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Best Holiday Movies, Ranked

By: Hopster
December 25, 2023

'Tis the Season to be Jolly (and make long lists)

Without further ado, here is the 2023 version 1.0 of the official Film & Froth Holiday Movies Ranked according to our unique but refined tastes. The list includes Alternative Christmas selections, throwback television specials, and the traditional holiday classics that you would expect to see in this kind of write-up (and would riot if they were not included). Not included is an extensive list of other titles of Christmas-Adjacent films, Dishonorable Mentions that I Happily Rejected, and some B-side Honorable Mentions that just missed the cut. Maybe next year, we'll revisit this exercise and list out those movies, too... but for now, enjoy and happy holidays!

Disclaimer: These lists are typically conceived whilst having an adult beverage or two. They're flawed. I reserve the right to change my mind and alter my rankings at any point in the future for any reason whatsoever. That being said, please send your grievances to


The Polar Express

40. The Polar Express (2004)

Dir. Robert Zemeckis
100 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.

Our synopsis: Where physics takes a back seat to holiday magic! This CGI odyssey through uncanny valley follows a stoic kid teetering on the verge of an existential crisis who hops aboard a mysterious train that is headed to the North Pole with a creepy animated puppet conductor at the helm. Adapted from the beloved children's book, The Polar Express is a heartwarming tale that will leave you questioning the meaning of Christmas as well as your own sanity.

Happiest Season

39. Happiest Season (2020)

Dir. Clea DuVall
102 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A young woman's plans to propose to her girlfriend while at her family's annual holiday party are upended when she discovers her partner hasn't yet come out to her conservative parents.

Our synopsis: Join a couple as they navigate the most magical time of the year – coming out to conservative parents during Christmas. Happiest Season is chock-full of messy family dynamics, questionable choices, and enough awkward silences to make you wish for an escape from this holiday rom-com gone wrong. And what's worse than when a main character decides to stay in a toxic relationship at the end? Merry Dysfunction!

Jack Frost

38. Jack Frost (1998)

Dir. Troy Miller
101 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A father, who can't keep his promises, dies in a car accident. One year later, he returns as a snowman, who has the final chance to put things right with his son before he is gone forever.

Our synopsis: Basically, a rockstar dad is reincarnated as a creepy snowman and tries to bond with his son. While trying to teach him valuable life lessons, he ends up terrorizing a small town in his quest to avoid melting in the sun – are your heartstrings being pulled just thinking about it? There is plenty of clunky CGI, some strange musical mishaps, and a snowball of questionable parenting decisions. Cold, corny, and cringe-worthy – but Jack Frost is still worth the once-every-ten-years-or-so re-watch. As they say, snow dad's better than no dad.

The Santa Clause

37. The Santa Clause (1994)

Dir. John Pasquin
97 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Scott Calvin is an ordinary man, who accidentally causes Santa Claus to fall from his roof on Christmas Eve and is knocked unconscious. When he and his young son finish Santa's trip and deliveries, they go to the North Pole, where Scott learns he must become the new Santa and convince those he loves that he is indeed, Father Christmas.

Our synopsis: A reluctant dad inherits the North Pole gig after accidentally sending Santa into early retirement after a rooftop mishap. Wouldn't this make for an inspired double feature with Anatomy of a Fall? Only you can be the judge of that. The Santa Clause one has something for everyone, including a festive custody battle, contractual confusion around binding legalities, crises of identity, and more dad jokes than presents under the tree. Did I put enough emphasis on the fact that Santa Claus dies on-screen in this one?

Four Christmases

36. Four Christmases (2008)

Dir. Seth Gordon
89 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Brad and Kate have made something of an art form out of avoiding their families during the holidays, but this year their foolproof plan is about go bust -- big time. Stuck at the city airport after all departing flights are canceled, the couple is embarrassed to see their ruse exposed to the world by an overzealous television reporter. Now, Brad and Kate are left with precious little choice other than to swallow their pride and suffer the rounds...

Our synopsis: Instead of a romantic getaway, an unmarried couple must endure the ultimate holiday nightmare, which means visiting all four divorced parents in a single day. This might actually be the horrific premise of a holiday horror movie ever made. Their relationship is tested as they face an avalanche of nonstop bullshit most of which should validate their decisions to not get married or have children. Four Christmases is an "in-laws from Hell" holiday movie that is built on predictable Hollywood clichés and a betrayal of its characters' childfree lifestyle. It's still pretty funny though!


