The holiday season is the perfect time for watching films; it’s cold outside, our cupboards are stocked with snacks, and there’s nothing quite like a Christmas classic to get you in the festive mood. But trawling through your DVD collection or Netflix library for something to watch can really eat into your viewing time.
So, to offer you some inspiration, we’ve put together a list of 20 of the best Christmas films. From fun, festive rom-coms to movies that put a spin on the Christmas genre, hopefully there’s something here to pique your interest.
1. Love Actually (2003)
From the writer of Notting Hill and Bridget Jones’ Diary, Love Actually follows nine stories of love, loss, and everything in between throughout the festive season.
You’ll laugh following the misadventures of ageing rock star Billy Mack (Bill Nighy), who’s forced to promote a Christmas song that he knows is terrible – and you’ll cry watching dedicated wife Karen (Emma Thompson) deal with the possibility that her husband (Alan Rickman) is cheating on her.
Whatever emotions Love Actually stirs up, you’ll certainly be filled with a whole lot of Christmas spirit, as this well-loved film takes you through London at its most wonderful time of the year.
2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
When the man supposed to be playing Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York is found drunk, an elderly gentleman named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) steps in to fill his boots.
When Kris becomes popular among spectators, he’s asked to play Santa regularly at Macy’s department store. But, when he claims to be the real Santa, a court case ensues that questions both Kris’ authenticity and sanity.
Miracle on 34th Street is a tale that explores what the real spirit of Christmas is all about – and it became such a staple film over the holiday season that it was famously remade in 1994.
3. Home Alone (1990)
When eight-year-old Kevin McAlister’s (Macauley Culkin) family jet off to Paris for Christmas and accidentally leave him behind, he’s initially ecstatic about his newfound freedom.
However, things get complicated when he’s forced to defend his home from Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), a pair of bumbling burglars.
Waiting for his family to return, Kevin rigs the house with a series of elaborate booby traps. What follows is some serious slapstick Christmas fun, as Harry and Marv are constantly outwitted by the wisecracking kid.
In the decades since its release, Home Alone has become a festive favourite for many households worldwide.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Heralded by many as the definitive Christmas film and the defining performance of Jimmy Stewart’s legendary career, no list of festive flicks would be complete without It’s a Wonderful Life.
On the night of Christmas Eve, down-on-his-luck family and businessman George Bailey (James Stewart) contemplates suicide. However, when an angel appears (Robert Carradine), George is taken through a series of visions that show him what the world would’ve been like if he hadn’t been born.
It’s a Wonderful Life follows George’s journey as he learns the value of all the good he’s done – and the wonder of life itself.
5. Die Hard (1988)
When New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) travels to LA hoping to spend the holidays with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), they find themselves caught up in a terrorist plot led by the fearsome Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman).
In an attempt to save his wife and a party of hostages, McClane launches a one-man assault on Gruber and his lackeys.
Since its release in 1988, John McTiernan’s action-thriller Die Hard has sparked debate among film lovers about what makes a Christmas film. Does it need to be about Christmas? Does it need to be set at Christmas? Can action flicks truly be considered essential Christmas viewing?
If you haven’t seen this 80s classic, or it’s been a while, why don’t you give it a watch this Christmas and decide for yourself?
6. Elf (2003)
When Buddy (Will Ferrel) was an infant, he crawled into Santa’s sack and was accidentally transported to the North Pole. Raised as an elf, he slowly realises that he’s not like the rest of Santa’s little helpers. And when he finds out that he’s human, Buddy travels to New York City in search of his real father.
Elf is one of the films that cemented Will Ferrel as one of the biggest comedy stars of the last few decades. It’s hilarious, feel-good, and a fun, festive watch for all the family.
7. Klaus (2019)
Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), a lazy, unambitious, and entitled young man, is sent to the remote town of Smeerensburg to become the new postman. Tasked with posting 6,000 letters by the end of the year, he wants to get in and out as quickly as possible.
Although, when he gets there, he finds a town at war. The people of Smeerensburg spend most of their days fighting and hurling insults at one another and have little time for posting letters. However, this all changes when he meets Klaus (J.K. Simmons), a reclusive toymaker with a penchant secretly delivering gifts to children.
