It’s the most wonderful time of the year—but is it the most wonderful time at the movies? Christmas films have a shaky reputation, conjuring up images of apple-cheeked brats, poorly animated reindeer and Bing Crosby in a cardigan. But the best Christmas movies have so much more to offer: In our list, you’ll find psychopathic Santas, machine-gun-toting terrorists and home-invading thieves. Traditionalists shouldn't worry, though: We've also included all the cockle-warming sentiment, feel-good frolics and classic Christmas movies for kids we demand for our festive viewing. So roast a chestnut, nog an egg and settle in with some cookies and milk to Time Out’s top Christmas movies—our cinematic sack is bulging with goodies.
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Either unbearable schmaltz or a heart-warmer, depending on who you ask. Love is certainly all around in this ensemble drama set during the holiday season: Even a school nativity play is an opportunity for romance. Comic standouts include Bill Nighy as an aging rock legend who’s reduced to competing in the race to land Britain's coveted Christmas No. 1.
Joyeux Noël (2005)
The WWI Christmas truce of 1914 is the poignant setting for this snowy heart-warmer in which Scottish, French and German soldiers drop their weapons and agree on a ceasefire. Daniel Brühl and Diane Kruger costar.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Beloved 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 appearances. Romantic complications ensue.
Robert Zemeckis sprinkled his family-friendly magic on this performance-capture animated movie starring Tom Hanks in multiple roles, including narrator, train conductor and Santa Claus. The film ticks a lot of boxes for Christmas fanatics, including reindeer, elves and a whole heap of snow.
Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz swap houses for Christmas and conveniently meet Jack Black and Jude Law, respectively. There’s romance, there’s an unfeasibly large country cottage and there are light laughs from an attractive cast. This is the kind of slushy movie you can get away with watching simply because it’s Christmas.
While actually a Thanksgiving-themed comedy, John Hughes’s film has a festive, family feel that’s made it a Christmas favorite. Pitting Steve Martin’s uptight traveler against John Candy’s optimistic salesman, it blends slapstick and innuendo with classic character humor. Just the thing for an egg-nog-saturated afternoon.
A girl finds one of Santa’s magical reindeer in this cute live-action kids’ film starring Sam Elliott as the gruff, grieving father of eight-year-old Jessica (Rebecca Harrell), who’s obsessed with Christmas. Jessica’s optimism will teach the town a thing or two about the true spirit of the season.
This musical is the ultimate ’40s feel-good flick as Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby sing and dance their way into 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 a Best Song Oscar for the now iconic “White Christmas.”
Christmas may have been white, but Irving Berlin’s musical was in Technicolor. Inspired by Holiday Inn, this follow-up could not be more Christmassy if it tried (and it probably did). Snow, singing and romance all add up to a massive box-office hit that would run forever on TV.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
This Oscar-nominated Disney short casts Mickey as Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck as his selfish boss, while Goofy, Jiminy Cricket and other familiar characters morph into the various ghosts. A nifty blending of Disney favorites with the Dickens classic.
Babes In Toyland (1934)
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, a TV favorite throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
’R Xmas (2001)
Back in the early 2000s, the great New York director Abel Ferrara couldn't get arrested in Hollywood—which might explain why hardly anyone knows about this intense, gritty but surprisingly festive gangsta thriller starring Ice-T and The Sopranos Drea De Matteo.
Christmas plays a central part in this charming British comedy: Grumpy Will (Hugh Grant), living off the proceeds of the Christmas song his father wrote, discovers the value of family through his friendship with young Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Not as schmaltzy as it sounds.
Or, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and It Turned Me Into a Raving Psychopath. This genuinely odd, compelling and subversive low-budget slice ’n’ dice, about a toymaker who takes revenge on those who betray the true spirit of Christmas, was named by director John Waters as “the best seasonal film of all time.”
Sandra Bullock saves the life of stranger Peter Gallagher on Christmas Day. While he’s comatose, she lets his family continue under the misapprehension that she’s his fiancée. Meanwhile, his brother (Bill Pullman) smells a rat. Cute chemistry and family cheer.
Bridget (Renée Zellweger) thinks she might have met the man of her life (Colin Firth), but spots him wearing a hideous Christmas sweater. This seasonal wardrobe error plays a pivotal part in a sharp romantic comedy, one that also features fellow festive favorite Hugh Grant.
