Movies create some of our fondest holiday memories and traditions. Maybe there’s a particular movie that you and your family always watch while putting the decorations up, or while building gingerbread houses together. Holiday movies fill our season with warmth and festive cheer, and they are always best shared with others. There’s a variety of family-friendly new releases this year to catch at the theater, including Wonka, Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom, and The Color Purple – all of which have themes of togetherness that are perfect for the holiday season.

If you’re still looking for that perfect festive movie to start a new tradition with, however, we have compiled a list of the best holiday movies for every occasion. With this roundup of holiday movies, there’s the perfect watch sure to satisfy everyone on your list.

Most Nostalgic: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Christmas classics like White Christmas (1954) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947) warm our hearts every year and remind us of a time when things moved a little slower. Inspired in part by Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol and Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story The Greatest Gift, It’s a Wonderful Life takes us back to the holidays that our grandparents celebrated in smaller towns, when family businesses and drugstore sodas were the norm.

George Bailey (James Stewart), a man who has given up his dreams for the sake of his community, contemplates his life on Christmas Eve. To prevent a disastrous ending, a guardian angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) appears and saves George. When George continues to wish that he had never been born, Clarence takes the liberty of showing him just what a world without George would be like. And it’s not good. It’s a lesson in realizing that anyone can have a positive impact in their community, and that a rich life is characterized not by wealth, but by the friends and family we surround ourselves with.

While Decorating for the Holidays: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

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If there’s any singular movie character that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of decorating for the holidays, it’s Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase). Clark has one goal for the holidays, and that’s to give his family an amazing Christmas, no matter what curveballs come his way. And boy, they sure do come. It’s a chaotic family Christmas like no other, with bickering parents, the uninvited Cousin Eddie and his RV, and of course, senile Aunt Bethany who wrapped up her cat as a present.

But even if Clark has to uproot the Christmas tree himself, he isn’t giving up on the Christmas spirit. While the squirrel-infested tree takes center stage in the Griswold’s living room, it’s of course the 25,000 exterior Christmas lights that are the crown champion of any Christmas decoration that has ever been or will ever be. Sure, they don’t even work on the first try, and yeah, they cause a neighborhood power outage when they do eventually turn on, but they sure are magnificently blinding when they do get to shine.

Family Night In: Home Alone (1990)

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Nothing says family time quite like an eight-year-old accidentally having the whole house to themselves during the Christmas season. And of course, a pair of the worst criminals ever. Every family has its moments that make you want to pull your hair out, but Kevin McCallister’s (Macaulay Culkin) wish to never see his family again accidentally comes true when they mistakenly leave him at home during their Paris vacation.

It’s all fun and games at first with pizza delivery and giant ice cream sundaes until two criminals try to break in and an even scarier old man next door seems to haunt the neighborhood. But kids are smart, and adults and children alike will be delighted by the traps that Kevin sets up against the Wet Bandits. Who could forget the hot iron that smacks Marv (Daniel Stern) in the face, or the torch that lights Harry (Joe Pesci) on fire? Catherine O’Hara shines as Kevin’s mom, Kate McCallister, who is determined to do everything in her power to get home to her son by Christmas, even if it means traveling in a box truck with a polka band. In the end, though family might bicker with one another, our loved ones are the real gift of Christmas.

A Very Merry Alternative Christmas: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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A large cult following has made this Tim Burton stop-motion animated film a favorite for not just the Christmas season, but Halloween too. Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), the Pumpkin King skeleton of Halloween Town is in search of something different from his routine Halloween celebrations, and finds himself transported into the magical, colorful world of Christmas Town with its shining, bright lights and festive cheer.

The musical takes a dark turn as Jack tries to adapt the cheerful Christmas holiday to have more of the spooky elements that Halloween Town has an abundance of, only to realize too late that he’s made a mistake with his efforts. It’s far from your typical Christmas film, with scary monsters, a gambling boogeyman, a mad scientist, oh, and a whole song about kidnapping Santa Claus. But hey, the alternative rock band Blink-182 loved it enough to make a nod to it in their 2004 song “I Miss You” and the Disney Parks continue to devote the seasonal overlay Haunted Mansion Holiday to the spooky Christmas movie.

For A Dash of Chaos: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

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The Dr. Seuss holiday classic children’s book has been adapted several times over the years, including the original animated television special in 1966, but no one is as perfect for the role of the Grinch as Jim Carrey in the 2000 Ron Howard adaptation. Carrey brings a comedic and deeply sarcastic element to the character that fits right in with the over-the-top stylization of Whoville, what with its wacky shapes and colors that look to be pulled right out of a child’s imagination.

