The 50 best Christmas movies

We count down our all-time favourite Christmas movies, from silly Santas to shoot-outs in the snow
best christmas movies, Miracle on 34th Street
By Anna Smith, Tom Huddleston and Joshua Rothkopf |

Tis the season to be jolly – unless you’re roaming around a shopping centre attempting to buy all your Christmas presents in less than 12 hours or you're being dragged to some awful, syrupy, schmaltzy festive flick.

Luckily, we’ve got the antidote: every film on this list of Christmas movies is guaranteed to charm, entertain and in the odd case terrify. From psycho Santas and home-invading thieves to feelgood fireside frolics, Christmas songs, ice-skating escapades, and enough hot chocolate to waterboard an elf, our cinematic sack is bulging with treats.

RECOMMENDED: Find more festive fun with our guide to Christmas in London

Best Christmas movies


Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell’s overgrown-child persona hilariously complements this comedy about a guileless giant elf searching for his dad in NYC, but the film’s focus isn’t just on the funny bone. There’s an abundance of heart and soul in the way the story cherishes holiday cheer; in a genre that’s become generically saccharine, this is one modern Christmas movie that’s genuinely sweet.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Elf’

Film, Action and adventure

Die Hard (1988)

As bad Christmas Eves go, few are worse than the one had by NYC cop John McClane (Bruce Willis), whose reconciliation with his estranged wife in an L.A. skyscraper is interrupted by a bunch of machine-gun-toting terrorists. Filled with killer set pieces and a memorably hissable villain (Alan Rickman), John McTiernan’s crowd-pleasing action film is the hard-R gift that keeps on giving.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Die Hard’

Bad Santa
Film, Comedy

Bad Santa (2003)

He drinks like a fish, swears like a sailor and the less said about his sexual proclivities the better. Billy Bob Thornton’s department-store St Nick is the furthest thing from a saint. The fact that Terry Zwigoff’s misanthropic comedy somehow turns this pathetic sad sack into a sympathetic hero – and the movie into a foul-mouthed ode to goodwill to all men – is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Bad Santa’

Film, Fantasy

Gremlins (1984)

Plenty of Christmas presents come with instructions, yet none are as ominous as the following: Never expose to bright light, never add water and, crucially, never feed after midnight. Joe Dante’s horror-comedy turns a well-intentioned gift into a nightmare. Meanwhile, a traumatised Phoebe Cates tells the saddest Christmas story ever.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Gremlins’

Film, Comedy

Home Alone (1990)

Scripted by John Hughes, this is the film that made adorable moppet Macaulay Culkin a star. It’s heavy on the slapstick, but against all odds, a sentimental Christmas streak does shine through, even though Kevin doesn’t seem all that upset that his Paris-bound family has accidentally left him behind for the holidays.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Home Alone’

Romance movie: Edward Scissorhands
Film, Fantasy

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

One of the first Johnny Depp performances to suggest he was more than just a set of cheekbones, the actor’s gothed-out title character is a study in pain and pathos. Tim Burton’s suburban fantasy wouldn’t be nearly as touching without Depp’s sad-eyed hero at its center – or its context of Christmas, a time of acceptance, charity and Winona Ryder dancing around ice sculptures.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Edward Scissorhands’

Film, Family and kids

The Snowman (1982)

Raymond Briggs’s book came to life once a year throughout many childhoods, as the animated film was shown on British TV with religious precision. Nominated for an Oscar, the short film tells of a boy whose snowman magically becomes real – but not forever. Add the haunting song ‘Walking In The Air’ and you have a true Christmas classic.

