Tuesday, December 24, 2013

TOP 10 Christmas Movies of ALL TIME

Tis the season for cinema as Christmas Day is a huge movie day.  Some families gather 'round the TV for reruns of their all-time favorites which air seasonally on network television.  Television has been a vessel which has integrated film into the tradition of the holidays.  Likewise, the theaters have adopted Christmas as an official release date for a handful of films each year (all of which are usually surrounded by Oscar hype.)  Some of the films which make my own Top 10 list are classics which cannot be exempt from notoriety while others may be found a bit unconventional...

10.  Gremlins (1984) directed by Joe Dante

Everything about the tale of everyone's furry friend Gizmo is classic.  Jerry Goldsmith's zany score weaves the invasion of the little green Gremlins wrecking havoc into a Norman Rockwellesque backdrop.  This is a great Sci-Fi flick originally filmed with a Christmas theme for a December release.  The movie was pushed up to the Summer to compete as a blockbuster.  It's the ultimate gift gone wrong scenario and perfect to project on a backdrop of Christmas!

09.  Bad Santa (2003) directed by Terry Zwigoff

The few films from this director which came to fruition have all turned into cult classics (including his documentary Crumb and Ghost World.)  Billy Bob Thornton hilariously delivers his performance as a drunkard conman who plots to rob department stores on Christmas Eve through his gig as Santa.  Thornton admits to taking his role to the extreme by drinking on-set to keep the wheels turning with a great supporting cast including the late John Ritter in his final movie.  Bad Santa fills the spot for being a uniquely dark Christmas Comedy.

08.  Batman Returns (1992) directed by Tim Burton

Danny DeVito as The Penguin is quite arguably the best portrayal of any comic book villain on the Silver Screen.  His army of flippery cohorts find the perfect setting in the wintry Gotham City so nicely created for this movie.  Many elements of Christmas are utilized throughout the film in the sets, costumes and locations.  All-round this one is not only one of the best Batman but best Comic Book Movies hands-down.  In fashion with the source material, it manages to remain dark while no taking itself too seriously.  

07.  A Christmas Story (1983) directed by Bob Clark

Ralphie's quest to convince his parents to buy him a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas is a staple of the holidays and fills the definition of the term "classic."  Quotes from the scripting of this film have found their way into many corners of pop culture.  It also gained the honor of being added to the National Film Registry last year.  Set in post-depression era Indiana, the movie is a period piece which captured the imagination and humor of a very broad audience.  The story-telling style (adult Ralphie's voice narrating the 9 year old's scenes) went on to inspire The Wonder Years television series.

06.  Die Hard (1988) directed by John McTiernan

John McClain's one-man wrecking crew against German Terrorists during their Christmas Day heist is legendary.  Bruce Willis was the sixth actor in line for the main role behind Sly, Arnold and even Richard Gere.  Walking on glass and jumping off the top of a skyscraper solidified him as an action icon from here on out.  This is another film which cleverly uses its Christmas setting to its advantage throughout the film- the holiday being what makes the heist possible.

05.  Santa Claus The Movie (1985) directed by Jeannot Szwarc

Every kid grows up with holiday movies which their parents subject them to time and time again.  This fun flick was one my Dad rented at the video store without fail every December.  David Huttleston (Jeffrey Lebowski- The Big Lebowski for you cult fans) plays Santa with both a traditional and modern twist.  This is the only movie to delve into the origin story of Santa dating back hundreds of years.  The second act of the film is set in the present where his his head elf Path (Dudley Moore) sells out to a capitalist toy-maker (John Lithgow) who want to put Santa out of business!

04.  The Ice Harvest (2005) directed by Harold Ramis

Charlie (John Cusak) and Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) try to survive Christmas Eve and succeed in their plan to skip town with a load of mob money in the midst of drunk friends, strip clubs, hit men, family drama and an ice storm.  This is a true gem of an indie film.  It navigates many twists and turns through a relatively short run-time.  There's so much to be said for a great ensemble cast who each make the most of their cameo-level screen time.  It's a solidly entertaining story which should stand the test of time in the cult arena.

