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Our Picks Of The 10 Best Christmas Movies Of All Time

Photograph of the blog post author, Alex Thompson

Alex Thompson

2.12.2020

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It is officially ‘that’ time of year again! We review our picks of the 10 best Christmas movies ever! 

best christmas movies

Although Mistletoe might be replaced by masks, and stockings might be filled with sanitiser. One thing will be staying the same, and that’s the wonderful world of Christmas movies! A genre that has stayed ever-present, from the day the very first Christmas film “Santa Claus” was created in 1898. 

Everybody has their favorites. From gorgeous animation, to bittersweet family moments, and gut busting comedy. Christmas films, although varying in tone and genre, always embody the same Christmas spirit. 

Considering we will all be at home this year, Netflix might be the most popular place to go. Other than the treasured DVD at the back of the cabinet that only comes out once a year! So as well as naming our 10 best Christmas movies of all time, we will also name a few bonus treats from Netflix’s ever expanding catalogue! 

The Polar Express (2004) 

scene from polar express

The Polar Express is just about as magical as it gets. It may well be one of the best kids Christmas movies. 

A young boy takes a giant and surreally beautiful steam train all the way to the north pole, and makes plenty of friends along the way. 

This film shines brightest in its visuals. Where, despite some of the characters being stuck in that early 200’s CGI – in which they just look not quite real and not quite cartoonish enough, this film is a visual wonder on screen. By far one of the best animated Christmas movies ever. 

The golden, glowing windows of the train hurtling across ice, mountains. And the victorian style city of the North Pole is unmistakable. A true marvel to look at, even more impressive when considering this film was the first ever, to be made entirely with CGI. 

This film also excels in its musical score, in which Alan Sylvestri curated a grand and magical sound. That seems to heighten the tense moments and bring the warmth of a kindling fire to the magical moments. 

This animated wonder also has some of the best “mild peril” ever put to film. With ‘that scene on the ice’ being one of the best animated sequences. Not just in a Christmas film, but in any film at all! 

There is a sense of magic to this film unlike so many of the others on this list. Here there is no witty joke after Santa talks, or “wink-wink nudge-nudge” moments for the parents. Just pure, unadulterated (literally) Christmas . 

Elf (2002) 

elf best christmas movies

Elf is so much fun and definitely one of the best family Christmas movies. There is hardly a moment that goes by that doesn’t involve some silly, heartwarming moment of family coming together. 

Will Ferrel’s endearing performance as Buddy the elf, who isn’t really an elf, is excellent. With Buddy being maybe the most blissfully unaware and naive character ever made. Although a simple watch, Elf is so much about childhood and maturity. Buddy, the exuberant protagonist leaves his cozy, warm and fun home, for the harsh reality of New York. Where the people, his own father included, are bitter and worn. 

Elf is also one of the most rewatchable films on this list, as the gags seem to never get old. Like Buddy’s chance meeting with Miles Teller (Peter Dinklage) and accidental reference to him as an elf. It’s this kind of futile, and harmless humour that carries this film as a family classic. We watch Buddy fall in love with the people around him, and his family – which is what Christmas is all about. 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York! 

home alone 2

That’s right, we’re back in the big apple for this one, and maybe to some controversy. The war between whether Home Alone 1 or 2 is better has been waged in households for years, since this classic sequel was released in 1992.

The star of the show, Macaulay Culkin as the mischievous Kevin MacCallister returns for this installment and steals the show once again. Although with some fierce competition from the movie’s antagonists, The Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). Who take an almighty beating as a result of Kevins’s ingenious self defence plans. 

For this film, Kulkin became the highest ever paid 12 year old for a film raking in a sweet $4,500,000 for this performance. But given the conditions of the shoot, it seems he earned every bit of that gobsmacking amount.

With the temperatures sometimes diving so low on set that the cameras themselves froze over, and were unable to film! Home Alone 2 is full of cheekiness and sometimes, moments that make you flinch.

And although maybe less of a wholesome family experience than the first installment, these sequels ramp up in action. And turning off the dial from the previously mentioned “mild peril” to outright “peril” is definitely for the better in this, what can only be described as a romp. 

