Merry Christmas everyone! Christmas is my favorite time of year filled with positivity, joy and wonder. Over the decades the holiday season and its many themes have been captured in countless movies, some becoming instant classics while others have become staples over time. Regardless I’ve never taken the time to look at my all time favorite holiday films so as my gift to you for 2020 I’m looking at my favorite viewing recommendation of the Christmas season. Alternative films, purely holiday themed flicks and everything in between counted for this list and, as always, these are just my personal favorites but each one has become a Christmas standard for me and many others.
What is your favorite Christmas movie? Let me know in the comments! Now let’s get down to business! These are my picks for the Top 20 Christmas Movies!
20. “Die Hard”
I’ll start by saying I don’t completely consider “Die Hard” a Christmas movie but rather a film that takes place during Christmas. With that said it falls in a category called “alternative Christmas movies” and like it or not it earns a place on this list. Considered one of the greatest action movies of all time, “Die Hard” sees John McClane take on a group of terrorists who invade a company Christmas party leading to countless quotable lines, memorable action moments and one of the most divisive Christmas movie debates ever. It’s a perfect place for me to start this list giving it the credit it’s due as a holiday standard for better or worse.
19. “The Santa Clause 2”
While the first “The Santa Clause” movie from Disney is often considered a holiday classic of the 90s, it’s the sequel from the 2000s that I actually enjoy more. The story continues to follow Scott Calvin who has enjoyed years of success as the new Santa but discovers that in order to continue serving as Jolly Old St. Nick he has to find a Mrs. Claus and get married before Christmas Day. I’ve always found this story more engaging, fun and much less creepy than the plot of the first film (are we just going to ignore that Disney killed Santa?) and its romantic subplot helps add to the holiday joy that emanates from this franchise.
I’ll admit I’m not as big a fan of “Elf” as most people, but it’s hard for me to deny its place on this list. Starring Will Ferrell in a career defining performance as Buddy the Elf, “Elf” puts the focus on Buddy, a human who was raised among Santa’s elves and journeys to New York City to find his real father. A modern holiday classic by every definition, “Elf” contains more than its fair share of Christmas joy with Ferrell’s infection and somewhat annoying performance at the center of it all bringing literal life to the purest display of childlike holiday wonder you could ever imagine. Some find it annoying, others find it hilarious, but I find it to be a bit of both, which, I guess, is part of its lasting charm.
17. “The Polar Express”
Another undeniable Christmas classic that many enjoy much more than I do, “The Polar Express” is definitely a magical ride and often gets credit as the first fully motion capture animated feature. Based on a children’s book from 1985, “The Polar Express” explores a young boy’s journey on the titular train to the North Pole as he is faced with his disbelief in Santa Claus. The film has become so iconic in modern Christmas culture that it is shown on Imax screens every season serving as somewhat of a thrill ride of a movie for families to embrace. Whether you see it on the big or small screen, chances are this adventure is part of your must watch list every holiday season.
Not every Christmas movie is magical. Some take a much darker turn. “Krampus” is one such film. Released in 2015 and based on a real legend of the titular creature known as the anti-Santa who punishes those who misbehave, “Krampus” is cynical and spooky but also heartwarming in its attempts to drive home to true meaning of the holiday. Sporting creative monsters and a memorable design for Krampus himself as well as a fun blend of dark comedy and truly effective PG-13 horror, “Krampus” has become a beloved piece of modern alternative Christmas viewing around the holidays.
15. “Black Christmas”
Speaking of Christmas horror, few genre films have left their mark like “Black Christmas”. Often credited as the definitive slasher film, “Black Christmas” focuses on a sorority that becomes the target of an unseen killer during Christmas time and has established itself as one of the darkest holiday films out there. The Christmas atmosphere serves to contrast its bloody violence well making it another fine alternative viewing option for those looking for a little less jolly and a few more frights in their Christmas season. There are plenty of horror features that challenge the joy of the season, but “Black Christmas” remains the most effective and iconic in the bunch.
14. “Arthur Christmas”
Released in 2011, “Arthur Christmas” has quickly defined itself as one of the best animated Christmas feature films in history. The story follows the titular Arthur, the latest in a line of Clauses, and his journey to bring a gift to a child who was forgotten on Christmas Eve. Caught in the middle of a debate between his elders and his brother over who is truly the best Santa, Arthur proves himself worthy of the Claus name by showing the joy one brings from giving rather than making the giving an obligation of the season. Beautifully animated and poignant in its message, “Arthur Christmas” is a deserving modern must-watch.
The first of numerous “Christmas Carol” adaptations on this list, and one of the most original, “Scrooged” was Bill Murray’s return to the big screen after “Ghostbusters” and has become just as much a Christmas classic as his previous film has become a Halloween staple. Presenting a then-modern take on the “Christmas Carol” formula, Murray plays a TV executive who is visited by the three spirits of Christmas and, of course, learns the value of the holidays. Endlessly quotable and unique for its more cynical and comedic tone than most “Carol” films, “Scrooged” has carved out a legacy all its own as one of the most beloved Christmas comedies.
12. “A Christmas Carol”
The second “Christmas Carol” adaptation on the list, Disney took a crack at the story in 2009 with “Polar Express” director Robert Zemeckis at the help once again utilizing the motion capture animation technology of his previous Christmas film. Jim Carrey plays Scrooge and all three ghosts in a standard but visually stunning presentation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale. As this list alone proves, “A Christmas Carol” has been told many times on the big screen but Disney’s version sported that special magic touch the studio is known for and doesn’t shy away from exploring the dark honesty of the story while also serving as an uplifting reminder of the goodness inside all of us if we choose to embrace it.
11. “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
One of the few multi-holiday classics, Disney’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” follows Halloween King Jack Skellington as he experiences a mid-life crisis and abandons his holiday to put his own spooky spin on Christmas. Providing a unique mix of the spirit of both holidays and embracing a flawless stop motion animation format that still holds up over two decades later, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has become one of Disney’s most iconic films of the 90s as well as must-watch viewing for not one, but two holidays leading to establish one of the most devoted fanbases of any Christmas-themed feature.