25 festive films to get you in the Christmas spirit
'Tis the season to hit the Baileys and get on a Christmas movie marathon. Here are 25 festive films for your viewing pleasure – full fat cheesy and dairy free.
It’s wall-to-wall Hallmark Christmas films at this time of the year. Sickly sweet and oozing with cheese, they are the fondue of festive film-making. But you can still get into the spirit of the season and maintain a teeny tiny bit of credibility. You grab the popcorn, I’ll bring the bottle of Baileys, 25 Christmas films coming up.
A Boy Called Christmas (2021, PG)
Based on Matt Haig’s book, A Boy Called Christmas is a Santa Claus origin story so packed full of seasonal signposts and Haig-esque inspirational messages that it makes the John Lewis ad feel humbug. With a stellar cast – Dame Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Merchant – there’s just enough melancholy to stop the sugar level from slipping you into a diabetic coma. An easy watch.
Single All The Way (Dec 2, 2021, PG)
Any film with Stifler’s Mom (aka the brilliant Jennifer Coolidge) gets our vote. But Netflix’s first gay Christmas film has more in its festive arsenal. It’s got a Tony-award-winning director (Michael Mayer), three out actors in lead roles (Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers) and a story that’s familiar to all singles. The lengths you go to to prevent family meddling when you turn up for the holidays on you own. God forbid.
Die Hard (1988, 15)
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or not? The debate rages on. It’s set on Christmas Eve as cop John McClane (aka Bruce Willis) hopes to reconcile til his estranged wife Holly! There’s festive music, halls are decked, a woman giving birth feature heavily and there’s an 80s Grinch-style baddie. Bruce in a vest, with shooting sub machine guns rather than shooting stars, this is for you.
Gremlins (1984, PG)
Who doesn’t love Gremlins?! It’s a Christmas horror-comedy classic that ticks all the boxes – funny, chaotic and cheese-free. Just like the Muddy Christmas party. But one father’s quest to find the best gift ever turns into a nightmare. Mogwai (aka Gizmo) comes with three simple instructions: don’t expose it to the light, don’t get it wet, and never feed it after midnight. But rules are there to be broken and the Gremlins are hellbent on wreaking havoc. A bit like Aunt Susie after a bottle of Baileys. It gets ugly.
National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (1990, 12A)
Seasonal joy? Not on Clark Griswald’s watch – despite his best efforts. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the funniest festive film EVER. If you don’t giggle at least one, you’re either dead inside or you don’t understand that this is what Christmas is all about. Bad electrics, bad cooking, bad family and leaking septic tanks. We’ve all bee there. A ‘laugh or you’ll cry’ reminder that the quest for perfection is a waste of time.
Office Christmas Party (2016, 15)
If you’re going to drunkenly snog your boss at the office festive bash, you might as well go out in a blaze of glory and steal reindeer, sleigh down the steps and swing from the fairy lights while you’re at it. Office Christmas Party is a goofy OTT movie with a cracking cast – hello Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn and TJ Millar. Yes, it is ridiculous but, in the absence of a work shindig this year, grab the vodka and get ready to party.
Four Christmases (2008, 12)
When you’ve got divorced parents, Christmas can feel like you’re being pulled like a cracker. Don’t let the festive season blow up in your face, simply jump on a plane to Fiji. Reece Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn try and do that in Four Christmases until a storm stops play and they have to hotfoot it to all four divorced parents’ homes. Freud would have a field day.
Bad Santa (2003, 15)
If you’ve got toothache from all the sweet, schmaltzy festive films, Bad Santa is just the medicine you need. Billy Bob Thornton stars as a thief who becomes a department store St Nick. He drinks like a fish, swears like a sailor and total degenerate. God knows how Terry Zwigoff’s comedy turns this pathetic sad sack into a sympathetic hero, but he does. It turns out, Bad Santa is a foul-mouthed ode to goodwill to all men. It’s a Christmas miracle.
Just Friends (2005, 12)
Ryan Reynolds beautifully wrapped and popped under your tree. I don’t think any of us have been that good t his year. Console yourself with Just Friends. Ryan plays Chris a formerly overweight school nerd (Reynolds) who attempts to free himself from the friend zone after reconnecting with his lifelong crush and best friend (Amy Smart). It’s a Ryan Reynolds droolfest.
The Santa Clause (1994)
If threatening to phone/ email/ text Father Christmas when your kids are being naughty, then pop this on telly. If you don’t remember 90s Christmas films because your were too busy partying into the small hours and snogging someone inappropriate, basically Tim Allen inadvertently causes Santa to die on his property, so he has to assume the role of the next Santa Claus. There’s a lot of body-shaming here that doesn’t fly as well in 2021, but it’s featured in enough Christmas movie marathons that it belongs on the list.
