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15 best Christmas movies ever: The top festive films of all time to watch this year

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 25/12/2018 Mars El Brogy, Harry Fletcher

It’s 7pm on Christmas Day. The presents have been opened, you’ve eaten your body weight in turkey and Terry’s chocolate orange and you’re a little tipsy from the Baileys you cracked open at 10.17am.

Now, it’s time to park yourself in front of the telly and stick on a Christmas film.

Whether you’d choose an inspiring family drama, a schmaltzy romcom or an uplifting comedy, the best Christmas movies are some of the most feel-good and nostalgic experiences any viewer can have, and they’re well-worth revisiting this December.

These are our picks of the best 15 Christmas films of all time.

15. The Santa Clause

This all-American festive favourite focuses on a divorced dad (Tim Allen), who takes Santa’s place to deliver presents on Christmas eve and reconnect with his family. The plot is actually pretty strange on reflection — Allen’s character is fighting for custody of his son after a bitter split from his wife, and the Christmas ‘dream’ sequence sees him accidentally kill a man in a Santa suit. However, it’s one the peak of 90s Christmas movie sappiness and Allen’s physical transformation into a rotund Saint Nick is worth a watch on its own.

14. Gremlins

Gremlins is arguably the best Christmas horror film made, and it’s far darker than most people remember. While the 1990 sequel was a more family-friendly affair, the original is a scary seasonal treat and a pretty violent watch to boot.

By all means revisit this 1984 classic this Christmas. Whatever you do, though, don’t feed your mogwai after midnight…

13. Batman Returns

Not only is Batman Returns one of the best Batman films ever made, it’s also a fantastic Christmas movie. It’s set in the run-up to December 25, with Michael Keaton’s battling it out against Danny DeVito’s Penguin in wintertime Gotham (a penguin in the snow — what could more Christmassy?). A superb cast, which also includes Michelle Pfeiffer and Christopher Walken, Burton’s phantasmagorical direction and a genuinely creepy villain makes this a great watch this December.

12. The Nightmare Before Christmas

If you like your Christmas movies with a dark, twisted core, then Nightmare Before Christmas is the one for you. This anti-festive classic saw Tim Burton and director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Coraline) create an entire universe that looked like nothing we had seen before. An oddball romance, as well as some of the best original film compositions of the decade made it a compelling watch back in 1993, while the animation and Burton’s trademark weirdness helps it stand the test of time even 15 years on.

11. Elf

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Before Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, it was the inspired Christmas movie Elf which made Will Ferrell a household name in 2003. The actor stars as the loveable Buddy, a human raised by elves, who seeks the love of his father (James Caan) after arriving in New York. It also marked the first major directorial project for Jon Favreau, who would go on to direct some of the biggest blockbusters of the next fifteen years including Iron Man, The Jungle Book and the upcoming Lion King reboot.

10. The Holiday

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Everybody needs a bit of schmaltz in their life from time to time, and The Holiday has it in bucketloads. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz star a little in the 2006 romcom, playing two women who swap homes for the holidays, leaving everything behind and meeting someone new. It’s not the smartest movie ever made, but then again it’s not trying to be — take a little time out to rewatch this heartwarming romcom over Christmas.

9. The Polar Express

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This stunning and arguably underappreciated animation from Robert Zemeckis is an absolute joy. The film achieved its distinctive look using live action motion capture, which was pretty ahead of its time back in 2004. It was far more than a technical exercise though, with the film capturing the anticipation of Christmas morning as a child perfectly, as the young protagonist sets off on a journey to the North Pole in the dead of night. It was very much Tom Hanks’ project, with the actor providing the voices for six characters including the main protagonist and conductor, and it still stands up as a top Christmas movie.

