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'Tis the season for Christmas movies! Once the holidays arrive, there's no shortage of festive activities to dive into — but once the tree is trimmed, the cookies are baked and the gifts are wrapped, there's nothing like snuggling up on the couch with the ones you love and queuing up a Christmas classic.
But what exactly makes a Christmas movie a "Christmas movie" is a matter of much debate. Does the majority of the plot have to take place during the month of December? Does it need to feature a soundtrack full of Christmas songs and an appearance from Old Saint Nick? Or does it simply need have a Christmassy message that highlights the true meaning of the season? The fact of the matter is that Christmas means different things to different people, so when putting together this list of the best Christmas movies of all time, we opted for an "all of the above" definition of the genre.
Here, you'll find a wide array of holiday flicks for every mood and preference. We've included some of America's most-watched Christmas movies (Home Alone, A Christmas Story, Elf) of course, but you'll also discover Christmas romances (The Holiday, Last Christmas), animated picks for the kids (Arthur Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas), raunchy adults-only Christmas comedies (Bad Santa, The Night Before), nostalgic '40s-era films (The Shop Around the Corner, It Happened on Fifth Avenue) and even holiday horror movies and action flicks (Black Christmas, Die Hard). Basically, whatever genre puts the twinkle in your tinsel, there's a movie for you on this list — with one caveat: We mostly stuck to feature films and skipped made-for-TV movies, including Hallmark Channel fare. (If that's what you're looking for, check out our guide to the best Hallmark Christmas movies ever made.)
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So, after you set out the cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve, pop on one of these films and let the holiday joy commence — just don't forget to tell us in the comments if we missed any of your favorites!
8-Bit Christmas (2021)
If you love A Christmas Story, then you'll want to give 8-Bit Christmas a try. It's set in the late 1980s, so in lieu of a Red Ryder BB gun, the hot toy that 10-year-old Jake Doyle is dying to get his hands on is a Nintendo Entertainment System. Told in flashbacks from the POV of adult Jake (played by Neil Patrick Harris), it's a sweet and goofy film the whole family can enjoy.
Black Nativity (2013)
Inspired by Langston Hughes' gospel retelling of the Nativity story, this film features an all-star cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Tyrese Gibson, Mary J. Blige, Nas and Jennifer Hudson. Jacob Latimore plays Langston, a teen sent to spend the holidays with his estranged grandparents in New York City, where he learns some important lessons about family. Cue the waterworks!
Falling for Christmas (2022)
The breakout hit of Netflix's 2022 holiday programming lineup, Lindsay Lohan stars as the entitled daughter of a rich hotelier. But after she takes a nasty fall down the side of a ski slope, she finds herself spending Christmas at a struggling family-run inn — with amnesia. Luckily, the hunky inn owner (Chord Overstreet) is ready to help her find her identity... and love.
While the title is certainly Christmassy, this critically acclaimed film, set in the 1950s, isn't a holiday film in the strictest sense. But it does feature Rooney Mara in a Santa hat and revolves around the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of love and happiness.
Long before Furbys found themselves on every '90s kid's holiday wish list, there were Mogwai, a breed of tiny mystical creatures. In this dark comedy, a boy named Billy receives an adorable Mogwai named Gizmo for Christmas, and it's all fun and games until Gizmo starts spawning mischievous, troublemaking gremlins. Fun fact: Complaints over some of this movie's more violent scenes led to the introduction of the PG-13 rating.
Violent Night (2023)
If you've ever wondered "What if Santa was a ruthless action hero?" then this is the Christmas movie for you. David Harbour plays the man in the big red suit, who stumbles upon a hostage situation while making his Christmas Eve rounds. Save this bloody action comedy for after the kids have gone to bed!
A welcome musical addition to the long lineup of A Christmas Carol adaptations, Spirited stars Will Ferrell as the Ghost of Christmas Present and Ryan Reynolds as the "unreedeemable soul" he's determined to reedem.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Santa Claus is on the hunt for his successor — and kooky but lovable Earnest is here to help save the day.
Let It Snow (2019)
Based on the best-selling novel by John Green, a group of high schoolers navigates love and friendship after a snowstorm blankets their small town on Christmas Eve in this teen rom-com.
