You’re about to sit down with your family for Christmas dinner and spend a long (or, depending on your relationship with them, really long) weekend with them eating too much food and running out of ways to keep yourselves entertained. Streaming being the untamed landscape that it is, with curation in short supply, take it from us: These are the holiday movies worth your time among the literal thousands of holiday movies clogging up your channels.
- Miracle on 34th Street: Santa on trial! Talk about a war on Christmas! Get that culture war revved up and throw on George Seaton’s courtroom classic, where Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is nearly convinced he’s insane and committed to Bellevue; that’s what he get for being kind, generous, and, you know, actual Santa Claus.
- The Holiday: Funny how time changes critical perception. Reviewers weren’t at all keen on Nancy Meyers’ holiday rom-com on its initial release in 2006; somehow, an ensemble comprising Kate Winslet, Rufus Sewell, Jack Black, Cameron Diaz, Jude law, and Shannyn Sossamon, among others, didn’t work its charms for the pros. Now, after a decade and change of reevaluation, The Holiday gets to enjoy at least a little of the recognition it deserves.
- Krampus: Look, if you thought this list wouldn’t include a horror film, then you’re kidding yourself. Krampus is to Christmas what Trick ‘r Treat is to Halloween, in the sense that they’re both Michael Dougherty movies and are built out of great scary material, a whole lot of stunning practical FX, and admonition over respect for the holidays. Dougherty keeps horror in his heart even at the most wonderful time of the year.
- Hugo: Martin Scorsese only makes gangster movies, you say? False! He makes all kinds of movies, including children’s movies, and what do you know, his take on a children’s movie is better than most. Hugo, while technically not a holiday picture, dropped in 2011 around the holiday season, and that alongside its kind messages about valuing what matters most in life – our loved ones – associates it closely enough to Christmas and Hanukkah in our minds that it qualifies. Plus, again: Marty.
- White Christmas: Do you like sugar cookies? Is mainlining unadulterated Yuletide sentimentality all December long your thing? Michael Curtiz made this movie just for you, a technicolor musical that starts out in World War II’s European theater and ends in the best state in the union, Vermont, blanketed under cover of snow. It’s pure song and dance joy.
- Klaus: Sergio Pablos seizes on the history of Saint Nicholas, the real figure Santa Claus derives from, to make his own Santa mythos, and the results are gorgeous. How Klaus avoided attention in winter 2019 is a cruel mystery; Netflix isn’t great shakes at promoting originals, a greater shame considering Klaus is actually the first original animated movie to appear on their service. Seek it out. It’s lovely, honest fare with a distinct point of view on what Christmas is supposed to mean.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol: The best Christmas movie ever made, and there’s no point arguing about it with us. Muppets. Dickens. Christmas spirit in the best way. Leave it to Gonzo, Kermit, and Michael Caine going hard in the paint to give us the third greatest gift, laughter, and a wonderful lesson about the fellowship of mankind.
- It’s a Wonderful Life: This movie comes in second to The Muppet Christmas Carol, but it’s a close second. Every year, the Internet puts its best foot forward trying to suck all the joy out of the Frank Capra classic; we at Cool Material don’t tolerate that shabby nonsense. It’s a Wonderful Life endures for a reason. It’s true. And it’s great.
- The Night Before: Zipping forward nearly 70 years, let’s toast Jonathan Levine’s woefully underrated “dudes rock” holiday stoner comedy, where Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie bro out in search of the very finest Christmas Eve party they can find. Shenanigans ensue. Michael Shannon plays their weed dealer. He might also be an angel. It’s a Christmas movie!
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: A movie about learning to be happy with what you have. It isn’t easy being the King of Halloween Town, though that sounds like a plum gig if you can get it; even so, being in charge of the year’s annual spooky season for eternity has gotten old for Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), so cut him slack for wanting to try out being Santa for a night. The Nightmare Before Christmas is one masterwork among many in Henry Selick’s career, and a great alternative to the schmaltz that makes up the majority of Christmas fare.
- Iron Man 3: Shane Black makes good movies. He also strictly makes Christmas movies. Overwhelming as the Marvel Industrial Complex is, whenever President Feige gives directorial control to a filmmaker with a voice and vision, the film tends to turn out nicely. Iron Man 3 is a great example of how the confluence of franchise management and an artist’s individuality can make for great superhero movies.
- Jingle All the Way: Everyone needs dumb laughs once in a while, and everyone needs to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger make a fool of himself for 80 minutes straight. What a tonic. Howard Langston sucks at getting his family Christmas gifts; we’ve all been there. Most of us probably haven’t gotten into a scuffle with Sinbad in a shopping mall, but we don’t pretend to speak for everybody’s holiday experiences.
- The Christmas Chronicles (Netflix): Who doesn’t want to watch Kurt Russell play swole zaddy Santa Claus? That’s it. That’s all you need to know. It’s all you want to know. Russell, Santa, big bushy beard.
- The Man Who Invented Christmas (Hulu): There are precious few roles Dan Stevens can’t absolutely crush, and given that we love The Muppet Christmas Carol, why not pair it with the story of the man responsible for writing its source material? The party really gets going once the late, great Christopher Plummer shows up as Ebenezer Scrooge.
- A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (Amazon Prime): For the folks out there who like their Christmas spirit higher than Santa’s sleigh and braindead. It’s The Night Before’s lesser cousin, but they make a good enough double.