The Top Ten Christmas Movies

Walker Sayen ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Christmas time is never complete without sitting down with your family, friends and a hot cup of cocoa, and watching a good holiday film. Christmas movies have become as distinct a genre as any other, and provide fodder for more cinematic myth then any other annual holiday. There is something about the holly and the ivy, the promise of wishes fulfilled, the theme of family, as well as the setting of deep winter and darkness that has inspired countless bedtime stories. What is so unique about the Christmas movie is that it takes many forms and infiltrates many other genres: there are Christmas dramas, Christmas comedies, Christmas action movies, and even Christmas horror movies. So for the purposes of this list of the greatest Christmas movies, it is important to define the limitations of the list.
First of all, you will not find any Christmas specials or short animated films amongst the following. Even though they are essential holiday viewing, films like Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas are not included in this list. These movies might be even better then some of the films on this list, but this list has been reserved for compiling the best feature length Christmas-themed movies. Also, many great movies, like When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, About a Boy, and The Apartment, have wonderful sections that take place at Christmas, but there is not enough of the holiday in these films to gain a place on this particular compilation (even though they are still great Holiday viewing material). So settle down by the crackling fire, and join us in a journey through the best Christmas cinema.

10. The Shop Around the Corner

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner.
James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in The Shop Around the Corner.
First up is a little seen gem staring Jimmy Stewart. While it might not be It’s A Wonderful Life, The Shop Around the Corner is a charming old-school romantic comedy with an abundant dash of yuletide charm. The film is the inspiration for the more widely known rom-com You’ve Got Mail and follows a somewhat similar narrative. The Jimmy Stewart version revolves around two employees at a gift shop who can barely stand each another, but fall in love as anonymous correspondents through good old-fashioned snail mail (instead of e-mail). And unlike You’ve Got Mail, which only has one sequence that takes place at Christmas, The Shop Around the Corner takes place in its entirety in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and has a wonderful climax on Christmas Eve. It may be very basic in its plot, but it is one of the most charming classic Hollywood Christmas yarns you will ever see.

9. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr. in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Ent.
Taking a change of pace, the next entry is a subversive Christmas pick. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a neo-noir dark comedy crime film from the mind of Shane Black, and like most of his films the setting of Christmas time is an essential backdrop to his meta narratives. The holiday season becomes almost another character in the film that stars Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in two of their best roles. The film is a send-up to classic hardboiled pulp novels of old, and does so in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. If you are looking for a Christmas movie that will warm the cockles of your heart, this is not the one for you. But, if you are looking for a hilarious, fast-paced piece of pulp fiction, that uses the setting of Christmas in a unique and dark fashion, this is the right choice for you.

8. White Christmas

Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. Photo Credit: Paramount.
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. Photo Credit: Paramount.
This classic Christmas film starring Bing Crosby and directed by Casablanca mastermind Michael Curtiz is everything one has come to expect from a yuletide yarn. It features great musical numbers, including the marvelous title track, great performances from Crosby and a hilarious Danny Kaye, and is marvelously, unabashedly sentimental. If you are looking for great Christmas cheer, something as sweet as a sugar plum, and a Hollywood studio musical at its finest, look no further then White Christmas.

7. Love Actually

Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.
This British comedy tells many intertwining stories that all collide on Christmas. It may have spawned countless bad Hollywood rip-offs about many different couples falling in love on a holiday, but Love Actually surprisingly actually works. The movie may be a tad long, and some of the many plot lines may be extraneous, but it somehow manages to be incredibly enjoyable thanks to an amazing cast, and some truly great moments. This movie may be pure Christmas fluff, but it sure is tasty.

6. A Christmas Story

Peter Billingsley and Scott Schwartz in A Christmas Story.
Peter Billingsley and Scott Schwartz in A Christmas Story.
One of the all-time classics. It may be a little dated, but this coming-of-age tale of a young boy who just wants one thing for Christmas, a Red Ryder BB Gun, is the perfect warm nostalgic treat. Set in the 50’s, the narrative, told through a series of darkly comic incidents and anecdotes as the young protagonist sets out on a quest to obtain his ultimate Christmas gift, rightly holds its place as one of the perennial kings of Christmas viewing. If you’re not feeling the holiday spirit yet, just pop in this time-capsule and take a trip down memory lane, get transported into the yuletide of old, when the holidays seemed grander and there was always snow on the ground and the sound of bells in the air.

