As many adverts have told us, Christmas will be a bit different this year. There will be people we won’t be able to see, and celebrations we won’t be able to have. However, one thing that 2020 can’t take from us is our favourite Christmas films.
Whether you like them as sentimental, dramatic, funny, or action packed, we all have a selection of films that have become as much a part of the tradition as mince pies and Shakin’ Stevens. Here are our ten favourite Christmas films and where to find them should you need a little bit of vicarious Christmas cheer.
Home Alone (1990)
There are numerous oh-so-clever takes on the plot holes of John Hughes and Chris Columbus’ holiday classic, that grew in stature as the kids who watched it in the 90s become parents themselves. Personally, we’d rather sit back and enjoy the chaos as the charismatic Macaulay Culkin fills his house with booby traps to take down two robbers played brilliantly by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (Pesci considered it one of his most difficult roles as he couldn’t swear). It’s funny, it’s feelgood, and will appeal as much to youngsters now as it did thirty years ago.
Available on Disney+, and to rent or buy via most On Demand providers.
Die Hard (1988)
Even more tedious than the auditing of Home Alone is the annual debate over whether John McTiernan’s action masterpiece is ‘A Christmas Film’. For us, it most certainly is, having as much connection to Christmas as It’s A Wonderful Life, but with a lot more bullets. Pitting cocky New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) against the archetypal 80s villain Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), it’s a simple plot but filled with fun twists and excellent dialogue. Despite many sequels and copycats over the years, no-one has quite been able to capture the same kind of magic.
Available on Now TV and Sky Cinema throughout the Christmas period.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1993)
The first of two Dickens adaptations on this list, we would make the bold claim that this is the best of the many, many versions of A Christmas Carol committed to screen. It works because of one reason – Michael Caine as Scrooge. He treats the film like a prestige Oscar movie, acting across from Kermit, Gonzo and the gang as he would with human actors.
This earnest approach allows the Muppets to be at their sentimental best in the first film following Jim Henson’s death. We defy you to find something more wholesome than Kermit The Frog singing One More Sleep ‘til Christmas to a starry London sky.
Available on Disney+ and On Demand.
A lesser known and more traditional take on the story, this musical version came from the makers of Oliver!, with Albert Finney winning a Golden Globe for the title role. It’s aged a little bit, particularly one surreal scene set in Hell, but is filled with Christmas cheer and a delightfully camp Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley.
Showing on Christmas Eve at 9.30am on BBC Two, or available on Amazon Prime Video.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Some Christmas films give you a picture of the perfect holiday experience, others give you a vision of disaster. Chevy Chase was never better as Clark Griswold, a suburban father who just wants a few days of calm festivities but has bedlam inflicted upon him thanks to unexpected visitors and faulty wiring. It’s a comedy that pokes fun at the pressure to have the perfect Christmas, and how often the best memories are made from the things that don’t go to plan.
Showing on Boxing Day at 9pm on ITV4, or available on Amazon Prime Video
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s always fascinating how a box office flop about a man on the verge of suicide has become a symbol of Christmas. Deemed too gloomy for post-war audiences on its release, TV repeats made it a yuletide favourite and it holds up seven decades later. Feature James Stewart as the ultimate everyman, it’s a story that reminds us of the hope connected with this time of year, where even the most lost souls can be reminded what they mean to those around them.
Showing on Christmas Eve at 2.35pm on Channel 4, or available on Now TV.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Three stars of Old Hollywood share in a black and white classic, with Cary Grant playing an angel named Dudley, sent to offer guidance to a frustrated clergyman (David Niven) and his frustrated wife Julia (Loretta Young). Things become a bit more complicated when Dudley falls for Julia, but the gentle humour of the story always assures you that everything will work out for the best. Grant protested playing Dudley, originally cast as the bishop with Niven in the angel role, but it is a performance that highlights everything that was great about him.
Available on iPlayer until 16th January.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
The 40s were a good time for Christmas movies, and chances are you’ve come across the third film on this list in some form. Remake with Richard Attenborough in the 90s, the original has an irresistible innocence to it. Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar and Golden Globe as Kris Kringle, a department store Santa Claus who insists he is the real deal, resulting in a court case to prove it. It’s a film about belief, not just in Santa but in what Christmas stands for. Unashamedly idealistic, its positivity will rub off on you.
Available on Now TV or On Demand.
Like Die Hard, this is a movie that happens at Christmas rather than being about Christmas. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara fill the air with unspoken desire as two women who fall in love during the holiday season in the 1950s. It’s become an annual favourite for lovers of Queer Cinema as Todd Haynes’ gorgeous drama brings Patricia Highsmith’s novel to life.
Showing on 23rd December at 1.25am on Film4, or available on Amazon Prime Video
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
There is a sub-genre of Christmas films that are enjoyable precisely because they’re a little bit rubbish. The producers of the Christopher Reeve Superman films turned to another man who could fly, in a big budget Santa Claus origin story which sees a woodcarver (future Big Lebowski David Huddleston) become the symbol of Christmas for millions. It’s daft and corny, featuring a sub-plot where a disgruntled elf (Dudley Moore) defects to a ruthless businessman (an OTT John Lithgow). However, it’s just silly enough to warm your cynical heart.
Showing on Christmas Eve at 11am on ITV, or available On Demand.