It’s that time of year again — time to curl up with your loved ones and watch a beloved, holiday-themed family movie. Each year brings new holiday films to the box office. But only a few can stand the test of time to become classics. For a lot of us, these family movies are about more than just passing time. They’re about creating memories and returning to the time when life was a bit simpler. Nonetheless, just because you think you know the best Christmas movies out there, doesn’t mean that you can’t discover some new — and old — ones to add to your list. With that being said — why not take some time off this winter, between the skiing and sledding, to turn down the home lighting, turn up the heating, and enjoy one of these Christmas classics?
1. Home Alone
Home Alone goes beyond simply being a classic Christmas movie. It’s a classic family movie in general. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out on a film that not only spawned a franchise –including several sequels — but made Macaulay Culkin one of the most popular child actors of all time. The premise is simple enough: Kevin McCallister, a precocious little boy, is left home alone when his relatives go on a family vacation. Of course, none of this is intentional; due to a mistake during the headcount, his mother doesn’t realize that he’s missing until they’re on a plane headed to Paris! But for the seemingly put-upon and frustrated Kevin, being home alone seems like a dream come true at first. The movie isn’t without its heartwarming moments — watch Kevin learn the true nature of a neighborhood man that he was once afraid of — but it’s perhaps most famous for its slapstick hijinks, courtesy of a pair of burglars who discover that Kevin is much more of challenge than he seems. Culkin only stars in one of the film’s sequels — Home Alone 2: Lost In New York — and truth be told, none of them live up to the original. But the original is quite the movie, and you won’t forget it.
2. The Santa Clause
If you’re looking for a family movie that packs a good deal of humor and even some more mature themes into its Christmas-themed story, look no further than The Santa Clause. Starring Tim Allen, this story focuses on a distracted, divorced businessman named Scott who has a hard time bonding with his son, Charlie. When he has Charlie for Christmas Eve, Scott is shocked to find Santa Claus on his roof. In something of a darkly humorous twist, Santa falls off and disappears, leaving only his suit behind. Donning the suit and getting into the sleigh with Charlie, Scott is roped into becoming the next Santa Claus — through, as you might have guessed by now, the “Santa Clause.” Of course, despite delivering gifts that very night and going to the North Pole, he doesn’t believe it and dismisses the experience as a dream. But the next year, he begins spontaneously gaining weight — with all of his weight loss efforts immediately wearing off — and growing a snow-white beard. A lot of kids might miss the fact that Scott actually has to deal with being seen as delusional as he begins to believe he’s Santa — which leads to a custody battle with his ex-wife — but these details only serve to broaden the movie’s appeal. It’s a real family movie, appealing to kids and adults alike and emphasizing the importance of bonding with your children and believing in the magic of Christmas. And it’s definitely not without its belly laughs!
A slightly newer addition to the Christmas family movie classics than the previous two movies, Elf nevertheless instantly became a favorite among moviegoers. Starring Will Ferrell, the story focuses on Buddy the Elf. The twist is that Buddy isn’t an elf at all. After wandering into Santa’s bag of toys, the orphan baby Buddy is taken in by Papa Elf, and raised by Santa’s helpers. However, while they remain small, handy toymakers, he grows to be well over six feet tall, and quite out of place. After finding out that he is adopted, Buddy goes on an adventure to find his father in New York City. Of course, his father — played by James Caan — isn’t all that Buddy expected (he’s even on the naughty list!). Buddy’s story is a blend of hilarious gags and an emotional fish out of water story. Ferrell is the real star of the show here. Not only do you feel for Buddy — he has some truly classic moments. Look out for his snowball fight, in which he proves to have a near-deadly aim, and a scene in which he exposes a department store “Santa” as a fake. Again, Ferrell makes the movie’s appeal a bit broader than the types of films that are solely meant for children. A lot of the people that first saw Elf as kids now watch the movie as adults — and will continue to do so as they grow their own families and holiday traditions.
4. A Christmas Story
When it first came out, A Christmas Story wasn’t that big of a hit in theaters. Like many holiday classics, the film found a second life as a popular family movie thanks to its many airings on television. Focusing on Ralphie — who narrates it as a grown man — and a particular Christmas in his childhood, it is full of now-iconic moments. As is repeated throughout the movie, all Ralphie really wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder air rifle — despite everyone’s insistence that he’ll “shoot his eye out”. The movie is really a series of vignettes, and part of what makes them funny is that you’ll likely see your own family and friends in the people Ralphie interacts with. From the garish lamp his gleeful father receives in the mail and proudly puts on display, to the memorable moment in which Ralphie swears — only to have his mouth cleaned out with soap afterward — A Christmas Story is full of moments that you’ll never forget. Chances are that you’ve probably seen this family movie at one point in your life; but if you haven’t, you need to make it a priority with your loved ones as soon as possible. Its sweet authenticity and earnestness cannot be missed.