35. Krampus (2015)

Dir. Michael Dougherty
97 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A horror comedy based on the ancient legend about a pagan creature who punishes children on Christmas.

Our synopsis: Krampus is a dark yuletide horror flick that transforms Christmas into a chaotic nightmare when a dysfunctional family invokes the wrath of the Krampus, the anti-Claus. Of course, there are malevolent snowmen, demonic gingerbread men, and killer toys, in addition to the titular half-goat, half-demon monster who punishes bad children or scares them into being good. This film is a really fun genre mashup that brings together laughs, scares, and holiday cheer all into one decorative package. Don't be mistaken, this is still a true-blue Christmas movie.

The Holiday

34. The Holiday (2006)

Dir. Nancy Meyers
136 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: In New York City for their annual tradition of Christmas Eve debauchery, three lifelong best friends set out to find the Holy Grail of Christmas parties since their yearly reunion might be coming to an end.

Our synopsis: Nothing mends heartbreak and spreads holiday cheer like a gold old-fashioned home-swap for Christmas, am I right? This is Yuppy Christmas amid picturesque cottages springs serendipitous romances! The Holiday is a cozy and quaint exercise in escapist entertainment, a thought experiment that allows a quartet of talented performers to mix and match their personalities and trade in one set of relationship issues for another. It's a charming story of new beginnings and unexpected connections. This is Love Actually if Love Actually didn't suck.

Black Christmas

33. Black Christmas (1974)

Dir. Bob Clark
98 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters during Christmas break.

Our synopsis: Deck the halls with boughs of terror! A group of sorority sisters become the targets of a deranged psycho killer and his murderous intentions. As with each threatening call, holiday merriment becomes slowly replaced with unsettling horror, and any idea of a holly jolly Christmas is left out in the cold. Black Christmas was a pioneer in this brand of genre-blending, and is certainly a festive slasher that has been ripped off time and time again.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

32. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Dir. Shane Black
103 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A petty thief posing as an actor is brought to Los Angeles for an unlikely audition and finds himself in the middle of a murder investigation along with his high school dream girl and a detective who's been training him for his upcoming role...

Our synopsis: Nothing quite says "festive cheer" like accidental murder and Hollywood shenanigans. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, directed by the master of making every movie a Christmas movie Shane Black, is a noir-comedy that makes a point of defying holiday spirit while also basking in its glow. As both a tongue-in-cheek commentary on both the crime genre and absurdities of accidental stardom, this is likely Black's wittiest and most cleverly written movie.


31. Scrooged (1988)

Dir. Richard Donner
100 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: In this modern take on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Frank Cross is a wildly successful television executive whose cold ambition and curmudgeonly nature has driven away the love of his life, Claire Phillips. But after firing a staff member, Eliot Loudermilk, on Christmas Eve, Frank is visited by a series of ghosts who give him a chance to re-evaluate his actions and right the wrongs of his past.

Our synopsis: Here's a contemporary spin on Dickens that is now 35 years old... well sort of contemporary I suppose. Bill Murray stars as the modern-day Scrooge, a heartless, cynical, Grinch-like TV executive navigating a Christmas Eve intervention by three spectral showbiz ghosts on the road to self-discovery. Murray's irreverent charm and sardonic humor take this all too familiar story and he turns it into something both satirical and poignant. There's biting humor, social commentary, and holiday redemption – what more could you want?

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

30. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

Dir. Jim Henson
48 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A poor otter family risks everything for the chance to win the cash prize of a talent contest for Christmas.

Our synopsis: Now this is a truly deep cut and not the first time that we'll celebrate holidays in conjunction with the Muppetry of Jim Henson on this list. This quirky tale of Emmet Otter and his friends seeking stardom and attempting to win prize money through a questionable jug band talent competition. Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a snarky but charming holiday gem that delivers endearing messages about the joy of creativity and embracing the spirit of community. While it does have a bit of fun mocking the conventions of traditional holiday narratives, this puppet-infused is odd but endearing, bizarre but timeless. This is a real jamboree!

Tokyo Godfathers

29. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Dir. Satoshi Kon
92 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: During a Christmas Eve in Tokyo, three homeless people, middle-aged alcoholic Gin, former drag queen Hana, and dependent runaway girl Miyuki, discover an abandoned newborn while looking through the garbage. With only a handful of clues to the baby's identity, the three misfits search the city to find its parents.