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) 

best christmas movie grinch

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is strange, no doubt. But where The Polar Express previously opted for all animation, The Grinch opts for prosthetics and real life props and movie sets, to create its surreal, almost dream-like experience. 

The prosthetics in fact, took over three hours a day to apply. They forced Jim Carey, who plays the titular character, to require training from a former CIA operative about how to endure torture. This was due to this repetitive, painful and grueling process which Carey himself described as ‘being buried alive every day’.

Despite this, Jim Carey puts on a brilliant performance unsurprisingly. Proving yet again that he has the best facial expressions and contortions in all of cinema. Which makes the Grinch seem like an exaggeration of a villain, with a soft core in the middle. 

The soundtrack for this festival of festivity is just about as chaotic and crazy as the film’s visuals. With songs from Busta Rhymes and N’Sync, not forgetting Smash mouth too. All of which comprise a smattering of songs about as strange as The Grinch’s yellowish eyes.

What isn’t as strange however, is the late James Horner’s horn-filled score. Which gives even more life and menace to some of the Grinch’s consistently funny ramblings to himself. Ron Howard does a great job in the directors chair, despite this Christmas flick originally being intended for Tim Burton, which seems very unsurprising. Leaving one to wonder just how much wilder this movie could have gotten in the hands of the director. Who is famous for his dark and warped films. Who knows, it could have been one of the best Christmas horror movies ever. 

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) 

miracle on 34th street

A remake of the 50’s classic. This reimagining almost half a decade later is made so special with its fantastic cast of convincing characters. Most particularly Richard Attenborough who is maybe the best Santa on this entire list.

He is Kris Kringle, a department store Santa who slowly starts to reveal signs he might be the real thing. He works in Macy’s, although surprisingly, Macy’s refused to allow the film to use their brand name! 

Mara Wilson (of Matilda fame) also is brilliant as the softly spoken Susan Walker who sticks by Santa’s side despite the trials and tribulations they face throughout the movie. Julio Macat, the film’s cinematographer explained that he wanted to give this movie the warm feel of the original classic, by backlighting many characters. Especially Santa, with a warm glow, to create that soft dreamlike look. 

This film is one that is based more in reality than almost any other on this list. It is one of the best classic Christmas movies. With shopping, family disputes and court all making appearances. But somehow, not taking away from this film’s gently inspiring and hopeful tone. 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 

its a wonderful life best christmas movie

A film that began with a postcard. Philip Van Dorren Stern had written a short story that had received far less traction than he had wanted from any sort of publisher. Then, the filming rights were purchased for $10,000 and the rest was history! 

James Stewart and Donna Reed star in this classic tale of melancholy and ultimately, recovery.  At a time of year that brings George Bailey closer to his family than ever before, thanks to the life-saving advice of an angel. 

Not only is this film groundbreakingly heartwarming, but also technically groundbreaking too. As previous to this film, cornflakes had been used as the sound effects for snow in Hollywood movies. 

However now, the sound design team decided to mix fire lighting chemicals with soap and water. They then pumped it with high pressure through a wind machine to create the sound effect. This method was revolutionary. It meant the audio of dialogue could now be recorded live, and the actors would not need to dub it over in post. 

3 Godfathers (1948) 

3 godfathers scene

John Wayne stars in this western re-telling of a Christmas story as three fugitives carry a baby across the desert to a town called New Jerusalem. That’s right, you heard us, a western Christmas film. Not only does it star the iconic John Wayne, but also directed by John Ford, the master of the western.

Like so many other ford classics, this film is a joy to look at. With gorgeous sprawling wide shots and the trademark, Ford long takes. Now, this film may be the least Christmassy film on this list. But, it is an excellent alternative for those who love grit in the place of festive smoltz! 

Bad Santa (2003) 

bad santa scene

Now, this film is definitely NOT one for the whole family. A Christmas film that is truly mean-spirited, as-well-as Christmas spirited. 

This flick stars Billy-Bob Thornton as a conman. Who seeks to con shopping malls for some extra money by posing as Santa. It might be one to leave for the adults. 

A fun fact about this dirty and dark film, the title for the Czech release is actually “Santa is a Pervert”. Maybe so, but still, this title is a little blunt don’t you think? Although this film definitely takes adult to the extreme, there’s some warm sentimentality to be had in Thornton’s relationship with Thurman Merman. He was a bullied kid who tries to instill a little bit of Christmas spirit into this deadbeat Santa. 

