Special Report

Best Holiday Movies Ever Made

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For many people, watching movies is a fun, integral part of the holiday season. For some, this means watching the same holiday classics year after year. Others are drawn to newer films, heading to the local theater in droves to see the latest festive Hollywood offering.

This is more than enough motivation for studios to continue to release new holiday films. A well-received holiday movie cannot only do big business upon initial release, but also bring in revenue over the years if it reaches that “classic” status.

Disney’s most recent contribution to the holiday film genre, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” – an updated retelling of the 19th-century German story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” – is scheduled to be released this Friday, Nov. 2. As the holiday season draws near, 24/7 Wall St. has identified the 40 best holiday movies ever made. We based our rank on critic and audience ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and Internet Movie Database.

The 40 films illustrate that there is a type of holiday film for everyone. Numerous genres are represented, ranging from action to comedy and horror to animation. Movie fans of any genre can enjoy the warm, familiar feeling of a holiday-based setting in the film of their choice.

There is also an almost perfect split between older and newer films. Nineteen of the best holiday movies were released prior to 1990, with six released before 1950. These now classic films can often be found on television throughout the holiday season.

Of the more recent releases, six have come out since only 2010, proving that there is always a place at the table for new favorites around the holidays.

Click here to see the best holiday movies ever made.
Click here to see our methodology.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

40. Batman Returns (1992)
> Directed by: Tim Burton
> Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer
> Genre: Action, crime, fantasy

One of the best films in the Batman canon, “Batman Returns,” takes place during the Christmas season. The movie, with Michael Keaton in the titular role, features a massive attack during Gotham City’s tree-lighting ceremony by a group of crazed circus performers. The movie has grossed almost $267 million worldwide.


Source: Courtesy of Miramax

39. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
> Directed by: Sharon Maguire
> Starring: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant
> Genre: Comedy, drama, romance

While the entirety of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” doesn’t take place during the holidays, the romantic comedy is bookended with scenes taking place during the most celebratory time of year. Furthermore, a major theme of the film is Bridget’s holiday introspection – a state of mind familiar to many around the holidays.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Pictures

38. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
> Directed by: Brian Henson
> Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire
> Genre: Comedy, drama, family

In this version, the classic Charles Dickens story is retold by the Muppets. Michael Caine was well received by critics as the miserly Scrooge.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

37. Black Christmas (1974)
> Directed by: Bob Clark
> Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
> Genre: Horror, mystery, thriller

One of the earliest slasher films – premiering four years earlier than John Carpenter’s “Halloween” – is also a Christmas movie. Despite numerous poor reviews upon its release, the film has become a cult holiday classic.


Source: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

36. Better Watch Out (2016)
> Directed by: Chris Peckover
> Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Levi Miller, Ed Oxenbould
> Genre: Comedy, crime, horror

“Better Watch Out,” an American-Australian comedy-horror flick set during Christmas, is about nerds and a babysitter terrorized by home invaders. The critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes called the movie an “adorably sinister holiday horror film.”

Source: Courtesy of Lions Gate Films

35. American Psycho (2000)
> Directed by: Mary Harron
> Starring: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas
> Genre: Crime, drama

This grisly 1980s-era portrait of a Manhattan investment banker who is also a psychotic serial killer, based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis, won a special recognition award for excellence in filmmaking from the National Board of Review and was hailed by the New York Times as “a lean and mean horror comedy classic.” A pivotal scene takes place at a Christmas party, complete with mistletoe, holiday music, and a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.


Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

34. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)
> Directed by: Nagisa Oshima
> Starring: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryuichi Sakamoto
> Genre: Drama, war

This acclaimed World War II prisoner-of-war drama starring David Bowie explores cultural attitudes about duty and honor. The film features a scene in which a brutal Japanese guard spares two prisoners from execution, telling them he is “Father Christmas.”

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

33. Gremlins (1984)
> Directed by: Joe Dante
> Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton
> Genre: Comedy, fantasy, horror

Director Joe Dante, a scare movie specialist, earned an 84% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes for this horror-tinged comedy set in a picture-perfect small town at Christmastime. The eponymous gremlin is a Christmas present for a local boy — an adorable, furry little animal called Mogwai. All is well until an army of less lovable gremlins invades the town.

