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The stockings have been hung, the lights are twinkling on the tree, the gift hunting is complete. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than by watching some of the best Christmas movies while you wrap a boatload of presents and cook up that festive feast? Whether you’re entertaining holiday company or need some extra cheer in the form of rom-coms, Christmas classics or tearjerkers, THR has rounded up a handful of the winter season’s defining films.
Spend the next few days with Buddy the Elf, John McClane or Edward Scissorhands, depending on your festive preferences. No matter what streaming service you prefer, check out more than a dozen of the top Christmas movies on Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, Peacock and others.
The beloved 1983 movie — a holiday TV staple — stars Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker, a 9-year-old boy who wants only one thing for Christmas: an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. The movie is known for the line “You’ll shoot your eye out” (his parents’ reason for not wanting to buy him the BB gun) as well as the iconic leg lamp (which his dad wins in a contest), among other memorable moments.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Of course the Griswolds could never have a peaceful Christmas vacation. After disastrous trips to Wally World and Europe, the National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise, starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo as Clark and Ellen Griswold, stayed home for the holidays in its third installment, released in 1989. The family found themselves dealing with some uninvited guests — namely, cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family — an electrocuted cat and a kidnapping. And you thought your family holidays were rough.
Die Hard (1988)
Ostensibly about New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) walking barefoot over glass and generally kicking butt, Die Hard (1988) also has a touching family story at its heart. When we meet McClane, it’s Christmas Eve and he has traveled to Los Angeles in a bid to patch things up with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia), who is living in the city with their two children. McClane and his wife are attending her company’s holiday party when terrorists led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber take everyone hostage. Can McClane save the day and rebuild his family? Yippie-ki-yay, holidays!
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s longstanding collaboration began with 1990’s Edward Scissorhands, a film exploring isolation and what it means to love. After the death of his creator (Vincent Price), Edward is destined to remain incomplete, with scissors for hands. After living for years in isolation in a hillside mansion, he’s brought to life with the Boggs family, which includes his eventual romantic interest, Kim (Winona Ryder).
Edward proves adept at cutting hedges and holiday-themed ice sculptures — the shaping of which create snow. In her old age, Kim reveals to her great-granddaughter that Edward returned to his mansion, where he is still alive and continues to create snow.
The 2003 tale of an elf who discovers he’s really human earned more than $220 million at the worldwide box office. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, who, despite his 6-foot stature and poor toy-making abilities, never realized he didn’t quite fit in at the North Pole. After learning the truth, he treks to Manhattan to meet his initially resistant father (James Caan) and ends up finding love (Zooey Deschanel) in the process.
Home Alone (1990)
In the movie that defined Christmas for a generation of ‘90s children, Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister makes a large cheese pizza seem worthy of a king and defends his home from two thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) using his wits and cleverly designed booby traps. Along the way, he learns maybe he does love his loud, sprawling family after all.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra’s classic has become a TV staple during the holidays, but upon its 1946 release, the film was considered a box office disappointment as post-World War II moviegoers were more interested in lighthearted fare. James Stewart stars as George Bailey, a man who is contemplating suicide when an angel (Henry Travers) steps in and shows him what life would be like for his wife and friends if he had never lived. The movie has inspired numerous tributes over the years, including a 1979 episode of Mork & Mindy titled “It’s a Wonderful Mork.”
The Grinch (2018)
This vibrant 2018 animated Christmas comedy, based on Dr. Seuss’ 1957 book, stars the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video ($4 to rent, $10 to buy)
Love Actually (2003)
2003’s Love Actually features a sprawling cast of adorable characters whose intersecting stories explore different aspects of love. Hugh Grant stars as the impossibly good-looking (and single) British prime minister who finds love with a Downing Street staffer (Martine McCutcheon), while Liam Neeson plays a widower who helps his stepson (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) muster up the courage to pursue his feelings for a classmate. Other stars of writer-director Richard Curtis’ British romantic comedy include Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley and Martin Freeman.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video ($2 to rent, $7 to buy)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
A Tim Burton Christmas is a very happy occasion, indeed. The stop-motion musical fantasy horror film directed by Henry Selick and produced/co-written by Burton follows Jack Skellington, who lives in “Halloween Town,” and decides to celebrate Christmas. Critics praised the visual effects and the imaginative world that was brought to life onscreen.
The 2020 Netflix musical fantasy stars Forest Whitaker as an inventor and toymaker who receives the final piece to his latest invention and believes it will change his life forever. Keegan-Michael Key and Hugh Bonneville also star in the film from writer and director David E. Talbert.
Where to watch: Netflix
Happiest Season (2020)
In this holiday film from director Clea Duvall, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis are a romantic couple whose personal secrets are spilled during Christmas. Harper (Davis) is not yet out to her parents as a lesbian, and Abby (Stewart) is ready for a proposal. Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber also star.
Where to watch: Hulu
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The 1996 film is something of a commentary on the modern Christmas tradition of scrambling to find the season’s “It” toy. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a work-obsessed dad who rarely spends time with his family. He finds himself in a race with a postal worker (Sinbad) to find a Turbo-Man action figure, a gift both men believe will make up for their inadequacies as fathers.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Made with charming stop-motion, the TV special was originally broadcast on NBC in 1964 but moved to CBS in the early 1970s. It centers on Rudolph, an adorable reindeer born with a glowing red nose that makes him ineligible to pull Santa’s sleigh. But, as the story goes, all of that changes on one foggy Christmas Eve. The rest is history.
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video (buy for $5)
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