My Top 11 Essential Christmas Films

Christmas, films, list, uninspired

Just to try and make myself feel like less of a failure I’m going to post two things in one night. Although the pressure is on as I’ve never been able to complete a Top 10 anything list in under a week. I also apologise for relying on the overused list format as a fail-safe but Christmas is a serious business and it’s important to know where your priorities should be. There shouldn’t be any need but I’d also like to point out that this is simply my own personal opinion. There are a lot Christmas films out there (especially when you have pretty flexible rules about what can really be described as a Christmas film) and these just happen to be the ones that I look forward to watching every year. (The eagle-eyed amongst you will no doubt have noticed that I wasn’t able to keep to just 10 films but I hope, in the spirit of Christmas, that you’ll be able to forgive my excitement.)

Number 1: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Basically, see the previous post. I genuinely don’t feel like it’s Christmas until I have seen this film at least once. It delights me as much now, as a (sort of) adult as it did when I was a child. Anyone who can sit through this film and not leave feeling merry and with a ‘thankful heart’ is someone I will never be able to understand.

Number 2: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

First things first this is a film that is NOT directed by Tim Burton. I hope most people are aware of this but I have found myself in a large number of conversations over the years where I have to listen to people praise Tim Burton for his direction of this film. It’s a bit of thing I have.

This beautiful example of stop-motion animation is a truly wonderful feature. It has the added bonus of also being a Halloween film meaning it’s possible to start Christmas viewing from as early as October if you feel you need a hit of festive cheer to get you through. Henry Selick expertly brings Burton’s zany and gothic characters to life in the enjoyable tale of the residents of Halloween town embracing the traditions of Christmas.

Number 3: Elf (2003)

Elf became an instant Christmas classic simply because there had been no decent modern Christmas movies for years. It’s hard not to find yourself becoming attached to the excitable and overzealous Buddy as he tries to make his way in the real world. Elf is Ferrell at his best and the laughs come thick and fast. Plus, anyone who can watch a large group of people burst into song, headed up by the lovable Zooey Deschanel, without feeling festive and bursting with joy is as heartless as Scrooge himself.

Number 4: Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994)

To be honest, I’ll always sort of prefer the later version because it is the one I grew up with and I’m really not sure there has ever been a greater on-screen Santa than Richard Attenborough. It is a simple tale about an important topic: the existence of Santa Clause. The film introduces us to a man claiming to be the real Kris Kringle and the struggle to prove it in a cynical world. A wonderful tale about faith, love and Christmas joy. A must-see every year.

Number 5: Home Alone (1990)

How could any child fail to enjoy Home Alone? John Hughes’ script sees the eight-year-old Kevin McCallister being left behind when his family go on holiday to Paris without him. Whilst alone, Kevin must get used to looking after himself and fending off two men keen to steal the family’s possession. Pretty standard stuff obviously. Another family-oriented Christmas film that manages to bring the spirit of the season along with a good dose of humour. With a wonderful appearance by John Candy, this film is a must-see for a great many families at this time of year.

Number 6: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

Another necessary film from my childhood. I used to love this film so much that every time I was at a friends house and they owned it on VHS I would demand we watch it, no matter what time of year it was. The film focuses on Santa’s Elf Patch, played by Dudley Moore, as he attempts to find the recognition that he deserves. Feeling ignored in Santa’s workshop he joins forces with an evil John Lithgow. An essential family Christmas film despite its fairly dated feel. I don’t think it will ever feel like Christmas until I see David Huddleston’s Santa attempt the Super Duper Looper.

Number 7: Die Hard (1988)

Lower down the list simply because it is not, strictly speaking, a Christmas movie. There is no denying that Die Hard is still one of the greatest action films ever made but the Christmas setting doesn’t really add anything to the overall story. Bruce Willis gets caught up in a potential terrorist plot at his wife’s Christmas party. Mayhem and murder ensue. Essential viewing, certainly, but not necessarily essential Christmas viewing.

Number 8: Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins is another one of those questionable Christmas films but I think the fact that it doesn’t revolve around a jolly man dressed in red makes it a refreshing change from other potential viewings. I’d rather face Christmas with the adorable Gizmo than watch the sickening child performers of Nativity. Gremlins is the story of a really careless pet owner and the trouble he causes in his small town. It is one of the finer examples of the increasingly popular comedy/horror films to come out of the 80s. The film is funny and clever and serves as a strong reminder to follow the three simple rules associated with Mogwai ownership. Remember folks: never expose them to bright light; never get them wet; and never, I repeat never, feed them after midnight.

Number 9: Trading Places (1983)

I have a bit of a soft spot for 1980’s Dan Aykroyd and I think this tale of his wealthy investor losing everything to the homeless Eddie Murphy is a wonderfully dark Christmas comedy. There is something fantastic about watching a downtrodden Louis dressed in a Santa costume reach his lowest point where his only joy is eating stolen smoked salmon on the bus. With great performances from the lead actors (back in a time when Eddie Murphy could still be praised for his work) and a great supporting cast, I’d say this was necessary seasonal entertainment. After all, Christmas is a time to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. So, please spare a thought for Louis Winthorpe III.

Number 10: Meet Me In St Louis (1944)

Again something that I would say is not technically a Christmas film as the Vincente Minnelli musical covers an entire year of the family’s life. However, there is no denying that a great deal of the important and emotional scenes happen during its festive moments. It is a sweet tale with all of the charm and whimsy that you could expect in the musicals of this era. A Christmas view simply because it gave life to one of the loveliest Christmas songs of all time. So sit back, relax and have yourself a merry little Christmas.

Number 11: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

I know it’s probably sacrilegious to place one of the most beloved Christmas films of all time in the number 11 spot but I can’t deny where my heart truly lies. Frank Capra’s tale of George Bailey’s discovery of his true worth, thanks to the guiding hand of his guardian angel, is, I suppose, a heartwarming affair but the tale of a suicidal man’s journey of discovery to be a little too much for my festive season. It is also one of the most annoyingly lengthy films ever. I usually need a quick nap just to see me through the important later scenes.

Honourable mentions:

Home Alone 2 (1992)
Sort of pushing the original format but still surprisingly refreshing for a sequel to such a simple idea. Ignore the fact that, after last time, these parents would blatantly have kept a better eye on their son and you may find yourself enjoying it.

Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton’s second Batman film is in keeping with the gothic first film but, thanks to the Christmas setting, it allows him to play with several conventional Christmas movie themes. And we all know “mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.” “But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.”

Scrooged (1988)
A fairly good updating of the Christmas Carol story where a still funny Bill Murray plays the reprehensible TV exec Frank Cross. Not the greatest adaptation of the novella but worth it for Murray’s energy.

3 thoughts on “My Top 11 Essential Christmas Films

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