Klaus is a heartfelt and imaginative re-telling of the origins of Santa Claus. It received such critical acclaim that it was nominated for an Academy Award.
This beautifully animated movie is perfect for children and parents alike.
8. Carol (2015)
Todd Haynes’ 1950s period piece tells the story of a discontent New York department store worker, Therese (Rooney Mara), as she falls in love with Carol (Cate Blanchett), an older woman confined by a loveless marriage.
This adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring. Carol is a tale of love in the face of impossible odds, as the two women must contend with the forces that seek to pull them apart.
While Carol isn’t all tinsel and fairy lights, it’s a good choice for those looking for a poignant and impactful watch this Christmas.
9. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Batman: Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas…Tim Burton must have a special place in his heart for the festive season, as he uses it for the backdrop of some of his most famous films. But Edward Scissorhands might just be the director’s most festive film.
When an elderly woman sits down to tell her granddaughter the tale of why it always snows on Christmas, she recounts the surreal and wacky tale of a boy with scissors for hands.
Rescued from exile in a large, decrepit mansion by door-to-door saleswoman Peg Boggs (Diane Wiest), kind-hearted Edward (Johnny Depp) struggles to fit into regular life. While there are some who welcome him, there are also some who are afraid of him.
A sweet allegory for accepting people despite their differences, Edward Scissorhands put Johnny Depp on the map back in 1990 and is a festive favourite for many.
10. The Snowman (1982)
Based on the illustrated book of the same name by Raymond Briggs, The Snowman has been a Christmas staple in the UK ever since it aired on Channel 4 in 1982.
This short film follows the story of a young boy who makes a snowman, only to discover that it has come alive overnight.
Beautifully animated, with an excellent score from Howard Blake (which features the famous song ‘Walking in the Air’), we follow the pair as they become friends and even take flight across Northern Europe. But, as we find out, some things aren’t meant to last forever.
11. Little Women (2019)
Director Greta Gerwig may not make Christmas the focus of her adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, although it certainly has all the hallmarks of a festive film.
Set over two Christmases in post-Civil War Massachusetts, Little Women tells the story of the four March sisters, tackling themes of sisterhood and what it means to grow up female in a male-dominated world.
Little Women was met with acclaim from critics and audiences alike, in no small part due to the excellent performances of Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, and Laura Dern.
12. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
For a completely different Christmas film experience this year, why not check out Tokyo Godfathers? This animated feature tells the tale of a rag-tag, makeshift family living on the streets of Japan’s capital, who find a baby among the rubbish on Christmas Eve and set out to find its parents.
Unconventional and beautifully animated in traditional anime style (though not appropriate for children), Roger Ebert described the film as “both harrowing and heartwarming”.
Tokyo Godfathers offers a refreshing break from the typical upbeat Christmas narratives, making it a compelling choice for those seeking something different this holiday season.
13. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
In this retelling of the classic Dr Seuss story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is another tale that poses the question: ‘What is Christmas really about?’
As the people of Whoville prepare to celebrate Christmas, the cranky and misanthropic Grinch (Jim Carey), who lives in a cave near the town, plots to ruin the festive season for everyone. However, this all changes when he meets a kind and generous young girl named Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen).
Jim Carey’s over-the-top performance as the title character has made How the Grinch Stole Christmas the definitive adaption of Dr Seuss’ festive story.
14. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
Thirty years after his apprentice steals his most cherished invention, toymaker Jeronicus Jangles is close to losing his business. Since the betrayal, Jeronicus has lost his zest for creating toys. But when his estranged granddaughter arrives for a visit in the lead-up to Christmas, it’s up to her to restore his life’s passion.
Originally conceived as a stage show, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a colourful explosion of Christmas fun that’s full of song and dance. With an all-star cast of Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, and Hugh Bonneville, it’s a great choice if you’re in the mood for some Christmas cheer.
15. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
A classic Dickensian tale with plenty of music and Michael Caine surrounded by a supporting cast of Muppets… What’s not to love? And if you think this film is just for children, be assured there are jokes, musical numbers, and heart for all.
Based on Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the film follows Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine), an unpleasant, greedy moneylender who’s visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. When he’s granted visions into the past, present, and future, Ebenezer is forced to confront the error of his selfish ways.
What makes this off-kilter retelling of Charles Dickens’s famous novel spectacular is that while an ensemble of puppets plays various roles, it stays oddly true to the original tale – and the poignant lessons that Scrooge eventually learns are just as powerful as ever.
But if you’re in the mood for a more conventional adaptation of this redemption tale, there’s plenty of choice, from Edwin L. Marin’s 1938 instalment to Robert Zemeckis’s 2009 animated feature. However, many consider the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim to be the definitive version.
16. Nativity! (2009)
Every year, primary school St. Bernadette’s enters a competition with a local private school to see who can put on the best nativity play. And this year, Mrs Bevan (Pam Ferris), the headteacher at St Bernadette’s, tasks Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) with organising the performance. The only problem is that Paul, a failed actor-turned-teacher, isn’t exactly a fan of Christmas.
When he gets carried away and lies about a Hollywood producer coming to watch the production, Paul finds himself caught up in a fib that keeps getting more and more out of control. With standout performances from the ensemble of lovable children, Nativity! takes one of the UK’s most treasured Christmas traditions and turns it into a heartfelt and heartwarming tale.
17. Arthur Christmas (2011)
In this beautifully animated tale from Ardman (the studio that brought us Wallace and Gromit), Santa isn’t a single person but a title passed down through generations.
So, when the current Santa, Malcolm Clause (Jim Broadbent), mistakenly fails to deliver a gift to one little girl, his youngest son, Arthur (James McAvoy), finds himself on a quest to right this wrong.
This wholly original take on the story of Santa Claus is voiced by an all-star cast of James McAvoy, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Hugh Laurie, and more. It’ll surely get you and your loved ones in the giving spirit this Christmas.
18. The Holiday (2006)
Amanda Woods (Cameron Diaz) is a film trailer producer living in Los Angeles. Iris Simpkins (Kate Winslet) is a society columnist living in a picturesque hamlet just outside London.
Both trying to escape the baggage of disastrous past relationships during the holiday season, they decide to swap homes for a fortnight. What comes next is a touching, transatlantic fish-out-of-water romantic comedy that flits between the two cities in the lead-up to Christmas.
The Holiday is full of Yuletide charm and ideal for a cosy movie night in.
19. Happiest Season (2020)
After accompanying her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis), to her family home for Christmas, Abby (Kristen Stewart) is thrust into a sticky situation when Harper reveals she hasn’t told her parents that she’s gay.
Fearing her parents’ reaction, Harper asks Abby to hide their relationship over Christmas and pose as her straight roommate. But, as you might expect, the plan quickly goes awry.
A heartwarming holiday rom-com that deals with themes of love and acceptance, Happiest Season features a hilarious supporting cast, including Victor Garber, Mary Streenburgen, Aubrey Plaza, and Daniel Levy.
20. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This Yuletide classic, starring Judy Garland, follows a year in the lives of the Smith Family. It focuses on the four Smith sisters, Esther (Garland), Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), Agnes (Joan Carroll), and Rose (Lucille Bremer), as they juggle love, heartbreak, and everything in between.
This is a perfect choice for musical lovers, as there’s plenty of singing and dancing. Some of the highlights include Garland’s renditions of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ and ‘The Trolley Song’ – two tunes that became classics after the film’s release.
Meet Me in St. Louis is a feel-good, musical holiday treat!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of Christmas films and have come away with a few flicks to add to your festive watchlist.
But there are loads of great Christmas films out there, and this list is by no means exhaustive. So, if we’ve missed your favourite holiday movie, why not let us know in the comments below?
For more suggestions, why not check out our film and TV section? Here, you’ll find articles like 18 movies everyone should see and 17 unmissable history films, as well as reviews of new and upcoming releases.
Did you like our list of Christmas films? What’s your favourite? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.