×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Classic Christmas movies ranked worst to best

Christmas is all about getting together with family and friends and enjoying our favorite traditions. Almost every family has variations on these traditions, but watching specific Christmas movies is almost always one of them. But with such a limited time to spend with loved ones, the choice of Christmas movie is important. Which films should you take the time to watch every single year?

Well, today, we're taking a look at several Christmas classics, ranking them from worst to best. And here's a bit on our criteria. To be a "classic," a movie has to be at least ten years old. Whether those newer movies stand the true test of time has yet to be seen, but they're at least in the discussion after a decade. Also, Christmas must be central to the plot, not just a background item. Sorry, Die Hard and Batman Returns fans. Just being set at Christmas time isn't enough.

With that in mind, it's time to break out the eggnog and hang your stockings with care as we work our way through some of the most famous Christmas movies of all time, from the very worst to the very best.

Holiday Inn is a problematic Christmas flick

Released in 1942, Holiday Inn stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's one of those black and white movies full of singing and dancing that wowed audiences as movies started to become big business in the first half of the 1900s. It's a fine movie, even if the plot about a club that's only open on holidays is a pretty thin excuse for the big holiday-themed numbers, but Astaire and Crosby are always impressive to watch. However, there's a very good reason we're not giving Holiday Inn a whole lot of love.

Look, the holidays can be stressful. It's nice to visit your family, but being packed in close proximity to people you rarely see, oftentimes with alcohol involved, can cause tensions to run high. And Holiday Inn just might cause some political ideologies to come out in the open that you'll wish would've stayed buried. You see, one of the holidays that the club is open for in the movie is President's Day ... and our stars do a number for Abraham Lincoln while wearing blackface.

Yes, 1942 was a different time. But no one wants to sit around and debate their drunk aunt about blackface. Besides, there are better old-timey song-and-dance movies to watch around Christmas. So yeah, we're giving this one a hard pass.

Jingle All the Way is ridiculous and shallow

Jingle All the Way has actually started to make its way into some conversations now as a Christmas classic, but don't believe the hype. The Film Magazine summed it up nicely, saying, "As an adult, it comes across as over the top and ridiculous, and in that sense you could really look upon Jingle All the Way as a shallow film that promotes values you really wouldn't want to teach children."

In case you're unfamiliar, Jingle All the Way stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad in a competition to win a Turbo Man action figure, the year's hot toy. It's a slapstick comedy with the broadest strokes possible, but neither Schwarzenegger nor Sinbad is all that funny in it. The timing is all off, the punchlines are predictable, and the way the story ramps up as the film goes on veers too far into ridiculous to be entertaining.

The only thing that makes the film watchable is Phil Hartman as Schwarzenegger's slimy neighbor. He's so smug and arrogant, and if anything is going to bring your family together to watch Jingle All the Way, it's going to be your shared desire to punch Hartman's character right in the face. Now that's Christmas!

It's A Wonderful Life is an overrated Christmas classic

We know, we know. A lot of people can't imagine Christmas without Jimmy Stewart getting a new lease on life. Hear us out, though. It's A Wonderful Life isn't that good. In fact, the only reason it's a "Christmas classic" is because greedy companies realized they didn't have to buy the rights for it. See, It's A Wonderful Life originally came out in 1939 and flopped. In fact, the film was so forgotten that RKO, the studio who owned the rights to the film, didn't even realize they needed to renew the copyright on the film. This error meant the movie passed into the public domain.

Fast forward to the '70s and '80s, and television companies were desperate for more Christmas content — the cheaper the better. So It's A Wonderful Life, which they didn't have to pay a dime for, started airing on every network. And it has to be good if every network is showing it, right? Well, not really. It's boring, sappy, and surprisingly dark for a "family friendly" Christmas movie. After all, the whole plot revolves around Stewart wanting to kill himself. Just say the line about the bell ringing, and skip this one.

Love Actually is a little bit sexist

This one hurts a bit. Love Actually is actually loved (see what we did there?) by a lot of people, and it isn't hard to see why. It has a banger of a cast, with names like Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Keira Knightly, Hugh Grant, and Laura Linney. It tells a variety of stories about love and the spirit of the holidays, helping things to move at a rapid pace. And it has some impressive cinematography. Unfortunately, Love Actually doesn't really hold up.

Some movies just don't age all that well, and Love Actually suffers from problematic elements. The plot seems sweet on the surface, all about how love can win out, but it has a bit of a problem with sexism. Lindy West from Jezebel sums it up nicely, writing, "Colin Firth falls in 'love' with Aurelia at first sight, establishing Love Actually's central moral lesson: The less a woman talks, the more lovable she is. None of the women in this movie f*****g talk. All of the men in this movie 'win' a woman at the end."

