Top 5 Christmas Movies

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There’s nothing quite like this wonderful time of year to gather round with the family and sit by the warming roar of a television set.  Christmas has inspired some of the finest cinematic classics – as well as things like Jingle All the Way. Most of these movies revolve around themes like peace, love, togetherness, and Santa.  Every now  and then you might even hear a mention of the birth of Christ as the reason for the season.  And doubtless right now some cable channel is showing one of the approximately 4,845 versions of A Christmas Carol – two of which are mentioned below.

So as my Christmas treat to you all, here’s my list of the five best Christmas movies of all-time.5. A Charlie Brown Christmas – Technically this is a network special, but no Christmas is truly complete until you’ve watched Charlie and the gang magically transform a pathetic, dying tree into a renewed, beautiful symbol simply by waving their hands.  I was an avid reader of Peanuts comic strips as a youngster, so the Christmas special always had a warm place in my heart.

4. Scrooged – Of the countless versions of Dickens’s classic, this stands out as one the most unique and certainly the funniest.  Bill Murray plays a cantankerous network executive charged with putting on a live televised version of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve.  He is then visited by three mysterious ghosts – hmmm,  a familiar story.

3. Scrooge – This is the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as the eponymous character.  Dozens of excellent actors have played Scrooge, with George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart standing out as among the best.  But to me Sim is and always will be Scrooge.  This was always the one version I made sure to watch,  and until recently not a Christmas went by without viewing it.  Unfortunately most cable networks prefer some of the more updated editi0ns, but make sure you see this one if you have not already done so.

2. It’s A Wonderful – Come on, how can this not be on the list?  I came of age at a time when the movie was not in continuous rotation at this time of year, so perhaps that has enhanced my appreciation for it.  I’ve read quite a few reviews lately that have mentioned that it is in fact a rather dark movie.  Upon reflection I would agree that this is not some corny, light-hearted movie.  George’s life is one of constant sacrifice, which I think is the movie’s main message.

As dark as the movie is, consider how we’d view it today if they had gone with the original ending.


1. A Christmas Story.  You’ll shoot your eye out.  You know, I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to watch this movie in its entirety from start to finish once in my life.  But thanks to TBS’ annual marathon, I have seen it dozens of times in recent years.  No, it doesn’t have a heartfelt, endearing message or lesson like some of the other movies on this list, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

So, what are your favorite Christmas movies?

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  1. A Christmas Story doesn’t have a heartfelt, endearing message? Come on, I get a lump in my throat every time when Dad brings out the BB gun and shows how much he actually cares about his son — and listens to him — despite seeming an ogre most of the time. Maybe I’m just a sucker for good father-son stories.

  2. Wonderful Life and Christmas Story (in that order) fill my top spots as well.

    “Every now and then you might even hear a mention of the birth of Christ as the reason for the season.” I do ponder the fact that neither of these movies (nor the Scrooge tales) demand that the viewer have any particular faith whatsoever. In other words, even the best Christmas movies/stories tend to have equal appeal to a secular audience as they do to a believing audience. This not a criticism, just an observation.

    [Charlie Brown must stand as the exception that proves the rule, although, as a thoroughly unbelieving child, it was my favorite.]

  3. Every year my wife forces me to watch “White Christmas.” All I can remember is Danny Kaye prancing around in a black beret and leotards. I suppose two hours is the least I can suffer for the sake of domestic tranquility.

  4. Maybe it’s the wrong genre and belongs in a different category, but I always liked Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment,” which has a holiday feel to it. RIP, Jack, one of the greatest actors ever.

  5. I do ponder the fact that neither of these movies (nor the Scrooge tales) demand that the viewer have any particular faith whatsoever.

    Yeah, when I was thinking about this list I pondered the fact that there really aren’t a lot of very good overtly religiously-themed Christmas movies. I’m not even talking about movies that deal specifically with Christ’s birth – there are very few that are even tangentially spiritual in nature. Of course maybe there are some older films that I haven’t seen would apply.