8. A Muppets Christmas Carol

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God bless Michael Caine in Muppets Christmas Carol — where others would phone it in, happy to take the paycheck and move on quickly, he gives his all in this memorable 1992 film. He delivers a surprisingly complete performance, bringing a gravitas to the film despite his co-stars all being made of felt and stuffing. It’s a loveable take on Dickens’ well-trodden story, and you’d have to be a real Scrooge to resist it.

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

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Jim Carrey was the perfect choice to play the Grinch in this memorable festive flick from 2000, delivering a typically physical comedic performance. As well as showing off his impeccable timing and flair for visual gags, Carrey’s depiction proved to be far more than a caricature, with the viewer developing real empathy for him after he’s ridiculed by the residents of Whoville — whose prosthetic noses are, incidentally, way creepier than the Grinch could ever be. The 2018 reboot was also well received by critics, with Benedict Cumberbatch’s family movie judged a real crowd-pleaser.

6. Love Actually

Emma Thompson’s performance alone is enough to make Love Actually worth revisiting this Christmas. The sequence in which she unwraps a Christmas present from her husband (the late Alan Rickman) and discovers he is pursuing another woman is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s not all upsetting though — inspired turns by some of the biggest names in UK film, including peak Hugh Grant cutting shapes around 10 Downing Street, make it a real joy. The film also boasts the perfect Christmas soundtrack and more shots of Colin Firth in a turtleneck than you ever realised you needed in your life.

5. The Snowman

This poignant TV film from 1982 — not to be confused with Michael Fassbender’s forgettable detective drama of the same name — is a beautiful adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s children’s book. It captures the wonder of Christmas and youthful imagination, telling the story of a young boy and his friendship with a snowman. The film’s heartbreaking final scene is just as affecting and poignant as it was on first viewing, helping make it such a memorable watch.

The fabulous score was actually performed by chorister Peter Auty in the original, but Aled Jones released a version of the song three years later which made him a star at the age of 11. Interestingly, the re-issued version of the film also contained a cameo from David Bowie, playing an older version of the young child who befriends the snowman.

4. Home Alone

In many ways, Home Alone is the ultimate Christmas kids’ film. The movie has been parodied and copied hundreds of times — not least in 2012’s Skyfall, which saw Bond defend his old Scottish ranch in a style Kevin McCallister would have been proud of — however, the original has never been bettered.

Also, the fact that Joe Pesci starred in both Home Alone and Goodfellas in 1990 is pretty amazing in itself, and seeing him trying to get through a kids’ film without swearing as the villainous home invader Harry Lime makes for pretty incredible viewing.

3. Miracle on 34th Street

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Richard Attenborough’s Miracle on 34th Street from 1994 is a pretty rare example of a Christmas remake that actually does the original justice. While the 1947 film is rightly regarded as a festive classic, the remake added a new sense of wonder and warmth to the classic story and brought it to a new generation of fans. It also marked the first movie role for prolific child star Mara Wilson, who played the title role in Matilda a year later. Attenborough’s performance as Kris Kringle, a man who is derided by society after claiming to be Santa, proved his status as one of the most watchable and charismatic actors of his generation.

2. Die Hard

Bruce Willis plays New York cop John McClane in this undisputed Christmas classic, who’s forced to fight off German terrorists when they take over a Los Angeles skyscraper on December 24.

As well as Willis’s depiction of all-American everyman McClane, the film features one of the finest movie bad guys of all time in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.

The film has, quite rightly - come to be regarded as an all-time festive classic, and for many of us, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life

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“Life-affirming” is a term that gets bandied around an awful lot in film criticism, but It’s a Wonderful Life is arguably more deserving of the description than any other.

The best Christmas movie ever made, the 1946 classic focuses on George Bailey — a man struggling to balance failing finances with an unhappy home life. After travelling to a bridge with the intention of ending his own life, he encounters Clarence, his guardian angel who gradually reminds George of all the joy, love and happiness in his life.

So, settle down with the family this year, grab a mulled wine and let this beautiful piece of filmmaking wash over you, filling you up with Christmas cheer.

© Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited
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