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


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Cats are notoriously weird. Everyone who's had cats knows that they each have their own unique quirks, idiosyncrasies, preferences, habits, and flat-out WTFness.

But even those of us who have experience with bizarre cat behavior are blown away by the antics this "cat dad" is able to get away with.

Kareem and Fifi are the cat parents of Chase, Skye, and Millie—literally the most chill kitties ever. They share their family life on TikTok as @dontstopmeowing, and their videos have been viewed millions of times. When you see them, you'll understand why.

Take Chase's spa days, for example. It may seem unreal at first, but watch what happens when Fifi tries to take away his cucumber slices.

When she puts them back on his eyes? WHAT?! What cat would let you put them on once, much less get mad when you take them off?

This cat. Chase is living his best life.

But apparently, it's not just Chase. Skye and Millie have also joined in "spaw day." How on earth does one couple end up with three hilariously malleable cats?

Oh, and if you think they must have been sedated or something, look at how wide awake they are during bath time. That's right, bath time. Most cats hate water, but apparently, these three couldn't care less. How?

They'll literally do anything. The Don't Stop Meowing channel is filled with videos like this. Cats wearing glasses. Cats wearing hats. Cats driving cars. It's unbelievable yet highly watchable entertainment.

If you're worried that Kareem gets all the love and Fifi constantly gets the shaft, that seems to be a bit for show. Look at Chase and Fifi's conversation about her leaving town for a business trip:

The whole channel is worth checking out. Ever seen a cat being carried in a baby carrier at the grocery store? A cat buckled into a car seat? Three cats sitting through storytime? It's all there. (Just a heads up: A few of the videos have explicit language, so parents might want to do a preview before watching with little ones.) You can follow the couple and their cats on all their social media channels, including Instagram and YouTube if TikTok isn't your thing, here.

If you weren't a cat person before, these videos might change your mind. Fair warning, however: Getting a cat because you want them to do things like this would be a mistake. Cats do what they want to do, and no one can predict what weird traits they will have. Even if you raise them from kittenhood, they're still unpredictable and weird.

And honestly, we wouldn't have them any other way.

True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

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You know that feeling you get when you walk into a classroom and see someone else's stuff on your desk?

OK, sure, there are no assigned seats, but you've been sitting at the same desk since the first day and everyone knows it.

So why does the guy who sits next to you put his phone, his book, his charger, his lunch, and his laptop in the space that's rightfully yours? It's annoying!

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There have been many iconic dance routines throughout film history, but how many have the honor being called "the greatest" by Fred Astaire himself?

Fayard and Harold Nicholas, known collectively as the Nicholas Brothers, were arguably the best at what they did during their heyday. Their coordinated tap routines are legendary, not only because they were great dancers, but because of their incredible ability to jump into the air and land in the splits. Repeatedly. From impressive heights.

Their most famous routine comes from the movie "Stormy Weather." As Cab Calloway sings "Jumpin' Jive," the Nicholas Brothers make the entire set their dance floor, hopping and tapping from podium to podium amongst the musicians, dancing up and down stairs and across the top of a piano.

But what makes this scene extra impressive is that they performed it without rehearsing it first and it was filmed in one take—no fancy editing room tricks to bring it all together. This fact was confirmed in a conversation with the brothers in a Chicago Tribune article in 1997, when they were both in their 70s:

"Would you believe that was one of the easiest things we ever did?" Harold told the paper.

"Did you know that we never even rehearsed that number?" added Fayard.

"When it came time to do that part, (choreographer) Nick Castle said: 'Just do it. Don`t rehearse it, just do it.' And so we did it—in one little take. And then he said: 'That's it—we can't do it any better than that.'"

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