Santa's Desk

The Top 10 Best Christmas Movies of All Time

The Christmas season is upon us, and there is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than watching a classic Christmas movie. There are so many great Christmas movies out there and it can be hard to decide which ones to watch. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 Christmas movies of all time. From classics like It’s a Wonderful Life to modern favorites like Elf, there’s something for everyone on this list. So grab some popcorn, curl up under a blanket, and get ready to celebrate the holidays with these Christmas movies.

These are the top 10 best Christmas movies of all time

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and, of course, movies. There are so many great Christmas movies out there; it’s hard to narrow it down to just ten. But we’ve done it. Here are the top ten Christmas movies of all time.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Frank Capra’s Christmas dream was a box office bomb when it was first released, and the studio eventually sent him out to pasture because they no longer believed he could direct a popular film. After that, it was nominated for five Academy Awards and quickly became one of the most celebrated movies. Clarence Odbody, a junior angel, visits a suicidal George Bailey (the incomparable Jimmy Stewart) on Christmas Eve (Henry Travers). In exchange for giving Clarence wings, Bailey has tasked him with rescuing him from the precipice. So he takes Bailey through flashbacks of his life, beginning when he was a youngster and ending with the many lives he has touched for the better (or outright saved it). When George decides to take his own life, Clarence leaps into the river first, prompting George to save his life instead. When that fails to satisfy him, Clarence shows him how the world would be without him. George returns home to his family, Clarence receives his wings, and everyone is happy because of George’s life’s significant influence on the world. That’s right; it’s a holiday tale. One of the most memorable films of all time, thanks to Capra and the talented writing team of Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and James Stewart. (Both James Stewart and Frank Capra stated that this is their favorite picture they were involved in.) I dare you to find a single cynical thing to say about this picture; it is timeless, has a great heart, and is unflinchingly honest. 


To grant the dying request of George Bailey (James Stewart), an angel (Henry Travers) is sent to Earth. George is beginning to comprehend the magnitude of his contributions to the world.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon; rent on iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube
  • Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell
  • Writer: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Philip Van Doren Stern, Jo Swerling
  • Directed By: Frank Capra

2. Elf (2003)

To respond to something intended to be honest and joyous with cynicism and gloom is, in a sense, all it takes to make Christmas “funny.” Does any fictional comic character express a heartfelt joy for the holiday season? We can confidently say yes because Will Ferrell gives a spirited, dedicated performance as the eponymous elf. Will Ferrell in yellow tights, a green parka, and a cone hat is the epitome of the Christmas spirit. He gets a lot of laughs by treating life with a child’s innocent curiosity. Watching Buddy the Elf, perhaps our generation’s iconic Christmas film, makes you laugh, grin, and, to quote the Grinch, feel warm and fuzzy. The film’s many strengths offset the fact that the final 30 minutes turn it into a generic race-against-the-clock thriller. Elf is an instant holiday cheer thanks to its endlessly quotable lines—“cotton-headed ninny muggins” is one of my favorites—the hilarious fruit spray scene, Zooey Deschanel showing off her singing chops before She & Him, Mr. Narhwal, and the arctic puppets (a band name if I ever heard one), and, of course, Ferrell’s contagious enthusiasm.


Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a human who, as a child, was taken to the North Pole and nurtured by Santa’s elves. Buddy, now an adult, can’t escape the sensation that he doesn’t belong, so he dons his elf costume and heads to New York to find his biological father. And that cynical businessman is Walter Hobbs (James Caan). The findings of the DNA test confirm this, and Walter hesitantly pursues a fatherly connection with Buddy, whose personality is best described as infantile.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon, HBO Max, or Hulu; rent on iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube.
  • Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner
  • Writer: David Berenbaum
  • Directed By: Jon Favreau

3. A Christmas Story (1983)

It’s not often that a core topic of excessive materialism can be turned into something as warm and emotional as it is amusing. It’s another thing entirely to displace timeless Christmas films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street from their traditional Christmas Day time slots on television. To bring Jean Shepherd’s cherished tale of childhood amid Major Awards, first swear words, cynical Mall Santas, and, of course, the musings on what it truly means to shoot your eye out to the screen, director Bob Clark assembles a pool of on-screen talent who were born to inhabit these roles. I’ll take your word for it.


This classic Christmas film is based on the satirical works of novelist Jean Shepherd, and it tells the story of a little boy named Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) who spends his time evading a bully (Zack Ward) and hoping that Santa will bring him a “Red Ryder air weapon” for Christmas. Ralphie has trouble keeping his spectacles and his spirits up despite the support of his loving mother (Melinda Dillon) and his grumpy father (Darren McGavin).

  • Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Max or Hulu; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube
  • Starring: Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, Ian Petrella
  • Writer: Leigh Brown, Bob Clark, Jean Shepherd, Jean Shepherd
  • Directed By: Bob Clark

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

In the competition for the title “best Christmas movie ever,” Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life are two of the firm favorites. Which one you prefer depends on how much schmaltz you can take: Capra will appeal to people who like their romanticism pure and undiluted, while George Seaton’s Miracle will appeal to those who enjoy a dash of cynicism with their festive cheer. It’s not entirely pessimistic, but it does offer a refreshingly straightforward and down-to-earth illustration of the strain that Christmas traditions, notably shopping, inevitably place on us every year. The video captures New York City at the height of its busy consumerist culture. It shows the significant aspect of capitalism in action, but it also reminds us of the terrible side of capitalism through its smug posturing about the actual meaning of Christmas. That, of course, makes Miracle on 34th Street seem both drier and tired than it is; after more than 70 years, it is still one of the most successfully cheesy pieces of holiday entertainment the industry has ever created.


An alcoholic Santa Claus is replaced by an elderly guy named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) in this holiday favorite set during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Due to his immense popularity, Kringle is soon making regular appearances at the flagship shop of the brand in midtown Manhattan. A court fight ensues to determine Kringle’s sanity and, more crucially, his legitimacy when he shocks customers and staff alike by asserting that he truly is Santa Claus.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Disney+, HBO Max, or Hulu; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube.
  • Starring: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart
  • Writer: George Seaton
  • Directed By: George Seaton

5. Home Alone (1990)

It’s no secret that Home Alone is a bit of a grim film; it deals with themes like a home invasion and family discord. The simple relief of not having to interact with relatives during the holidays also contributes to the feeling of joy. In addition, it’s written by John Hughes, so you know it’s about avoiding your family around the holidays (a common theme in “bah, humbug!” entertainments), which is ironic given that most of them are geared towards stressed-out grownups. The film is unwavering in its commitment to this viewpoint, which it occasionally takes rather literally: Some of the film’s images are designed to make the audience feel as powerless and tiny as the movie’s child protagonist. It’s impossible to tell what percentage of this film is comic relief and what percentage is discordant dread. Much like Die Hard and Christmas Vacation, Home Alone provides us with a catharsis by exploring the helplessness that some children experience. John McClane kills terrible guys, Rusty makes it through his crazy family Christmas, and Kevin finally takes matters into his own hands by punching the bullies and becomes the center of attention for once in his life. I think many people still hold positive memories of it, despite its detractors.


Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), an obnoxious little boy, is sent to the attic by his mother (Catherine O’Hara) the night before the family’s vacation to Paris. When Kevin McCallister wakes up to find the home alone after the rest of the McCallisters have left for the airport without him, he is convinced that his ambition to be an only child has come true. But his joy is short-lived as he learns that the house is being targeted for robbery by two con artists (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) and that he must defend it single-handedly.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Disney+; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube
  • Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara
  • Writer: John Hughes
  • Directed By: Chris Columbus

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Michael Caine’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge feels the most timeless and Christmassy among the century’s worth of grumpy Ebenezer Scrooges. The latter have populated the movie annals, looming over and shouting at Jim Henson’s innocent, felt cast. Paul Williams’ original music from The Muppet Movie is a unifying thread. At the same time, Gonzo’s (as Charles Dickens) narration adds meta-cleverness, resulting in a fresh, delightful take on the Victorian classic. The festive Christmas Spirit of Today should be a treetop decoration. Dressed in historical attire, Kermit gets the closest to bringing E. H. Shepard’s Wind in the Willows pictures to life. Henson’s son Brian directed the film shortly after his father’s death and dedicated it to him as a warm, funny, and loving tribute to his memory.


Kermit the Frog portrays the downtrodden clerk Bob Cratchit in the Muppets’ rendition of the famous Charles Dickens holiday novella A Christmas Carol (Michael Caine). Three ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future visit Scrooge, while other Muppets, including Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, and Sam the Eagle pop in and out of the narrative. They try to help him realize the wrong of his ways by pointing out his selfish actions, but it appears too late for the wretched older man to change his life for the better.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Disney+; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube
  • Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson
  • Writer: Jerry Juhl
  • Directed By: Brian Henson

7. Gremlins (1984)

Like with Die Hard, Joe Dante’s Gremlins always seems to spark a fight during the holiday season. Both are perennially included on “best Christmas movie” lists. However, the latter’s dark comedy in a masterfully made ’80s horror picture by Dante at the height of his powers is typically overlooked in these discussions. Dante, drawing on his experience as a protege of Roger Corman in the 1970s, employs the services of character performers like Dick Miller to deliver a scathing, stinging condemnation of mushy romanticism and kiddie fare. The film’s unexpected juxtaposition of humor and graphic violence caused enough uproar to place it in the pioneering class of genre films that ultimately resulted in the PG-13 rating. Still, it’s more significant influence was in influencing the look of virtually all horror comedies that followed.


