The 12 Greatest Christmas Movies

By Joel Hilton
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One of the best Christmas gifts you can give someone is the gift of the Christmas spirit. And while you can't wrap the feeling of the holiday season in a box, you can give that special someone a movie. Christmas movies have a way of touching and inspiring even the meanest of the Christmas scrooges. However, there are almost as many Christmas films as there are snowflakes -- and the vast majority of holiday movies are overly sentimental and horribly cheesy. We've compiled a list of the 12 greatest Christmas movies so you can spend your time watching films that will fill your heart and home with the spirit of the Christmas season.

12. Scrooged (1988)
There have been many adaptations of Charles Dickens' novella "A Christmas Carol," but director Richard Donner modernized the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and put a darker spin on this ghostly tale. Bill Murray brings his unique brand of insensitivity to the role of Scrooge, even though they've changed his name to Frank Cross, and the ghosts are equally horrifying as they are hilarious. The ending of Scrooged is a little cheesy, but for the most part, this movie will put a little Christmas spirit in your heart.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Carol Kane, the Ghost of Christmas Present, injured Bill Murray's lip so badly when she yanked on it that they had to stop production for a few days.

11. Elf (2003)
Will Ferrell is the reason Elf succeeds. His overzealous optimism as Buddy the Elf is infectious to the other characters in the movie and to anyone watching the movie. Buddy's fight with the fake Santa is sure to put a smile on anyone's face. This film deals with father-son relationships, Christmas cynicism and commercialism, and it has a number of allusions to other classic Christmas films. Elf also offers a rare glimpse of Zooey Deschanel before she became brunette and quirky. The climax of this film may be a little over the top for some, but the overall humor is sure to please most audiences.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Jim Carrey was originally set to star as Buddy the Elf when this film was written.

10. Gremlins (1984)
Even though Gremlins surprised horrified parents who thought they were taking their children to see a movie about a lovable, furry creature, it is still a Christmas movie at heart. After all, the whole premise of the movie is a dad trying to find the perfect gift for his son. It also features a unique story about Santa Claus. Many people credit this film as one of the movies that made the Motion Picture Association of America create the PG-13 rating. The gremlins love to create mayhem, and isn't that what the Christmas season is all about?

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Howie Mandel, host of Deal or No Deal and America's Got Talent, is the voice of Gizmo, the Mogwai.

9. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This is the second adaptation of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" on our list, but it's a very different take than Scrooged. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a lighthearted musical with plenty of memorable moments and songs. Produced after the death of Muppet creator Jim Henson, this movie proved that the Muppet legacy could continue. Michael Caine's straight and dramatic portrayal of Scrooge is an interesting juxtaposition amid a cast of dancing and singing puppets. The entire family can enjoy this Christmas movie together.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Jim Henson's son Brian Henson directed this movie.  

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8. Die Hard (1988)
Yippie-Ki-Yay, Father Christmas! Some may argue that Die Hard isn't a Christmas movie, but it takes place on Christmas Eve at a company Christmas party. Plus, it features a terrorist wearing a Santa hat with the words "Ho-Ho-Ho" written across his shirt – what's not Christmas-y about that? This is the ultimate Christmas movie for guys. If you haven't seen Die Hard in a while, watch it again and see if it doesn't inspire feelings of joy and merriment.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Alan Rickman reportedly flinched every time he fired a gun, so the director had to cut away from Hans Gruber's face whenever he shot someone. 

7. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
In this third installment of the National Lampoon's Vacation series, the Griswolds decide to stay at home for the holidays, and the results are disastrous and hilarious. From getting a Christmas tree to holiday shopping and hosting a Christmas dinner, this film covers it all. Christmas Vacation offers plenty of humor along with a Christmas countdown to get you into the holiday spirit. Plus, seeing how messed up the Griswold family is should make you feel better about your own family.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Mae Questel, the actress who plays Aunt Bethany in the movie, is the voice of both Olive Oyl and Betty Boop.
 

