Christmas season is in full swing, and with it comes the annual feast of all things yuletide-themed and appropriately festive on streaming. Christmas is a holiday that’s inspired a wealth of enduring comedies about the value of family, community, love, and selflessness during the darkest and coldest time of the year. It’s also spawned no shortage of films that push at the boundaries of those well-worn tropes, twisting their holly-jolly exterior into cerebral and occasionally macabre stories that probe at the very darkness the holiday is meant to fend off.
In the spirit of the season and all its incarnations, we’ve pulled together a list of treasured classics and eclectic oddities for audiences to watch in the lead-up to Christmas. Like Santa’s big ’ol toy sack, there’s something here for everyone!
Christmas rom-coms? We’ve got Christmas rom-coms. Christmas-tinged superhero flicks? You bet. Christmas horror? Yeah, we’ve got some of those too. From undersung hits to all-time classics, here are the best Christmas movies to watch at home this holiday season.
A Christmas Prince
If you’re looking for 100% 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) is a journalist sent to the made-up land of Aldovia for 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 awww, you know the rest. —Matt Patches
A Christmas Prince is available to stream on Netflix.
Is Batman Returns a superhero movie that happens to take place around Christmas, or a gothic Christmas film that happens to have superheroes and villains in it? In any case, Tim Burton’s 1992 follow-up to his original Batman is an awesome film filled with cool visuals, exciting action sequences, attempted murder, and a nail-biting finale centered around kidnapped babies, a bat-shaped boat, and an army of rocket-strapped kamikaze penguins. It’s also a story about two strange people who find comfort in each other’s strangeness, an orphan who grows up to seek revenge against the parents and society that shunned him, and a nefarious industrialist looking to make a quick buck at any cost. Though it may test the limits of what you might consider a “Christmas movie,” Batman Returns is a fantastic seasonal watch and a fun, weird film for the whole family. —Toussaint Egan
Better Watch Out
Better Watch Out feels like a reaction piece 26 years removed from the original Home Alone. The latter is a family comedy film whose premise could’ve easily been played out like a home invasion horror movie, if not for the plucky Ferris Bueller-esque charisma of Macaulay Culkin and the dopey oafishness of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Better Watch Out inverts that dynamic, introducing inventive twists and turns that take the unspoken horror story at the heart of that aforementioned film and transforms it into something way darker and more disturbing. This is a not feel-good Christmas story; this is a psychological horror movie that plays with the idea of whether or not the behaviors of a kid like Kevin McCallister could be considered a sign of latent sociopathy. To say any more would risk spoiling the film, but rest assured: Better Watch Out is an engrossing holiday horror drama if you have the stomach for its occasionally gory thrills. —TE
Better Watch Out is available to stream on Peacock and Shudder. It is also available for free with ads on Tubi, Vudu, and Crackle, or for free with a library card on Kanopy and Hoopla.
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. —MP
Christmas in Connecticut
Few movie stars have ever had the impact on the industry as Barbara Stanwyck, and Christmas in Connecticut is a delightful Christmas rom-com showcasing her charm and movie star charisma.
Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a food writer who purports to write about her life as a Connecticut housewife living on a farm with her husband and baby. There’s just one problem: She’s made the whole thing up. Her publisher — completely unaware that Lane is actually single, lives in New York, and can’t cook — decides Lane should host a lavish Christmas dinner for a soldier returning from war (Dennis Morgan), who is also a big fan. What follows is a delightful screwball comedy that was a smash hit at the time, and continues to thrill decades later.
If you’re looking for more Stanwyck excellence, you can’t go wrong with the all-time classic Double Indemnity, but I also love her pre-code crime drama Night Nurse, co-starring an evil Clark Gable. Both are available for rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple, and Google Play. —Pete Volk
Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you that Home Alone is a very good movie. I don’t have to talk about how well it captures a child’s-eye view of suburban life (being terrified of your house’s boiler for no reason), the number of immortal one-liners in it (“Keep the change, ya filthy animal”), the music (John Williams!), or the character acting (Joe Pesci! Catherine O’Hara! JOHN CANDY).
