Christmas movies... all families have their favorites. You've got your "Bad Santa," "Prancer" for all the Sam Elliott fans, "Jack Frost," "Home Alone" and other tangential Christmas movies... even "Jingle All the Way." Any Top 10 Christmas movie list is bound to strike many people as incomplete, unfair, maybe even offensive. All potential merit notwithstanding, "Jingle All the Way" doesn't stand a chance here. Be gone, Sinbad and Arnold! Here are the Top 10 Christmas Movies of All Time.
- "A Christmas Carol." It was very difficult choosing "A Christmas Carol" for the number one Christmas movie of all time. From a purist's perspective, I could have reversed top 2 choices here because Capra's was made as a film, rather than adapted from a novel. But adaptation aside, no cinematic glimpse of the power and meaning of Christmas is quite as poignant as what Dickens' classic tale offers, in my opinion. Love, charity, fellowship and hope - these are the qualities that can redeem our often petty lives, and are the qualities that so many of us want to recapture during the Christmas season.
Though quite a few good film renditions of "A Christmas Carol" have been made - and though many would argue that the 1951 original is the standout - I must recommend an underrated, often forgotten 1970 musical version titled "Scrooge." I know what you're thinking - "A musical?" But if you haven't seen this film starring Albert Finney as Ebenezer, then you might be amazed by his portrayal of the old miser (for which he won a Golden Globe), and likely stunned by how the film breathes its colorful holiday energy.
Fans of "Star Wars" will also enjoy watching Alec Guinness play a creepy Jacob Marley. In fact, the entire cast is stellar - every viewer will have favorites, but two of mine are Bob Cratchit and the Ghost of Christmas Present. The excellence of "Scrooge" must have been what compelled NBC to recently air a new musical version of "A Christmas Carol" starring Kelsey Grammar, but Grammar's musical was rather appalling by comparison and unintentionally comical at best.
Whether you opt for Finney's "Scrooge" or the 1951 original, you'll be moved.
"It's a Wonderful Life." If you've never seen it, you may be surprised by the dark, troubled mood that prevails through much of this holiday favorite. And those of us who watch it every year might have grown accustomed to the distress and strain to such an extent that it no longer affects us. We owe it another viewing. A fresh look at "It's a Wonderful Life" can remind us just why this 1946 film remains one of the most viewed Christmas movies. The film never flinches, but gracefully attends to its characters' desperation and joy with equal, arresting focus that renders all sentiment more real.
"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." You'll be hearing Burl Ives' deep croon and envisioning his adorable Sam the Snowman for days after watching this classic. Kids and grownups alike love revisiting our unforgettable misfits, Rudolph and the elf Hermey, as they embark on a journey of self-discovery and save Christmas for everyone. Toss in the Abominable Snow Monster and you can't lose! One of the few Christmas movies that makes it on television every year without fail, and a classic for many reasons - memorable characters, wonderful holiday songs and the magical look of its 1964 stop-motion animation.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas." What Christmas movie list would be complete without paying tribute to "A Charlie Brown Christmas?" This animated special is as relevant to us today as it was upon first airing in 1965. And don't let its animation fool you; this film speaks perhaps even more to adults than to young children. What continues to resonate? The efforts of Charlie to fathom the true meaning of Christmas in spite of the noisome bombardment of commercialism. The sophistication of its jazz soundtrack. The fact that it does not try to dilute the religious and moral substance of the holiday. The witty and sentimental magic of the Peanuts characters.
"Miracle on 34th Street." Here's a film that encourages us all to examine our beliefs, our stubborn denial of irrational joy, and what we never thought we would sacrifice to maturation. Remember, American Heritage defines maturation not only as "the process of becoming mature," but also "production or discharge of pus." Coincidence?
Watch the 1947 original version, not the remake. It wasn't for nothing that Edmund Gwenn deserved his Oscar for playing Santa Claus. All actors have had larger boots to fill since then.