6. Love Actually (2003)
Director Richard Curtis didn't think one love story was enough for his film, so he made a movie that featured eight love stories. However, Christmas is all around each one of these love stories. The central theme of the holiday season helps motivate and inspire the various characters. The all-star cast in Love Actually shop for Christmas presents, sing carols and throw Christmas parties. Plus, the film features one of the most diverse nativity scenes shown on the silver screen. Love Actually is sure to bring the Christmas spirit into your heart.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: The song "Christmas Is All Around" is a parody of "Love Is All Around," which was prominently featured in Richard Curtis' breakthrough movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Miracle on 34th Street is an iconic Christmas film. It begins with Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade and it ends on Christmas morning. Most people can identify with the doubting Susan Walker at some point in their lives. This movie allows all of us to believe in the magic of Santa Claus once more. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle so well that it's hard to believe he isn't the real Santa. There have been a few remakes of this film, but the original has a charming innocence that the others haven't been able to capture.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Even though Miracle on 34th Street is an iconic Christmas movie, it was actually released in May of 1947.

4. Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone may be about a kid defending his house from would-be burglars, but the scenery, the music and the selfless acts of kindness all scream Christmas. Just listening to the soundtrack of Home Alone is sure to get you into the holiday spirit. The central theme of this movie is the importance of family, and Christmas is all about families. Plus, it's always fun to see bad guys get hit in the face with paint cans.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: Daniel Stern didn't actually scream when Kevin put the tarantula on his face. The loud noise would have startled the spider, so he pantomimed the scream and they added the sound in later.

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The best part about The Nightmare Before Christmas is that it is appropriate to watch from October through December. This multi-purpose film is dark enough for Halloween but warm and fuzzy enough for the holidays. Based on a poem by Tim Burton, this family-friendly feature introduced the world to unforgettable characters such as Jack Skellington and Mr. Oogie Boogie, and it features memorable songs and music. In the end, you and the residents of Halloween Town are sure to understand a little more about the magic of Christmas.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: From late September to early January, Disneyland changes its traditional Haunted Mansion into the Haunted Mansion Holiday – a ride that features Jack Skellington and the rest of the cast from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

2. A Christmas Story (1983)
"Nostalgia" is probably the best word to describe A Christmas Story. Even if you weren't alive in the late '30s or early '40s, this movie can remind you of the wonder of Christmas from when you were a child. This film has inspired many fans to purchase merchandise from the film, such as the iconic leg lamp. And it has prevented many children from putting their tongues on frozen flagpoles. Plus, the real house in Ohio, which filmmakers used for the exterior shots of Ralphie's home, has been renovated to replicate how it looked in the film, both inside and out. A Christmas Story will inspire you with holiday memories you didn't even know you had.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: A Christmas Story is said to have inspired Neal Marlens and Carol Black to create the popular television show The Wonder Years.

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Was there ever any doubt that It's a Wonderful Life would fill the number one spot on this list? It's hard to talk about the Christmas season without mentioning this unforgettable film by Frank Capra. Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, the everyman, who needs to be reminded about how his life has improved the lives of others. Initially, critics deemed this movie too dark, and it only achieved moderate success at the box office. However, once this film began to air multiple times on television during the Christmas seasons of the '70s and '80s, it soon found its way into many viewers' hearts and into the realm of Christmas tradition. If you haven't ever seen this movie, you haven't truly celebrated Christmas.

Bonus Stocking Stuffer: It's a Wonderful Life is Jimmy Stewart's first movie after returning from military service during World War II.

Now, don't be upset at the omission of Christmas classics such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Those are all short TV specials and this list only includes feature-length films released in theaters. However, each one of those specials is also a great way to bring the spirit of holidays into your home, and they are all officially included in the Honorable Mention category of the 12 greatest Christmas movies. Now go out and buy, rent or borrow any of these films and have yourself a merry little Christmas.

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