Yuletide (Viewing) Cheer

55 Movies to Watch While You're Stuck at Home This Holiday Season

A Christmas movie guide to suit your every mood and craving.

By Emma Schkloven

We might not all be ho-ho-home for the holidays this year, but that doesn't mean we have to while away the hours completely devoid of holiday tidings of comfort, joy, family drama, explosions, meaningful life lessons, and the good full-body cackles that come with seasonal viewings of Yuletide favorites. In fact, it is imperative that you take some time to get into the spirit of the season by pulling up whatever type of film you're in the mood for. And if you don't quite know what you want to watch? Well, Houstonia has you covered with this comprehensive round-up of movies to take in during the 2020 holiday season.

Since the offerings this time of year are so plentiful (seriously, like 80-plus new Christmas flicks have come out in 2020), we’ve focused exclusively on holiday movies—sorry Rudolph, Frosty, and especially you, Charlie Brown. Hallmark and Lifetime movies didn’t make the cut either (we're not entirely sorry about that since you can honestly go to Hallmark at random and catch Christmas and romance whenevs).

Most important, we've tried to include something for everyone, whether you're into the old black-and-white classics, prefer to check out a new gift every year, or are feeling too "bah humbug" to celebrate much at all.    

So here’s what to watch if ...

If You Believe Nothing Beats the Classics:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Did you really think we’d start this list with anything else? No other film is as synonymous with Christmas cheer, or the true meaning of Christmas, as Frank Capra’s uplifting classic about George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a man whose kindness and generosity has impacted more people in his hometown of Bedford Falls, New York, than he ever imagined. It just takes Clarence, Angel Second Class, to show him his worth on a particularly bleak Christmas Eve. Ironically, this beloved touchstone was a categoric failure when it first landed in theaters, only finding new life when it entered the public domain. Now considered one of the greatest films of all time (not just among Christmas movies), this timeless story of love and grace truly earns its wings. 

Stream it on Amazon Prime.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

This story of a department store Santa named Kris Kringle, and the no-nonsense mother and daughter who come to believe in him, starts off with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with an emphasis on the power of kindness and the willingness to believe, even just a little, in magic. Featuring acclaimed performances from Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn (who won an Oscar for his role as Kringle), this beautiful film is perfect for starting your Christmas off right. If you don’t melt when Wood pulls Gwenn’s beard, the courtroom scene will get you. 

Stream it on Disney+, Amazon Prime, VUDU, and YouTube.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

This Christmas gem might sound familiar to fans of a certain AOL-centered romcom. And it should, since it's drawn from the same source material as Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail. This time, though, we've got soon-to-be lovers (hello again, Jimmy Stewart, and welcome to the party, Margaret Sullavan) are a pair of feuding gift shop coworkers, both besotted with their respective mystery pen pals—who just happen to be each other. The film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, is a practically perfect thing, with performances from its stars and the crackerjack supporting cast, including character actors Frank Morgan (The Wizard of Oz) and Felix Bressart (Edison, the Man; To Be or Not to Be) that you fall in love with instantly and won't soon forget. 

Rent it on HBO Max and Amazon Prime.  

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

The incomparable Barbara Stanwyck makes comedy gold playing Elizabeth Lane, a food columnist facing potential scandal when her publisher invites war hero and fan Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) for a home-cooked Christmas dinner with the writer and her family on their Connecticut farm. The problem? There’s no farm or family, and Lane definitely can’t cook. In a bid to save her career, the writer concocts a crazy scheme involving a marriage to her friend with a farm in Connecticut, her chef uncle who’s been secretly supplying her with her recipes, and a neighbor’s baby (her housewife persona has a child, see). And it all seems to be going well—until Jefferson shows up and they fall instantly in love.

Rent it on Amazon Prime and Google Play. 

White Christmas (1954) 

Why there’re two films involving Bing Crosby and an inn, we’ll never know (though those who are now used to developing a Yuletide crush on the great crooner are just happy both exist), but this one is definitely the more Christmasy of the two, featuring Crosby and Danny Kaye decamping to an inn to try and help out an old buddy from the army just before Christmas. Crosby and Kaye sing and dance their butts off to help their former Army commander save his inn, with the help of Rosemary Clooney (yep, George’s aunt) and Vera-Ellen. We mentioned singing and dancing, didn’t we? All of the songs in the movie, most notably “White Christmas” (first introduced in the other Crosby-inn movie, 1945’s Holiday Inn), are written by Irving Berlin. Oh, and there’s snow.

Stream it on Netflix. 

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

What would the holidays be without the seasonal standard “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas?” Well, that iconic song comes from this MGM movie musical, starring the studio’s favorite gal, Judy Garland. Divided into seasonal vignettes, the story follows the Smith family as they grapple with an impending move from their St. Louis home to New York during the lead-up to the 1904 World’s Fair. While the film isn’t exactly a Christmas movie, starting in summer and ending in the spring, it’s hard not to smile when listening to Judy Garland’s dulcet tones as she urges us to “let our hearts be light.”

Stream it on HBO Max and rent it on Amazon Prime. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

After getting evicted from his apartment, a down-on-his luck war vet (Don DeFore) finds himself squatting in a Fifth Avenue mansion while its owner, the second-richest man in the world (Charles Ruggles), winters out of state. When the rich man’s daughter (Gale Storm) shows up, falls in love with the ex-G.I., and decides to help him, the man is soon unknowingly living with the actual homeowner—the person who had just had him evicted him from his last apartment so he could replace the building with a skyscraper, no less—and the rich man’s ex-wife (Ann Harding). How does our leading man of this comedy not know who these wealthy denizens are while staying in their own home, you ask? Why, they’re pretending to be homeless people, of course.

Rent it on HBO Max.

A Lion in Winter (1968)

Dysfunctional families are part and parcel to Christmas stories. But what happens when it’s the Middle Ages and the family in question are royals? The year is 1183, and aging King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) has decided to announce his heir at the court of Christmas. Though he has three surviving sons, he’s chosen John (Nigel Terry), the youngest and dimmest, much to the chagrin of his imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, (Katharine Hepburn), who wants her eldest, celebrated military leader Richard (Anthony Hopkins, in his first major film debut), on the throne. There’re also subplots involving Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton), ex-husband of Eleanor, who has sent his half-sister—currently Henry II’s mistress—to marry the future heir, and a possible war on Henry, led by his middle son, Geoffrey II (John Castle). Talk about royal drama llama. It's a remarkable film that can combine politics, family machinations, and Christmas all while O'Toole and Hepburn give a master class in what acting can and should be. It's not exactly warm and fuzzy, but neither was the Plantagenet family, even for their holiday get-togethers. 

Rent it on Amazon Prime and VUDU. 

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Bob Hope plays a con artist who has until Christmas Eve to come up with $10,000 after a betting scam goes wrong … or else the local mobster (Fred Clark) will make sure he doesn’t “make it to New Year’s.” So, what’s a con man to do? Why, scam a bunch of people by pretending to raise money for a fake retirement home with the help of his criminal friends and unwitting on-again, off-again girlfriend (Marilyn Maxwell), of course. Luckily for everyone, even con men feel the true spirit of Christmas now and then. As with any good screwball comedy, this movie’s filled with hilarious slapstick bits, plus it features America’s introduction to now Christmas-canon standard “Silver Bells.”

Rent it on Amazon Prime. 

If You’re into the Modern Mainstays:

A Christmas Story (1983)

Come on, you had to know this one would be on the list! Bob Clark’s modern classic focuses on bespectacled 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), who wants just one thing for Christmas: “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” Unfortunately, his parents, and even Santa, aren’t too keen on his request, fearing he’ll—say it with us—shoot his eye out. This nostalgia-soaked comedy, based on American humorist Jean Shepherd's semi-autobiographical book, has got everything from school-yard brawls, to horrid bunny PJs, and, of course, that infamous leg lamp. Try not to love it, we triple-dog dare you. 

Stream it on Hulu and Sling TV.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

It took more than 40 years for us to finally get a live-action version of Dr. Seuss’s beloved 1957 Christmas book, but when a furry, green-suited Jim Carrey burned rubber down the mountainside on his sleigh, dog Max by his side, our hearts grew three sizes. Carrey’s signature full-body comedy and improvisations are on full display in this adaptation from director Ron Howard and seeing the Christmas village of Whoville life-sized for the first time really is magical. And who can resist the heart-melting ending?  

