It’s that time of the year again. Turkey, tinsel, excruciating family gatherings and Cliff Richard on a never-ending loop in every department store. Yep, it’s Christmas.
A chance to over indulge with food, wine and the credit card. But it’s also an opportunity to be a bit sentimental and watch a Christmas movie or two. There are hundreds of festive films to choose from, so which should you watch and which should you avoid? Glad you asked. I’m here to help and have put together my definitive guide to the top ten Christmas movies of all time.
It’s All About Opinions
To be honest, there are some movies in my top ten that may be considered by some to be…how can I put this…absolute mingers. But not to my mind.
Granted, some of my choices may appear to be sentimental, cloying and a bit too sugary. But aren’t those the quintessential ingredients of a Christmas movie? Come on people, Christmas movies are a genre where the usual standards of plot, character and acting are, at best, lowered and, at worst, totally ignored.
So, with all that said and with a final caveat in the spirit of Lesley Gore – ‘It’s my article and I’ll chose crap if I want to’ – here are my top ten Christmas movies. So there.
There is only one rule. If I like it, it’s in. If I don’t, it’s out. Actually, that’s two rules. And, if I think about it, there are a couple more:
- To qualify, the movie has to be specifically about Christmas. Just because a movie happens to be set at the same time as Christmas isn’t good enough. So, no Die Hard, Gremlins etc. I know it’s harsh but there it is (and the fact that I may have broken that rule in my list is neither here nor there).
- I will not bow to peer pressure. This top ten list has been the subject of fierce debate in the office. But this isn’t a democratic vote. So, no Elf or Polar Express. And that’s final.
And that’s it. So, without further ado, here are the Top Ten Christmas Movies of all time….
Number 1 – Miracle of 34th Street (1947)
There can only be one winner. Miracle On 34th Street is an all-time classic and can never, ever be bettered. Fact.
And I am, of course, talking about the original 1947 version here. The 1973 TV movie was awful, although the 1996 film with Richard Attenborough could arguably have made the top ten. But I think one miracle is enough for anybody. Even when it’s on 34th Street.
Oscar winning Edmund Gwenn is brilliant as Kris Kringle, as is John Payne who plays the lawyer who proves that Kris really is Santa Claus. The wonderful Maureen O’Hara adds the romantic angle as the initially sceptical Mrs Walker and an eight year old Natalie Wood played her daughter.
The movie oozes charm, character and humour. Remarkably for 1947, the film was a vehicle for attacking the growing commercialism of Christmas.
If you’ve never seen this film, have a word with yourself and make sure you watch it this year. And, if you don’t believe in Father Christmas after watching Miracle, there is no hope for you.
Number 2 – It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)
Jimmy Stewart is a little like Marmite – you either love him or hate him. However, in this wonderful feel good movie, he is superb. I’m sure this film is on many people’s ‘must watch every year’ list, although I can’t think of many festive films in which the hero is suicidal. Thankfully though, our hero’s guardian angel is sent to earth to talk him round, which he does by showing him just what a great guy he really is and how many people’s lives he has touched. Sort of an inverted Christmas Carol really.
Despite its slightly macabre storyline, this movie is one of those heart-warming treats we all deserve to have at Christmas time. The black and white photography adds atmosphere, and who can fail to smile at the scene where Jimmy Stewart races down the snow covered street shouting out ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone? If you haven’t seen this movie, make sure you do so this year – it’s a classic.
Number 3 – Santa and Pete (1999)
Next up, a TV movie that may leave many of you scratching your heads in bewilderment. Despite what you may be thinking, Santa and Pete isn’t the North Pole equivalent of Brokeback Mountain, but is instead a rather whimsical retelling of the Father Christmas story.
Santa and Pete tells the tale of Saint Nicholas and his young helper who flee Europe to travel to the New World. The best way to sum up this film is ‘charming.’ The way it deals with the legend that is Saint Nick, and how he brings hope and peace to the quarrelsome immigrants and Native Americans just draws a wonderful comparison to today’s intolerant world.
