The holiday season is upon us once more and as the days get shorter and the nights get colder, there’s more and more reason to stay in with a good Christmas movie. The holidays are all about spending time with friends and family, and even if you don’t get along with your Aunt Susan or your weird cousin Al, nothing bonds people together more than a good Yuletide screening session. With every passing year, a new Christmas film seems to hit theaters and by now the list of holiday movies is as long as Santa’s Naughty List will be this year.
With so many options, it can be difficult to tell the good from the bad, so we’re here to give you a run-down on the best of the Christmas bunch as well as the ones you should definitely avoid. Christmas is a never-ending source of inspiration for filmmakers, so it should be no surprise to find everything from comedy to horror, politics to action flicks in this best and worst Christmas movie list.
Based on the Rotten Tomatoes rating system, this list will provide you with 20 fantastically festive films you need to watch this holiday season, as well as five you should say "Bah Humbug" to. From old-timey classics to recent hits, there’s a stellar array of films that will provide you with all the holiday cheer you could possibly want. Trade in the popcorn for chestnuts, your soda for cocoa, and get ready for the holiday movie marathons to commence.
Here are the 20 Best Christmas Movies Ever Made (And 5 Stuck With 0%).
25 All I Want for Christmas (1991) - 0%
Really, the main thing you should want from Christmas is avoid this painfully bad movie. It seems to be a film staple to have children asking Santa for their divorced parents to get back together, and this movie sadly follows the same, tired framework. As if these fictional kids are really more concerned with their parents’ love life than wanting a brand new toy.
In any event, All I Want for Christmas sees a young girl asking Old Saint Nick for her mom to ditch her new boyfriend and instead reunite with her ex-husband. The only noteworthy thing about this movie is how aggressively annoying all its characters are. Sadly, even Leslie Nielsen as Santa Clause can’t save this dud.
24 Best: The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) - 80%
Starring Christopher Plummer, Dan Stevens, and Jonathan Price, The Man Who Invented Christmas puts a fun, refreshing spin on the well-known Dickens story A Christmas Carol.
The movie focuses on the journey that led to the renowned author creating Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and the whole cohort of characters that make up the classic Christmas story we all love so much. This truly is a magical revisionist telling of a story that plays such an important part of the holiday season and it is sure to go down in future years as a must-watch Christmas classic.
23 Best: Elf (2003) - 83%
Will Ferrell might be best known for playing Ron Burgundy or for being a hilarious addition to SNL, but his most beloved character is undoubtedly Buddy in Elf.
Nothing could have prepared audiences for the incredible performance Ferrell delivered. The actor became the childlike man-elf through and through, bringing to his character a magic and spirit that is as singular as it is lovable. This is without a doubt the Christmas movie with the most Yuletide cheer, and both children and adults alike will fall in love with Buddy, Santa’s biggest helper.
22 Best: The Bishop’s Wife (1948) - 83%
Cary Grant dazzles as a guardian angel who helps an Episcopalian bishop rediscover why life is worth living. Sweet and tender, this is a Christmas movie brimming with positive messages about the true meaning of life and the spirit of the holiday season.
Although it might not be the most obvious Christmas movie on the list, this 1940s gem is worth a watch, especially for anyone who feels like they’ve lost their direction in life. While some might find the overtly religious framework of this movie to be a little off-putting, this is nonetheless a delightful holiday watch, and one to enjoy when you need a pick-me-up.
21 Best: Gremlins (1984) - 84%
A 1980s classic in its own right, Gremlins has become something of a cult Christmas watch for many people.
The film showcases director Joe Dante’s love of 1950s nostalgia as well as his penchant for silly-natured sci-fi. The film juxtaposes these different genres in delightful fashion, resulting in a cautionary tale of what happens when Christmas gifts go awry. This is a delightfully quirky Christmas movie that has all the charm of the 1980s and has the added bonus of subverting the normal, do-gooder tropes of standard Christmas movie fare.
20 Best: A Christmas Carol (1951) - 85%
Undoubtedly one of the most famous Christmas stories of all time, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol gets its most faithful adaptation in the 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as the notorious Scrooge.
This 50s version of A Christmas Carol is considered by many to be the definitive version of the beloved story (sorry Muppets fans), and if you haven’t seen this British classic, then make this year the one to watch it. The story of rejecting greed and avarice for charity and kindness is one that we could all do with re-watching, and nothing says Christmas quite like some Dickens magic.
19 Nutcracker in 3-D (2010) - 0%
Elle Fanning stars in this alarmingly bad fantasy film set in Vienna as a young girl who is gifted a magical doll for Christmas. However, little does she know that soon her new Nutcracker toy will come to life and take her on a journey into his magical world of sugarplums and fairies.
Although the story might sound like it has some charm, the direction, the performances, and the overall execution of Nutcracker in 3-D sadly miss the mark on all accounts. The movie was pretty much universally panned by critics and you’re better off avoiding it if you want to keep any nice associations you have with the famous ballet on which it’s based.
