Movie studios have long known that the holidays are a magical time. Why? Because if you take any movie and throw in a few arbitrary scenes that indicate it takes place during the Christmas season, the film will be remembered as a “holiday movie” for years to come and will likely get constantly televised every December. Cha-ching.
And yeah, most of these movies end up being completely forgettable. Still, every now and then, a holiday movie comes along that’s actually worth remembering. Below, we list ten of the best.
10.) Love, Actually
Need a healthy dose of feel-good romance for a miserable Scrooge this season? Few recent movies have done the trick as well as Love, Actually. Featuring a fairly predictable series of romantic subplots — “The Simpsons” referred to it as Love, Formulaically — and a recognizable cast, it’s not groundbreaking or revolutionary, but it does remind cynical viewers that sometimes there’s nothing wrong with just feeling good, especially during the holidays.
When to watch it: When you’re feeling a little lonely this time of year.
Joe Dante’s magnum opus starts as an homage to It’s a Wonderful Life: our protagonist lives in a small upstate New York town. He works at the bank, has feelings for the girl next door, and is perpetually feuding with the miserable old woman who owns most of the town’s money. The fact that it turns into a dark comedy in which tiny monsters run rampant is just extra icing on the cake.
When to watch it: When it seems like your fellow holiday shoppers are demons from Hell.
8.) Die Hard
Saccharine holiday flicks not your thing? Well, you could justify watching Die Hard in celebration of the season; John McClane does take out those thieves at Nakatomi Tower on Christmas Eve, after all…
When to watch it: When you feel all this “joy to the world” sentiment is threatening your manhood.
7.) Home Alone
Is it a good movie? No, probably not. But if you grew up in the 90s, you grew up watching this one every December, and it’s still worth it just to see Joe Pesci try to suppress his natural tendency towards profanity. In retrospect, it’s actually pretty violent…
When to watch it: When you’re not gonna put up with any holiday crime.
6.) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Remember when Chevy Chase was a legitimate comedy icon? Pop this one in for a reminder. It may not be as good as its predecessor, but it is still a worthy movie for the season.
When to watch it: When typical Christmas woes –work, family– are getting you stressed out.
5.) The Nightmare Before Christmas
True, he only served as producer, but Tim Burton definitely added his own morbid sensibilities to the holiday movie with this classic. The result was a movie that resonated with audiences and clearly stood out among all the cookie-cutter holiday fare we’re used to.
When to watch it: When you want to watch a good Christmas musical that isn’t The Nutcracker.
4.) The Muppets Christmas Carol
It’s pretty odd that the best cinematic adaptation of this classic Dickens tale happens to come courtesy of the Muppets, but hey, we’re not complaining. They add a healthy dose of humor, and to his credit, Michael Caine plays the role of Ebeneezer Scrooge straight, so that we genuinely get to appreciate the character arc.
When to watch it: When you need Jim Henson to help wipe away some bitterness this holiday season.
Will Ferrell stars as a human raised by elves who travels to New York City to save his father, played by James Caan, from the naughty list. Packed with references to earlier Christmas favorites, Elf is a holiday comedy that actually delivers the laughs thanks to Ferrell’s trademark antics. The fact that Zooey Deschanel’s in the cast doesn’t hurt, either.
When to watch it: When you need some real humor to raise your spirits.
2.) A Christmas Story
Of all on the list, this one is the easiest for many to relate to, and not simply because it is played nonstop every Christmas day. Ralphie is a typical suburban kid with typical suburban Christmas worries (getting a BB gun). His misfortune throughout the season results in several iconic scenes. It’s a movie that justifies annual viewings.
When to watch it: Christmas. Duh.
1.) It’s a Wonderful Life
Was there any doubt that this would take the top-spot? Largely ignored upon its initial release, this tale of George Bailey’s redemption found a home in syndication and has been the supreme holiday classic for decades now. It’s a film about appreciating life and the ones we love. It reminds us that the holidays aren’t about getting expensive gifts. We celebrate to remind ourselves that the most important things are the people we spend our lives with.
When to watch it: When the commercialism of this time of year has made you forget what it’s all about.
What did we miss? Tell us in the comments!