There’s a reason that the holiday season is considered to be the happiest time of the year. Between copious amounts of food at Thanksgiving and fun thrills during Halloween, there is no shortage of festivities in the months leading up to the end of the year.
Perhaps one of the most exciting holidays of all is Christmas, where gifts are shared, and the smell of peppermint is in the air. There are a multitude of reasons why Christmastime is magical, so set aside the candy cane and take a look at the top 10 Christmas movies and specials that will definitely make your holidays that much sweeter.
To kick off the list, everyone’s favorite Christmas concept, aside from the reindeers who pull Santa’s sleigh, are the elves that make the toys distributed to boys and girls across the globe. Elf is a hilarious fantasy film about an infant being dropped off with Santa and getting adopted by an elf who works in Santa’s workshop.
The young boy, named Buddy for the label on the diapers he came in with, grows up like a traditional elf despite being much different from his peers. Due to his size and demeanor as a human, Buddy fails to excel at the duties of being an elf, although he tries his best to be a part of the team.
When it’s let slip that he actually isn’t an elf after all, but instead a human, Buddy confronts his adoptive father. When Buddy discovers that his biological dad earned himself a spot on the naughty list, he feels obligated to help his father gain back the Christmas spirit.
The comedic film captures Will Ferrell’s wonderful interpretation of a human with the mannerisms of a giant elf. His overexcited tendencies, ridiculously cheerful personality, and inability to comply with any of the rules of the real world add up to create one of the most genius Christmas movies of all time.
Critics agree and praised Elf. Its impressive success at the box office earned the film almost seven times the amount of its original budget.
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas is an animated film directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. The story is a crossover between Halloween and Christmas and is customarily aired during both seasons.
It follows the life of Jack Skellington, a citizen of Halloween Town who acts as their figurehead, “the Pumpkin King,” whilst planning, organizing, and being an integral part of their annual Halloween events. Despite loving the holiday, Jack is worn out by the same-old festivities that are celebrated every year by the gruesome monsters that inhabit the town.
After succumbing to boredom, Jack takes a walk that leads him to Christmas Town. Instead of ghosts and ghouls, the land is filled with children accepting gifts and tucking themselves into bed in preparation for Santa Claus. Filled with nothing but joyous thoughts about what a significant change this could be for Halloween Town, Jack sets out to be the new “Santa Claws.”
Despite only intending to make the holiday greater, Jack’s plan consists of kidnapping the original Santa Claus and providing gifts to children by his own means. Combining the themes of both holidays makes for a rather horrific set of toys distributed around the world.
In the midst of this, he is accompanied by several unique characters including his sidekick ghost dog, Zero, and a sewn doll love interest, Sally. Although there was an initial concern that the movie was too frightening for children, The Nightmare Before Christmas became an instant hit. Tim Burton’s unique point of view made the darker Christmas movie a good time for all.
8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of the most classic representations of Christmastime. Airing first in 1964 on the NBC network, the episode has been revamped and broadcast several times yearly during the holidays. In fact, Rudolph is “the longest running Christmas TV special in history” at 53 years.
In the story, Rudolph is born with a glowing red nose, differentiating him from the other reindeer. Because this is sure to cause an uproar among the rest of the deer, Rudolph’s parents cover his nose with a mud mask so that he can participate in his studies and ultimately be able to pull Santa’s sleigh without hassle.
During his first attempt at flying, after being complimented by a female reindeer, his fake nose comes off, revealing the truth about the bright glow beneath it. The other deer mock his uniqueness, driving him away from his home.
As years go by, Rudolph meets several other characters and goes on a variety of adventures that land him in interesting places, such as the Island of Misfit Toys, and meeting strange creatures, like the Abominable Snow Man. Eventually, his travels lead him back to the discovery that his parents and Clarice, the female deer who had complimented him, have been looking for him.