Michael Caine as Scrooge, Gonzo the Great as Charles Dickens, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit—just three of many reasons to love this witty, warm-hearted take on the immortal story. Despite the presence of Muppets, it is (believe it or not) one of the more faithful versions of the book.
Another terrific alternative to your traditional Christmas fare, this action-thriller sees soccer mom Geena Davis suddenly recalling her past as a trained assassin and racing into danger with private investigator Samuel L. Jackson—all against a snowy festive backdrop.
Quaint 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.
A cozy, child-friendly Christmas treat, this faithful adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s novel sees its young kids entering an eternally snowy Narnia through the wardrobe, and encountering Father Christmas—while the villainous White Queen (Tilda Swinton) lurks with evil intent.
Eight women gather to celebrate Christmas in a snowy cottage, but all fall under suspicion when a man is found murdered. French filmmaker François Ozon’s dark comedy-musical is a delight, with an impressive roll call of actresses including Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart and Fanny Ardant.
Tim Burton’s foray into the Batman franchise is a crisp, darkly comic classic with a striking turn from Michelle Pfeiffer as a slinky Catwoman. Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito are chief villains for Michael Keaton’s caped crusader, while Gotham just wants to have a normal Christmas. Some hope.
Small-time crook Robert Downey Jr. hits Hollywood in this witty crime comedy featuring a memorable turn from Val Kilmer as a private investigator hired to give the wannabe actor background for a role. There are as many complications as belly laughs, while Michelle Monaghan puts in a break-out turn in a sexy Santa costume.
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.
Christmas is a time of both joy and fear for Edward (Johnny Depp) after he and his new host family are ostracized from the community. It’s a typically bittersweet story from Tim Burton which, with Danny Elfman’s score, has a magical festive feel: just picture Winona Ryder dancing around that ice sculpture.
The top 10
Tim Burton’s second foray into the Batman franchise is a crisp, darkly comic classic with a striking turn from Michelle Pfeiffer as a slinky Catwoman. Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito are chief villains for Michael Keaton’s caped crusader, while Gotham just wants to have a normal Christmas. Fat chance.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
“Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” wails Charlie Brown in this anticonsumerist cartoon that sees the anxious kid nursing an ailing Christmas tree and learning the value of cooperation. Unlike many festive favorites, this one actually features the Biblical passage about the birth of Christ. It's short but very sweet.
Small-time crook Robert Downey Jr. hits Hollywood in this satirical crime comedy featuring a memorable turn from Val Kilmer as a private investigator. There are as many complications as belly laughs, while Michelle Monaghan has a breakout scene in a sexy Santa costume.
The Snowman (1982)
Raymond Briggs’s book came to life once a year throughout many British childhoods, as this animated film was shown on TV with religious precision. Nominated for an Oscar, the short 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.
Christmas is a time of both joy and fear for Edward (Johnny Depp) after he and his new family are ostracized from the community. It’s a typically bittersweet story from Tim Burton, yet Danny Elfman’s swirling score lends it a magically festive feel: Just picture Winona Ryder dancing around that ice sculpture.
Home Alone is such a perfect kids’ fantasy, it’s a wonder nobody thought to do it earlier. Parents go on vacation, forget one of the kids. He can eat ice cream and watch movies as much as he likes, before getting the chance to invent some booby traps to catch burglars. Four sequels followed.
“Why don't you wish in one hand and shit in the other? See which one fills up first.” Billy Bob Thornton’s drunk, grouchy, and thoroughly profane department-store Santa is the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas movies. Amazingly, though, this film sneaks in some authentic heart behind the gags and sex.
A gift to Christmas TV programmers, this comedy makes full use of Will Ferrell’s man-child charm by casting him as a naive human raised by elves and thrown into a cynical modern-day NYC. Highlights include a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with an unwitting Zooey Deschanel as she sings in the shower.
A moving tribute to the power of the individual, Frank Capra’s snowy classic is a true delight, as entertaining as it is message-driven. James Stewart puts in the performance of a lifetime as a potential suicide who’s given a chance to look at his accomplishments with fresh eyes. Merry Christmas, George!