12 Essential Christmas Movies to Watch During the Holiday Season
The holidays are a time when everyone bonds with each other and joy is in the air. The movies capture all human emotions at all times and that is what makes them relatable to the audiences. The same holds with Christmas and movies about Christmas. The movies can serve as a medium to get people into the Christmas spirit, rediscover the magic of the festival or just enjoy a feel-good movie during the holidays.
Some films have an iconic Christmas number in them like Judy Garland’s ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas’ in 1944’s Meet me in St. Louis and Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. There have been multiple Christmas movies that have festive themes. Yet only some are what come to our lips when requested to recall movies that are synonymous with the festival. These movies need to be believable enough so one feels a connection to the story. They need to be timeless enabling families that consist of individuals from multiple generations to be able to relate to the stories.
The message from the movie needs to evoke an emotion. Music or dialogue is key to these films and just one good song or an amazing background score can make a movie a Christmas classic. Some of the Christmas films on my list include what people label as Christmas Classics, some unconventional films that aren’t unsubtle with the Christmas theme but do offer a feel-good factor. And some are just films that strike a chord with me. The Christmas Carol ‘twelve days of Christmas popularized the fact that Christmas is a 12-day festival and hence this list has twelve essential films of Christmas.
Honorable mentions: Arthur Christmas, Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause
12. The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
The Christmas Chronicles is the modern sort of Christmas film and is filled with impressive CGI and amazing visuals. The story is about a family who decides to catch Santa in the act after spotting his hand in an earlier recording. They end up in an adventure which causes the sleigh to encounter an airplane, swerve and crash. This scene is a wonderful spectacle and reminded me of the ascent of the 7 potters in The Deathly Hallows. We see the children ride the reindeers and also get a Santa concert in a jail cell. The Christmas Chronicles may seem bizarre but it does explore themes such as the loss of interest in the festival, Christmas being more and togetherness and spreading happiness among all.
Watch The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix
11. Jingle all the way (1996)
This film is rated quite low on the critical scale with a 15% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it still is a charming and feel-good entry and that’s all that’s needed to get on in the festive mood. General audiences aren’t going to sit to dissect a film right? The title ‘Jingle all the way’ is borrowed from the Christmas Carol titled Jingle Bells. It captures the essence of the need to shop for the perfect Christmas gift. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger the film focuses on a man’s search for an elusive toy for his son’s ideal Christmas gift. I managed to remember the names of Santa’s reindeer’s’ thanks to this film.
10. Noelle (2019)
In Noelle, we see a reimagining of Santa on the lines of how many iconic characters across the world are being redefined as their gender wasn’t explicitly stated but just assumed. The start of this film has Christmas carol lines weaves into the dialogue which acts as a hook for audiences who have tuned in for a Christmas film. This continues quite amusingly throughout its runtime. We learn that Santa lives in the North Pole, (we knew that) the newspaper of that place is called the Daily Carol and we see that Santa learns the tricks of the trade from ‘The Book of Santa. Oh, and he has embraced technology like Google translate too.
The colors in this film make one seem as though they have entered a Christmas fantasy lot. It is light-hearted and fun and also progressive which is a reason it has divided audiences. I saw no other reason for its low scores on audience review platforms and it shouldn’t be a turn off for anyone consulting such a platform before watching it.
9. A Christmas Story (1983)
In a Christmas Story, we see the story of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker narrated by his older self. All he wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. We get the notion of toys being termed a dangerous here and everyone warns little Ralphie about the same. It does cinematically present us with the fact that despite it’s the holidays and we want to be nice to others sometimes being mean (in Ralph’s eyes they probably were mean for not giving him the gift) we are being nice to them.
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It is a melancholic entry in this list as it captures the small disappointment often faced by the masses during the holiday season and focuses on how you try to keep that to yourself as you should not spoil the holiday for someone else and to adopt the words oft used at Thanksgiving…. be thankful for all you have been given.
8. White Christmas (1954)
This film has a stellar cast featuring Rosemary Clooney and the Christmas icon of the 40s Bing Crosby. It doesn’t seem like a Christmas film for most of its two hours run time. It’s setting both during and after the war offers a couple of interpretations of the carol which also is the movie title. White being the color of peace leads to the rendition of white Christmas during wartime to see a subtle desire of the soldiers to dream for a peaceful Christmas after 3 years of war. But it’s ending centers around a perfect Christmas gift.
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7. Joyeux Noel (2005)
This French movie is based on the true events of World war one (the Christmas truce of December 1914). It aims to show how a festival can transcend geographic boundaries, how even soldiers in war have the desire to celebrate a festival. And how language ceases to be a barrier during Christmas as amidst a war zone the soldiers who are far away from their homes on a battlefield on Christmas decide to call a ceasefire just to celebrate the festival.
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6. Klaus (2019)
Like all the other entries in this film, Klaus too features Christmas and elements of the festival in a big way. Jesper Johansen is a privileged but lazy and disinterested son of the head postmaster. To get him to shape up his father sends him on a punishment posting to far-flung Smeerensburg a.k.a. the unhappiest place in the world. Over hereupon the ringing of a ball, the warring clans commence battle. Education, empathy and community living have been stamped out completely.
