The best classic Christmas films
James R | On 20, Dec 2022
While Netflix and others are churning out new Christmas movies at a rate that makes Santa’s sleigh look slow, one of the joys of Christmas films is that they go back decades, even centuries, through cinema history. It’s a Wonderful Life is just the tip of an iceberg that goes all the way back to silent adaptations of A Christmas Carol. Looking for some old-fashioned Christmas spirit this December? We’ve rounded up some of the best Christmas movies from before the 1980s available to stream in the UK:
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
What would the world be like if you didn’t exist? Frank Capra’s seasonal classic not only tackles the subject of suicide but also manages to find time for topical anti-bankers commentary, angels and heart-warming family sentiment. It’s hard to think of a Christmas movie that’s more human.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
You may have grown up with the remake starring Richard Attenborough, but this 1947 original – about the legal case to save an old man claiming to be Santa from being institutionalised – has oodles more charm. A film about the importance of fantasy as much as festive spirit, it’s enchanting stuff.
Holiday Inn (1942)
Forgive the period anachronisms (read: mildly racist moments) and Bing Crosby’s Christmas musical is a likeable classic. After all, it won an Oscar for Best Original Song back in 1942 thanks to its rendition of White Christmas, written for the film by none other than Irving Berlin.
White Christmas (1954)
White Christmas returned to the screen with a film named after it in this gorgeously sentiment 1954 outing, which sees Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney charm their way through a Christmas revue being staged in tribute to an old retired army general. Worth watching just for the song “Snow” alone.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Cary Grant as an angel? Henry Koster’s festive charmer is perfectly cast, as we follow the debonair Dudley, who ingratiates himself into the household of a bishop and his wife just in time for raising funds for their church ahead of Christmas – a sequence in which Grant decorates a Christmas tree is literally magic.
Holiday Affair (1949)
“It happened in December, but it’s hotter than July!” Janet Leigh stars in this delightful romantic tale of a widow who finds himself caught in a love triangle – between a lawyer (Wendell Corey) and a sales clerk (Robert Mitchum) – but the heart of the story perhaps comes from her son, Timmy, who wants a red train set from Santa.
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are on impeccable form in this romantic drama, which has its iconic climax on Christmas Eve.
Silent film star and early 20th century legend of the stage Seymour Hicks stars in this 1935 adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol (1970)
Albert Finney stars in this musical retelling of Charles Dickens’ novel about a miser taken on a journey of self-redemption.
The Apartment (1960)
Nothing says Christmas like an office party – and that’s the starting point for Billy Wilder’s marvellous movie, the film where Wilder put to rest the cynicism that came to peak in 1951’s ruthless satire, The Ace in the Hole, in service of one of the most genuinely heartfelt, bittersweet romances of cinematic history.
Black Christmas (1974)
Terror reigns inside a sorority house a few days before Christmas break as a series of menacing phone calls transform yuletide cheer into fear.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Short, sweet and with a dash of melancholy, this is utterly charming stuff – made even more so by Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack.