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Christmas Movies: Celebrating Family, Comedy, and Romance

Christmas is everyone’s favorite time of the year. People enjoy comfort food, quality time with the family and snuggling in front of the TV. Christmas movies have been known to bring happiness and joy to viewers ever since the 1930s. They vary in plots and characters, but mostly they are family-friendly, colorful movies that are meant to lift up your spirits. Christmas movies aim to capture the spirit of the holiday season, bursting with glee and taking us down memory lane. 

For every era there were prominent Christmas movies. In the 1980s, for example, Christmas movies took a rebellious turn, with action films and campy horror franchises setting their mark as holiday favorites.

The most memorable 80s Christmas movies

1) Gremlins (1984)

“Gremlins” is a horror comedy, box-office hit with a hint of quirky monster darkness. It is considered one of the best holiday movies ever. The Christmas-time setting and the inventive plotline impressed the great Steven Spielberg himself. Spielberg became the movie’s executive producer while Joe Dante directed it. “Gremlins” celebrates Christmas by destroying all things Christmas-y. It also went bold on raising the bar (and the MPAA rating) for family movies.

2) Die Hard (1988)

This time Bruce Willis, 80s and 90s heartthrob slash badass, is the Christmas hero. Set against Christmas Eve, Detective John McClane celebrates Christmas by saving his estranged wife from a bank heist guised as a terrorist attack. The film is not only considered one of the best action films ever made, but it is also adorned with Christmas tunes ranging from hip hop carols “Christmas in Hollis” to holiday classics “Winter Wonderland”.

3) Scrooged (1988)

Like many timeless tales, Charles Dickens’s novella “A Christmas Carol” has been made and remade into countless animated movies, comedies and even musicals on stage. The magic behind “A Christmas Carol” is that it combines the joy, bliss and festivity of the holiday alongside underlying darkness, sadness and despair. In this 80s adaptation, Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, the character based on the infamous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, and goes up against the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.

4) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

This is a traditional Christmas comedy that has been considered one of the best Christmas family movies in the 80s. Critics and audiences alike call it a “modern Christmas classic” because it perfectly captures the holiday spirit with all its beauty, colorfulness and also craziness, sickness and nervous breakdowns. For the sake of a merry, old-fashioned Christmas, Chevy Chase’s character goes through holiday stress (and the occasional meltdowns) like any regular family man. No matter how dire the consequences, it’s so endearing watching Chase’s Griswold saying “I did it” to the stars at the end. Talk about the holiday spirit.

5) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

What is holiday season without a good ol’ slasher movie? “Silent Night, Deadly Night” is cheesy, gory and great as a movie you would love to hate. This movie caused controversy when it was released in cinemas during the “holidays” season but has gained a cult following, probably due to the fact that it was withdrawn from theaters. The great thing about this movie (and also THE major spoiler alert) is the fact that the serial killer is none other than Santa Claus! 

Top Christmas romantic comedies

Christmas is a time where good food, good wine and fireplaces make it so easy to fall in love. Top Christmas movies lists always include a romantic comedy. Kisses mix with laughs. Tears go along with jingle bells, in the end each viewer has a moment to remember when meeting with a loved one later on. 

1) Love, Actually (2003)

Whether it was Hugh Grant’s goofy dance sequence, Liam Neeson’s emotional speech to his son, or Keira Knightley’s divine looks, “Love, Actually” holds its place as a modern Christmas classic and one of the best Christmas movies ever made. Nine intertwining stories + an ensemble British and American cast + an original soundtrack that ran up to the top of the US Billboard 200 = a timeless romance that lives forever in the hearts and souls of cinephiles.

2) The Holiday (2006)

Kate Winslet is not a romantic comedy actress. So in “The Holiday”, viewers and critics were treated to a delightful surprise when they saw how funny, charming and spontaneous she was as the lonely Iris, mourning a one-sided love story and having to spend the holiday season alone. Set in a beautiful Christmas-y England, “The Holiday” captures the romantic spirit of the holidays with a swoon-worthy soundtrack from Hans Zimmer and an A-list cast including Jude Law, Cameron Diaz and Jack Black.

