‘Tis still the Season!
It’s that special time of year where everyone gets together with family, eats a bunch of ham and drinks a bunch of liquor. Some would argue that the best part of Christmas is actually the movies that you watch every year around this time (behind the booze, of course) and there’s really so many to chose from that you could watch a different film each year until the day that you die, as adaptations of Charle Dickens’ A Christmas Carol could last Wolverines’ lifetime. The type of Christmas movies run the gamut from live action to animated, from raunchy comedy to R-Rated action/thriller and because of that we have so much to choose from every year when the family stops by, cracks open a bottle and begins fighting over the DVD rack. So, hopefully, this list will help alleviate that argument this year by creating an objective ranking that you can print out and share with your drunk Uncle. So, if you missed out and still need a Christmas fix, here’s the Top 15 Christmas Movies of All-time!
15. Tokyo Godfathers
Tokyo Godfathers is a 2003 Anime classic directed by Satoshi Kon and is the first of many animated films on this list. The third animated film by Kon and the second that he also wrote, Godfathers won the “Excellence Prize” at the 2003 Japan Media Arts Festival and the Best Animation Film award at the 58th Mainichi Film Awards. It also seems destined for a live-action remake, either in its home country or in the Western world. The film follows a middle-aged alcoholic who is ironically named Gin, a former drag queen named Hana and a runaway girl named Miyuki who discover an abandoned newborn girl while digging through the garbage on Christmas Eve. The film’s main theme is coincidences and really society as a whole, as it looks at the ties that bind us by showing us a story of miracles, family, love and forgiveness. It was part of a movement at the time wherein both anime and manga where showing families in an increasingly dark fashion, which was a way of really analyzing what a traditional family was in Japan at the time and considering the fact that both the marriage and birth rate has plummeted in Japan this Christmas story is an integral view into the concept of family in Japan at the time and is overall just a really great movie.
14. Better Watch Out
There is no genre of film out there that is bankable as horror is these days. With the relatively low cost and huge multipliers that come along with quality horror films, it’s actually surprising that more studios aren’t churning out horror films at the same clip as they are films based on comic books (although, there is a film based in the X-Men universe that has horror elements coming out next year in The New Mutants). The end of the year is where films with lower budgets are released and since most horror films have smaller budgets, the Fall and Winter are when most of these films are released, so it was only a matter of time until horror films with Christmas themes were released at this film is part of that (just like Krampus, is/was). Better Watch Out was actually released last year in early October and was a disaster at the box office (netting just over $37k), but it was beloved by critics and should go on to be a cult classic. It focuses on a 17-year-old babysitter named Ashley and her 12-year-old assignment as they deal with a masked intruder who ends up being… Luke (and his friend Garrett). Despite the really creepy themes (not in a good way, in a “12-year-old tries to rape his babysitter way) the film was beloved by critics, resulting in a nearly 90% score on RottenTomatoes.com. A lot of that praise was thanks to the cast who was described as charismatic and the film as an “adorably sinister holiday horror film”.
13. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
Speaking of Christmas Horror films… Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is the first film on this list that has the subtitle of A Christmas Tale (see #12) and is also the only film that’s from Finland. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, Rare Exports is a dark fantasy horror thriller about people that live near the Korvatunturi Mountain and who discover the secret behind Santa Claus. Spoiler Alert; He’s evil! The film follows a young boy named Pietari and his friend who live near the mountain, where a secret mountain drilling project unearth’s the tomb of the real Santa, who is far from the Claus of legend. The film did very well with critics, obviously, and brought home numerous awards in it’s native Finland and even across Europe. It rocks an 89% approval on RottenTomatoes.com and the late Roger Ebert gave it three and a half out of four stars (from beyond the grave?), calling it “a rather brilliant lump of coal for your stocking” and an “R-rated Santa origin story crossed with The Thing.”
12. Un Conte De Noel (A Christmas Tale)
Another entry, another film called A Christmas Tale that also happens to be from Europe. However, instead of being from Finland, this Christmas classic hails from France and instead of being a thriller or horror film it’s actually a comedy/drama or “Dramedy” as the lazy call it. It’s essentially the story of a strained family that ends up home together on Christmas where they learn that their mother has Leukemia. A competitor for the Palme d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival (Which is essentially the top prize at the most prestigious film festival in the world), the film explores family relationships, conflict resolution through the prism of family, and the ever-changing relationship between mother and children, lovers, spouses and siblings (with Christmas being a large part of that, as well, and what it means to families). Philosophically the film touches on the complexity of life in the hopes that people will be able to perhaps their families a bit better while also looking at how people deal with adversity something that everyone must at some point in their lives. It’s a very lofty goal (or set of goals) for a film, but clearly, it worked as it was nominated for multiple awards around the world while also ending up on multiple top 10 lists from 2008 (landing at number one for around 10 of them).