Our synopsis: When you think of heartwarming holiday tales, I imagine you naturally picture a trio of homeless misfits discovering an abandoned baby in a dumpster on Christmas. If not, maybe you should. From Santoshi Kon comes this animated masterpiece, Tokyo Godfathers, a story centered around the themes of found families and forgotten souls. As the trio embarks on a quest to return the infant to its negligent parents, the gritty urban realism of Tokyo's underbelly is explored under neon lights. What can be learned about the spirit of Christmas from an alcoholic, a drag queen, a teenage runaway, and an abandoned baby? It turns out quite a bit.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

28. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Dir. Peter R. Hunt
142 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: James Bond tracks his archnemesis, Ernst Blofeld, to a mountaintop retreat where he is training an army of beautiful, lethal women. Along the way, Bond falls for Italian contessa Tracy Draco, and marries her in order to get closer to Blofeld.

Our synopsis: Holiday Bond = Best Bond? In this holiday edition of 007, the debonair British Secret agent ditches his tuxedo and the glamor of the casino for a yuletide ski adventure in the Alps. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is now widely recognized as one of the most faithful adaptations of a Ian Fleming novel and one of the best entries into the James Bond canon. In his one and only portrayal of Bond, the model-turned-actor George Lazenby turns in a great debut acting performance (replacing an icon like Sean Connery is no small feat). Set against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks, this unique 007 installment blends action with seasonal charm. It's beautifully made, delivers emotional stakes, and there are excellent performances across the ensemble cast, including the legendary Dianna Rigg. "Spies in snow" is a golden ticket idea.

Remember the Night

27. Remember the Night (1940)

Dir. Mitchell Leisen
94 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When Jack, an assistant District Attorney, takes Lee, a shoplifter caught in the act, home with him for Christmas, the unexpected happens and love blossoms.

Our synopsis: What happens when on a cross-country holiday road trip a shoplifter and her prosecutor find love amid legal drama? Starring a delightful duo of magnetic performances from Barbara Stanwyck and the Fred MacMurray, Remember the Night seamlessly transforms from a courtroom drama into an unexpected romance where grand theft is great fodder for flirtation. It turns out at the best way to address a criminal record is under the mistletoe! If you haven't seen this, I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you're into films from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The Year Without a Santa Claus

26. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Dir. Jules Bass / Arthur Rankin Jr.
51 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Feeling forgotten by the children of the world, old St. Nick decides to skip his gift-giving journey and take a vacation. Mrs. Claus and two spunky little elves, Jingle and Jangle, set out to see to where all the season's cheer has disappeared. Aided by a magical snowfall, they reawaken the spirit of Christmas in children's hearts and put Santa back in action.

Our synopsis: Santa, going through a midlife crisis, contemplates skipping Christmas altogether due to his man-cold. This prompts Mrs. Claus and some helpful elves Jingle and Jangle to embark on an overly dramatic quest to restore lost holiday spirit. The charismatic duo Heat Miser and Snow Miser add some comic whimsy to this festive quest and help fill the runtime of this barebones plot. Released in 1974 at the height of the stop-motion animated Christmas television special run, The Year Without a Santa Claus benefits from its memorable characters and catchy musical numbers. Though it may maybe less charming than some of the other Rankin/Bass productions, it is still a holiday gem and understands the importance of spreading warmth when Christmas cheer is on a hiatus.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

25. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Dir. Ron Howard
105 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Inside a snowflake exists the magical land of Whoville. In Whoville, live the Whos, an almost mutated sort of Munchkin-like people. All the Whos love Christmas, yet just outside of their beloved Whoville lives the Grinch. The Grinch is a nasty creature that hates Christmas, and plots to steal it away from the Whos, whom he equally abhors. Yet a small child, Cindy Lou Who, decides to try befriending the Grinch.

Our synopsis: This live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' classic will probably be one of the more controversial entries to this list. Some will say it is too high. Others might think it's too low. I don't doubt some may question its inclusion altogether. When stacked against the 26-minute animated companion from 1966, it's easy to see why some might find it to be a bit garish and overproduced. Jim Carrey is a manic Grinch, buried under layers of prosthetics and might be less of a curmudgeonly character than a hyperactive nightmare. But I'm grading on a curve here, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a film filled with elaborate sets, vibrant visuals, and a committed performance from Carrey, all of which are in service to capturing the essence of Seuss' fantastical world. Maybe I'm being a bit too generous or perhaps you're just being a Grinch.

