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The 14 best Christmas movies to watch this year

These stellar Christmas movies will put you in the holiday spirit

DVD box art of Christmas movies
Steve Nakatani / Flickr

Nothing will get you in the Christmas spirit faster than watching a great holiday movie. Almost everyone had a holiday movie they loved growing up. Sometimes, you discover that those movies remain as great as you always thought they were. Other times, though, you discover that the best Christmas movies are not the same as the ones you might have grown up on.

Christmas movies can sometimes be kind of cheesy, but fear not, we’ve compiled a list of funny, occasionally dark, totally classic Christmas movies that, yes, sometimes also offer the occasional bit of sweetness. Don’t worry, though, none of them get too saccharine.

From sipping on candy-themed cocktails to carving a delicious honey-baked ham, every family has its own holiday traditions they never skip. For many, that involves putting on a Christmas classic after the dishes are washed and the leftovers are put away. Here are the best Christmas movies to put on your radar, when the time comes:

A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story
Genre Comedy, Family
Stars Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley
Directed by Bob Clark
A Christmas Story works tremendously well for all age groups because it’s a period piece that resonates with generation after generation. Set in the 1940s but filmed in the 1980s, the movie does a wonderful job of capturing the universal love for dangerous toys that all boys seem to possess early on in their lives. Ralphie Parker (played by the adorable Peter Billingsly) navigates the Christmas season with several landmarks of childhood, such as swearing in front of Dad and trying to get a peek at a nude magazine. It remains one of the funniest and best Christmas movies of the decade and is loved years later.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
49 %
Genre Comedy
Stars Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo, Juliette Lewis
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Most of what John Hughes touches turns to gold, which is why he’s on the list twice here. He wrote the screenplay for this 1989 classic, a hilarious holiday misadventure starring Chevy Chase. Clark Griswold returns, and this time, he’s got to deal with the hilarious but undeniably difficult Cousin Eddy (Randy Quaid). Anybody who’s accustomed to the stress and absurdity associated with a giant family Christmas will find plenty to love in this comedy classic.

Scrooged (1988)

38 %
pg-13 101m
Genre Fantasy, Comedy, Drama
Stars Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe
Directed by Richard Donner
The world is a better place with Bill Murray. Here, he plays a television executive who is given the A Christmas Carol treatment, and eventually repents much of the evil he delights in committing during the early parts of the film. Scrooged basks in Murray’s energy and sheer wit, as it should, given that it came after the actor took a four-year acting hiatus following his filming of Ghostbusters.

Elf (2003)

64 %
Genre Comedy, Family, Fantasy
Stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart
Directed by Jon Favreau
It’s hard to know if anybody thought this Will Ferrell comedy from 2003 would offer real lasting power when it first came out, but it certainly has. The movie, which follows a human elf who finds out he was smuggled to the North Pole as a baby, is hilarious and almost shockingly poignant. A little heartfelt, plenty funny, and full of seasonal cheer, Elf is a worthy addition to the esteemed list. Its greatest gift is making you feel like a kid again.

Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone
63 %
pg 103m
Genre Comedy, Family
Stars Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern
Directed by Chris Columbus
Here, John Hughes plays director, and puts together one of the films that would define his entire career. Sure, Macauley Culkin is cute and cunning but the best viewing involves the villainy of the wet bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. If you’re looking to incorporate a drinking game while viewing, take a sip every time you notice just how Christmas-y the McCallister home is (spoiler alert: It’s very much so).

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands
74 %
Genre Fantasy, Drama, Romance
Stars Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest
Directed by Tim Burton
Die Hard tends to get most of the credit when it comes to classic movies that just sorta happen to be about Christmas. But Edward Scissorhands is even better, showcasing the cinematic magic Tim Burton was capable of in the early days of his career. And, given that it dabbles in a lot of late-fall darkness, it’s a good one to ease you into the holiday season.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A Charlie Brown Christmas
g 25m
Genre Animation, Family, Comedy, TV Movie
Stars Ann Altieri, Chris Doran, Sally Dryer
Directed by Bill Melendez
It’s hard to call this one a movie given its short length but no list of great Christmas movies would be complete without it. Incredibly, the animated special is over half a century old but it continues to deliver. From the quiet antics of Snoopy and the epic dance party that unfolds during play rehearsal to the flawless Vince Guaraldi soundtrack, this one is perfect for all ages and multiple viewings.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Genre Animation, Family, Comedy
Stars Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft
Directed by Chuck Jones
Another vintage piece of animated greatness, this one never gets old. Given that it’s a Dr. Seuss joint, the writing is wonderful and it has a way of softening up even the least festive among us. There have been many remakes and adaptations in the decades since this classic first hit the small screen, but the 1966 original is still the best of the bunch.

White Christmas (1954)

White Christmas
56 %
Genre Comedy, Music, Romance
Stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Christmas is always sweeter with a song, and White Christmas proves that to be true. One of the great Christmas movies where the joy is really the point, White Christmas also features plenty of the New England Christmas charms that many people associate with the season. It’s got post-war optimism, lovely sets, and the incessant crooning of Bing Crosby.

Bad Santa (2003)

Bad Santa
70 %
Genre Drama, Comedy, Crime
Stars Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Brett Kelly
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Billy Bob Thornton is one of the best actors out there, and he just keeps getting better. This 2003 comedy dodges the stereotypical joy and cheer of the holiday season and instead goes for the darker, more interesting material. It’s a must-watch for all of the Scrooge’s out there, full of not-so-appropriate jokes and general grumpiness.

Trading Places (1983)

Trading Places
Genre Comedy
Stars Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy
Directed by John Landis
A comedy classic that you may not necessarily associate with Christmas, Trading Places is nonetheless a great movie to turn on around the holidays. The movie’s story, which follows a wealthy trader and a beggar who trade lives, is an important reminder that your station in life may be almost entirely beyond your control. What’s not beyond your control, though, is how you choose to live, and who you choose to help along the way.
TRADING PLACES | Trailer | Paramount Movies

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis
Genre Comedy, Drama, Romance, Family
Stars Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
Judy Garland remains the queen of the movie musical, and Meet Me in St. Louis is one of the very best musicals she ever appeared in. Following four sisters in St. Louis on the cusp of the 1904 World’s Fair, the movie features several genuine classics, as well as lush costuming and glorious cinematography. Meet Me in St. Louis also has the kind of genuine, open-heartedness that has only become rarer in the years since the movie hit theaters.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) Official Trailer - Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien Movie HD

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street
Genre Comedy, Drama, Family
Stars Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood, Maureen O'Hara
Directed by George Seaton
Telling the story of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real thing, Miracle on 34th Street is a movie about what it means to really believe in magic. Not unlike ElfMiracle on 34th Street is ultimately about yearning for a world in which there are things beyond our understanding. Thanks to some lovely performances, including a central one from a very young Natalie Wood, Miracle on 34th Street still shines the same way it did when it was first released.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It's a Wonderful Life
89 %
pg 130m
Genre Drama, Family, Fantasy
Stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
Directed by Frank Capra
A true classic. A yearly tradition. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor. George Bailey has lived in the same crummy old town all his life when all he wanted was an adventure. Sometimes he thinks it would have been better if he was never born. So, an angel flies down from heaven, and poof, George gets to see an alternate version of the world. It’s a Wonderful Life will make you weep with joy, and remind you that the greatest gift you’re likely to get this holiday season is the simple joy of being alive.

Editors' Recommendations

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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