Christmas Movies With Especially Sad Moments

The Christmas movie genre is known for its message of love and family. These films embody the spirit of the holiday itself ... or so we thought.

Sure, the holidays are all about peace on Earth and good will toward man, but if December 25th is supposed to be a holly, jolly day, why do so many Christmas movies send us running for the tissues? A warm cup of cocoa has become standard for viewing the genre, no doubt to stave off the icy chill sweeping over our hearts. The somber nature of some of these films may be due to the fact that the holidays place the family unit front and center. Family is annoying. Family is messy. And family drama can start you sobbing.

Maybe it was the naivety of youth, but we remember our favorite holiday films being filled with jokes, jingles, and happy endings. Maybe we hadn't yet amassed enough heartache to feel the full impact of the deeper moments. What follows are some Christmas movie favorites that you may have forgotten are filled with especially sad moments. Grab some tissues and slip on that Snuggie because it's about to get chilly in here.

Christmas Vacation features a heartbreakingly relatable moment

Most people probably can't recall any sad moments from any National Lampoon movie. And even when there is, the humor swings back so hard that it shocks your system into laughter. That definitely applies to Christmas Vacation, which is top-tier essential holiday viewing. Chevy Chase's portrayal of Clark Griswold — a man in maniacal pursuit of the Christmas spirit — is hilariously endearing.

So yeah, it's probably hard to remember any sad moments in this slapstick comedy, especially with Randy Quaid chirping in the corner of every scene, beer in hand. But one scene in particular resonates especially hard with any parent working hard to get their kids all the gifts they'd ever want. When Clark gets his supposed Christmas bonus, the whole family is gathered in excitement. Clark proudly opens the letter ... and joy drains from his face. It's just a membership to a "jelly of the month" club. 

Clark's smile remains, but you can see the happiness behind it fizzle out. It's a father attempting to stay upbeat for all those around him while his own desires get snuffed out. Clark chugs a few cups of eggnog, and the entire family watches quietly while he climbs up on his soapbox and begins ranting about what he thinks of his boss. It's funny the first time you see it. After many years of annual viewings, though, the humor begins to drain from this scene, and you get frustrated right alongside him. Poor Clark.

The Santa Clause will make you shed a few tears

For any parent looking to squeeze an extra year or two out of their child's Santa Claus experience, look no further than 1994's The Santa Clause. The movie features answers to a lot of questions surrounding the enigmatic gift-giver (from time distortion to entering houses without chimneys). We even get to see how the jolly fella maintains his figure. Tim Allen plays Santa, and he keeps the humor flowing, which makes us forget the more somber moments.

Long story short, Scott Calvin (Allen) accidentally kills Kris Kringle and unintentionally follows stipulations outlined in "the Santa Clause" that cause himself to turn into Santa himself. His son, Charlie, is along with him for most of the ride, and he's Scott's biggest supporter. No one else will believe Charlie about anything involving the experience, and even Scott himself is in denial. And when Scott's body begins morphing into Santa, and he starts embodying all his traits, Charlie's mom becomes worried about the sudden transformation. She sees it as an unhealthy downward spiral and moves to have Scott's visitation rights revoked ... and she succeeds.

Charlie's innocence and belief in his father ends up being Scott's undoing when a judge gets the whole scoop from the boy. With a voiceover from the judge telling Scott he can't see his son anymore, we watch the rotund and heartbroken Kris Kringle walk through a cold, winter night. It's the film's low point, which you need to feel in order to better enjoy the sleigh ride, but boy, does it hurt to watch.

We all weep when Frosty melts

Frosty the Snowman is one of the most recognized holiday icons in history. He first showed up in a catchy 1950 jingle, and then he was made into a cheerful cartoon in the '60s. Much of the joy with Frosty is his innocence and the mysterious magical energy that swirls around his top hat. However, most people don't remember the cartoon for its tear-jerking moments. Maybe it left scars that were so awful that people just blocked them out and forgot they were there.

The story centers around a snowman built by kids in a schoolyard, and he comes to life with a magician's magic hat. The magician, Professor Hinkle, had thrown the hat away, but when he realizes it's really magic, he wants it back. He spends the rest of the story trying to retrieve it, and it's all fun and games until one of Hinkle's plans actually succeeds. He locks Frosty in a greenhouse, and his friend, Karen, has to watch him melt. You feel like you're watching a merry animated short until you catch yourself tearing up at a little girl crying next to a puddle of water.

