It’s Christmas time!!!!! December 2020 is here (and not a moment too soon) bringing with it a sense of joy and cheer as the Christmas season is in full swing. It’s dawned on me that in all the years I’ve done this blog I’ve never done a Christmas countdown. In an effort to try and make up for lost ground as well as help inject some holiday cheer into a year in desperate need of such positivity, I’ll be posting holiday themed countdowns right up until Christmas Day and to start I’ll be examining some of my favorite modern Christmas movies from the decade I grew up in, the 90s!
For this list I picked my ten personal favorite Christmas or holiday themed movies released from 1990 through 1999 that defined my childhood and the childhoods of many of my fellows 90s kids. Some, or maybe even most or all of these might be pretty predictable but I wanted to start off the holiday season right by paying tribute to the films that gave me Christmas joy this time every year as a kid and many of these have become undeniable classics that people still watch every Christmas.
What is your favorite Christmas movie from the 90s? Let me know in the comments. Let the holiday nostalgia trip commence!!!
10. “Jack Frost”
I didn’t say these movies had to be good, just memorable from a nostalgic perspective and “Jack Frost”, while extremely dated, is one movie that sends me back to the simple days of my youth where a goofy premise was enough to keep me glued to the screen. Focusing on a career-driven father, played by Michael Keaton, who dies in a car crash and finds himself magically revived as his son’s snowman a year later, “Jack Frost” has special touches of heart and sincere life lessons about cherishing one’s family that any Christmas movie should embrace. All that heart is enough to overpower the creepy CGI effects and snowman design that make this film, if nothing else, a so-good-it’s-bad kind of Christmas movie. While I don’t necessarily watch it EVERY Christmas it’s still a fun memory to revisit from time to time. It’s also a fun reminder of jus how desperate Hollywood could be in the 90s to draw in the family demographic.
9. “Mixed Nuts”
This movie REALLY wouldn’t fly today and I’ll admit I actually haven’t watched “Mixed Nuts” for quite a few years, but it remains a staple of my childhood as one of three live-action comedies that my parents watched around the holidays (the others being “Christmas Vacation” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”). Based on a French comedy from the 1980s and starring one of my all time favorite comedic actors Steve Martin, “Mixed Nuts” focuses on a suicide-prevention hotline manager who, on Christmas Eve, finds his company evicted and his assistant proposing her love to him. “Mixed Nuts” is a jolly good time that survived critical panning to earn a place in the hearts of many. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a “good” film, like “Jack Frost” it has a certain charm mixing legitimate laughs with a so-good-it’s-bad kind of feel to live on as a comedic holiday classic.
8. “Jingle All the Way”
Arnold Schwarzenegger was HUGE in the 90s and like many stars over the years he attempted to maintain his relevance by appearing in a Christmas movie, “Jingle All the Way”. His character isn’t anything as he portrays another workaholic father who neglects his family, but what helps this movie stand out is the fact that the whole plot revolves around his failure to buy the hottest gift of the year for his kid before Christmas. This predicament was engrained in 90s Christmas culture as every parent, including my own, had to endure this nightmare when the newest Furby or video game system was released. While a pretty generic comedy by many standards, “Jingle All the Way” captures a lost struggle from the decade as online shopping has pretty much helped eliminate the last-minute-purchase conflict in the 2010s and 2020s. The slapstick humor and that bonkers finale during the parade are just icing on the Christmas cake.
7. “Batman Returns”
One of two “alternative” Christmas movies on this list, “Batman Returns” does, in fact, take place during the holidays and while it’s not ABOUT Christmas is contains enough holiday atmosphere to earn a spot on this list. I mean if “Die Hard” can be considered a Christmas movie then why not this film? Anyway, it’s not just one of my favorite alternative holiday offerings it’s also one of my favorite DC movies and the first live-action superhero movie I remember seeing as a kid. So, there’s a lot of reasons beyond the Christmas season why this film sticks in my memory. “Batman Returns” is one of those films that captures the aura and visual aesthetic of Christmas in a creative and unique way, somehow subverting the more joyful visage we’re used too while also feeling very in-tune with the spirit of the holiday. Combine that with memorable performances and Tim Burton’s signature weirdness and this 90s classic is a perfect film to celebrate the holiday without the schmaltzy vibe most seasonal films provide.