Stream it on Netflix. 

The Holiday (2006)

Nancy Meyers’s holiday rom com follows Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, who swap their houses in London and Los Angeles, respectively, over the holidays to escape recent heartbreak. Neither of the women is looking for romance. So, of course, they both fall unexpectedly in love during their trips across the pond, one with a goofy and sweet film composer (Jack Black) and the other with a handsome widower (Jude Law) and his two young daughters. Eli Wallach also appears as a famous aging Hollywood screenwriter, stealing every scene.

Stream it on Hulu and Sling TV. 

Elf (2003)

A new era of Christmas movie classics was born when Will Ferrell passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest and the sea of swirly twirly gum drops before walking through the Lincoln Tunnel and into our hearts as Buddy the Elf. It’s no surprise Buddy’s ridiculous antics in the Big Apple—the city he's visiting to find his birth father (James Caan) after learning he’s in fact not an elf from the North Pole—or his innocent romance with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) have earned this one a spot on the Nice List (yeah, yeah, we know there’s room for everyone there). Plus, it’s given us some of the most quotable lines this side of the millennium. I mean who hasn’t been called a cotton-headed ninny muggings at least once?

Stream it on Hulu and Amazon Prime. 

Love Actually (2003)

There’s really no middle ground when it comes to Rich Curtis’s star-studded holiday rom com; folks either love it or loathe it. In a way, though, that’s rather fitting for a film that explores the different sides of love through its series of intertwining stories. There’s old love, new love, and unrequited love, plus love betrayed, and friend love. From middle schooler Sam (an adorable Thomas Brodie-Sangster) working through his first crush with the help of his stepdad (Liam Neeson), to a housewife (Emma Thompson) painfully attempting to connect with her husband (Alan Rickman), and the friendship between washed-up rock legend (Bill Nighy) and his manager (Gregor Fisher), these stories remind us that love really is what connects us. Plus, it’s given us Hugh Grant dancing around 10 Downing Street, Colin Firth incoherently proposing in Portuguese, and who can forget Andrew Lincoln’s iconic cue card confession to Keira Knightley.

Rent it on Amazon Prime, AppleTV, and Google Play. 

The Santa Clause (1994)

After accidentally killing Santa, toy business executive Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) finds he’s not only inherited the North Pole but that he’s also physically transforming into the new Kris Kringle, thanks to a legal technicality. Yeah, there’s some dark moments in this one as Calvin’s ex-wife and her husband try to stop him from seeing his son, (which we get—we’d be freaked out, too, if an adult believed he actually was Santa Claus), not to mention that it terrified a whole generation of young'uns with the fear that Santa might fall off their roofs to his death, but there’s some genuine good fun to be had in this one. And really what better way to keep your kid (Eric Lloyd) believing in Santa than actually being St. Nick?

Stream it on Disney+. 

Home Alone (1990)

What happens when an 8-year-old Macaulay Culkin is accidentally left behind when his family goes out of town for the holidays? We find out in this ’90s favorite from Chris Columbus. Having free rein in the house seems like a kid’s ultimate dream at first, but the stakes go up when he has to defend the family home against the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). What’s really amazing is that his parents manage to leave him behind again, but at least in the 1992 sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, he gets a trip to the Big Apple out of it. Let’s also appreciate that both Kevin McAllister’s mother and Moira Rose of runaway TV hit Schitt’s Creek are played by the great Catherine O’Hara. Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.

Stream it on Disney+. 

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

 Surprisingly, this ‘90s Sandra Bullock romcom rarely seems to make holiday movie lists, even though it starts on Christmas Day and ends a few days after New Year’s. After lonely Chicago transit worker Lucy (Bullock) saves her longtime crush, Peter (Peter Gallagher), from the path of an oncoming train on Christmas Day, a passing comment leads his family to believe they’re engaged. With Peter in a coma, his family happily opens their arms to his “fiancée,” which is fine and dandy—until she falls for Peter’s brother, Jack (Bill Pullman). Whoopsie.