Arthur Christmas (2011) 

arthur christmas scene

For something more recent, Arthur Christmas is a great bed. Created with passion by Aardman Animations (Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep) this animated movie is a funny look at the insides of the Claus family, particularly Santa’s son Arthur (James McAvoy). 

Here we see the age old question of “Just how does Santa deliver all those presents in one night?” answered with some unique and most particularly fresh flair. This film feels like something different for the Christmas film market. Rather than any kind of status quo holiday movie. 

Director Sarah Smith stated that she wanted the design of the characters to look less like glossy animated creations, and more unique, yet every-day-looking British people. The vocal performances are all stellar. With Bill Nighy’s raspy tones fitting the part of GrandSanta, a man who has passed the mantle down from generation to generation. The question is, can Arthur earn that prestigious title of Father Christmas? 

The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) 

the muppets christmas carol scene

How could we leave this one out? It’s one of the best old Christmas movies! In one of his self proclaimed “most memorable” roles, Sir Michael Caine played Ebeneezer Scrooge. The classic grump who has no love in his heart, especially at Christmas time. 

Caine told the director prior to the shoot that he was planning to play Scrooge as if there were no muppets around him, and that he was working with the Royal Shakespeare company. Needless to say, it works wonders, with songs, festive spirit and cookie monsters galore. 

This is the very first muppet movie where Kermit the Frog doesn’t star as the official lead. Which marks an exciting change of pace for the expertly puppeteered franchise. Speaking of firsts, this Christmas classic is also the directorial debut of filmmaker Brian Henson, (much to the apparent surprise of Michael Caine).  And with this holiday treat receiving positive reviews almost across the board, what better Christmas present could he have asked for?

Bonus Round: The Best Christmas Movies on Netflix 

Out of all of our picks on this list, the only one on Netflix is Arthur Chrisrtmas. So, for some quick fire streaming suggestions, here you go: 

Love, Actually

One of the best romantic Christmas movies to exist. The ultimate festive rom-com follows love in a multitude of scenarios. Whether that be familiar or in a relationship, as the huge cast of characters approach Christmas in London. Watch this one for some slightly raunchy, slightly emotional Christmas -time fun. 

Bojack Horseman Christmas Special – Sabrina’s Christmas Wish

Ah Bojack, television’s most brutally emotional cartoon horse. With this festive showing being no different. Bojack and his Mischievous living mate Todd (Aaron Paul) watch an old episode of Bojack’s sitcom, from back in the 90’s, Horsin’ Around. 

Watch this one for some excellent dark humour and some ever-potent melancholy. For sure one of the best funny Christmas movies!

Klaus

This one is another treat for the eyes. The unique 2D animation style of Klaus with its brilliantly developed town of Smeerensburg “The most unhappy place in the world”. 

Here, a deadbeat postman and a mysterious old toymaker called Klaus team up to deliver toys all around the town. They seek to turn the attitudes of its populace from grumpy, to selfless. Watch this for some oscar-nominated, light-hearted family fun. 

The Wrap-Up

christmas scene

Our picks of the 10 best Christmas movies ever are right there, laid out underneath the Christmas tree. From jolly to joyless, these Christmas films are all a brilliant watch in their own way. 

It’s near impossible to pick one as the individual best Christmas film as everybody has that one flick that is close to their heart. Whether they grew up watching it, or it reminds them of a special person or time in their life. 

If we were going for a magical mood and stunning visuals, we’d pick The Polar Express. For a classic tale, maybe It’s A Wonderful Life. But, as an all-around Christmas film with a little bit of everything, comedy, festivity, family fun, and emotional moments. The best choice this year might just have to be Elf. 

Whatever your pick for the 10 best Christmas movies is this year, make sure to watch it with copious amounts of mince pies and mulled wine in hand! Hopefully, at least one of your favourites are mentioned here, but let us know if we’ve missed out your favourite in the comments below!

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If you liked this article, check out some others on our blog such as the best movies of 2019, best movie franchises and best musical movies! With our concierge and service and extensive music library, allow us to help you find music for your film. Sign up free for Music Gateway now!

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