timeless classic. In a heartwarming scene, as Kevin asks Santa to bring his family back, one cannot help but shed tears for this adorable munchkin.
“Would you please tell him that instead of presents this year I want my family back?”