The Best Movies to Watch on Christmas
The holidays can be incredibly stressful, but there are few things better than gathering around to take in a great film on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. Whether you’ve got a belly full of delightful treats or an adult beverage in hand, sitting back with the people you love most to share in the experience of watching a great film is a swell way to de-stress.
Which is why we here at Collider have compiled a list of the best films to watch on Christmas. Whether you’re looking for something family-friendly or a more non-traditional pick, we’ve got you covered. So peruse our suggestions below, and Happy Holidays!
Related: The Best Christmas Movies on Netflix
Why does it snow every Christmas in a fictional suburban California town? Wrinkled Winona Ryder tells her granddaughter that it’s because Edward (Johnny Depp), a tender artificial boy who was left incomplete when his Geppetto passed away before completing his hands, carves ice sculptures on top of the mountain. Wrinkled Winona says he was banished after he got into a Christmas scuffle with some of the residents who don’t take kindly to people who look and act different than they do.
Tim Burton sneaks in false accusations and sets bullies upon his homemade hero, but he perfectly balances the darkness with bright, fake suburban cheeriness that comes straight out of a Jacques Tati film. Burton’s suburban gothic is one of the original “look closer…” films about the lack of uniqueness in homogeneous communities, and it’s made even more timeless by its Christmas setting. – Brian Formo
If you need an escape from the family during the holiday season, you should spend some time with the 1990 Christmas comedy classic Home Alone. Directed by Chris Columbus and with music by John Williams, you might get some residual Harry Potter vibes from this tale about an overlooked member of the vast McCallister brood who’s left home alone when the family heads off to France for Christmas. While Home Alone may have some seasonal similarities to the Boy Wizard franchise, John Hughes’ sweet but often darkly comedic script sets this dysfunctional family tale apart.
The McCallisters are an affluent, and if we’re being honest, snobby family; the trouble-making Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) isn’t exactly a Christmas angel, but you start to feel bad for him once the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) attempt to break in to his home and exact vengeance upon the boy for putting them through his Rube Goldbergian House of Horrors. And while Kevin gets plenty of screentime to get up to all sorts of hijinks without parental supervision, the specter of Old Man Marley – the rumored neighborhood “Shovel Slayer” – looms over his holiday fun. In the end, Hughes ties all of these disparate plot points together in a conclusion that redeems Kevin’s mother (Catherine O’Hara) for her gross oversight, teaches Kevin the true spirit of Christmas, and punishes the bad guys for their serial burglaries. Perhaps most importantly, but often overlooked, is Kevin’s facilitation of the reunion between Old Man Marley and his estranged family. The fact that Home Alone is able to bring all of these stories to a satisfying conclusion as well as it does, while providing plenty of physical comedy and memorable one-liners along the way, makes it a worthy watch any time of year, but especially so around the holidays. – Dave Trumbore
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
If you’re looking for an offbeat way to spend your Christmas you can’t go wrong with Shane Black. The writer-director behind Iron Man 3 has a penchant for setting his works during the most wonderful time of the year and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is not only his most holiday spirited film, it’s also his best. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stars Robert Downey Jr. as a low-rent thief drawn into the world of Hollywood glamour by happenstance who also gets himself and Val Kilmer‘s no-nonsense private detective, “Gay Perry” tanked in a murder cover up in the process.
While Black already had Lethal Weapon and a couple other big screenwriting credits to his name, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was his first time at the helm and directorial debuts just don’t come any better.
Borne out of Black’s love for the pulpy noir novels of yesteryear, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a vibrant update on the genre that relays its twisty-turny narrative through whip smart dialogue delivered to perfection by Kilmer and Downey Jr. The duo has an electric odd-couple chemistry that alternately makes you laugh out loud or hits you right in the feels. Adorned with the trappings of the Christmas season—right down to Michelle Monaghan‘s silly little third act Santa suit—Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a prime choice for the Christmas lineup when you need a break from the old standbys. – Haleigh Foutch
There are three rules to properly care for a mogwai: keep it out of the sunlight, don’t get it wet, and don’t let it feed after midnight. When the first rule is broken, bunches of cute furballs are produced (and… commerce! That’s the American way). Once one mogwai becomes many, a struggling father starts to think of the profit that could be made by producing and selling them. The furballs reproduce like mad. But they also break the second rule because they got the midnight munchies. Then they turn into scaly monsters.
