Now that we are entering the holiday season, it’s time to start sorting out the classic holiday movies! What are your favorites, and how many times a year do you normally watch them? Which ones will you watch with the family? Join us as we take a peek at each of our favorite holiday classics -- and bring Grandma, Grandpa, and the kiddos, too -- there’s something in here for all ages to enjoy!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired in 1964, and the little guy’s bright cherry-red snoot has lit up our holidays ever since!
Said to be the ninth and youngest of Santa’s team of magical flying reindeer, the character of Rudolph was first written into a free holiday book given to children in 1939 by Montgomery Ward. The book became so wildly popular that its author, Robert L. Mays, received letters of praise from children and adults nationwide.
Shortly thereafter, Mays wrote a song with the help of his brother-in-law Johnny Marks based on the little book that later became a beloved Christmas Carol -- and number one hit on the U.S. record charts for the week of Christmas 1949.The song was, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, first sung by Gene Autry.
When the song was made into a movie in 1964, viewers enjoyed the voices of Burl Ives (narrator and voice of Sam the Snowman), Stan Francis (the voice of Santa), Janis Orenstein (voice of Clarice), and Billie Mae Richards (the voice of Rudolph) as a few of the characters’ voices. The wintry tale involved the outcast young Rudolph setting off on an adventure after being taunted by the other reindeer at the North Pole. While on his voyage, he encounters the likes of the Abominable Snowman, the Island of the Misfit Toys, Yukon Cornelius, and much more -- until he finds out about his unexpected favor with Santa for the very thing that made him an outcast in the beginning.
Frosty the Snowman
Another movie earlier recorded as a song by Gene Autry, Frosty the Snowman first graced the screens of America’s television sets in 1969, premiering just after the annual showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas on Sunday, December 7th.
This classic holiday cartoon tells the story of a regular snowman who comes to life with the touch of a magic hat. Narrated by Jimmy Durante, the movie highlights the activities of the jolly happy soul, and his cartoon kiddo pals through frightening scenes and sorrowful moments until the surprise happy ending unfolds. You can watch this one with the 1992 Frosty Returns if you like, but the original is the true favorite.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Anyone needing a lesson in the true meaning of Christmas need look no farther than the classic Charlie Brown Christmas, complete with the drooping, pitiful (but loved anyway) Christmas tree and everyone’s favorite Christmas dance scene.
Viewers who snuggle in for this holiday treasure will again hear the voices of Chris Doran (voice of Schroeder), Sally Dryer (as Violet), and Ann Altieri (voice of Frieda) and others as the whole gang endeavors to understand the meaning of Christmas in this very first of Charles M. Schultz Peanuts’ film adaptation from 1965.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
First aired just a year after A Charlie Brown Christmas made its debut, How the Grinch Stole Christmas dazzled American televisions with the deep, narrative voice of Boris Karloff in 1966
Everyone knows the tale of the bitter Grinch, living high above Whoville, perpetually annoyed at the sights and sounds of Christmas, celebrated Who-style. But once he sets out to ruin the holiday for the Whos, there’s a surprise in store for the grouchy green villain, and a lesson for those who’ve lost their Christmas spirit. Want to see an updated version? There are now several, including a great Jim Carrey version, so take your pick! (But don’t skip the original!)
Miracle on 34th Street
Do you believe in Santa? You may answer differently if you dropped in on the story set in this Christmas classic, starring Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, and John Payne. When a holiday worker named Kris Kringle shows up to replace a drunk Santa’s Helper at Macy’s department store, he’s instantly adored -- until he begins telling everyone he’s actually Santa Claus himself.
The tale culminates in a court case where a lawyer defends the worker as the real Santa against widespread accusations that he is delusional. How will it end? Make sure you find out this holiday season -- this is a great one for the whole family to watch together!
A Christmas Carol
While there are numerous adaptations of this Charles Dickens’ classic, the 1941 version in black and white is just as good as any -- but pick the one your family will like the most! In every case, the story goes that Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly English loner, gets a lesson in what’s important (and what Christmas is about) when a triad of spirits take him on a tour of what life is, was, and would be like without him as he currently conducts himself. Great for kids and family.
Santa Claus is Comin' To Town
Fred Astaire tells the story of this holiday masterpiece as the mailman describing how Santa Claus and his customs originated. With Mickey Rooney as the voice of Kris Kringle, the tale unfolds to share how a family of local toymakers sets out to improve the town’s (appropriately called Sombertown) holiday spirit against seemingly impossible odds. Originally aired in 1970.
The Year Without a Santa Claus
This 1974 favorite features the beloved Heat Miser and Snow Miser characters, as well as the voices of Mickey Rooney (as Santa), Shirley Booth (Mrs. Claus), George S. Irving (Heat Miser), and Dick Shawn (Snow Miser).
As Kris Kringle steps away from his duties as Santa Claus for a year due to what he views as too many ungrateful and misbehaving children, the elves, Mrs. Claus and a determined youth set out to change his mind -- but it may or may not work.