Stream it on Disney+

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

“Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?” It’s not often that a threequel is anywhere near as good as its predecessors, but the third installment in the National Lampoon franchise manages to do just that. After two disastrous family trips the Griswolds— patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase), his wife, Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo); and two kids, Audrey (Juliette Lewis) and Rusty (Johnny Galecki)—decide to stay home for the holidays. But this family could never have a quiet Christmas. Chaos ensues when their redneck cousins roll up unannounced in their RV, soon followed by a senile aunt and grumpy uncle. Namely, a burned Christmas tree, an electrocuted cat, and a kidnapping. It’s enough to send anyone, let alone type-A Clark Griswold, through the roof.

Stream it on Amazon Prime. 

Carol (2015)

Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara find forbidden love in this period romance set in 1950s Manhattan. This film wasn’t meant to be a Christmas movie, using the holiday setting as more of a backdrop than part of the actual plot, but there’s something about seeing Blanchett’s unhappy housewife fall in love with the retail clerk in the Santa hat while being bathed in twinkling lights that perfectly matches the promise of new beginnings this time of year always holds.

Stream it on Netflix.

If You’re Looking for Something that’s Fresh as Fallen Snow:

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Meet the newest addition to your annual Christmas must list. This big-hearted musical follows an eccentric toymaker (Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker) who, after being betrayed by his apprentice (Emmy-winner Keegan-Michael Key), finally finds new inspiration with the help of his granddaughter (scene-stealing newcomer Madalen Mills). Oh, did we mention it also stars Tony-winner Phylicia Rashad? With elaborate costumes and sets and original songs by EGOT winner John Legend, among others, this fantasy adventure is covered in sparkly Christmas tinsel from head to toe.

Stream it on Netflix.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

Yes, it’s a film adaptation of the famous Nutcracker ballet. This version sees Clara (Interstellar’s Mackenzie Foy) traveling to a magical kingdom to try and unlock a Christmas gift from her late mother. There she meets the nutcracker, Captain Phillip Hoffman; Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightly); and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), and is soon thrown head-first into an epic adventure involving battling realms. Morgan Freeman also appears in this fantasy, which features a show-stopping cameo by ballerina Misty Copeland.

Stream it on Disney+ and rent it on Amazon Prime.

Last Christmas (2019)

Based on the Wham! song of the same name, this heartwarming romcom sees our Khaleesi (do we still call her that after … you know … King’s Landing?), Emilia Clarke, as a disillusioned Christmas store worker recovering from a major illness, who starts a relationship with too-good-to-be-true Tom (Crazy Rich Asians’s Henry Golding). Yeah, it all sounds super predictable, but for once, we can tell you it doesn’t end the way you think it will. And it doesn’t hurt that Clarke’s mother is played by Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the script, either.

Stream it on Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime.

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)

Real-life couple Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn star as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus in this Yuletide action-comedy that sees two kids trying to catch Kris Kringle in the present-delivering act. When their plan causes Santa to accidentally crash his sleigh, the mischief-makers must band together with the North Pole crew to save Christmas before it’s too late.  New this year, the movie’s sequel, which is directed by Chris Columbus, brings the lesser-known mythological character, Belsnickel, a cantankerous (and ever fur-wearing) European gift-bringer, to life.

Stream it on Netflix.

Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2020)

This new documentary takes us behind the scenes with Houston-born dance icon Debbie Allen as she prepares her LA-based company, Debbie Allen Dance Academy, for its annual holiday extravaganza, Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, a modern, inclusive take on the traditional The Nutcracker ballet, which happens to be the non-profit company’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Making it even more fun for Bayou City audiences, Lauren Anderson, former Houston Ballet principal dancer, makes an appearance in the film.

Stream it on Netflix.

Happiest Season (2020)

Food for thought: this Kristen Stewart-led project, which got rerouted to streaming services because of the pandemic, makes history as the first Tinsel Town studio-backed holiday romcom about a same-sex couple. Lift some eggnog to progress, ya’ll. Stewart’s Abby plans to propose to girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) during their holiday stay at Harper’s family home, but her plans are put on hold when she learns Harper isn’t out to her conservative parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen). According to critics, Aubrey Plaza’s performance as Riley, the first girl Harper ever dated, and Schitt’s Creek creator/star Dan Levy’s appearance as Abby’s best friend, John, are this movie’s true Christmas angels.