Source: Courtesy of Oscilloscope

32. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
> Directed by: Jalmari Helander
> Starring: Jorma Tommila, Onni Tommila, Peeter Jakobi
> Genre: Adventure, fantasy, horror

The Finnish film is about an archeological dig that excavates Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and the dire consequences that ensue. Critics liked the movie for its dark comic take on Kris Kringle.


Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

31. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
> Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
> Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Todd Field
> Genre: Drama, mystery, thriller

The last film completed by legendary director Stanley Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining”), “Eyes Wide Shut” got a mixed reception from critics, with the Washington Post panning it as “creaky, ancient, hopelessly out of touch,” but with Roger Ebert giving it 3.5 out of 4 stars. A lavish annual Christmas ball provides the catalyst for a plot that draws a young married couple into a world of sex parties and infidelity.

Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

30. Joyeux Noël (2005)
> Directed by: Christian Carion
> Starring: Diane Kruger, Benno FÃ_rmann, Guillaume Canet
> Genre: Drama, history, music

“Joyeux Noël” is based on the poignant true story of Allied troops and German soldiers during World War I honoring a Christmas truce. For a brief time they are no longer enemies and come to understand each other’s lives in a more meaningful way. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and received nominations from the Golden Globes and BAFTA.


Source: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

29. Millions (2004)
> Directed by: Danny Boyle
> Starring: Alex Etel, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan
> Genre: Comedy, crime, drama

Four years before his “Slumdog Millionaire” won Academy Awards for best picture and best director, British filmmaker Danny Boyle made this charming fable about a boy who finds a bagful of money just in time for Christmas. The film scored an audience rating of 78% and a freshness score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Focus Features

28. 8 Women (2002)
> Directed by: François Ozon
> Starring: Fanny Ardant, Emmanuelle Béart, Danielle Darrieux
> Genre: Comedy, crime, musical

Some of the best-known French actresses — Fanny Ardant, Catherine Deneuve, and Isabelle Huppert — appeared in this darkly comedic whodunit about the murder of a family’s patriarch over the holidays. The movie scored a 79% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

27. White Christmas (1954)
> Directed by: Michael Curtiz
> Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney
> Genre: Comedy, musical, romance

“White Christmas” is a sentimental holiday perennial bordering on maudlin starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Crosby and Kaye are song-and-dance performers who, on a trip to Vermont, meet their beloved former Army general who runs a lodge that is struggling financially. To boost his morale, the stars reunite the general with many of his former troops at the hotel over the holidays.



26. Lethal Weapon (1987)
> Directed by: Richard Donner
> Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey
> Genre: Action, crime, thriller

This quintessential cop buddy flick stars Mel Gibson as a police officer battling suicidal thoughts following the death of his wife. After breaking up a heroin ring, Gibson spends Christmas with the family of his partner played by Danny Glover. Critics liked the chemistry between Glover and Gibson, and audiences gave the movie an 85% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista Distribution Company

25. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
> Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske
> Starring: Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson, J. Pat O’Malley
> Genre: Animation, adventure, comedy

The original animated Disney film is about a passel of puppies sought by a cruel socialite who wants to turn them into fur coats. The dogs escape and return to their beloved owner in time to celebrate Christmas.


Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

24. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
> Directed by: Henry Koster
> Starring: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven
> Genre: Comedy, drama, fantasy

Cary Grant and David Niven, who both defined what it is to be suave, star in this light-hearted story. Grant plays an angel sent to help an Episcopal bishop (Niven), who is trying to raise funds to build a cathedral as Christmas approaches. “The Bishop’s Wife” has a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 83%.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corporation

23. Little Women (1994)
> Directed by: Gillian Armstrong
> Starring: Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst
> Genre: Drama, family, romance

The classic mid-19th-century Louisa May Alcott novel set in New England during and after the Civil War has been filmed many times, beginning with a silent version in 1917 and continuing up to an Emma Watson-starrer coming out next year. A gloomy Christmas Eve and disrupted Christmas morning set the stage for this tale of life struggles, romance, and coming of age.


22. Human Capital (2013)
> Directed by: Paolo Virzì
> Starring: Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Matilde Gioli, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi
> Genre: Drama

“Human Capital” is about two families connected by an accident involving a bicyclist, who is hit by a car two days before Christmas. The film is a commentary on wealth and privilege. The movie has an 82% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corporation

21. Go (1999)
> Directed by: Doug Liman
> Starring: Sarah Polley, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf
> Genre: Comedy, crime

With a 7.3/ IMDb rating, “Go” tells three interlocking stories from different points of view, all beginning on Christmas Eve at a supermarket in Los Angeles. Drugs, sex, a trip to Las Vegas, and a strip club shooting are elements of the complex plot.