3) Untamed Heart (1993)

It’s a simple story. Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl from afar. Girl gets in trouble. Boy saves girl. Girl loves boy and sees a whole different universe through his eyes. In this working-class fairytale of love, death and sensuality, Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater share great chemistry, touching moments and tons of on-screen kisses. Although Christmas is not the main event in this movie, the scene where Slater surprises Tomei with a real Christmas tree will put a smile on your face as you go through memories of past holidays and young love.

4) Just Friends (2005)

This rom-com from Ryan Reynolds is a testament to the power of friendship, love and change. It is filled with surprisingly well-written characters and a smart dialogue, not to mention, a hilariously, over-the-top, pop singer played unabashedly by Anna Faris. “Just Friends” is sweet and corny, not to mention easy on the eye, especially with Reynolds looking perfect in fancy suits.

5) Nora Ephron classics (When Harry Met Sally/You’ve Got Mail/Sleepless In Seattle)

Nora Ephron is the queen of romances and New York. If there’s anybody who can nail New York in Christmas, then it’s her. Ephron captures the holiday spirit and the intricate details of what makes a romantic comedy successful – not to mention how deeply she can see inside a woman. Throughout most of her great works, Ephron has created the perfect holiday spirit and showed us the New York we all love; whether it was Meg Ryan decorating the Christmas tree or Meryl Streep singing along with Jack Nicholson.  

The top classic Christmas movies of all time

Christmas movies are not the same without a good ol’ classic that tugs at your heartstrings.

1) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s been 60+ years and “It’s a Wonderful Life” is still one of the most popular classic Christmas movies of all time. Its uplifting message and the fantasy element make this classic an unforgettable tale. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a staple of Christmas television in many households all over the world. The film, starring Jimmy Stewart, combines the spiritual themes with an array of interesting characters and a feel-good mood.

2) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

This is yet another uplifting story that spreads the Christmas spirit. It even got a Best Picture Award Oscar nomination. The movie plays on the prospect of belief and how it can affect the lives of people who hang on to it positively, even if the belief is in something mythical such as Santa Claus. In that case, Father Christmas is none other than a department store employee and the little girl who believes in him is the store owner’s daughter.

3) White Christmas (1954)

This movie is loosely based on another Christmas favorite, Holiday Inn (1942). However, this light-natured musical starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby features an array of oldies including the titular song “White Christmas”. This classic stole hearts and taught kids tons of dance moves so cool they could use them to start their own musical by the end of the movie.

4) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

It’s enough that this movie features the debut of the timeless classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Judy Garland. It’s a nostalgic, poignant, romanticized musical and one of the greatest ever made. With an ensemble cast and a gleeful atmosphere, “Meet me in St. Louis” swept viewers worldwide off their feet. Adding the dreamy, occasionally surreal setting and the dazzling soundtrack and you have a must-own movie in every holiday-enthusiast DVD collection.

5) Holiday Affair (1949)

The star power in this film is what made it a Christmas favorite. Featuring Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum, “Holiday Affair” is your typical love triangle set in a Christmas-y, post-war New York. The chemistry between Mitchum and Leigh is what makes this holiday classic thrive and survive, especially when the time comes for the grand finale and the steamy kiss. Swoon!

Kid- and Family-Friendly Christmas Movies

1) Home Alone (1990)

There’s a reason this movie is the highest-grossing comedy of all time. “Home Alone” has the perfect recipe for a successful holiday movie. An interesting, cute storyline and a talented child actor as well as well-crafted comedic scenes make this modern Christmas classic a family favorite. Every kid in the 90s wanted to be like Kevin, Macaulay Culkin’s character, with his booby-trap skills and the freedom he experienced on having his parent’s house all for himself. Many cinephiles claim that if any movie deserves to be titled top family movie of all time, it would be “Home Alone”.

2) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Sensational, inspirational, and heartwarming, The Muppets take on the timeless tale by Charles Dickens is considered one of the best family Christmas movies ever. With Kermit the frog playing Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine portraying a mean and stone-hearted Scrooge, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is a festive TV staple that will live forever in the hearts of viewers worldwide.

3) The Santa Clause (1994)

This family-fantasy Christmas movie combines comedy and magic within the mythical Santa Claus tale. It’s not a traditional Christmas movie. The plot has biting-witty moments and clever twists that are as hilarious as they are entertaining. Many of the elements that make this movie great include Bernard, the sassiest elf ever to be portrayed on screen, The E.L.F.S. (Effective Liberating Flight Squad), Father Christmas overcoming his lactose intolerance and the touching last father-son sleigh ride. “The Santa Clause” is true Christmas blessing with a touch of naughtiness.

4) Jingle All the Way (1996)

The Turbo-Man movie! Nobody can forget this Christmas family comedy starring 90s superhero Arnold Schwarzenegger and stand-up comedian, Sinbad. They both play two competitive fathers fighting the holiday shopping-crazed crowd. Both rival dads fight over trying to buy their sons the last remaining Turbo-Man action figure and searching for it all over the country. In the end Schwarzenegger doesn’t disappoint his die-hard fans and wears the Turbo-Man custom himself, proving he really is a super dad.

5) A Christmas Story (1983)

A modern-day classic. It is considered by many critics as one of the top holidays movies of all time. This coming-of-age story is about a 9-year-old boy, Ralphie, who wished to get a BB gun for Christmas. Despite this being the main plot, the movie has other significant subplots that create an overall intriguing and entertaining festive mood for the viewer. Ralphie’s vivid imagination and the resulting sequences, as well as the interesting characters and the clever script, make this movie one of the best movies in 1983 and also among the most-watched family dramas.

Finally, we save the best for the last. Animated movies tip the iceberg on holiday viewing schedules. Adults and kids alike gather around DVRs to watch a favorite Disney classic or a modern animated tale.

The All-Time Favourite: Animated Christmas Movies

1) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

A claymation (clay animation) from the eccentric director Tim Burton combining two diverse holidays: Christmas and Halloween. If anybody can ace such a concept, it’s Burton. Tim Burton previously brought us great works such as “Edward Scissorhands”, “Beetlejuice” and “Frankenweenie”. He reprises his role here as producer, not as director, but still the story of the king of Halloween town, Jack Skellington, who discovers Christmas for the first time. A mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a brilliant twist on all things Christmas-y with one of the best original scores and a group of compelling characters ranging from sweet to macabre.

2) The Polar Express (2004)

This magical movie takes children on a train journey from suburbia to the North Pole where Santa Claus’ home is located. Based on a beloved, illustrated children’s book, “The Polar Express” showcases brilliant cinematography as well as technical excitements that were way ahead of its release date. It’s hauntingly beautiful and mesmerizing with a deep, emotional message at the end that stays true to the great book.

3) Frosty the Snowman (1969)

This one is an inspiring, strange tale based on the popular song of the same title. This animated flick is about a snowman named “Frosty” that comes to life. With a gleeful storyline and characters that look as if they jumped out of a traditional Christmas card, “Frosty the Snowman” has been on holiday viewing lists for over 40 years. Kids and adults alike enjoy following Frosty’s journey with his friends to the North Pole, the only place where he can’t melt.

4) Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

This classic Christmas special is based on the eponymous book by Dr. Seuss, the famous writer and cartoonist. It features the grump, anti-holiday character, The Grinch, who wanted to take away Christmas from the townsfolk who live in the village underneath his mountain hideaway. It is hailed by many critics as one of the best holiday movies of all time.

5) Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

No list is complete without “A Christmas Carol” adaptation. In this Disney classic, Scrooge McDuck plays Ebenezer Scrooge the cold-hearted, multimillionaire miser. Despite being Disneyfied, the flick retains many of the story’s darker elements and when Disney goes creepy, it surely excels in this. Notable Dickensian characters are played by Disney favorites including Goofy, Donald Duck and Jiminy Cricket.

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