Trading Places

24. Trading Places (1983)

Dir. John Landis
116 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A snobbish investor and a wily street con-artist find their positions reversed as part of a bet by two callous millionaires.

Our synopsis: Trading Places is a Christmas fable starring two comedians at the peak of their respective powers in Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. One is a snobbish, pampered executive while the other is a streetwise hustler. Thanks to a bet between rich, old geezers, the two swap lives in what quickly becomes a misguided social experiment. This is a dual fish-out-of-water farce that mixes social commentary with slapstick humor. Together Murphy and Aykroyd are electric, and this satire on class disparity never feels weighty or preachy. This is a classic.

Jingle All the Way

23. Jingle All the Way (1996)

Dir. Brian Levant
89 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Meet Howard Langston, a salesman for a mattress company who is constantly busy at his job, and he also constantly disappoints his son, after he misses his son's karate exposition, his son tells Howard that he wants for Christmas is an action figure of his son's television hero, he tries hard to make it up to him. Unfortunately for Howard, it is Christmas Eve, and every store is sold out of Turbo Man, now Howard must travel all over town and compete with everybody else to find a Turbo Man action figure.

Our synopsis: Many holiday films delve into the cultural commentary of excessive holiday consumerism, but few are as cheeky and fun as Jingle All the Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger is on a frenzied quest for the elusive Turbo Man action figure for his son Jamie (aka, Jake Lloyd, aka the soon-to-be young Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace). Hunting down this toy leads Schwarzenegger down a hell-ride full of elbow jabs in toy store aisles all while spending time apart from his family on Christmas Eve. The thematic underbelly of Jingle All the Way is surprisingly rich if you think about it – there's an obvious dissonance between the ostensibly joyous holiday season and the emptiness that comes from relentlessly pursuing material possessions that are perpetuated by our rabid consumer culture. Maybe that's too deep of a reading on a silly movie that features an abundance of Schwarzenegger-led slapstick humor and campy absurdism, or maybe we haven't been giving this one enough credit for its thoughtful satire and family-first messaging.

Miracle on 34th Street

22. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Dir. George Seaton
96 min.

Letterboxd synopsis:Kris Kringle, seemingly the embodiment of Santa Claus, is asked to portray the jolly old fellow at Macy's following his performance in the Thanksgiving Day parade. His portrayal is so complete that many begin to question if he truly is Santa Claus, while others question his sanity.

Our synopsis: This a holiday classic, sure. But it's often overlooked for what it really is: a true blue courtroom procedural. Here's a gripping legal thriller about a bearded geriatric man claiming to be Santa Claus who takes the stand in a court trial rather than receiving a much-needed psychiatric evaluation (are you with me on this one?) As lawyers and psychologists battle over Kris Kringle's sanity, the real miracle might be that the true spirit of Christmas can also be found in case-altering affidavits and decisive witness testimonies. Santa being subpoenaed is a great bit, is it not?

Batman Returns

21. Batman Returns (1992)

Dir. Tim Burton
126 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Having defeated the Joker, Batman now faces the Penguin—a warped and deformed individual who is intent on being accepted into Gotham society, with the help of Max Schreck, a crooked businessman, whom he coerces into helping him run for the position of Mayor of Gotham, while they both attempt to frame Batman in a different light. Batman must attempt to clear his name, all while also deciding just what must be done with the mysterious Catwoman slinking about.

Our synopsis: Gotham City as a gothic winter wonderland makes for an awesome Batman movie. Michael Keaton is back as the Caped Crusader facing off against a deranged trio – Michelle Pfeiffer's vengeful Catwoman, Danny DeVito's grotesque Penguin, and Christopher Walken's scheming tycoon. Set against the backdrop of eerie festive decorations, Batman Returns is a macabre fairytale that ably explores a myriad of complex themes including identity, revenge, and societal decay. Directed by the great Tim Burton, this stunning yet somber film transcends the superhero genre thanks to its distinct visual brilliance and Danny Elfman's haunting score.


20. Gremlins (1984)

Dir. Joe Dante
106 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When Billy Peltzer is given a strange but adorable pet named Gizmo for Christmas, he inadvertently breaks the three important rules of caring for a Mogwai, and unleashes a horde of mischievous gremlins on a small town.

