20 of the best Christmas movies ever

Schmaltzy and smug they may be, but these festive flicks will exorcise your inner Scrooge quicker than you can say humbug

Already gagging for a slice of Christmas that doesn't involve shopping, do-gooding or even standing up? Well fasten your sleigh belts, crack open the mince pies and get your couch ready for Stuff's top 20 Christmas movies...

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The skully but undeniably friendly Jack Skellington has been forcing families together in front of the telly in a half petrified, half bemused embrace for nearly two decades now – is this not the true meaning of Christmas? And seeing as Tim Burton seems only able to produce films with Helena Bonham-Carter in these days, this is one to watch, if only for old times sake.

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Continues...

Elf (2003)

One of those finding-your-true-self-at-Christmastime absurdities – but with a violently green, Will Ferrell-shaped twist. And in spite of Ferrell's propensity to irritate, the PG-rated humour and the sickeningly festive subject matter, you'll find yourself guiltily giggling, if not snorting into your Irish Cream.

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Bad Santa (2003)

What better way to save money on gifts than disguising yourself as Santa and burgling department stores on Christmas Eve? Naturally, an eight-year-old intervenes, teaches Billy Bob Thornton the true meaning of Christmas and everything's sorted, stolen goods, blackened souls and all. In the film, anyway.

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How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Ordinarily, the rule is that if a film's colour scheme alone makes you sympathise with the baddie – the Grinch, Scrooge, Danny Dyer and the like – it should be avoided like the great chestnut plague of 1972. Yet however kitsch and clichéd the Grinch movie is, and no matter how tiresome you find Jim Carrey's deliberate overacting, this screen adaptation of the Seuss classic romps along with enough momentum to make you raise a glass of egg nog.

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The Snowman (1982)

Never has nostalgia been so perfectly packaged into the shape of a stocking filler. It's got everything you could ever want from an animated silent movie: festive characters coming to life, flying, and Peter Auty singing "Walking in the Air" while the Snowman melts and you realise Christmas is over and your childhood's lost forever. Damn.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Let's be honest, the majority of Dickens' miserly novels could be vastly improved by a few puppets to lighten the mood. Imagine The Muppet Bleak House or The Old Curiosity Muppet Shop. If Michael Caine as Ebenezer doesn't get you chuckling, you're probably overdue a visit to Dr Bunsen Honeydew to have your funny bone examined.

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Die Hard (1988)

It's not all carols, brandy and good cheer, you know? Willis single-handedly takes down 13 terrorists with nothing but a vest, an already-receding hairline and a Beretta in this definitive action classic. It was the first time we heard John McClane's baddie-killing mantra (yippee-ki-yay, etc) just before he lit up without waiting for the non-smoking sign to be extinguished.

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The Santa Clause (1994)

Do you wish it could be Christmas every day? How about actually being Santa? Tim Allen took time out from home improvement to accidentally knock the beardy benefactor off the roof on Christmas Eve. Not wanting to ruin the rest of the world's Christmas, he takes up the sleigh reins and sets about doing the work of – no, becoming, Santa. Festive silliness that wouldn't do at any other time of year.

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Gremlins (1984)

The film that brought a whole new meaning to the words "a pet is for life, not just for Christmas." All Billy had to do was stick to three simple rules: don't feed the inevitably demon-producing Mogwai monster (Gizmo, to his friends) after midnight; don't let its soon-to-be scaley skin come into contact with water; and don't expose said skin to sunlight. No surprises how the plot develops next in this ace Christmas/horror mashup.

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Scrooge (1951)

Can we, in all good faith, say that this is more enjoyable than the Muppet version of A Christmas Carol? No. But it's Jeremy Kyle Dickens-style – so miserable to watch you can't help feeling better about yourself. Scrooge, of course, gets a happy ending. If only the same could be said for Jezza's victims.

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The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

In case you'd forgotten, Christmas is supposed to be Jesus's birthday. Sparing you taking up The Bible for your bedtime read, director George Stevens manages to squeeze the J-man's biog into a wee four-and-a-half-hour Blockbuster. Not fun enough for you? Play spot the celeb, with stars such as Max Von Sydow as Jesus and Dorothy McGuire as Mary. That'll earn them some paradise points.

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We're No Angels (1955)

Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Ray play the three cheeky convict scamps who escape from Devil's Island just before Christmas. Think Escape from Alacatraz with tinsel and a stolen turkey.  

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Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Christmas wouldn't be complete without the traditional sibling argument, the customary crestfallen gift-face or the comparatively painless Steve Martin movie. Martin hitches a ride home for Thanksgiving with a nauseating slob of a shower ring salesman (John Candy). After a couple of hours of slapstick and bad jokes, you might realise you could have had it worse with your own family.

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Trading Places (1983)

Eddie Murphy plays the poor street hustler whose lifestyle is swapped with a pompous investor as part of a bet by two meddling millionaires. Watch before Coming to America while drinking eggnog and wearing leg warmers for the ultimate 80s winter experience.

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Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Martians have attacked the North Pole and kidnapped Santa! Christmas is doomed! Though if you think about it, it's sort of fair enough: the aliens are angry because the little martian children get no presents. Why should the ungrateful Earthling minors get gifts bestowed on them year after year? Then again, does Santa visit kids who try to kill him, or abduct people? There's a lot to be learned about the spirit of Christmas in this simple film.

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Scrooged (1988)

"The Night the Reindeer Died" – just one of the cynical, OTT productions by Bill Murray's Scrooge-alike TV exec in this comedy reworking of the Dickens classic. Murray is on mean form – as in nasty: even his inevitable redemption manages to be a bit seedy. Much more fun than traditional Christmas schmaltz.

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White Christmas (1954)

Make a cocoa, get the fire on and snuggle up like you're waiting for Meals on Wheels – it's time for the Christmas schmaltz. White Christmas sits alongside It's a Wonderful Life at the top of the festive movie tree. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play a pair of WWII veterans turned showbiz entertainers who want to give their former colonel a Christmas to remember. The song "White Christmas" had actually already been used in the 1942 Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire film, Holiday Inn.

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Home Alone (1990)

Remember when McCaulay Culkin could still get a part in a film? This was it. Well, this and Home Alone 2. And Uncle Buck. Have we forgotten anything? Oh yes – the producers of Home Alones 3 and 4 didn’t even bother to cast him in their limping straight-to-VHS efforts.

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It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

This two-hour paean to schmaltz features some of the worst special effects you’ll ever see. But it has two excuses: it was made in the ‘40s and it doesn’t need them. If its message doesn’t warm your frosty heart, nothing will.

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

The third of the National Lampoon films was this – the tried-and-tested “on ice” formula. Chevy Chase once again led the Griswold family in a bungling family adventure, themed as the title suggested. “Yule crack up!” promised the posters. And yes, third time around we still managed to raise a smile.

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