5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Perhaps one of the most enduring Christmas family movies of all time, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is something that everyone needs to watch at least once in their lives. With irresistible songs and a sweet style that is highly reminiscent of its vintage origins, it has likely already taken root in your imagination. The story, of course, revolves around Rudolph, the reindeer born with a shiny red nose. His father, a member of Santa’s team, is embarrassed about Rudolph’s differences and attempts to hide them — though the attempt doesn’t work for long. Rudolph runs away with his fellow misfit, namely Hermey the elf. Hermey, rather than wanting to make toys like the other elves, simply wishes to be a dentist because he’s passionate about oral health care. Not only is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer an enjoyable, cute story that will be fun to watch long after you grow up; it also carries valuable lessons for children. It teaches kids to celebrate what makes them different, and tolerate differences in their peers. Those are just a few of the many reasons why this family movie has been shown on television for decades — and it doesn’t look like it will be losing its popularity anytime soon.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas
If you’re looking to cozy up in the living room and watch a family movie with a bit more of an offbeat flair, look no further than The Nightmare Before Christmas. This stop-motion movie has producer Tim Burton’s fingerprints all over it, but it’s not scary at all. Set in Halloweentown, the movie kicks off with the end of the October holiday and the beginning of the Christmas season. Pumpkin King Jack, the leader of Halloweentown, has become bored of doing the same thing over and over — which is what leads him to discover Christmastown, where everything is bright and merry. Becoming newly excited with life again, Jack decides — in a misguided attempt to spread joy and cheer — to take on the role of Santa Claus for himself, which leads to quite the adventure, both spooky and cheery. The quirkier your family, the more they’ll love The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although you may very well find yourself in the midst of the age-old debate: is it a Christmas movie, or a Halloween movie?
7. Miracle on 34th Street
Our next family movie recommendation is in fact even older than Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Your kids may at first balk at the idea of watching a black and white movie made in 1947 — but this one is a classic for a reason, and is equal parts funny and emotional. Following the drunken antics of a would-be Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, Kris Kringle fills in as the new Santa. He becomes so popular that he becomes Macy’s Manhattan regular Santa — but runs into trouble when he claims to be the real Santa Claus, which ultimately leads to a court case in which he has to prove his sanity by in turn proving that he is in fact Santa. This movie is full of heartfelt performances. A particular standout is a young Natalie Wood, who plays a skeptical little girl raised by a single mother, who befriends Kris despite her doubts regarding his identity. There are plenty of benefits to ensuring that your family appreciates the older cinematic classics. After all, you’ll want to make sure that your kids grow up with good taste in movies!
8. It’s A Wonderful Life
It almost feels as if this choice goes without saying — but it is yet another older film that some younger movie watchers may initially feel hesitant to watch. Furthermore, like A Christmas Story, it was initially unpopular at the box office. Nonetheless, It’s A Wonderful Life has, through television showings, proven itself to be the definitive holiday movie for many families. In fact, 2018 data proved that along with A Christmas Story, It’s A Wonderful Life was the most popular Christmas movie in the U.S. Focusing on the stressed-out family man George Bailey — played in a memorable performance by Jimmy Stewart — It’s A Wonderful Life presents a man on the brink of ending it all on Christmas. At the last minute, he’s stopped by an angel named Clarence, who shows George what his town and his loved ones would be like if he’d never been born. It’s a premise that has been repeated through not only plenty of television Christmas specials and other movies throughout the years. It’s A Wonderful Life makes us all appreciate our own lives; and it highlights the true spirit of Christmas, which has less to do with material possessions, and a lot more to do with family. For that matter, the movie’s optimism and relentlessly hopeful spirit is impossible to be unaffected by. It’s not just a movie that you should watch for the sake of Christmas — it’s exactly the right movie to watch if you’re feeling less than joyful this holiday season.
No matter which Christmas movies you settle on for this Christmas, don’t forget what the holiday is really meant for. It’s a time for you to enjoy with your family, relaxing and celebrating the love you share. The perfect Christmas movie simply makes it even more special!
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