Strangely, the star of the show isn’t Santa (Hume Cronyn) or Pete (Flex Alexander), good as they are, but rather James Earl Jones who narrates the story to his ten year old grandson.
To be honest, until last year, this movie was very rarely seen on UK screens and hasn’t been released on DVD in this country. If you do see it in the listings this year though, make an effort to see it. You won’t be disappointed.
No 4 – Love Actually (2003)
This sprawling British rom-com features a host of household names, comedy icons and the one and only Bill Nighy. Every ‘Best Movie’ list in the world, no matter which genre, should have at least one Bill Nighy film on it. The man is a legend and, as the has-been born-again rocker Billy Mack, he steals the show, which is a bit of a triumph considering the presence of A-Listers like Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman and Keira Knightley.
Whimsical British humour at its very best, Love Actually should be on everyone’s viewing list this Christmas. Let’s face it, the movie is repeated so often you won’t be able to avoid it even if you want to.
Number 5 – White Christmas (1954)
Featuring the most famous festive song of all time, this musical starring Bing Crosby is a perennial favourite. Ably assisted by slapstick ninja Danny Kaye, the delightful Rosemary Clooney and the troubled Vera-Ellen, Bing dances and sings his heart out.
Frankly, it’s a lightweight story about a song and dance duo and their (soon to be) girlfriends galloping to the rescue of their old commanding officer who is heading for financial meltdown at his snowless Vermont ski lodge.
Of course, this being Hollywood at Christmas time, the guys hook up with the girls, the old man is saved from ruin and there is even a supremely cheesy final speech as the snow begins to fall. But I don’t care. This is a classic and needs to be watched every year. At least twice.
Here’s something for trivia fans: this wasn’t the first time Bing had crooned his iconic tune in a movie. He first performed it 12 years earlier in the 1942 Xmas flick, Holiday Inn (which should be more accurately known as White Christmas – The Prequel).
Number 6 – Scrooged (1988)
I don’t expect anyone to disagree with my choice here. Bill Murray’s take on A Christmas Carol is pure comedy gold. As the TV Executive From Hell, Murray stomps all over Dickens’ gentle festive tale with this bulldozer of a movie.
Brilliant performances from Murray (as Frank Cross), Bobcat Goldthwait (as Elliot Loudermilk) and David Johansen (as the Ghost of Christmas Past) provide plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. And, while there are also plenty of bum notes – take a bow Carol Kane – as a festive chucklefest, this movie is the dog’s danglers.
Number 7 – Scrooge / A Christmas Carol (1951)
Alastair Sim is simply brilliant as Ebenezer Scrooge in this masterful retelling of Dickens’ classic tale of Victorian Christmas. Of course, there have been dozens of remakes and spin-offs inspired by Dickens’ novel but this, while not quite the original (Walter Booth’s 1901 offering takes that particular prize), it is undoubtedly the best adaption of Dickens’ masterpiece.
The third film in my list from the black and white era, this is by far the most atmospheric. The monochrome depiction of Victorian London, while certainly not a ‘warts and all’ look back at those (for many) far from happy times, it was considered much too grim for many American audiences.
And yet, while the film flopped across the pond, it was a massive hit here and continues to be a popular seasonal offering. If you do choose to watch it, make sure you check out the black and white original rather than the latter day colourised version.
Number 8 – The Holiday (2006)
The heavyweight cast, featuring Jude Law, Jack Black, Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are superb in this romantic comedy, but it is the legendary Eli Wallach who steals the show.
His role here as screenwriter Arthur Abbott is as far removed from his career-defining role as Tuco in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as it’s possible to get, but he is brilliantly funny.
Apart from Eli, the film follows the standard route of boy(s) meets girl(s) against a backdrop of snowy English countryside and sunny Californian glitz with a dash of humour thrown in.
Unusually, Jack Black manages to raise a few giggles while Jude Law is excellent as the widowed dad of two small girls…not to mention eye candy for the ladies. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz fulfil the same role for male viewers while also providing some genuine laughs. All in all, a feel good movie that everyone will enjoy.
