The 8 best holiday movies to watch while you're bunkering down with your family

We've all been there. And even if we haven't, we can imagine the scene: Sitting around with your family on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve and even respective holiday in between. There are countless opportunities for joy and connection but also equal opportunities for boredom and awkwardness during times when we are supposed to be savoring the season and the company of those closest to us.


Sometimes those trying times are as simple as lacking a shared pop culture moment to laugh, cry and be inspired by in each other's company. In that spirit, we've come up with eight of our favorite holiday films. After all, everyone loves a good movie. Still, not everyone is down to watch the same Christmas movies. And some people, frankly, aren't fans of them at all. But even as a devout Jewish man, let me assure you, these films cut across religious, generational, gender and cultural boundaries.

So, sit back, load up your Amazon Video account (or other streaming service) and check one of these films out. Even if you've already seen them 100 times, they can take an entirely new meaning and experience when viewed through the holiday lens, especially in the shared company of our families and closest friends.



8. Love, Actually

The 2003 romantic comedy has steadily risen up the ranks to become quite possibly the number one current holiday movie. It was an international hit during its initial run but has gained steam, especially over the past 5 years. Much like The Office and Friends, this movie has become a cultural phenomenon with people who were too young to see it when it first aired. If you're under 30, it's truly bizarre and delightful to see Andrew Lincoln in a deeply romantic role. It's just as weird as it was for those of us who primarily knew him as a big softie before he became the zombie slaughtering, ex-cop protagonist of The Walking Dead. And that's just up top. With an absolutely packed cast that included Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, it's a film you can watch over and over again. It's just naughty enough for the jaded lovers and sweet and wholesome enough for anyone who needs a powerful, transformational love story around the holidays. And honestly, who doesn't need that right now?

Watch it Now: Love, Actually, $8.99; on Amazon


7. Die Hard

You're damn right it's a Christmas movie. Some people like to pretend there's still a debate about that. Well, "some people" can go walk barefoot across a floor of glass. Just kidding! The movie that spawned an entire generation of cinematic knockoffs, "Die Hard ... but in space!" holds up incredibly well. At the time, Bruce Willis was the co-star of the 80's sitcom sensation Moonlighting. His co-star Cybil Shephard was the one with the Hollywood bonafides. That rapidly changed after Die Hard burst onto the scene. It's funny, grounded and full of some really great action. And yes, there's even a "Ho, Ho, Ho" thrown in there for good measure. Don't be distracted by the subpar sequels that have been churned out in recent years, the original is an all-time classic. There's even a genuine tale of romantic strife thrown in there for good measure. In fact, love is at the very center of what propels Willis' John McClane into action. So, when you put it that way, Die Hard isn't just a Christmas movie, IT'S A LOVE STORY.

Watch it Now: Die Hard, $7.99; on Amazon



6. The Nightmare Before Christmas

If you've already seen it, then you know. And if you haven't, you're understandably on the fence. Trust us, we get it. We were very late to the game on this one. That said, it's become an annual holiday must-see in our home ever since. Like some of the best Christmas tales, this one is truly bizarre from the opening scene to the final credits. It's covered in Tim Burton's elegant madness throughout and Danny Elfman's soundtrack is an all-time classic. And the stop motion animation that powers the film is both an homage to films of early Hollywood while simultaneously creating a cutting edge style that has proven influential across film, television and even video games ever since. We'd still love to see a sequel of spinoff, just don't set it during Halloween. Thats too obvious. The Fever Dream Before Easter? Where do we sign up?

Watch is Now: The Nightmare Before Christmas, $3.99; on Amazon


5 Elf

This might be the most easily crowd pleasing selection on our list. Released the same year as Love, Actually it was another movie that was a sizable hit at the time before exploding into all-time holiday film status in the ensuing years. Will Ferrell has made an entire career out of playing cynical and twisted characters but Elf is a reminder that his earliest roles were centered around surprisingly innocent characters with hearts of gold. As wholesome as it is, Elf relevant enough to sneakily draw in your emo niece. The movie is so universal that when a relative of mine "won" a narwhal ornament inspired by the film, she was genuinely confused and a little annoyed. I suggested she watch the movie before tossing the little trinket in the trash. This year? She brought it back to the gift exchange only to steal it back. Some people need to make a point.

Watch it Now: Elf (plus bonus features), $14.99; on Amazon


4. Gremlins

Some people describe Gremlins as one of the great "anti-Christmas" Christmas movies. We disagree. Gremlins is a proper Christmas movie to its core. It's values are so classic they are almost revolutionary as our main character and his family learn a lesson about appreciating relationships over materialism. Yeah, there's some death and destruction along the way. But also plenty of laughs. When Spike and his fellow Gremlins gather at the town theater for an evil movie marathon, the hijinks and tension hit incredible highs. Gizmo has some serious competition in Baby Yoda but remains one of the cutest characters of all-time.

Watch it Now: Gremlins, $6.99; on Amazon



3. Christmas Vacation

Chevy Chase was once the most popular comedic actor in the world. Just let that sink in. By the time 1989 rolled around, his Vacation series was seemingly out of steam. Yes, the original National Lampoon's Vacation is an all-time comedy classic and European Vacation has its fans as well. But along the way, Chase starred in a number of downright clunkers. Christmas Vacation surprised audiences with its sweet, naughty and yes, funny, moments that have made it become the most-viewed in the series. Co-star Beverly D'Angelo is there to humor Chase's Clark Griswold character and their characters have become prototypes for two generations of comedy families. There's additional star power in tow with Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki showing up as the ever-changing roster of Griswold children.

Watch it Now: Christmas Vacation, $14.99; on Amazon


2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Sure, we could have gone with any number of traditional classics here like A Christmas Story but The Lord of the Rings is quite possibly the best movie, or rather, series of films, to binge watch during the holiday season. Fire up Fellowship of the Ring around Thanksgiving, move on to The Two Towers around Christmas and then wrap up with the epic finale Return of the King right before the New Year. You won't be disappointed. And while this series literally has nothing to do with the holidays on the surface, its absolutely driven by themes that personify the holiday season: family, resurrection, quiet heroism, magic and the power of tradition. There's not much else that needs to be said about this absolutely incredible series of films.

Watch it Now: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, $6.99; on Amazon


1. It's a Wonderful Life

The most obvious, traditional choice is suddenly the most revolutionary in some senses. While Gremlins gets tagged as the ultimate "anti-Christmas" Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life truly embodies the simple morality that is the best of the holiday season at its core. There's nothing cynical or winking here. It's all heart. The difficult personal themes explored throughout the film held it to being a modest success upon its release. But it's been an absolute juggernaut for decades now. We're recommending the more recent black & white restoration of the film, and especially the 4k version if you have the capacity in your home theater system. But like the film itself stresses, humble and simple is often best and you don't need a killer screen or sound system to absorb every ounce of depth from this one. When you're sitting around with those relatives or friends that we often take for granted, hold out for the inscription George finds at the end of his journey: "Remember, no man is a failure who has friends." Life is all about relationships and the holidays are a great time to rekindle and deepen the bonds that bring us true happiness.

Watch it Now: It's a Wonderful Life (Black & White version), $7.99; on Amazon


GOOD Media Group may receive a percentage of revenue from items purchased that are mentioned in this article

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."