Just as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is widely popular as a general concept, the film also sees Rudolph rising to fame among his peers. In addition to this, his popularity grows once Santa reveals that his nose could save Christmas during a stormy night, because he has the capability to light their path through the darkness.
7. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Also known simply as The Grinch, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a classic and somewhat creepy tale set in Dr. Seuss’ imaginative world, Whoville. As the Whos begin the festivities surrounding Christmastime with ample plates of holiday dishes, towering Christmas trees, and houses strung with lights, the Grinch looms over the city with resentment.
The Grinch is a green, fuzzy creature who lives in a cave upon a hill overlooking Whoville. His bitterness toward the Christmas holiday is apparent in his ill-timed jokes and pranks that he pulls, resulting in the majority of Whos disliking him.
The Grinch’s backstory is tragic. His accidental arrival in Whoville as a baby ultimately led to being mocked as a child because of his much different appearance. When he encounters Cindy Lou, a young resident of Whoville who feels moved by his past, she invites him to an upcoming event.
Gradually, he accepts her invitation, only to feel the same humiliation he once did in Whoville years prior. Although the Grinch’s resentment towards Whoville nearly destroys Christmas for everyone, the film itself was loved by many and was a major success at the box office.
The live adaptation starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch received mixed signals from critics. Still, the live-action film continues to resonate with youth and adults alike during the holiday season. It won several awards in regard to makeup and costume design and sat atop the charts as the #1 movie in the United States for 4 weeks straight.
6. Frosty the Snowman
Similar to several other entries on this list, the original film, Frosty the Snowman, has been airing annually since the 1960s. The story begins with a magician attempting to entertain a class of children. When he fails to do so, the kids head outside to play in the snow, leaving the incapable Professor Hinkle to mull over his unsuccessful magic tricks.
While outside, the children create a snowman from several local components, including a corncob pipe, two pieces of coal, a red button, and a broomstick. After going back and forth on names, and finally deciding on Frosty, Professor Hinkle’s rabbit hops outside wearing his magician’s hat.
The hat makes its way to Frosty’s head, surprising everyone as he comes to life before their very eyes. Despite being a wondrous thing, Hinkle is now ensnared in his desire to become rich off of the magic that his hat produces, and steals back the garment, thus altering Frosty back into a regular snowman.
The 25-minute special follows the characters doing their best to salvage Frosty the Snowman amid several problems, including a greedy magician and rising temperatures. Ranking itself as one of the 10 Best Family Holiday Specials, Frosty is an exciting twist on the wintry season and truly infuses the magic of Christmastime into every second of the episode.
5. The Polar Express
Not only did this 3D animated film take a spot in the Guinness World Book of Records in 2006 for being the first completely digitally-captured movie, The Polar Express was and is a phenomenal Christmas movie.
Its innovation captures the essence of the season in a way that traditional specials can’t. It incorporated unique digital elements and a fantastic plotline that wowed viewers in 2004. The story, which spans over the course of 100 minutes, follows a boy who has trouble believing in Santa Claus.
When a train known as the Polar Express rolls up right outside his house on Christmas Eve, it becomes hard for him to really understand what he’s seeing. Throughout the train’s journey to its destination at the North Pole, the boy meets new friends and works through several problems along the way.
Once at their final stop, he is confused by his inability to hear the wonderful sounds that the rest of the children are able to listen to, only to discover that it is his lack of belief in Santa Claus that prevents him from hearing chiming bells.
Although critics only found The Polar Express to be a moderately exciting movie, with claims that the graphics are gorgeous but fell flat when it came to creating realistic representations of humans, the film has been popular among general audiences for years.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Although this one might not necessarily be as family-friendly as the rest, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a hilarious comedy classic that rightfully belongs on this list. Released in 1989, the hilarious film focuses on family matters that nearly everyone can relate to.
Beginning with Clark Griswold and his family of four – son Rusty, daughter Audrey, and wife Ellen – the group heads out to pick out their Christmas tree. Once in the middle of nowhere and selecting a ridiculously large pine, the family realizes that they are without tools to cut it down, and must instead pull it up from the roots.
