Best Christmas Movies — Ever! Top 7 Festive Flicks Most Recommended By Experts

The holiday season is upon us, and what better way to get into the festive spirit than by snuggling up on the couch with a hot cup of cocoa and watching some classic Christmas movies? From heartwarming tales of love and family to hilarious comedies that never fail to make us laugh, there is a Christmas movie for everyone. In this article, we will take a trip down memory lane and explore some of the best Christmas movies of all time, guaranteed to bring joy and cheer to your holiday season. So grab your favorite blanket and get ready for a jolly ride through the most beloved films.

Of course, the holiday season is characterized by a number of distinguishing traits, from houses decked out in Christmas lights to carolers singing at every corner. However, no Christmas would be complete without sitting down beside the fireplace to watch a classic holiday film on a cold (and hopefully) snowy night. And luckily, there’s certainly no shortage of movies to choose from. From modern comedies to old Hollywood classics, there’s something for everyone this season. However, a recent survey of 2,000 Americans stated that one specific Christmas tale reigned over the rest. The story of young Ralphie Parker’s quest to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun in “A Christmas Story” has captured the hearts of the majority of Americans, going as far as to say it’s the greatest holiday movie of all time!

Not everyone can agree on what makes a Christmas movie, however. A study of 2,000 adults who watch holiday movies revealed the titles people are most likely to go back to every year. Amongst the top 40 was the ever-controversial but always enjoyable holiday tale of a modern-day “cowboy” saving the lives of the Nakatomi Plaza hostages in the classic, “Die Hard.” The 1988 Bruce Willis hit film ranks sixth on the list, despite many people arguing that the bloody action flick is not even a Christmas movie! More than half the poll, however, claim that watching Christmas movies with family and friends is part of their yearly traditions, and at the end of the day, they prefer to watch nostalgic titles from their childhood rather than more modern releases.

Of course, all these factors and more went into researching our list for today. As always, we at StudyFinds take these things rather seriously, which is why we have researched across multiple expert sources to bring you today’s ranking of the top seven best Christmas movies you can watch this holiday season. Don’t agree with our list or feel we missed out on a good suggestion? We would love to hear from you and your recommendations in the comments below. Now, onto the list. 

closeup photo of baubles on christmas tree
Christmas (Photo by Chad Madden on Unsplash)

The List: Best Christmas Movies, According to Fans


1. “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is a heartwarming and timeless holiday film that captures the essence of the human spirit and the power of community. Directed by Frank Capra and released in 1946, the film has become a beloved classic that continues to resonate with audiences of all generations. “What else? Really, what other film could top a list of the greatest Christmas movies of all time? This enduring classic stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, the unwitting savior of Bedford Falls, a man whose goodness and generosity have touched more people than he realizes. In fact, as one bleak Christmas looms, he doesn’t realize it at all and is ready to commit suicide — until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) arrives to show him the error of his ways,” explains Vulture.

"It's A Wonderful Life" (1946)
“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 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,” says EW.

“Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s ‘The Greatest Gift,’ this black-and-white fable considers the melancholia and existential despair characteristic for so many at the holidays. When news of a man’s suicidal thoughts reaches heaven, Henry Travers’ guardian angel character, Clarence Odbody, intervenes. For those with a heavy heart this time of year — or any for that matter — ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ offers a hopeful salve from an old world,” writes Indie Wire.

2. “A Christmas Story” (1983)

“A Christmas Story” is a nostalgic film that takes viewers on a journey through the ups and downs of one boy’s quest for the perfect Christmas gift. Directed by Bob Clark and released in 1983, this beloved holiday classic has become a staple in many households, capturing the essence of the holiday season with its humor, warmth, and relatable characters. “Okay, I know a lot of you who’ve gotten this far are going to be upset that this isn’t No. 1. I love it, too, especially when Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) 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, 200-shot range model air rifle,” jokes EW.

“A Christmas Story” (1983)

Bob Clark’s nostalgic comedy existed as a borderline cult film for decades, and no wonder: it’s pretty weird. But it’s weird in the way most families are and that few films actually acknowledge. Constructed as a series of vignettes, it plays like the home videos you dust off once a year after a couple of eggnogs, making it infinitely rewatchable,” notes Time Out.

