’Tis the season to be jolly – and also the season to bury yourself in sofa cushions, stoke up the fire and cram mince pies into your mouth while watching seasonally-appropriate films.
Yes, watching Christmas movies is one of the many guilt-free pleasures this time of year provides, and those of you with streaming service subscriptions have plenty of festive fare to pump into your eyeballs. Much of it, predictably, is dross, which is why we’ve made our own Santa-style “nice list” of some of our faves to help you organise your viewing binge.
If you’re one of those people who doesn’t think Die Hard is a Christmas film move straight on to the next entry in this list, because like John McClane's first encounter with the Gruber family, Batman Returns and Lethal Weapon, Gremlins qualifies due to its Christmas time setting rather than its festive feel.
That said, Gizmo, the tiny furry creature that mustn’t get wet, be fed after midnight or exposed to bright lights, is given as a Christmas gift at the start of what is essentially a family-friendly horror-comedy remake of It’s A Wonderful Life, and there’s plenty of tinsel-draped chaos throughout. Yippee ki yay, mogwai lovers.
Elf might very well be Will Ferrell’s best film, and it’s certainly one of those rare Christmas movies guaranteed to appeal to young and old alike.
For the four of you that have never seen it, the SNL alumnus plays Buddy, who was adopted by Santa’s elves as a baby and raised as one of their own. But his size, among other things, gives him away, and soon enough he’s leaving the North Pole for New York, in order to find his real parents.
A brilliantly silly slapstick performance from Ferrell, loads of quotable lines and just the right amount of sentimentality make Elf a modern-day Christmas classic.
Or, to give it a more apt name, Snow Dad. Michael Keaton plays a neglectful father called Jack Frost (yes, really) who dies in a car crash in the run-up to Christmas, only to be brought back to life as a snowman a year later after his son plays a magic harmonica. Yes, they might as well have called it Nominative Determinism: The Movie, but you can really see why the studio greenlit this one, can’t you?
While the reincarnated Jack Frost is more than a little bit creepy, if you like dad jokes (or should that be snow-dad jokes?) and '90s CGI, this is the Christmas film for you.
Romantic comedy specialist Nancy Meyers takes on the Christmas season in this glossy, schmaltzy transatlantic yarn that raises a few laughs while not being quite as vom-inducing as Love Actually. And if that sounds like faint praise… well, it is. But hey, sometimes you’ve just got to indulge in a bit of lifestyle escapism.
In The Holiday, two rich white women swap homes for the festive season: Cameron Diaz comes to leafy Surrey, while Kate Winslet trades her cottage for a luxurious LA pad. Both end up meeting men who may or may not be right for them and if you can’t predict how this one ends, every day of your life must be a source of constant delight and amazement.
The Christmas Chronicles
Kurt Russell has often sported luxuriant facial hair in the past, but never has he worn a beard so iconic as the one here. Yep, Russell takes on the role of Santa Claus in this family-friendly feast of festive fun – a Netflix original, no less – in which a pair of siblings discover that Father Christmas is not only real, but he’s got a one heck of a smart mouth.
Produced by Christopher Columbus, director of basically everyone’s favourite Christmas movie Home Alone (sadly not on any of the main streaming services this year), The Christmas Chronicles ticks a long list of festive boxes – reindeer, elves, being nice to your family – that suggest it’s aiming to grab itself a similar spot in the Yuletide movie canon. The jury’s still out on that, but if you’re tired of watching the same five Christmas films again and again, this is probably this year’s best new effort.
To some people, the thought of watching Love Actually is more likely to make them sick than overindulging on Christmas day. But to many, many others it’s a vitally important festive ritual, a Richard Curtis-choreographed dance through an unrecognisably clean London, with its equally well-scrubbed middle class denizens (plus Martine McCutcheon as the token cockney geezette) experiencing the L-word in its many forms.
