Photograph: © Warner Brothers/ABC Family

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!

By Danielle Valente, Allie Early and Time Out editors
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Drumroll, please: The most wonderful time of the year has arrived, and the best kids' Christmas movies are calling your name. 

Grab a mug of hot chocolate (extra marshmallows and whipped cream) and sit in for a festive marathon with Christmas movies on Netflix (there's a newbie that requires your attention) and classic animated Christmas movies like Frosty the Snowman and A Charlie Brown Christmas

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to Christmas for kids in New York

Celebrating the way we normally do might not be in the cards this year, but if you peruse our December events calendar, you'll find socially distanced Christmas events (like drive-thru Christmas lights) that will make the season merry and bright. 

Happy holidays and best wishes for 2021! 

The best kids' Christmas movies

jingle jangle
jingle jangle
Courtesy: Gareth Gatrell/Netflix

1. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Arguably one of Netflix's most anticipated releases this year, Jingle Jangle did not disappoint. In this film that's soon to be added to the classic Christmas movies canon, we meet a toymaker who takes another shot at his craft all thanks to a little inspiration from his granddaughter. Rated TV-PG. 

Klaus Courtesy Netflix
Klaus Courtesy Netflix
Courtesy Netflix

2. Klaus (2019)

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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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Home Alone

Malcaulay Culkin

© 20th Century Fox
Home Alone

Malcaulay Culkin

© 20th Century Fox
Courtesy 20th Century Fox

3. Home Alone (1990)

Who wouldn't want to spend the holidays in the City of Lights? The McCallister clan is more than ready to leave the burbs behind for Christmas in Paris. But things go slightly awry (to say the least) when the realize one very important item has been left at home: their son Kevin. The youngster has no problem having the digs all to himself—especially since he's watching mature gangster flicks, munching on ice cream for dinner and causing chaos. But a pair of burglars set their sights on the gorgeous home, and soon Kevin is left to fend for himself against Harry and Marv, both of whom need a little help in the crime department. As the saying goes, "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!" Rated PG. 

Elf (2003)
Elf (2003)
(c)2003 Alan Markfield/New Line Productions

4. Elf (2003)

Funnyman Will Ferrell delights in a Christmas flick that has joined the ranks of holiday classics. He plays the overly enthusiastic Buddy the Elf, who realizes he's not quite like his peers in the North Pole—he's actually human! With this new information in mind, he goes on a quest to celebrate the holidays in NYC with his family. Although many people would jump at the chance to spend Christmas in NYC (who could blame them, right?) Buddy isn't quite getting the hang of things in Gotham. If you don't watch this one at least once, all we have to say to you is "Son of a NUT-cracker!” Rated PG.

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nightmare before christmas
nightmare before christmas
Photograph: Courtesy Disney Enterprises Inc.

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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 ahold 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. Rated PG. 

itsawonderfullife
itsawonderfullife
Photograph: Courtesy of IFC

6. 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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the grinch
the grinch
Photograph: Courtesy Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

7. The Grinch (2018)

Dr. Seuss' beloved holiday killjoy returns for another round of curmudgeonly Christmas misery! While the town of Whoville anxiously awaits December 25, the grouchy, green fella 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. 

Una historia de Navidad
Una historia de Navidad
Photograph: Courtesy Hulton Archive

8. 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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How The Grinch Stole Christmas - 1966
How The Grinch Stole Christmas - 1966
Photograph: Mgm Tv/Kobal/Shutterstock

9. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

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. 

Frozen
Frozen
Photogaph: Courtesy Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

10. Frozen (2013)

Ever since she was a girl, Elsa (Idina Menzel), princess of Arendelle, has had literally chilling powers. With a wave of her hand she can cover everything around her in ice and snow. However, when her frosty abilities nearly kill her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa is confined to a room in her castle, not to emerge until she comes of age for her queenly coronation. On that day, unsurprisingly, things go very awry, and the two sisters—with help from a friendly snowman who dreams of spring—must work together to save the kingdom from eternal winter. Plasticine CG animation brings the icy world to life in this Walt Disney musical production, which sparked a nationwide frenzy to scoop up any and all themed merchandise. The almost instantaneous popularity speaks to the film’s success with the peanut gallery—not to mention countless parents who admittedly sang along to Menzel’s showstopping, self-actualizing ballad “Let It Go” more than a few times. Rated PG.

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Photograph: Courtesy CCA & B

11. The Elf On The Shelf Presents: An Elf's Story (2011)

Everyone has found a spot (likely several) for an Elf on the Shelf. The annual visitor is placed in unique situations and acts as a North Pole spy for Santa (hopefully ellicting good behavior, though that's not always a guarantee). Thanks to the newfound tradition's popularity, it has received the holiday movie treatment. In the animated story, we journey alongside Taylor. The young boy hasn't quite embraced the holiday spirit, so Chipey is sent from Santa's workshop to assess the situation. Although tricky at times, Taylor and his new buddy discover the importance of the season together. If you're looking for a little Elf on the Shelf creativity in your own home, check out these awesome ideas

Polar Express (2004)
Polar Express (2004)
Photograph: © Warner Brothers/ABC Family

12. The Polar Express (2004)

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.

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Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros.

13. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1970)

December is a highly anticipated month, largely thanks to Saint Nick's Christmas Eve pilgrimage. In this '70s film—narrated by none other than Fred Astaire—families get a taste of how the Christmas magic comes to be. Expect to learn how reindeers fly, how exactly Santa makes his way down the chimney and even how Mr. and Mrs. Claus were first introduced. D'aww! Despite some scrooges along the way, this sweet story prevails and makes this time of year all the more jolly and bright. Not rated.  