“Director Bob Clark’s venerable film adapts storyteller and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s tales of growing up in Hammond, Indiana, while cutting nostalgia and sentiment with just the right amounts of broad, occasionally dark, comedy. The episodic film follows Ralphie in the days before Christmas when he wants nothing more than a Red Ryder air rifle — and seems destined not to get one. Clark renders the memories of growing up in a particular time and place so well that Shepherd’s Hammond — its name changed to ‘Hohman’ — becomes an idealized stand-in for any time and every place,” states Vulture.

3. “Elf” (2003)

“Elf” is a heartwarming and hilarious holiday film that has become a modern classic. With its charming storyline, memorable characters, and festive setting, “Elf” has captured the hearts of audiences around the world. “The best Christmas flick of the century. Granted, the century hasn’t been that long, 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,” describes EW.

“Elf” (2003)

“Will Ferrell’s overgrown child persona hilariously complements this comedy about a guileless giant elf searching for his dad in NYC, but the film’s focus isn’t just on the funny bone. There’s an abundance of heart and soul in the way the story cherishes holiday cheer; in a genre that’s become generically saccharine, this is one modern Christmas movie that’s genuinely sweet,” reports Time Out.

“Christmas movies don’t get much better (or funnier) than ‘Elf.’ A pre-Marvel Jon Favreau teamed up with Will Farrell at the height of the comedic actor’s star power to deliver an endlessly rewatchable holiday comedy. Buddy the Elf’s silly enthusiasm for Christmas is rivaled only by his determination to find his father, a very cynical and grumpy New York book publisher (the late James Caan). Buddy’s search takes him from the North Pole to Fifth Avenue in truly hilarious and heartfelt ways,” raves AV Club.

4. “Miracle On 34th Street” (1947)

“Miracle On 34th Street” is another Christmas classic that has captured the hearts of audiences for decades. Directed by George Seaton, this beloved film was first released in 1947 and has since become a staple of holiday movie marathons. “The most successful holiday films are those that re-capture what it’s like to be a kid again, and the original ‘Miracle On 34th Street’ pulls this feeling off effortlessly. When a man claims to be the real Kris Kringle and gets institutionalized for it, a young attorney struggles to prove not only the man’s innocence but also that he is the genuine article. If there’s a better last reel of a holiday movie, we don’t want to know about it,” says AV Club.

“Miracle On 34th Street” (1947)

“Here’s a question: What was going on that led to so many great Christmas movies being released in 1947? That year saw the release of ‘The Bishop’s Wife,’ and ‘It Happened on Fifth Avenue,’ and it also produced this lovely story of a girl (Natalie Wood) whose mother (Maureen O’Hara) unwittingly hires someone who may be the actual Kris Kringle as a department-store Santa at Macy’s. What follows is part fantasy, part romance, part indictment of commercialism, part defense of letting children be children as long as they can, and part legal thriller (well, sort of),” writes Vulture.

“A film stuck in time, place, and temperament, ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ is one of the two heavy favorites, along with ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ in the battle for the title of ‘greatest Christmas movie ever. ‘Your preference will come down to how well you like your schmaltz: Those with a taste for unadulterated sentimentality will likely lean more toward Capra, while those who like a healthy sprinkle of cynical realism on their holiday fare will probably go for George Seaton’s ‘Miracle’ instead. Not that it’s completely cynical, mind, but it is a surprisingly frank and thoroughly practical demonstration of the stress Christmas customs—particularly shopping—visit upon us year in and year out. By showing its audience the positive side of capitalism in action, the film reminds us of its negative side, too, posturing about Christmas’s true meaning and capturing New York City at the peak of its bustling consumerist culture,” adds Paste Magazine.

5. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” for some, has been required viewing around the holidays since its release in 1965. Directed by Bill Melendez and based on the comic strip Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, this animated television special has become a symbol of the true meaning of Christmas. “Charlie Brown and the Peanuts Gang never disappoints with this timeless animated classic. For a story aimed at children, ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ hinges on some very adult themes as Charlie confronts the commercialism that surrounds Christmastime by trying to find a deeper, more meaningful way to celebrate this special time of year,” states AV Club.

“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, leafless tree at the nursery, this is the one,” notes EW.

“We could get into plenty of arguments over which Charlie Brown animated special is best, but ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ is my favorite of the bunch. Charlie Brown’s confrontation with the Christmas season’s commercialism (back in 1965, no less) and a sad little fir tree make this a cartoon classic. The film remains a touching, funny 25 minutes that connects to kids both young and grown—capturing the spirit of Charles Schulz’s amusingly downer strip—ornamented with slapstick gags and the delightful jazzy Christmas score from the Vince Guaraldi Trio that’s become synonymous with the Peanuts crew. The animation might be a little jagged and repetitive—the child voice acting hit and miss—but the ragtag production helps make it extra endearing,” reports Paste Magazine.