Okay, you’ve memorized that goofball set-up, but watch it again to remind yourself that Gremlins also throws in some character rants about foreign manufacturing and local real estate moguls ruining the small town. Gremlins is a really fun flick that uses mass production as a way to explore both an older generation’s nostalgia and a new generation’s paranoia. And here you just thought it was a goofy Christmas movie. – Brian Formo
Okay so Love Actually is super schmaltzy and, at times, a little creepy (I’m looking at you, Rick Grimes confessing your love to your best friend’s wife), but filmmaker Richard Curtis’ ensemble story of love at Christmastime remains positively delightful. Some of the stories work better with others, but there are some great comedy bits throughout plus fine performances from Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, etc., and it all builds to a wonderful crescendo of warmth and happiness that leaves you feeling nice all over. For a feel-good movie about love and Christmas, turn to this old faithful. – Adam Chitwood
For me, it’s not Christmas without Die Hard, but what makes it a “Christmas movie” rather than an action movie that happens to be set during Christmas? Family. For all of the explosions, cursing, and bloodshed, the goal of the main character is family reconciliation. The holidays bring people together, and while Die Hard weaves that into something darkly comic, it’s still beneath John McClane’s motivations. The sequels lost sight of the character and focused more on his action prowess, but in the original, he was an ordinary guy who wanted to patch things up with his wife and restore the family unit. In the end, he gets his Christmas wish, although it means going through hell and back. – Matt Goldberg
Christmas is a time to come together with family, to celebrate the warmth of togetherness with the giving and receiving of gifts. At least that’s the idea. In actuality, Christmas can be an incredibly stressful affair, from eccentric relatives to last-minute shopping to cooking dinner for umpteen people without ruining a single thing. This is the Christmas that the comedy classic Christmas Vacation embodies—the truth of the holiday, where execution doesn’t always meet the idealized version of Christmas, but the most important thing remains: Christmas lights everywhere being with the people you love. – Adam Chitwood
The Shop Around the Corner
You’ll never hate You’ve Got Mail more than after seeing the magnificent, damn-near euphoric comedy that it’s adapted from, which serves as one of the crown jewels of the great Ernst Lubitsch’s career. Two contentious co-workers, played with warmth and tremendous comic charm by James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan, turn out to be secret lovers, but only in their anonymous correspondences with one another, and Lubitsch lets this morsel of a plot percolate in essentially a single setting, the quaint business of the title. The filmmaker, working with one of his favorite DPs, William H. Daniels, lets the romantic tension and desire seethe in every shot, and somehow breaks the film out of its more theatrical implications. The film ends up being like some wonderful, hand-crafted Christmas snow globe, made with tremendous invention and personal detail, as well as intimately reflective, reflexive flashes for Lubitsch himself that make the sexual and political subtext tremble with every miniature turn of the barebones narrative. – Chris Cabin
Released four years before Halloween, Black Christmas is the OG holiday slasher flick (unless you count Psycho in those categories) and a must watch Christmas horror to boot. The film follows Jess (Olivia Hussey) , a bright young college student, and the sisters of her sorority house when they decide to remain on campus during Christmas break. Before long, calls start pouring in from “the moaner”—a raspy-voiced, lascivious-tongued lunatic who wastes no time picking off the ladies one by one.
Despite some dated stylistic elements, Black Christmas holds up remarkably well and is downright modern compared to the moralistic slasher films that would dominate the 80s. The women of Black Christmas are allowed to be complicated, adult characters to the point that the “final girl” — a trope that demands the only the purest survive — is not only sexually active, but confronting her decision to have an abortion. And while the film has well-crafted scare set-pieces and and unsettling moments, Black Christmas is a crowd pleaser to satisfy the horror hardened and neophytes alike, or anybody looking to add an extra chill to their Christmas without getting too dark. – Haleigh Foutch
We lost director Ted Demme too soon, and this is arguably his best film, which takes a simple comic premise—a bickering couple is kidnapped right before their big holiday dinner—and mines it not just for laughs, but also for surprising drama. While Denis Leary is going full-on-Leary, the performances that really shine are Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, a couple who need someone as unforgiving as they are to cut through their bullshit. But once they stop trying to one-up the other, the honesty comes through, and The Ref becomes a movie that’s as moving as it is funny. – Matt Goldberg
A Christmas Tale
There are as many stories of family coming together during the holidays as there are ones about families picking at each other’s bones, and yet there aren’t many films that dig into the latter in any particularly insightful way. Arnaud Desplechin’s delirious, generous, and emotionally effective A Christmas Tale would be a rare, borderline miraculous exception, diving deep into the tangled, abrasive relationships of the Vuillard family, headed by grandmother Junon, played by the majestic Catherine Deneuve. The entire family is haunted by the death of one of Junon’s children, the end result being that Mathieu Amalric’s Henri is passively blamed for the death and has become the monster that the family all perceive him to be.