Stream it on Hulu.

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020)

We always knew Dolly Parton was an angel, and now we have proof. When a Scrooge-like businesswoman (Christine Baranski) returns to her small hometown, intent on ruining Christmas with a wave of mass evictions, our angelic country star drops by to change her mind through song. And those 14 original songs feature music and lyrics from Dolly herself, of course.

Stream it on Netflix.

Little Women (2019)

Part of every holiday season involves arguing over whether a non-Christmas-centric film is still a “Christmas movie.” But for the sake of tradition: Greta Gerwig’s period, coming-of-age drama, based on Louisa May Alcott’s famous book of the same name, features not one, but two pivotal Christmases within its plot. It even opens on one of them. Set in the 1860s, the film follows the March sisters—Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen), and Amy (Florence Pugh)—as they come of age under the guidance of their passionate mother, Marmee (Laura Dern) against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Not only does this film feature a killer ensemble of acting heavyweights (including Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Bob Odenkirk, among others), its theme of family is about as Christmasy as it gets.  

Stream it on Netflix.

The Princess Switch (2018)

With a trope as popular as royals and Christmas, it’s tough to pick just one movie from this very packed category. But we’re going with this modern-day Christmas reimagining of The Prince and the Pauper, which sees Vanessa Hudgens play both Stacy, a baker from Chicago, and Lady Margaret Delacourt, fiancée of the prince of Belgravia. When the two meet during a baking competition in Belgravia, they decide to take a break from their own lives and switch places for two days. Cue their ensuing romances with Kevin (Nick Sagar), Stacy’s lifelong friend and fellow baker, and Prince Edward (Nashville’s Sam Palladio). And if two doses of the former High School Musical star aren’t enough for you, the long-awaited sequel, The Princess Switch: Switched Again, just came out this year—featuring 33.3 percent more Vanessa.

Stream it on Hulu.

Dear Santa (2020)

Ever heard of Operation Santa? The U.S. Postal Service’s century-old program brings together volunteers from around the country to answer children’s letters of Santa, and, in many cases, get the kids the presents they’ve requested. This new documentary from Dana Nachman takes this heartwarming mission out of the snow-filled shadows and into the Christmas glow, bringing with it a whole sleigh of joy—something we truly need after such a dark year.

Stream it on Netflix.

If You Prefer Your “Ho Ho Ho”s with an Extra Helping of Action:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Writer-director Shane Black sets almost all of his movies against a Christmas backdrop, but none embrace the holiday season more than his directorial debut, which sees New York thief-turned actor Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) shadowing a P.I. (Val Kilmer) at Christmas to research a role, after which he ends up entangled in the murder of a Hollywood producer's daughter, who is somehow tied to his own past. Not only does the neo-noir comedy play on the holiday themes of redemption and forgiveness, it’s got all the qualities of a good Shane Black film, from well-crafted character drama to rapid-fire zingers, and that seedy crime fiction feel he loves so much. Plus, it’s the film that cemented Downey Jr.’s Hollywood comeback.

Rent it on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis is wrong, Die Hard is totally a Christmas movie—even Twentieth Century Fox agrees, calling it “the greatest Christmas story ever told." Yes, it’s one of the action-iest action movies ever, but it’s also a story of loss and redemption as hard-nosed New York cop John McClane tries to win back his family while going up against a group of terrorists who have crashed the annual holiday party at his estranged wife’s office. 

Stream it on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max.

Batman Returns (1992)

Holy Christmas, Batman! You’ve been such a good Dark Knight that you’re getting a Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer for Christmas … or maybe she’s getting you, it’s hard to tell sometimes. Another director who likes to set movies during the holiday season, Tim Burton’s second time driving the Bat Mobile sees Batman (Michael Keaton) going up against Danny DeVito’s demented Oswald Cobblepot and Catwoman (Pfeiffer). And Gotham actually looks—dare we say it—cheerful strung up in Christmas lights—though the Christmas tree lighting ceremony ending in a murder and a colony of bats does kind of kill the feel-good holiday buzz a bit.