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Snowman’

Film, Action and adventure

Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton’s second stab at the Caped Crusader is actually a slight improvement on his original 1989 blockbuster, mainly due to Michelle Pfeiffer’s uncommonly fierce performance as Catwoman (the finest work she’s ever done). If you forget, Gotham is dusted with a layer of snow: It’s an especially downbeat Christmas.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Batman Returns’

scrooged, best christmas movies

Scrooged (1998)

Christmas-themed ‘comedies’ like ‘Fred Claus’ not enough of a lobotomy for you? Here’s the flabby, smug, overextended SNL skit that made such movies fashionable in the first place. Still, it must be said that Bill Murray is perfectly cast as a smug corporate TV exec in store for some ghostly comeuppance.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Scrooged’

8 women, best christmas movies

8 Women (2001)

Singing, dancing, over-emoting on Christmas, whatever: When those eight women happen to be Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Virginie Ledoyen, Firmine Richard, Fanny Ardant and Ludivine Sagnier, they’re welcome to do whatever they damn well please.

Buy, rent or watch ‘8 Women’

Film, Action and adventure

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

It might be better known these days for SNL’s classic “Lazy Sunday” skit (‘Pass the chronic – what? – cles of Narnia’), but this snowy Christmas treat based on C.S. Lewis’s novel is, indeed, a dreamworld of magic. There’s both a Father Christmas and a White Witch, the latter played by Tilda Swinton.

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’

Film, Comedy

In Bruges (2008)

Bruges isn’t exactly where hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) was planning to spend the holiday season, but the Belgian town is where he must stay, in the company of his older, wiser counterpart (Brendan Gleeson). The picturesque festive backdrop contrasts neatly with Ray’s bored cynicism.

Buy, rent or watch ‘In Bruges’

The Long Kiss Goodnight, 100 best action movies
Film, Action and adventure

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Geena Davis (married to director Renny Harlin at the time) is a suburban housewife who, during the Christmas holidays, gets into a car accident. When she emerges, she remembers she was once an ass-kicking spy. Samuel L. Jackson plays her sidekick, a private investigator helping her remember her past. This one’s a fun alternative to the usual festive picks.

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’

Film, Drama

Carol (2015)

It’s already become a Christmas classic for especially forward-thinking families. Working for the first time with material developed by another screenwriter, director Todd Haynes transforms an underappreciated 1952 Patricia Highsmith novel about secret lesbian love into a universal romance. Once you’ve seen Rooney Mara in a Santa hat, there’s no turning back.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Carol’

Brazil (1985)
Film, Comedy

Brazil (1985)

Did you forget that Terry Gilliam’s dystopic classic is set around Christmas? Its vision of the future is both hilarious and chilling, blending bits of Monty Python, George Orwell and Harold Pinter into a unique, unforgettable ’80s masterpiece. Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro and Michael Palin are among the cast.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Brazil’

Film, Comedy

Trading Places (1983)

If you’re keen to learn the harsh realities of the global economy but can’t be bothered to trawl through a textbook, this comic satire should do the trick. Eddie Murphy is the streetwise hustler who switches lives with Dan Aykroyd’s preening Wall Street moneybags, only to find himself the victim of a cruel joke played by a pair of vicious aristocrats. 

Buy, rent or watch ‘Trading Places’

Film, Action and adventure

Arthur Christmas (2011)

It’s Christmas every day for Arthur, son of Santa, in the most recently released entry in our countdown. Sarah Smith’s humorous animation sees the clumsy kid leaving the North Pole on a mission, complete with reindeer and comedy elves. James McAvoy and Jim Broadbent provide voices.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Arthur Christmas’

Film, Drama

Holiday Inn (1942)

This musical is the ultimate ’40s cheerer as Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby sing and dance their way into the ladies’ hearts. The set up is pure Broadway: they’re a musical troupe who only perform on holidays, from Easter to Christmas. The film scored an Oscar for the now iconic song ‘White Christmas’.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Holiday Inn’

Film, Thrillers

Die Hard 2 (1990)

‘How could the same shit happen to the same guy twice?’ Sure, it’s bigger, pricier and more bloated than the one that came before it – but that’s what Christmas is all about! Once again, Bruce takes down a terror gang to the tune of twinkly seasonal carols, this time in an airport.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Die Hard 2’

Film, Horror

Christmas Evil (1980)

Before ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night’, there was another horror movie about a psychopath donning a Santa costume and going on a killing spree. This is that movie. John Waters is such a megafan, he even recorded a feature-length commentary for the movie’s Blu-ray re-release in 2014.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Christmas Evil’

Film, Comedy

About a Boy (2002)

Christmas plays a central part in this charming British comedy: grumpy Will (Hugh Grant) is living off the proceeds of the Christmas song his father wrote, and discovers the value of family Christmases through his friendship with young Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Not as schmaltzy as it sounds.

