Best Christmas movies: 16 of our festive favorites

Will Ferrell and Zoe Deschanel in Elf
Will Ferrell and Zoe Deschanel in Elf. (Image credit: New Line/Maximum Film/Alamy Stock Photo)

No matter when you think it's appropriate to start watching Christmas movies, the genre represents a special time of year for many. However, there are so many different kinds of Christmas movies that people love to enjoy — wholesome, family affairs that explore the true meaning of Christmas; Christmas-themed romances from the likes of Hallmark, Lifetime and beyond; and even some that flip the holiday on its head and give viewers something totally different. It can make it hard to pick the best Christmas movies out there.

Well, that's where we come in because the What to Watch team has a wide range of Christmas movies we make sure to watch each year. Between us all, we've picked 16 Christmas movies that we absolutely love and believe represent the best of the bunch.

Unlike your Christmas gifts, you don't have to wait any longer to unwrap all the movies we've singled out as our picks for the best Christmas movies around — and more importantly where to watch them! 

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)

Ella Hunt in 'Anna and the Apocalypse'

Ella Hunt in Anna and the Apocalypse (Image credit: Vertigo Releasing)

Comedy horror is a staple these days, but how about a zombie Christmas comedy musical? In this epic genre mash-up, we follow Anna Shepherd, who lives in Little Haven, Scotland, with her widowed father. She wants to travel to Australia but her dad wants her to go to university, causing conflict between the two. However, Anna's future plans are the least of her worries when the zombie apocalypse breaks out and she ends up fighting for her life instead.

This unique movie teams toe-tapping musical numbers with zombie showdowns, emotional moments, cheesy jokes and The Inbetweeners style cringeworthy moments, making it one of a kind this holiday season. Strap yourself in for a wild ride and enjoy every chaotic, brilliant minute of Anna and the Apocalypse. — Lucy Buglass 

  • How to watch Anna and the Apocalypse: streaming on AMC Plus in the US; streaming on Shudder in the UK

Arthur Christmas (2011)

Arthur Christmas

Arthur Christmas is great family viewing.  (Image credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

Made by Aardman Animations, the people behind Wallace and Gromit, this perfect family movie revolves around Santa's youngest son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy). His older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) is normally in charge of the vast operation responsible for managing the army of 1.6 million elves who deliver two billion gifts in one night; Arthur is just in the background. But when he learns that one child has missed their present, he's determined to deliver it and save Christmas. It has the perfect mix of heartwarming moments and comedy to keep young and old entertained. — David Hollingsworth 

  • How to watch Arthur Christmas: streaming on Max and Prime Video in US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW in the UK

A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story (Image credit: MGM)

There's nothing more magical than seeing the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child. A Christmas Story is a timeless holiday classic that keeps the flame of wonder alive year after year. Having achieved cult status, it has two 24-hour marathons to carry fans from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, and if you time it just right you can wake up on Christmas morning and unwrap presents along with Ralphie and his family. 

Though the movie is set in 1940, it's still relatable today. You can drop a movie quote ("you'll shoot your eye out, kid") and everyone knows what you're talking about. With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, being able to get lost in the nostalgia of A Christmas Story will never get old. — Sarabeth Pollock 

  • How to watch A Christmas Story: streaming on Max in the US; streaming on Prime Video in the UK

Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis screaming and running with a gun in Die Hard

Bruce Willis in Die Hard (Image credit: 20th Century Fox (AA Film Archive / Alamy Stock Photo))

What are the requirements for a Christmas movie? Does there need to be some combination of Santa Claus, presents and unexplainable holiday magic? Well, Die Hard has all of that, even if it's not presented in a typical kind of package.

Die Hard is just about as perfect an action movie as there is. Bruce Willis' John McClane is a tough, savvy but not invincible hero; Alan Rickman is unbelievably suave as the villainous mastermind Hans Gruber; the action is top-notch; pacing is on point; and, as any 80s movie should, it has a killer catchphrase with "yippie ki-yay mother …," well, you know it. 