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

20. The Best Man Holiday (2013)
> Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
> Starring: Monica Calhoun, Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa
> Genre: Comedy, drama

Romances and rivalries are restarted in this comedy/drama as college friends reunite after 15 years during the Christmas season. The strong cast features Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, and Nia Long. On Rotten Tomatoes, 83% of audiences like the movie.


Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

19. Trading Places (1983)
> Directed by: John Landis
> Starring: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy
> Genre: Comedy

“Trading Places” is a hilarious tale about two people — played by Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd — who over Christmas are unwittingly used in an experiment about what shapes a person’s character — environment or heredity. The film is distinguished by the appearance of venerable actors Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy.


18. Arthur Christmas (2011)
> Directed by: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook
> Starring: James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy
> Genre: Animation, adventure, comedy

This is an animated story about Santa Claus’ oafish son Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), who is tasked with delivering a present to a young girl before dawn on Christmas Day. “Arthur Christmas” has a freshness rating of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Source: Courtesy of Warner Bros.

17. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
> Directed by: Shane Black
> Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan
> Genre: Action, comedy, crime

This “self-referential noir-screwball-action movie,” as an Australian film critic called it, set during the Christmas season in Los Angeles, involves a private eye, a thief mistaken for an actor, and a wannabe actress.


Source: Courtesy of United Artists

16. A Christmas Carol (1951)
> Directed by: Brian Desmond Hurst
> Starring: Alastair Sim, Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison
> Genre: Drama, fantasy

The 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” is considered by many critics and film aficionados as the best. Actor Alastair Sim left an indelible imprint as Scrooge, an interpretation of the character that is equal parts contemptible and vulnerable. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes agree this version is most faithful to the Charles Dickens classic.

Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

15. Holiday Inn (1942)
> Directed by: Mark Sandrich
> Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds
> Genre: Comedy, drama, music

This is the movie where Bing Crosby first sang Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” on film. Crosby plays a crooner who plans to open an entertainment site called Holiday Inn on Christmas that will only be open on public holidays. The film is noteworthy for its pairing of Crosby and Fred Astaire.


Source: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

14. Tangerine (2015)
> Directed by: Sean Baker
> Starring: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian
> Genre: Comedy, crime, drama

Kitana Kiki Rodriguez stars in this story about a transgender prostitute who searches Los Angeles on Christmas Eve for her boyfriend, a pimp, who has been cheating on her. “Tangerine” has a Rotten Tomatoes freshness rating of 97%, with critics lauding the movie for “shattering casting conventions.”

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

13. Twelve Monkeys (1995)
> Directed by: Terry Gilliam
> Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt
> Genre: Mystery, sci-fi, thriller

Scoring an 89% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes and earning an audience score of 88%, this time-travel story, directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python, is full of violence and rough language. It is set in part against a backdrop of Christmas decorations and Santa Clauses.

Source: Courtesy of Focus Features

12. In Bruges (2008)
> Directed by: Martin McDonagh
> Starring: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Ciarán Hinds
> Genre: Comedy, crime, drama

The dark comedy set in the scenic medieval Belgian city of Bruges centers on two British hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) sent to Bruges by their boss to lay low right before Christmas. “In Bruges” tallied an audience score of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.


Source: Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan

11. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
> Directed by: Satoshi Kon, Shôgo Furuya
> Starring: Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
> Genre: Animation, adventure, comedy

This animated fable, set in Tokyo at Christmastime, tells the story of an unlikely trio of homeless characters — a middle-aged transvestite, a scrappy pre-adolescent, and an alcoholic ex-bicycle racer — who discover an abandoned baby girl in a garbage heap.

Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

10. Diner (1982)
> Directed by: Barry Levinson
> Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon
> Genre: Comedy, drama

Classic tale of young men’s passage to adulthood as they talk about their lives at a diner in Baltimore during the last week of 1959. The film has plenty of star power with Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, and Kevin Bacon. It was written and directed by Barry Levinson. “Diner” holds a 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.


Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

9. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
> Directed by: George Seaton
> Starring: Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne
> Genre: Comedy, drama, family

The heartwarming holiday favorite is about a department store Santa who insists he is the real St. Nicholas and is institutionalized as a result. The movie features the first starring role for Natalie Wood as the child who is the first to believe the man really is Santa Claus.

