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The 20 best Christmas movies to watch with the family

Get into the festive spirit with our list of the 20 best Christmas movies for families, including holiday classics, animated staples and new favorites.

  • There's no better time to have a family movie night than during the Christmas season. To help your crew get into the holiday spirit, we've compiled a list of the 20 best Christmas movies—flicks that, we think, should be on every kid's viewing list. You'll find everything from a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol to a classic tale about a department store Santa. Plus: We want to hear what your family's favorite holiday movie is. Tell us, below, and let us know if you think we left one out.

    Click the right arrow on the image above to see our best holiday movies for kids.

  • Holiday movies for kids

    20. Jingle All the Way (1996)

    Arnold Schwarzenegger faces his most harrowing enemy yet: the holiday shopping crowd. The Governator in his “family comedy” period is desperate to get the last remaining Turbo-Man action figure on Christmas Eve—even if it means fighting a Santa with candy-cane nunchucks. The contorted mix of action-hero hijinks and lowbrow jokes is just silly enough to make all the members of your family smile. Rated PG.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    19. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

    How do you cure glassy-eyed kids on Mars hooked on boob-tube TV signals coming from Earth? Kidnap Santa Claus and bring him back for some red-planet Christmas cheer. This hilariously cheesy low-budget movie is fun for all the wrong reasons and was a staple of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which mocked the film mercilessly for years. Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    18. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

    This charming Vincente Minnelli musical features the director’s future wife Judy Garland as the restless daughter of a Missouri family during the 1904 World’s Fair. Not festive enough? Wait for the dramatic yuletide climax—along with the knockout debut of the holiday perennial “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    17. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

    Restless ghoul Jack Skellington tumbles into Christmas Town through a magical portal and becomes so enchanted with the holiday that he abducts Santa and decides to deliver presents himself—spooky gifts for every girl and boy, whether they want them or not. This shrewd seasonal mash-up of Halloween and Christmas is a spine-tingling hoot, with musical numbers galore. Rated PG.

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  • Photograph: © Warner Brothers/ABC Family

    Holiday movies for kids

    16. The Polar Express (2004)

    Chris Van Allsburg’s quietly charming picture book about a train headed for Santa’s workshop becomes an overstuffed animated extravaganza thanks to this Hollywood cacophony of Christmas cheer. The pioneering movie (a major showcase for motion-capture technology) admittedly has dead-eyed characters with creepy skin textures, but the overall experience has wondrous moments of computer-generated spectacle. Rated G.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    15. Gremlins (1984)

    A small-town teen gets an adorable furry creature as a Christmas gift. But there’s a catch: don’t get him wet—and don’t feed him after midnight. Those with a wicked sense of yuletide cheer will love the subversive anarchy of this Steven Spielberg production, a gleefully black lump of coal that’s equal parts fantasy and horror. Rated PG.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    14. Millions (2004)

    A seven-year-old Brit discovers a sack of money flung from a train and shares it with his brother. Do they revel in material goods or be charitable—especially when they learn the loot was stolen? Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle offers his own hip answer to the Christmas film, full of sassy backtalking saints, wisecracking kids and a fervent sense of holiday virtue. Rated PG-13.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    13. Home Alone (1990)

    Macaulay Culkin holds down the fort against bumbling burglars while his family accidentally flies to Paris without him in this massive hit that’s every kid’s fantasy—and nightmare. While his Rube Goldberg booby traps and Edvard Munch–inspired visage deliver the laughs, it’s the warmer moments with negligent parents (as well as a mysterious shut-in neighbor) that give heart to this comic evergreen. Rated PG.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    12. White Christmas (1954)

    Swap Connecticut for Vermont, turn the entertainment troupers into former military troopers and slather on a Technicolor sheen: You’ll be forgiven for thinking this Bing Crosby musical is just a toe-tapping variation on Holiday Inn. But it’s still a swell time, and no one should begrudge another cinematic victory lap for the juggernaut title song. Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    11. Holiday Inn (1942)

    Families dreaming of a “White Christmas” are required to watch this delightful romp about star-crossed show people and a Connecticut resort. The comedy boasts a cavalcade of Irving Berlin songs that includes one of the biggest holiday standards of all time—and helped to make Bing Crosby the de facto voice of the yuletide season. Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    10. Elf (2003)