And as far as it being a Christmas movie, John McClane's desire to spend time with his family for the holiday works as a basic premise for other well-accepted Christmas movies, his story just features a few more explosions. — Michael Balderston

  • How to watch Die Hard: available via digital on-demand in the US; streaming on Disney Plus in the UK

Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell and Faizon Love in Elf

Will Ferrell and Faizon Love in Elf. (Image credit: New Line Cinema/Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

Elf tells the hilariously festive story of Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human raised among Santa's elves in the North Pole. However, once he learns the devastating truth that he isn't an elf and is in fact adopted, he travels to New York to find his real father, dressed in his elf uniform.

Buddy is delighted to be reunited with his estranged father, the selfish and cynical businessman Walter Hobbs (James Caan), who harshly rejects him. But once he learns that Buddy is his biological son, he hesitantly tries to form a relationship with the childlike and oversized elf as he tries to adjust to the customs of the human world with amusing consequences. — Grace Morris

  • How to watch Elf: streaming on Max and Hulu in the US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins in the movie Gremlins

Gremlins in the movie Gremlins. (Image credit: Warner Bros./PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive /Alamy Stock Photo)

We've given you the best Christmas movies with dogs, but if you're looking for something with a more unconventional (and dangerous) pet, Gremlins is definitely one to watch this holiday season. When Billy's father gets him a mogwai as a pet, he's immediately enamored by it, calling it Gizmo. However, these fuzzy critters come with three rules and if you don't follow them, all Hell breaks loose, which is exactly what happens in this Joe Dante black comedy film.

Filled with carnage, violence and graphic moments throughout, Gremlins is ideal for horror fans who want something darker than the usual Hallmark cheese this Christmas. But above all that, it's genuinely funny and is sure to entertain you, and will definitely stop you from buying your own mogwai as a gift. There are plenty of other, safer, gift options out there. — Lucy Buglass 

  • How to watch Gremlins: streaming on Max in the US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

The Grinch (2018)

The Grinch 2018

(Image credit: Universal Pictures/Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

While the Grinch movie from 2000 will always have a special place in our festive viewing schedules, there is something refreshingly brilliant about this animated version of the Dr. Seuss tale that stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the meanest, greenest resident in all of Whoville. 

Everyone knows the tale of the Grinch and his loyal dog, Max, who live a lonely life together in a cave on Mount Crumpet, but this latest offering from Illumination is bigger, brighter and more grinch-y than ever, and you won't be able to help but fall in love with the grumpy Grinch as he tries his best to sabotage Christmas for his neighbors, who have decided to have the biggest, most Christmassy Christmas there ever was. 

Thankfully caring schoolgirl Cindy-Lou is on hand to show the Grinch the true meaning of Christmas and, with narration by Pharrell Williams, what is not to love about this festive family treat? — Claire Crick 

  • How to watch The Grinch: streaming on Peacock in the US; streaming on Netflix and Prime Video in the UK

The Holiday (2006)

Cameron Diaz and Jude Law in The Holiday

Cameron Diaz and Jude Law in The Holiday (Image credit: Columbia Pictures/Maximum Film/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you're looking for the ultimate feel-good Christmas movie, then this is it. The Holiday has a bit of everything from a star-studded cast to a festive love story. Whether you like to see picture-perfect snowy British countryside in your Christmas movies or sunny Los Angeles, this film has it all.

The story follows English rose Iris (Kate Winslet) who is nursing a broken heart in the UK, while glamorous Californian Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is doing the very same thing in the US. The pair decide to do a house swap for the holidays and soon discover that changing your address really can change your life. Soon Amanda falls for Iris's brother Graham (Jude Law), while Iris meets Amanda's friend Miles (Jack Black). Soon a double will they/won’t they love story unfolds. Let's just say, if you're a sucker for a love story with a happy ending then you won't be disappointed. — Claire Crick 

  • How to watch The Holiday: available via digital on-demand in the US; streaming on Netflix, Prime Video, Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.  (Image credit: Disney/20th Century Studios)

With Home Alone, once you've got over just how terrible Kevin's parents are — come on, forgetting to take your 8-year-old son on a festive family vacation to France — you're left with a hilariously charming film. 