6. “Home Alone” (1990)

Released in 1990, “Home Alone” is a beloved Christmas comedy film directed by Chris Columbus. Featuring a star-studded cast of Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, and even a bit of the late John Candy, this classic has stood the test of time as a holiday must-watch. “This is a movie that probably needs no description because, come on, you’ve all seen it. But still, let’s do a quick recap. ‘Home Alone’ follows an eight-year-old prankster named Kevin, who is accidentally left behind when his family flies away to Paris for Christmas. With no adults around, little Kevin can do whatever he wants. But his freedom is interrupted when two dim-witted burglars plot to enter his house on Christmas Eve. This unwelcome company arrives with comedy, pranks, hijinks, and madcap fun while Kevin tries everything to defend his home and his holiday,” explains Movie Web.

“Home Alone” (1990)

“Only John Hughes, a master of suburban wish fulfillment, could have conjured such an eccentric, slapstick, Dennis the Menace-esque greeting card of a movie. Hughes stuffs ‘Home Alone’ with lots of eccentric details—Buzz’s tarantula, that greasy pizza dinner, Harry’s gold tooth, the rip-roaring fake gangster movie ‘Angels with Filthy Souls,’ the shovel guy, every trap in the grand finale’s tricked-out madhouse—and rips through them like a giddy kid on Christmas morning. As Kevin McCallister, Macaulay Culkin summons all the charm and glee of Tom Hanks in Big (minus 3 feet), and as his mother races home in parallel, his smile wanes at just the right pace. Who knows how Hughes came up with this movie, but my God, ‘Home Alone’ is an immaculate conception,” raves Thrillist.

“‘Home Alone’ is a dark movie in a lot of ways—it’s about home invasion and family estrangement, in part. But it’s also about the joy of just not having to deal with your family during the holidays. And because it’s written by John Hughes, it is about not having to deal with your family during the holidays, specifically as a kid, when most ‘bah, humbug!’ entertainments are aimed at stressed-out adults. It’s a point of view the film commits to fully, and sometimes quite literally: There are shots in this movie that explicitly put the viewer in the young protagonist’s shoes, calculated to make them feel small and helpless. ‘Home Alone’ is really about how powerless some kids can feel, and like ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Christmas Vacation,’ it offers some catharsis for us. It’s why I think it’s still fondly remembered by so many, critics be damned,” adds Paste Magazine.

7. “Bad Santa” (2003)

“Bad Santa” is a dark comedy film that takes a hilariously twisted approach to the holiday season. Directed by Terry Zwigoff and released in 2003, this unconventional Christmas movie quickly became a cult classic for its unconventional humor and unconventional protagonist. “Billy Bob Thornton spiked the eggnog 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 elf sidekick, Marcus (Tony Cox). Here’s one for parents looking for something to pop on after the kids are asleep,” describes EW.

“Bad Santa” (2003)

“Admittedly, this yuletide raunch-fest subsists on a single joke, and it’s basically ‘guy in a Santa suit swears a lot.’ But Billy Bob Thornton, in the title role, manages to stretch that premise much further than it should go, and also generates some genuine Christmas warmth through his unlikely friendship with a bullied kid unfortunately named Thurman Merman,” notes Time Out.

“A proudly mean-spirited black comedy seemingly at war with the Christmas spirit, ‘Bad Santa’ somehow loops all the way back around to being a heartwarming Christmas movie about one man’s redemption. It’s a weird trick, pulled off in large part thanks to star Billy Bob Thornton’s performance as a hard-drinking con artist who uses his work as a mall Santa as a setup for grand larceny. Actually, ‘hard-drinking’ doesn’t begin to describe Thornton’s Willie Soke, who spends much of the film in a near-stuporous state yet still manages to form an unlikely makeshift family with a misfit kid (Brett Kelly) and a bartender (Lauren Graham) with a thing for Santas. With able support from Bernie Mac and John Ritter, director Terry Zwigoff keeps the humor dark without losing sight of his characters’ humanity — however deep they might sink into a drunken haze,” concludes Vulture.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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    1. Lol.. Came here to say exactly this! I approve of this list. Except…. Replace Elf with Die Hard! It IS a Christmas movie! Yippee-kai-yay!

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