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It's a Wonderful Life

Top 50 Holiday Movies of All Time: Love Actually, It’s a Wonderful Life & More

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It's a Wonderful Life

We’re barreling down the track to Christmas, which means it’s the perfect time to list some of my favorite holiday movies ever. I have a real soft spot for the heartwarming holiday classics, and make sure I carve out time every year to watch them. And with all the distressing news out there in the world, we need some holiday cheer, don’t we?

See if you agree with my choices, and be sure to list your favorites in the comments below. I’m sure I’ve missed some!

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). No surprises here. Frank Capra’s classic, starring Thomas Mitchell and Jimmy Stewart is a true holiday classic about a despondent, suicidal man whose zest for life is rekindled after being shown what life would have been like without him.

2. Love Actually (2003). If anything can cheer us up, it’s watching Hugh Grant dance to the Pointer Sisters. He plays the British prime minister in this ensemble comedy about eight couples falling in and out of love over the holiday season.

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). Perhaps the most well known holiday TV special ever, the Peanuts gang — especially Linus — reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. In this house, we wouldn’t think of getting through the holiday season without watching Charlie Brown pick the best little Christmas tree ever.

4. White Christmas (1954). Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye star in probably my favorite holiday classic. The war buddies and singing sister act travel to the same cozy Vermont lodge and end up finding love in the process. It’s the best.

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). Sure, there’s the Jim Carrey version further down the list, but this classic is my favorite. Boris Karloff voices the green creature who’s heart grew immeasurably that day.

6. Meet Me In St. Louis (1944). Judy Garland sings her way through St. Louis as her family prepares for Christmas and a move to New York. I still weep a little when she sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

7. The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star in this feel-good classic about two employees at a gift shop who can barely stand each other. As luck would have it, they’re actually falling in love as each other’s anonymous pen pal.

8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Youngster Natalie Wood lawyer’s up in defense of Santa Claus when the man claiming to be him is institutionalized as insane. Maybe she can convince her mom to believe in the jolly guy, too.

9. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). Who knew a tiny reindeer’s glowing nose would save Christmas? Thank goodness we’re all different with our own particular gifts.

10. Holiday Inn (1942). Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds sing and dance their way through the holiday season as the men compete for the lady’s attention. Astair’s drunken — and highly skilled — dance is one of the best dance scenes ever.

11. Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Barbara Stanwyck plays an unmarried journalist who lies about her home life. When her boss asks to come over for Christmas, she and Dennis Morgan play pretend for the holiday in the wintery classic.

12. While You Were Sleeping (1995). Sandra Bullock stars as a lonely subway toll booth operator named Lucy who pines for regular customer Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher). When Lucy rescues Peter after he’s beaten by a gang of thugs and tossed on the tracks, his family mistakenly thinks she’s his fiance. Things get really complicated when sparks fly between her and Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman).

13. Remember the Night (1940). Never heard of this one? Check it out. Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in this charming romance about a male prosecutor who befriends a female shoplifter at Christmas. Yep, love blooms.

14. Frosty the Snowman (1969). This was a song first — “Frosty the Snowman” — turned into an animated TV feature about a chilly hero with a warm heart who tries to hang onto his magic hat.

15. Elf (2003). Will Ferrell channels his inner child as Buddy, a human raised as an elf in Santa’s workshop. But when he ventures into the big world, his boundless joy may be the perfect antidote to a gloomy Christmas for Zooey Deschanel and her fellow New Yorkers.

16. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). As the bumbling patriarch of his family, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) tries to get in a festive mood only to have his plans continually go awry. First his Christmas bonus is delayed. Then his rude relatives intrude on his family’s Christmas.

17. Since You Went Away (1944). This movie starring Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and Joseph Cotton isn’t exactly a Christmas movie, but its powerful ending happens on Christmas Eve. While husband Tim is away during World War II, Anne Hilton copes with problems on the home front, including taking in a lodger, dealing with shortages, and keeping watching on her daughter’s blooming romance.