Taylor Momsen plays the six-year-old Cindy Lou Who, and feeling that the Whos have become too focused on the commercialization of the holiday, hopes to spread Christmas cheer to those in Whoville who need it most: the Grinch at the top of the list. It’s the friendship that she develops with the Grinch that causes his heart to grow, showing all of Whoville that Christmas was never about the packages tied up with the prettiest ribbons, or who could have the brightest lights on the street, but about the people we gather with. It’s chaotic and sarcastic with a bit of bite to it – and probably shaped the humor of a generation – but heartwarming all the same.

Romantic Comedy: Serendipity (2001)

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The amount of romantic Christmas movies is seemingly endless, especially when you consider the literal hundreds of Christmas movies that Hallmark alone has made. There’s Love Actually (2003), While You Were Sleeping (1995), and Happiest Season (2020), just to name a few. But for the rom-com lover, we’re recommending Serendipity.

Named just as much for the series of fortunate accidents – or is it fate? – that entangle the lives of Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) as it is for the boutique New York City restaurant featured prominently in the film, Serendipity 3, the film seeks to bring the two together time and time again after they try to buy the same pair of black gloves while Christmas shopping. Without knowing each other’s last name, much less a phone number, fate tries to pull the two together just as accidents push them apart until, years later, they end up living on opposite sides of the country in unfulfilled relationships. Finally, with their own respective weddings approaching, Jonathan and Sara have one last chance to find their soulmate.

For Full Belly Laughter: Elf (2003)

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With so many holiday movies made each year, it’s hard for newer movies to be deemed a classic by many. But Elf is one of those rare ones that everyone (or mostly everyone) seems to agree is worthy of such. Often cited as one of the best Christmas films, Elf introduced the world to one of the best Christmas characters in Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), who has also since become a classic along the likes of Rudolph and Frosty.

It’s hard to pick a favorite comedic scene, because truthfully, you’re guaranteed to spend (almost) the entire movie rolling on the floor with laughter. Whether it’s Buddy testing the Jack-in-the-Box toys at the North Pole, congratulating a random New York City café on having the best cup of coffee, or having an overly sugary breakfast of spaghetti topped with candy and syrup, Will Ferrell is an absolute comedic delight in bright yellow tights. A heartwarming tale of family ties all the laughs together, and we dare you to go the entire holiday season without quoting this movie at least once.

A Cozy Night: The Holiday (2006)

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There’s nothing quite as cozy as a little English cottage, except maybe warm sweaters and scarves to go with it. That’s exactly where Los Angeles businesswoman Amanda (Cameron Diaz) finds herself for the holidays after swapping houses with Iris (Kate Winslet) while both are down on their luck with bad relationships and in need of a change of scenery. And with a change of scenery comes a change of people, as Amanda meets Iris’s brother Graham (Jude Law) and begins a fling with him, while across the pond in LA, Iris befriends Amanda’s colleague Miles (Jack Black). With any romantic comedy, there’s bumps in the road for both couples, but nothing worth having is ever without risk. Sometimes a change in pace (or a trip across the world) is all one needs to realize what they are missing and how to go after it.

During Holiday Baking: Under the Christmas Tree (2021)

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Okay, it’s hard to talk about holiday movies and not include at least one totally cheesy Lifetime movie. But sometimes that’s exactly what you want: a sweet Christmas romance with low stakes and full of every trope in the book. Small town? Check. Old family business being inherited by a younger member of the family? Check. Tree lighting ceremony? Check. An effort to save something from destruction? Check. Miscommunication and butting heads? Check. And who doesn’t love holiday baking?

Charlie (Tattiawna Jones) and Alma (Elise Bauman) meet at a small bakery and instantly hit it off. Go ahead and grab out your rolling pins and flour, because you’ll really be in the baking spirit with this one on. Although Charlie is unknowingly trying to cut down one of Alma’s beloved trees, the two end up being randomly paired together for the annual gingerbread decorating competition. Sparks fly, as does plenty of icing and cookie dough, and the two end up winning. But it isn’t all sugarplums and sprinkles from there, as the two still need to work out what to do as Charlie’s boss still wants to cut down one of Alma’s trees to use in the tree lighting ceremony. It’s sweet and endearing, and perfect to turn on while you finish up your own Christmas cookies.

  • Editorial