A List of My Favorite Christmas Movies
It seems like every December a very similar list of “best holiday movies” comes out. Some lists try to add new movies like this years “The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special” and “A Christmas Story Christmas” (a new sequel to “A Christmas Story”). However, almost all the lists include the standards like the original “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, and “Home Alone”, just like lists last year…and the year before.
Some of my favorite movies are on the other lists, others aren’t.
Best Action Christmas movie: No, it’s not “Die Hard”, and it’s not “Home Alone” but it is on a lot of other Christmas movie lists.
“Gremlins” (1984) – A travelling salesman gives his son a Christmas gift of an unusual new pet called a “Mogwai” named “Gizmo”. When the son doesn’t obey the 3 rules for taking care of the new pet, it multiplies and runs rampant in the small town on Christmas.
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Joe Dante, and written by Chris Columbus. This movie had the benefit of having a cute little creature in it and it’s from the creator (Steven Spielberg) of another movie with a cute little creature (“E.T.”). However, this movie holds up on its own. It’s got a lot of great characters including Billy (Zack Galligan) – who receives the pet, Kate (Phoebe Cates) – his friend, and Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holiday) – the grumpy old woman in the town. However, the clear star of this movie is the cute Gizmo and all the other Gremlins, especially the evil Stripe.
Good for the whole family: It’s rated PG but there is a little violence – mostly the gremlins dying and attacking people – and the scarier gremlins are probably too scary for young children. Plus, there’s a story that Kate tells about her father dying on Christmas day. I would say this is more like a PG-13 rated movie. Not suitable for young children (despite how cute “Gizmo” is).
Best Comedy Christmas movie: Other lists have “Elf” or “A Christmas Story”, but I prefer this one which is also on some other lists.
“National Lampoons Christmas Vacation” (1989) – In the 3rd movie about the Griswold family, their plans to invite family over for a big holiday dinner quickly turns into disaster.
This movie was written by John Hughes, and I think it’s much funnier than the other Christmas movie he wrote a year later (“Home Alone”). Even if you haven’t seen the previous movies (“Vacation” is funny, “European Vacation” isn’t) you will still enjoy this family Christmas dinner from hell. The main Griswold family is father Clark (Chevy Case), mother Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), daughter Audrey (Juliette Lewis), and son Rusty (Johnny Galecki). The extended Griswold family is also funny, especially Randy Quaid as the weird Cousin Eddie. Plus, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (right before the TV show “Seinfeld” started) has some funny scenes as their neighbor.
Good for the whole family: The movie is rated PG-13 and it has some mild violence in it – including a cat that gets electrocuted and a rampaging squirrel – but most of the violence is for jokes. There’s also a brief conversation with a salesclerk where Clark Griswold makes a few breast jokes and later he has a daydream about the same woman. I think it’s OK for everyone except young children.
Best “Adult” Comedy Christmas movie: “Bad Santa” is the top pick for this category on a lot of other lists. For me, this movie is funnier.
“The Ref” (1994) – A cat burglar robbing a rich man’s house on Christmas Eve is abandoned by his partner when the burglar alarm goes off. With the police searching for him, he is forced to hide out with the most dysfunctional family in the small town. He becomes the referee of the bickering couple, the blackmailing son, and their relatives including a mother-in-law from hell.
This movie stars Kevin Spacey, who has now been “cancelled” so no one likes to mention his movies these days (unless it’s “The Usual Suspects”). However, I still think this is one of the funniest Christmas movies ever. The back and forth bickering between Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Caroline (Judy Davis) is hysterical. It’s also probably the best movie that Dennis Leary – who stars as Gus, the cat burglar – has ever done. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons – in his very first movie role – has a small part as a teacher than the couple’s son Jessie (Robert J Steinmiller Jr) is blackmailing.
Good for the whole family: The movie is rated R mostly for language and adult subject matter including a few conversations about sex. There’s no violence and there’s only one brief scene with nudity. Still, I’d consider this not suitable for children.
Best Romantic Christmas movie: I’m not a fan of romantic movies at all but – judging by all the Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel every year – it’s definitely a popular Christmas movie subject. Most other lists have movies like “The Shop Around the Corner” or “Love Actually”. Mine is not on many lists.
“The Holiday” (2006) – A woman who lives in a small town in England and a woman living in Los Angeles trade homes for the Christmas holiday.
