One of my favorite holiday activities is curling up on the couch with my family to watch Christmas movies. It’s such a fun and entertaining way to get into the holiday spirit!
Or at least it always seems that way in my mind. Reality is often the polar opposite of imagination.
In our house, movie night typically starts with everyone eagerly awaiting the movie. Our 3 kids, ages 10, 6, and 4, are generally quiet and attentive for the first half an hour or so.
But just as my husband and I start to get sucked into the flick, the energy in the room shifts. Maybe it starts with an argument about which character is better. Or maybe one kid annoys another kid with incessant talking.
Whatever the reason, it’s not long before one kid is headed for time out and another is bawling their eyes out over some perceived atrocity.
We proceed with the movie, pausing multiple times to calm and re-focus the kids or abandon movie night altogether if the train goes entirely off the tracks.
More times than not, movie night ends with an early bedtime and unfinished film.
Ah … the joys of parenting!
But as the song says …. “You’re gonna miss this.” And someday, I’m sure that will be true. For now, I’m doing my best to take it day by day and enjoy the little moments with them, even despite the fighting.
And with that, I give you my ultimate list of favorite Christmas movies!
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1. Elf (2003) PG
I’m a sucker for Will Ferrell because I absolutely love laughing! He is one of those actors who can immediately flip my mood from cranky to joyful and he definitely delivers in this lighthearted Christmas movie.
In fact, I love this movie so much that I watch it multiple times throughout the year. It can typically keep my kids fairly engaged as well, which as you can tell from the beginning of the post, is a challenge!
This movie follows Buddy, a human raised as an elf in the North Pole, as he travels to New York to track down his biological father. Along the way he meets a variety of characters, infecting them with his insanely upbeat holiday spirit.
Despite the hilarity, there is a strong message which comes out over and over again from this movie and why it’s one of my very favorite Christmas movies of all time. The message is that even when challenges come your way, if you maintain a positive outlook, good things will happen. And I don’t know about you, but that’s a reminder I can use throughout the year!
Find it: Hulu with Starz add-on
You may also enjoy reading this post about how to have a more positive mindset.
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) PG-13
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is one of those laugh out loud films which doesn’t take itself too seriously.
It follows Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, a family man desperately planning a memorable Christmas for his family but who is met with resistance on every front. From power outages to unexpected visits from irritating family members, he does his best to make the most out of every situation.
And obviously, hilarity ensues.
Part of the charm of this movie is that almost everyone can relate to his struggles. I mean, who hasn’t found themselves inadvertently locked in the attic while the rest of the family gathers for Christmas shopping? Ok … maybe not that one.
But who hasn’t expected that huge Christmas work bonus which somehow doesn’t quite materialize? Maybe you’ve even spent hours upon hours putting lights on your house only to find nothing sparkles or shines when you plug the whole works in.
But when it happens to someone else, suddenly it’s all hilarious!
Similar to Elf, I find this movie inspiring in that despite everything thrown at him, Clark perseveres. He keeps going in his ultimate quest for the perfect Christmas. It’s a great holiday reminder to never give up!
You may also enjoy this post about how to stay motivated when things get tough.
3. Jingle Jangle (2020) PG
If you loved The Greatest Showman, you’re in for an outstanding holiday treat with this one! Jingle Jangle is the story of a famous toymaker who loses everything. His brilliance, his inventions, and ultimately, his family.
It’s only when his granddaughter visits for the holidays that he realizes everything he needed was right in front of his nose the entire time.
This film combines spot-on musical numbers with exciting and engaging choreography throughout. Although we had to watch it in multiple sessions, my kids were engaged throughout and dancing right along!
This film delivers powerful messages of forgiveness and gratitude, messages we could all use after this especially tumultuous year.
It’s a fabulous film which I’m confident you’ll add to your “must watch” list of Christmas movies year after year.
Find it: Netflix
4. White Christmas (1954) NR
It only seemed fitting to follow-up a brand new Christmas tradition with an old one. And by old, I mean a film which has been around for the past 60+ years.
This film is the epitome of the classic musical tradition. Not to mention its title track is the ONLY Christmas song I enjoy any day of the year.
The story follows two best friend entertainers as they travel across the country to save the inn of their former military general. And there is, of course, a romantic twist to the musical. Because what would a classic musical be without a bit of romance?