"How The Grinch Stole Christmas." No, not the Jim Carrey vehicle - the original, animated classic featuring the voice of Boris Karloff (a stroke of genius). Most are familiar with the story, but no matter how many times you watch this phenomenally creative film, you reconnect with that inner child of yours and recapture some of the innocent joy at the heart of the holiday season. Enjoy Dr. Seuss's wonderful language! "You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch, with a nauseous super-naus. You're a crooked, jerky jockey and you drive a crooked horse, Mr. Griiii-INCH!" Our hearts could all stand to grow a couple sizes.
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Okay, I'll admit it - I originally set out to pick the Top 5 Christmas movies, but I couldn't fit this movie into such a reductive list (and yet no other holiday movie has a deranged squirrel in it). I was overcome by my fondness for lunatic squirrels, but this movie has much more to offer than that. If, like so many of us, you were raised in a family who decorated the exterior of their house until their fingers bled from exposure, then you must watch this movie. If your hunt for the perfect Christmas tree is perennially characterized by obsession and equal parts agony and ecstasy, then you must watch this movie. Chevy Chase taps into our collective holiday experience in his depiction of a person so desperate and ultimately stressed out to stimulate the perfect family Christmas that he nearly loses sight of the meaning of the holiday. And in the end... well, I won't spoil it.
"The Christmas Story." Definitely this favorite is one of the most effective nostalgia movies of all time, thanks to a generosity of spirit and a keen sense for the hilarious. We all look back on our childhood events with a mixture of amusement, chagrin and fondness. Because so many can relate to the experiences of Ralphie (as a boy and as a narrator), "A Christmas Story" reminds us of the family love at the center of the holiday season, and - as Ralphie lusts after that Red Ryder BB Gun - teaches us something about materialism as well.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas." A great work of creativity and a delightfully dark, artful contribution to the stop-motion Christmas movie tradition. This is no "Planet of the Apes" remake; Burton is at his finest here, and he's not even directing the movie. His genre-busting story of Jack Skellington's attempts to bring Christmas to Halloween Town appeals so strongly to the vivid, sometimes weird sensibilities of children because, one senses, Burton never lost contact with that element in his own nature.
"The Santa Clause." Could they ever have convinced Martin Short to sign on for "The Santa Clause 3" if the original hadn't been a charmer?! Well, perhaps. But "The Santa Clause" was a huge success and is becoming a new Christmas favorite thanks to its clever storyline, exciting vision of life at the North Pole and the affable charm of Tim Allen. Allen's protagonist, a true material man at the start, discovers the joy of Christmas and family as he comically transforms into the jolly fat man himself! When watching this movie, it's easy to forget that Tim Allen once served jail time. Thankfully, it wasn't for robbing banks in a Santa costume. That would have made this movie really awkward. As it is, the only thing he's guilty of is holiday entertainment!
Here are some ideas for where to buy your favorite Christmas movies.
- When it comes to buying these and other Christmas movies, plan ahead and have them shipped from Amazon, which carries just about every Christmas movie title you can imagine. If you don't mind ordering online, you can be virtually guaranteed to find the movie you want in stock at Amazon.
- Visit your local video rental store. These stores often have holiday classics on display and for sale around this time of year. Sometimes you can even purchase a previously viewed movie at a great discount.
- Your local mall might have a store like Suncoast that sells nothing but movies. You'll have good luck finding popular Christmas movies there as well.
- Check out your TV guide as the holiday season approaches. A lot of these movies can appear on TV starting as early as Thanksgiving. You could save money simply by recording the movie from television.
Watching our favorite Christmas movies can help us to meditate on the meaning of the holiday and recapture that wintertime warmth we all cherish. As I said before, I no doubt excluded many reader favorites in this list; as a Sam Elliott fan myself, it was hard for me to omit "Prancer." But no matter - in the words of a different Sam (the Snowman), "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas!"