  6. Actually, Paul, “Ben-Hur,” made in 1959, could qualify because it begins with the birth and ends with the death and resurrection of Jesus. One of my top 5 flicks of all time.

  7. Best Scrooge ever is the musical with Albert Finney. It will make you laugh and make you cry, but that is Charles Dickens for you. We watch this one every year and progressively let the little ones see more and more of the scary parts until they are “young” enough to appreciate them, not make fun of it, and not have nightmares.

  8. 1. It’s a Wonderful Life
    2. White Christmas
    3. One Magic Christmas (w/ Mary Steenburgen)
    4. Disney’s Christmas Carol (w/ Mickey and Uncle Scrooge, not Jim Carrey)
    5. Christmas Vacation

    I have to say that Jingle All the Way didn’t make the top 5, but it definitely makes the top 10 😉

  9. I agree with Joe Green. I like all of the 5 mentioned, and although “The Apartment” isn’t religious or mention Christ, the mature love that Jack Lemmon exhibits toward Shirley MacLaine in the completely hard-boiled secular world at Christmas is wonderful. The classic office Christmas party. I watch it every Christmas season. “We’ll send him a fruitcake every Christmas”.

  10. I’m not much of a movie connaisseur and fairly unfamiliar with what is available. I recall hearing about a French film, Joyeux Noël, dealing the with 1914 Christmas truce but have not seen it.

  11. Addendum to my previous post: “Ben-Hur” will be on Turner Classics Movie channel on Christmas Day at 1 p.m., EST. Tune in.

  12. Joe,

    Yeah I can see it being a bit dark there at the end. Just be thankful I didn’t link to the SNL/TV Funhouse spoof of my number five movie.

  13. Boo hoo, George. My dad never gave me a bank, and if he did I wouldn’t have run it into the ground. Ungrateful jerk. Clarence was lying to you – the world doesn’t revolve around you, George. Your wife could have done better.

    Sorry that slipped out.

  14. The Bishop’s Wife is a must see for me each year along with It’s A Wonderful Life.

    Thanks for the reminder of The Apartment. Yes, that will go on my list.

    Only a thought. If you consider that what is not detailed in It’s A Wonderful Life is the Great Depression. Perhaps that taken into consideration might reveal that George’s temptation is out of love for his family. Remember, he was told that he was worth more dead than alive. As for the comment about George’s father leaving him a bank, I would recommend that person research the difference between what we know today as commercial banking and the community-building cooperative that was the legacy George received.

    Blessed Christmas!

  15. How can this be? You’ve left out the two greatest Christmas movies of all time. Who can ever forget the original version of Miracle On 34th Street?
    And, then there’s the greatest Christmas love story of all time, Christmas In Connecticut. Not only are the acting and writing great and both, they both feature male lead characters are grown-up, tough, intelligent, charming, tender and either active duty military or veterans. Not much like most movies today.

    On the other hand, my next two on the list are Scrooged and the first Die Hard.

  16. Does “The Godfather” (Part I) count as a Christmas movie? I think it does!

    Seriously, though, in addition to many films already listed, Christmas fare for us definitely includes “Little Women” (the 1990s version w/ Winona Ryder).

    I am definitely in the Alistair Sims camp.

    What did everyone think of the animated Zemeckis Christmas Carol from last year?

  17. “Yeah I can see it being a bit dark there at the end.”

    Actually I’ve always wanted the film to end with a sequence of Potter being arrested and wheeled into a jail cell as Hark the Herald Angels Sing plays in the background.

  18. I always liked The Bells of St. Mary with Bing Crosby. I think there are Christmas scenes in it (I haven’t seen it in years) and I think it was usually on TV during the Christmas season.

  19. I agree with David Ulmer on Albert Finney’s “Scrooge”, it’s my favorite version by far.

    My all time favorite is a “Wonderful Life” hands down. I never watched “Scrooged” so I have to put that on my list to watch. I watch “Groundhog Day” every Advent, it is a great story of redemption.