But Jesper’s task is to ensure that the post office functions and 6,000 letters are sent annually. He enlists the help of a reclusive toymaker in the woods called Klaus and encourages the children to send letters to get toys eventually succeeding in changing the town and his own life. Writing letters to someone to get toys… now, where have I seen that happen? The film does have some very illogical ways of functioning but if one puts them aside it will be am enjoyable festive watch.
Read The Complete Klaus Netflix  Review: A feel-good holiday film
Watch Klaus on Netflix
5. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
This is like it’s predecessor. A boy gets forgotten, but this time he doesn’t get left behind, he lands up somewhere else. It’s just convenient that the same thieves he captured 2(?) Years back land up in the same place he is. More than burgling they seem to be interested in capturing a kid. There is a social outcast who turns out to be just misunderstood and the conversation takes place with a magical background score of Christmas carols. There is the house, the reunion of mother and son(on a much grander visual scale here) a heartfelt moment between family and then back to usual.
While I don’t agree with the title of the movie. How can one be “home alone” and “lost in New York?” And how can a 10-year-old rig up such booby traps? I didn’t even buy the fact that an 8-year-old could do that stuff in the prequel but over there he had what is called home advantage. The crunch of bones, the visible skeletons upon electrocution, the cartoony nature of some of the pranks hold it from becoming the ultimate Christmas classic that it could have become as it has much better moments than the first. Like the scene with the turtle doves at Duncan’s Toy Chest and the end of the movie which again isn’t the moment ‘The ‘Sticky’ bandits are captured.’ The carol somewhere on my memory playing as the protagonist looks at a child from St. Anne’s children’s hospital and decides to not let the grinch (Harry and Marv) spoil Christmas.
4. A Christmas Carol (1951, 2009)
A Christmas Carol has so many versions and is adapted in so many different fictional universes. A Christmas Carol in prose known as The Ghost story of Christmas is somewhat related to its a Wonderful life where the protagonist is visited by a spirit. Here however the protagonist isn’t a selfless man like in the aforementioned film. Ebenezer Scrooge is scornful about enjoyment around him and grudgingly grants his employee off for Christmas. He even says that orphans should be sent to the workhouse and refuses festive donations.
He has formed a chain, long and heavy and on Christmas eve he is visited by three different spirits. Each from a different phase of the protagonist’s life. Here he is shown how life is and how things he wishes for are so brutal and how his decisions are so catastrophic in the lives of others and challenged to change. Of course, the workhouses are outdated but the feature of giving that little bit extra to someone in need, spending time with family and just not being a dismal and moody figure thus disrupting others’ festive mood are relatable even 175 years later since Charles Dickens iconic story was first published.
Watch The Christmas Carol (2009) on Netflix
3. The Polar Express (2004)
This motion computer-animated film chronicles a disbelieving boy’s journey to the North Pole of course… aboard a magical train known as The Polar Express- say the last three words in Tom Hanks’ voice. The sound of the bells is audible only to those who believe. Kind of like a fairy tale right? But didn’t we adore such fairy tales (which mostly begin with) once upon a time? As children, the feeling of Christmas used to coarse through our veins much stronger. As we grow we cease to believe in the festival to that extent. The vibes are absent. And the subtle things that excited our younger selves fail to arouse a similar feeling of excitement among us.
We learned that Santa Claus was a myth. Those were the days where we believed or if we still believe then maybe we believed a bit more at that time. The movie subtly tells audiences that if they just believe they can experience the magic that once made them love the festival. It is the case with anything. Only if one truly believes they can do it.
2. Home Alone (1990)
Directed by Christopher Columbus the film centers around a boy who has been forgotten by his family who set off for the Christmas holidays. This 8-year-old has to defend his home against a pair of burglars. Christopher Columbus films are always buoyant family-friendly films and such a film set during the holidays accompanied by a magical John Williams score timed with perfect visuals on screen at the perfect moments leads one to ignore the fact that an 8-year-old can imagine such innovative going traps and outwit thieves in the manner in which he does.
In my opinion, this is the only perfect movie of the Home Alone franchise and is one of the movies I ensure to watch before or during the festival of Christmas. Iconic scenes in this movie include Marley and Kevin having a conversation in the church with the soft background score featuring the choir’s rendition of O Holy Night and the Carol of the bells which are played on screen as Kevin runs home from the church. The real feel-good moment in this film comes at the end and it is not when Kevin outwits the Wet Bandits.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Directed by Frank Capra this film speaks about a very unique, simple but very valuable and often a gift is taken for granted or not even considered as a gift. Filmed in black and white and released a few months post the war it was said to have been initially panned as a feel-good film was the need in the post-war years. However, this is one of the films that have that timeless theme that can have even a 1990s born like me appreciate it and not feel that the message or references in them are outdated.
This film has multiple moments of realization and that is a prerequisite of any holiday film. You ever heard of a holiday film with a sad ending? The ending of this film will move audiences and summon them to watch this production year in and year out.