Mixed Nuts (1994)
While the plot admittedly sounds dark, this underrated comedy-drama — featuring an ensemble cast that includes Adam Sandler, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Liev Schreiber — is worth a watch. Directed and co-written by Nora Ephron, Steve Martin stars as the manager of a suicide-prevention hotline that's about to be evicted from their office on Christmas Eve. Obviously, hijinks ensue.
Noelle must come to the rescue when her brother Nick gets cold feet about taking over the family business, which just happens to be the business of being Santa. Chaos ensues when Nick doesn't return from a break, and Noelle must try to save the day.
Remember the Night (1940)
When Barbara Stanwyck's character gets arrested for shoplifting right before Christmas in this rom-com, it's up to the D.A. (played by Fred MacMurray) to help her get out of jail.
The Bishop's Wife (1947)
Cary Grant plays an angel in this movie that inspired '90s remake The Preacher's Wife starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston.
Happiest Season (2020)
Abby and Harper are heading home to Harper's family home for the holidays, and Abby is planning on proposing — until she realizes that Harper hasn't been honest with her family about their relationship. It'll make you laugh, cry and realize the best gift is being yourself.
Babes in Toyland (1986)
This is a modern reinterpretation of the classic Christmas tale starring Keanu Reeves and Drew Barrymore, who must save Toyland and Christmas from the evil plans of Barnaby Barnacle.
This Christmas (2007)
The Whitfield family is set to enjoy their first Christmas together in four years. But when family secrets slowly begin to come to light, chaos ensues. The film stars Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short, Regina King and more.
The Princess Switch (2018)
Vanessa Hudgens stars as a woman who travels to the kingdom of Belgravia to enter a famous baking competition, only to run into the Prince of Belgravia's fiancée, who looks exactly like... Vanessa Hudgens. The two decide to switch places, and things get complicated. Keep the silly Christmas rom-com fun going with this film's two sequels, The Princess Switch: Switched Again and The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)
Looking for something to watch after the little ones go to bed? Press play on this bawdy holiday comedy, the third installment of the Harold & Kumar series.
A Christmas Prince (2017)
A Christmas Prince packs every Hallmark holiday rom-com cliche you can think of into 90 minutes — and that's exactly what makes it so delicious to watch. When a journalist is assigned to cover the handsome but mysterious prince of a small country named Aldovia, she gets more than she bargained for (of course!). The film ushered in two sequels, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding and A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby.
Deck the Halls (2006)
When Buddy Hall (Danny DeVito) moves into the neighborhood he gives Christmas-loving Steve Finch (Matthew Broderick) a run for his money while attempting to out-decorate him for for the holidays.
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)
Set in New York during the holidays, this classic black-and-white film is about an unhoused man who squats in a 5th Avenue mansion while its rich owner is wintering somewhere warmer.
A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)
In this follow-up to 2016's Bad Moms, the moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) have to deal with their own mothers for the holidays.
Last Holiday (2014)
In this heartwarming rom-com, Queen Latifah plays a small-town saleswoman who spends her life savings on a holiday trip to Europe after finding out she has a terminal illness... except there's a twist! Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year and show a bit of gratitude during the season.
A magical fantasy drama starring Sam Elliott that the whole family can enjoy, Prancer follows a little girl who finds a hurt reindeer in the woods, whom she believes to be none other than Santa's Prancer.
Holiday Affair (1949)
Set in a New York department store during the holiday season, this romantic comedy was a box office failure when it originally came out in the '40s. Since then, it's turned into a Christmas movie classic thanks to repeated airings on TCM over the years.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
A Santa Claus origin story, this film stars Dudley Moore as an enterprising elf and John Lithgow as a sinister toy manufacturer.
The Night Before (2015)
Starring Anthony Mackie, Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this rated-R Christmas comedy is about three best friends who are on the hunt for the ultimate holiday party: the legendary but elusive Nutcracker Ball.
Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)
A must-watch for the entire family, Disney's animated take on the Charles Dickens's classic tale offers a unique visual experience — and stars the hilarious Jim Carrey as the curmudgeonly Scrooge.
Office Christmas Party (2016)
Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston star in this comedy about a high-stakes (you guessed it) office Christmas party.
If you find yourself on Santa's naughty list, coal in your stocking isn't the worst thing that can happen to you on Christmas — you might just get a visit from the demonic beast Krampus instead.
Jingle Jangle (2020)
In this fantastical holiday tale, an aging toymaker betrayed years earlier by his trusted apprentice finds renewed interest in his work when his granddaughter shows up on his doorstep.