11. The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek was a screwball comedy from 1944 that was written and directed by Preston Sturges and starring Eddie Bracken and Betty Hutton as well as Diana Lynn, William Demarest and Porter Hall. Filmed between 1942 and 1943, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay award at the 1945 Academy Awards and was also selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 2001 by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. It’s also listed #54 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list of the top 100 funniest films in film history. It was so impactful that it was essentially remade in 1958, this time with Jerry Lewis in the film Rock-A-Bye Baby (where Sturges received a writing credit despite not participating in the film at all). The film was pretty racy by 1944 standards, as it was based on a small-town girl who blacked out at a Christmas party and ended up not only marrying a soldier who used a fake name but also getting knocked up with sextuplets by him as well. That’s basically the entire plot of the movie, but it sounds hilarious.
10. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
While technically made for television, it was essentially a film none-the-less and thus makes this list. Produced in 1964, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a stop-motion animated special that even to this day is essentially must viewing for children across the world. First airing on Sunday, December 6th on NBC, it was sponsored by General Electric under the umbrella title of The General Electric Fantasy Hour. Based on the Johnny Marks song by the same name (which was based on a poem of the same name that was written in 1939 by Marks’ brother-in-law), the movie began on NBC but has been owned by Universal Television and thus broadcast on CBS since 1972. It was aired in it’s original format up until 2005, where it was fully digitally remastered and converted to high-definition. It, along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas (both entries on this list) have come to exemplify Christmas and typically are/is broadcast multiple times a year during the Holidays, however unlike those other films Rudolph only airs on CBS and is such an institution that a series of Postal Stamps were issued in November of 2014 with scenes from the movie.
9. A Charlie Brown Christmas
Speaking of animated Christmas Classics, A Charlie Brown Christmas is just one of the classic Charlie Brown films/specials that focus on the Holidays like the equally amazing and iconic ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ . Released in 1965 (a year after Rudolph was released, sigh, what a time to be alive!) on CBS, the film is based on the characters created by Charles M. Schulz for his famous comic strip and is very loyal to the characters in that it finds Charlie brown depressed in juxtaposition to the cheery nature of the holiday season (probably because he was completely bald at the age of 10?). To get him out of his funk, his “friend” Lucy suggests that he direct a play about Christmas with the other kids from the neighborhood, which initially goes as well as his numerous attempts to kick that football (before he murdered her). Despite being mocked and ignored by his peers, he learns the true meaning of Christmas from Linus (of all people) which cheers him up just in time to be reunited with the gang. Despite the fact that Peanuts was a worldwide phenomenon by the making of the film it wasn’t given much of a budget (or time to be developed (six-months) in terms of how long it takes to animate a film) and had to rely on a lot of the money it received via it’s sponsorship from Coca-Cola at the time. The film was one of the first to use actual children as the voices of the Peanuts (or in general) and had a completely unorthodox soundtrack and thankfully opted to forgo adding a laugh track (which was the style for cartoons at the time). Because of those decisions, though, the film holds up tremendously well which is why it’s both on this list as well as a staple of Christmas television viewing around the world.
8. A Christmas Story
One of the most classic Christmas movies around (so much so that Fox is actually doing a live rendition this year), A Christmas Story was loosely based on a couple books, including Jean Shepherd’s 1966 book In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash as well as his 1971 book Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. Mainly aired on television stations owned by Turner Broadcasting, it has been run for a full 24 hours during an aptly titled marathon “24 Hours of A Christmas Story” on either TNT or TBS (which is comprised of 12 airings). Released in November of 1983 and making nearly $20 million dollars on it’s budget of $3.2 million dollars, the film was added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2012 for being “Culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. Initially considered a sleeper or cult film, mostly because of the fact that audiences were totally over Christmas movies at the time (That Star Wars Christmas Special probably played a huge part in that), the film was basically out of theaters before Christmas came that year and it was only upon repeat viewings that people (including critics) began to appreciate the film and it’s many classic scenes. With a nearly 90% RottenTomatoes.com score and an average of 8.5/10, it’s as darkly funny as it is classic and is much watch Christmas fare.
