It’s that time of year again and it’s time to get into the Christmas spirit. Now, what better way to do that than to watch some great Christmas movies!
Santa and his reindeer and the presents and the Christmas trees and the tinsel and the Christmas lights and the egg nog are all aesthetic things that make us feel like it’s the Christmas season, but it doesn’t necessarily fill us with the spirit of the season.
That comes from feeling warm and together and happy, and the best way to do that is to share a few laughs with your family or friends by watching the funniest Christmas movies out there. So, to help you get started and kick off all that Christmas cheer, here are the 15 best and brightest Christmas comedy movies to enjoy before December 25!
15. Love, Actually
The quintessential romantic comedy also happens to be a great Christmas comedy. Trust Richard Curtis. The key to Love, Actually is not its screenplay or its visual style, but its cast. The movie is crammed with A-list stars.
Brace yourself, because this is quite a cast – Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Rodrigo Santoro, Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Rowan Atkinson, Claudia Schiffer, January Jones, and Denise Richards.
A worldwide box office gross of $246 million is unheard of for a British movie. Trust Richard Curtis! The critics didn’t love it as much as audiences, as they called it “sugary” and “overstuffed,” but the film’s many fans continue to watch it to this day and love it, so who was right?
14. The Polar Express
Overlook the fact that the performance capture animation in The Polar Express looks really creepy and just focus on the wonderful story that director Robert Zemeckis tells.
The IMDb plot summary puts it best: “A young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express. During his adventure he learns about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas.”
That’s what it is! It’s a tale of friendship and bravery and the spirit of Christmas. But the character designs and the animation are a problem – they delve into the uncanny valley (that place on the visual spectrum where the people kind of look like humans but not quite enough, so it’s weird and unsettling).
But as James Beraridelli wrote, it is still “a delightful tale guaranteed to enthrall viewers of all ages.”
13. Bad Santa
Bad Santa is a hilarious movie that combines the Christmas movie with a black comic sensibility. It stars Billy Bob Thornton as a mall Santa who lies, steals, cheats, and does a bunch of other stuff that the real Santa would never do.
The story sees a dork trying to convince Thornton’s character Willie T. Soke of the true meaning of Christmas. Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray were both interested in the role of Willie after reading the script, which was given uncredited rewrites by the brilliant Coen brothers duo, but they couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts.
Still, their interest is indicative of the strength of the film’s writing. Somehow it manages to have a sweet heart as its core, while still being a dark and immoral comedy. That’s the spirit of Christmas!
12. The Holiday
As far as Christmas-themed romantic comedies go, it may shock you to discover that Love, Actually is not the king (or queen) of them all.
That crown goes to The Holiday, the story of two women, one British (Kate Winslet) and one American (Cameron Diaz) who switch houses for the holiday season so they can each get a change of scenery, and each end up falling in love, one with Jude Law and one with Jack Black (they clearly have different types).
Nancy Meyers wrote and directed the movie, and it was her storytelling talent that brought a fine balance of tone and a fresh, unique angle to what would’ve been generic Hollywood product. USA Today’s review of The Holiday called the movie “a rare chick flick/romantic comedy that, despite its overt sentimentality and fairy-tale premise, doesn’t feel cloyingly sweet.”
It finds the sweet spot.
11. The Night Before
Jonathan Levine had the bright idea to take the brand of R-rated humor curated by recent hits like Superbad and The 40 Year Old Virgin and cram it through the Christmas movie genre. It had never been done before!
Levine cast Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie in the lead roles as three childhood best friends who get together on Christmas Eve for a wild night out. There’s digs at the movie Big, the use of steroids in professional sports, and dick pics, with a weed-infused homage to It’s a Wonderful Life as a pot dealer earns his wings throughout the night.
Also, Tracy Morgan plays Santa Claus. It’s awesome. The movie isn’t a classic, but it certainly is funny, raunchy, entertaining, and in keeping with the Christmas spirit. Well worth watching
When you cast Bill Murray in the lead role of a modernization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you can hardly go wrong. Scrooged sees Murray play a cold-hearted, curmudgeonly (an area he thrives in as a comic actor) TV executive who only cares about money who is visited by ghosts who remind him what life is truly about.
It was directed by none other than Richard Donner, the guy who gave us Superman: The Movie and Lethal Weapon, while the script was provided by a pair of SNL writers with a markedly dark sense of humor.
To boost ticket sales, the studio made the link between Bill Murray and ghosts (who ya gonna call?) with the tagline, “Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it’s three against one,” but sadly, it didn’t make much of a splash at the box office.
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Ron Howard adapted Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book How the Grinch Stole Christmas for the big screen with one secret weapon: Jim Carrey. With his sheer talent as a performer, Carrey can make any movie great.
His performances in movies like Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty, and Yes Man elevate generic comedies into hilarious masterclasses, while comedy classics like Dumb and Dumber are so incredible because Carrey took a great script and did them justice. That’s exactly what he did with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
As Empire magazine’s review read, “Without Carrey, this would be just another Hollywood Christmas money-making machine, but Carrey, with another ground-breaking performance, single-handedly elevates it to something much better.” And he turns an antagonist into a likable and watchable character.
8. A Christmas Story
The case could be made that A Christmas Story is the most quotable Christmas movie of all time. Despite having the word ‘story’ in the title, A Christmas Story is a more of a patchwork of vignettes about family life in the 1940s.