Buy, rent or watch ‘About a Boy’

Film, Drama

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas,’ sang Judy Garland in this cockle-warming musical set against the backdrop of the 1904 World Fair. The breakout song wasn’t originally so cheery, but Garland and her co-stars objected to the cynical tone in lyrics such as: ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas / It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.’ Cheery.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Meet Me in St Louis’


A Christmas Tale

Seething with long-held resentments, an extended French family gathers for the holiday and, as the booze starts to flow, out come the knives. Don’t expect figgy pudding and sentiment: Director Arnaud Desplechin is more interested in open wounds. Paradoxically, this is a great film to watch with your clan, who are undoubtedly in a better place.

Buy, rent or watch ‘A Christmas Tale’

Film, Fantasy

Babes in Toyland

Laurel and Hardy go family-friendly in this fairytale mash-up featuring characters from the stories of Mother Goose, Little Bo Peep and others. The duo play the Toymaker’s Apprentices in this slapstick heartwarmer, which was a Christmas TV favourite throughout the ’60s and ’70s.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Babes in Toyland’

Lethal Weapon, 100 best action movies
Film, Thrillers

Lethal Weapon (1987)

All hail Shane Black, the king of the fast-quipping buddy comedy-thriller, and a man who seems incapable of writing a screenplay without somehow involving Christmas. We’ll meet him again later in our list, but this is where it all started: with two bickering cops on a mission to take down drug dealers. At Christmas.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Lethal Weapon’


Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Better known for its orgies and Cruise-on-Kidman psychodrama, Stanley Kubrick’s final film is also, distinctly, a perverse Christmas tale. Tinseled trees dot several interiors, the whole plot is about wish fulfillment and the last scene takes place in a toy store.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Eyes Wide Shut’

love actually, best christmas movies

Love Actually (2003)

This is either unbearable schmaltz or a festive heart-warmer, depending on who you ask. Love is certainly all around in this ensemble comedy-drama set in the holiday season: even a school nativity play is an opportunity for romance. Comic standouts include Bill Nighy as an ageing rock legend who’s reduced to competing in the race to land a Christmas Number One.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Love Actually’


Black Christmas (1974)

An early slasher with an undeniable impact on future landmarks like ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’, this cult essential takes place on a snowy college campus where sorority sisters find themselves targeted by a creep who lives in the attic. The mood is icy and ominous; it doesn’t lift even after you turn on the lights and warm the eggnog.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Black Christmas’

Christmas in Connecticut, best christmas movies

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Loved for her columns about her wholesome husband and family in Connecticut, Elizabeth (Barbara Stanwyck) is actually a single New Yorker. When asked to host a Christmas dinner by her boss, she must head to Connecticut and keep up the pretence. Romantic complications follow.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Christmas in Connecticut’


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

A television special, sure, but one that’s impossible not to include, Rankin/Bass’s stop-motion adventure wrings tears from nostalgic adults and wonderment from even the youngest viewers. The island of misfit toys will make your wrapping-paper-strewn floor seem like magical terrain.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

The Holiday, best christmas movies

The Holiday (2006)

Cameron Diaz romancing Jude Law in a cutesy country cottage should spell pass-the-sick-bucket, but there’s something unbearably lovely about this festive comedy. It doesn’t hurt that the LA-set secondary plot features Kate Winslet on peak form and Jack Black at his most adorably goofy.

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Holiday’