6. “The Santa Clause”
Personally, I prefer “The Santa Clause 2” but since that was released in the 2000s the original gets the nod here. “The Santa Clause” was THE Santa story of the 90s helping star Tim Allen transition from TV to the big screen a year before he voiced Buzz Lightyear. The story sees Allen play Scott a, what else, workaholic father who neglects his family. However, when he inadvertently kills Santa Claus (a disturbing turn of events even for a 90s kids films) he takes the jolly man’s place and must learn to accept his new position or risk destroying the holiday. It’s a nice enough story that actually features no major villain as much of the conflict revolves around people questioning Scott’s sanity, which feels perfectly normal when a guy tries to pass himself off as the real Santa. The concept is more about maintaining the imagination of our youth and learning the importance of family over career aspirations. It’s corny, cliché and still a lot of fun as a classic bit of 90s nostalgia.
5. “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas”
I don’t usually include direct-to-video films on my lists, but in this case I made an exception because this one-hour Disney feature isn’t just a staple of my childhood, it feels just as relevant today as it did in the late 90s. The oldest film on this list (released in 1999) “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas” showcases three stories with familiar ideas and unique messages. The first story sees Huey, Dewey and Louie in a “Groundhog Day” scenario where they relive Christmas every day. The second story explores Goofy’s son Max growing too old for the Christmas magic, and the third puts Mickey and Minnie into the 1905 short story “The Gift of the Magi”. Each tail feels wonderful and sincere on their own but together they create a fine collection of important lessons and themes that feels just as relevant to our culture today as they were back then. This, along with the movie’s still to come, is one film I always revisit this time of year.
4. “Miracle on 34th Street”
The original “Miracle on 34th Street” is not only a holiday classic, but an Oscar winner so doing a remake was a questionable decision at best even when the practice was starting to pick up steam in the 90s. Thankfully we got a rare film that maintains the joy of its source material while also putting a modern spin on the idea. The “Miracle on 34th Street” remake adapts the story for the 90s with Richard Attenborough perfectly cast as Kris Kringle trying to prove to the world he really is St. Nick in court. While not quite on the level of its predecessor, this was the movie that introduced me to the story. I feel it does the tale plenty of justice especially in its finale where it uses “In God We Trust” as a way to justify believing in something we can’t prove. The acting, the atmosphere and the spirit it exudes are all infectiously charming. While I’ve grown to appreciate the original a bit more, this was the version of this classic tale that I, and many others, grew up on and it still holds an important place in my heart.
3. “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
The second “alternative” Christmas movie on the list, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a rare duel-holiday feature and one of the most beloved animated Christmas movies of the modern age. Oozing with Tim Burton’s signature charm (although he only produced it) and brought to life through motion capture by the masterful direction of Henry Selick, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” explores Halloween King Jack Skellington’s attempt to usurp Santa Claus and take over Christmas when he experiences his version of a midlife crisis. Imaginative, charming, and effortlessly mixing the personality and spirit of both Halloween and Christmas, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has evolved into a huge property spawning merchandise and collectables that litter store shelves around the holidays. Even beyond that though the film’s creativity, memorable songs and signature artistic style have all made it a must watch around both holidays that inspired it even over 25 years later.
2. “Home Alone”
The oldest film on this list, “Home Alone” took the world by storm in 1990 topping the box office for 12 strait weeks. It’s popularity has not waned as it has become not only possibly the most iconic holiday film of the decade but a movie so well known and so often viewed pretty much anyone from the 90s can recite its script word for word when it’s on. The sequels have since watered down the franchise, but the original stands tall as an undeniable Christmas classic. Countless fans watch Macauley Culkin’s Kevin take on the Wet Bandits every Christmas season in a tale that teaches us all the importance family plays in not only celebrating the holidays but appreciating life as well. This is always one of the first Christmas films I watch every season and even after 30 years it remains as memorable, fun, and quotable as ever. Even the sequel, “Lost in New York”, has become a holiday classic simply because it’s the follow-up and practically a retread of the original movie. So what movie could top my list and beat out one of the biggest Christmas blockbusters in history? A near PERFECT telling of a classic that’s what.
1. “The Muppet Christmas Carol”
Arguably the most memorable Muppets movie and one of if not THE most beloved theatrical version of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is an easy contender for my personal all-time favorite Christmas movie. Featuring many iconic Muppets (including Gonzo as Dickens narrating the story with lines from the actual book) as well as Michael Caine bringing to life possibly THE greatest Ebenezer Scrooge ever put to film, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” has it all. Plenty of heart and sincerity, great laughs and imagination, memorable characters both new and old, plenty of Christmas theming and is famously one of the most dedicated films to the original source material. Refusing to skimp on the emotion while also maintaining the lighthearted nature the Muppets were known for, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is, in my opinion, a near perfect movie and a film 90s kids remember fondly. Every Christmas season I make a point to experience this film and it never fails. It’s just a charming now as it was when I was a kid and I promise I’m not the only 90s child who feels that way.