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Film still from Love Actually shows Hugh Grant as David and Martine McCutcheon as Natalie.
Photograph: Universal Pictures

What your favourite Christmas movie says about you

Sorting the ‘Love Actually’ lovers from the ‘Die Hard’ devotees

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Andy Kryza
&
Phil de Semlyen
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Here’s the scene: you’ve plonked yourself down on the sofa at the end of a wearying year. You have the remote in your eager hand, an array of Christmas viewing only the touch of a button away. But next to you is grandma, a hardened Bing Crosby devotee who boasts about owning an original copy of ‘White Christmas’ on vinyl, even though she’s only 67 and has never owned a record player.

Across the room is your little brother, a demanding tyke who views Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the same reverential light as the Library of Congress sees a reel of Citizen Kane footage. And there’s mum, who is quite keen on something with ‘that nice Bill Nighy’ in it. Dad says Die Hard or he’s going upstairs.

If this ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style home entertainment scenario sounds frighteningly familiar, allow us to unwrap what is really driving your choice of festive comfort viewing and prescribe some potential cures. 

The 50 best Christmas movies of all time ranked.

  • Film
  • Comedy

You don’t care what the cynics say, this unashamedly cheesy, multi-stranded snog-athon is your festive fave – and it’s a culture war you’re prepared to tool up for. Sure, you hold your nose during the Kris Marshall bits and you’ve always struggled to justify how a man who two-times his own best mate can possibly be held up as a romantic hero, but deep down you reckon that it’s all nitpicking when there’s 78 other cheery Richard Curtis subplots to pick from. And, no, you don’t want to hear about The Holiday. The Holiday is for the weak.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Whenever someone raises the is-Die-Hard-a-Christmas-movie debate in the pub you emit the sigh of someone who felt that the issue had been decided back in the mid-2010s and make to head for the bar… before slumping back down and patiently spelling it all out again – right down to the office party, the snow and the Santa hat. ‘And did you know that “Ode to Joy” is a Christmas carol in Japan?’ you’ll continue, failing to register the blank expressions and glances at watches around the table. Your love of Die Hard is well-founded, but it’s turning you into the pub bore. 

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  • Film
  • Drama

You are a staunch traditionalist, and each of your holiday rituals happen like clockwork, no matter. Dinner is on the table at 5. One present can be opened on Christmas Eve, at 6.30. The annual screening of It’s a Wonderful Life commences at 8, with the first scheduled teardrop at 8.40. By 9pm, each of your family members have wondered whether life would be better if you were never born. All is forgiven by your third helping of eggnog at 10pm, because everyone knows you’re about to fall asleep on the couch at 10.11, just like last year and the year before.

  • Film

Nobody ever gets your Ron Burgundy references, but Christmas represents that magical time of year when you can scream-quote a Will Ferrell movie, and you’re going all in on it. ‘Son of a nutcracker,’ you excitedly yell each time a new guest arrives at dinner. You refer to kids as ‘cotton-headed ninny nuggets’ and annoyed adults as ‘angry elves.’ The person sitting next to you will later complain of sore ribs after an entire night of being elbowed. 

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  • Film
  • Family and kids

You will have the same conversation about how excited you are about the 20th anniversary reunion special – ‘I hope it’s better than Friends,’ you say – at least five times before you queue up the Harry Potter film. For the next 20 hours, you will alternate between spouting off unwelcome Hogwarts trivia, diatribes about ‘separating the art from the artist’ and loudly shushing anyone else who dares speak. You are terrified to go to the restroom for fear that your Tolkien-nerd cousin will seize control of the TV and put on the extended-cut DVD of The Fellowship of the Ring

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

You’re looking for something cockle-warming and delightful to pass a winter’s evening. You pick an animation. Tom Hanks is in it. You gather the family around the TV and hit play. So far, so good. But quickly something seems wrong – off even. The train conductor in the movie has human features but his eyes… they’re soulless, blank voids, gateways to a great emptiness that threatens to draw you in and leave you drifting for a thousand years. Welcome to The Polar Express. If you’re still glued to the screen, you’re either a train buff or some kind of weird mo-cap completist.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

Watching this film as an adult child of the ‘90s prompts you to either ironically recycle somebody else’s theory that Kevin McAllister grew up to be Saw’s Jigsaw, or to unironically assert that the Wet Bandits would never have gotten this far if the world embraced Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. Either way, you recently cried in public when John Williams’s score came on over the PA while you were doing your Christmas shopping. 

  • Film
  • Comedy

In 2016, you declared via a lengthy Facebook post that Lost in New York is better than the first Home Alone. You went on to claim that the sequel is ‘one of the best movies ever made, period’, and that it would be the all-time highest-grossing film if the fake news wasn’t lying about the box office returns in favour of some climate-change propaganda called Avatar. Your 2021 Christmas card features a picture of you and a guy wearing a buffalo pelt sitting at Nancy Pelosi’s desk.

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A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Film

Into this melancholy seasonal staple? Chances are you have impeccable taste in jazz, but also an unfortunate habit of bringing up climate change and news of new Covid mutations as everybody sits down to dinner. After you skip dessert (what’s the point in dessert?), you drive home listening to Vince Guaraldi then seek solace Charles Schulz’s Peanutperennial, wondering if Charlie Brown’s sad little tree is slumping because it’s secretly dying. 

  • Film

If Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 winter warmer – aka the Bergman Holiday Special – is your pick of festive viewing, you’re either a hardened cinephile who is expecting Santa to drag large swathes of the Criterion Collection down the chimney this year or you’re buying yourself some space from the wee’uns currently tearing around the living room. At 197 minutes long and full of small children in shorts dealing with traumatic family scenarios, it’s a film heavyweight’s choice of festive movie and the perfect child-deterrent.

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  • Film
  • Comedy

You almost certainly had at least three drinks before you left home, and you will even more certainly be encouraged to take a cab home from dinner after you return from your third smoke break asking when Uncle Pete is arriving, despite the fact that you attended his funeral four years ago. But you’ll tip that cab driver well because it’s Christmas, motherfu*ker. 

Gremlins
  • Film
  • Fantasy

Your actual favourite Christmas movie is Black Christmas, but the last time you showed it at the family Christmas party was also the last time Aunt Milly talked to you. You’ve compromised by insisting on Joe Dante’s horror-comedy as your Christmas counterprogramming: it’s got plenty of fun and delight, plus a high body count, including that old lady that kind of looks like Aunt Milly. You’ve got a copy of The Nightmare Before Christmas in your backpack just in case there’s another incident. 

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White Christmas
  • Film

‘They don’t make them like this anymore,’ you whisper into your hot cocoa as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye go tap-dancing across the screen while your kids look at their phones. The most recent Christmas movie you have seen is 1983’s A Christmas Story. You found it crass.

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