On the surface, Love Actually is a harmless Christmas movie with lots of good actors. Maybe put it on in the background, or after you've had a few brandy nogs. Just don't sit down for a deep analysis.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is just too boring

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is fine. It's short, pretty simple, and the good guys win. It doesn't quite hold up after all this time, however. There are better animated Christmas movies, and there are better Christmas movies for kids. Rudolph coasts on nostalgia, but that's about the only thing it has going for it.

On top of that, when was the last time anyone sat down and really paid attention to the dialogue and plot in Rudolph? Everyone in this movie is a total jerk. They mock Rudolph for his nose, they mock Hermey the elf for wanting to be a dentist, and they even banish imperfect toys to what's essentially a leper colony. It's pretty messed up!

But really, Rudolph's biggest problem is that it's just kind of boring. It runs under an hour, but it feels like a slog as it lurches towards the end. When it comes to picking Christmas classics, Rudolph should only serve as a last resort.

A Christmas Story has lost some of its shine

Is it just us, or does A Christmas Story seem just a little less classic these days? Maybe it's the oversaturation. After all, TBS still shows A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve. Maybe the snarky, self-aware humor that was once uncommon has now become the norm, causing the film to lose some of its punch. Whatever it is, A Christmas Story is still good, but it isn't the be-all, end-all of the Christmas season that it once was.

That said, the story of Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun is still fantastically quotable and full of memorable moments, such as the completely over it mall Santa, the bawdy leg lamp, the Bumpus hounds, and of course, Scott Farkus himself. There's a lot to like in A Christmas Story.

Still, some of it has just aged out as the film has seen so much exposure. Just like the Christmas tale it tells, we're always searching for something shiny and new. Of course, you can always leave TBS on while you're off doing something else on Christmas Eve, as you probably know the movie well enough at this point to catch your favorite parts without having to sit through the whole thing.

Gremlins is really good ... but not quite a true Christmas classic

If Gremlins could maintain its momentum throughout its entire runtime, it would be an almost perfect holiday flick. The first 45 minutes or so are great, and it captures a lot of what we like about Christmas movies. There's the wonder of receiving a unique gift, the suspense of when exactly everything is going to go wrong, and the combination of humorous but dark scenarios when the Gremlins really start cooking.

And let's not forget what might be the greatest scene ever in a Christmas movie — when the Gremlins are responsible for flinging an old woman to her death.

The second half of Gremlins isn't bad, but it does lose a lot of the magic that makes the beginning so much fun. It almost seems like the first half of the film is just a bunch of wacky ideas that the writers decided to put together. The second half becomes a much more cookie-cutter plot, lacking the surprise of the rest of the movie. Again, it's not bad, but it isn't as good as you remember it being, either.

The Santa Clause is a wonderful Christmas comedy

Unlike a lot of famous Christmas films, The Santa Clause is actually a movie that seems to have improved with age. When it came out, it was pretty much received as a solid, wholly average Christmas movie. Tim Allen was a marketable star in 1994, and the film did well enough to spawn two (far inferior) sequels. However, some of that Kris Kringle magic stuck with the original, because the film has started creeping back up in the realm of Christmas classics.

A big part of it is probably because how much The Santa Clause embraces the weird and ignores the nit-picky details. This is one of those movies where Santa is definitely real, yet none of the adults seem to believe he exists. Where do they think those presents come from around Christmas time? Well, who cares? Move along! Plus, this is a film where the entire plot revolves around the fact that Tim Allen straight-up kills Santa. That's big time.

The best Christmas movies revel in the darkness and absurdity of the holiday season and still let goodness win out in the end. The Santa Clause isn't going to become your go-to, but it's nevertheless a solid little Christmas flick.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is a bit too preachy

A Charlie Brown Christmas has a lot of good stuff going for it. There's a pretty impressive soundtrack, the excellent dancing animation during the rehearsal, and of course, one of the most recognizable Christmas props around with the tiny Christmas tree. However, the movie slows down a bit in the second half, when things start getting preachy in the end. 

Christmas is absolutely a Christian holiday, but that's generally not what we're searching for when we sit down to watch those feel-good, nostalgic Christmas movies. Charles Schulz was an extremely religious man, so more power to him if he wanted to use the Peanuts gang to preach a bit. That said, it brings the redemption of the sad sack Charlie Brown to a bit of a screeching halt. Maybe you want that strong Christian message in your Christmas movies, but for a film that's only 30 minutes long, it feels like quite a sermon coming out of Linus' mouth.