Macaulay Culkin is simply perfect as our mischievous hero, who suddenly finds himself living out a boyhood fantasy when he's left in a vast mansion to play in. The movie hits another level when a pair of inept burglars — played beautifully by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern — attempt to break in. Kevin has a blast torturing the pair with a string of ingenious traps, which just get funnier and funnier. Magic. — David Hollingsworth

  • How to watch Home Alone: streaming on Disney Plus is the US and UK

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Jim Carrey in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Jim Carrey in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. (Image credit: Universal Pictures/Maximum Film/Alamy Stock Photo)

Adapted from the much-loved children’s story by Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas tells the tale of the grouchy and bitter Grinch (Jim Carrey) who sets out to destroy Christmas for his enemies the Whos.

With his dog Max by his side, the green grump leaves his secluded home on the clifftop to ruin the Christmas spirit for the residents of Whoville. However, things change for the resentful recluse when he meets the sweet Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen), who, unlike the other Whos, is eager to help the cold-hearted Grinch and sees him as a misunderstood creature with some good in him. — Grace Morris

  • How to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas: streaming on Peacock in the US; streaming on Netflix and Prime Video in the UK

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes in It's a Wonderful Life

Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes in It's a Wonderful Life. (Image credit: World History Archive/Alamy Stock Photo)

If there's any Christmas tale that rivals Charles Dickens' classic story of A Christmas Carol, it is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. The story of George Bailey, who one Christmas Eve believes the world would be better if he hadn't been born, is shown just how much his life means to those around him.

Led by Jimmy Stewart in one of his best performances (though quick shout outs to Donna Reed's Mary, Lionel Barrymore's fiendish Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell's Uncle Billy and Henry Travers' Clarence), It's a Wonderful Life hasn't lost any of its magic. Almost 80 years after its release, it remains one of the best and most referenced Christmas movies of all time (seriously, feels like almost every TV show has done a It's a Wonderful Life-themed episode). But the original remains a must-watch part of the holiday season. — Michael Balderston

  • How to watch It's a Wonderful Life: for free on The Roku Channel and streaming on Prime Video in the US, as well as airing on NBC on Christmas Eve; streaming on Prime Video in the the UK

Jingle All the Way (1996)

Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way

Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle All the Way. (Image credit: 20th Century Fox/Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

If you decided to make a festive version of Falling Down, you'd probably create something like Jingle All The Way. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad and Rita Wilson, Jingle All The Way tells the story of a ditzy father who, on Christmas Eve, embarks on a quest to locate an in-demand out-of-stock toy for his son's Christmas gift.

Given the lead actor, this quest naturally includes jetpack chases, brawls with hordes of men dressed as Santa and an array of beautifully-delivered Arnie quotes ("put that cookie down!"). It's another wonderful installment in Schwarzenegger's canon of thinly-veiled action movies disguised as family fare.

Don't worry — this doesn't involve much murder or mayhem, and Jingle All The Way is definitely suitable for kids (as long as they're okay with some comic violence). It's a strange but fun film that has been unduly forgotten as a Christmas classic. — Tom Bedford 

  • How to watch Jingle All the Way: streaming on Disney Plus in the US and UK

Klaus (2019)


(Image credit: Courtesy of Netflix)

Klaus is a modern Christmas classic that functions as a Santa Claus origin story. This animated Netflix original follows Jesper Johansen (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a hapless postman-in-training who distinguished himself only by being his academy's most useless student. As punishment for his lax attitude, he finds himself being shipped off to work at the remote island town of Smeerensburg. Smeerensburg, as Jesper soon learns, couldn't be less interested in sending letters, as the townsfolk are consumed only by the conflict between its two feuding clans.

While adjusting to his new life, Jesper comes across Klaus (JK Simmons), an imposing, reclusive woodsman who once manufactured toys in his downtime. He befriends Klaus, and the pair team up and start to secretly deliver toys to the town's children, spreading joy and slowly transforming the town in the process.

Klaus manages to balance goofy comedy with heartfelt moments to tell a touching holiday story and is brought to life with beautiful animation and some great voice performances from Simmons, Schwartzmann and Parks and Recreation's Rashida Jones as the town's jaded school teacher, Alva. — Martin Shore 

  • How to watch Klaus: streaming on Netflix in the US and UK

Krampus (2015)

krampus meets a victim

(Image credit: universal)

Krampus is perhaps the most festive movie on this list that also includes murderous elves, cannibalistic jack-in-the-boxes and a healthy dose of merry existentialism. Based on the eponymous "anti-Santa" of European folklore, Krampus tells the story of a dysfunctioning family in the lead-up to the big day — when family infighting causes the youngest child to lose his festive cheer, a Christmas beast punishes them by unleashing a variety of yuletide terrors.