The relationships are thick yet kinetic in their complexity, with excellent performances from a bounty of thrilling French actors. The real joyous experience of Desplechin’s holiday wonder, however, is in the variety of pans, close-ups, long takes, expertly timed cuts, and cinematic tricks that the director deploys. There’s a wild, consistent pulse of life and style to A Christmas Tale that doesn’t dither even in his most audacious moves – breaking the fourth wall, stock change-up, etc. – and each one of the filmmaker’s bolder moves comes to reflect the emotional challenges dealt to them by their kin, their issues finally strung together like glittery tinsel. – Chris Cabin
In a dystopian future, an office pawn (Jonathan Pryce) chases the woman of his dreams because she’s literally from his dreams. Oh and governmental armies visit civilians in the same manner that Santa used to. Down the chimney, guns blazing. Even during a family Christmas meal.
Terry Gilliam‘s dystopian fantasia makes you think in many different ways, but on Christmas, why not be reminded about how invasive Santa’s method of entry is? Also, why not watch a masterpiece of cinema that also happens to have a few Christmas chuckles? – Brian Formo
Elf is a jolt of pure Christmas spirit: straight up, no chaser—well, maybe a maple syrup chaser. The film stars Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf—a Will Ferrell-sized (read: giant) human raised to believe he’s one of Santa’s elves. When Buddy discovers the truth of his Human origin, he heads to New York City to meet his biological father (James Caan), a cutthroat businessman and resident of the (gasp) naughty list.
Ferrell’s relentless, ebullient glee in the face of real world bullshit carries the film. Seeing the humdrum day-to-day of modern metropolitan living through the lens of a 6’3″ grown man naive and optimistic enough to believe he’s an elf makes for some top self fish-out-of-water comedy. It’s also the film that introduced the world at large to Zooey Deschanel‘s lovely singing voice. If you’re looking for some down the line Christmas cheer, you can’t go wrong with Elf. – Haleigh Foutch
The Ice Harvest
Few neo-noirs have hit with the pure force of the late Harold Ramis’ oil-dark The Ice Harvest, which pits a despondent John Cusack and a predictably cynical Billy Bob Thornton against the crime syndicate they so happily ripped off over the holidays. Rather than getting hung up on backstory or atmosphere, Ramis focuses on building a community of corruption that never even feigns to embrace morality and yet takes no pride in its darkness. He allows the propulsive plot turns, witty dialogue, and quietly revealing inflections of characters from the performers, including Oliver Platt, Connie Nielsen, and Randy Quaid, to drive the storytelling, more potently recalling the beloved crime films of the 1940s and 50s than similar films that get stuck on replicating style. Most of all, Ramis’ comedic practice allows the film to exude a sly self-awareness of its genre heritage, bringing out experienced type of bemused wisdom that feels unwaveringly authentic, humble, and riotously skeptical. – Chris Cabin
The Nightmare Before Christmas
As a horror lover, it’s probably no surprise that Halloween is my favorite time of year, so the way Jack Skellington celebrates Christmas is my kind of Christmas. Not only does The Nightmare Before Christmas capture the spirit of Christmas, but Halloween too via The Pumpkin King’s well-meaning but seriously flawed plan to bring holiday cheer to Halloween Town. It’s suspenseful, heartwarming and, if you’re sick of hearing traditional Christmas songs on loop, absolutely packed with catchy tunes that are so well-written and detailed that they let you relive key scenes even after the movie is over. I remember insisting that my grandparents take me to see Nightmare Before Christmas in theaters multiple times when it first came out back in 1993 and even though I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times since, the movie still charms me to no end and sparks some serious Christmas (and Halloween) spirit. – Perri Nemiroff
Bad Santa is the perfect late night Christmas watch for after the kids are tucked in and your stuffiest relatives hit the road. Billy Bob Thornton knocks out an iconic performance rooted in the tradition of Scrooge and The Grinch as Willie, the world’s worst mall Santa. A foul-mouthed, booze-soaked misanthrope with a proclivity for getting naughty with the plus sized customers in the dressing room, Willie’s seasonal day job is the perfect cover for for a thief who robs the store safe after the busiest shopping season of the year.
Director Terry Zwigoff dispenses of the saccharine sentimentality of the standard holiday fare, and yet underneath all the butt sex and excessive swearing Bad Santa is ultimately a warmhearted story about redemption and the satisfaction of generosity over greed. It’s one of the funniest, hardest-R Christmas movies ever made, and watching Brett Kelly‘s socially hopeless “The Kid” help teach Willie the meaning of Christmas never loses its charm. – Haleigh Foutch