  20. I’d like to mention a couple of overlooked TV movies from the 1970s that might be worth checking out on You Tube or other video rental/download outlets:

    — “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story,” the pilot/inspiration for “The Waltons,” with Patricia Neal as Olivia Walton and Edgar Bergen as Grandpa Walton. Most of the remaining cast members are the same actors that appeared in the TV series. Worth seeing just for Neal’s performance.

    — “It Happened One Christmas,” a gender-reversal remake of “Wonderful Life” done in the mid-70s before the original became a TV staple. In this version, it’s Mary (Marlo Thomas) who inherits the building and loan from her father and does most of the same stuff Jimmy Stewart does in the original. Wayne Rogers is her husband George (I think he is supposed to be a mechanic!) and Cloris Leachman is the guardian angel. Yeah, I know it sounds cheesy, and it is, but for those of a certain age who grew up on Movies of the Week, it’s kind of an interesting nostalgia trip. Certainly no worse than the Klingon Christmas Carol 🙂

  21. We watched Polar Express last night, and I thought it was enchanting. The too realistic animation of the characters was a little creepy. They look too much like a video game, but the story is great. The message is the usual hidden spiritual message. Santa says something like, “I’m a symbol for the real meaning of Christmas. The real meaning lives in your heart.” Well…sort of, but I really liked it.

  22. Warning: Don’t read this if you have not seen Its a Wonderful Life

    It’s A Wonderful Life tops my list.The movie starts off with people in the town praying for George Bailey – one of the prayers is to Jesus, Mary and Joseph. It is through prayer that God is going to transform George Bailey’ life and show George all the good he has done in the world. In fact, just before George is about to commit suicide, he makes a short prayer to God, saying, “SHOW ME THE WAY.” It’s hard to imagine a more powerful prayer. And God hears George’s prayer and begins to unveil to him (George Bailey) the rich tapestry of his life.

    Everything is accomplished through PRAYER.

    Coming in second on my list is The Bishop’s Wife. If you have not seen it you are in for a very special movie with a very special meaning. This is a great movie for a husband and wife to watch.

    Tom Mulcahy

  23. “Warning: Don’t read this if you have not seen It’s a Wonderful Life.”

    Can you think of anyone above primary school age who hasn’t? 🙂

    Merry Christmas!!

  24. The 1951 Scrooge with Alastair Sim is unsurpassed by any Christmas Carol rendition or other seasonal work – like “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Sim’s dropping of the spoon into his soup/gruel, the look over his shoulder in anticipation of something invading his room against his lock-up measures – all classic and true evidence of his theater training. His annual derogatory conversation with Cratchit over the taking of a holiday – the whole day – is so natural and fitting. The only acting part that comes close is Jimmy Stewart’s angst in the bar when he’s living the nightmare over the lost money before crashing the car. I watch Scrooge DAILY in the week before Christmas. THansk for a good article.

  25. Ted Joy, I’m with you – I love the original “Miracle on 34th Street.” I am mystified as to why Hollywood felt a remake of “Miracle” (or a remake of any classic film) was or is necessary. Normally the remake is no great improvement. Do they think nobody will be interested in watching a film from the Stone Ages long before cell phones and Ipods existed? Or is it just that they have become so deeply uncreative that they can’t come up with new plots and characters any more?

    I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I’d like to second Elaine’s recommendation of “The Homecoming.” I was not a huge fan of “The Waltons” TV shows but their debut on the small screen was impressive.

  26. A CHristmas Story has become a classic because it is realistic and everyone can relate to it. It’s a wonderful life is my absolute favorite movie ever! The ending is amazing, It gets me every time regardless what mood I am in. Scrooged/A Christmas Carol is awesome in film or book version.

  27. Although thin and flaky, we’ve always loved Christmas in Connecticut, and I’m deeply shocked that White Christmas didn’t make the top five list! But all lists are subjective, especially those which end with A Christmas Story. 🙂

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