First aired in 1954, this bonafide holiday classic stars the likes of Bing Crosby (who wrote the song that inspired it), Rosemary Clooney (of Teddy Bears’ Picnic fame -- as well as being George Clooney’s aunt), former Rockette Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye.
The musical film’s story focuses on two gentleman performers as they make their way to rural Vermont where they end up joining forces with two sisters to become a leading act. This one is sure to be a treat for all the generations in your family.
The Little Drummer Boy
Inspired by the Christmas carol with the same name, the Little Drummer Boy movie first hit American TVs in 1968, bringing with it a heart-warming soundtrack featuring songs by the Vienna Boys Choir. Viewers will enjoy Greer Garson as narrator, Jose Ferrer’s voice as Ben Haramad, Paul Frees as Ali, and Teddy Eccles as Aaron.
This brief but impactful story highlights the day the Little Drummer Boys crosses paths with the Magi, or wise men, who were voyaging toward a star to find the newly born Christ child so they could give him gifts. The boy reluctantly joins them, believing he has nothing “fit to give a king”, only later realizing that giving the baby a song played on his drum was perfect.
The Snowman is based on a book by the same name written by Raymond Briggs. The silent animated cartoon shows a young boy building a snowman one day that comes to life at the stroke of midnight. As the boy and his snowman enjoy some adventures together, a trip to the North Pole takes place, along with a party thrown by a very special VIP himself.
The Polar Express
Based on the beautifully illustrated children’s book, 2004’s Polar Express is technically for kids, but we’re fairly certain you won’t mind enjoying it with the kiddos as the magical tale unfolds!
Incorporating the voices of Tom Hanks, Steven Tyler, Nona Gaye, Eddie Deezen, and Leslie Zemeckis, this story follows a little boy on a train ride to the North Pole. Adventures ensue along the way, and the boy learns a thing or two about Santa, believing, and the spirit of Christmas.
Christmas in Connecticut
Barbara Stanwyck plays the lead in this 1945 holiday classic about a journalist who falls in love with a war hero fan while he lies recuperating from injuries in the hospital. The film follows Stanwyck’s character as she writes about a fictitious life spent married on a farm in Connecticut -- all while her character, Elizabeth Lane, is actually a single New Yorker simply employed as a food writer. A string of chaotic events occurs after she’s forced to host Christmas dinner for an adoring war hero fan -- at the farm that she must now create to imitate her own writings or face a huge, career-ending scandal. Not rated.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Don’t miss this version of the Dickens story, especially if you have littles in the household! Fairly straightforward and self-explanatory, the Muppet Christmas Carol, first airing in 1992, takes the original Scrooge and fills the roles with Jim Henson’s delightful Muppets -- with Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit, and Fozzy Bear as Fozziwig. It’s Rated G -- so kiddos of all ages can enjoy it without any supervision needed.
A Christmas Story
This 1983 holiday gem centers on the life of young Ralphie Parker and his family, his tormenting bully, and his wishful heart’s ideal Christmas gift -- a Red Ryder BB gun. Written by Jean Shepherd, this hilarious family favorite is rated PG.
Super fans can visit the actual house from the movie if you happen to visit Cleveland, Ohio. Purchased on eBay in 2004, the new owner restored it with many of the original props used in filming the original. What’s more? You can still buy a Red Ryder BB gun for less than $40.00!
Did you miss watching it when you meant to? No worries. There’s usually a 24-hour (or sometimes 48-hour) marathon starting Christmas Eve and continuing through Christmas Day night. Check your local listings for details!
Macaulay Culkin fans, come see the role where he got his start! The original 1990 Home Alone movie, for most, never gets old! (If you’re ready for more fun, there are multiple sequels.)
In any case, it’s best to start with this one, starring the boy himself, Macaulay Culkin, alongside the antics of the ever-entertaining Joe Pesci, Catherine O’Hara, John Heart, and more. When 8-year-old Kevin McAllister gets left behind by his globe-traveling family, he wakes up to both the excitement of having the whole house to himself as well as the frightening need to protect the house from a pair of not-so-smart burglars.
Make this one part of your family collection for watching together every year. This absolutely charming film, originally released in 2003, stars Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. As a baby, Buddy mistakenly ends up in the elf quarters of Santa’s North Pole abode, where he is raised by Santa’s elves -- although he ends up being problematically human-sized.
After finding out his real father (Walter Hobbs, played by James Caan -- who is on the Naughty List!) is living and working in New York City, Buddy sets out on foot to find him. There’s not a dull moment, and the cast is golden. With Bob Newhart as Papa Elf and Zooey Deschanel as Buddy’s love interest, you’ll see why.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Instantly considered a classic, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey tells the story of a tired and betrayed inventor looking for inspiration and finding it in his own granddaughter’s intelligence. a Described as fantasy Dickensian steampunk, this movie musical is gorgeously colorful and actors Forest Whitaker, Keegan Michael Key, Phylicia Rashad, and more entertain the viewers of this exciting tale. Rated PG for thematic elements, peril, and violence.