Written and directed by Nancy Myers. Iris (Kate Winslet) lives is England but wants to get away when she hears that Jasper Bloom (Rufus Sewell) – the man she has an unrequited love for – is engaged. She connects with Amanda (Cameron Diaz) – a Los Angeles woman who just split with her unfaithful boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns). They both agree to swap houses for the holidays. While in England, Amanda meets Iris’ brother Graham (Jude Law). While in Los Angeles, Iris meets film composer Miles (Jack Black). I will admit that this movie has some very sappy scenes. However, it’s my favorite since it’s the ONLY romantic comedy that Kate Winslet and Jack Black have ever done. Also, I think it’s one of the only comedies that Kate Winslet has done.
Good for the whole family: Rated PG-13 for some conversations about sex. I’m sure that boys would hate this movie (and some adult men too) but I think it’s OK for girls.
Best Classic Christmas Story movie: There’s a few of these including “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “The Grinch that Stole Christmas” (if you’re going to see that one, see the original animated short, not the movies) but by far the most loved one is the story of Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. There are quite a few animated and live action versions of the story including the offbeat modern version which is my pick.
“Scrooged” (1988) – A grumpy television executive is haunted by 3 spirits with lessons about his past, present, and future Christmas.
This time “Scrooge” is Frank Cross (Bill Murray) who is making his staff work on Christmas Eve for a LIVE version of “A Christmas Carol”. He fires one of his staff – Eliot Loudermilk (a very funny Bobcat Goldthwait) – who disagreeing with the idea. Tiny Tim in this version is Calvin Cooley (Nicholas Phillips) the son of his assistant Grace Cooley (Alfre Woodard).
Good for the whole family: Rated PG-13 for adult content including some sexual inuendo and some scary scenes with the ghost of Christmas future. So, definitely not suitable for younger children.
Best Christmas program: A lot of other lists say the original animated “Grinch that Stole Christmas” or “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is the best television Christmas special. I have a different favorite.
“The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974) – When Santa Claus has a bad cold and considers skipping his Christmas Eve duties one year, two of his elves set out to change his mind.
There was a bunch of animated Christmas specials that came out from the 1960s to the 1980s that included “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”. I think this is the best one. It features the great duo of the “Heat Miser” – who controls the hot areas of the world, and his brother the “Snow Miser” – who controls the cold areas of the world.
Good for the whole family: Of course it is. Even the animated “Heat Miser” won’t scare children.
Best movie that happens around Christmas: Movies that don’t really have anything to do with Christmas, but the story happens around Christmas time. Almost every other list has “Die Hard” at the top of this category. Some even call “Die Hard” a Christmas movie (it definitely is not – see my other article about that). My pick is an older and MUCH BETTER movie.
“The Apartment” (1960) – A Manhattan clerk tries to get ahead in the company he works at by letting his bosses use his Manhattan apartment for their affairs, but complications arise when he falls for one of the mistresses.
This is one of my ALL-TIME favorite movies and it does happen at Christmas time – one of the most important scenes happens over Christmas weekend. If you’re not a fan of any type of Christmas movie – especially if you don’t celebrate Christmas – I would definitely recommend this as the movie to watch. Co-written and directed by Billy Wider, it won the Oscar for best picture, best director, and best screenplay in 1960. It stars the great Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. I would recommend watching this movie ANYTIME but it’s the perfect movie to watch during the holidays since that is when the story happens.
Good for the whole family: There weren’t movie rating back then, but this is DEFINITELY NOT for children. There is some adult subject matter including an attempted overdose/suicide.
Best Alternative Christmas Movie: If you don’t like the usual Christmas or holiday movies, here’s something a little different. Most other lists have “A Nightmare Before Christmas” on the top of this list. However, my pick is something much scarier.
“Black Christmas” (1974) – During Christmas break, a sorority starts receiving phone call from what they call “the moaner”. When some women start disappearing and the phone calls start to get more personal, it becomes clear that someone is stalking them.
If you don’t like the usual Christmas movie and you don’t mind a few scares (much scarier than “A Nightmare Before Christmas”), this is the movie you should watch. What’s odd about this movie is that the director – Bob Clark – also directed the holiday favorite “A Christmas Story” about a decade later.
One note: Watch the original movie, not the terrible remake.
Good for the whole family: DEFINITELY NOT unless you want to give your children nightmares for the rest of their lives. I should know because I first saw this movie when I was young, and it really scared me.