18. A Christmas Story (1983). “You’ll shoot your eye out!” It’s the words that haunt Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) as he begs for that one things he wants for Christmas — a Red Ryder BB gun.

19. Scrooge (1970). Albert Finney earned a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in this version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The greedy old man learns the cost of his gloom and the value of a kind heart during the holiday season.

20. The Preacher’s Wife (1996). This adaptation of the 1947 classic The Bishop’s Wife finds Denzel Washington as an angel who’s tasked with guiding a devoted preacher whose dedication to his work has put a strain on his marriage to wife Julia (Whitney Houston).

21. Home Alone (1990). When 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left at home while his family goes on Christmas vacation, he finds it exhilarating at first, but then lonely as the holiday approaches. Thank goodness he’s there to protect his house from pesky thieves Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

22. A Christmas Carol (1951). Here’s another adaption of Charles Dickens’ famous story, this one starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. This version is often heralded as the best.

23. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). And yet another version, this time with Michael Caine playing Ebenezer Scrooge alongside Kermit and the gang as the Muppets take on the Dickens tale.

24. The Polar Express (2004). Tom Hanks brings the beloved children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg to the big screen in this beautifully animated story. The magic of the Christmas season is discovered as a train ushers children to the North Pole to see Santa.

25. Scrooged (1988). Bill Murray plays selfish TV executive Frank Cross in this version of the Dickens story that also stars Robert Mitchum, John Forsythe, Karen Allen and Carol Kane.

26. Die Hard (1988). It’s Christmas with a yippee-kai-yai Bruce Willis twist. New York City detective John McClane just wants to enjoy Christmas with his family, if only a few pesky German terrorists hadn’t thrown a wrench into his plans.

27. The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006). The more recent version of this TV special (it was also made in 1974) finds John Goodman playing Santa and planning to take the season off, until a little boy helps him rekindle the Christmas spirit.

28. The Santa Clause (1994). Here’s the “clause”: if Santa dies and you discover his body, you have to suit up and become the next Santa. Such is the fate that befalls slacker dad Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) as he undergoes the transformation.

29. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). John Candy and Steve Martin play two mismatched travelers just trying to get home to Chicago, and driving each other nuts in the process. Shield your kids’ ears during the rental car counter scene.

30. When Harry Met Sally (1989). Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal play longtime platonic friends who slowly start to fall for each other. There’s the classic diner scene (you know the one), but my favorite is the ending, when Crystal says these wonderful words: “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

31. The Bishop’s Wife (1947). This is the original version of the aforementioned The Preacher’s Wife. Cary Grant plays the angel Dudley who helps a bishop find his way back to his family again.

32. The Nightmare Before Christmas (2003). Director Tim Burton brings his twisted take on the holiday season with this stop-motion animated film about Jack Skellington — the King of Halloweentown — who wanders into the foreign Christmas town and has trouble grasping the concept.

33. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). This animated, musical TV special finds Jim Backus as the crotchety but lovable Ebenezer Scrooge. Morey Amsterdam and Jack Cassidy also star.

34. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Yes, it happened again! Not only did Kevin get separated from his family once, but a second time during the hectic holiday season. Instead of protecting his house, he finds himself in the winter wonderland of New York City during Christmastime, and the exact same bandits are chasing him!

35. The Family Stone (2004). Sarah Jessica Parker plays a conservative woman who meets her boyfriend’s wildly different family for the first time during the holidays. Awkward.

36. The Family Man (2000). A greedy Wall Street trader (Nicolas Cage) gets a taste of family life complete with minivans on Christmas morning. Hmmm … maybe money isn’t the secret to happiness after all.

37. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001). Renée Zellweger plays the title character who makes several New Year’s resolutions which she dutifully records in her diary. Along the way, she meets a possible romantic interest wearing a hideous holiday sweater at a Christmas party.