Jack Frost is a truly tragic Christmas movie

Jack Frost is actually a tragic tale of loss disguised with a snowman's silly antics. It features Michael Keaton as the titular character, an aspiring musician who's killed in a car accident. His spirit is brought back in the form of a snowman thanks to the love of his son, Charlie, and a magical harmonica. It's a cheerful experience up until this point. Jack is given a second chance to spend time with his son, and Charlie gets his dad back. But the playful antics all lead up to a sobering moment that will give anyone the sniffles.

As winter is drawing to an end, Jack begins to melt. His son frantically looks for ways to keep him cold, and the ordeal leads to a resolution with Charlie's bully and a reunion with Jack's wife. It's in these final moments that reality sets in for both the characters and audience alike. Jack can't be a snowman forever, and the time has come to say goodbye. The snowman exterior melts away, and the ethereal form of Jack is left gazing back at them. We don't know how, but Christmas movies manage to take happiness and slam it together with heartbreak. The confusing tears that flow during Jack Frost will sear its saddest moment into your childhood memory banks.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas will steal your holiday cheer

Ron Howard's take on this classic tale featured a grinchy Jim Carrey in top form and under mounds of prosthetics. The comedy titan injected a non-stop flurry of spirited delight which made How the Grinch Stole Christmas as much of a necessary holiday viewing as its animated predecessor. Watching the Grinch's journey of self-discovery will bash the grinchiness out of even the crabbiest opponent of holiday cheer. However, the ever-flowing humor masks some particularly sad moments.

One of the best elements of this version of Dr. Seuss' story is the background we get about how the Grinch became the Grinch. There are some flashbacks that establish a deep-seated hatred for Christmas that's actually understandable. Any person with a heart (no matter what size) would feel some disdain for the holidays after what the poor guy experiences. The Grinch is ridiculed by his classmates for his appearance, and these childhood bullies drain any joy out of him. 

Knowing this history makes a prank played on the Grinch all the more painful. Cindy Lou Who successfully convinces the town that their Holiday Cheermeister should be the Grinch because he needs it the most. The hairy, green grouch is thrust into the festivities, and we're truly happy for him. The Whos are celebrating him, and you can tell he's enjoying it. It's going great until the mayor gifts him a pair of clippers — a stab at his hairy features. A wave of childhood pain comes flooding back while the whole town laughs at his furry facade. Sure, the humor pendulum eventually swings back, but that doesn't make this moment any less sad.

Scrooged is surprisingly sad

There's rarely a need to wipe away tears when Bill Murray is on the screen. The man is comedy incarnate. And in 1988, Murray starred in Scrooged, a modern retelling of the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. Murray plays TV executive Frank Cross, a man so cutthroat in his ways that he fires a man on Christmas Eve and forces his entire crew to work through Christmas on a live production. Scrooge may not be a character in this story, but Murray is every bit the man if you put him in a swanky office with a crisp new suit and hand him a cigar.

Throughout his visits from the first two ghosts (Christmas Past and Christmas Present), he's snarky and quick to rationalize any predicament. It's all presented with a heavy dose of levity, delivered with a sarcastic tone that only Murray is capable of. But once he's visited by the Ghost of Christmas Future, there's a sharp shift in mood. Frank becomes scared and a little frantic. Just about every moment during this visit will make your heart whimper. At its crescendo, Frank is scrambling to stop his own casket from slipping into the kiln to be cremated. All this occurs while he's pleading with the only two people at his funeral ... who can't hear him. It truly is one of the saddest moments in any Christmas movie.

Klaus is a devastating holiday flick

Klaus is a surprising Netflix gem that was released in 2019 and nominated for an Oscar for best animated film. The playful animation comes along with the vocal talents of Jason Schwartzman, J.K Simmons, and Rashida Jones. The film does a wonderful job of diving into the possible origins of Santa Claus lore without instilling doubt or mashing the woes of reality into the story. A lot of good Christmas moments can cause you to roll your eyes at the screen, but Klaus' moments of joy make you feel all mushy inside. This is probably due to how depressing the movie's sad moments are.

Klaus tugs at a myriad of heart strings. When we get more background on Klaus himself, that's when storytellers yank good and hard on the string leading to our tear ducts. Klaus has a whole room filled with toys he made, which he and a postman named Jesper are parsing out bit by bit to children. We find out that he has all these toys because his wife and him wanted lots of kids, so he started making toys in preparation for the family life. They kept waiting, and he kept making toys. And they kept waiting. Eventually, his wife passed away without them ever fulfilling their dreams. The story of Santa Claus has never been sadder.