Number 9 – Jingle All The Way (1996)
Aww, come on! This is a classic. Panned by the critics, this awesome movie is a brilliant vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger – surely the greatest of all the great method actors. This has loads of LOL moments – usually when Arnie is trying to be serious. Whoever thought of pairing Mr Muscle Man with Sinbad in a Christmas movie was either a genius or a complete whack job. I’m thinking the latter.
So bad it’s brilliant, Jingle All The Way, Arnie’s hilarious search for a Turbo Man action figure, is a not-to-be-missed festive treat and deservedly sneaks into the top ten.
Number 10 – The Road to Christmas (2006)
Ok, this is one from left field, but The Road To Christmas starring Jennifer Grey is one of those movies that just scream to be loved. Though I suspect many won’t even have heard of it.
Jennifer Grey, of course, found fame as Baby in Dirty Dancing. Set for a glittering career in Hollywood, she quickly succumbed to the celebrity disease and opted for surgery to ‘fix’ her nose. Unfortunately for Jennifer, her nose job came back to bite her on the backside as it was her quirky looks that people, and producers, had fallen in love with in the first place. After the operation, work dried up and Jennifer was reduced to making TV movies, of which The Road To Christmas is her greatest triumph.
A typical Christmas story of a girl catching her husband-to-be in bed with his (male) friend and finding solace in the arms of a guy she initially despised. Despite the bizarre plot, this movie ticks all the boxes: plenty of sugar, funny(ish) moments and a cute leading lady (irrespective of the nose job). She might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Ms Grey makes it onto my list.
And that’s that. I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who disagrees with my choices but, just in case I’ve missed off your favourite movie, let us know by commenting below.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, here is a quick festive bonus for you. My five worst Christmas movies:
1 – Santa With Muscles (1996)
The biggest turkey in cinematic history. Some bright spark tried to make WWF ‘legend’ Hulk Hogan into the new Arnold Schwarzenegger and what better way than with a Christmas ‘comedy’ movie? Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The plot is paper thin. Basically, Hulk plays a millionaire who thinks he is Santa and battles to save children at a local orphanage from the clutches of an evil scientist. When it was released, the studio yanked the movie after just two weeks and millions of rubbish reviews. It was that bad.
Be warned. If you are tempted to watch this aberration of a Christmas movie, make sure there are no spoons nearby or you may end up gouging your own eyes out.
2 – Hercules Saves Christmas (also known as Santa’s Dog) (2012)
A cute canine and Christmas. It’s the perfect combination. What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, as it happens. Hercules is a talking dog (of course) who has a bit of clout with Santa and can help get kids moved from the Naughty List onto the Nice List. Sorry, I can’t bear to go on. This is absolute bilge. Avoid at all costs. Especially if you’re a dog lover.
3 – A Bulldog For Christmas (2013)
What is it about dogs and awful Christmas films? Actually, the dog is the only saving grace in this celluloid disaster. But, for what it’s worth, the plot involves a college student who hates Christmas and (you’ve guessed it) is turned into a dog until she learns the joys of the festive season. It really is as bad as it sounds.
4 – Four Christmases (2008)
With an all-star cast including Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek, this so-called comedy should be a cracker. It isn’t.
Vaughn and Witherspoon spend Christmas visiting all four divorced parents. And that’s as funny as it gets. Only marginally more appealing than having a wisdom tooth pulled without anesthetic, this movie is just plain awful.
5 – Mr St Nick (2002)
Fans of Kelsey Grammer look away now. I’ve no idea how he got suckered into making this load of tosh, but Frasier it isn’t. Kelsey plays the playboy son of King Nicholas who isn’t keen on moving into the family business. Naturally enough, by the end of the movie, Kelsey is happy to be the new Santa Claus but nobody really cares.
Thankfully Grammer redeemed himself two years later with A Christmas Carol: The Musical, but if you haven’t yet seen Mr St Nick…don’t bother.
Have you seen a bigger turkey than any of the five listed above? Let us know in the usual way.