My Top 25 Christmas Movies

Published by Jordan Hart 



















What follows is a list of my more-or-less official 25 favorite Christmas movies as they stand this year. Excluded are less-than-feature-length TV specials (guys like Rudolph, the Grinch, and Charlie Brown deserve a category all their own) and, obviously, movies I’ve not yet gotten around to (this constitutes a much longer list than the Top 25).

What’s a “Christmas” movie? For my purposes, it’s one that at least either takes place largely around Christmastime or uses the holiday as an important part of its story. This allows for a wide variety of genres and levels of holiday spirit, so for anyone whose definitions might be less liberal, I’ve included a Christmassiness rating for each movie, which I call the X-mas Factor. Here’s how it works:


1: Connection to Christmas is mostly incidental, with few recognizably Christmassy songs, characters, scenes, or themes.


2: The Christmastime setting has a significant bearing on the story, with at least a moderate amount of holiday spirit being conveyed, but a good portion remains independent of the festive aspects.


3: Firmly within the Christmas genre, with decidedly Christmassy elements ubiquitous and essential in the large majority of the story.

Now you’re ready. Enjoy, and let me know what you’d add or drop!


P.S. Rankings are approximate, at best.








25. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

X-mas Factor: 1

The first of three Tim Burton entries on the list, this loosely Frankenstein-like story features a heavily made-up Johnny Depp (who else?) as the creepy, unfinished creation of a mysterious Inventor. As Edward deals with the problems inherent in being new to the world and having giant scissors for hands, he finds himself alternately loved and hated by the fatuous folk of suburbia. In the Burton tradition, this is predominantly a quirky satire with a more-or-less Halloweeny feel (complete with Vincent Price’s last big appearance!), but it is framed by some Christmassy scenes and a tear jerking story about where snow comes from.









24. Stalag 17 (1953)

X-mas Factor: 2

Set in a German POW camp around Christmas of 1944, Stalag 17 is a little like MASH or The Great Escape, and a little more like Hogan’s Heroes (enough so that a plagiarism suit arose when this show aired). But this adaptation from writer/director extraordinaire BillyWilder, of a Broadway play by real-life POWs Bevan and Trzcinski, claims a brand of suspenseful, dramatic dark comedy all its own. William Holden helps the film along with his characteristically rugged anti-hero appeal, but it’s the interactions of the captured American sergeants with each other and with their captors that really make the story. Their holiday celebrations will both break your heart and warm it all at the same time.


23. Bad Santa (2003)

X-mas Factor: 3

Billy-Bob Thornton isn’t a very good Santa. In fact, as you might expect, he’s pretty bad. But his rough Grinchiness is exactly what makes him such a great protagonist, if not Santa. While it’s also pretty “bad” in the family values sense, Thornton’s good-for-nothing curmudgeon wouldn’t be lovable if his crude exterior didn’t hide something a little (emphasis on “a little”) softer underneath. As his reluctant friendship with a troubled kid develops, this soft side is begrudgingly revealed. But rest assured, cynics…this happens without compromising the movie’s twisted comedy, and stays safely away from any overly sentimental message-mongering.


22. The Proposition (2005)

X-mas Factor: 1

Probably one of the least Christmassy selections on the list, this Australian western is still very much worth the watch, especially for western (or Australian, I guess) film fans. The story is every bit as gritty as you’d expect from something brought to us by the pen of Murder Ballads singer-songwriter Nick Cave. Featuring mean-looking guys riding and shooting their way around the Outback, and with Christmas day as a fatal deadline for the titular proposition, it may not warm your heart, but it does convey its thrills in a starkly beautiful way only the modern western can.


21. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

X-mas Factor: 3

For those seeking the light and the feel-good, this classic brings the merry. Its best feature is Edmund Gwenn as one of the warmest, sweetest old Kris Kringles ever. Throw in the wide-eyed wonder of a very young Natalie Wood, the unbelieving silliness of a world of adults, and what may or may not be some shameless plugs for Macy’s , and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some all-American Christmas magic.


20. The Thin Man (1934)

X-mas Factor: 1

This kooky crime caper was fun enough to spawn (count ‘em…) five sequels, and it’s just Christmassy enough to be a fun one to watch for the holiday. At the center of the murder-mystery plot and the film’s success is the loving and hilarious married couple Nick and Nora Charles. The two clue-hunt and wise-crack their way through a fun script (based on the novel by Dashiell Hammett) and classic dinner party-style plot devices, along with one of thebest Christmas morning scenes ever.