It’s a Wonderful Life
This 1946 Christmas classic was originally supposed to star Cary Grant as main character George Bailey, but unexpected changes later put Jimmy Stewart in instead. A similar story was true for the Mary Hatch Bailey role, which inevitably became the first starring role of a young 25-year-old Donna Reed after being rejected by Ginger Rogers and other actresses, who assessed the role as being ‘too bland’.
The heart-warming decades-old holiday tale follows a suicidal George Bailey when an angel appears to show him how life would be without him in it, and how many lives he has truly impacted. This one is rated PG for some violence, smoking, and thematic elements.
Christmas with the Kranks
The Krank parents, played by Jamie Lee Curtis (Nora Krank) and Tim Allen (Luther Krank), decide to make an attempt at skipping Christmas...until next-level chaos ensues and changes their minds altogether!
When they find themselves alone for Christmas, Nora and Luther try to bask in the Caribbean on a cruise instead of planning the traditional holidays. Neighbors shun them for the idea, as it dashes their hopes for winning the street decorating contest. This, coupled with a slew of other mishaps, makes for a hilarious holiday film to enjoy with the whole family -- it is rated PG for having suggestive content, brief language, and some mature themes.
The Santa Clause
In this beloved holiday comedy, Tim Allen plays a divorced dad who has his son on Christmas Eve. After a man dressed as Santa experiences a fatal fall from the household rooftop, the dad and son duo are mysteriously transported to the North Pole where it’s discovered that dad must now take Santa’s place for Christmas. The next few months show the disbelieving dad that the requirement is for real -- especially when he grows a full Santa beard and belly without trying! Rated PG.
(If you love it, there’s at least two more, Santa Clause II and III).
Deck the Halls
Neighbors Steve (played by Matthew Broderick) and Danny (played by Danny Devito) take a fun and neighborly house-decorating contest to a whole new level in this 2006 Christmas comedy. With goals to make his arrangement visible from outer space, Danny takes the beautifying up a notch, prompting Steve to do the same -- leading the whole situation into a hilarious series of events sure to keep your whole family laughing all the way to Christmas Day. Rated PG for language, and crude and suggestive humor.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Morgan Freeman (the main character’s godfather), and Dame Helen Mirren as the Tyrant Mother Ginger, this ethereal holiday film follows a young girl (Clara) as she attempts to find a unique key while searching in the secret realms. When a golden thread leads her to the key, the girl sees that it has disappeared into a parallel world she must also enter in order to bring peace back to the land. Rated PG for some mild peril.
A great choice for the whole family, this animated holiday adventure features Santa’s youngest child, Arthur, who sets out on a voyage to bring a gift to the only child in the world Santa forgot before he awakens to no presents on Christmas morning. Find out how Santa really gets presents to every child in the world in one night. Created by the same British animators who made Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. Rated PG for mild rude humor.
Having won an Oscar for best-animated feature in 2020, it’s no surprise that this movie is an enchanting and thoroughly enjoyable show for the whole family. Featuring the voices of Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, and the late Norm McDonald, Klaus tells the tale of a postman who failed in his postal training returning to a wintry Northern town where he stumbles upon an eccentric toymaker named Klaus. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Griswolds are at it again with this hilarious holiday movie. A true gem from 1989, the film first aired with a stunning cast including Juliette Lewis, Chevy Chase, John Galecki, and Beverly D’Angelo. The third in a series of National Lampoon classics, the Griswold’s family Christmas is just as insane as we knew it would be -- from the no-holds-barred holiday lights to the antics of distant, cat-wrapping relatives. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is rated PG-13, and the parents on Common Sense Media rated it as “OK for kids as young as 11, too.”
A Madea Christmas
The 17th film from Tyler Perry, A Madea Christmas finds the warm-hearted grandmother meeting up with friends in the country town of Buck Tussel for a surprise holiday visit as her niece’s daughter refuses to return home for Christmas. Secrets and lies are soon swirling in this comedic treasure as the real reason surfaces for the daughter’s refusal to come home. Rated PG-13 for language, crude humor, and sexual references.
Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim McGraw, and Katy Mixon star in this holiday film. A couple’s (Vaughn’s and Witherspoon’s) island vacation plans get canceled, meaning they must endure a handful of traditional Christmas family gatherings instead -- and they notice their families make getting together feel awkward, bringing strange situations and trying relationships into focus. Rated PG-13 for language and sexual humor.
A star-laden cast sets the tone for this Christmas treat, featuring Gabrielle Union, JB Smoove, Danny Glover, Mo’Nique, and more. As a family tries to enjoy the holiday together for the first time since the death of their mother, a series of issues surfaces for each sibling, as does their cumulative need for understanding and a return to the holiday spirit. Rated PG-13 for language, drug content, suggestive material.
This hilarious 1988 holiday flick takes the original story of A Christmas Carol and throws in Bill Murray as a narcissistic television CEO named Frank Cross in place of Ebenezer Scrooge. Cross’ Grinchy ways have started to cause him problems, and they recently scared away his love interest, Claire Phillips (played by Karen Allen). After going so far as to fire an employee (played by Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve, Cross has signed himself up for the Scrooge treatment -- three ghosts visit him to show him the error of his ways and give him a chance to shape up before it’s too late. Rated PG-13.
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