Movies, like all art, are subjective, but Christmas movies in particular are one of the most subjective categories out there. Nostalgia plays a huge role in why people love certain Christmas movies. They remember watching Christmas movies as kids and the joy and laughter they brought.
So what makes a good Christmas movie? Maybe the sets are covered in snow, garland and wreaths. Maybe they’re about classic Christmas characters, like Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty and elves. Maybe it has a happy ending that reminds you to share joy and love during the season and embrace the spirit of the holidays. Maybe it’s just set at Christmas time, like Gremlins or Die Hard.
This list includes some of my favorite Christmas movies and others that just don’t give me the holly jollies. Feel free to disagree with my choices, but please know this is a definitive list and I will not be taking questions nor can you convince me otherwise.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Naughty: Elf (2003)
Something about grown man Will Ferrell in a full elf costume (including tights) acting like a large child running through New York City has always been a little creepy to me. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never liked it when adults are called “buddy.” The set design of the North Pole is also strange – it’s designed to match the 1960s stop-motion Rudolph special, but it just doesn’t work as a live-action set. James Caan as Buddy’s dad is so unlikable that I spend the entire movie hating him and while I love Zooey Deschanel, she is so miscast next to Ferrell. Peter Dinklage is way too talented and deserved better than to be cast as an extended dwarf joke. It has some funny moments and memorable one-liners, but overall, Elf is just not for me.
Nice: Christmas Vacation (1989)
This is the ultimate Christmas movie. It’s simultaneously so accurate but incredibly outlandish – perfectly depicting the highs and lows of spending the holidays with your family. Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold wants to throw the ultimate Christmas, but nothing goes according to plan. The comedy in this movie still holds up 30 years later and it remains one of the most quotable movies of all time. The cast is iconic, from pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus to pre-Big Bang Theory Johnny Galecki, but Chase, Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie, and William Hickey and Mae Questel as Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany steal the show.
Naughty: Every Hallmark Christmas movie
Tell me if this sounds familiar: A career-focused woman (blonde or brunette, always white, and probably Candace Cameron Bure or Danica McKellar) living in a big city who is too busy for love must return to her small rural home town to visit her family for the holidays. While there, she runs into a handsome former crush/high school classmate/family friend in plaid who may or may not have a child. They are forced together by plot devices through which they eventually fall in love while learning about the true meaning of Christmas. It snows and they kiss. Yawn.
Nice: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
At its core, How the Grinch Stole Christmas reminds us that no matter how tall or small or green or mean we are, we all need someone to treat us like a person and spread love and forgiveness. The Grinch is peak Jim Carrey, channeling the same energy he brought to Ace Ventura and The Mask. The eternally optimistic Whos delightfully clash with the Grinch’s cynicism and pessimism until his heart can’t take it anymore. And Christine Baranski’s performance as Martha May Whovier deserves to go down in history as one of the greatest supporting characters in any Christmas movie.
Naughty: A Christmas Story (1983)
I have never liked this movie. It feels like a weird fever dream and no one seems like they’re having fun in it. Every adult in this movie is terrible, even the mall Santa. The scene in the Chinese restaurant is vaguely racist, the leg lamp is the creepiest thing, and the plot is barely there other than the endless repetition of asking for that dang BB gun.
Nice: White Christmas (1954)
There’s a magic to old Christmas movies, just like the classic Christmas songs that are played year after year. White Christmas is filled with that magic and spirit of Christmas, despite a serious lack of snow. It reminds us what it means to be generous to others without expecting anything for ourselves. Despite being over 60 years old, the comedy and characters still feel fresh today. While the music may not be bursting with Christmas, “Sisters” is an iconic moment and you’ll be hard pressed to find a more feel-good ending than when the snow finally starts to fall as everyone begins to sing “White Christmas.”