19. Elf (2003)

X-mas Factor: 3

Since his days on SNL, Will Ferrell has continued to revel in his role as the go-to king of silliness, and his willingness to wear and say and do almost anything have never been used to better effect than in his portrayal of Buddy the Elf. The plot is as overly-sweet as are Buddy’s favorite meals, but the gags pulled off by this fish-out-of-water man-child are enough to keep it fresh and funny.



18. Gremlins (1984)

X-mas Factor: 2

Before the Great Furby Craze of the early 21st Century, one of the best Christmas presents a kid could get was a Mogwai…unless of course you accidentally broke one of the cardinal rules that went with owning one. This Spielbergesque ‘80s classic from the horror genre’s Joe Dante and the family genre’s Chris Columbus gives us some of the best of both worlds. The (mostly) family-friendly film pits mean little monsters against an unsuspecting small town, with enough comedy and mayhem to bring a little enjoyment to anyone.


17. In Bruges (2008)

X-mas Factor: 1

The connection to Christmas here is pretty tenuous, once again, but any arguments I’d refer here:, where the author presents a pretty convincing defense for the whole thing being very related to Christmas in some interesting and unexpected ways. Mostly, though, this selection’s worth watching for the brilliant black comedy of Martin McDonagh’s script, and its delivery by the unlikely pair of assassins played by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Plus, Bruges is a beautiful setting. Or at least, it was until these guys got there.


16. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

X-mas Factor: 3

There haven’t been too many movies that successfully paired the genres of holiday and horror, and none that I’ve seen fully delved into the horrible possibilities present in the myth of Santa Claus. That is, until this off-the-wall Finnish offering in which young Pietari discovers that yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and yes, he’s completely evil. I won’t say more and ruin any of the killer twists, but suffice it to say that, for the non-squeamish at least, this movie is a heck of a lot of gruesome fun.


15. Batman Returns (1992)

X-mas Factor: 2

Before Christopher Nolan and Co. came along, the Tim Burton Batmans were the good ones, and this sequel is every bit as fun as the one that came before it. It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and out to ruin the holiday are Christopher Walken as a sinister businessman, Michelle Pfeiffer as a slinky Catwoman, and Danny Devito as a gross-out Penguin. Sure, it’s corny...but deep down, Batman always will be, and this weirdly-placed middle movie still provides a great bridge between the hero’s silly and serious sides.


14. Holiday Inn (1942)

X-mas Factor: 2

Spoiler alert: White Christmas will not be on the list. Yes, Bing Crosby does tap-dance with Danny…Kaye, and they do look good in those red and white suits at the very end. But “White Christmas” the song actually came from Holiday Inn, and White Christmas the movie is actually just a sequel/spin-off of this more fun, more fast-paced film. Here Crosby tap-dances with Astaire, and dare I say, it makes for an even hap-hap-happier Christmas. Of course, you’ve got all the other holidays year-round to go through before you get back around to Christmas, but these are a lot of fun as well (even if Lincoln’s birthday does get a little…uncomfortable). White Christmas is still worth sitting through, but take a look at its predecessor first.


13. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

X-mas Factor: 3

Here we take a trip deep into B-movie territory. Before I bother to describe this one, just be advised that it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title (only maybe less violent). Sets on a shoe string, wooden actors in green-face, and staring children all make this perfect MST3k fodder. Check out the commentary in their version, or watch with friends and provide your own.


12. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

X-mas Factor: 3

There aren’t many movies where Cary Grant plays an actual angel. In fact, there may just be the one. But once you’ve seen this angel, with his superhuman powers, his heavenly wit, and his subtle lesson-teaching, you might wonder why there weren’t more. He comes to earth as the answer to a distraught bishop’s prayer, and teaches all the humans he meets the joys of life and giving. The bishop’s wife is charmed by him, and chances are, you will be, too.



11. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

X-mas Factor: 1

What could be Christmassier than Robert Downey, Jr. as as mall-time crook turned actor turned detective navigating the seedy crime world of Los Angeles? Well, a lot of things. But incidental though the relation to Christmas might be, the snappy dialogue and edgy gags of this whodunit caper make for a merry time, regardless. Downey, Jr.’s voiceover meta-narration and the way he plays everything off of Val Kilmer’s uptight straight (only in the plot sense) man makes everything that happens that much funnier.


10. Joyeux Noël (2005)

X-mas Factor: 3

This trilingual work of beauty is a war film by setting, but is nevertheless a strong statement about peace. The men in the trenches on front lines of French, German, and Scottish armies lay down their arms to eat, drink, and sing with each other on Christmas Eve. There are no good guys or bad guys here, only men who would rather be home. The war went on, but this story of men who did what made the most sense is a thing of inspiration.


