Looking for something to watch over the holidays? Take your pick from the best Christmas movies and enjoy a little festive cheer with your family and friends. You'll find our picks of the best Christmas movies of all time below, including everything from the Yuletide classics (like The Snowman and Miracle on 34th Street), to more modern takes on the holiday season (such as Bad Santa and Krampus).
If you want to keep the kids quiet, stop the family arguments, and have an hour's peace, then a festive flick is what you need. The best Christmas movies come in all shapes and forms, from thrillers and comedies to horrors and nostalgic throwbacks.
There's even a few hotly contested entries on our list. Is Batman Returns really a Christmas movie? Is Die Hard for that matter? Maybe you can finally settle the age-old debate when you watch them. Either way, there's no denying every film on this list is excellent so no matter what you pick, you're in for a treat. So, gather round the television this holiday season and have a very Merry Christmas.
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25. Jack Frost (1998)
The movie: It might not be the most sophisticated festive film ever, but you can’t deny that Jack Frost is loads of fun. A touring musician Jack (Michael Keaton) gets a second chance at a relationship with his son when he’s reincarnated as a snowman a year after tragically dying in a car crash… look, screenwriters need Christmas, too.
Despite the almost laughable premise, Jack Frost will pull on your heartstrings in a way you never thought possible. Although it’s sad in places, it’s a fun-loving movie that’s perfect for a lazy afternoon post-Christmas lunch. Watch it with your family and you’ll be hugging each other and crying in no time… and that’s what Christmas is all about, right?
Its most Christmassy moment: When snowman Jack absolutely obliterates a group of children in a snowball fight in order to save his son from being cornered. There’s nothing like watching him use his little twiglet arms to launch perfectly crafted snowballs into the faces of small children...
24. The Polar Express (2004)
The movie: Step aboard The Polar Express! A grandiose CGI animation that features a cracking motion-capture performance from Tom Hanks, who also leads the voice cast as the jolly conductor of The Express, an enormous train embarking on a journey to the North Pole.
It’s a bit schmaltzy, and has a strange element of dream logic to it with its long, winding train, and the mysterious point of the journey. But, once you're past he slightly uncanny CGI, The Polar Express is entertaining for all ages. While not quite the smash hit everyone expected, it’s now widely-considered a minor classic and, if you’re looking for something to keep everyone, from the kids to your Grandma happy, you won’t go wrong with this.
Its most Christmassy moment: The encounter with Santa, where the nameless Hero Boy is presented with a bell as the first gift of Christmas.
23. The Holiday (2006)
The movie: In a time before Airbnb, there was house-swapping. That now old-fashioned practice is at the centre of The Holiday, a festive romcom which sees two stuck in a rut singletons (Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz) impulsively decide on a transatlantic switcheroo holiday.
This is, of course, a Nancy Meyers film (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give), so both of our female leads find love where they least expected it – more specifically in the form of Jack Black and Jude Law. It’s very, very mushy stuff, and there’s a moment where Jude Law uses the word “problematical” without a hint of irony, but The Holiday is easygoing romcom material with a subtle Christmas tinge that will keep everyone content and quiet after dinner.
Its most Christmassy moment: After spending the entire movie apart, the two happy couples are seen celebrating New Year’s Eve together in England. No, it’s not technically Christmas Day, but there’s presents, nibbles, and dancing, so it might as well be.
22. Bad Santa (2003)
The movie: There’s plenty of family-friendly Christmas films on this list, so how about some NSFW festive flicks for the adults in the room? Look no further than Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa, which declares all-out war on Christmas schmaltz with its feel-bad parable about an alcoholic thief Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton).
Dressing up and doing shifts as a stand-in Santa in order to rob department stores, Willie does not represent the Christmas spirit. One kid (Brett Kelly), though, doesn’t question Stokes' foul mouth and bad behaviour, and instead accepts him as Santa. Despite the thief's best efforts, they form a bond. It's almost heart-warming. Depraved, disgusting, and degrading, Bad Santa is the anti-Christmas movie, which is also why it’s one of the best Christmas movies around.
Its most Christmassy moment: Having seen the light, Willie races home, cops in pursuit, to hand the kid a Christmas present… before collapsing from the eight bullets riddling his body.
21. Krampus (2015)
The movie: This dark Christmas fairytale is the perfect movie to watch when the family is bloated, on their 17th sweet sherry, and making passive-aggressive comments about the scented candle you bought them.
Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) is a good kid and an all-round Santa stan. After tearing up his Christmas letter after a fight with his nasty cousins, Max accidentally summons the horned Krampus. The demon and his army of twisted toys then terrorize Max's awful family, which will give you some much needed emotional catharsis when your own festive spirit is wearing thin.
Its most Christmassy moment: When Max and the Krampus come face to furry face. Look, this isn't a film with a lot of happy, jolly moments OK?
20. Love Actually (2003)
The movie: Love Actually might be a paint-by-numbers rom-com, but, love it or loathe it, you can’t deny that Richard Curtis's modern British classic has a special something about it.
One of the best Christmas movies of modern times, it's easy to knock its overwhelming cheesiness. However, buried beneath all of the sentiment and sap, there's a sweet always-relevant tale of goodwill to all men. Love Actually sums up the spirit of Christmas and, we promise, we won't tell your mates you watch it every year.
Its most Christmassy moment: Take your pick. All permutations are here, from grand romantic gestures (cue card-laden Andrew Lincoln in the snow), to quiet family bonds (Laura Linney and her mentally ill brother), to the raucous singletons' Christmas of Bill Nighy and Gregor Fisher spending the big day together getting drunk and watching porn.
19. Jingle All the Way (1996)
The movie: We all know the pain of desperately trying to get your Christmas shopping done in time for the big day, but for parents, the pressure is really on get their kids the exact thing they want from Santa. That’s the premise of Jingle All the Way, which sees Schwarzenegger take on the role of a Dad who just wants to make his child happy by presenting him with a Turbo Man – the hottest toy around – on Christmas Day.
This is a fun, slapstick comedy without much depth, but Schwarzenegger is often at his best when his big, muscle-bound physic is put in tandem with a mushy, emotional storyline, and the dangerous lengths he goes to get a Turbo Man will have you weeping with laughter. Think your Christmas shopping is bad? Even the Terminator knows now why you cry.
Its most Christmassy moment: The scene where the store clerks laugh in Schwarzenegger’s face when he asks for a Turbo Man… It may not be very jolly, but it’s definitely an accurate depiction of the Christmas period.
18. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
The movie: Consummate family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is nearly undone by his own delusions of grandeur, not to mention his dysfunctional extended family, in this cracking Christmas comedy from '80s hitmaker John Hughes. With ample physical hijinks - admire the athleticism on display as Clark clings for dear life to an icy gutter - alongside wry, relatable humor for anyone who's ever wrangled a room full of "loving" family members, Christmas Vacation stands alongside Animal House as one of the best films to bear the National Lampoon's hallmark. And we must admit, the eternal torment of the Griswold family's yuppie neighbors remains satisfying almost three decades later.
Its most Christmassy moment: Clark gets the best Christmas show on the street, by virtue of a sewer gas explosion propelling his little plastic Santa and eight tiny reindeer into the stratosphere.
The movie: Although its story isn’t strictly about Christmas, there are few films that better capture the real meaning of the holiday – as a time to come together and to show each other generosity. Based on the charming ursine children’s character, created by Michael Bond, Paddington sees our hero travel from the jungles of Peru to London, finding a new home with the Brown family. Yet he’s soon targeted by a vicious taxidermist (Nicole Kidman), who’ll do anything to add him to her collection.
Paddington remains one of the most heartfelt children’s films of the decade, surpassed only by its (comparatively non-Christmassy) sequel. With gentle wit and good, old-fashioned British manners, it teaches children everywhere to welcome the world in with open arms and fight xenophobia in whatever form it may take – even if it’s wrapped up in an anti-bear agenda.
Its most Christmassy moment: Paddington moves in with the Browns... We're not crying, you are!
16. Batman Returns (1992)
The movie: Tim Burton's second and last Batman movie, Batman Returns is a flamboyant parody of Christmas movie conventions, with The Penguin (Danny DeVito) preying on seasonal goodwill to become Mayor and crooked businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) described as “Gotham's own Santa Claus”.
While perhaps not the Christmas movie for everyone, with Burton’s trademark eccentric fare being a little divisive, Batman Returns does have Michelle Pfeiffer’s unforgettable performance as the indestructible Catwoman, with her latex costume and neon-drenched apartment. One of the more violent movies on this list, it’s warped and weird in all the right ways, and you’re unlikely to forget the stretched buildings of Gotham or the grotesque Penguin any time soon.
Its most Christmassy moment: Catwoman gets Batman (Michael Keaton) where she wants him – under the mistletoe. "You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it," he warns. "But a kiss can be even deadlier... if you mean it," she replies, licking him from chin to masked forehead.