Top 30 Christmas films of all time – and where you can watch them online
James R | On 26, Nov 2021
It’s the same debate we’re all tired of having every year: does Die Hard count as a Christmas movie? The truth is that the question is entirely irrelevant, because it’s not the greatest Christmas film of all time anyway. That belongs to another classic altogether…
So here we are: The 30 best Christmas films of all time, plus where you can watch them online legally in the UK. (Note: Because Christmas is the season of goodwill, we’ve opened up our doors to all festive films, from seasonal action flicks to Finnish horror and family animations.)
30. Happiest Season
“She is my person, and I really want everyone to know that,” says Abby (Kristen Stewart), as she prepares to spend Christmas with the family of her girlfriend, Harper (Mackenzie Davis). The only problem? Harper has come out to her parents or told them that Abby is her partner. A delightful ensemble cast brings laugh-out-loud humour to this feel-good Christmas comedy about acceptance.
29. Trading Places
John Landis’ classic sees a con artist and a rich investor effectively swapped as part of a bet to prove that low-lives and the upper class aren’t that different after all.
28. The Family Stone
Sparks fly at Christmas when an uptight career girl Sarah Jessica Parker joins boyfriend Dermot Mulroney’s family for the holidays. The result is an heartfelt comedy-drama that boasts a superb cast – including Luke Wilson and Diane Keaton – with an inclusive, impressively progressive philosophy that paved the way for such films as Happiest Season.
An act of kindness always sparks another. That’s the moral at the heart of Klaus, Netflix’s new Christmas movie, one that’s simple and sweet enough to charm the socks off even the humbuggiest of viewers.
26. The Holiday
“I used only the good notes.” That’s Miles (Jack Black) to Iris (Kate Winslet) in The Holiday, as he composes a melody that might accompany a film about her life. It’s a cute line, one that Black embraces with an adorable amount of earnest heart, and it sets the tone for a romantic comedy that asks the audience to do the same.
25. Arthur Christmas
Aardman’s adorable charm is just about present in this perfectly satisfactory slice of seasonal entertainment, which sees Arthur struggling to save Christmas with a range of high-tech gadgets.
24. The Santa Clause
Tim Allen inadvertently becomes Santa after knocking him off his roof in this surprisingly charming family comedy, which combines the thrill of legal contracts with festive imagination.
23. The Apartment
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
22. 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.
21. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Jim Carrey pulls out all the stops for this take on Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, which manages to be amusing as well as endearing – and boasts one hell of a make-up team.
20. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Iron Man 3. Lethal Weapon. Shane Black seriously likes Christmas. His best December-set outing, though, is easily this post-modern film noir, which stars Robert Downey Jr. as a wannabe detective, who untangles a conspiracy worthy of Chinatown in a snow-covered LA. Darkly funny and boasting a stellar turn from Val Kilmer, this is a buddy comedy that will leave you with a festive smile on your face.
19. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Short, sweet and with a dash of melancholy, this is utterly charming stuff – made even more so by Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack.
18. Edward Scissorhands
Tim Burton’s fantasy drama contains everything you could want for Christmas: a heart-breaking romance, impressive gardening, gorgeous visuals and a moving answer to that age old question: “Where does the snow come from?”
17. Happy Christmas
Joe Swanberg’s drama about an immature sister (Anna Kendrick) crashing on the couch of her brother is awkward, intimate and endearingly sincere. Click here for our full review.
16. The Snowman
This 1982 animation, based on Raymond Briggs’ picture book, never fails to raise a smile and a tear.
15. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
You may have grown up with the remake starring Richard Attenborough (available on Netflix UK), 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.
14. Holiday Inn
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.
13. Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton is delightfully horrible in this dark, twisted take on the season of goodwill. Moving in uninvited with a home alone boy, will he soften up or stay the alcoholic, womanising loser he already is? For once, all bets are off. (Bad Santa 2 is included with Amazon Prime.)
12. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Steve Martin and John Candy join forces for this odd couple comedy about an uptight businessman trying to get back home for the holidays – accompanied by a clumsy salesman. Funny, emotional and a perfect reminder of how brilliant John Hughes was.
Martin Freeman stars in Debbie Isitt’s charming comedy about a grumpy teacher put in charge of his primary school’s nativity. The improvised hijinks from the young performers prompted the director to return for multiple sequels, but the real sparkle and shine is in this cute original.
Joe Dante’s seminal horror comedy sees a young boy acquire a new pet, under strict instructions to never get it wet or feed it after midnight. He soon learns a festive lesson of responsibility – via a hilariously dark wave of twisted chaos, including one of the best uses of a chair-lift in cinema history.
9. Rare Exports
Think Santa Claus is nice? Think again. This Finnish horror comedy sees a small mountain village accidentally unleash the real Kris Kringle – and, from dead reindeer to old men running naked through the wild hills, ensures you’ll never look at a Coca-Cola advert in the same way again. Deadpan, dark and delightfully offbeat, Rare Exports deserves to be seen by everyone at least once.
All we want for Christmas is Bill Murray. Specifically, Bill Murray in Scrooged, a twisted take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which sees a cold-hearted TV exec discover the true meaning of the season.
7. Love Actually
For all its cliches, it’s hard to resist Richard Curtis going full Richard Curtis in this rambling, uneven seasonal anthology. Shrewdly commercial yet annoyingly charming, the cast alone make it worth watching, from Emma Thompson’s bittersweet romance to Bill Nighy’s snorting pop star, while Rowan Atkinson’s cameo as a shop assistant walks away with the whole thing.
Buddy – a human raised as an elf – journeys to New York to find his real dad in this genuinely hilarious film, which is one of the few modern movies to become a perennial festive favourite. If you like Will Ferrell, love sugar and really love Christmas, Jon Favreau’s comedy is everything you could want for Christmas – plus Zooey Deschanel singing Baby, It’s Cold Outside, while dressed as an elf. Click here to read our 15 reasons why Elf is greatest Christmas film of modern times.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s stop-motion flick takes the festive charm of Christmas and twists it with the warped horror of Halloween – a combination that director Henry Selick whips up with visually breathtaking glee. Combined with Danny Elfman’s superb soundtrack (Elfman sings the part of Pumpkin Jack), this is one musical guaranteed to freak out the whole family. Best of all, you can watch it again in October.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life
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.
3. Die Hard
This genre-defining blockbuster delivers explosions, laughs, one hell of an underdog romp and – what makes it such a classic festive favourite – an oddly sweet tale of one man trying to get to his family for the holidays. Also, Alan Rickman. (Die Hard 2 is available with Amazon Prime.)
2. Home Alone
“I made my family disappear.” Macauley Culkin charmed his way into everyone’s hearts with a raise of his eyebrows and two hands on either side of his face. Learning what it’s like to be left behind his parents, Kevin McCallister’s battle to defend his house from Joe Pesci unites the whole family in the universal joy of schadenfreude. Because what says Christmas more than laughing at other people’s physical pain? (Home Alone 2 is also on Disney+.)
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
The Muppets give Dickens a hefty injection of fuzzy humour without losing the story’s dark edge. From Gonzo as Charles himself and Rizzo’s jelly bean-eating sidekick providing the post-modern narration to Michael Caine’s surprisingly moving turn as Ebenezer, this is not only a fantastic, family-friendly adaptation of A Christmas Carol; it’s arguably the definitive version.