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The 50 best Christmas movies

From silly Santas to shoot-outs in the snow, here's our pick of the best Christmas films ever

By Time Out Film
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In the last few years, the Christmas movie has made a comeback. Thanks to our insatiable appetite for content, Netflix has hunkered down and produced an avalanche of schmaltzy Christmas rom-coms, many of which inexplicably feature ‘High School Musical’ star Vanessa Hudgens. 

Like a bowl of Christmas pud, some of them might be too much if you’re lacking a sweet tooth. Nevertheless, their influence seems to have rubbed off. Last year gave us ‘Last Christmas’, a London-set festive romantic comedy that made a valiant attempt to dethrone ‘Love Actually’ from its position as the polarising Christmas favourite.

Of course, 2020 will not be packed with Christmas markets or trips to the panto, so you might be after some festive films to keep you entertained this year. With that in mind, we’ve counted down the most charming, entertaining and occasionally even terrifying festive movies. From demonic Santas and home-invading thieves to feelgood fireside frolics, Christmas songsice-skating escapades and enough hot chocolate to drown an elf, our cinematic sack is bulging with treats.

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

Best Christmas movies

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48. The Holiday (2006)

Everything about this Christmas movie in which Jude Law romances Cameron Diaz in a cutesy country cottage shouldn’t work. And yet there’s something deeply charming about this festive romantic comedy. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been bullied into submission by numerous viewings; or perhaps it’s the secondary LA-set plot, which features Kate Winslet on peak form as a scorned British reporter who befriends a forgotten but famous screenwriter from the Golden Age of Hollywood (played by the late Eli Wallach). Either way, like a tub of Quality Street, it’s irresistible.

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Holiday’

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

47. 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’

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Last Christmas
Photograph: Universal Pictures

46. Last Christmas (2019)

Film Romance

Cornball chemistry? A nutsy third-act twist? An improbable chintzy bauble shop run by a blunt-talking character in high-rent Covent Garden? Breaking and entering to go ice-skating? Check, check, check and bloody well check. This Richard Curtis-y-feeling festive rom-com (actually written by Emma Thompson) has all the ingredients for an enduring festive favourite – not least that it was written off as sickly sweet and cheesy when it came out. A true Christmas movie is impervious to snark.

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Christmas in Connecticut, best christmas movies

44. 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’

43. 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’

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42. Love Actually (2003)

Love it or hate it, Richard Curtis‘s festive ensemble has become as much a part of the fabric of the Christmas period as Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas’. Not every plot strand works (see: the odd, unrequited love triangle between Kiera Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln), but it can be wickedly funny, especially Bill Nighy’s turn as an ageing rock legend. It’s also quietly devastating, too: Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s marriage-on-the-rocks plot will leave you in bits.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Love Actually’

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39. Lethal Weapon (1987)

Film Thrillers

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’

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Krampus
Photograph: Universal Pictures

37. Krampus

Film Horror

While it doesn't quite have the bite of ‘Gremlins’, this modern Christmas horror comedy definitely does the job when it comes to festive chills. The Krampus, a demonic anti-Santa creature that happens to be half-goat, has all the hallmarks of a classic B-movie villain, and there's even a horrifying child eating clown. It's a reminder that Christmas with your relatives might not be too bad after all.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Krampus’

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33. A Christmas Tale

Film

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’

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31. Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Film Drama

‘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’

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30. About a Boy (2002)

Film Comedy

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’

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27. Die Hard 2 (1990)

Film Thrillers

‘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’

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26. Holiday Inn (1942)

Film Drama

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’

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arthur christmas
Photograph: Sony Pictures

24. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Film Action and adventure

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’

23. Trading Places (1983)

Film Comedy

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’

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22. You've Got Mail (1998)

Film

Nora Ephron's remake of ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ is a fairytale about warring booksellers is both a dreamy ode to New York's Upper West Side as it is to the power of love. The melancholic Christmas scenes set to Harry Nilsson's ‘Remember’ will make you want to go out ice skating or gift a bunch of children's books, while the chemistry between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks transforms a cheesy into a classic. 

Buy, rent or watch ‘You've Got Mail’

21. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Film Comedy

Hideous Christmas jumpers weren’t always considered cool like they are today. So we can’t blame our protagonist Bridget Jones’s (Renée Zellweger) less than pleasant reaction when she sees her potential love interest, Mark Darcy (a wonderfully stuffy Colin Firth), wearing a sweater with a giant reindeer face on it. It does, however, kick off this sharp romantic comedy-drama about navigating twenty-first-century dating and the pitfalls of having an affair with a caddish, dashing Hugh Grant.

Buy, rent or watch ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’

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18. Carol (2015)

Film Drama

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’

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16. In Bruges (2008)

Film Comedy

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’

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

Film Action and adventure

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’

13. 8 Women (2001)

Film

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’

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scrooged
Photograph: Paramount Pictures

12. Scrooged (1998)

Film

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’

11. Batman Returns (1992)

Film Action and adventure

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’

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8. The Snowman (1982)

Film

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’

Edward Scissorhands
Photograph: 20th Century Fox

7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Film Fantasy

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’

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6. Home Alone (1990)

Film Comedy

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’

5. Gremlins (1984)

Film Fantasy

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’

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Bad Santa
Photograph: Columbia Pictures

4. Bad Santa (2003)

Film Comedy

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’

Die Hard
Photograph: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

3. Die Hard (1988)

Film Action and adventure

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’

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Elf
Photograph: New Line Cinema

2. Elf (2003)

Film

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’

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