18 Best: Christmas in Connecticut (1945) - 88%
Another highly rated holiday film from a bygone era is Christmas in Connecticut. Serving up 1940s nostalgia and starring Barbara Stanwyck, this romantic comedy is just the ticket for a day snuggling up with a big mug of cocoa.
Christmas in Connecticut was, for a time, considered to be a lesser holiday movie, overshadowed by the more well-known films of a similar era. However, more recently, this charming movie has edged its way back into people’s hearts and is now seen as perennial Christmas watch. For holiday hi-jinks and farcical festiveness, this delightful movie should not be missed.
17 Best: Better Watch Out (2017) - 88%
Another top-rated movie seldom seen in the traditional Christmas film canon is Better Watch Out, a sweetly sinister holiday horror that sees the home-invasion flick get a gleeful twist.
Although Better Watch Out is hardly the first horror film to blend festive merriment with gnarly action, what does set this movie apart is its high-power performances and its cheeky playfulness with the material it uses. If you prefer your Yuletide with a side of scary and prefer trills to frills when it comes to the holiday season, then Better Watch Out is the film for you.
16 Best: A Christmas Story (1983) - 89%
Warmly nostalgic and deeply funny, A Christmas Story is one of those films that defines Christmas for many people. Taking place in the 1940s, the film focuses on 9-year-old Ralphie who desperately wants a Red Ryfle BB gun for Christmas, but whose mother is unwilling to grant his one wish.
The family dynamics in the film are as honest as they are hilarious, and it does an exquisite job in depicting what it’s really like to be a kid during the holiday season. There’s a reason A Christmas Story is one of the most marathoned Christmas film. If it’s not on your radar yet, it should definitely get center-stage in this year’s festive line-up. Go on, we triple-dog dare ya!
15 Best: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) - 89%
Bored of your standard feel-good, family favorite? Want to spice up our holiday viewing with something a little different? Then Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is the perfect holiday movie for you. Brilliantly blending deadpan comedy, Christmas spirit, and, unexpectedly, horror, this Finnish film focuses on two young boys who believe a mountain drilling project has unearthed the tomb of an evil, monstrous Santa.
Christmas all of a sudden takes a dark turn in this fantasy horror thriller, and you’ll no doubt have some very conflicted opinions about Old Saint Nick by the end of this wild film.
14 Best: Edward Scissorhands (1990) - 90%
Tim Burton seems an unlikely Christmas mascot, but several of his films are nonetheless considered to be Christmas movie staples. Although Edward Scissorhands might not at first appear to be Christmas movie material, it’s definitely a film that has the Yuletide holiday at its heart.
Framed around a narrative of a grandmother explaining to her grandchild why it always snows at Christmas time, this Tim Burton flick is the perfect watch for anyone who feels isolated or left out during the festive period. For those who feel like they just want Christmas to be over already, this might just be the perfect holiday film.
13 Last Ounce of Courage (2010) - 0%
The only success Last Ounce of Courage can claim is that it somehow manages to be a Christmas movie that is both incredibly bad as well as wildly offensive. Packed with ham-fisted, conservative dogma, Last Ounce of Courage is wholly manipulative in its “war on Christmas” story line.
With an archetypal American hero who is determined to bring Christmas back to a city that has banned all holiday merriment, the movie lacks any ounce of subtlety and certainly takes all the fun out of Christmas. Best to leave politics-- and this movie-- out of your Christmas movie marathon this year.
12 Best: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) - 92%
A Christmas classic to come out of the 1960s is A Charlie Brown Christmas. For fans of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the whole Peanuts gang, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without watching this good-hearted animated film.
The film follows Charlie Brown as he tries to find his holiday spirit. Anyone who's feeling a little bit down in the dumps this holiday season will definitely find a cure in this movie. For a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas, look no further than this short but sweet cartoon. Christmastime is here and this film has all the happiness and cheer you’ll need.
11 Best: Arthur Christmas (2011) - 92%
If you thought all the great Christmas flicks were just relics of the past, then this more recent holiday movie will prove that we’ve still got the power to make great holiday entertainment.
Arthur Christmas is an Aardman animated comedy which finally seeks to answer of child’s burning question: how does Santa manage to deliver all the world’s presents in just one night? Featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, James Broadbent, and Imelda Staunton, Arthur Christmas is fun for the whole family and a stellar addition to any Christmas movie marathon line-up.
10 Best: Die Hard (1988) - 93%
While there will undoubtedly be some curmudgeons out there who insist that this Bruce Willis action flick is not actually a Christmas movie, we’re here to say "Bah Humbug" to that. Packing punches as well as festive cheer, Die Hard has fought its way into the Christmas movie canon-- blood, sweat, tears and all.