Rent it on HBO Max.

In Bruges (2008)

After botching his first job, Ray (Colin Ferrell), a young hitman, and his mentor (Brendan Gleeson) camp out in the fairytale-esque Bruges, awaiting orders from crime boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). But Ray’s mistake is a cardinal sin for Harry, and the penalty for that error is his life. Filmed on location in the Belgian city—one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe—this debut film from Irish playwright Martin McDonagh is as incredibly sad as it is funny, actiony, and poignant. If you like blood and brains splattering across your screen with a surprising side of weighty, existential themes on morality, forgiveness, and redemption, this is your movie.

Rent it on Amazon Prime. 

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Christmas and zombies: What could possibly make the holiday season better? We know! What if we made it a musical? When a zombie apocalypse threatens the Scottish town of Little Haven at Christmas, Anna (Ella Hunt) and her high school friends must slash—and sing (oh, did we mention they dance, too?)—their way out in a desperate race to save their loved ones from the end of the world.

Rent it on Hulu and Amazon Prime. 

If You Love How Animated the Holiday Season Is:

The Grinch (2018)

The newest adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s now-iconic Christmas story expands the Grinch’s tale, giving him a tragic, lonely backstory à la Ebenezer Scrooge, while also going all-in on its re-creation of the author’s whimsically wild Whoville design and offering a few modern touches in terms of music and plot details. While nothing can quite beat hearing Thurl Ravenscroft hit those epic bass notes as he croons about how our soon-to-be big-hearted meanie greenie’s “as cuddly as a cactus” and “as charming as an eel” in the original, unbeatable 1966 animated TV special (remember, we’re only doing movies), Benedict Cumberbatch's voicing of our new millennium Grinch is pretty fun.

Rent it on Amazon Prime.

Polar Express (2004)

Chris Van Allsburg’s enchanting kid’s book of the same name found a whole new audience when this Tom Hanks-fronted adaptation about a young Christmas skeptic who’s invited to ride a train to the North Pole drove into theaters. Created using motion-capture technology, the animation is so realistic, you might just feel the chill in your hair as this magical story steamrolls toward the land of Santa and his merry band of elves.  

Rent it on Amazon Prime. 

Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Bored with Halloween, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, discovers an exciting new holiday to bring to the world when he falls through a portal into Christmas Town. Is Tim Burton’s stop-motion classic a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? Who cares, it’s just plain awesome—though it should be noted that our protagonist definitely learns the true meaning of Christmas … you know, after kidnapping Santa (give him a break, y'all, he was trying to make the holiday better).

Stream it on Disney+.

Arthur Christmas (2011)

This lesser-known animated film from the team behind Wallace & Gromit sees Arthur Claus (James McAvoy), the clumsy and panophobic youngest son of the current Santa, Malcolm Claus (Jim Broadbent), on a mission to save the Christmas of a single girl after discovering that his father’s high-tech present delivery system accidentally skips her. But Arthur’s not alone in his quest. He’s got support from his free-spirited grandfather, Grandsanta (Bill Nighy), and an enthusiastic Christmas elf named Bryony (Ashley Jensen). There’re other big names attached to this movie, too, namely Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton, who voice Steve, Santa’s oldest business-oriented son, and Mrs. Santa, respectively.  

Stream it on Hulu.

Klaus (2019)

Speaking of origin stories, Santa gets one of his very own in this movie about a reclusive carpenter and a selfish young postman, which stars Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons in the title role. With gorgeously nostalgic, (mostly) hand-drawn animation, courtesy of Spanish upstart Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (run by former Disney animator, Despicable Me franchise creator, and this film’s director, Sergio Pablos), the visuals in this one are a Christmas present all their own.

Stream it on Netflix.

