Ho Ho Hollywood! Tinseltown's 30 Best Christmas-Themed Movies

2:24 PM 12/21/2016

by Aaron Couch, Kimberly Nordyke, and Rebecca Ford

The holidays just wouldn't be the same without Rudolph, Ralphie and the Grinch. THR looks back at the films that define Dec. 25, from 'A Christmas Story' to 'Elf' to 'Die Hard' (really!).

Home Alone (1990) - Photofest-H 2016
Twentieth Century Fox/Photofest
  • A Christmas Story

    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 eyes 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. A musical adaptation just opened in New York, with Billingsley among the lead producers. (Read THR's review here.)

  • Bad Santa

    Profane and subversive, Bad Santa is a holiday favorite for all the grinches out there. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a con man who dresses as Santa and works with his con elf (Tony Cox) to rob malls around the country.

  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

    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

    Ostensibly about New York cop John McClain (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 McClain, 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. McClain and his wife are attending a holiday party when bad guy (Alan Rickman) and his men take everyone hostage. Can McClain save the day and rebuild his family? Yippie-kay-yay holidays.

  • Edward Scissorhands

    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-grandaughter that Edward returned to his mansion, where he is still alive and continues to create snow.

  • Elf

    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 six-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. A musical adaptation premiered on Broadway in 2010.

  • Gremlins

    There were three simple rules to owning the cuddly Mogwai: Keep him out of sunlight, don't give him water, and never feed him after midnight. But after his father buys him the strange creature — named Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) — as a Christmas present, Billy (Zach Galligan) breaks two of the three rules, unleashing an explosion of gremlins in his town. Ultimately, the creatures' rampage is put to an end, and Gizmo is returning to his original owner, who claims the Western world is not yet ready to responsibly care for a Mogwai. The 1984 hit movie spawned a sequel six years later.

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas, based on the 1957 book of the same name by Dr. Seuss, stars Jim Carrey as the "mean one, Mr. Grinch." Directed by Ron Howard, the film was a holiday hit, holding the No. 1 spot at the box office for four weeks. It also nabbed three Academy Award nominations.

  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

    The 1966 animated television movie about the mean ol' Grinch who is trying to take away Christmas from the good people of Whoville is just 26 minutes long, but it has been holiday classic since it first appeared on television.

  • Holiday Inn

    It’d hardly be Christmas without Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire’s Holiday Inn, which brought us Crosby’s version of the holiday staple “White Christmas.” Also starring Virginia Dale, the film deals with love, friendship and plenty of good music.

  • Home Alone

    Defining 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

    Frank Capra's classic has become 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 his life would be like if he had never lived. The movie has inspired numerous tributes over the years, from a 1979 episode of Mork & Mindy titled "It's a Wonderful Mork" to a recent installment of Raising Hope titled "It's a Hopeful Life."

  • Jingle All the Way

    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 toy both men believe will make up for their inadequacies as fathers. 

  • Love Actually

    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 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.

  • Miracle on 34th Street

    The holiday favorite features an 8-year-old Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn as a Macy’s department store Santa -- named Kris Kringle, coincidentally -- who claims to be the real thing. Gwenn won a best supporting Oscar for the role, which made people believe in miracles.

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas

    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 Polar Express

    The motion-capture computer animated film from Robert Zemeckis was a visual feast for audiences upon its 2004 release. The film is set in the 1950s and centers on a young boy who discovers a mysterious train to the North Pole, where children are traveling to meet Santa Claus. It features work from Tom Hanks and Josh Hutcherson

  • 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. 

  • Santa Clause

    Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin is fated to take on the mantle of Santa Claus after accidentally being responsible for St. Nick's death. Scott involuntarily gets fat and sprouts a beard over the next year in preparation for the holidays. His ex-wife and her husband believe him to be delusional and are worried about the influence he’s having on his son (Eric Lloyd). But it all turns out well in the end. This is a family film, after all. The 1994 comedy spawned two sequels. 

  • Scrooged

    If Ebenezer Scrooge were a 1980s TV exec and shared the comic sensibilities of Bill Murray, this is how A Christmas Carol would have turned out. Richard Donner directed the 1988 update on the Charles Dickens classic. 

  • Trading Places

    A modern take on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, the 1983 film stars Eddie Murphy as a homeless man and Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy broker. The two become pawns of a pair of wealthy brothers, who test nature verses nurture by switching the two men’s life circumstances. 

  • White Christmas

    Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play two Army buddies turned showbiz partners in the 1954 musical, also starring Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. The film features songs by Irving Berlin, including (of course) “White Christmas.”

  • A Very Murray Christmas

    In the 2015 musical comedy — co-written by Bill Murray, Mitch Glazer and Sofia Coppola and directed by Coppola — Murray worries that a huge snowstorm in New York City will keep people from showing up to his TV show. The Netflix film also features appearances by George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Michael Cera and more (all of whom play themselves onscreen).

  • The Best Man Holiday

    2013's The Best Man Holiday centers on the drama and romance that follow a group of college friends who reunite after 15 years for the Christmas holiday. The film, directed and written by Malcolm D. Lee, stars Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Regina Hall and more.

  • The Muppets Christmas Carol

    Based on Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, the 1992 musical comedy features the Muppets characters and stars Michael Caine as Scrooge. In the film, narrated by Dickens himself, Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and yet to come.

  • The Holiday

    Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, the 2006 romantic comedy stars Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz as two women who escape heartbreak by trading homes for the holiday. While spending time in each other's houses on opposite sides of the globe, both women unexpectedly find love. The film also co-stars Jack Black and Jude Law.

  • A Charlie Brown Christmas

    The Peanuts gang’s holiday celebration has reached its 50th anniversary and turned into a timeless classic. When Charlie Brown can’t get into the holiday spirit, he takes Lucy’s advice to direct the Christmas play and in turn picks out a skimpy Christmas tree that has stuck with audiences young and old throughout the years, as well as the film’s message when the loveable animated characters realize it’s less about the looks and all about the true meaning of Christmas. 

  • A Christmas Carol

    Jim Carrey voices the miserable (and animated) Ebenezer Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Charles Dickens novel. In the film, Scrooge is taken on an eye-opening adventure where he meets his ghosts of Christmas past, present and future that hope to soften his “bah humbug” personality. 

  • Jack Frost

    Before Michael Keaton’s Birdman days, he once played a snowman in the Christmas comedy. Keaton stars as a father with little time for his son, who dies in a car accident, but comes back to life as a snowman. Keaton's reincarnation gives him a second chance to treat his family right before it's too late. 

  • The Night Before

    Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and and Anthony Mackie star in the 2015 comedy about three longtime friends who get together on Christmas Eve for a night of debauchery in New York City, where they desperately seek to find the city's biggest holiday party, the Nutcracka Ball.