Christmas is almost upon us, which raises the question: what is the best Christmas film of all time ever? We have the answer…
What’s the best Christmas film of all time? Oh sure, you could head to Rotten Tomatoes and find the one with the very highest ‘fresh’ rating, but that feels so… cold, somehow. So impersonal. So very destined to end in a (let’s face it, utterly disappointing) viewing of Meet Me In St Louis – which, yeah, has scored that elusive 100%. Somehow.
Thankfully, I’m here to help, as I’ve curated a definitive (read: highly subjective) ranking of the 10 greatest Christmas films of all time. I’ve conducted several tests and experiments to suss things out, and I’m pretty confident that each of these movies is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.
Even better? Each is more brilliant than the last, and not a single one of them is called Love Actually (sorry not sorry).
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With that in mind, then, grab yourself a mince pie (or five; it’s Christmas, after all) and let’s dive on into this festive extravaganza. Starting with…
Your Christmas Or Mine
What’s that? A Christmas film from this year made the top-10 list of all time? Surely… surely not?
You bloody bet it did.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it already, Your Christmas Or Mine sees young lovers Hayley (Cora Kirk) and James (Asa Butterfield) wave goodbye at Marylebone Station, only to realise that they can’t bear to be apart for Christmas. Cue a mad last-second dash to catch a train and a disastrous mix-up that results in each of them spending the holidays with one another’s families… solo.
As fun and frothy as a festive trifle, this feel-good film has all the makings of a modern classic. Or perhaps this writer was just buoyed up with excitement as she watched it on the same day her tree went up? We’ll never know for sure.
The Princess Switch… 2
SACRILEGE! Not really. The Princess Switch films are genuinely pretty damn good. The second, though, is easily the best; primarily because it has a much bigger budget than the first one (as is made abundantly clear by the sheer scale of the Christmas decorations and fake snow on offer).
There is, too, a love story between a career-driven young woman and a sexy single dad, as orchestrated by his impossibly sparky kid (which, apparently, is a must-have trope in any festive romcom). There’s a royally handsome prince in the mix, too – and three (count ‘em) Vanessa Hudgenses running around the place. One of them, though, is a con artist who has her eyes on the throne of Belgravia, so therein lies the drama.
Look, I know it sounds like I’m lying, but The Princess Switch 2 is even frothier than the aforementioned Your Christmas Or Mine, and thus even more palatable on a cold winter’s eve.
Team it with fuzzy socks and a hot chocolate emblazoned with whipped cream and marshmallows, and you have a recipe for cosy Christmassy perfection.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
This live-action adaptation of the beloved children’s tale by Dr Seuss was a festive staple in my house growing up, for obvious reasons. And, now that I’m a fully grown introvert, I find it even easier to relate to its eponymous grumpy hermit.
Not so much the stealing Christmas bit, because I bloody love Christmas. No, it’s more the oh-so-memeable skit in which the Grinch throws himself around his house, unable to cope with the pressure of the Christmas party invitation that’s been extended to him on SUCH SHORT NOTICE.
Honestly, anyone who has ever talked themselves into an event (and then out, and then in, and then out, and then in) will feel the vibe. Especially when it comes to the dreaded ‘what will I even wear?’ scenario that swiftly follows.
Three words: Mr Napkin-Head.
That is all… or it would be, if I didn’t just feel the need to add that Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday is absolutely flawless. I adore it. I honestly adore it to little pieces.
I hear you: surely Kevin McAllister (Macaulay Culkin) and his range of homemade booby traps deserves to be higher up on the list, right?
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Wrong. Home Alone is a great film, sure, but all of the Wet Bandits’ mishaps and misadventures are sometimes hard to watch – especially when you have a mouthful of turkey and stuffing. And then there’s the sheer volume of unanswered questions: how can Kevin’s dad afford that New England mansion and all those kids? Why were there so many mannequins lying around the house? Is Uncle Frank a gangster? Did Kevin ever find the tarantula? How are Harry and Marv not, like, dead? And so on.
I love a mystery as much as the next person, but all of these swirling twirling questions give me a headache. So much so that I can barely enjoy the film’s god-level tier musical score by John Williams. And that, pals, is a crime far greater than anything the Wet Bandits ever managed to commit.
Fun fact: my family doesn’t just screen phone calls – they screen house calls, too. And so the easiest way to ensure that the people hiding behind the sofa know it’s you is, of course, to tap out the theme tune to Gremlins on the front door.
That little anecdote aside, this is an absolute seasonal classic. There’s snow – so much snow – and a loyal family dog. There’s a loving family pulling together in times of strife (the strife in question being the hoard of murderous monsters they’ve unwitting unleashed upon their sleepy American town). There’s a romance, too – and a dead dad, just to add a fresh twist to the classic ‘dead mum at Christmas’ trope. And there’s a festive soundtrack to end all festive soundtracks, featuring such bangers as Do You Hear What I Hear? and Baby, Please Come Home.
Throw in the cutest critter of all time – hey there, Gizmo – and a festive battle to survive, and you have a cinematic masterpiece. Genuinely.
Buddy the Elf is wrong about one thing: the greatest way to spread Christmas cheer isn’t singing loud for all to hear. Instead, it’s watching this magical family favourite over the holidays.
