No matter your age, the holiday season offers a touch of magic unlike any other time of year. Spending the season ice skating, baking every cookie imaginable, and cozying up with hot cocoa at the end of each day simply feels good. But anyone celebrating Christmas would be remiss not to partake in a movie marathon on the nights — or days, we don't judge — leading up to the 25th. And while it's fun to check out the new additions to the holiday film lineup each year (Hallmark, we're looking at you), there's no substitute for classic Christmas movies.
Of course, there exists some debate over what constitutes a classic. But don't worry; this list hits all the greats. Whether you plan to binge these nostalgic movies filled with snow-frolicking and unexpected romance or spread them throughout the season, you'll have plenty of material to carry you through after adding these picks to your queue.
1. A Christmas Story
"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" If you don't recognize this iconic reference, please immediately park yourself in front of the nearest TV and familiarize yourself with A Christmas Story. Make yourself a cup of Ovaltine to sip while you're at it, too. The film, which follows Ralphie on his quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun, is practically synonymous with Christmas. Bonus: There’s a sequel.
2. White Christmas
Any film that hinges on the proposition of a Christmas miracle is a must-see this season. White Christmas promises that, along with a wintery Vermont setting and a group of do-gooders who sing their way to saving a beloved town inn. Name something more quaint than that.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Note the exclamation point in the title, i.e., we're talking about the 1966 Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, not the newer iterations (sorry, Jim Carrey). The older version just feels right, with its whimsical animation and poetic narration of the Grinch's ultimate betrayal of Whoville.
4. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
We all know the phrase "you can't pick your family," but if Clark Griswold could, he probably wouldn't have chosen a cousin audacious enough to show up unannounced for Christmas with his family in tow. But on the bright side, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation serves as a reminder that your family is probably not as chaotic as their fictional one, and for that reason alone, it's a must-watch.
How many times you've seen Elf before this year is irrelevant; you must re-watch it every Christmas season — unless you want to be called a cotton-headed ninny muggins! Seriously, this is easily the most quotable Christmas movie there is, and Will Ferrell nails every line he delivers as a sheltered elf transplanted to New York City from the North Pole.
6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Name a more genius concept than adding the Muppets to this classic Charles Dickens story to spice it up. Watch Kermit the Frog portray Bob Cratchit while his family (along with the three ghosts of Christmas) teaches Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) how to appreciate the holiday.
7. The Santa Clause
You can add accidentally killing Santa and needing to quit your day job to perform his duties to the list of irrational fears you may need to face one day. But seriously, what would you do if you turned into Santa Claus in the middle of a work meeting? You can watch Tim Allen fumble his way through answering that question in The Santa Clause.
8. The Holiday
Switching places with someone else for the holidays probably won't alleviate all of your problems in real life, but we're happy to entertain the idea when Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do it in this classic. Throw in their romances with Jack Black and Jude Law, respectively, and you have the heartwarming holiday movie Hallmark can't quite nail.
9. Miracle on 34th Street
You can choose between the 1947 and 1994 versions of this film, but whether or not to watch it is not a choice. The classic Santa Claus non-believer-to-believer story arc persists as one of the better plot lines for a Christmas flick. Plus, who doesn't love a courtroom drama?
10. Home Alone
Not only is Home Alone an exciting story set at Christmas, but it's also a cautionary tale... i.e., don't have so many kids that you won't notice you forgot one on a family vacation. Just kidding! But seriously, there's a reason this is Macaulay Culkin's best-known film.
11. It's A Wonderful Life
Sure, this isn't exactly the merriest Christmas movie, but many consider it a classic this time of year — and it's withstood the test of time, considering it came out in 1947. Plus, if you watch it, you can jump into the internet's debate about whether this is one of the saddest movies out there or actually an uplifting tale with a happy resolution.
12. Die Hard
The jury is in, and Die Hard is, in fact, a Christmas movie. And if your idea of Christmas spirit doesn't include Bruce Willis fighting German terrorists, including Alan Rickman's character, at a holiday party… well, agree to disagree.
13. A Charlie Brown Christmas
You only need to dedicate 30 minutes of your time to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, so there's no excuse for skipping it. Also, who can't relate to Charlie's Christmas plight about the holiday feeling overly commercialized?
14. Love Actually
Fact: Watching separate storylines all weave together to form one big picture is an A+ movie concept. In the case of Love Actually, they intertwine around romance, drama, and Christmas chaos. And we have yet to mention the star-studded cast — Colin Firth, Keira Knightley, and Hugh Grant included.
15. The Polar Express
What kid wouldn't take the opportunity to be swept up to The North Pole in the middle of the night? The Polar Express feels adventurous and cozy at the same time. Fair warning, though; you won't be able to get Tom Hanks singing about hot chocolate out of your head for days.
16. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas one? We say both! If you skipped over this Tim Burton classic in October, give it a watch in preparation for the 25th. Anyone still not over the ending of spooky season will rejoice to see it come back into the picture while the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town discovers the joy of Christmas.
17. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Nothing says Christmas like watching an animated reindeer triumph over teasing bullies and lead Santa's way through the night sky with his nose. Seriously, Rudolph is too cute, and he put misfits on the map.
18. Meet Me In St. Louis
Technically, you follow the Smith family through their entire year in New York, not just the holiday season. However, its emphasis on family, coupled with Judy Garland singing and popularizing "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," makes a strong case for it being a must-watch during the holidays.
This modern re-telling of A Christmas Carol features Bill Murray as the curmudgeon Frank Cross. But in addition to the lead role being haunted by three ghosts, you'll get a musical number, a love story, and several celebrity cameos, including from Miles Davis and Jamie Farr.
20. Harry Potter
Fans will tell you that any time of year is the right time to watch Harry Potter. But the series specifically makes for a great re-watch during the Christmas season, considering the winter holiday is present in almost every film. So if you're not up for hours of reading, pop some popcorn and chill out with the movies.