Black Christmas (1974)
Hey, some people like their Christmas movies with a side of gore — we're not here to judge. If you're a fan of holiday horror movies, get into this slasher flick about a group of sorority sisters is stalked by a killer. (There's also a 2019 remake you can check out, too.)
Love Actually (2003)
This rom-com — which follows the love stories of almost a dozen couples throughout the holiday season — has quickly become part of the classic canon of Christmas movies, though it's not without its detractors (some critics have even called it the least romantic film of all time).
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
In this hand-illustrated anime reinterpretation of the Nativity story, a homeless group in Tokyo stumbles across an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. Tokyo Godfathers is a surprisingly funny tale of friendship, family and the universal desire to belong.
Last Christmas (2019)
Nothing seems to be going right in Kate's life — until she meets a mysterious and handsome stranger. Starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, this heartwarming film has a twist ending that you won't see coming.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Starring Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, this jolly Netflix original follows two kids who encounter Santa in their own home — and find themselves on a magical adventure to help him save Christmas. If you're a fan, add The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two to your watchlist, as well.
Frosty The Snowman (1969)
A snowman springs to life after a magic hat is placed atop his head. Follow his exciting adventure as school children help him avoid the jealous magician professor Hinkle from melting Frosty.
Fred Claus (2007)
What if Santa Claus had an underachieving older brother named Fred? Watch this movie to find out.
Jack Frost (1998)
A year after passing away in a Christmas Day car accident, a boy's father is reincarnated as a talking snowman — and the two attempt to make up for lost time.
Joyeux Noel (2006)
You might not have heard of this French film about the Christmas truce during WWI, but it's worth watching. It was even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Oscars.
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The Grinch gets the live-action treatment in this feature-length film starring Jim Carrey. This whimsical holiday film is a feast for the eyes — and it's guaranteed to make your heart grow three sizes.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This movie takes place over the course of an entire year, so it's not entirely a holiday film. But we couldn't exclude the movie that gave us Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," could we?
Christmas With the Kranks (2004)
In the mood for a light-hearted holiday comedy? This funny flick follows a couple, played by Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, who anger their neighbors by making plans to skip Christmas in favor of taking a Caribbean cruise instead.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad as dads competing to get their sons the most popular Christmas toy of the year, this movie is as silly — and fun — as it sounds.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
The plot of this 1940 black-and-white Christmas film is pretty much the same as You've Got Mail — just swap emails for letters and Tom Hanks for Jimmy Stewart, and there you have it.
A Christmas Tale (2008)
This French film — a family drama set during Christmas and starring Catherine Deneuve — is worth adding to your watch list.
A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
A young boy sets out on a quest to find a mysterious town inhabited by elves in the hopes of discovering his long-lost father and bringing hope back to his village.
Almost Christmas (2016)
Danny Glover is a retired widower who only wants one thing for Christmas: His grown children and their families to get along for the holidays. The performances from this talented ensemble cast will make you grateful for your folks this December.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
If you want to introduce your kids to this classic Christmas tale, then give them a good starting point with a musical that pulls on the heartstrings featuring all of their favorite Muppets (think: Kermit and Gonzo) playing Charles Dickens's characters. Jim Henson fans will adore this magical holiday tale.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Santa does the unthinkable and forgets to deliver a gift to a child on Christmas Eve — and his youngest son, Arthur, must make the delivery before dawn. Pixar-level animation and wry British humor from the Wallace & Gromit team make this a heartwarming flick for the whole family.
The Family Stone (2005)
An uptight New York City businesswoman, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, visits her boyfriend's family home for the holidays, where she doesn't exactly fit in with the boisterous, freewheeling Stones. With a stacked cast that includes Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Dermot Mulroney and Claire Danes, this movie will take you on an emotional rollercoaster.
The Best Man Holiday (2013)
A sequel to 1999's The Best Man, director Malcom D. Lee reunites the original cast, including Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard and Nia Long for a holiday-themed movie that will make you laugh and cry.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
This story behind how Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol stars Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey fame) and is a delight for all ages. Trust us: This film can jump-start joy in any Scrooge.
White Christmas (1954)
This post-war musical centers around a group of entertainers who are keen on spreading the holiday spirit in order to save a failing Vermont inn. The star-studded cast is packed with several favorites from the era, like Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Dean Jagger.
