There’s nothing better than cozying up on a December weekend with the best classic holiday movies. Don’t get me wrong, I was counting down the days until Lindsay Lohan’s return to the big (Netflix) screen in Falling For Christmas and The Noel Diary was a tear-jerker in all the best ways. But amidst the comfort and connection throughout the Christmas season, there’s one feeling I pursue most of all: nostalgia. And of course, nothing makes me wistful for the good ol’ days quite like a classic Christmas film.
At least in my experience, tradition breeds a sense of longing. After going home and spending quality time with my family (baking our favorite treats, swapping meaningful gifts, and treasuring each other’s presence), I transition to the new year with a sense of gratitude for all the good that exists in my life. And that feeling is no more true than when I’m snuggled between my sisters and parents, quoting the best classic holiday movies, word for word.
Featured image by Michelle Nash.
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The Best Holiday Movies to Stream This Season
Whether it’s A Christmas Story (my dad’s forever favorite), The Holiday (which my mom, sisters, and I watch 10+ times throughout the year), or the forever lovable Elf, classic holiday movies are our Christmas comfort zone. Once the cookies are baked, the presents are wrapped, and everything is prepped for Christmas dinner, there’s nothing left to do but kick up our feet and indulge in few hours of cinematic bliss.
I have to imagine this is true for many of you as well. So, if that’s the case, keep scrolling—consider this your comprehensive guide to the best classic holiday movies, period.
Christmas Movies on Disney Plus
That’s right, before she stole the show in Schitt’s Creek, Catherine O’Hara played the mom to Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister. Even with Kevin’s troublemaking tendencies and his slapstick jokes, I’ll still be forever entranced by O’Hara’s impeccable early 90s style. And of course, John Hughes certainly knows a thing or two about making an 80s/90s masterpiece. Amidst Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, Home Alone is one of his best.
This crowd-pleasing classic has all the makes of a perfect holiday movie. New York City at Christmastime, the wonder that once was Macy’s department store, and a charming black and white production. When a mother hires an older man to play Santa Claus, she discovers that he doesn’t only strike a close resemblance to the big man with the white beard—he claims to be Kris Kringle himself. This movie is an example of the beauty in maintaining a sense of childlike wonder, particularly around the holidays.
I don’t care what you say—Tim Allen is a solid pick for St. Nick. A successful toy salesman, Scott Calvin (Allen) wants to keep the magic of Santa alive for his son, despite pushback from his ex-wife. Through a strange and comedic turn of events (we all remember the “The reindeer will know what to do” note), Scott takes on Santa’s role. But the responsibilities become more than he expected. It’s a hilarious and touching story of the lengths parents will go to for their children.
Didn’t expect to see Beauty and the Beast on this list, did you? When Belle discovers that the Beast has a deeply-entrenched hatred for Christmas (no surprise there), she does everything she can to show him the magic of the season. Expect plenty of uplifting songs and countless cute moments from Mrs. Potts (voiced by the late Angela Lansbury—an absolute delight).
Christmas Movies on Hulu
Okay, I need your thoughts: Does this actually count as a Christmas movie? There’s no shortage of internet-cited evidence to support the claim. First off, it’s about a New York City police officer returning to his family for Christmas (in addition to needing to save them after being taken hostage by terrorists during a Christmas party… ). His wife’s name his Holly and it does take place on Christmas Eve. Well, I guess it’s up to you to decide.
In terms of plot, the classic Christmas ballet is no different from the story you know and love. But with a 13-year-old Macaulay Culkin playing Drosselmeyer’s nephew, there’s a fun pop culture crossover that makes it worth a rewatch.
Countless TV specials have been inspired by this plot: a man desperately searches high and low for an in-demand Turbo Man action figure for his son (remember when Dwight bought out the market for Princess Unicorn and sold them for a huge profit margin in The Office?). The humor is very 90s, but that might be one of the best things about this film.
It’s a Christmas crisis: An immoral toy maker is trying to destroy Santa Claus and take over Christmas by manipulating one of his right-hand elves. This movie’s become a bit of a cult favorite, so join the club and press play.
Christmas Movies on Amazon Prime
I could write a book on why Love Actually is one of the best classic holiday movies. First off: all-star cast. Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson—the list goes on. If you’ve ever fallen in love around the holidays—or experienced that special sort of Christmas magic that makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy—this is the movie to watch. The cynics like to come out of the woodwork this time of year, but believe the hype: this is the best of the best.
Another star-studded Christmas film. Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black all play in this Nancy Meyers gem. When two women switch homes for Christmas (one from LA, the other just outside of London), they get a chance to step outside of their lives and find the love that’s been waiting for them all along. It’s romantic, heart-warming, and cheesy in all the best ways. If you’re not familiar with the Meyers aesthetic, this movie will be the one to make you hop on board.
I have mixed feelings about this movie, but most result from the fact that it was made more than 80 years ago. When we consider the good, it’s a story about a man who gets a second chance at life—seeing the lives he’s changed and the positive impact he’s made on the world.
I have a grouping of three or so movies that I’d consider my holiday favorites, but The Snowman sits squarely at the top. When a boy builds a snowman the day before Christmas, it magically comes to life, bringing him on an all-night adventure across the world. It’s a silent film, but it features gorgeous music that you’ll have stuck in your head all holiday break. And no, that isn’t a bad thing.
Holiday Movies on Netflix
The classic Christmas movie to end all classic Christmas movies. I have a soft space in my heart reserved specifically for White Christmas because 1) Bing Crosby and 2) it takes place in Vermont. Two war buddies follow their love interests (a performing sister duo) to a New England resort run by their former commanding officer. When they learn he might lose the place, they step in to try and save the failing inn.
Christmas Movies on HBO Max
How much really needs to be said about this movie that hasn’t been said before? It’s Will Ferrell at his finest, funniest, and most endearing and—hot take–Zooey Deschanel at her most charming. If this movie doesn’t make you a Christmas fanatic, then I’m not sure what will.
Perhaps every dad’s favorite Christmas movie. A dysfunctional family (helmed by an endearing father and a perpetually annoyed teenage daughter), ostentatious holiday lights, and the fight to make this year’s Christmas the best one yet. It’s funny, ridiculous, and captures the late 80s perfectly.
I was today years old when I learned that Taylor Momsen (little Jenny Humphrey from the first Gossip Girl series), played Cindy Lou Who. This discovery alone is making me want to rewatch Jim Carrey in green asap. Speaking of, he’s absolute perfection in this film. While I love the animated version as well, nothing beats Carrey’s theatrics strung all throughout this movie.
The precursor to the Hallmark Christmas movie franchise. Barbara Stanwyck is a delight as a food writer who’s lied about being the perfect housewife (personally, I don’t blame her deception). But she’s forced to live out the lie and convince her boss and a returning war hero that she’s the real deal when they invite themselves to her home for Christmas.
Let’s close out this list of the best classic holiday movies on a high note—possibly the highest. Set in the 1940s, Ralphie is set on receiving a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, a toy that his parents have deemed too dangerous (“You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”). Similar to Elf, this movie is packed with some of the most quotable lines of any Christmas movie—and if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments! While you’re at it, let me know if you’ve ever met someone who doesn’t love this movie, because I’m at a loss.