Top 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

Top 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
It wouldn't be Christmas without these films! For this list, we're looking at our favorite Christmas flicks, including holiday specials, but focusing on films where Christmas plays a large role in the plot, and excluding “alternative” Christmas movies like “Die Hard”... no matter how awesome it is. Our countdown includes "Elf", “Love Actually”, "It's a Wonderful Life", "Home Alone", “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and more!

Top 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 20 Best Christmas Movies of All Time.

For this list, we’re looking at our favorite Christmas flicks, including holiday specials, but focusing on films where Christmas plays a large role in the plot, and excluding “alternative” Christmas movies like “Die Hard”... no matter how awesome it is.

Which movie gets you excited for the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

#20: “Love Actually” (2003)

Whether you love it or not, nobody can deny that this rom-com is chock full of Christmas spirit. While we all know the main story lines, it’s the minor ones that really shine here. The aging rock star who professes his love for his manager? The actor stand-ins who adorably fall in love? The little kid who wants to impress his crush by playing drums and eventually runs through Heathrow airport? No matter how many times we see it, every holiday season we remember why we actually love this movie.

#19: “Bad Santa” (2003)

Based on the premise alone, you can tell that “Bad Santa” isn’t going to be a conventional holiday movie. Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie T. Soke, an alcoholic who dresses up as a mall Santa in an elaborate scheme to rob department stores. His collaborator is Marcus, who plays one of Santa’s elves. As dark and mean-spirited as this black comedy can be, our main character does manage to find an eency-weency bit of good in himself and embrace the magic of the holidays. It’s ultimately a tale of redemption and, in Willie’s case, even the slightest good deed could be seen as a Christmas miracle.

#18: “The Bishop's Wife” (1947)

If you haven’t seen this classic Christmas movie, put it on your list this holiday season. “The Bishop’s Wife” stars old Hollywood film stars David Niven, Cary Grant, and Loretta Young, telling the story of a bishop who asks for divine intervention in his quest to build a cathedral. Grant plays Dudley, an angel who comes to lead the bishop onto the right path. The story culminates on Christmas Eve when all the characters have finally realized what is really important to them and all's right with the world.

#17: “The Polar Express” (2004)

Even if you didn’t see this Robert Zemeckis film as a kid, it’ll undoubtedly make you feel young at heart, especially when viewed during Christmastime. Based on a children’s picture book of the same name, “The Polar Express” uses a unique 3D animation style that makes it almost feel real. The story is one rife with childhood nostalgia, following a boy who boards a train headed for the North Pole. Just because this flick came out in the 21st century doesn’t mean it doesn’t have all the makings of a perennial holiday classic though. If you believe, you know you’ll still hear that bell ring, no matter how old you are.

#16: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)

Welcome to Halloween Town... all hail the Pumpkin King! From the mind of Tim Burton, this stop-motion animated film has developed a massive cult following and its hero has become an emblem of misunderstood souls everywhere. Nobody does Halloween quite like Jack Skellington, but he decides to try celebrating a new holiday upon stumbling upon Christmas Town. What ensues is a holiday mashup of epic proportions as the season to be jolly clashes with the season to be scary. The big question is, “do you watch this movie at Halloween, at Christmas, or both?”

#15: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)

Dr. Seuss' classic holiday book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” has been a perennial Christmas favorite and has been adapted for the screen several times. Jim Carrey’s performance in the titular role, however, is what sets this version apart. While we, of course, have a soft spot for the 1966 animated TV special, this adaptation is laugh-out-loud funny and features plenty of jokes that are clearly meant to entertain older audiences. Because it’s a feature-length film, we also get expansions to Dr. Seuss’ original tale that take the story in wacky directions that no one could have expected.

#14: “The Santa Clause” (1994)

This story starring Tim Allen manages to ignite that spark of childhood wonder that we all once felt about the magic of Christmas. When divorced dad Scott Calvin accidentally causes Santa to fall off his roof, he finds himself having to take St. Nick’s place. Watching Scott try to convince everyone around him that he’s actually Santa is pretty hilarious. It’s a movie that’s filled with fun and sentimental moments, taking viewers to the North Pole and back as Scott rediscovers his belief in the unbelievable. While the film spawned two sequels, the original is definitely the best.

#13: “Scrooged” (1988)

Charles Dickens’ classic novella, “A Christmas Carol,” has been adapted countless times for both animated TV specials and serious feature films. In this modern take on the story, however, Scrooge is actually a TV exec named Frank Cross (played by Bill Murray) who’s trying to force his staffers to work over Christmas. Just like in the original tale, the loathsome protagonist is visited by a series of ghosts who show him what the meaning of Christmas is all about. This version is both poignant and funny, leaning heavily on Murray’s comedic wit.

#12: “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)

Based on the classic Charles Dickens story, “A Christmas Carol,” the Muppet version is a perfect adaptation for the younger set. The well known tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, his employee Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim is modernized to feature Muppets in all the major roles - as well as a few welcome additions, like Gonzo the Great playing Dickens himself and Rizzo the Rat adding humorous commentary throughout. Oh, and of course there’s Michael Caine as Scrooge. The songs are catchy, the story is time-honored, and the jokes never get old. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” will always be a favorite.