It revolves around the holidays, as a boy tries to convince the authority figures in his life – his teachers, his parents, Santa Claus etc. – that a new BB gun would be the perfect Christmas gift for him.
A Christmas Story is one of those essential Christmas movies that is watched over and over again every year. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in every year since 1997, there’s been a marathon played on either TBS or TNT called “24 Hours of A Christmas Story,” where A Christmas Story is aired twelve times in a row.
7. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Like almost every Christmas comedy, when The Muppets attempted to tackle the genre, they made it an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a musical comedy that uses contemporary music and humor, but otherwise is a more or less faithful adaptation of Dickens’ book.
Michael Caine plays Ebenezer Scrooge, while the rest of the cast is filled out by Muppets – Kermit plays Bob Cratchit, Robin plays Tiny Tim, Statler and Waldorf play Jacob and Robert Marley etc. The critics warmed to it, saying, “The Muppet Christmas Carol is funny and heart-warming and serves as a good introduction to the story for young viewers.”
There’s an element of tragedy in seeing that the movie is dedicated in memory of Jim Henson, the guy who created The Muppets, who died when the film was in the pre-production stage.
6. Trading Places
Sometimes when two great comedy actors are paired up to finally do a movie together, it can be a disappointment if the script isn’t right, but the pairing of comedy legends Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy did not disappoint.
It tells the story of a rich executive and a poor hustler who each believe the other couldn’t live in their shows, so they decide to – drumroll, please – trade places. This is one of the greatest comedy movies of all time that just happens to be set during the Christmas season.
Empire magazine’s review declared that “Murphy and Ackroyd are the show stealers here,” while Alex Orner of Common Sense Media wrote that the movie “insightfully raises some issues about socio-economics and class structure in America.” Interesting.
5. The Santa Clause
Tim Allen was the star of one of the biggest sitcoms in the world for almost a decade when he was on Home Improvement, and he monopolized on that popularity by starring in this Christmas fantasy comedy movie about a divorced dad who accidentally kills Santa and is then forced to take his place next Christmas.
This is a Christmas family comedy that gives families with divorced parents some much-needed representation. The movie was followed by two sequels, although they were panned by the very same critics who adored the first one.
The critical consensus for The Santa Clause on Rotten Tomatoes reads, “The Santa Clause is utterly undemanding, but it’s firmly rooted in the sort of good old-fashioned holiday spirit missing from too many modern yuletide films.”
4. It’s a Wonderful Life
When it comes to Christmas classics, it’s impossible for It’s a Wonderful Life not to come to mind. A frustrated businessman who’s unhappy with his life is visited by an angel who has to show him that his life is great (or wonderful, if you will) and worth living in order to earn their wings.
It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time of its release, It’s a Wonderful Life was a major box office disappointment that caused the studios to lose interest in legendary director Frank Capra, and the only Oscar it won was a Technical Achievement Award.
However, it has since been given the reception it deserved back then, as the Rotten Tomatoes critical consensus reads, “The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.”
3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Most Christmas movies are told from the point of view of Santa or his staff or the kids he brings presents to, but National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation managed to find a fresh angle by telling a Christmas story from a middle-aged suburban father’s point of view.
The third entry in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, Christmas Vacation sees relatable everydad Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase as his comedic peak) dreaming of the perfect Christmas, and for once, it’s an achievable dream. He just wants to spend some time with his family and get his Christmas bonus from work.
Well, it would be achievable for anyone other than Clark Griswold. Clark faces contention from a deflated turkey, a slobbering dog, his mean-spirited neighbors who just want to see him fail, the unexpected arrival of some in-laws, a fire in the house, and wild animals in his Christmas tree.
And of course, in true Clark Griswold fashion, he has a mental breakdown at the end and kidnaps his boss and the cops turn up. In its own screwed up, National Lampoon way, Christmas Vacation teaches us everything we need to know about the true meaning of Christmas.
2. Home Alone
Home Alone is absolutely, a hundred percent, without a doubt, the greatest Christmas comedy movie ever made. It received mixed reviews when it was first released, but you can’t argue with the massive box office haul it raked in and the immense staying power it has had with film fans.
It tells the story of Kevin McAllister, a kid who denounces his family and then gets accidentally left behind when they head off for their Christmas vacation the next morning. During the time he spends away from them, he realizes two things: he’s able to ward off two sadistic criminals with his eyes closed and one hand behind his back, and his family isn’t all that bad.
By the time they get home to him, he’s realized how much he loves them, and it’s a truly heart-warming ending. Plus there’s that stuff with the seemingly evil guy who shovels salt onto the snow who turns out to be a really sweet and misunderstood guy. It’s a really lovely movie.
A year before he changed the face of comedy with a little movie called Anchorman, Will Ferrell warmed the hearts of moviegoers with a little Christmas movie called Elf. Ferrell plays Buddy, one of Santa’s elves who finally realizes he’s three times bigger than everyone else.
His adoptive father played by Bob Newhart tells him he’s actually a human whose real dad lives in New York. So, he heads out there and finds that his dad is a cold, corporate workaholic played by James Caan from The Godfather. Buddy spends the movie bonding with his half-brother, wooing Zooey Deschanel, and melting his dad’s icy heart.
It’s heartwarming to see that he can do this, not with calculated methods and schemes, but simply with love and devotion. By the end of the movie, everyone has the Christmas spirit, including Buddy’s cold-hearted father. Elf is a perfect example of a Christmas movie doing what a Christmas movie should: telling a universal human story through a Christmas-themed lens.