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The best kids' Christmas movies to watch this year

Settle in with one of the best kids' Christmas movies and a cup of cocoa. This lineup is nothing short of holly jolly!

Written by
Allie Early
&
Danielle Valente
Written by
Andy Kryza
&
Matthew Singer
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‘Christmas movies for kids’ might sound a bit redundant at first glance. After all, aren’t most Christmas movies meant for family viewing? Sure, other than, say, Bad Santa or Die Hard, the majority of holiday-themed films are safe for kids… but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to appeal to them. A wintry Hallmark romcom might be met with ice-glares from the elementary schoolers on the couch, while something like Edward Scissorhands is just going to leave them confused. These 25 movies, though, are like candy canes for the wee ones’ souls, and will get every parent placed on their children’s personal nice list. 

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👪 The 50 greatest animated movies to watch as a family

The best kids' Christmas movies

  • Film

This oddball origin story of Santa Klaus is the first animated feature from Netflix, and features Klaus (Oscar-winner J. K. Simmons), a large, bearded man with a knack for toymaking but who doesn't have much interest in children, Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), the worst postal carrier ever and Alva (Rashida Jones), a cynical teacher. They live in Smeerensburg, the unhappiest place on Earth. If it sounds like a grump-fest, well yes, that's the setup. But don't worry: Icy hearts melt, and even Smeerensburg can find joy. Rated PG. 

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Photograph: Courtesy Disney

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Second only to Muppet Treasure Island (sorry, we’re biased), Jim Henson’s The Muppet Christmas Carol retells the famous tale with characters like Kermit and Miss Piggy. The musical—set in the Victorian era—features Michael Caine as Scrooge among puppets. Did we mention that Gonzo plays Charles Dickens? Rated G. 

A Boy Called Christmas (2021)
Photograph: Netflix

4. A Boy Called Christmas (2021)

Nikolas – a young boy who has clearly never seen Game of Thrones – heads to the dangerous snowbound north to find his missing dad in this cockle-warming but never cutesy Father Christmas origin story. Adapted from Matt Haig's novel, its unalloyed joys include a cast of Brit thesps (Maggie Smith, Sally Hawkins, Jim Broadbent), Kristen Wiig hamming it up as Nikolas's mean aunt and Stephen Merchant voicing a sassy mouse called Miika. It'll be a Christmas favourite for years to come, so why not gather the family round and break your duck – sorry, goose – now.

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No one wants to be alone on Christmas – except young Kevin McCallister, who hopes for his family to disappear after they banish him to the attic the night before a big international trip, then wakes up the next day to find his wish granted. His staycation in his giant suburban Chicago home is the ultimate little kid fantasy come true. At least, until a pair of burglars show up at the door. Rated PG. 

It takes a truly brilliant performance to sell the concept of middle-aged man who believes he’s one of Santa’s elves. But there are few roles as custom-made for each other as Will Ferrell and Buddy the Elf. After spending his entire life in the North Pole, Buddy returns to New York City to reunite with the human father (James Caan) that gave him up for adoption. ‘Fish out of water’ comedy rarely works this well – it’s one of the true holiday classics that appeals equally to every age group and demographic. Rated PG.

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The Pumpkin King is all out of sorts. Jack Skellington is supposed to delight in eerie, frightening shenanigans, but Halloween loses its sparkle. However, once Jack gets a hold of Christmas, he elicits the town for help to embrace the Yuletide spirit and give Santa a hand. Of course, this plan does not go as he – or the children anxiously awaiting Saint Nick –expected in this macabrely touching holiday fable from the mind of Tim Burton. Rated PG. 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Photograph: Courtesy of IFC

8. 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. 

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Dr. Seuss' beloved holiday killjoy returns for another round of curmudgeonly Christmas misery in this animated take from the studio behind Despicable Me. While the town of Whoville anxiously awaits December 25, the grouchy, green fella – voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch – uncovers a way to ruin it for everyone. He attempts to pose as Saint Nick, steal Christmas from the Whovillians and finally put an end to the most wonderful time of the year. Looks like someone's tinsel is in a twist! Rated PG. 

A Christmas Story (1983)
Photograph: Courtesy Hulton Archive

10. 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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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.” This fan-favorite family Christmas movie is not to be missed. Not rated. 

Sure, Frozen has very little to do with Christmas, but its wintertime setting and story of family bonds make it all but essential when the mercury starts to drop – and frankly, we’d rather hear ‘Let it Go’ than 90% of Christmas carols at this point anyway. Holiday-movie purists will do will to pair the feature with the short film Olaf's Frozen Adventure, in which the beloved snowman goes on a quest to learn about people's holiday traditions in order to make Christmas extra special for the long-sheltered Anna and Elsa. Rated PG.