Scrooged is a hilarious take on a holiday classic

Written in 1843, A Christmas Carol is one of the best Christmas stories ever told. As a result, filmmakers just love bringing this story to the big screen. And one of the most beloved adaptations of Charles Dickens' holiday classic is Scrooged, a fantastically '80s version of the story, with Bill Murray bringing his wonderful combination of charm and sleaze to the forefront.

There's a lot of funny stuff going on in Scrooged. Carol Kane is an absolute joy as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and supporting cast members like Karen Allen and Bobcat Goldthwait get some great moments to shine, and Murray is always a treat. The film also works as an interesting time capsule, serving as the epitome of both the good and bad of 1980s America. And sure, there are some problematic elements, but as Carol Kane said, "I just don't make it my business to pick it apart like that, because then you won't enjoy anything." Well said, and admittedly, it's tough to not enjoy Scrooged.

Elf is original tale with humor and heart

In the early 2000s, Will Ferrell was just a funnyman on SNL. He was one of the bigger stars on the show, but nothing seemed to indicate that he was going to become a mainstream movie star. He'd appeared in a few other films, including a few based on SNL characters, but generally, he showed up in very small roles or in movies that weren't well received.

Then 2003 hit, and Ferrell blew up. Old School started it, and then we got Elf, Anchorman, and Wedding Crashers. Soon, every college dorm in the world was full of Will Ferrell DVDs, and you couldn't go through a few sentences without some Ferrell quote bouncing around the room. But of all those films, Elf has withstood the test of time best. After all, Ferrell is completely on board for the film's wackiness, and it really has a good message when it's all said and done.

However, one of the biggest reasons that Elf is such a great holiday flick is that it tells an original Christmas story. There are familiar beats, sure, but it doesn't retread too much space. And in addition to the humor, the movie has a whole lot of heart. Will Ferrell once said he cried at the premiere of the film, and our guess is that most moviegoers still shed a few tears every year, as well.

Miracle on 34th Street is the ultimate Santa Claus film

Both versions of Miracle on 34th Street are enjoyable watches. They follow the same general story beats and feature the same uplifting message. The general consensus seems to be that the original 1947 film is the way to go, and our money is on the original as well. If you're looking for a film that's in color or has a few actors that people might recognize, however, the 1994 remake isn't too much of a drop-off.

However, even though it's tough to beat Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle, there's just something magical about Edmund Gwenn's portrayal of Santa in the original film. Add to it the plot around corporate greed and forgetting the true meaning of the Christmas season, and you've got a heartwarming Christmas classic that never gets old. And as films skew more and more towards cynicism, self-awareness, and irony, it's pretty nice to sit down to a wholesome film like Miracle on 34th Street and just get lost in it. It's a good one.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is an underrated Christmas movie

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is one of the more obscure films on this list, but hey, we definitely need to spread word of the joy that is Emmet Otter. The film originally aired as a television special in 1977, and it was created by Jim Henson. It's even bookended with an appearance from Kermit the Frog, as he introduces the story and also introduces the band before the show's final musical number.

As for the plot, Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is a play on the classic short story, "The Gift of the Magi," where two people sacrifice prized possessions in order to help buy a gift for the other. It features plenty of classic Jim Henson puppetry and some pretty impressive musical numbers. It's an absolute joy to watch. After all, Jim Henson was always able to bring something for everyone to the table with his work, and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas is no exception. Great music, impressive puppetry, and a classic story come together perfectly in this underrated classic.

A Christmas Carol is an all-time great holiday tale

A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted Christmas stories out there. After all, Charles Dickens' classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the importance of human connection is still powerful and relevant today. There are several good adaptations of the story, but if you're looking for something truly magical, well, it's hard to beat the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. The man is just flawless as the yule-hating humbug. It isn't just that aspect the makes Sim such a great Scrooge, though. Perhaps better than any other version, Sim forces you to believe in Scrooge's transformation.

See, in some films, Scrooge's change can feel forced or unbelievable, but that isn't the case with Sim. He's despicable at the beginning of the story, and you can feel his shift coming on gradually as he experiences his time with ghosts. By the end of the movie, you truly buy that Scrooge has changed for good and why. Over 65 years later, A Christmas Carol hasn't lost any of its power, so do yourself a favor and watch this timeless tale for your Christmas celebration.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is delightfully fun and frightening

The Nightmare Before Christmas is every bit as impressive today as it was when it came out in 1993. The stop motion animation is amazing to look at on-screen, and it's even more impressive once you realize just how much work went into bringing the residents of Halloweentown to life. Each second of film required all the figures to be painstakingly repositioned 24 times, meaning it took about a week to film one minute of the movie. Some of the bigger characters had a crazy amount of detail involved, as well. Jack Skellington had over 400 interchangeable heads!

