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The Best Christmas Movies Of The Last Decade

Ever since movies like Home Alone and The Santa Clause proved that Christmas films could be box office gold and basic cable staples, holiday films have arrived like clockwork every November and December. The Christmas movie canon grows by leaps and bounds every single year, and the 2010s have exponentially increased the number of seasonal films we have to watch. 

Seriously, the past decade has been absolutely packed with Christmas films, both in theaters and in various streaming services. And we've had holiday movies of all kinds, from animated family comedies and gruesome holiday horror films to mid-budget dramedies that use Christmas as a backdrop to tell very human stories. Many of these films are, of course, underwhelming and predictable, but a few have risen above the pack to become new and future classics. From a fresh take on a beloved holiday story to several new variations on the Santa Claus myth, these are the best Christmas movies of the last decade.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a creepy way to celebrate the holiday

There are a lot of Christmas horror films out there, and many of them lean hard into holiday cynicism to make their point. Christmas is often difficult for people, and a movie about a ruthless killer swinging an ax at overzealous shoppers or disrupting holiday revelry with a little merry mayhem is a good way to break the often saccharine quality of other Christmas films.

Then there's Rare Exports, a film that's both spooky and strangely respectful of various aspects of Christmas cheer. The film presents an alternate history of Santa Claus, what he really is and what he really wants, and centers much of its action on a father and child who are struggling through the holiday season. The result is a film that acknowledges and even hopes to analyze the various difficulties of the holiday season — emotional, financial, and otherwise — while also wrapping everything in a dark fantasy adventure that provides a ray of hope and fun for its characters. It's also just a really nice way to break up the often predictable takes on Santa that continually play on basic cable throughout the season.

Arthur Christmas has a whole lot of heart

At first glance, Arthur Christmas feels like a movie that might be biting off a little more than it can chew. It presents a history of Santa Claus in which the title is passed down from father to son as part of a family lineage, which is its own narrative tangle. Then it throws in the idea that the history of Santa has now evolved to include a massive "sleigh" that's essentially a starship, zipping around the world with an army of elves to do the gift-giving in an ultra-efficient, updated version of the North Pole operation.

The film succeeds by finding a way to focus both of these high concepts into the desires of its title character, Santa's youngest son, who simply wants to make sure one little girl gets the present the elves accidentally failed to deliver. The result is a hilarious, beautifully designed, and emotionally satisfying holiday adventure that wields its conceptual ambitions very wisely. It's a film with tremendous heart that shines through even in its most predictable moments.

The Best Man Holiday is one of the best Christmas movies of the last decade

The Best Man Holiday, a sequel to The Best Man, is an ensemble holiday dramedy that relies on a pretty simple setup: Take some characters you hopefully still love and remember from the first film, put them all in a big house for a reunion, and see how their evolving personalities clash and combine years later. The film works on that level, but then it digs deeper, and the result is one of the most entertaining and ambitious holiday films of the last decade.

There's so much going on in The Best Man Holiday that you might forget by the time it's over that you've only been watching it for two hours. It's got romantic subplots, professional strife, a moving cancer subplot, a triumphant football game, two different fights, and much more. Despite all of this, it doesn't ever seem overstuffed, and none of the characters ever feel left behind. Plus, it's the only film on this list to include characters doing a dance routine to New Edition's "Can You Stand the Rain" in front of a Christmas tree.

Krampus is a holiday horror classic

The internet loves Krampus, the folkloric Christmas creature that's been set up as a kind of playful opposite for Santa thanks to years of memes. It was inevitable that this would lead to a horror movie centered on the creature, and it was easy to imagine that movie being both predictable and boring. Mike Dougherty's Krampus is neither of those things. In fact, it's a worthy contender for the title of "Modern Christmas Classic."

The film follows a somewhat dysfunctional family just trying to get through Christmas together during a particularly cold holiday season. When that dysfunction manages to break the Christmas spirit of the most spirited boy in the house, things take a dark turn, as Krampus begins to stalk the family during a supernatural blizzard. What's most impressive about the film now that it's had a few years to grow its audience is how little Dougherty actually relies on scares to make his movie entertaining. Krampus is indeed scary, and the title creature is impressive, but this is a film that understands that holidays are about more than cynicism and aggression. There's also a tremendous layer of wickedly fun comedy lurking in the film, as well as quite a bit of heart. Plus, the third act is absolutely bonkers, with one of the best horror movie endings of this century, and it proves this is a film willing to go above and beyond other Christmas horror efforts.

The Night Before is hilarious, R-rated, and all about family

It was perhaps only a matter of time before the team of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who burst into the comedy stratosphere with Superbad, would turn their particular comedic talents to the holiday season. The Night Before brings together Rogen (in front of the camera), Goldberg (behind it), and a bunch of their friends for a hard R extravaganza that takes a relatively simple premise and weaves an effective, heartfelt comedy out of it.