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Chris Van Allsburg’s enchanting children’s book made its way to the big screen as an animated flick in 2004, drawing a new generation in for even more family fun. As the story goes, on Christmas Eve, a young boy finds a train parked outside his house—The Polar Express—which is headed to the North Pole! He finds out he’s been picked to receive the first gift of Christmas, and he asks for only one thing: a silver bell from Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when he tries to take the bell home with him? Rated G.

Christmas is meant to be a joyous time, yet it's anything but for Charlie. The youngster has grown to hate the holiday, since it marks the death of his fame-hungry rock n' roll father. Things are difficult, until Charlie realizes he and his pop have a second chance: The family snowman has actually turned into his dad! It's crazy (and yes, a little creepy when you think about it) but he's willing to embrace any opportunity to spend quality time with his old man and rebuild their relationship. Rated PG. 

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Miracle on 34th St (1947)
Photograph: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

15. 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. Unfortunately for Kris, many considered his wonderful behavior and magical affect quite unusual—so unusual that he actually ends up at Bellevue! Will he be freed and his reputation redeemed? You’ll just have to watch to find out. Rated G. 

This smart and very British 3D animation from the Aardman stable opens with one of life’s great questions: how does Santa visit so many homes so quickly? The answer, it seems, is a high-tech army of elves dispatched, SAS-style, from a silent spaceship disguised as a cluster of stars. But it never used to be like this, not before Santa’s eldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), modernized the operation. Nevertheless, one parcel slips through the net, so it’s left to Santa’s sensitive younger son, Arthur (James McAvoy), and the retired, grumpy Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) to deliver the package using reindeer and sleigh. All of which inspires a frenzied inter-continental dash and one too many padded-out mishaps. What makes this festive fantasy engaging is the savvy way in which it debunks cold efficiency in favor of more wholesome values. Rated PG.

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The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Photograph: Netflix

17. The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

Why it took until 2018 for someone to cast Kurt Russell as Santa is a mystery, but thank Klaus Netflix did so in this slight but lovely live-action tale of two kids determined to capture the St Nick on camera. The sequel one-ups that inspired casting by bringing in Goldie Hawn as Mrs Claus. Somewhere, a Netflix exec is surely thinking of ways to entice Wyatt Russell and Kate Hudson into elf costumes for a threequel. 

Noelle (2019)
Photograph: Disney

18. Noelle (2019)

Quickly forgotten after Disney+’s launch, this warm comedy stars Anna Kendrick as the daughter of St Nick, who seeks to make an impact on the season while toiling in the shadow of her brother/heir apparent Nick (Bill Hader). It’s an all-star affair – Billy Eichner, Shirley MacLaine and Julie Hagerty further populate the North Pole – and the kind of old-school Christmas comedy they simply don’t make anymore.

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Jingle All the Way (1996)
Photograph: Courtesy 20th Century

19. 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. 

What would you do if Santa was injured on your roof? Typically his December 24 journey goes according to plan, but not when he arrives at Scott Calvin's. After Saint Nick's slight injury, Scott is forced to assume his role. (Some interesting insurance plan, huh?) Scott's son Charlie is totally thrilled with his pop's new job title, but his mother and her new boyfriend are trying to convince him otherwise. Rated PG. 

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A Christmas Carol (1951)
Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

21. A Christmas Carol (1951)

Humbug! Deliciously malevolent Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer, the grouchy miser who endures various visions of Christmases Past, Present and Future in the world’s last-ditch effort to save him from being a true scrooge forever. Will he give his faithful clerk Bob Cratchit the raise he deserves? Save Tiny Tim from a cruel fate? Treat his neighbors with any respect whatsoever? Learn to love Christmas? His marathon evening of soul-searching ends with a surprising decision, and while the film holds a rather dark plot, it’s ability to warm the hearts of all ages solidifies its role as one of the best holiday movies of all time. Not rated.

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Clara wants nothing more than to unlock her late mother’s box. She didn’t realize that key she receives at holiday party actually unlocks the door to new realms. Who wouldn’t want to take the journey alongside Clara through the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flowers and the Land of Sweets? Things get dicey in the fourth realm, but you’ll enjoy tagging along for the ride. Rated PG. 

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25. Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed in at the House of Mouse (2001)

A necessity for any mouseketeer in your life, Mickey's Magical Christmas focuses on what happens when Disney's most beloved characters are stuck inside because of a snow storm. Rather than feel blue about being trapped indoors, the crew decides to throw a Christmas party, though it's going to take some work to ensure that Donald Duck gets out of his Scrooge-like funk. Rated TV-G.

 

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