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.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is upset to find that his ex wife and her new husband have told his young son that Santa isn’t real. On Christmas Eve while reading The Night Before Christmas, Scott calls out to someone climbing on his roof. He accidentally startles Santa Claus, who falls and vanishes, leaving an eight-reindeer sleigh and a suit. Rated PG.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? Rated PG-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.
White Christmas (1954)
Swap Connecticut for Vermont, turn the entertainment troupers into former military troopers and slather on 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.
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.
Towering comic actor Will Ferrell (Buddy) 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.
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.
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.
Miracle on 34th St (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.
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.
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.
Scrooge “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.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A young reindeer is picked on and banished from the reindeer games because of his bright red nose. He quickly befriends a prospector and an elf who wants to be a dentist, and together, the group happens upon a whole island of misfit toys. Rudolph makes it his mission to see if he can help them. On Christmas Eve when he returns to the North Pole, it seems like it may be too foggy to fly. Fortunately, Santa sees Rudolph’s nose as an excellent solution. Rated TV-G.
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.
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.