Our synopsis: Ah, Gremlins, the heartwarming holiday cautionary tale that teaches the valuable lesson that you should never feed your cuddly creature pet after midnight because it will turn into a havoc-wreaking nightmare! This rule and others are predictably broken, which transforms the cute, furry creatures into mischievous and malevolent gremlins. As these troublemakers unleash chaos mayhem on the small town during their destructive rampage, Gremlins works best as a cynical undercutting of traditional holiday cheer and is a well-executed blend of horror and dark humor. There are exploding microwaves, Christmas caroling gone wrong, and a bit of creature-induced anarchy. This entry to the list might be a tad controversial for some, but this is a holiday film through and through.

A Christmas Story

19. A Christmas Story (1983)

Dir. Bob Clark
84 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: The comic mishaps and adventures of a young boy named Ralph, trying to convince his parents, teachers, and Santa that a Red Ryder B.B. gun really is the perfect Christmas gift for the 1940s.

Our synopsis: I expect the torches to be lit and the pitchforks to come out after this ranking (and deservingly so). A Christmas Story is undoubtedly a timeless holiday classic, one that plays on repeat for 24 hours straight on TBS starting on Christmas Eve and finishing sometime on Christmas Day dinner. It's a film rooted in nostalgia, a film that captures the innocence and magic of the holiday season for children and is a reflection on our memories and how our perspectives change with time. Maybe this low ranking reflects a level of burnout from its repetitive overexposure year in and year out, and maybe the jokes have just lost some pizzazz. I don't know, it's probably a me problem. Regardless, A Christmas Story is iconic, so I'm not going to bash it! But it sits comfortably outside of the higher echelon of holiday movies for me at this point in time.

Eyes Wide Shut

18. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Dir. Stanley Kubrick
159 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: After Dr. Bill Harford's wife, Alice, admits to having sexual fantasies about a man she met, Bill becomes obsessed with having a sexual encounter. He discovers an underground sexual group and attends one of their meetings -- and quickly discovers that he is in over his head.

Our synopsis: Definitely not a typical holiday film, but also not NOT a holiday film, right? Directed by Stanley Kubrick, Eyes Wide Shut does follow the usual tropes of a traditional Christmas movie and goes for something more enigmatic and psychological. Rather than it being about joy, family, and goodwill, the film interrogates the complexities of desire, questions the fragility of marital relationships, and feels more like a hypnotic dreamscape rather than something resembling a linear narrative. Since Kubrick was an auteur who was more interested in big-picture ideas like the nuances of human behavior and societal facades, the film uses the holiday setting and incorporates the Christmas imagery and symbolism as a storytelling component rather than its central focus. Don't seek this out lightly.

The Shop Around the Corner

17. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Dir. Ernst Lubitsch
99 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand one another, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Our synopsis: Tied for being the oldest film on this list (see Remember the Night), The Shop Around the Corner is a slept-on classic romantic comedy that has a festive setting and a heartwarming story, so thus gets included in the holiday movie lexicon. Later serving as a core inspiration in the '90s for the rom-com You've Got Mail, this is built on the enchanting chemistry between Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan and has a warmth and wit that is often missing in more modern-day holiday films. With its first-class script full of workplace banter and charming holiday backdrop, The Shop Around the Corner deserves more praise and attention.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

16. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Dir. Larry Roemer
52 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Sam the snowman tells us the story of a young red-nosed reindeer who, after being ousted from the reindeer games because of his glowing nose, teams up with Hermey, an elf who wants to be a dentist, and Yukon Cornelius, the prospector. They run into the Abominable Snowman and find a whole island of misfit toys. Rudolph vows to see if he can get Santa to help the toys, and he goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. But Santa's sleigh is fogged in. But when Santa looks over Rudolph, he gets a very bright idea...

Our synopsis: This mid-60s stop-motion holiday gem made reindeer cool and red noses iconic. From outcast to Santa's sleigh leader and the savior of Christmas, Rudolph's journey is a holiday fever dream full of memorable oddball characters. There's an elf that would rather be a dentist, a snowman going through an identity crisis, a prospector in pursuit of peppermint, a bossy doll, and a bird that can't fly to name just a few. The Island of Misfit Toys is basically a recruitment center for a holiday-themed circus and is a bit like Portland, Oregon – the weirder the better, eh?