You may have seen joke festive horror-comedies before, but Krampus is something else; it has an all-star cast including Toni Collette, Adam Scott and David Koechner, creature effects from Weta Workshop (of The Lord of the Rings fame) and a surprisingly traditional Christmas message given the concept.

Elf this is not, as it isn't suitable for youngsters and won't provide those wholesome Christmas smiles that your traditional festive movie would. But if you're looking for something a little... different, Krampus is a great pick. — Tom Bedford 

  • How to watch Krampus: streaming on Peacock in the US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

Love Actually (2003)

Andrew Lincoln in Love, Actually

Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually (Image credit: Working Title/Maximum Film/Alamy Stock Photo)

A very wise man who killed a bunch of zombies (The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln) once said "just because it's Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth);" so I'll do just that: Love Actually is one of the best Christmas movies around. 

Unlike other holiday movies where Christmas is front and center, the holiday is very much in the background of the story while the characters navigate love, heartache, great adventure and dealing with big changes that life throws at you. The story is about love at all of its stages; there's new love, romantic love, love between friends, secret love and waning love. 

It's as uplifting as it is entertaining, and it's guaranteed to leave you with a smile on your face. — Sarabeth Pollock 

  • How to watch Love Actually: streaming on Netflix and AMC Plus in the US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Caine and The Muppets in 'The Muppet Christmas Carol'

Michael Caine and the Muppets in The Muppet Christmas Carol. (Image credit: Disney+)

The Muppet Christmas Carol is the only movie I have to watch every single year for me to truly get into the Christmas spirit. You're bound to encounter at least one retelling of the festive Charles Dickens tale every single year, so why not choose one that's packed with charm and Muppet mischief in equal measure?

Like any other version of the story, The Muppet Christmas Carol takes us on the usual journey through time with Scrooge, though this time we're guided through it by Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as the narrators. The Muppets' version breathes fresh life into the story by peppering it with the puppets' usual antics, some laugh-out-loud moments and endlessly catchy holiday tunes that you can't help but sing along to.

The true genius of it all comes with pairing all this with Michael Caine's performance as the strait-laced miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. He easily stands alongside the other actors to play the penny-pinching protagonist and brings both menace and warmth to the character… which is all the more impressive considering he's acting alongside the likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear. — Martin Shore

  • How to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol: streaming on Disney Plus in the US and UK

National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (1989)

National Lampoon Christmas Vacation

Beverly D'Angelo and Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Image credit: Hughes Entertainment)

Every year around the winter holidays, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a must-watch in my family. We chuckle at Clark's (Chevy Chase) insistence he makes Christmas perfect for his family, Cousin Eddy's (Randy Quaid) obnoxious dinner behavior and, of course, we can't help but literally laugh out loud when Aunt Bethany recites the US Pledge of Allegiance when asked to say grace over a meal. 

Besides being incredibly nostalgic and entertaining to view, Christmas Vacation earns a spot as one of the greats because of all the talent that is featured in it. In addition to those mentioned above, Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond), Juliette Lewis (Yellowjackets) and one of the most celebrated actors of the Emmys ever, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep), all star in the movie. — Terrell Smith 

  • How to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: streaming on Max and Hulu in the US; streaming on Sky Go and NOW TV in the UK

The Preacher's Wife (1996)

Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington as Julia and Dudley shopping in The Preacher's Wife

Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington in The Preacher's Wife (Image credit: Fotos International/Getty Images)

While many people will rank The Bodyguard as Whitney Houston's best movie, I'd argue it's actually The Preacher’s Wife. Not only is the soundtrack amazing, but her role, paired with Courtney B. Vance (61st Street) and Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth), really shines brightly throughout the entire film.

A Preacher’s Wife also gets you in the Christmas mood as it reminds you the season is more than trees and expensive gifts. For many, it's about cherishing the time with loved ones and the true miracles that can occur during the toughest of times. — Terrell Smith 

  • How to watch The Preacher's Wife: for free on Tubi in the US; streaming on Disney Plus in the UK
Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.

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