If You’d Recognize “Marley was dead, to begin with” Anywhere:

The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)

New rule: If you want something done right, leave it to the Muppets. We’re not even kidding. This beloved ’90s rendition of Dickens’s novella, featuring our favorite wise-cracking puppets, follows the author’s original story pretty darn closely. Oscar-winner Michael Caine had a very ambitious plan when he signed on to play Ebenezer Scrooge opposite Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Fozzi Bear as Fozziwig, and The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens. “I'm going to play this movie like I'm working with the Royal Shakespeare Company,” he’s famously quoted saying. That contrast between Caine’s serious, dramatic approach and the zaniness of the Muppets’ antics, makes for the perfect balance of Christmas heart.

Stream it on Disney+.

Scrooged (1988)

Bill Murray plays a cold and curmudgeonly TV executive who, while working on his network’s live broadcast of A Christmas Carol, gets his own visit from a set of ghosts hoping to help him reevaluate his life. Murray’s comedic sensibilities shine through in this adaptation, which also features Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, and Carol Kane (the fabulous Ghost of Christmas Present). It’s not surprising this iteration has become a modern-day fave.

Rent it on Amazon Prime.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

This newer story from Bharat Nalluri takes a slightly different approach, focusing instead on Dickens himself (Downtown Abbey’s Dan Stevens) and his journey to publishing his now holiday season synonymous novella. Don’t worry though, Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) and the Christmas Ghosts still make appearances. And Nalluri’s film’s an interesting one, too, as we meet Dickens at the point where he’s almost given up on writing and we watch him try to convince those around him that Christmas is a holiday worth celebrating (seriously, Christmas wasn’t even as popular as Boxing Day back in the 1830s) before forever changing the season’s tradition with his now iconic tale.

Stream it on Hulu.

A Christmas Carol (originally Scrooge) (1951)

The key to a truly successful adaptation of A Christmas Carol really comes down to your Ebenezer Scrooge, and Alastair Sim’s performance as the cold-hearted miser is truly one for the books, as he vacillates between truly despicable and undeniably empathetic in this UK import. This is a slightly darker version of Dickens’s story, diving into the economic perils touched on in the original tale and deepening Scrooge’s backstory, but those changes make his transformation at the end all the more powerful.

Rent it on Amazon Prime.

Scrooge (1970) 

It was only a matter of time until someone turned Dickens’s tale into a musical. Luckily, when that time finally arrived, we got the fantastic Albert Finney as our Scrooge—not to mention Alec Guinness (Jacob Marley) and Kenneth More (Ghost of Christmas Present)—as well as some great songs, courtesy of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory composer Leslie Bricusse. While Finney was perhaps a bit too young to play the iconic elderly miser at age 40 (thank goodness for makeup), we urge you to make the most of this movie, whether you find this adaptation a bit too hokey or a real season treat.   

Rent it on Amazon Prime.

If You Like Your Egg Nog a Little More … Adult:

Bad Santa (2003)

Ever wondered what the world’s worst Santa might be like? Meet Willie T. Soke (Billy Bob Thornton), a petty thief who celebrates every Christmas by posing as a mall Santa and robbing the mall after it closes. But this rude, crude (did we mention Soke’s also an alcoholic sex addict?) black comedy actually has a heartwarming redemptive arc perfect for the holiday season, tucked away underneath all that sex, profanity, and drugs.

Rent it on Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Gremlins (1984)

You may be thinking, wait, this is a kid’s movie, but it’s so not, let us tell you. And this one’s definitely a no-no if you still want your kids to believe in Santa. The horror comedy from Chris Columbus follows a young man who receives a strange creature, called a mogwai, for Christmas. But all hell breaks loose when the adorable, furry Gizmo touches water and spawns a hoard of far more terrifying and destructive creatures. Don’t watch this one after midnight; you never know what might happen.

Stream it on Amazon Prime.

The Night Before (2015)

There’s got to be one stoner comedy on every holiday movie list, and while A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is a solid choice, we’re going with a slightly newer flick. This sleeper hit follows three lifelong friends (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie) who, after years of frat-like reunion/holiday celebrations, plan to make their final Christmas get-together the biggest and craziest one yet.

Stream it on Hulu.