15. Elf (2003)

Dir. Jon Favreau
96 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When young Buddy falls into Santa's gift sack on Christmas Eve, he's transported back to the North Pole and raised as a toy-making elf by Santa's helpers. But as he grows into adulthood, he can't shake the nagging feeling that he doesn't belong. Buddy vows to visit Manhattan and find his real dad, a workaholic publisher.

Our synopsis: Does this one need any introduction? Now 20 years old, Elf is in many ways the most important Christmas movie that has been released this century. Will Ferrell's Buddy is an incredible comedic creation, a human raised by elves at the North Pole whose sense of childlike wonder can be easily misunderstood for extreme arrested development. I'm not sure if it's hyperbolic to say that Ferrell's performance is one of the best within the holiday genre altogether, as brave and fully committed as it is silly. The fish-out-of-water antics with his biological father James Caan (which is just incredible casting) are a lot of fun and his chemistry with Zooey Deschanel makes for a great on-screen pairing.

The Green Knight

14. The Green Knight (2021)

Dir. David Lowery
130 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: An epic fantasy adventure based on the timeless Arthurian legend, The Green Knight tells the story of Sir Gawain, King Arthur's reckless and headstrong nephew, who embarks on a daring quest to confront the eponymous Green Knight, a gigantic emerald-skinned stranger and tester of men.

Our synopsis: This medieval fantasy film based on the poetic Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is not traditionally considered a holiday film and is perhaps barely eligible for this list (many of the key events happen on and around Christmas)... That said this is one of our favorite films from the past years, and we're thrilled to include it here! Dev Patel as Sir Gawain embarks on a surreal and symbolic journey, facing challenges that blur the line between reality and myth. Director David Lowery crafts a hauntingly beautiful world with each frame that is thematically rich and stirringly contemplative. In The Green Knight, plot proceedings are less important than the created atmosphere and while it may not be a categorically obvious Christmas film, I think it provides an excellent departure from the expected cheer and festivities.


13. Klaus (2019)

Dir. Sergio Pablos
97 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When Jesper distinguishes himself as the Postal Academy's worst student, he is sent to Smeerensburg, a small village located on an icy island above the Arctic Circle, where grumpy inhabitants barely exchange words, let alone letters. Jesper is about to give up and abandon his duty as a postman when he meets local teacher Alva and Klaus, a mysterious carpenter who lives alone in a cabin full of handmade toys.

Our synopsis: Netflix's Klaus is one of the most underseen and underappreciated holiday movies of recent memory. This heartwarming gem rejuvenates the Santa Claus origin story thanks to its thoughtful narrative, endearing characters, and beautiful animation. With a voice cast that includes Jason Schwartzman and J.K. Simmons, Klaus is fit for the whole family and has something important to say about the human capacity for change and the potential for redemption. If you're looking for something that captures the magic of Christmas but manages to weave in friendship, generosity, and the transformative power of goodwill, Klaus would be the perfect thing to add to your watch list this winter.

Bad Santa

12. Bad Santa (2003)

Dir. Terry Zwigoff
92 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A miserable conman and his partner pose as Santa and his Little Helper to rob department stores on Christmas Eve. But they run into problems when the conman befriends a troubled kid, and the security boss discovers the plot.

Our synopsis: While Elf may be the more memorable holiday film released in 2003, Bad Santa may be the superior achievement. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a drunken, foul-mouthed Kris Kringle who guzzles booze, curses incessantly, and whose inappropriate behavior is at direct odds with the spirit of the season. The film's unconventional embrace of dark humor and an antihero protagonist is a subversion of the holiday movie genre making it a unique and welcome outlier to the Christmas catalog. I'm a big fan of Bad Santa and enjoy the departure from festive norms – I like my Santa to have a bit more edge, a lot less decency, and preferably a criminal record. This one is extra naughty and definitely not nice.


11. Carol (2015)

Dir. Todd Haynes
119 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: In 1950s New York, a department-store clerk who dreams of a better life falls for an older, married woman.

Our synopsis: From one of the premier auteurs working in the cinema, Todd Haynes, comes Carol, a non-traditional holiday movie that is as visually exquisite as it is emotionally resonant. Like Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut, this film uses the holiday season as a thematic backdrop rather than a central element of the plot. Carol is about a forbidden romantic relationship between the two main characters, Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese (Rooney Mara). Because the emphasis is not on holiday traditions, family gatherings, or the spirit of giving and instead uses the festive atmosphere to subtly contrast with the film's melancholy and emotionality, the film is more carefully considered than your average holiday flick. With its exceptional performances, directorial proficiency, and thematic depth, Carol is a top-shelf masterwork.