A Christmas Carol (1951)
There are almost too many film adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic to count, but this 1951 version starring Alastair Sim is widely considered to be the best, according to New York Times film critic A.O. Scott.
The Family Man (2000)
Nic Cage stars as a workaholic bachelor in New York City, who wakes up on Christmas Day to magically find himself in a New Jersey suburb — with a family and a completely different life.
Four Christmases (2008)
Christmas has a way of bringing everyone together — even when you least expect it. In this modern Christmas tale, Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn play a couple whose tropical holiday plans get derailed, so they begrudgingly visit their families instead.
This Netflix original was nominated for for Best Animated Feature at the 92nd Academy Awards, and it's easy to see why. Featuring beautiful animation that will leave you feeling the holiday magic, this family Christmas film tells the tale of a postman who befriends a reclusive toymaker.
Die Hard (1988)
It's the age-old question: Is Die Hard a Christmas film? We say yes. This action flick about an office Christmas party taken over by terrorists is sure to add a bit of adrenaline to your holiday festivities. Yippee-ki-yay!
The Polar Express (2004)
The Polar Express features Tom Hanks in an animated adventure based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg. In the fantasy flick, a little boy takes a magical train ride to the North Pole and discovers the significance of the holiday along the way.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck stars in this romantic comedy about a magazine writer who lies about her perfect (and fictitious) country life in her columns. She must figure out how to cover her tracks when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves over for Christmas dinner.
Bad Santa (2003)
Leave this dark comedy for when the kids have gone to bed and you want a good laugh.
This modernized version of A Christmas Carol stars Bill Murray as a curmudgeonly New York City TV executive who learns the true meaning of Christmas.
The Santa Clause (1994)
When a divorced businessman (Tim Allen) accidentally kills Santa, he must step in to fill his shoes (not to mention his giant red suit). If you want to make it marathon, follow it up with the Santa Clause 2 and the Santa Clause 3 — then dive into Disney's new series, The Santa Clauses (season 2 is out November 8).
The Holiday (2006)
This romantic comedy about a pair of house-swappers that fall in love abroad might make you want to spend next Christmas in a charming English cottage (and make out with Jude Law, of course).
Dr. Seuss' The Grinch (2018)
Animation traditionalists will go for 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but this modern take deserves a place in the holiday movie canon too, thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch's memorable take on everyone's favorite green holiday grump.
Home Alone (1990)
Over thirty years have passed since beloved Christmas movie Home Alone earned $285 million at the box office, but we'll never tire of watching 8-year-old Kevin McCallister foil the Wet Bandits' home burglary plans. We suggest making it a double-feature with Home Alone 2 — this time around, Kevin winds up in New York City where he manages to outwit the Wet Bandits once more (sorry, the Sticky Bandits).
A Christmas Story (1983)
This movie deserves a major award! There's a reason why TBS plays A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight every Christmas. The classic gave us the infamous leg lamp and Red Ryder BB guns — and most importantly, it taught us to never lick a frozen pole (even under the intense pressure of a "triple dog dare"). Last year, this beloved film got a long-awaited sequel, too — A Christmas Story Christmas sees Ralphie all grown up with kids of his own.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Do you dread having your in-laws visit for the holidays? Watching this Chevy Chase movie will make anything your family does at Christmas seem totally normal by comparison.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? Tim Burton blends both holidays together in a way that's both spooky and heartwarming at the same time. Be prepared to want to (oogie) boogie to the catchy songs in this '90s holiday favorite.
Released 20 years ago, this heartwarming movie about a human man raised by Santa's elves in the North Pole has quickly become a holiday classic. In short: If you don't think Elf is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, you're a cotton-headed ninny muggins.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
When Kris Kringle goes on trial to prove his identity in this magical holiday classic, he'll have you (and especially your kids) believing in the magic of Santa Claus. We're partial to the original black-and-white film starring Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood, but the '90s remake starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle is also worth a watch.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
In this timeless cartoon, Charlie Brown seeks out the true meaning of Christmas with the help of his friends, his curious dog and one tiny (yet strong) Christmas tree.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
If you ask us, it's simply not Christmas without a viewing on this Rankin/Bass classic.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra's iconic film isn't just one of the best Christmas movies of all time — it's one of the best movies ever made, period. It's a Wonderful Life was nominated for six Academy Awards and ranks #11 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.
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