20. The Santa Clause (1994)
If the thought of seeing Tim Allen in a squishy fat suit makes you dream of sugarplums, this is the film for you. The Home Improvement star accidentally kills Santa and has to take his place. It’s no It’s a Wonderful Life, but it has its moments. Plus, there’s Judge Reinhold!
19. Gremlins (1984)
Not a Christmas movie, per se. But Joe Dante’s mischievous monster-mash comedy is set during the holidays in a snowy Norman Rockwell-esque town. Plus, who didn’t want a cuddly little pet like Gizmo waiting under their tree on Christmas morning? Assuming, you didn’t feed it after midnight…
18. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Okay, so it’s not the best installment in the Griswold family saga, but Christmas Vacation is worth watching alone for Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie and Chevy Chase’s fumbling encounter with a buxom department-store saleswoman. ”I was just blousing…uh, browsing! It’s a bit nipply out…I mean, nippy!”
17. Scrooged (1988)
No one does Bah Humbug better than Bill Murray’s Frank Cross, a heartless TV exec in this dark-comedy retelling of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Yes, it’s pretty much the same film as Groundhog Day (jerk becomes a better man on the eve of a national holiday). But that doesn’t stop it from being the perfect prickly antidote to Yuletide sap.
16. Die Hard (1988)
New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to L.A. to see his wife and winds up attending the Christmas office party from hell, thanks to Alan Rickman’s memorable Teutonic baddie Hans Gruber (who finds a one-man killing machine along with a lump of coal in his stocking!). Who needs ”Ho, ho, ho!” when you can have ”Yippee ki-yay, motherf—er!”?
15. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
An old man working as a Macy’s department store Santa claims to be Kris Kringle. And he convinces innocent kids and even the most cynical adults that he’s the real deal. There’s something undeniably sweet about this perennial classic…even though if it were made today, he’d be handcuffed and thrown in the slammer.
14. White Christmas (1954)
Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney deck the halls in this Yuletide classic. Who cares if the movie’s as syrupy as a Vermont maple? The Irving Berlin songs are timeless.
13. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton may seem like more of a natural fit for Halloween than Christmas, but the mad maestro of the macabre’s stop-motion holiday fable is pure eye candy.
12. Trading Places (1983)
All right, so maybe this one’s not technically a Christmas movie either. But the sight of a down-and-out Dan Aykroyd in a Santa suit eating a slab of salmon through his grungy cotton-candy beard fills us with the holiday spirit.
11. Home Alone (1990)
Writer John Hughes added heart to Thanksgiving with Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. In Home Alone, he takes a less sentimental approach to the holidays with the tale of 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (the adorable Macaulay Culkin), who’s left alone by his family only to face down — and outwit — a pair of bungling burglars. Let’s be honest, you can enjoy this one any time of the year.
10. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This made-for-TV Rankin and Bass classic features Burl Ives as Sam the Snowman telling the eternally sweet story of an outcast with a very shiny nose and an elf who wants to be a dentist. An annual must-see.
9. The Year Without Santa Claus (1974)
Better known as ”the movie with Heat Miser.” Santa (Mickey Rooney) has a cold and decides to take a year off from his Christmas duties. It’s up to a pair of elves (Jingle Bells and Jangle Bells) to save the day. But first they have to get past Heat Miser and Snow Miser — the best Christmas baddies since the Grinch.
8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Henson workshop takes on Dickens in this fur-and-felt adaptation of A Christmas Carol, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit, and Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Who do we petition to get this one aired on TV more often?
7. Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton spikes the egg nog in this bruise-black comedy about a disgusting, drunk department store Santa/con man who’s out to rob stores on Christmas Eve with his little person elf sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox). Here’s one for parents looking for something to pop on after the kids are asleep.
6. Love Actually (2003)
A roundelay of lump-in-your-throat London love during the holiday season from the confectioners behind Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. You could fill a stocking with all of the terrific moments in the film. But none is better than when a group of kids bring down the house with their rendition of Mariah Carey’s ”All I Want For Christmas Is You.”
5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Forget the overcaffeinated Jim Carrey version, Chuck Jones’ animated made-for-TV take on the Dr. Seuss classic is the one you want to watch (over and over again). “The Grinch hated Christmas — the whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
4. Elf (2003)
The best Christmas flick of the century. Granted, the century is only 18 years old, but still. Will Ferrell is priceless as the oversized elf who ventures far away from the North Pole to search for his father. I have a niece who was so obsessed with this movie that one December she made me watch it three times in a row. I didn’t mind a bit.
3. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Some holiday movies just make you feel good when they come on. They wrap you in a comforter of warm, cozy nostalgia. To me, and I’m guessing a lot of you, this is that movie. I could watch those Peanuts kids do their herky-jerky dance on an eternal loop and never get tired of it. Plus, if there was ever a movie that made you want to take home the saddest, baldest tree at the nursery, this is the one.
2. A Christmas Story (1983)
Okay, I know a lot of you who’ve clicked this far are going to be upset that this isn’t No. 1. I love it too, especially when four-eyed Ralphie’s pal gets triple-dog-dared into touching his tongue to a frozen metal flagpole. So please, don’t shoot my eye out with an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred-shot range model air rifle!
1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
I know, big shocker that this is No. 1, right? Well, sometimes movies are considered masterpieces for a reason. And this is one of those times. If you think that Frank Capra’s holiday staple is feel-good hooey, watch it again. It’s funny, heartwarming, profound, and an annual reminder that the holidays are about more than presents thanks to Jimmy Stewart’s turn as George Bailey. If you don’t have a sugarplum in your throat by the end credits, you need to come in from the cold.