    Towering comic actor Will Ferrell (Buddy) takes a break from his usual role as an arrogant blowhard and plays a wide-eyed sweetheart raised to be an elf until he outgrows the North Pole and is sent down to New York to live with his own kind. City kids will especially enjoy the scenes of Buddy enjoying the Christmas season in New York. Rated PG.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    9. Frosty the Snowman (1969)

    The 1950 novelty song popularized by Gene Autry becomes an animated TV special that faithfully details every stanza, from the corn-cob pipe and button nose to the old silk hat that makes the title character dance around—as well as that pesky sunlight that always threatens to turn him into a puddle. Rated G.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy Hulton Archive

    Holiday movies for kids

    8. A Christmas Story (1983)

    “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” All nine-year-old Ralphie wants is an official Red Ryder BB gun—and the only things standing in his way are a pink bunny suit, a leg lamp and a tongue sticking to a flagpole. Humorist Jean Shepherd’s short stories are the basis of this sassy sentimental brew. And who knew that duck was actually Chinese turkey? Rated PG.

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  • Photograph: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

    Holiday movies for kids

    7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

    Is that bearded fella really Santa Claus? Macy’s hires gentle Kris Kringle to be its department store St. Nick, but his stellar commitment to the job (as well as insistence on being the genuine article) has all the kids in awe and sets off a media firestorm that ends up in a court of law. It's a classic that continues to appeal to kids generation after generation. Rated G.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

    Jim Henson’s lovable menagerie puts its own spin on the venerable Victorian tale (as a musical, no less!) and intriguingly casts Michael Caine as a straight-faced Scrooge amid the slapstick charm of the renowned puppets. Even better casting: Kermit as Bob Cratchit—and his nephew Robin as Tiny Tim. God bless them, everyone! Rated G.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    5. Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

    That small-hearted villain from Mt. Crumpit goes down to Whoville for some seasonal spoiling—only to discover that Christmas cheer can never be stolen. Spooky thespian Boris Karloff is the inspired narrator for this delightful TV special, a faithful rendition of the rhyming classic that will have everyone singing “Da hoo doray.” Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    4. A Christmas Carol (1951)

    Humbug! Deliciously malevolent Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge, the grouchy miser who endures various visions of Christmases Past, Present and Future during one marathon night of soul searching. Film Noir lighting gives visual flair to Charles Dickens’s yuletide yarn, but the film still leaves enough merriment to make this the ultimate holiday ghost story. Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    3. The Rankin/Bass Animagic Christmas Specials (various years)

    Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) all came from Rankin/Bass, the genius stop-motion company behind the Island of Misfit Toys, the Burgermeister Meisterburger, and sibling rivals Snow Miser and Heat Miser. Their funky riffs on holiday myths are irresistibly witty fun and a must-see during the Christmas season. Not rated.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

    Cartoonist Charles Schulz first brought his soulful Peanuts comic strip to life in this divine television special, a clever skewering of Christmas commercialization (Charlie Brown’s sister Sally even asks Santa for cold hard cash) and a heartfelt celebration of holiday holiness, all set to Vince Guaraldi’s iconic jazz piano. Plus: the most pathetic Christmas tree ever. Rated G.

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  • Holiday movies for kids

    1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

    The reigning king of Christmas movies, Frank Capra’s poignant fable stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man with big ambitions (and a bigger heart) who defers his dream of leaving small-town Bedford Falls, but makes personal sacrifices that create a staggering ripple effect of inspirational goodwill on earth—a great message for young viewers watching at home. He even helps an angel get his wings. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

There's no better time to have a family movie night than during the Christmas season. To help your crew get into the holiday spirit, we've compiled a list of the 20 best Christmas movies—flicks that, we think, should be on every kid's viewing list. You'll find everything from a Muppet version of A Christmas Carol to a classic tale about a department store Santa. Plus: We want to hear what your family's favorite holiday movie is. Tell us, below, and let us know if you think we left one out.

Click the right arrow on the image above to see our best holiday movies for kids.

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