Maria Barillaro, Robert Liwanag and Brett Walther, readersdigest.ca
Looking for festive fun? We’ve got your holiday watch list covered.
The best Christmas movies ever made
Christmas is all about great food, family time, and of course, presents. But let’s not forget the time-honoured tradition of vegging out in front of the TV with your favourite Christmas movies. Here are 15 flicks that complete your holiday, and offer a great excuse to kick back, relax and sip on some eggnog.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Seriously, did you really think anything other than It’s a Wonderful Life would take the top spot in our roundup of the best Christmas movies of all time? This 1946 fantasy drama is the father of all holiday flicks, and one of the bonafide classics of Hollywood’s Golden Age (despite being snubbed for Best Picture). America’s most decent person, George Bailey (James Stewart, in his greatest role) is about to commit suicide on Christmas Eve, but is saved by angel Clarence Odbody, who shows him how life would’ve turned out for the people around him if he hadn’t been born. It’s the ultimate feel-good story of family and redemption. Do yourself a favour and watch it… right now.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The first television special based on cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s legendary comic strip sees the titular hero feeling the holiday blues and questioning the true meaning of everyone’s favourite day of the year. With the help of the Peanuts gang, Charlie plans to direct his own Nativity play. ABC has shown A Charlie Brown Christmas every year since its original broadcast in 1965, making it the longest-running animated TV special in history—and it’s no wonder why!
A Christmas Story (1983)
Coasting heavily on the nostalgia factor, A Christmas Story, is as corny as it gets, but captures the spirit of being a kid during the holidays better than any film to date. Set in the 1950s U.S. Midwest, nine-year-old Ralphie’s quest to land an “Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle” is the stuff of childhood fantasy, and brings a warm and fuzzy feeling to any grownup with a yuletide soft spot. Just don’t forget, you’ll shoot your eye out!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The 1964 television special is just as iconic as the song and poem it was based on. A stop-motion classic for the ages, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, finds little Rudy struggling to find acceptance among Santa’s little helpers in Christmastown. With the help of an exiled elf and a grizzled prospector—as well as some memorable musical numbers—Rudolph battles the Abominable Snow Monster and saves Christmas. Its message was as important in 1964 as it is today: be yourself, and surround yourself with people who embrace the qualities that make you unique.
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Released in the United Kingdom under the title Scrooge, director Brian Desmond Hurst’s adaptation of the classic Dickens novella is one of the most cherished Christmas movies ever made. Played to cold-hearted perfection by the inimitable Alastair Sim, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come and given one last chance at redemption.
Die Hard (1988)
Before you say this shouldn’t be on a list of Christmas movies, stop and think about it: Die Hard is about an office Christmas party hijacked by some very naughty Euro-trash terrorists. Then, from the rooftop there arose machine gun clatter, and down comes Bruce Willis to dish out carnage and splatter. He makes a naughty or nice list, then checks off each one, and proceeds to hand out Christmas presents to ruin the terrorists’ fun. If that’s not a compelling enough argument, Die Hard’s status as an all-time great action-thriller should be enough of a reason for you to give this classic a spin.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Grand dame Barbara Stanwyck is utterly charming in this uproarious 1945 Christmas Classic. As a Martha Stewart-esque journalist who’s actually a miserable fraud, Stanwyck’s utter lack of hosting (and housekeeping) skills are at risk of being unveiled when her publisher invites himself to her (utterly fictitious) holiday festivities. Hilarity ensues as Stanwyck improvises as a happy housewife, with the added complication of a potential Christmas romance in the form of a visiting vet (Dennis Morgan).
Home Alone (1990)
The John Hughes-written Home Alone remains a classic for multiple reasons: Macaulay Culkin is charming as heck, and his bone-crunching booby-traps speak to the inner sadist in all of us; Angels With Filthy Souls is the most entertaining movie-within-a-movie ever; and Home Alone features hilarious performances by Canadian SCTV-alums, Catherine O’Hara and John Candy. If you didn’t get any of those references, stop what you’re doing and watch Home Alone right now, it’s a classic!
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Leave it to the master of melancholy, Tim Burton, to turn a Christmas movie into a spook-fest featuring a werewolf, vampires and a singing skeleton. If you can get over the fact that The Nightmare Before Christmas mostly takes place in Halloween Town (yes, that’s what it’s called), then you’ll find a brilliantly animated, charmingly written holiday musical with a spooky twist. FYI: Given that it features the kidnapping and torture of Santa Claus, you might want to refrain from showing this to your youngest tots.
Transcending it’s (very) silly premise, Elf works holiday magic, especially if you appreciate Will Ferrell’s brand of over-the-top slapstick. The story of a human baby raised in the magical world of Santa’s workshop, Elf plays up Ferrell’s man-child side with delightful aplomb (especially when he journeys into real-world New York to track down his biological father). It won’t provoke much thought, but Elf is an overload of sugary-sweet holiday cheer, and a showcase for Ferrell’s hilarious comedic chops.
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon made Mel Gibson an international star, solidified Danny Glover as one of Hollywood’s most reliable actors, and pioneered the “buddy cop” genre. Oh, it’s also one of the funniest, most thrilling and most violent Christmas movies ever! The premise is pure Hollywood: two mismatched LAPD detectives team up to solve a crime that proves to be way more than either bargained for. You could argue that it hasn’t dated well (Mel Gibson’s hair is laughable), but Lethal Weapon is still fun after all these years.
Even if you haven’t seen Gremlins, chances are you know the story: impossibly cute creatures called Mogwai turn into havoc-wrecking monsters and terrorize a small town, leaving only a reluctant hero (Zach Gilligan) and his crush (Phoebe Cates) to save the day. What does this all have to do with Christmas? Not much, but there’s no denying that Gremlins is an original, hilarious and horrifying romp that just happens to take place at Christmas.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
From your redneck cousins to the in-laws that won’t go away, Christmas is often spent in the company of family you would just as soon leave at the airport. It’s this element that makes National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation so funny: It’s relatable. As Clark Griswold, Chevy Chase’s determination to get his “old-fashioned family Christmas” perfect is a struggle most people can relate to, even though you may drive yourself mad in the process. Granted, most people’s Christmas tree won’t catch fire, but Christmas Vacation reminds us of how much can go hilariously wrong during the holidays. Really, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Scrooged is a hilarious modern-day take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with Bill Murray’s cold-hearted TV-exec, Frank Cross, taking the place of Ebenezer Scrooge. Key differences between Scrooged and the original story include: A fired underling who storms his boss’s office with a shotgun, a ghoulish, martini sipping-version of Jacob Marley, and a trip back to Cross’ childhood courtesy of a crazed, supernatural New York cabbie. Scrooged is a black comedy with a heart of gold, and a holiday classic that shouldn’t be missed.
White Christmas (1954)
The granddaddy of all Christmas flicks, White Christmas is nothing short of iconic. Bookending the film—it’s sung by Bing Crosby in the opening scene in war-torn Europe and reprised in the showstopping finale—Irving Berlin’s titular tune is arguably the best Christmas song of all time, and the rest of the film’s score is no slouch, either. Classics like “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Snow,” and “Sisters” keep the sweet storyline moving, and stars Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen have a chemistry that modern-day Hollywood productions simply can’t seem to replicate. Nostalgic and sentimental—without being saccharine—this is truly something special, and a Christmas tradition worth cherishing.