Christmas Movies are a delightful cultural phenomenon. If a film contains the requisite level of yuletide-cheer, it is able to magically transcend its own genre, finding itself nestled amongst a unique library of festive titles that are hauled out every December for our (repeat) viewing pleasure – regardless of artistic quality.
Indeed, many of these have sacrificed discernible plot-structure or extensive character-development for out-and-out adventure, entertainment, and feelgood sentiment. And that’s why we love them!
Here’s a run-down of our favourite Christmas Movies of all time…
- Elf (2003)
When Elf came out in 2003 Will Ferrell wasn’t quite the household name he is now, but he’s no less brilliant for it. Buddy (Ferrell) – raised by elves (not wolves) – finds himself a fish-out-of-water in New York City, trying to make head or tail of confusing American holiday traditions. It’s stupid, full of slapstick moments, and possibly the funniest Christmas movie ever made. A musical version of Elf has just opened at London’s Dominion Theatre, but if you want to see where the hilarity all started, look no further.
- Love Actually (2003)
Christmas gets the Richard Curtis-treatment as we join a full squad of clumsy Brits, awkwardly excusing their way through the five week run-in to Christmas. Not all of the 10 interlinking storylines are as gripping as the other, but the ones that get it right – gosh they’re good! Love Actually has provided us with some truly classic Rom-Com moments, and most of it is set in London too (so you can play ‘spot your local’ whilst you watch).
- Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Not just a Christmas film, also one of the best animated movies of all time. Sympathetic characters, brilliant visuals, dark humour, and Danny Elfman’s incredible score (Elfman also provides Jack’s singing voice). If you’ve never seen Nightmare Before Christmas on the big screen, do your best to get to a one-off screening this month. Surely a stage-version can’t be that far away?
- Die Hard (1988)
People often forget this is a Christmas movie. Fair enough, it’s not as “festive-focused” as the others, but the chaos unfolds on Christmas Eve, and the soundtrack is as Christmassy as an action movie could possibly get away with. Really, when you get down to it, it’s just the story of a father trying to get back to his family before the 25th December – with added guns, hostages, explosions, and Alan Rickman in his first feature film role.
- Home Alone (1990)
Until 2011, Home Alone was the highest-grossing live action comedy film worldwide, and held that position for over 20 years. It’s not difficult to see why – Kevin’s parents fly to Paris leaving him to defend the family home from intruders in a host of hilarious and hare-brained ways. It’s ridiculously silly, but you can’t beat it for family-friendly fun.
- Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Tim Burton has a knack for finding the darkness amongst the festivities (this is his second entry on our list), and in Edward Scissorhands he managed to create some iconic Christmas movie moments. Johnnie Depp’s enigmatic portrayal of the title character has become a signature performance, in a film full of innocence, poignance and beauty.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
With Miss Piggy, Kermit, and Gonzo (et al) all at their scene-stealing best, it’s easy to forget that Michael Caine plays the role of Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Remarkably, a version of Victorian London filled with American puppets takes nothing away from Charles Dickens’ classic, injecting the tale with expertly-timed jokes, warmth, and songs. If you want to introduce kids to the work of Dickens (and The Muppets for that matter), this is a fantastically fun place to start.
- The Snowman
It’s only 30 minutes long, so perhaps ‘movie’ is a bit of a stretch, but for pure minute-to-minute magic, The Snowman is unrivalled. Raymond Briggs’ signature illustration is brought to life in a series of dream-like vignettes, which move the adventure from place to place. There’s a sense of poignancy to The Snowman, and by the end it is revealed as a work of depth and intelligence that is a pleasure to return to year after year.
- It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
A true classic from the golden age of Hollywood cinema, and one of most highly-acclaimed movies ever made. It’s A Wonderful Life concerns the imminent suicide of George (Jimmy Stewart) and the lengths his guardian angel goes to show him that his is a life worth living. The parallels with A Christmas Carol are there to be seen – divine intervention, life and death, and the reflective and (ultimately) joyous qualities of Christmas.
- Trading Places (1983)
Probably the least-known film on our list, but this knockabout comedy is more than worth its inclusion. Dan Aykroyd (an MD) inadvertently swaps places with Eddie Murphy (a homeless man) as part of a cruel bet inflicted by two millionaires. Murphy’s rags-to-riches story has all the hallmarks of a festive favourite. Add in Aykroyd’s clumsily-executed journey of redemption, and you become a cheerleader to our two protagonists. You’ll have to excuse a few achingly-dated cultural references, but that’s part of its charm, right?
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…and if you’re in London over Christmas, the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho has a feast of a festive-season, showing pretty much every movie on this list… click here for info & tickets.