38. Little Women (1994). This more recent adaptation of the 1868 Louisa May Alcott novel (it’s been done numerous times) features a cast that includes Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Claire Danes, Gabriel Byrne and Christian Bale. Several scenes center on the holidays, including the homecoming of the girls’ father from the Civil War.

39. Fred Claus (2007). This movie, centering on Santa’s bitter brother Fred (Vince Vaughn), who’s forced to move to the North Pole, has one of my favorite Christmas movie scenes ever — Fred injecting some energy into the elves with a little Elvis Presley. I like it!

40. Jingle All the Way (1996). Action star Arnold Schwarzenegger gets sweet in this story about a father who becomes embroiled in a battle over a sold-out toy his son wants.

41. Four Christmases (2008). Vince Vaughn and his better half (Reese Witherspoon) are both the product of divorces and need to visit four separate parents on Christmas Day. But they learn something new about each during the holidays.

42. The Holiday (2006). Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz play two women troubled with guy-problems who swap homes in each other’s countries, where love soon follows. Jack Black and Jude Law also star in this Nancy Meyers film.

43. A Midnight Clear (1992). Gary Sinise and his fellow World War II fighters spend Christmas together in this drama also starring Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon and Ethan Hawke.

44. Prancer (1989). Abe Vigoda, Cloris Leachman, Sam Elliott and Rebecca Harrell Tickell star in this movie about a poor farmer’s daughter who hides a reindeer with an injured leg in her barn until she can return him to Santa.

45. The Ref (1994). Tough guy Denis Leary plays a burglar who takes a couple hostage on Christmas Eve, but ends up presiding over their domestic disputes.

46. One Magic Christmas (1985). In this Disney tale, a woman (Mary Steenburgen, right) needs help rediscovering her belief in Christmas and the “magic” of the season. Luckily, Santa can show her a thing or two.

47. Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). Jim Carrey plays the mean Grinch who sets his sights on destroying Christmas for the neighboring village. Maybe he just needs a little love.

48. The Santa Clause 2 (2002). Tim Allen returns as Kris Kringle in this sequel to The Santa Clause. Turns out there’s another clause: Santa has to find a wife in order to keep being Santa.

49. Home for the Holidays (1995). Directed by Jodie Foster, this ensemble dramedy stars Holly Hunter, Claire Danes, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott and Steve Guttenberg as a dysfunctional family trying to get along during the holidays.

50. You’ve Got Mail (1998). This modern day version of The Shop Around the Corner finds Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as the business rivals who, unbeknownst to them, are falling in love with each other via email.

Jane Boursaw is the founder and editor-in-chief of Reel Life With Jane. Her credits include hundreds of print and online publications, including The New York Times, People Magazine, Variety, Moviefone, TV Squad and more. Follow her on Twitter at @reellifejane.

Jane Boursaw has written posts on Reel Life With Jane.


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15 comments

  1. Well, I could yippee-ka-yeah some Die Hard, shoot my eye out for A Christmas Story or wear a crazy candle wreath hat and watch the The Ref. Most of the others too schmaltzy for me. I realize I’m in the minority on that though.

  2. Wow, what an extensive list! I’ve got a lot to catch up on.

  3. Such a fun list. My husband has It’s a Wonderful LIfe on right now. : – )

  4. What a great list! I’d forgotten about While You Were Sleeping. Holiday Inn is one of my favorites.

  5. This is an incredible list, Jane. THANK YOU! I’ve seen some of these and am more than inspired to watch more of them. Your breadth of knowledge about movies is astounding girlfriend! You must eat a lot of popcorn…

  6. Very nice work. I would add “Lost in Paradise” and “Bad Santa” to the list. They both surprised me.

  7. Great list! I’ve seen most of these, but there are a few I’ve yet to watch, including Meet Me In St. Louis. A friend said it’s a great movie though, so I might have to watch it even though Christmas is over.

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