#11: “Frosty the Snowman” (1969)

Kids’ Christmas specials aren’t supposed to make you cry like a baby… are they? No matter how many times we watch “Frosty the Snowman,” we’ll never forget the horror of the first time we witnessed Frosty melting and fully believed he was done for. Luckily, this story always has a happy ending! While we’re all familiar with the TV special by this point, did you know that it was actually based around the classic Christmas song by Walter E. Rollins (RAWL-ins) and Steve Nelson? Romeo Muller, who worked on the stop-motion “Rudolph,” adapted the song into this special.

#10: “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)

Over the years, Rankin/Bass Productions released a slew of animated specials that went on to achieve Christmas classic status. While there were several worthy candidates for this list, we’re singling out their 1964 stop-motion version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The special won the hearts of many with its timeless tunes, inventive story, and unforgettable cast of characters - featuring an elf who wants to be a dentist, a bouncing bumble, a helpful prospector, and of course the eponymous red-nosed reindeer. No holiday season is complete without it.

#9: “White Christmas” (1954)

Are you dreaming of a White Christmas? No matter where in the world you live, you can have one when watching this vintage holiday movie. The well known holiday tune was previously performed by Bing Crosby in 1942’s “Holiday Inn,” but was reprised in this 1954 film. Crosby also stars in “White Christmas,” which is set after World War II and tells the story of two entertainers who have to work together to save their commander’s lodge. It’s a heartwarming setup that’s sure to bring out the Christmas spirit in you.

#8: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)

John Hughes wrote and produced this entry in the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” franchise. The Griswold family is trying to celebrate Christmas but of course, there’s no way it’s going to go smoothly. This is perfect viewing for those who want to feel as though at least someone is having a worse holiday season than you are. While Clark may not get the “fun old-fashioned family Christmas" he was hoping for, it’s a good reminder to temper your expectations and simply enjoy spending time with the people you love.

#7: “Elf” (2003)

It’s not often that a movie immediately becomes a holiday classic, but that’s what happened when “Elf” hit theatres in 2003. Will Ferrell had one of his most iconic performances in this movie about an orphan raised at the North Pole who decides to go meet his biological dad in the big city. The fact that Ferrell is quite an imposing man only makes his elf costume all the more ridiculous. It’s absurd and hilarious, and will keep you laughing from beginning to end. If you’re lacking holiday cheer, Buddy the elf will be sure to bring you some.

#6: “Home Alone” (1990)

“Home Alone” is an annual must-watch for the antics of the Wet Bandits and their epic takedown by Kevin McCallister. Kevin learns the hard way that you should be careful what you wish for when he imagines a world where his family disappears. While there are a lot of unrealistic aspects to this story (both Harry and Marv probably should have died several times over from the accidents that befall them) we can suspend our disbelief and enjoy the ride. This movie is full of unforgettable moments that will make you laugh, cringe, and wonder how a family could possibly leave one of their children behind and fly to Paris.

#5: “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

A man named Kris Kringle finds himself taking over the position of Santa Claus at Macy’s department store when he points out that the previous Santa is drunk on the job. But Kris ends up being a little too genuine in his interactions with people, telling them the truth and even *gasp* recommending they shop at other stores. Ultimately, he claims to be the real Santa Claus and leaves everyone in a tizzy. This is a holiday classic that stands the test of time and reminds us that anything is possible when you believe in the magic of Christmas.

#4: “A Christmas Carol” (1938)

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” remains beloved because its message is perpetually relevant. Though it has been adapted many times, the 1938 film is a staple in many households around the holiday season and is considered by many to be the ultimate version of the tale. You already know the story, but if you haven’t seen this re-telling, it’s time to give it a try. If you’ve already seen the 1938 adaptation countless times, give the 1951 version a try because it’s also a favorite.

#3: “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)

When it comes to annual Christmas specials, is there anyone you look forward to watching more than this? After viewing “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” you could never look at an artificial tree the same way again. You might even be more inclined to pick out the saddest one in the lot. This special has been airing since 1965 and there’s a reason it has never gone out of style. It’s so simple, and yet so poignant, sincere, and touching. Are your dance moves ready for the school Christmas pageant? We hope so!

#2: “A Christmas Story” (1983)

“A Christmas Story” is a holiday film that doesn’t sugarcoat how difficult it is to feel like an outsider in your own family. It’s always playing on repeat on cable so you’ll be sure to catch a glimpse of it whether you want to or not. Ralphie desperately wants an air rifle for Christmas but his mother won’t allow him to have one because, as she famously says, [“you’ll shoot your eye out."] Along with Ralphie’s main story, we see vignettes featuring his family and other characters, making this a well-rounded movie that’s extremely re-watchable.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
“Arthur Christmas” (2011)
“A Christmas Tale” [aka "Un conte de Noël”] (2008)
“The Holiday” (2006)
“The Apartment” (1960)

#1: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

Could we have picked anything else for our number one spot? There’s a reason why “It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered THE essential Christmas movie. It has a pretty dark beginning, but its magical realism teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of a single life. By seeing how the world would have looked if George Bailey had never been in it, he realizes the impact he has had on those around him. It’s sentimental, it’s uplifting, and it isn’t Christmas without watching it.