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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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