Love Actually is actually pretty sad

A madman in Hollywood had a diabolical idea to maximize the Christmas movie tears by mashing a copious amount of heartbreaking love stories into over two hours of film and wrapping it up with a pretty ribbon. We are, of course, referring to Love Actually. If you watch this movie with anyone, and they don't tear up at least a little bit, get as far away from them as possible because they have no heart. There are way too many tearful moments to unpack here, so we'll just say that Andrew Lincoln's tormented lover was especially sad but still comes in second. There's another character who's story left us completely gutted.

One of the many stories being told is that of Harry and Karen, played by the dynamic duo of Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Harry works at a design agency while Karen raises the kids at home. Thompson's portrayal of Karen is adorably lovable in every way. When she discovers a necklace in her husband's coat pocket, she excitedly assumes it's a gift for her on Christmas. The morning arrives, and they all sit by the tree happily unwrapping gifts. Karen is given a box, but when she unwraps it, there's no necklace — only a CD. The realization that the necklace was for someone else washes over her, and she's forced to fight back a reaction while the kids are next to her on Christmas morning. Karen allows herself a moment alone in the bedroom, and it will leave you in a puddle. The heartbreak is palpable.

The Family Stone has way too much family drama

The Family Stone is an emotional Christmas journey led by a fantastic cast, including Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, and Diane Keaton. And honestly, this is a movie with a ton of sad moments — so many, in fact, that we had to cry through a couple of viewings just to pick out which scene had us tearing up the most. 

It could be when Parker is singled out at dinner after awkwardly injecting herself into the conversation or when she spills food all over herself in the kitchen. Anyone who's felt alone in a crowded house will certainly have their heart stuck in their throats while watching those emotions playout. Or it could be when Luke Wilson and Craig T. Nelson discuss the demise of the family's matriarch. You can feel the winter cold leak into your living room while they hug on the bleachers.

But one scene in particular feels the most intimate, which is probably why it hits so hard. Diane Keaton's Sybil Stone hands off a wedding ring to her son, played by Dermot Mulroney. Afterwards, she informs him that her cancer has returned. There's a moment of shock and denial while he stares into the distance. The normally reserved man then transforms into a misty-eyed child as he shuffles up to his mom and pulls her close. Why are you doing this to us Christmas movies?

It's a Wonderful Life is wonderfully weepy

Even excluding the holiday theme, It's A Wonderful Life is just flat-out a wonderful film. Don't let the 1946 release date fool you. This movie is unapologetically real (sans angels, of course), and it may very well be the tear-jerking beginnings for Christmas depression. It seems It's A Wonderful Life wrote the blueprint for the genre's melancholy approach, with a cheerful ending that gives you a large sigh of relief, making you realize that you've barely been breathing in between the sobs.

The story centers around George Bailey, who's contemplating suicide when an angel named Clarence intervenes and shows him what the town would be like if he never existed. Early on in the film, in one of the flashbacks of George's life, he's a young boy working in a pharmacy. His boss, Mr. Gower, loses his son to the flu but continues to work. While grief-stricken and drunk, the distracted pharmacist incorrectly prepares some pills. Fortunately, George sees the mistake and doesn't send out the prescription. 

When Mr. Gower gets a phone call about the undelivered pills, he reacts irrationally due to his circumstances. He drunkenly slaps George around before the truth of the matter is revealed. Once the pharmacist discovers his error and how George may have saved someone's life, Mr. Gower pulls the child in and hugs him. It's a gut-wrenching moment to watch. Tissues come standard with a viewing of this classic.

Home Alone features one of the all-time saddest Christmas scenes

A staple in any childhood is several viewings of the classic Home Alone. It made Macaulay Culkin a cultural icon and had children re-examining their family's home security. This entire film is a delightful romp through every kid's dream of absolute freedom. No parental supervision makes the possibilities endless. Culkin enjoys all the ice cream he wants, there's no bedtime, and he even gets to raid his jerk of an older brother's room. But around the time his sugar rush starts to wear off, an awareness that no one is there to kiss him good night sinks in.

Up until the end of the film, poor Kevin (Culkin) believes his wish came true, and he made his family vanish. In his reality, there's no promise of his family returning home from abroad. They're wiped from existence. In order to get them back, he decides to ask Santa himself. Kevin ends up directing this request to a cigarette-smoking Kris Kringle who gives him a couple Tic Tacs instead of a candy cane. Then, on his walk home, Kevin sees a Christmas party and stops to observe a family enjoying each other's company. It's heartbreaking see little ten-year-old Kevin stand out in the cold alone and watch the joy of the holidays through the window. The tear-jerking moment makes us want to call our moms.