5. Die Hard

Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.
Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox.
This may not be classic Christmas fair in the same vein as A Christmas Story, but this Bruce Willis action flick is just as worthy in the pantheon of Christmas viewing as any other. Die Hard is certainly one of the greatest action movies of all time, but it’s also a great holiday film. The story of John McClane fighting terrorists on Christmas Eve is perfect to put you in the holiday spirit, because it’s not only filled with breathless action sequences and kick-ass one-liners, but it’s also about family and forgiveness. And while this movie is great to watch any day of the year, how better to spend the holidays then getting your adrenaline pumping watching Bruce Willis save the day.

4. Holiday Inn

Still from Holiday Inn.
Still from Holiday Inn.
This film is not just a Christmas movie, it’s also a Presidents Day movie, a Valentine’s Day movie, and a movie for almost every other holiday there is. But even though it’s more of an all inclusive holiday film than a purely Christmas one, the yuletide season is of special significance to Holiday Inn, and thus it firmly makes this list. The story, of a song-and-dance man played by Bing Crosby, who decides to start an inn that is only open on Holidays and provides special holiday entertainment for each one, not only has a classic love triangle and some outstanding tap-dance sequences, courtesy of Fred Astaire, but it also gave life to the wonderful Christmas song, “White Christmas”. The song’s popularity may have eclipsed the film itself, and spawned its own classic holiday film (listed earlier), but without Holiday Inn none of that would be possible.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version)

Thelma Ritter and Anthony Sydes in Miracle on 34th Street. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
Thelma Ritter and Anthony Sydes in Miracle on 34th Street. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.
The ultimate depiction of Santa in the movies. Edmund Gwenn’s performance as Kris Kringle is as close to a real manifestation of the big man himself as is likely to ever grace the silver screen. The movie is so filled with the magic of the holidays that it can melt the deepest of cynics’ hearts. Miracle on 34th Street is a true Christmas miracle (wink wink). Its story of a young girl who doesn’t believe in Santa Clause, but learns to believe when she meets a mysterious man who claims he is the real Kris Kringle, is the perfect recipe to warm the cockles of your heart.

2. Elf

Will Ferrell in Elf. Photo Credit: Warner Home Video.
Will Ferrell in Elf. Photo Credit: Warner Home Video.
An instant classic upon its release in 2003, this story of a human raised by elves who travels to the Big Apple to find his father has one of the biggest hearts of all Christmas classics. The film’s protagonist, Buddy, is one of the most charming and wonderfully lovable Christmas creations ever to jump from the silver screen. Will Ferrell plays Buddy with such childhood awe and delight, that just watching him eat spaghetti with maple syrup will transform any grinch into a child filled with wonder. If you’re looking to laugh your pants off and rekindle your belief in Santa, then this is the story for you.

1. It’s A Wonderful Life

James Stewart, Donna Reed and Ward Bond in It's a Wonderful Life. Photo Credit: Paramount.
James Stewart, Donna Reed and Ward Bond in It’s a Wonderful Life. Photo Credit: Paramount.
This list is bookended by 2 Jimmy Stewart movies, and rightly so. How could any other film be in this spot? It’s almost a forgone conclusion that Frank Capra’s timeless classic Its A Wonderful Life is the once and future king of Christmas movies. Somehow, despite viewing it annually, the tale of George Bailey never gets old or tiring, and is always inspiring, partially due to Jimmy Stewart’s stunning performance. One of the greatest movies about redemption, it tells the now iconic story of a man, thinking that his life would be worth more if he were dead, who wishes that he had never been born, but ends up learning how precious and wonderful life truly is (and that no man is poor who has friends). It may not take place at Christmas until the last act, but what a memorable act that is. It’s actually a very dark movie, that takes a look at taboo topics like suicide. However, it’s a movie that affirms how truly special and fragile life can be, and a story that does that is the perfect Christmas movie.
Honorable Mentions: There are so many great Christmas movies that all of them can’t be contained in one list. So, since the holiday season is all about making lists anyway, there has been included an extra list of honorable mentions that are all great, but for one reason or another didn’t quite make it to the top ten.
In no particular order: In Bruges, A Muppet Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol (1951), Scrooged, Lethal Weapon, Bad Santa, Gremlins, White Reindeer, Trading Places, Arthur Christmas, A Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, Christmas in Connecticut, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

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