Source: Courtesy of Buena Vista International

8. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
> Directed by: Henry Selick
> Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara
> Genre: Animation, family, fantasy

This animated film has the gothic fingerprints of the uber-creative Tim Burton (who co-wrote the movie) and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The movie is about Jack Skellington, skeletal king of Halloween Town, who discovers Christmas Town, and is enchanted by the idea of Christmas. But his attempt to import Christmas to Halloween Town encounters obstacles. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has a 95% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and 91% of the voting audience liked it.

Source: Courtesy of MGM/UA Entertainment Company

7. A Christmas Story (1983)
> Directed by: Bob Clark
> Starring: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin
> Genre: Comedy, family

Based on stories by humorist and storyteller Jean Shepherd, this family comedy recounts the adventures of a young boy in the 1940s who’s trying to convince his parents to buy him a BB gun for Christmas. One of the most famous Christmas scenes in the movies comes when the neighbors’ bloodhounds eat the turkey destined for Christmas dinner and the family goes out to a Chinese restaurant instead, where they are serenaded by the staff singing carols in clichéd accents.


Source: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

6. Stalag 17 (1953)
> Directed by: Billy Wilder
> Starring: William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger
> Genre: Comedy, drama, war

The World War II drama, set during Christmas in 1944, was directed by Billy Wilder, one of cinema’s greatest directors. William Holden received an Academy Award for his performance as a cynical prisoner of war wrongfully accused of being a spy for the Germans.

Source: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

5. Die Hard (1988)
> Directed by: John McTiernan
> Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia
> Genre: Action, thriller

An employee Christmas party on the 30th floor of an L.A. highrise is interrupted by a gang of robbers, who pretend to be terrorists and who are after the $600 million locked in the company’s high-tech safe. They’re reckoning without Bruce Willis, in his breakout role as a tough New York City cop in town to see his estranged wife — who’s at the party. The film has a 93% freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes.


Source: Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

4. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
> Directed by: Ernst Lubitsch
> Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan
> Genre: Comedy, drama, romance

“The Shop Around the Corner” is a delightful comedy directed by the urbane Ernst Lubitsch about two employees working at a store in Budapest during the Christmas season. The two dislike each other but fall in love via letters exchanged as pen pals. Rotten Tomatoes gives this classic a freshness score of 100%, and 91% of audiences liked “The Shop Around the Corner.”

Source: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

3. Brazil (1985)
> Directed by: Terry Gilliam
> Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro
> Genre: Drama, sci-fi

“Brazil,” directed by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam, has a freshness rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. The darkly comic retro-future satire on bureaucratic inefficiency is set in an oppressive unnamed European nation. The plot begins when an innocent man trimming his Christmas tree is arrested and carried off in a bag, never to be seen again.

Source: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures Corporation

2. Holiday (1938)
> Directed by: George Cukor
> Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Doris Nolan
> Genre: Comedy, romance

George Cukor’s romantic comedy about the American patrician class stars Cary Grant as free-spirited Johnny Case who becomes engaged to the daughter of a wealthy banker during the holiday season. Case rebels at the thought of taking a job with his future father-in-law because that would restrict his freedom. The film has a 100% freshness rating and a 90% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.


Source: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
> Directed by: Frank Capra
> Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
> Genre: Drama, family, fantasy

The quintessential Christmas movie, directed by the celebrated Frank Capra (“It Happened One Night,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”), is impossible to avoid on television during the holiday season. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including best picture, best actor, and best director, it tells the by-now-familiar story of an honest, earnest man, George Bailey, who fears bankruptcy and scandal after an $8,000 loan payment goes missing on Christmas Eve. Despondent and believing his life to have been worthless, Bailey is about to commit suicide when an angel sent from heaven appears and shows him how disastrous life in his small town would have been without him. All turns out well in the end, and the family carols “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”


To determine the best holiday movies of all time, 24/7 Wall St. created an index based on each film’s Rotten Tomatoes average critic rating, Rotten Tomatoes average audience rating, and Internet Movie Database average user rating. To be considered, each film needed to have at least 5,000 Rotten Tomatoes user ratings, 10 approved Tomatometer critic reviews, and 10,000 IMDb user ratings.

We averaged the user ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb and weighted by the number of votes for each. The combined user rating was then averaged with the Rotten Tomatoes critic rating.

Films that were not deemed as having enough thematic relation to the holidays were removed at 24/7 Wall St.’s discretion.

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