And of course, there's the impressive voicework and incredibly catchy songs that come along with being part of the House of Mouse (well, via Touchstone Pictures). Danny Elfman's score — and singing voice, as he sang all of Jack's songs — does a great job of portraying the different emotions and feelings that the movie elicits. On top of all that, we have the creative worldbuilding of the still-in-his-prime Tim Burton and the impressive direction of Henry Selick. The Nightmare Before Christmas toes that fine line of "scary enough yet wondrous enough" that some of the most timeless kids' movies walk, while still having enough impressive talent and skill behind it that adults will enjoy it. In other words, it's perfect for a break in between all the normal Christmas movies.

White Christmas is a musical brimming with holiday cheer

A spiritual sequel to Holiday Inn, White Christmas is way better than that aforementioned musical. Okay, granted, despite the name and general theme, White Christmas isn't really that much of a Christmas movie. However, it's a good enough flick that it belongs in your holiday rotation.

The 1954 movie stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as two soldiers who start a show business routine after leaving the service. They sit in on a show featuring two sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and of course, they quickly fall in love. The plot is pretty standard "1950s musical" stuff, but that doesn't matter when you're listening to these folks sing and watching them dance. White Christmas is perfect for those who love the musicals of yesteryear. It's full of holiday spirit and joie de vivre, and of course, it features the best version of the best Christmas song of all time. And if you don't know which tune we're talking about, just look at the title of the movie.

Home Alone is still absolutely amazing

All these years later, and Home Alone is still so good. Macaulay Culkin was a really impressive child actor, and his charisma and delivery carry this movie well beyond its simple plot. There are tons of movies from this era that are dragged down by kids who haven't quite learned how to act yet, but Home Alone is elevated by its pint-sized star.

On top of that, the film features some great performances from an impressive cast. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are the perfect combination of menacing and bumbling to make for unforgettable villains. John Heard and Catherine O'Hara are great as Kevin's parents, and actors like John Candy and Roberts Blossom are charming and perfect in their small roles. 

Home Alone continues to stay so good in part because of the way your attitudes change as you age. As a kid, you feel totally different about the situations in Home Alone than you do as an adult. It works on a lot of different levels, features some hilarious set pieces, and remains forever quotable.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is one of the funniest Christmas films ever made

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation probably tops the list for "most quotable Christmas movie." Nearly every line out of Chevy Chase's or Randy Quaid's mouth can always elicit some holiday laughs, while the yuppie villains, Todd and Margo, also feature plenty of great one-liners. Like every movie in the Vacation series, the plot basically serves as a paper thin link between funny scenes, but the message behind all the silliness is surprisingly sweet.

National Lampoon films are kind of hit or miss, as they're generally just sketch comedies disguised as movies. But that's the perfect format for a Christmas film, and it allows for people with a wide variety of humor sensibilities to sit back and enjoy Christmas Vacation because there are so many different kinds of jokes. Slapstick comedy, hilarious background gags, wordplay, jokes that don't pay off until much later — National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has it all, and the cast is totally game to play the fools for our entertainment. Of course, you should probably save this one until after the little ones have gone to bed.

The Muppet Christmas Carol has holiday joy, singing animals, and Michael Caine

Of all the versions of A Christmas Carol out there, The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the very best. It's also the only one that has talking pigs, singing rats, and Statler and Waldorf. See, one thing that the creators of the Muppets have always done well is incorporating their flesh and blood actors with the puppets. It's actually pretty absurd when you stop and think about the logistics of it, but here we have the Michael Caine playing one of the best versions of Scrooge ever, and he's doing it opposite Kermit and Gonzo. It's remarkable.

Really, A Christmas Carol is just a perfect way to talk about the spirit of the Christmas season, and seeing the story through the Muppet lens is a lot of fun. The Muppet Christmas Carol also has plenty of great musical numbers and twists on the story, meaning that even if you've already sat through a version of the Charles Dickens story, you'll be getting something different here.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a gift for all ages

Take everything that makes a perfect Christmas movie and distill it into a short, little cartoon, and you've got the original version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This movie has so much going for it, like those absolutely fantastic songs. Chances are good that most everyone on planet Earth knows the words to them, even if a lot of those lyrics are all nonsense words.

The plot is simple enough to be enjoyed by all ages, but it isn't insulting or basic. It deals with some real ideas, but lays them out in a simple way. It's a movie for kids from one to 92. On top of that, the animation is great, and the wordplay of Dr. Seuss is always fun.

Another key element is that How the Grinch Stole Christmas is short. That may seem counterintuitive, but that's key for a Christmas movie that you've seen a billion times. You may watch this movie more than once in the week leading up to Christmas, and that's okay! It's only half an hour long. And when all is said and done, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is just a perfect little Christmas treat.