The Holdovers

10. The Holdovers (2023)

Dir. Alexander Payne
133 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A curmudgeonly instructor at a New England prep school is forced to remain on campus during Christmas break to babysit the handful of students with nowhere to go. Eventually, he forms an unlikely bond with one of them — a damaged, brainy troublemaker — and with the school’s head cook, who has just lost a son in Vietnam.

Our synopsis: Earlier this month, Isaac P. Ale called The Holdovers a wonderful return to form for its director, Alexander Payne, and called the film "simply and utterly delightful." Isaac went as far as to say that it would jump up his all-time holiday film rankings and become damn near a must-watch every year. That's high praise, but I second with his enthusiasm! Maybe this is a bit of overzealous recency bias, but I think The Holdovers will only get better with each passing year.

White Christmas

9. White Christmas (1954)

Dir. Michael Curtiz
120 min.

director Letterboxd synopsis: Two talented song-and-dance men team up after the war to become one of the hottest acts in show business. In time they befriend and become romantically involved with the beautiful Haynes sisters who comprise a sister act.

Our synopsis: Is this the epitome of throwback holiday cheer and nostalgia? You've got big stars in Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye singing, dancing, and scheming to bring joy and business to a snowless and struggling inn. It has a thin-as-ice plot where everyone is ready to conveniently burst into song at a moment's notice, even when it isn't appropriate. And there's predictable romance and holiday clichés galore. But there are also picturesque Vermont landscape shots and lots of amazing tap dancing! With dazzling choreography, memorable musical numbers, and Technicolor cinematic spectacle for all to cherish and enjoy. White Christmas is a holiday tradition all unto itself for many and will continue to be for years to come. Anything less than a top 10 ranking would be a treasonous act against Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Dir. Bill Melendez
25 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: When Charlie Brown complains about the overwhelming materialism that he sees amongst everyone during the Christmas season, Lucy suggests that he become director of the school Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown accepts, but is a frustrating struggle. When an attempt to restore the proper spirit with a forlorn little fir Christmas tree fails, he needs Linus' help to learn the meaning of Christmas.

Our synopsis: In 25 short minutes, A Charlie Brown Christmas makes a real run at the title belt for best animated holiday 'thing,' movie, or television special. It's given us so much: Charles Schultz's beloved characters have become enduring symbols of the holiday season; the simple and distinctive animation style of the Peanuts characters is charming and nostalgic; the film's anti-commercial messaging and timeless themes of friendship, kindness, and the true meaning of Christmas carry across generations; and of course, Vince Guaraldi's jazz-influenced soundtrack itself is synonymous with the Christmas. If you don't care for this one, you're a blockhead.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

7. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik
97 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: It's Christmas time and the Griswolds are preparing for a family seasonal celebration, but things never run smoothly for Clark, his wife Ellen and their two kids. Clark's continual bad luck is worsened by his obnoxious family guests, but he manages to keep going knowing that his Christmas bonus is due soon.

Our synopsis: The ultimate 'holiday dysfunction with the family' movie is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which is the funniest holiday movie I've seen. All Clark Griswold wants (aside from his big holiday bonus) is to deliver a good, old-fashioned Christmas for his family. Forget any of those idyllic visions of festive bliss; this film serves up a chaotic, over-the-top comedy of errors and misgivings and makes you question whether or not you want to see your try celebrating at all. From an explosive Christmas tree to unexpected relatives showing up on the front doorstep last minute, every attempt at merriment leads to greater catastrophe. As Clark, Chevy Chase is a bumbling misguided hero whose grand plans constantly unravel. If you're looking for Christmas with a side of chaos, slackstick humor, and a dearth of quotable lines, then Christmas Vacation is for you.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Dir. Henry Selick
76 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Tired of scaring humans every October 31 with the same old bag of tricks, Jack Skellington, the spindly king of Halloween Town, kidnaps Santa Claus and plans to deliver shrunken heads and other ghoulish gifts to children on Christmas morning. But as Christmas approaches, Jack's rag-doll girlfriend, Sally, tries to foil his misguided plans.

Our synopsis: Why choose between Halloween and Christmas when you can just have both? The Nightmare Before Christmas from Tim Burton understands this, and this stop-motion twisted holiday tale has only grown in the public consciousness thirty years after its release. The film's innovative animation, imaginative world-building, memorable characters, and clever storytelling have helped this endure as a classic and turned the character of Jack Skellington into an icon. Darkly whimsical and festive without being too festive, The Nightmare Before Christmas is excellent.