Tangerine (2015)

Sean Baker's buddy-comedy indie about two transgender sex workers (Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) hunting throughout L.A. for one of their cheating pimps/boyfriends on Christmas Eve is quickly become a modern-day Christmas classic. And it’s easy to see why. Not only is it hilarious with a truly heartfelt ending, it also shatters traditional film techniques (the film was shot entirely on three iPhones) and casting conventions in a fantastic way.

Stream it on Vudu and Tubi or rent in on Amazon Prime.

Krampus (2015) 

“Christmas horror films” is a densely packed sub-genre, filled with everything from the super gory, to the psychologically thrilling and the grossly hilarious. Michael Dougherty’s comedy-horror goes for laughs, along with its jump scares, in this film about a highly dysfunctional family that gets terrorized by Krampus, the horned, demonic anti-Santa from European folklore. And the family at the center of this story is made up of a pretty great cast that includes Toni Collette, Adam Scott, and Fargo’s Allison Tolman (did we mention she's from Sugar Land?).

Stream it on Hulu and Sling TV.

If This Entire Year Has Felt Like Coal in Your Stocking, So Who Gives a Sh*t?:

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

Comic book movie fans get a Christmas present from Warner Brothers this holiday with the surprise streaming release of its highly anticipated Wonder Woman follow-up. Gal Gadot reprises her career-defining role as the titular Amazonian princess/warrior in this sequel, which also sees Patty Jenkins return to the director’s chair. This time around, we’re seeing Diana Prince go up against one of her most classic comic book villains in Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), along with Superman staple baddie Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). Plus, there’s the twist return of Wonder Woman’s love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). We won’t be able to see this much buzzed about film until Christmas Day, but first impressions from the critics have started arriving, and it’s sounding that, like its predecessor, Prince’s ’80s adventure is totally worth the hype.

Stream it on HBO Max starting Dec 25.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

This adaptation of the August Wilson play of the same name sees aging, trailblazing blues musician “Ma” Rainey (the legendary Viola Davis) and her band gathering for a contentious, life-altering recording session in a 1927 Chicago studio. It’s exciting to see Davis taking on another August Wilson play (she won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Wilson’s most famous work, Fences, as well as an Oscar for the same role in the 2016 film adaptation), but what has heartbreakingly made this film one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year is that it features the final performance from actor Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer this summer. As with every one of his past roles, his turn as Levee, Rainey’s hot-headed trumpet player, is absolutely riveting. Call us crazy, but we’re putting our money on a posthumous Oscar win for the late, great Boseman here and now.

Stream it on Netflix starting Dec 18.

Soul (2020)

Another hot film commodity skipping theaters because of Covid, this latest Disney-Pixar movie is uplifting and heartwarming in its story about what makes each of us us; plus, it’s the first movie from the studio to feature a predominantly Black cast. Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a middle school music teacher and talented jazz player, finally gets his chance to perform at a famous club, but when his soul is accidentally separated from his body, he’ll have to escape an alternate realm if he’s going to take to the stage on time. Other famous names in this soon-to-be animated essential include Angela Bassett, Quest Love, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Tina Fey.

Stream it on Disney+ starting Dec 25.

Mank (2020)

David Fincher’s old-Hollywood-style biopic about famed ’30s and ’40s Tinsel Town screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz is already being called an Oscar contender. The director’s first project since 2014’s Gone Girl, which also features a screenplay by his late father, Jack Fincher, follows Mankiewicz’s (Gary Oldman) tumultuous journey developing Orson Welles’s (Tom Burke) now iconic movie Citizen Kane. Just as Kane jumps back and forth in its main character’s life, so does Mank’s, as we learn all about his past while he writes the film that will one day be considered the greatest movie ever made. Lily Collins, Amanda Seyfried, and Charles Dance also star in this breathtakingly shot biographical drama.

Stream it on Netflix.

Sound of Metal (2020)

Riz Ahmed gives what critics are calling one of the best performances of the year in Darius Marder’s film about Ruben, a rock drummer and recovering drug addict, facing new challenges as he suddenly begins to lose his hearing. Inspired by co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s own difficulties with tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, Marder brings an intimate and immersive approach to Ruben’s struggling, even going so far as to distort the film’s soundtrack as the drummer loses more and more of his hearing. The end result is riveting.

Stream it on Amazon Prime.

Filed under
Show Comments