Jingle All The Way (1996)
You can always rely on Arnold Schwarzenegger to shine a light on the grotesque consumerism that has poisoned Christmas. Bah humbug. Jingle All The Way is about one dad’s quest to make up for all the broken promises and buy his son the Turbo-Man action figure is so desperately wants – but so does everyone else. It could get ugly.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000, PG)
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Ron Howard’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a Jim Carrey masterpiece. He’s the king of physical comedy and put in an energetic shift to bring this famous cartoon character to life. There’s a lot of improvised humour, a pretty gross cheese-eating scene and a heart-warming ending. The Grinch didn’t hate Christmas he just didn’t like other people. We feel the same when gift buying on Oxford Street.
Eyes Wide Shut (1999, 18)
So on paper, Stanley Kubrik’s steamy 1999 drama Eyes Wide Shut is more oh oh oh oh and ho ho ho. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star in this left field entry, but bear with. The opening scenes are of Tom and Nicole attending a lavish New York Christmas party with a beautifully lit tree. Over the next two and half hours, Cruise then goes on a journey of sexual depravity and expression like a modern-day sex Scrooge. Decorated spruces and festoons of lights feature heavily. It’s as festive as eggnog – like the drink you’ll either love it or hate.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
If you don’t feel the festive fuzzies watching this Aardman animated film, then we may need to call a doctor. It’s a film with heart, humour and an intelligently silly streak that is perfect for Christmas Eve in front of the telly. The reigning Santa is retiring, and his super-efficient but joyless son Steven is ready to take over. Then a child is left without a present and the future of the whole operation is in crisis.
The Holiday (2006)
Follow the all-star cast and you’ll find a festive romcom about a pair of house-swappers that fall in love abroad. If you didn’t hanker for Christmas in the countryside, this will convince you (snogging Jude Law under the mistletoe cannot be promised.
Love Actually (2003)
Is it even Christmas is you’re not watching Hugh Grant’s dad dancing in No.10? This Richard Curtis rom-com — which follows the love stories of almost a dozen couples throughout the festive season — has become part of the classic canon of Christmas movies.
Stick Man (2016)
At just 26 minutes long, this Julia Donaldson adaptation of the much-loved children’s picture book, is a gentle animation that could hold back the present opening frenzy long enough for you to have a cuppa on Christmas Day. Voiced by James Corden, Stick Man tells the tale of a happy-go-lucky father’s epic journey to make it home in time for Christmas. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s sweet.
Coventry wouldn’t be the first place you imagine as the setting of a brilliant festive film, but Nativity is is a celebration of Christmas miracles. Martin Freeman stars as Scrooge-like primary school teacher Paul Maddens, (due to his girlfriend leaving him on Christmas Day), who is asked to put on the annual school Nativity play. His last attempt was a catastrophe, but the show must go on. Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy is pure joy.
The Apartment (1960)
What Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning 1960 classic lacks in Santa hats and elves it makes up for with a festive office party, booze-fuelled flirtations and a cacophony of party hooters. Set in the Mad Men era, singleton (Jack Lemmon) lets his co-workers use his home for their affairs – but then falls in love with his boss’s mistress (Shirley MacClaine). It’s fully loaded with love, loneliness and a fug of whiskey fumes. All the festive feels rolled into one.
Home Alone (1990, PG)
The film that launched the career of child star Macaulay Culkin. Chris Columbus’s Home Alone is heavy on the slapstick, but against all odds, a sentimental Christmas streak does shine through. Despite often wanting to escape my kids, I’m not sure it I’d be on the plane to Paris before I realised I’ve left one behind. Bad mum moment on steroids.
Scrooged (1988, 12)
Charles Dickens’ Victorian ghost story A Christmas Carolgets an 80s spin, with Bill Murray perfectly cast as a smug TV exec who’s about to get his ghost-busting comeuppance. It’s you feel a brain dead from a cheesy Christmas movie marathon, Scrooged should hit the spot.
Trading Places (1983, 15)
Prince and the pauper tales are not just for panto… oh no they’re not. Trading Places – often forgotten on festive film lists stars Eddie Murphy as a streetwise hustler who switches lives with Wall Street moneybags Dan Aykroyd. Christmas setting and sentiment with an idiots guide to global economics thrown in too.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1994, PG)
What happens when the Pumpkin King is over Halloween? If you’re Jack Skellington, you tumble into Christmas Town and kidnap Father Christmas. Tim Burton weaves his dark gothic magic in The Nightmare Before Christmas (would you expect anything less?), with a cast of loveable-morbid creations working a goofy, macabre storyline. It might be too dark for littlies, but it’s a visual delight that is just frightening enough to keep your kids on the good list.
It might have a film title longer than the end credits, but The Chronicles of Narnia is snowy treat based on CS Lewis’s novel will have you dreaming of a white Christmas and a magical world at the back of your wardrobe. The only thing I found was a puff ball skirt from the 80s. It’s a film that has it all – fantasy, magic, drama, Father Christmas and Tilda Swinton as the White Witch. A worthy festive watch with the family.
Cheese-free? Er no. But Elf is possibly the best Christmas film of all time. Yes it even beats A Miracle of 34th Street. Will Ferrell’s man-child persona hilariously complements this comedy about a giant elf searching for his dad in NYC. It’s funny, is brimming with heart and soul that cherishes festive cheer. In a genre that’s saccharine at the best of times, Elf is just sweet enough.