9. Christmas Vacation (1989)

X-mas Factor: 3

You probably already know a lot of the jokes (even if you somehow haven’t seen the movie), but this lampoon of family and tradition hardly ever seems to get old. With Chevy Chase as a bumbling patriarch and a host of relatives from the silly to the senile this movie continues to make us laugh, and even wince when we recognize something of our own families and traditions somewhere in the Griswold’s ill-fated mayhem.


8. Brazil (1985)

X-mas Factor: 1

This loose and light 1984 adaptation is probably Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece. At any rate, it provides us with one of the quirkiest and darkly funniest dystopias in filmdom. It’s a little bit Monty Python, a little bit Orwell, and a lot of fun…for the most part, though, it defies description. It’s not about Brazil, or Christmas…it seems likely the holiday was thrown in as a part of the overall jab at materialism. You’ll just have to watch it for yourself, if you haven’t.


7. Home Alone (1990)

X-mas Factor: 3

Kevin McAllister’s family is just the worst. Of course, he’sno angel either. So you know what happens. Through a hasty Christmas wish and a series of mysterious coincidences, he’s left…yup…home alone. And when a couple of goofy burglars strike, the precocious young Kevin is left to his own resources to defend his castle. The traps are ingenious, if improbable, and the violence is hilariously slapstick, if also a little cringe-worthy. By the end, of course, lessons are learned, but it’s the getting there that’s most fun here.


6. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

X-mas Factor: 2

It’s a Christmas movie. It’s a Halloween movie. It’s both! By now you know that anything associated with Tim Burton is not going to be a regular old Christmas movie. This is easily the most successful holiday crossover movie to date, thanks to a clever plot device that shows how we probably all subconsciously think holidays work anyway. Foremost in this movie’s strong suits is its animation, which makes for a gleefully gruesome Halloweentown. And, surprisingly, an equally fun Christmastown that could easily be its own movie (though we should probably be thankful it hasn’t been tried). Besides the animation, the voice work, the songs, and just everything about it is right where it needs to be…all you have to do is decide which month to watch it in!


5. A Christmas Carol (?)

X-mas Factor: 3

I’m cheating a little bit here, because I refuse to try to pick just one version of this definitively classic Dickens story. I encourage you to watch whichever one suits your preferences best. It’s been done and re-done…from Murray to Muppets to mo-cap…and still somehow isn’t quite overdone. It’s an enduring tale with a message that will always bear repeating, at least until the day when we all actually listen to it.


4. Die Hard (1988)

X-mas Factor: 2

The standard for alternative Christmas movie fans, this is Bruce Willis at the height of his action hero glory, navigating the heights of a terrorist-held skyscraper. What could be manlier and more exciting than a barefoot, machine gun-toting New York cop alone in a metal maze, facing the wrath of the slimy, pure-evil Hans Gruber (get it?) and his goons? Top it all off with the cherry that is a Christmas setting and you’ve got instant holiday excitement on your hands.


3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

X-mas Factor: 2

This feel-good favorite sits comfortably atop many “Best Christmas Movie” lists, and to be sure, there aren’t many films that can make you this warm and fuzzy about life and your fellow man. Nobody directs feel-good films like Frank Capra, and nobody plays nice guys like the one and only Jimmy Stewart. It’s got just enough comedy, just enough sappiness, and just enough bell-ringing and wing-getting to fill you with holiday spirit well into next year. Don’t worry if there’s a lump in your throat...that’s natural.Just enjoy it.

2. A Christmas Story (1983)

X-mas Factor: 3

It may be set in the Midwest of the ‘50s, but I contend that no movie has captured the experiences of timeless Christmas Americana like this Story. It’s based on the memoirs of one Jean Shepherd, and narrated with aplomb by the same. His brilliant use of language in this voiceover is somehow equal parts genuine and tongue-in-cheek, capturing both the wonder of childhood and the worldliness of adulthood in each phrase. This dual perspective is what makes the whole thing so unique and so expressive of the dreams and disappointment that make up the holiday.


1. 1941 (1979)

X-mas Factor: 2

You won’t find this on many lists of Christmas bests…in fact, you won’t find it on many lists of best anything. For whatever reason, this is roundly reviled as Spielberg’s greatest turkey. But why it shouldn’t be a classic of both the comedy and Christmas genres is beyond me. It’s got it all…a cast that includes John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Ned Beatty, Slim Pickens, Christopher Lee, Toshiro Mifune, and Robert Stack…a Zemeckis/Galescreen play…and a satirical WWII plot that allows for several ingeniously intertwining storylines packed with action, romance, and hilarity at every turn. If there were an island of misfit Christmas movies, this movie would surely live there, shedding a tear every Christmas Eve for once again being unjustly ignored by so many. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but give it a try anyway…it might just make your list, too.