03.  Scrooged (1988) directed by Richard Donner

As far as remakes go, this re-imagining of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol is good stuff.  Bill Murray (Frank Cross / Scrooge) heads up a cast with a true enthusiasm for their material.  It is a tale which needed a modern twist so we could see it through the lens of a more modern cinema.  The essence of the story still remains, only its bathed in the wonderful humor of great scripting and special effects.  The movie pays great homage to the classic and passes its lesson along to a newer audience.

02.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946) directed by Frank Capra

We have all wondered what it would be like if we weren't here.  George Bailey (James Stewart) gets a chance to experience an alternate reality without himself through the help of an Angel.  Now a true Classic, it surprisingly lost money at the box office, not regaining what it cost to make the movie initially. Despite a slow start, it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Capra won the Golden Globe that same year for Best Director.  Over 60 years later in 2007, The American Film Institute named the movie the #1 Most Powerful Movie of All Time.

01.  National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) directed by Jeremiah Chechik

John Hughes adapted this movie from his short stories in the National Lampoon magazine of the 1970's along with the entire run of Vacation films.  When the Griswald Family is on-screen, hilarity is sure to ensue.  A range of comedy really drives this film from slapstick to subtle dry humor to laugh out loud gags.  The family's holiday strife embodies the dysfunction of many of our own families.  Maybe this is why folks find it so damn funny and comforting.  From the quest for the perfect Christmas Tree to the ultimate Light Display the film draws everything it can from Christmas to make rich comedy gold.


  1. I'm glad to see that you included Batman Returns on this list as one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time. Tim Burton could really be on here for 3 Christmas movies:

    Edward Scissorhands - Dec 14 Release - Also Christmassy themed
    Batman Returns - As you've stated
    A Nightmare Before Christmas - TB as writer

    I'd also like to take a stab at honorable mentions:

    Bah, Humbug!: The Story of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' - This was first released as a PBS production, and included Patrick Stewart, Martin Sheen, and James Earl Jones who performed live at the NY Pierpont Morgan Library in 1994. This reading is interspersed with history from Dicken's life and pays homage to the true Dickensian style of public dramatic readings.

    Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer - The interesting tidbit about this Christmas claymation classic (having been aired on broadcast channels for nearly 50 years), is that it was filmed completely in Japan.I personally grew up in a house playing both this soundtrack and Burl Ives records throughout the Christmas season, and still love the orchestral versions of those songs today.

    Home Alone - Another John Hughes masterpiece (nearing the 25 year mark, btw John Williams scored it) you would be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't know Macaulay Culkin's face slap and yell. While the movie was overplayed and over-hyped more than Hootie and the Blowfish (highest grossing live action comedy ever), I can't help but believe it still holds up as a Christmas classic. The story is original, has great bad guys (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci really do that material justice), and ultimately deals with one of the most challenging woes for many on Christmas - how to face being alone.

    Rare Exports - A Finnish Christmas Horror movie that explores the darker side of how the rest of the world views Santa. This movie is fun, its bloody and it proves that Santa is real..... Pissed!

    1. Great additions man! Home Alone was one I had trouble adding and cutting from the list numerous times along with Lethal Weapon and Miracle on 34th Street. I'll have to check out the PBS production of A Christmas Carol. Frankly I'd never heard of it but it sounds amazing!

      I always enjoy your input brother!

  2. I love your list and of course the ones my Danno has added but I'd also like to humbly submit one of my own yearly favorites that I watch every year (its mandatory along with Scrooged, Gremlins, Home Alone and Die Hard).

    This yearly Christmas favorite starts off with the joyous song Jingle Bell rock and carries the awesome stories of family, friendship, redemption and perseverance in doing the right thing. And of course that you are never too old for this shit. I am of course talking about Lethal Weapon. A must see to keep the Christmas spirits high. You can keep your Chirstmas Story, I'll be watching Murtaugh and Riggs through out quotes like " All dressed up and no one to blow"


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