The idea here is simple. Three friends who spend every Christmas Eve together are getting older, and they realize their partying ways are growing outdated. So they decide to undertake one last blowout at a legendary Manhattan holiday party, and everything starts to go wrong. It's a basic "set 'em up, knock 'em down" concept, but the ensemble cast (led by Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie) and beautifully paced comedy creates all sorts of little avenues to explore within it. The real secret to The Night Before's success, though, is its focus on the importance of your chosen family ... and how hard it can be sometimes for that family to evolve.

The Grinch is a charming take on a beloved tale

Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas is, like so many of his stories, a short and sweet book with an important lesson embedded in it. The first adaptation, a Christmas short narrated by Boris Karloff, is pretty much the same thing, and it's basically perfect. With that in mind, it's a little odd that the book has also produced two feature films, and by the time Illumination's The Grinch came along, it definitely felt like we couldn't sustain it.

And yet, there's something undeniably charming about the 2018 animated film that goes well beyond Benedict Cumberbatch's endearing performance in the title role. Yes, it's still basically the same story with the same lesson, fleshed out to movie length with a few more side characters, but it's just so well done that it doesn't matter. The Grinch is a light, wonderfully engineered new look at an old classic, and even if that classic didn't need to be tinkered with, it's still easy to fall in love with this take.

The Christmas Chronicles gave us the best Santa Claus of the last decade

We've been putting Santa Claus in movies for basically as long as we've been using motion pictures to tell stories, and we still haven't run out of new ways to spin Father Christmas into something worthy of a feature film. The Christmas Chronicles is one of the most recent attempts to give us an updated, fun take on the Santa myth, and while it stumbles in places, it does succeed in giving us a Santa we want to watch.

The Christmas Chronicles centers on two kids whose family has gone through a hard time in recent years, and they're having a rough Christmas. Things take a turn when they discover their beloved family camcorder somehow captured Santa Claus on film, and this discovery launches a night of adventure as they first try to track Santa, then help him save Christmas. The hook? This Santa is played by Kurt Russell, and he's both energetic enough to run across rooftops and charming enough for a jailhouse singalong. Russell has charm to spare in the role, and that makes The Christmas Chronicles a welcome addition to Santa's history on film in the 2010s.

Last Christmas is a magical, merry tale

More than a few Christmas movies hinge on the "person is just not feeling themselves during the holidays" theme, and many of those movies also inject a bit of magical intervention to turn the lead character's fortunes around. It's a tried and true trope for good reason, but Last Christmas still manages to breathe some new life into it. 

The film follows a young woman who's recovering from a medical emergency that dramatically altered her life, and even as she works in a Christmas store in the midst of the holiday, she just can't seem to get it together. That all seems to change when she meets a mysterious stranger with a few new lessons to teach her about life, love, and family. If that sounds predictable, that's because in many ways it is, but Last Christmas is never content to rest on what we all know from Christmas comedies past. There's a real emotional ambition at work here thanks to both the ensemble cast and a genuinely moving story, and by the end, it all comes together for something special.

Anna Kendrick absolutely shines in Noelle

Noelle, one of the first original movies released to the Disney+ streaming service, is yet another remix of the Santa Claus mythos. The film presents a scenario in which Santa is yet again a title passed down from father to son within the Claus family, and in this case, the new Santa is a guy who ... well, he just really doesn't want the job. Nick Klaus (played by Bill Hader) is a basically good guy who has no real enthusiasm for Christmas cheer, and it's up to his sister, Noelle (played by Anna Kendrick), to get him in Santa shape in time for Christmas.

As you may have guessed from the title, it turns out that Noelle is the one who's really built for Christmas magic, and while the film definitely hits a few bumps in terms of visuals and has a few storytelling quirks, Kendrick is the emotional core of the film, and she 100 percent works. The actress is tailor-made for this kind of movie, and she plays the title role with genuine sincerity and joy. Hader and the legendary Shirley MacLaine help to complete the picture, and the result is a holiday movie that's bursting with charm and packs a real emotional punch by the end.

Klaus is a gorgeously animated Christmas movie

The 2010s had their fair share of Santa Claus stories, but Klaus isn't your typical "someone inherits the Santa mantle" movie. Instead, it's a Santa origin story in the tradition of Santa Claus is Comin' to Town and Santa Claus: The Movie, which makes it even harder for the film to get a leg up on stories we think we already know. Thankfully, Klaus has a couple of key ingredients which help it to rise into the ranks of new Christmas classics.

First and most obviously, it looks absolutely spectacular. Writer and director Sergio Pablos has crafted a beautifully engineered little world, featuring a town at odds with itself, a postman in training who just wants to go home, and a reclusive toymaker who finds he has the power to change the world, and it's all gorgeously animated. It's hard to look away from Klaus, but thanks to a stellar voice cast led by Jason Schwartzman and J.K. Simmons in the title role, it's also impossible to stop listening to. It's everything you could want from a holiday fantasy of this kind, and it deserves to become a part of holiday viewing traditions in the years to come.