Nov. 1 marked the first day of Retail Christmas, a two-month, holiday extravaganza in which all Halloween candy was rewrapped in green and red plastic. While wall-to-wall lawn Santas weren’t our cue to throw ourselves into the yuletide festivities, we do accept Thanksgiving as an acceptable kickoff for 24-hour carol radio and TV specials galore. We’d be a bunch of Scrooges not to join in on the fun.
There’s no better way to fend off a coma-inducing meal than settling into a deep sofa groove and flipping on a classic Christmas movie. But in the streaming age, it’s become increasingly difficult to pull up some decent cheer with a click of a button. So to avoid anyone shaking their fist and cursing “O Tannenbaum!” at their Netflix app this season (note: O Tannenbaum is not a swear), we’ve compiled a list of the best Christmas movies currently streaming on major platforms. The jingle hop has begun!
White Christmas deserves the biggest and best screen in your home. Director Michael Curtiz shot the 1954 musical in VistaVision, the high resolution format of its era, and the impact of the decision shows in the modern restoration, a presentation as rich with color and detail as any modern action flick. A huge TV flatters the classic sets and elaborate dance numbers and even though the audio is mono, a nice set of headphones or speakers elevates its classic songs, belted by Christmas music legends Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. One humongous asterisk: the film does away with the explicitly racist blackface number of its predecessor, Holiday Inn, however it still includes an entire routine dedicated to the joys of a minstrel show. Be prepared to explain the horrific context to younger family members and fend off complaints of sensitivity from any ghoulish relatives.
Stream on Netflix
On paper, Prancer isn’t much better than the standard Hallmark film. However, Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda and a handful of other character actors work miracles with the script. If Elliott obliterated your heartstrings in A Star Is Born, then Prancer and a deep glass of mulled wine should be enough to catalyze a good old fashioned Christmas-time happy-sob.
If you’re looking for a straightforward, tinsel-lined horror movie, you can’t do better than Bob Clark’s Canadian slasher flick. (Apologies to Jack Frost, the serial-killer snowman movie — Black Christmas is just better!) Originally released in the U.S. as Silent Night, Evil Night, the low-budget horror movie crackles like a warm fire blown by a chilly gust of wind. Clark uses shadows and lurking horrors to turn a sorority house into a something ripped from a Shirley Jackson paperback cover, and while the transgressions within don’t find too much inspiration in Christmas iconography, there is a “wrapping job” that will leave you gasping.
Stream on Kanopy
A Christmas Prince
If you’re looking for 100 percent confectionary fluff (and aren’t pumping Hallmark’s Christmas schedule directly into your veins), give this so-much-better-than-you-think-it’ll-be Netflix Original a whirl. Amber (iZombie’s Rose McIver) plays a journalist sent to the made-up land of Aldovia the royal passing-of-the-torch to bad boy bachelor Prince Richard (Ben Lamb). Amber winds up going undercover in the castle to get all the scoops, but ... she gets in too deep! The magic of the Christmas season makes everything too romantic, and awwww, you know the rest. Watch this in anticipation of the sequel, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding, out on the platform starting Nov. 30.
Stream on Netflix
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Christmas movie? Halloween movie? Split the difference: Tim Burton and stop-motion animator Henry Selick’s macabre holiday musical is the perfect Thanksgiving movie. The story of Jack Skellington figuring out how to stay in his holiday lane is still a quirky sight to see, with lots of strange details packed into the every frame. If you’ve seen this one too many times, fall down the YouTube rabbit hole of Danny Elfman performing the soundtrack live.
Stream on Hulu
Most people know Aardman Animations for their claymation films, like Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit series. Arthur Christmas is one of their few forays into computer animation, but the switch in style sacrifices none of the charm. It tells the story of Arthur Claus, Santa’s silly but well-meaning son, who must take over his pop’s role when things at the North Pole go south. The story is largely a foundation for what Aardman does best: world building. Writers Sarah Smith and Peter Baynham have as much fun sending Arthur through the wringer and, as they do, explaining how Santa’s operation works.
It’s a Wonderful Life
If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life or if it’s just been awhile, then you might not know how the film, from intro to credits, is unapologetically weird and transgressive. All that Christmas Carol-esque stuff in which an “angel” shows George Bailey (James Stewart) what his town would have looked like had he never existed is just a fraction of the film. It’s preceded by 30 years of Bailey’s life, punctuated by the Great Depression and World War II. And that helpful angel? He and his “boss” are introduced as sentient cosmic dust. The film is a holiday cobbler stuffed with bits of Charles Dickens, Rod Serling and Billy Wilder. Don’t let its reputation as sappy holiday detritus get in the way you enjoying of an exceptional film — Christmas or otherwise.
Stream on Amazon
The late Satoshi Kon is best known for iconic anime films like Perfect Blue and Paprika. Tokyo Godfathers is, in the West, his underappreciated gem. Co-written by Keiko Nobumoto, the lead writer on the Cowboy Bebop anime, the film follows three homeless people who discover an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. The depiction of its leads is imperfect, but Kon and Nobumoto have compassion for the families we choose, rather than those to which we’re born. For folks burned on traditional Christmas cheer, Tokyo Godfathers may be a welcome salve.
Stream on Crackle
A Christmas Tale
A Christmas Tale may be the furthest from a feel-good holiday movie and the closest to a real, bittersweet holiday experience. The French family at the heart of this domestic dramedy includes a maddening, albeit hilarious son played by Bond villain and legit thespian Mathieu Amalric, while Catherine Deneuve dominates each scene as his proud mother. The countless cringe-inducing personal jabs amongst siblings who know each other better than they know themselves would make for a tough watch were the film not shot with such beauty and warmth. Maybe that’s the point: Christmas is the time of year when our family’s problems can be concealed by fragrant candles, soft lighting and a gentle song on the piano.
Stream on FilmStruck (before the service ends on Nov. 29)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
You’ll have to keep an eye on NBC’s primetime schedule to catch Chuck Jones’ classic, 1966 animated special (the first airing is Nov. 23) or head to the theaters for the CG-animated remake. If you want to get any Grinch fix with a click, you’ll have to give the Jim Carrey a whirl — but we promise it’s better than you remember, especially if you have a sick sense of humor about prequelization. The real highlight of Ron Howard’s live-action version is seeing a prepubescent Grinch navigate the vicious world middle school, in which he attempts to shave and get fancy for his classmates. It’s bizarre, and maybe what you need at the height of overstuffed delirium.
Stream on Netflix