Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for movie fans.
This is when we dust off some old favourites to watch and enjoy with family and friends. But what are the best movies to put you in the holiday spirit? And what are the best alternatives for people looking for something new?
Today I will be providing a list of the best Christmas films to help you find what you are looking for this year. This list is not ranked. These are simply recommendations from seven distinct categories. So, let’s tuck in…
1. Best Feel Good Christmas Film – It’s a wonderful life
Let’s get the obvious choice out of the way first. The story of George Bailey who gets the chance to see what the world would be like without him, has since its release engrossed generation after generation at Christmas time and it’s not hard to see why.
Firstly, it is very relatable. The idea that sometimes life just gets in the way of our grand plans is something many of us face and it’s not always pretty to watch. But the film says while at times the world may seem bleak, if we look at those closest to us, you will see that everyone means something to one another.
Secondly the performances are riveting. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and many others inject a great amount of personality into even the smallest gestures. Everyone feels like real people that you could meet on the street. And of course there is that little dose of magic with the arrival of the bumbling angel in the making Clarence. Which helps to show us that at Christmas the world is a mystical and wonderful place.
2. Best Christmas Horror Film – Black Christmas (1974)
Mixing the traditionally jolly holiday with horrifying carnage is inherently fun to watch. Gremlins and Krampus are better known examples of this, but the original Black Christmas is undoubtedly the best holiday horror movie.
The story, a group of sorority girls try to find one of their own after she goes missing over the Christmas break. But someone is lurking in the attic and plans on delivering deadly gifts to the girls.
While the setup is generic the presentation is stellar. Everyone in the lead cast gives a great performance. There is also a good sense of humour that helps us to easily like these characters and a terrifying atmosphere. The haunting music, effective use of the stalking camera and emphasis on suspense as we watch this shadowy figure skulk around the house, hoping that the girls will find out what is going on before it’s too late, elevates this from an average horror film into a true classic. And with twinkling Christmas lights littering the screen it is hard to look away, even while horrible things are happening.
3. Best Children’s Christmas Film – The Muppets Christmas Carol
With millions Christmas films aimed at kids it’s hard to choose just one to watch, but this muppet classic is the clear stand out.
While inserting the felt creatures into the classic story of a miser who learns to love the holidays and the people around him may seem hokey, the actual film is full of charm. Watching the iconic muppet characters act through the classic story is fun enough but the performances by the muppet voices and Michael Caine as Scrooge invest a great deal of heart in the material.
While it is humorous the actors also really commit to the serious scenes. It’s hard to not choke back a tear listening to Kermit and Miss Piggy discuss the fate of tiny Tim (spoiler alert). And it has catchy songs to hum along to aswell. It is sure to have the kids hooked.
4. Best Christmas Action Film – Die Hard
As Black Christmas proved, people love something darker to offset the wholesome holiday. But not everyone likes being scared, some want to be thrilled, and Die Hard delivers Christmas thrills in spades.
While at his estranged wife’s Christmas party, John McCLane finds the building he is in besieged by terrorists. With no help coming, he becomes the last hope for everyone trapped in the building, but fighting his way out will not be easy.
Die Hard is often the popular choice for people who like something different at Christmas. There’s no good will towards men and only a few Christmas songs but a gun toting Bruce Willis is a respectable substitute for jolly old St. Nick.
The action is superb as it focuses more on an everyman hero, not an invincible superman. And the performances from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman are the stuff of cinematic legend. If you have not seen it yet, then prepare for a holiday experience more violent than deciding who gets to carve the turkey.
5. Best Animated Christmas Film – How the Grinch stole Christmas
This choice may be contentious as there are many holiday animation favourites to choose from. But there are three things that set this short apart from the rest.
1- It tells the Dr Seuss story of the Grinch doing everything he can to steal Christmas from Whoville in a straightforward way and focuses on doing it well. With no unnecessary distractions.
2- The legendary Boris Karloff lends his smooth, authoritative and at times menacing voice to the production. He helps to capture all the emotions of the story brilliantly. This gives the film the nostalgic and warm feeling of an old-fashioned storyteller telling a tale to a new generation.
3- The film is utterly charming. With character designs ripped from Dr Seuss’ original story, a bright, colourful look, catchy songs and a smooth animation style that reminds us of the classic cartoons gone by. These elements combine to create an engrossing experience for all ages, that like its main character will make your heart grow three sizes when you watch it.
6. Best Christmas Drama – The Hunt
For one final dark alternative festive feature there has been no better example in recent memory than the Danish film The Hunt.
The story focuses on Lucas, a teacher falsely accused of something awful during the holiday period. What follows is a nearly two-hour endurance test as we see how truly horrible people can be to one another based on a lie. This is not one for the faint of heart, but it is a feature that is worth seeing, especially in today’s political climate.
While not necessarily a “Christmas film” the hunt does use the holiday season to its full advantage as an ironic backdrop to the story. And the message that even our minor actions can have grave consequences for others, is something we should always bear in mind when it comes to the holidays. It’s a difficult watch, but a rewarding one.
7. Best Nostalgic Christmas Film – A Christmas Story
Finally let’s return to something altogether more happy. Director Bob Clark’s second great Christmas film (the first being the aforementioned Black Christmas) tells the story of Ralphie. All he wants for Christmas is a Red Rider BB Gun and he will do anything to get it. Despite everyone’s protests that he will shoot his eye out if he gets one.
Told entirely from Ralphie’s perspective with a reflective voiceover by his older self, the film helps transport older audiences back to those treasured childhood years when everything was simple and the most you had to worry about was what you would find under the tree on Christmas day.
The way the film shows everyday experiences such as children swearing, imagining things in their heads and going to the store to sit on Santa’s lap all feels true to life. Plus the way the story unfolds will help to leave a smile on everyone’s face. Despite the 1940’s setting Christmas Story has a timeless feel. Though not all the experiences may translate to your own life the feeling it creates will make you feel like a kid again.
Thus concludes my list of the seven best Christmas films. Some classics had to be missed out and these films may not appeal to everyone. But hopefully I have provided you with a good range of titles to watch this holiday season. Who knows, some of these may even become personal favourites.