The chaos that follows is jam-packed with lines that are still quoted to this day, actors who truly captured the comedic route that the movie chose to take, and a slew of fantastically dirty jokes for the whole family to enjoy.
From 25,000 Christmas lights causing a temporary, citywide power outage to a brief but purposeful holiday kidnapping, the characters in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation are ridiculously entertaining.
The great success of the movie prompted a sequel entitled National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, which also met considerable praise. Although the movies don’t necessarily capture fantasy elements that many other Christmas films do, their priceless entertainment is just as jolly — without any of the magical strings attached.
3. A Christmas Story
Another comedic goldmine, A Christmas Story is an award-winning film that authenticated every child’s wish for a gift that may be just out of their reach. In this case, Ralphie Parker, a nine-year-old boy belonging to an interesting family in the 1940’s, wants nothing for Christmas except a very special air rifle – specifically the Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model.
His only desire is to be able to obtain this gift and shoot with it. However, at such a tender age, this possibility is slim. As his mother, teacher, and even a portrayal of Santa Claus at a local store tells him it’s a bad idea, the classic line “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid” resonates throughout the film, convincing Ralphie that his dreams may never come to fruition.
On Christmas day, after a slew of kooky events including a leg-shaped lamp and an accidental cursing incident gone wrong, Ralphie finds himself the owner of a brand-new rifle. The catch is, at just nine years old, it’s rather easy to be preemptive, and with the excitement of his new present pumping through his veins, it was more than unsurprising that he got ahead of himself.
2. Home Alone
The 1990 comedy film Home Alone — which starred Macaulay Culkin as a young boy who must fight off burglars — is one of the highest-grossing comedy meets action movies to date. The film had such wild success that it also prompted several sequels, though only the second featured the same characters.
Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister belongs to an incredibly large and boisterous family who, between siblings and cousins, feels much like an outcast. After a fight with his older brother, Kevin is sent upstairs to think about what he’s done. He then wishes that his family would just disappear.
When a storm hits in the middle of the night, knocking the power out and resetting the family’s alarm clocks, everyone fails to wake up on time for their flight to Paris. In the chaotic turmoil that ensues, Kevin is forgotten in his home while the family heads to the airport and boards their plane.
Only noticed halfway there, Kevin’s parents are distraught to discover that all of the flights going back to where they had come from were booked for the next several days, leaving Kevin to fend for himself.
It wouldn’t have been so bad, except a pair of burglars who have been terrorizing the neighborhood have the McCallister residence next on their list. Hilarity ensues as Kevin defends his home by setting booby traps to keep the invaders at bay.
A Christmas classic, Home Alone highlights the frantic rush of the holidays with a captivating storyline that earned award nominations and praise across the globe.
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Since the mid-1900s, Charlie Brown has been a prominent character on newspaper comic strips. Peanuts, which made its debut in newspapers around the world nearly 70 years ago, is now a widely recognized and popular cartoon creation, with everything from television shows to amusement parks featuring Charlie Brown and his friends.
One of the most well-known aspects of animated Peanuts episodes are their holiday specials that grace the ABC network annually. A Charlie Brown Christmas originally aired in 1965 on the CBS network.
The 25-minute showing follows Charlie Brown feeling sad as the Christmas season approaches. In an effort to make him feel better, his friend Lucy proposes that he direct a Christmas play to get him in the spirit of the holidays.
Despite his best attempts at rallying everyone together to create what he thinks will be a successful play, Charlie is left feeling defeated by their jeers. By the end of the half-hour special, Charlie learns the true meaning of Christmas beyond the glitz and glam of modernized elements.
The beautiful message behind the episode has made it a classic for many families. Ironically enough however, the original producers feared that the unorthodox decisions they made during production would result in a flop. Still, critics praised the episode. It won Peabody Award as well as an Emmy Award.