Set during Christmas Eve, Die Hard might see John McClane fighting off criminals, but the holiday is as much a part of the movie as machine guns are. It might not be as sweet as the typical fare, but Die Hard will be taking its place forevermore as one of the best Christmas movies ever. Yippee Ki-Yay!
9 Best: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964) - 93%
The 1960s was apparently the decade for great animated Christmas classics to be made, as not only was A Charlie Brown Christmas released during this time, but the beloved stop-motion gem that is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer also came to prominence.
Featuring the cutest animation you could possibly want from a Yuletide movie, Rudolph sees the oddball reindeer encountering the Abominable Snowman and having a jolly old time with Santa and the whole North Pole gang. Although the animation might make us laugh nowadays, it certainly doesn’t stop this movie from being a timeless holiday hit.
8 Best: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) - 93%
Viewed by many as the ultimate Christmas film, Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life is a bittersweet classic that is well-deserving of an annual watch.
Starring James Stewart, this wonderful movie delves into the deep question of what life would be like it you were never born, proving that as tough as life can get, there are always people who need you and love you. This movie regularly tops the lists of best Christmas movie ever, and with an impressive 93% RT score, it’s irrefutably one of the most successful holiday films around.
7 Christmas in Wonderland (2007) - 0%
Despite an impressive list of cast members that includes Patrick Swayze, Tim Curry, and Chris Kattan, Christmas in Wonderland is so worryingly bad, it might have you wondering if the whole thing was made as one big joke.
The story line is basically Home Alone is a shopping mall with the added unnecessary bonus of some seriously nightmarish animation of elf-puppets. The capitalistic overtones of this film suck any joy or wholesomeness from the Christmas holiday. With the porous narrative, poor acting, and shamefully bad script, the only thing this movie is good for is showing what a Christmas film should not be.
6 Best: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - 95%
Tim Burton’s Halloween-Christmas crossover classic is a firm favorite for kids growing up in the 1990s and has solidified itself as one of the best Yuletide movies to watch, as seen by its glowing 95% RT score.
The Nightmare Before Christmas showcases Burton’s work at its finest, and the stop-animation used in the movie is gloriously mesmerizing. For anyone who loves Halloween but needs a dose of Christmas cheer on the side, this 1993 gem is the best of both holidays all wrapped up into one. Take a trip to Christmastown with Jack Skellington and relive your childhood this holiday season.
5 Best: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - 100%
Sweet but not saccharine, Miracle on 34th Street proves that good old sentimentalism can often be the best ingredient for a lasting Christmas movie hit.
Although there was an updated version of the film released in 1994 starring Mara Wilson (of Matilda fame), the original 1947 version is the one that has had an enduring impact. Its 100% RT score is reflective of its universal appeal. Telling the story of a little girl who believes a department store Santa Claus is real, Miracle on 34th Street is sure to warm even the coldest of hearts.
4 Best: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967) - 100%
Although there have been several remakes and adaptations of The Grinch, including the 2000 version starring Jim Carrey and this year’s The Grinch featuring the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch, no version is more beloved or more treasured than the original 1967 one.
Originally aired on television in 1966, this adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ book How the Grinch Stole Christmas has become a holiday viewing tradition for countless people over the holiday season. Nothing says Christmas quite like seeing the Grinch’s heart grow bigger with love and Christmas spirit. This is definitely one that lives up to a fifth, tenth, or even hundredth re-watch.
3 Best: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) - 100%
One movie that showcases an all-time favorite holiday tune is Meet Me In St. Louis, in which Judy Garland serenades us with a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”
Taking place during the turn of the century, Meet Me In St. Louis is packed full of catchy showtunes and elaborate costumes, and showcases an extraordinary performance by 6 year old Margaret O’Brien for which she was awarded a special Oscar. Family disputes and money-troubles are no match for Christmas spirit in this delightful film, which has proven its lasting appeal with a solid 100% RT rating.
2 Best: Holiday Inn (1942) - 100%
Starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and with music by Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn is an undisputed seasonal classic. It was thanks to this movie that the world was introduced to the song “White Christmas,” and on that basis alone, this film is worth an annual watch. Nothing says Christmas nostalgia quite like Crosby’s crooning, so it’s no wonder that this 1940s gem has come out on top with a 100% RT rating.
Get those chestnuts roasting, grab a blanket, and tuck into this slice of the past for a holiday viewing treat.
1 Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014) - 0%
Voted as the Worst Film Ever Made by IMDB users in 2014, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is a recurring feature of worst Christmas movie lists. The film focuses on Cameron’s quest to show his brother-in-law what the true meaning of Christmas by defending secular traditions to evangelicals in an odd, semi-”war on Christmas” narrative.
It’s a mess through and through, and what made people even angrier about this movie was Cameron’s desperate cries to get people to write positive reviews about it in order to boost the movie’s RT score. No one likes the smell of desperation, and it would seem no one likes this movie either.
What's your favorite Christmas movie? Let us know in the comments!