7. Arthur Christmas
Arthur Christmas is one of the first films on this list that actually made some money at the box office, which should really detract from studios making these sort of films (but for our sake, we should be glad that they haven’t). Released in 2011, Arthur Christmas is a British-American computer animated spectacular that was created in a joint venture between Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations (which is a British animation outfit responsible for the Wallace and Gromit stop-motion movies of yesteryear). Featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton the film is set on X-Mas night and tells the story of Santa’s goofy/clumsy son Arthur, who discovers that his fathers high-tech ship forgot to deliver a single girls’ present and sets out to save her big day along with some friends. Grossing nearly $150 million on a $100 million dollar budget, while not a huge success (or a success at all) it still actually crossed into nine-figure territory, which as you’ve seen and will see, is unheard of in this genre…
6. Die Hard
… Unless of course you’re talking about Die Hard, which is by far the best “Christmas” movie of all-time. As you’ve probably noticed by now, Christmas movies are also films that happen to take place during Christmas, even if the film itself doesn’t really focus on Christmas. It’s X-Mas that brings Officer John McClain to Los Angeles, to reunite with his estranged wife (who moved there for a career opportunity) and his children. He meets up with his wife at her office Christmas Party in a fancy new Skyscraper, which also has a vault on the top floor that houses over $600 million in government-issued bonds. European terrorists use that opportunity to attempt a heist, but Bruce Willis’ McClain is the wrench in the gears they never thought they’d have to deal with. An out and out classic that turned Willis into a movie star (hew as mostly a television star up until that point), it was a huge success at the box office as well as with the critics.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
One of the more iconic films, at least if you talk to Millenials (emo Millenials, especially) The Nightmare Before Christmas was made right during that sweet spot in Tim Burton’s career when he wasn’t completely selling out and felt like as much of a Halloween movie as it was a Christmas movie. Based on a poem written by Burton in the early 1980’s, the story focuses on Jack Skellington, a resident from “Halloween Town” who ends up in “Christmas Town” after falling through a portal and ends up falling for Christmas HARD (in the only way he knows how). Voiced by Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Ken Page and the signing voice of Danny Elfman (the man behind the music for this film and for The Simpsons), the film also has the voice of Paul Reubens aka Pee-Wee Herman. It’s basically the early 90’s at it’s best and while some people thought that it was “evil” at the time, it’s an amazing Christmas movie that shows that the good of Christmas can overcome the “evil” of Halloween, which should make people happy, but you know, people suck.
4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Based on the Dr. Seuss Book by the same name, The original Grinch Stole Christmas film was a television special that aired on CBS on December, 18th of 1966 and was an immediate smash. Seuss was originally a propaganda animator for the US Army during World War II, but by the mid-60’s he was already a legend and this special helped build upon his legend by creating one of the more perfect Christmas films ever made. The Grinch is voiced by Boris Karloff, the perfect choice for the dead inside hermit who lives outside and hates Whoville, as he finally learns to love and celebrate Christmas and what it means. The early-to-mid 60’s was full of amazing animated Holiday films so it was easy for people to get spoiled or even sick of these films (with both A Charlie Brown Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being released within a two-year period), but even with some of that complacency critics did rate the original television special highly, saying that it was “…as good as most of the other holiday cartoons”. However, it’s obviously become a classic over the years with the addended Rotten Tomatoes score resting at a cool 100%, and who can argue with that? Not even the Grinch himself.
3. Holiday Inn
A movie so huge that it not only was the inspiration for an entire chain of hotels, but also was responsible for the number one selling single of all-time, Holiday Inn was released in 1942 and starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It also included music by Irving Berlin, who wrote twelve songs for the film, one of which was “White Christmas” a song that didn’t exist until the film came out (and Bing Crosby NAILED it). Because of the success of that single it’s hard to even talk about the film. It was released before Billboard tracked singles, but even so it is still by far the number one selling single of all-time (even though Billboard took over ten years to get around to tracking the sale of it and every other single). The film received the Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well, and it essentially made Bing Crosby into a Christmas icon. Including the complete reuse of “Easter Parade” (another song by Berlin), as well. Oh, and it was about a pair of performers, a woman with a wandering eye, a hotel named the Holiday Inn and Christmas, but all that matters is that song. It’s three minutes of Christmas at it’s most pure and it’s something that will make the descendants of Bing Crosby a lot of Green around Christmas forever.
2. Miracle of 34th Street
The most re-made film on this list, A Miracle on 34th Street may make you feel like the 40’s were the decade of classic X-Mas films, which is true, because it was. The film was actually released as “The Big Heart” in the United Kingdom and while it’s looked back upon fondly as a drama, it’s actually also a comedy. Based on a story by Valentine Davis and directed by George Seaton, it stars Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood and Edmun Gwenn. The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City and focuses on a Department Store Santa Claus that claims to be the real Santa, which ends up as a legal case with the famous scene of Postal Workers delivering letters to Santa (which proves he’s real, sort of, as if it’s real to the kids who are the adults to say it isn’t real? Besides adults, of course). One of the more award-winning films on this list, the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role went to Edmund Gwenn for his role in the film, it also received the Oscars for Best Writing, Original Story and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, but ended up losing to Gentleman’s Agreement. Perhaps they should’ve had the Post Office deliver the votes.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life
Easily the most iconic film on this list, It’s a Wonderful Life was released in 1946 and proves that while the 60’s were the decade for Animated Christmas classics, the 40’s were the decade for live action X-Mas films. Based on the short story titled “The Greatest Gift”, which was written in 1939, the film transcended the drama and has been called one of the most beloved films in all of American cinema and the go-to Christmas movie. Starring James “Jimmy” Stuart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers, the story is based on a married father who has given up on his dreams and his life and at the start of the film is about to commit suicide before his guardian angel stops him and shows him what a wonderful life he does have. A heartwarming story that touches on all the right notes, it is yet another film on this list that didn’t do well at the box office but still ended up being considered a classic. One of the most critically acclaimed films ever, with five Oscar nominations, it’s on every “Top” list whether it be for Christmas films (like this one!) or films in general. That’s saying something.