A gadget salesman visits a shop in Chinatown in search of a unique present for his son. The shopkeeper hesitates to sell him the “mogwai” but does so with the caveat that he must never expose it to direct sunlight or give it any liquids or food after midnight. After all that takes place on Christmas Eve, a group of gremlins decides to wreak havoc.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon or HBO Max; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube.
  • Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Frances Lee McCain
  • Writer: Chris Columbus
  • Directed By: Joe Dante

8. A Christmas Carol (1951)

Scrooge is a fitting name for this cold take on A Christmas Carol, which was released in the UK. Since the jaded Alastair Sim exemplifies Ebenezer to a T, he conforms perfectly to Charles Dickens’s original description of the character: “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.” Although many are familiar with the story’s beats, few take the hopeful story as seriously as Shakespeare’s tragedies, like Sim, a Shakespearean actor. He crouches next to the Ghost of Christmas Present and melts from calcified wretch into childlike giddiness when the sun rises on Christmas morning.


Crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim), a Victorian merchant, has no use for joy, not even on Christmas. Scrooge is dragged into a nightmare after he selfishly gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns), the holiday off so he may spend it with his doting wife, Hermione Baddeley, and their children. Jacob Marley’s (Michael Hordern) ghost arrives and forewarns Ebenezer that he will be visited by three more ghosts who will teach the heartless man the folly of his miserly ways.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon; rent on iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube
  • Starring: Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley
  • Writer: Noel Langley
  • Directed By: Brian Desmond Hurst

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

If you look at The Nightmare Before Christmas based on its visual beauty, you will agree that it is one of the greatest films of all time. Pumpkin King Jack Skellington becomes fixated on Christmas and plots to take it over Halloweentown. The picture, sometimes billed as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, reflects many of Burton’s favorite themes, and Jack is reminiscent of many of Burton’s brooding, creative characters. Director Henry Selick is responsible for the film’s clever layout and charming creatures. Every year the picture looks better and better, but it still lacks the narrative fire and beautiful song lyrics of Disney’s finest animated musicals.


The film chronicles the antics of Jack Skellington, the king of Halloweentown’s pumpkins, who gets tired of his annual ritual of scaring people in the “real world.” Jack gets a new lease on life after stumbling onto Christmastown with its brilliant colors and warm emotions. He immediately hatches a plan to capture Santa Claus and assume the role himself. But Jack quickly learns that even mice and skeleton men’s best-laid plots can go wrong.

  • Where to watch it: Stream on Disney+; rent on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube
  • Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey
  • Writer: Michael McDowell, Caroline Thompson
  • Directed By: Henry Selick

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

John Hughes’ script covers every tedious aspect of the holidays, from choosing a tree that’s much too big to hosting inconsiderate and odd relatives to putting up extravagant decorations to dealing with cranky, older adults who fight and give you crappy gifts to having your turkey burn in the oven. The following year, Hughes made another comedy aimed squarely at the cheap seats called Home Alone, which also revisited the suburban Christmas setting and managed to delve deeply into some of the uncomfortably familiar elements about my Christmases growing up. The movie Christmas Vacation serves as a timely reminder that the modern celebration of Christmas in the United States is essentially the product of white Baby Boomer ingenuity and imagination. It thus is a product of white cultural dominance in the same way that the interstate highway system is a product of technological advancement. Producing and consuming goods need justification for any nation. Songs like “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Sleigh Ride” from the 1940s and 1950s contain an unnerving preoccupation with material possessions and their joy. Clark’s boasting and generosity aren’t entirely devoid of sincerity; they represent a sincere yearning for the enchanted Christmas of Clark’s youth. However, the passage of 30 years has made it all the more amusing to poke fun at Clark’s misfortune, as it has become clear that men like him are just as hopelessly stuck in their ways as they were back then.


Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is obsessed with the ideal Christmas with his family, so he nags his wife, Ellen, and kids. Things deteriorate rapidly. His uncultured cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family move into Griswold’s RV. Clark’s company refuses to give him the holiday bonus he was counting on.


  • Where to watch it:  Stream on Amazon or HBO Max; rent on iTunes, VUDU, or YouTube.
  • Starring: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, Diane Ladd
  • Writer: John Hughes
  • Directed By: Jeremiah S. Chechik

Final Verdict

Christmas movies are a perfect time to get away from all the chaos and relax. Christmas movies are not just holiday-themed escapist entertainment, but they teach us important life lessons. So whether you’re looking to watch a great movie or get some holiday wisdom, these top 10 Christmas movies are the best for you.