A lot of people (honestly, a lot of people) cite Elf as their favourite Christmas film of all time, and I get it. A story about an oversized elf leaving his home in the North Pole to track down his human dad, only to find true love in the grotto of a Gimbels department store? I’m into it, in a very big way. Especially when Will Ferrell’s Buddy joins up with that aforementioned true love (a blonde Zooey Deschanel) to save actual Santa Claus after a disastrous crash in Central Park. And even more so when he bonds with his biological dad and half-brother, after minutes, hours, maybe even entire days of barely concealed… well, if not animosity, then at least ambivalence.
Basically, it’s a classic festive tale about the importance of self-belief and/or family. And, sure, it might be as sickly as a plate of candy and syrup-covered pasta, but isn’t that what this time of year is all about?
The Nightmare Before Christmas
There’s no denying that Tim Burton has brought us an array of weirdly wonderful characters over the years. Our favourites, though, are all packed inside The Nightmare Before Christmas – one of the most beautifully Burtonian animations of all time (don’t @ me).
From Jack Skellington to the resourceful Sally (voiced by none other than Schitt’s Creek’s legendary Catherine O’Hara), each has taught us a number of important lessons, but none more so than this: it’s cool to be a misfit, so long as you always stay true to yourself.
And, y’know, don’t kidnap Santa on Christmas Eve, even if you sing a catchy song as you do so, because it will only ever lead to trouble. Somehow, though, that one feels less relevant to all of us residing out here in the real world.
It’s A Wonderful Life
It’s A Wonderful Life? For Christmas? Groundbreaking.
Yes, it’s a basic as fuck choice, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one because this black-and-white tale is considered the GOAT by many for a reason. Starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, it spins a yarn about a suicidal businessman who is visited by a literal angel from heaven. An angel from heaven named, I hasten to add, Clarence.
Clarence might be an angel-in-training, but he knows exactly what to do to inspire a change of heart in George Bailey; he shows him what life would look like if he’d never been born. And, in doing so, Clarence reminds George that every single life “touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
While Clarence does a grand job – grand enough to earn his angel’s wings – there’s no denying that the true hero of this story is George’s brilliant wife, Mary. Because the film’s final, triumphant scene is only made possible by her ingenuity and tenaciousness. By her saving her husband’s business twice over. By her ability to raise four happy kids, all while gutting and renovating a house. By inventing GoFundMe on the fly. By generally being awesome at all bloody times.
It should be called She’s A Wonderful Wife (And You Don’t Deserve Her, George Bailey), quite frankly.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Let’s not play games, people: we, all of us, know in our hearts that The Muppet Christmas Carol is the greatest festive film of all time ever. It is as integral a part of the holiday as the wreath on the door, the stockings by the fire and or the table groaning with food. And that’s largely because it treads such familiar ground, breathing new felt-covered life into Charles Dickens’s classic morality tale.
Michael Caine steps into the Victorian boots of Ebenezer Scrooge, and honestly gives the best performance of his life thus far, acting up a storm opposite a cast of literal Muppets. He is frightening, he is miserly and he is destined to learn a very important lesson when three ghosts disturb him (five, if you count the chain-covered Marley brothers) on Christmas Eve and whisk him away on a journey into his past, present and very dismal future.
You all know the story by heart, so I won’t bore you with a synopsis. What I will do, though, is list just a few of this movie’s most redeeming qualities.
There is, for example, the dazzling array of toe-tapping songs (extra special shoutout to One More Sleep Til Christmas, which I’m pretty sure inspired Leona Lewis’s ditty of a suspiciously similar name). There’s the relentless onslaught of hilarious one-liners (shout out to the melon that screams, “Help, I’m being stolen,” as he’s shoplifted by a local street urchin). There’s the fact that Bob Cratchit and his wife are played by Kermit and Miss Piggy, in a truly inspired piece of casting. There’s the “no cheeses for us meeces” line, which is worthy of an essay all of its very own. And there are so very many heartwarming moments, too.
I’ve laughed, without fail, at every single joke every single time I’ve watched this film. I’ve cried every single time that Tiny Tim (yes, who just so happens to be a small green frog in a baker boy’s cap, what of it?) coughs and wheezes at the Cratchit family’s dinner table. When his little cane and aforementioned hat are left out as a sort of frugal memorial in the dark vision of Scrooge’s future (the one in which, yeah, Tiny Tim dies). And I’ve cried, too, with happiness, when the Ghost of Christmas Present belts out his song about December being the summer of the soul, when Scrooge apologises to the homeless rabbit he left out in the cold, when the Cratchits open their front door to find everyone gathered with food and gifts, and when Scrooge hands his red scarf to Beaker in act of pure and selfless love.
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I’ve cried at… well, I’ve cried a lot at The Muppet Christmas Carol over the years, let’s put it like that. And, this year, for the first time ever, there are even more reasons to sob throughout this 99-minute film.
Why? Well, because Disney+ has faithfully restored the original cut of the movie, which means that the long-lost song by Scrooge’s old sweetheart, Belle (Meredith Braun) – the one which was removed way, way back in the day for being TOO EMOTIONAL – is finally back where it belongs: smack-bang in the middle of the best Christmas movie ever.
“It was almost love. It was almost always,” she sings at a young Ebenezer in a snow-covered Scroogey memory. “It was like a fairy tale, we’d live out you and I…
“And, yes, some dreams come true and, yes, some dreams fall through. And, yes, the time has come for us to say goodbye.”
Scrooge is crying. Rizzo the Rat is crying (he’s there, don’t you worry). Gonzo/Charles Dickens (it’ll take too long to explain) is crying. I’m crying. And you’ll be crying too, you mark my words.
And that, friends, is the mark of a good festive film: tears, laughter, good music, and Muppets.
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