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The 50 best Christmas movies of all time

’Tis the season for a ranked list of the best Christmas movies of all time, from secret Santas to yuletide horror flicks

By Joshua Rothkopf and Time Out contributors |
Christmas movies: Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone

‘Tis the season to make ranked lists (that’s what December is all about), so we thought we’d take the reindeer by the horns and sift out the best Christmas movies of all time, the ones that give you a lump in the throat. Naturally, our list includes both the naughty and the nice—you’ll find Jimmy Stewart on it, but he might have to wait in line behind Bad Santa’s Billy Bob Thornton. Some of these are action movies, some are blockbusters, all will give you that special winter feeling. One small note: We simply had to add in classic TV specials, not technically movies yet often superior to them. Seasons greetings from Team Film, and may your Netflix queue be stuffed with goodies.

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Best Christmas movies of all time

Christmas movies: A Christmas Story (1983)
Movies, Comedy

A Christmas Story (1983)

The yuletide movie to top them all tells the timeless tale of a suburban boy in the 1940s who only wants a Red Ryder BB gun from Santa—parental protestations (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”) be damned. Though filmed with a good-ol’-days nostalgic glow, director Bob Clark gives the gut-busting proceedings their fair share of tongue-on-flagpole edginess.

Buy, rent or watch A Christmas Story

Bad Santa
Movies, 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 Saint Nick is the furthest thing from being a saint, to say the least. 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 good will toward men—is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

Buy, rent or watch Bad Santa

Christmas movies: Black Christmas (1974)

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 movies: A Christmas Carol (1951)
Movies, Drama

A Christmas Carol (1951)

Charles Dickens’s classic tale has been adapted into everything from a musical to a star vehicle for the Muppets. This British film featuring the incomparable Alastair Sim as converted humbug Ebenezer Scrooge, however, is the definitive version. We dare you not to get a lump in your throat when Glyn Dearman’s Tiny Tim says, “God bless us, one and all.”

Buy, rent or watch A Christmas Carol

Movies, 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 traumatized Phoebe Cates tells the saddest Christmas story ever.

Buy, rent or watch Gremlins

Movies, Action and adventure

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 film 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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