While there are a truckload of issues with it – not least the bloke who declares his love for his mate’s new wife through the medium of cue cards on her doorstep like some kind of massive weirdo – in a season where most topical films are about a fat man who delivers presents to everybody on the planet, a child protecting his home from two burglars through the application of extreme violence, or an elf going to New York in search of his biological father, there’s no harm in treating Love Actually like the similar fantasy it is.
Some people don’t think this is a Christmas film. They have their arguments (which are wrong), but what’s not up for debate is Die Hard’s spot in the action movie canon, thanks to its winning combo of charismatic everyman hero (Bruce Willis in a career-defining role, and a career-defining vest), unforgettable villain (the sorely missed Alan Rickman in full scenery-chewing beast mode) and assured direction by John McTiernan.
For sub-rock dwellers out there who don’t already know the setup, the plot is as beautifully simple as this: Willis’ New York cop comes to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife for Christmas, rocking up at her work party in a swanky hi-tech hi-rise just as the building is hijacked by Rickman and his gang of terrorists. Cut off from the outside world, outmanned and outgunned, Willis must use his wiles to save the day. Wonderful stuff to watch – any time of the year.
If you have a child between the ages of two and eight, you may already know this one. Or rather, you may already know EVERY SINGLE WORD OF EVERY SINGLE SONG, which character is singing them, what they’re wearing at the time, what happens next and what it means for Disney’s profit margin. You may also be able to pinpoint the exact moment at which your brain turned to mush at the sheer, relentless onslaught of it all.
That said, Frozen is an excellent modern-day Disney film. It’s not horribly sexist, in that the lead characters are strong-willed, independent girls who don’t need saving, the animation looks great, the story is gripping and funny without overdoing it on the cheese – and yes, there’s no denying the power of the songs. So, definitely one to settle down with and watch together as a family - but just be aware that you will have those tunes lodged firmly in your head well into 2019.
A late 1980s-set take on Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, made all the more entertaining by the presence of Bill Murray in the lead role as Frank Cross, an egotistical, cynical US television producer who thinks it an acceptable idea to staple antlers to a mouse.
Cross must find his redemption through interactions with the crude, cigar-smoking Ghost of Christmas Past, the hyperactive, ball-busting ghost of Christmas Present and the ominously creepy Ghost of Christmas Future. Murray reportedly felt that Scrooged could have been a minor Christmas comedy classic had director Richard Donner exercised a little more restraint, but as it stands it's an enjoyably broad romp with Murray in fine form.
He's not rotund, he's not kind, and he definitely isn't jolly. But Billy Bob Thornton's whiskey-fuelled, chain-smoking, potty-mouthed, womanising Santa Claus is beautiful in his own dysfunctional dark comedic way.
A strange friend in the form of a socially inept boy called Thurman Merman makes the off-the-rails Santa see the error of his ways after years of drug abuse and robberies. Heartwarming and filthy at the same time – and a leading candidate for the ultimate alternative Christmas movie.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
When Macaulay Culkin’s parents yet again forget to bring him on their Christmas holiday, the precocious child ends up in the Big Apple, once more forced to defend his home from the attentions of two inept burglars.
Let’s face it: despite going as heavy on the cheese as the pizzas our diminutive hero adores (and not being quite as good as the first movie, sadly unavailable on any of the main streaming services this year), Home Alone 2 is a stone cold Christmas comedy classic, packed with quotable lines, memorable sequences and plenty of heartwarming family stuff, plus a John Williams score that absolutely oozes festive vibes.
Trading Places has all the elements required of a Christmas movie: an appropriate winter setting, an underlying fable about money not being important, and of course love and family (even if it is the atypical kind). Oh, and Santa – a drunk, depressed, salmon-stealing Santa, but a Santa all the same.
The film’s unconventional heroes – a street hustler (Eddie Murphy), an arrogant yuppie (Dan Aykroyd) and a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis) – aren’t exactly your typical pillars of good, but compared to a pair of sinister millionaires, they’re easy to root for.