’Tis the season to be jolly — as long as you find the right movie, TV marathon or holiday special to satisfy everyone in your family.
With TV listings stuffed with Christmas classics and streaming services fully loaded with old a new options, finding the perfect thing to watch on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or into the Christmas aftermath has never been more difficult. Having sifted through Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus, and more for the best options, and watched enough to make some concrete calls, we’ve compiled a list that should help any type of holiday viewer.
Every Christmas movie, show, and special on Netflix
Having announced plans in November to dominate the holiday season, Netflix has steadily rolled out new Christmas content all through the month. You can read the full list here, but we’d call your attention to Let It Snow, starring Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’s Shameik Moore, or the 2D-animated Klaus, which finds magic in a grounded approach to the Santa myth. Director Sergio Pablos told Polygon about his idea for the film earlier this year:
I love a story that has a bit of a cynical element to it to begin with, but it leads unexpectedly to an honest truth. I really liked the idea of removing all magic from all these little snippets of origin stories of Santa Claus and saying, well how fun could it be if all the things you expect to just be there because of magic actually had a grounded, somewhat cynical origin story that actually led to some truth. I always say that I always find the story when I find the irony. These ideas could be floating around waiting for an angle until I go, well what if all that’s good about Santa came about through the actions of the worst human being I can conceive of. That would make it interesting. The irony is something that I look for all the time.
The best Christmas movies on Netflix
Earlier this month, the Polygon staff delivered a definitive ranking of every Netflix original Christmas movie. It’s a solid mix of stocking stuffers and absolute coal.
On Holiday in the Wild: Holiday in the Wild, a movie that’s 80 percent just shots of Rob Lowe and/or baby elephants, may have been specifically designed to make rich white ladies donate all their money to elephant sanctuaries. In which case, it’s a brilliant film.
On the tragically underrated A Very Murray Christmas: A Very Murray Christmas is like a holiday party with close friends, if those friends happen to be incredibly famous, wealthy, and talented. Here are just a few of the guests at the film’s glitzy, snowed-in Manhattan hotel: George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, and Jason Schwartzman. Small roles are filled by big talents, like Jenny Lewis serving drinks and David Johansen tending bar. The film also reunites Bill Murray with Lost in Translation director Sofia Coppola. After weeks of family-friend holiday treats, A Very Murray Christmas is cinematic ibuprofen.
If you just want to watch It’s a Wonderful Life
Amazon Prime has a gluttony of Hallmark-adjacent Christmas TV movies — please let us know if Snowed-Inn Christmas, The 12 Dogs of Christmas, and A Baby for Christmas are worth watching and recommending — but the service does have Frank Capra’s holiday classic on demand whenever you need a blast of George Bailey’s moral awakening. The film will also play on NBC at 8pm EST on Christmas Eve.
If you just want to watch Die Hard
For the crowd that embarks on the “but it is a Christmas movie” argument every year, cut to the chase and just watch John McTiernan’s action masterpiece. The movie’s available to rent on every platform (iTunes, Amazon, etc), you can stream it for free on Sony’s Crackle platform, and it’s playing through the holiday on TV. The Pop network will air Bruce Willis’ Christmas shoot-em-up at 4pm, 7pm, and 10pm EST on Dec. 24, while Paramount will marathon the movie on Dec. 25 starting at 8am EST. Yippee-ki-yay.
What time every other Christmas special is on TV
Speaking of live television, here’s a quick breakdown of what you may actually want to watch in the next 48 hours. (All times listed are EST.)
TV highlights on Dec. 24
AMC, 3:45: The Year Without a Santa Claus
Sundance, 4pm and 7pm: White Christmas
TCM, 4pm: It Happened on Fifth Avenue
MTV, 5pm: Bad Santa
TCM, 6:15pm: Holiday Affair
ABC, 8pm: Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Fox, 8pm: A Christmas Story Live!
AMC, 8pm: Elf
BET, 8pm: One Crazy Christmas
FX, 8pm: A Christmas Carol (a new one from the people who brought you Peaky Blinders!)
TBS, 8pm: A Christmas Story
TCM, 8pm: The Bishop’s Wife
TV highlights on Dec. 25
E!, all day: It’s a Wonderful Life
TBS, all day: A Christmas Story
TNT, all day: A Christmas Story
TCM, 4pm: The Shop Around the Corner
Freeform, 5:50pm: Home Alone
NBC, 8pm: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
AMC, 8pm: Elf
FX, 8pm: A Christmas Carol
Freeform, 8:20p: Home Alone 2
Christmas movies and specials on Disney Plus
The recently launched Disney-specific platform is an immediate haven for nostalgic Christmas movies and TV specials. If you’re looking for something fresh, there’s the new movie Noelle starring Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader. But as our own Karen Han put it in her review, the movie comes together like “gloppy Christmas porridge.” Read before you gulp down.
But if you’re looking an old favorite, you’re probably in luck. The Nightmare Before Christmas? Check. The Santa Clause? Check. Mickey’s various Christmas specials? Got ‘em. And A Muppet Christmas Carol, easily the best version of Dickens tale ... ever? ... is ready to stream, too. Here’s the full list of Christmas movies to save you from endless scrolling.
The Christmas movies in theaters
If your couch only holds so many people, consider going to an actual movie theater to see Christmas-adjacent entertainment. We can’t endorse The Rise of Skywalker this Life Day, but there are other options.
Having been released all the way back at the top of November, Last Christmas adapts the romantic vibes of George Michael’s holiday hit into a rom-com starring the dreamy pair of Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding. Here’s what we said in our full review:
As far as rom-coms go, Last Christmas is a safe, straightforward bet. [Director Paul] Feig doesn’t attempt any subversions of genre or gender expectations, à la Bridesmaids or Spy — Kate’s messiness is sometimes unappealing, which is rare for blockbuster heroines, but not for Feig’s characters. Even a major late-film twist isn’t enough to set the movie apart from other romantic comedies. But Last Christmas does the job when it comes to creating a pleasant haze of warm feelings, offering a momentary respite from the cold, cynical world outside the movie theater.
While not as overtly “Christmas,” the best movie you can see this holiday season is far and away Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (which technically takes place around the holiday seasons, in case you’re worried about not seeing Christmas decorations on the big screen). From our review of Little Women earlier this month:
The film doesn’t strike a single false note. It carries viewers through the lives of four very different women without picking any one to be the “right” way of doing things. The cast is uniformly wonderful as well, with Pugh in particular perfectly embodying the way fits of youthful pique can get the better of us when we are denied the things we want. That degree of earnestness — and love for both the joyful and bittersweet parts of life — makes Little Women a pure joy.
Emergency yule log options
Beware of dead air. If the debate is raging on, we urge you to at least flip on a yule log to pass the time before someone hijacks the TV. And you’re in luck: we have the ultimate list of themed yule logs, which includes everything from Marvel- to Doctor Who- to Hearthstone-skinned fireplaces.
A great to movie to watch if you don’t need a Christmas movie
Not every post-Christmas dinner crowd requires a tinsel-wrapped movie or special. Sometimes quality is the perfect gift. So we compiled the best movies streaming for every type of audience, whether you need a three-and-a-half-hour Martin Scorsese-directed crime saga or a swift injection of Tom Cruise hanging from a helicopter. Merry Christmas, everyone.