Watching this movie always brings me back to a simpler time before computers, Nintendo, and social media. It brings me back to what’s truly important in life. Doing good and being there for those you care about.
In this complicated and sometimes frightening world, I love the reminder that simplicity and authenticity still exist. After watching this film, I think you’ll agree that there’s a reason why it’s one of the Christmas movies to withstand the test of time.
Find it: Netflix
5. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) PG
If you’re looking for a new twist on a classic story, look no further than The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
As a second grader, my daughter had been listening to The Nutcracker in music class when this movie first came out. She loved it and insisted we see the movie in theaters.
And so, I took both her and my son, age 4 at the time, to the theater to see it. Although skeptical about his ability to sit through the film, he actually remained captivated the entire time. The film was so well done that it would be difficult to imagine anyone losing interest.
Between the brilliant casting, costumes, scenery, and music, this film expertly weaves elements of old and new together seamlessly. It was almost as if I was watching something both entirely new and vaguely familiar at the same time.
This film also delivers a powerful message of never giving up, regardless of the challenges you’re facing. It’s an outstanding movie that you definitely don’t want to miss!
Find it: Hulu with add-on
6. The Polar Express (2004) G
Following up a number of live action Christmas movies finally comes an animated masterpiece. The Polar Express follows a young boy as he makes the life-changing decision to board a train bound for the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
Along the way, he learns the value of friendship, sacrifice, and the true meaning of Christmas. This is another of those classic Christmas movies which truly withstands the test of time.
And despite the animation, there are plenty of hair-raising action scenes which will leave you on the edge of your seat. It’s guaranteed to suck you right into a completely different and magical world.
And I love the take-away message that one decision to take a tiny step can completely transform your life which is applicable year-round. If you’re short on holiday spirit this year, The Polar Express is virtually guaranteed to restore it!
Although my kids have yet to see it, I’m hoping to incorporate this film into our Christmas Eve this year. Fingers crossed that they’re as captivated by it as I am!
You may enjoy this post about how to de-stress during the holidays.
7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) PG
Although there have been several Grinch movies, the Jim Carrey one has and always will be my favorite version. He has a way of bringing the Grinch character to life unlike any other actor.
His portrayal of the Grinch flips you from absolutely hating the guts out of him to feeling empathy and even love for the guy by the end. He makes the Grinch absolutely relatable in many ways.
Who hasn’t felt utterly left out at some point in their life? Or that perhaps others are not to be trusted and a life in solitude is thus safer? Perhaps you’ve even felt that if you can’t have fun, then no one else should either?
Maybe none of us have ever gone to the extremes the Grinch does but regardless, we’ve all had these feelings at one time or another in our lives.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a reminder that in order to have a friend, we have to be a friend. We have to be willing to put ourselves out there but with an open heart, we will find acceptance.
Find it: Netflix, Hulu with add-on
8. Mulan (2020) PG-13
Ok, ok. I know this isn’t exactly a Christmas movie but I still wanted to make mention of this incredible cinematic masterpiece. It’s by far the best movie to come out this year and I would be remiss to not mention it.
Having somehow missed the cartoon version, I had no idea what to expect from the movie. I was absolutely blown away by the acting, the film score, and the story line itself.
Mulan is a woman raised in a society with strict gender expectations. As a woman, she is expected to bring honor to her family by marrying well and having a family of her own.
But Mulan’s interests and skills are far from domestic. She is athletic, intelligent, and brave, qualities which are better served on the battle field than in the home.
When a fierce enemy threatens her country, Mulan makes the difficult decision to disguise herself as a man to defend her beloved country and bring honor to her family in a way which is true to herself.
Although the story takes place centuries ago, echoes of gender expectations are still heard today. Women still earn less than men in many companies and are still largely in charge of domestic duties in many households.
We have yet to see a woman president.
Closing the gender gap is still miles away.
But this film inspires hope. Hope that if Mulan could bring honor to her family not as a wife and mother but as a warrior, we too can break away and follow our own paths.
Mulan is exactly the inspiration we need to spark incredible change in the coming year!
It’s Your Turn
And there you have it! 8 ultimate Christmas movies to watch this season. Are any of the ones I mentioned also on your list of favorites? Or did I miss your favorite one? I’d love to hear about your favorites and maybe add a few flicks to my own “must watch” list!