Photograph: Courtesy Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

14. Jack Frost (1998)

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, 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)
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. 

Photograph: Courtesy Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

16. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (1989)

It's Clark Griswold's dream to have the perfect family Christmas, but right from the get-go, it's anything but. Between cranky neighbors, traditions that go awry and, of course, cousin Eddie, it seems that a simple holiday celebration is not in the cards for this family. Note that you'll probably want to save this one for the tweens and teens in your brood. Rated PG-13. 

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FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
FROSTY THE SNOWMAN
Photograph: Courtesy CBS/Classic Media

17. Frosty the Snowman (1969)

The 1950 novelty song popularized by Gene Autry becomes an animated TV special that faithfully details every stanza, from the corn-cob pipe and button nose to the old silk hat that makes the title character dance around—as well as that pesky sunlight that always threatens to turn him into a puddle. Rated G.

arthur christmas
arthur christmas
Courtesy: Sony Pictures

18. Arthur Christmas (2011)

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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JINGLE ALL THE WAY
JINGLE ALL THE WAY
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. 

The Santa Clause - 1994
The Santa Clause - 1994
Photograph: Attila Dory/Walt Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

20. The Santa Clause (1994)

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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charlie brown christmas
charlie brown christmas
Photograph: Courtesy Apple TV+

21. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Good grief, poor Charlie Brown can't seem to get into the holiday spirit like everyone else. No decorations, no lengthy wishlists—he's simply unenthused by the celebrations. But after stepping in as director of a Christmas play, Charlie and the Peanuts gang come to appreciate what the season's truly about. Rated G. 

22. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Poor Rudolph! His bright red nose makes him the target of reindeer bullies who won't let him join in any of their fun. (Sounds like a recipe to get on the naughty list, if you ask us.) But when all is said and done, it seems that he's the one who gets the last laugh when Santa needs a little sleigh guidance on one foggy Christmas Eve. Rated TV-G

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Muppet Christmas Carrol
Muppet Christmas Carrol
Photograph: Courtesy Disney

23. 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. 

scrooge
scrooge
Courtesy Channel 5 Broadcasting

24. 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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nutcracker and the four realms
nutcracker and the four realms
Photo Credit: Laurie Sparham

25. Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

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. 

26. Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (2000)

Jake is preaching to the wrong choir. He can't quite seem to convince his family that his grandmother got run over by a reindeer—the worst type of holiday predicament one can imagine. Will a journey to Santa's workshop be proof enough? Will it explain her disappearance? You've certainly got your work cut out for you, Jake, but we know we can rely on you for a dose of holiday cheer. Rated TV-G. 

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A GARFIELD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
A GARFIELD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL
Photograph: Courtesy CBS/United Features Syndicate

27. A Garfield Christmas (1987)

Oh, Garfield. A typical day consists of snacking, giving Odie a hard time and more snacking, but things change during the holidays. When his owner brings the crew to his visit his parents for a Christmas celebration no one can seem to agree on how to spend their time—a classic predicament during the busiest time of the year. Despite his typical mischevious ways, Garfield manages to get everyone to cooperate and appreciate what December 25 is all about. Not rated.
 

grinch jim carrey
grinch jim carrey
Photograph: Courtesy Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

28. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Move over, Scrooge. This Christmas killjoy and his sidekick Max have stolen hearts year after year. When the Whoville outcast decides to finally embrace the holiday spirit, will his plan backfire? Of course, no comedian is more fitting for the Grinch's portrayl than the hilariously quirky Jim Carrey. Rated PG.

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ACC_2009_Mar26_01183.jpg
ACC_2009_Mar26_01183.jpg
Photograph: Courtesy ImageMovers Digital LLC

29. Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)

Jim Carrey has a knack for landing the role of curmudgeonly holiday killjoy (hello, Grinch!). In this animated recreation of Charles Dickens' famed tale, Scrooge (voiced by the funnyman) gets a wake-up call from three Christmas spirits. Rated PG. 

FROZEN
FROZEN
Photograph: Courtesy Disney

30. Olaf's Frozen Adventure (2017)

Did you really think we'd be able to pull off a Christmas list without the mention of Frozen? Join our snow queen Elsa and her sis Anna as they try to figure out how to establish new holiday tradtions—with the help of their snowman sidekick, of course. Rated G. 

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thomas tank engine christmas
thomas tank engine christmas
Photograph: Courtesy Mattel

31. Thomas and Friends: The Christmas Engines (2014)

Either you're a Thomas the Tank Engine family, or you're not. This hour-long movie is for those of you in the train community—your little engineer will be riveted by these five short stories linked by a Christmas theme. Not rated.

32. A Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Christmas without Santa? Perish the thought! In this '70s flim, Santa visits a doctor and needs to make some changes in his routine (don't we all). That's when he decides Dec 24 is an excellent time to take a vacation...except all the kiddies are waiting for their presents! How will Kris Kringle be convinced that children still need him? Not rated. 

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33. Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July (1979)

The wicked Winterbolt—who is certainly on Santa's naughty list, —awoke from a spell. Now that's he's up, he's ready to put the light out on Rudolph's shiny red nose, which is already getting dimmer. Will Christmas go on with our star reindeer's most beloved feature? Not rated. 

34. 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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35. Kung Fu Panda Holiday (2010)

Po (Jack Black) sets out to restore honor to his village and save the winter festival: What can possibly go wrong? This animated short also features the purring voices of Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman and Seth Rogan. Not rated.

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