Home Alone

5. Home Alone (1990)

Dir. Chris Columbus
103 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister makes the most of the situation after his family unwittingly leaves him behind when they go on Christmas vacation. But when a pair of bungling burglars set their sights on Kevin's house, the plucky kid stands ready to defend his territory. By planting booby traps galore, adorably mischievous Kevin stands his ground as his frantic mother attempts to race home before Christmas Day.

Our synopsis: Really think about what happens in Home Alone for just a second: eight-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is (inadvertently) left behind by his family during Christmas vacation. Alone and unsupervised, Kevin becomes the sadistic mastermind of a booby-trapped home-defense strategy and inflicts brutal punishment on the would-be intruders. If the film weren't written by the sentimental John Hughes and directed by the child-friendly Chris Columbus, Home Alone might be a cold and callous entry into the holiday movie lexicon. Instead, the film is one of the more charming, heartwarming, and feel-good stories for audiences of all ages during the Christmas season. This is a no-brainer top 5 pick.

Die Hard

4. Die Hard (1988)

Dir. John McTiernan
132 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: NYPD cop John McClane's plan to reconcile with his estranged wife is thrown for a serious loop when, minutes after he arrives at her office, the entire building is overtaken by a group of terrorists. With little help from the LAPD, wisecracking McClane sets out to single-handedly rescue the hostages and bring the bad guys down.

Our synopsis: The question you might be asking yourself is this: "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" If you choose answer no to that, I see your question and raise this one in response: "Why are you the way that you are?" As a quintessential Christmas movie, Die Hard is a Shakespearean drama set in a literal towering inferno of bullets and explosions. Bruce Willis is at the top of his game and delivers a nuanced character performance as John McClane, who is still just a barefoot man with a gun wearing a dirty undershirt. Though not a "traditional" holiday movie, there are festive elements fundamental to the story, including holiday decorations, seasonal music, and a feel-good ending. As for all you conventionalists, rid yourselves of whatever pain you have and embrace Die Hard for what it is – a great Christmas movie.

The Muppets Christmas Carol

3. The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)

Dir. Brian Henson
86 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A retelling of the classic Dickens tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, miser extraordinaire. He is held accountable for his dastardly ways during night-time visitations by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and future.

Our synopsis: Think of The Muppets Christmas Carol like a delicious holiday cocktail: it's a festive treat, balanced with equal parts sweetness and character. Infusing Charles Dickens' classic tale with Muppet magic is not easily done, but this film, thanks to an incredible portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge by Michael Caine, feels as accessible and grounded as any other iteration of this story. Injected with humor to offset the otherwise somber story of redemption and blended with delightful musical moments, this has rightfully earned its place among other enduring Christmas classics. What is the point of this list if I'm not putting The Muppets Christmas Carol near the top.

It's a Wonderful Life

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Dir. Frank Capra
131 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A holiday favorite for generations... George Bailey has spent his entire life giving to the people of Bedford Falls. All that prevents rich skinflint Mr. Potter from taking over the entire town is George's modest building and loan company. But on Christmas Eve the business's $8,000 is lost and George's troubles begin..*

Our synopsis: The most important holiday classic and uncomplicatedly the best film on this list. Frank Capra's acclaimed filmmaking, timeless themes, and overall cultural impact place it among one of the most important films of all time. Any sort of deeper analysis of this film has either already occurred or should come from someone more of an expert. It's a Wonderful Life isn't just a testament to the spirit of the holiday season, but also to the essentialism of cinema.

The Snowman

1. The Snowman (1982)

Dir. Dianne Jackson
26 min.

Letterboxd synopsis: A young boy makes a snowman one Christmas Eve, which comes to life at midnight and takes him on a magical adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.

Our synopsis: Adapted from Raymond Briggs' beloved book, The Snowman is a wordless animation masterpiece. With only a 26-minute runtime, the short film follows a boy's enchanting snowman coming to life on Christmas Eve. With its captivating animation, universal appeal, and narrative centered around the magic of friendship and the fleeting joy of Christmas, The Snowman captures the wonder of childhood and the melancholy associated with growing up. It's simultaneously heartwrenching and heartwarming. It's our #1 holiday film.

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