It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)-This beloved classic languished in obscurity after losing money in its initial box office run but was rediscovered thanks to cable reruns and a copyright loophole and has become as much a part of the season as Christmas trees and Santa figures, even if some folks only tune in for the last twenty minutes or so.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, in spite of only a small part of the film taking place during Christmas.
A Christmas Story (1983)-Another well-loved classic that seemed to be forgotten until cable reruns turned everything from the leg lamp to Scut Farkus and the bunny suit into cultural touchstones.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, the whole story builds to a glorious Christmas morning, and, as a special bonus, there’s a part where Wizard of Oz characters beat up Mickey Mouse.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)-Considered by many to be the best adaptation of Dickens’ classic ever the film doesn’t shy away from the story’s darker themes while also keeping a sense of whimsy.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, not only because Christmas isn’t complete without A Christmas Carol but also because the pairing of Michael Caine and the Muppets was genius.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)-Notable for being an instant classic the TV special animated the popular Peanuts gang from the comic strip.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, thanks in part to Linus’s poignant recitation from the book of Luke and Charlie Brown’s rescue of a dilapidated tree, and also it’s a cartoon and cartoons are a major part of the holidays.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)-A brilliant adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s book the story is similar to A Christmas Carol with a villain who hates Christmas finding the holiday spirt, but rather than ghosts it’s a community’s joy that ultimately transforms the Grinch.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, and as an added bonus is narrated by Boris “Frankenstein” Karloff with the Grinch’s theme sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. Also it’s a cartoon and cartoons are a major part of the holidays.
Scooged (1988)-Bill Murray offers up a decidedly different and modern-day take on Ebenezer Scrooge as a television executive facing the biggest challenge of his career and confronting his own troubled past. With its adult humor, the death of a homeless man, and violence it’s definitely a mature adaptation, but good family fun if you’re the Addams Family.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes. Though critics are divided over the ending the stellar cast and satirical touches make it work and as an added bonus at one point Bobcat Goldthwaite says “flatulating butthead”.
Die Hard (1988)-All NYPD Detective John McClane wants is to have a nice Christmas on the west coast but gets drawn into a criminal mastermind’s plot to steal untraceable bearer bonds by posing as a terrorist.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes. Not only does most of the action take place on Christmas Eve with a plot that’s as much about family, love, and reconciliation as it is high-stakes crime but Hans Gruber falling from the 25th floor of the Nakatomi Tower has graced everything from advent calendars to Christmas sweaters.
A Wish for Wings That Work: An Opus Christmas Story (1991)-All Opus the penguin from the popular Bloom County comic strip wants for Christmas is a pair of wings that work, a wish that’s ultimately fulfilled in a surprising and offbeat way.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes. Although peppered with adult humor and not as successful as other animated specials Opus is a lovable character and it’s a cartoon and cartoons are a major part of the holidays. With no formal release it seems destined for obscurity but is fun at least for Bloom County fans with a memorable cameo by Robin Williams and a bonkers dream sequence.
Mary Poppins (1964)-While not set during Christmas the story of the magical nanny played by Julie Andrews usually gets broadcast a few times during the holiday season, making it, for some, an annual tradition.
Is it a Christmas movie? Mixed. Like many Christmas films it’s ultimately a story of putting aside material things in favor of family. It also has a cameo by Reginald Owen who played Ebenezer Scrooge in a 1938 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and extended animated sequences, and cartoons are a major part of the holidays. Really it’s also a story for any season.
The Addams Family (1991)-While the film’s only true Christmas moment is the opening which recreates a Charles Addams cartoon of the title family about to pour a bubbling cauldron of something on holiday carolers it’s still a fun film with a sincere message about the importance of family.
Is it a Christmas movie? Save this one for Halloween.
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)-Also not set during Christmas but frequently appearing in the listings during the holiday season the adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s novel starring a young Judy Garland is, for some, another holiday tradition.
Is it a Christmas movie? Mixed. It’s a film that families often enjoy together and Dorothy’s ultimate goal is to get back home to her family in Kansas. The Wizard is also played by but is another one for any season.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)-An early stop-motion special from what would eventually become the Rankin/Bass company this special really set the standard for Christmas special to come, creatively expanding the story of Rudolph to include an elf who wants to be a dentist and the Island of Misfit Toys.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, not only for its themes of family and acceptance but also the genial narration of Burl Ives.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory (1971)-The psychedelic musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel was a box office failure but eventually earned widespread acclaim thanks to frequent appearances in the holiday season lineup. Those of us who grew up before VCRs and on-demand video remember looking forward to it as a sign that seasonal treats were coming our way.
Is it a Christmas movie? Mixed. It’s a fun family film but Gene Wilder’s Wonka could outshine Santa. Better save this one for Thanksgiving.
The Hobbit (1977)– Before Peter Jackson became a cinematic geek god with his stunning adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy and became a cinematic geek devil by adapting The Hobbit into a bloated, cringe-inducing trilogy there was the animated version of The Hobbit, brought to us by the same people behind the stop-motion holiday specials, and forever making Orson Bean the voice of Bilbo even if Martin Freeman and Ian Holm do a pretty good job.
Is it a Christmas movie? Mixed. It is a cartoon and for those of us of a certain age it was our introduction to Tolkien and the reason we put his books on our Christmas wish lists, but better reserved for Thanksgiving.
Elf (2003)-An unusually family-friendly film from the usually more adult performer Will Ferrell and director Jon Favreau Elf manages to be both clever and sincere without being maudlin.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes, and it benefits from Ed Asner as Santa Claus and one of Santa’s real elves who bears a striking resemblance to Bob Newhart.
Watership Down (1978)-An adaptation of the Richard Adams novel this animated story of cute bunnies who deal with death and violence, escaping snares and scarring each other, has been known to traumatize children.
Is it a Christmas movie? Well, it is a cartoon and those are a major part of the holidays, but save this one for Easter.
Home Alone (1990)-While some question whether it really qualifies as a Christmas classic the story of a kid accidentally left at home and cleverly dealing with a pair of professional crooks is set during Christmas and is a family story at heart.
Is it a Christmas movie? Yes and no. If it’s a tradition in your family that’s great, but Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern getting smacked around for a solid hour doesn’t put everyone in the holiday spirit.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)-Jim Carrey’s expressive range is extended with makeup and CGI in a much darker, even cynical reimagining of the Doctor Seuss classic.
Is it a Christmas movie? NO. It’s awful and anyone who wants to enjoy the Dr. Seuss classic should either stick with the book or the earlier animated version because cartoons are a major part of the holidays.