It’s fair to say Christmas films have a bit of ropey reputation, ranging from the totally terrible Deck the Halls to the borderline offensive Santa’s Slay – and that’s barely scratching the surface. Fear not, as this list will show you there are festive flicks out there that are not only entertaining, but able to be so without ramming home the incessant need to be jolly and joyous this time of year.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
A bittersweet comedy/drama about lost dreams and self-sacrifice, this is not only one of the most adored Christmas films ever made, it’s one of the most adored films period. What more is there to say? Quite simply, it’s the daddy of Christmas classics. Just make sure you watch the black and white version.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Arguably more of a Halloween film (but hey, look at the title), Tim Burton’s stop-motion gem is as ghoulishly charming as it is visually delightful. A cautionary tale dripping with darkness, the titular character Jack Skellington has enough of a glint in his eye (no mean feat considering he has no eye sockets) to make this an enchanting, wondrous experience.
Released in the US as A Christmas Carol, this is perhaps the most faithful screen adaption of Charles Dickens’ novel. Eerie and brooding, but with a dollop of Christmas cheer, it is anchored by an excellent performance from Alastair Sim – one that is still thought by many as the definitive screen Scrooge.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This is the chalk to the Alastair Sim Scrooge’s cheese. Despite consisting nearly entirely of Muppets (including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit) this is one of the more faithful adaptions of Dickens’ book. Wonderfully witty and warm-hearted, but still firmly rooted in the darker elements of its source material, The Muppet Christmas Carol proves to be a funny and moving tale. It may appear unconventional, but as Gonzo (playing Dickens) puts it: “Nah, that’s alright, this is culture.”
Die Hard (1988)
Disputing Die Hard’s eligibility for this list? Rubbish! It’s set during Christmastime in LA, what more do you need? Watching this not only means you can banish the memories of the dire A Good Day to Die Hard, you’ll also get to see Bruce Willis actually appear to care – today now considered rarer than seeing a snow leopard in the wild. This testosterone fuelled, genre defining action thrill ride really is the antidote to festive fluff.
Home Alone (1990)
A predictable choice maybe, but a deserving one nonetheless. Admittedly lacking any meaningful depth and with a plot thinner than a supermodel, Home Alone has enough well executed slapstick comedy behind it to make it a fun watch over Christmas. The film may not be believable, but Macaulay Culkin’s performance, ably supported by a fine cast, makes it surprisingly relatable.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Sentimentality is rife over Christmas and, love it or loathe it, you have to concede it’s what makes Miracle on 34th Street so touching. Rather than hitting us over the head with an admittedly tired message, the film has enough heart and quaint hope to make it ideal viewing for the festive season. The 1994 remake has its charms, including a strong performance from Richard Attenborough, but it lacks the spiriting optimism of the original.
Bad Santa (2003)
Once described as the ‘evil twin of Miracle On 34th Street’, this Billy Bob Thornton black comedy is perfect for your inner Ebenezer Scrooge. Unashamedly brash and offensive, Bad Santa gives the finger to the overzealous consumerism and forced affection that riddles Christmas today. It may be a little one-noted, but the tune is delivered with such assertive cynicism, it largely gets away with it.
Will Ferrell is an absolute hoot in this family-friendly comedy. It may be overflowing with seasonal cheer, but what do you expect… it’s a Christmas film! Anything else in this film would be the equivalent of finding a lump of coal in your stocking. Its message may be obvious, but Elf delivers it with so much good-natured fun it turns itself into an endearing Yuletide film.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), The Snowman (1982) & Woodland Critter Christmas (2004)
Yes this is a bit of cheat seeing as these three are all less than 30 minutes long and were only shown on TV, but they’re so good they merit an inclusion. The zany empathy of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, innocent magic of The Snowman and subversive crudity of South Park’s Woodland Critter Christmas mean they all deserve to be seen as essential viewing not just at Christmas, but all year round.
What’s your essential Christmas viewing? Let us know below.