Somewhere inside this fusion of the writing talents of John Hughes and the directing prowess of Chris Columbus is a message about how sometimes parents act in boneheaded ways toward their children, but the best of them can find a way to reconnect and apologize — inside a beautiful box wrapped in crisp writing, comedic timing, and a reverse-heist plot line. —Susana Polo
It’s a Wonderful Life
If you haven’t seen It’s a Wonderful Life or if it’s just been a while, 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. —Chris Plante
It’s a Wonderful Life is available to stream on Prime Video, for free with ads on Flex, or for free with a library card on Hoopla.
Jingle All the Way
What’s more Christmas-y than a story of a loving parent going to whatever lengths necessary to preserve their child’s happiness? ’80s action icon Arnold Schwarzenegger, in a patently bizarre turn of reverse typecasting, stars in Jingle All the Way as Howard Langston, a mattress salesman whose workaholic attitude comes at the cost of his duties as a family man and father. Desperate to fulfill his son’s Christmas wish, Howard embarks on a search for a Turbo-Man action figure. Problem is: It’s Christmas Eve and they’re all but entirely sold out. Complicating his mission is Myron (Sinbad), a postal worker and fellow negligent father who shares the same goal. Jingle All the Way is a Christmas comedy that focuses on the exasperation and escalating stakes between Howard and Myron amid a gauntlet of ruthless holiday shoppers and a jetpack-enabled finale. If that doesn’t scream “Christmas” to you, I don’t know what does. —TE
Mickey’s Christmas Carol
If you watch one adaptation of A Christmas Carol this season, watch The Muppet Christmas Carol (more on that in a second). If you watch two adaptations of A Christmas Carol… you should probably watch the Patrick Stewart one, actually.
But if you watch THREE CHRISTMAS CAROLS THIS SEASON, take some time to consider Mickey’s Christmas Carol, directed by longtime Disney animator/writer Burny Mattinson. The tight 26-minute special gets a jump start by mining Disney’s history of anthropomorphic animal animation for character designs, making it a Kingdom Hearts-worthy mashup of works as disparate as Robin Hood, The Wind in the Willows, Pinocchio, and The Aristocats. And though it may answer an obvious question — “What if Scrooge McDuck was literally his namesake?” — in an obvious way, the whole thing is surprisingly well done, thanks to rousing vocal performances, the vivacity of hand-drawn animation, and a willingness to actually get really scary in a way that the modern House of Mouse tends to eschew. —SP
The Muppet Christmas Carol
I didn’t grow up with Christmas movies, but my partner did. Every Christmas Eve, their family watches The Muppet Christmas Carol, and it’s a delightful tradition that I feel blessed to be a part of now.
You know the deal — it’s a classic story, but with Muppets. This time, it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, with generational talents Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge and Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit.
It’s a delightful time filled with memorable songs, one-liner jokes, and the usual Muppet nonsense. But what really pulls the whole thing together is Caine’s moving performance as Scrooge. He treats this Muppet project like he’s performing Shakespeare at The Globe, and it brings an emotional center to what would otherwise be a very enjoyable Muppet romp. —PV
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I had never seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation until a few years ago when a friend of mine, aghast in utter disbelief at this fact, finally forced me to sit down and watch it with them. I understand now why my friend was so shocked: It’s a hilarious comedy, so hilarious in fact that I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it sooner. Chevy Chase is pitch-perfect in the role of Clark Griswold, a salaryman and put-upon father at his wit’s end trying to pull off the perfect family Christmas celebration. As each of his carefully laid plans either hits a snag or utterly falls apart, so too does Clark’s disposition, transforming from a mild-mannered family man into a living powder keg of seething rage barely holding it together under a facade of holiday cheer. At least he’s got a Christmas bonus coming up, right? —TE
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. —MP
The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause is a classic Christmas comedy, one that offers a whimsical (albeit slightly macabre) answer for how ’ol Kris Kringle is such a perennial symbol of the holiday despite ostensibly being a bajillion years old. Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a divorced father and toy salesman who, in a Highlander-esque twist of fate, accidentally kills Santa Claus and subsequently becomes the next man in line to hold his title and responsibilities. Through the struggle of coming to grips with his new identity while trying to convince others of his new role, Scott grows as both a person and as a father, learning the true meaning of Christmas through the firsthand embodiment of one of its most central figures. It’s heartwarming and hilarious in a way that’s stood the test of time and a feel-good Christmas movie for the whole family. And there’s a new show out, which we are dutifully watching to track the appearances of Bernard the Hot Elf. —MP
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, but 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. —CP