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Classic Christmas Films

Updated on November 17, 2014
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No holiday has been depicted in more films than Christmas. There are countless movies based around the holiday. Christmas movies have existed almost as long as movies themselves. The holiday has been covered in every major genre - dramas, comedies, action films like "Die Hard", and even horror movies.

Some of the following films may seem too new to be truly considered classics, but it’s safe to say that all have made a significant cultural impact. All of these films are currently available on DVD and Bluray. They are listed in alphabetical order.

Break out the eggnog, deck the halls, and get some popcorn, because it’s time for five classic Christmas movies.

"A Christmas Carol" 1984 version DVD cover
"A Christmas Carol" 1984 version DVD cover | Source

A Christmas Carol (1984)

There are countless film versions of Charles Dicken’s classic 1844 novel. My favorite is the George C Scott version, a made-for-TV movie released in 1984. TV movies are usually terrible, but this one doesn’t disappoint.

For anyone who somehow doesn’t know, “A Christmas Carol” is about an aging miser named Ebenezer Scrooge who despises Christmas and responds with “Bah, humbug!” whenever anyone mentions Christmas to him. Although he is very wealthy, Scrooge refuses to spend any of his money, even to make himself comfortable. He lives alone and has no friends. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him that he must change his ways. Marley sends three ghosts – of Christmases past, present, and future – to help Scrooge gain an enlightened understanding of Christmas and life in general. Will Scrooge change his ways, or he will succumb to the darkness that doomed his dead partner?

The decision to cast Scott as Scrooge was absolutely perfect. The rest of the cast is great as well. The ’84 version has deservedly developed a widespread reputation as one of the best, if not the best, adaptions. If you are a “Christmas Carol” fan, you also have numerous other options to choose from, ranging from Jim Carrey’s high tech 3-D 2009 version to the old British 1938 and 1951 classics. For younger folks, there is also “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”

Scrooge (Scott) encounters the ghost of Marley (Frank Finlay)

"A Christmas Story" poster
"A Christmas Story" poster | Source

A Christmas Story (1983)

Ralphie Parker has a very simple Christmas wish - he wants a BB gun. His mother refuses, warning him that he will shoot his eye out. Undeterred, Ralphie refuses to give up on his dream. “A Christmas Story” is based on a collection of stories by writer Jean Sheperd. A specific year is never mentioned, but the film appears to be set roughly forty years or so before it was released in ‘83.

One of the most memorable scenes occurs when Ralphie has a darkly comic encounter with a department store Santa. His hopes for a BB gun are dashed when he encounters mean elves and a psychotic Santa. His unfortunate encounter ends with Santa kicking him in the face and sending him down a slide. In reality, of course, Santa and the elves are just disgruntled and overworked mall employees. To a kid like Ralphie, they seem horrifyingly evil.

“A Christmas Story” is remembered for its nostalgic appeal, its depiction of growing up in Indiana, and some hilarious moments. It is frequently shown on television during the Christmas season.

A Christmas Story Trailer

"Bad Santa" poster
"Bad Santa" poster | Source

Bad Santa (2003)

“Bad Santa” stars Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Stokes, a miserable conman who teams up with his midget crime partner Marcus (Tony Cox) to get jobs as Santa and an elf at local shopping malls. Every December, they move to a different city and use different names. On Christmas Eve, after the mall closes, the duo robs the money-stuffed safe and takes off with the cash. Their latest crime operation is at a shopping center in Phoenix. However, Willie is descending into depression, constantly using alcohol and cigarettes to fill his sense of emptiness. He is constantly cursing and shouting at everyone, even the kids who sit on “Santa’s” lap. Marcus becomes increasingly exasperated with him and contemplates drastic measures. Meanwhile, Willie enters into a casual relationship with a bartender named Sue (Lauren Graham). He also encounters a troubled young boy named Thurman. Thurman is being harassed by a gang of bullies and Willie teaches him to stand up for himself and beat up his tormenters. As the film progresses, Willie’s relationships with Sue and Thurman deepen, and he starts to feel like life might be worth living after all.

“Bad Santa” is definitely not for everyone, but if you like irreverent humor, you will love it. Nothing is sacred in this film. “Bad Santa” isn’t just about obscene jokes, though. It has real emotional depth. Thornton delivers a brilliant performance as Willie. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in the role. Jack Nicholson might have been able to pull it off, but that’s about it. The film also features solid work from two now deceased comedians, John Ritter and Bernie Mac.

If you want to watch a highly unorthodox Christmas flick, are not easily offended, and have a strong stomach, “Bad Santa” is for you.

Bad Santa Trailer

It's a Wonderful Life poster
It's a Wonderful Life poster | Source

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

I must admit that I haven’t seen this movie in years, but I would be remiss not to include this iconic film on a list of Christmas movies. The other movies on this list were all released in the past thirty years, but this is one is a true old-time classic. The film is directed by legendary director Frank Capra.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the past few decades, “It’s a Wonderful Life” stars Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has sacrificed most of his goals in life to help others. He eventually grows despondent and seriously considers suicide. When he is about to jump off a bridge, his guardian angel Clarence appears. Through visions, Clarence shows George that the world would have been a worse place without him.

Nobody plays earnest like Jimmy Stewart. He is almost painfully honest, noble, and pure in some of his roles. He was a great actor though, and delivers a wonderful (no pun intended) performance.

It's a Wonderful Life Trailer

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" poster
"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" poster | Source

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has a very simple goal – to give his family a great Christmas. Few characters have such pure motives. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for us), Clark makes one hilarious, bumbling mistake after another. “Christmas Vacation” is part of a series of “Vacation” films, all starring Chase and Beverly D’ Angelo as his wife, Ellen. This time, they decide to stay home and invite their crazy relatives over for Christmas dinner. Randy Quaid delivers an unforgettable performance as Clark’s slob cousin-in-law, Eddie, who shows up unexpectedly to crash the party.

This is the type of movie that you can watch over and over. My favorite scenes are Clark’s rants, especially the one after he receives his Christmas “bonus”. Also, any scene with Eddie is pure gold.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Trailer

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    • nanderson500 profile image
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      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I haven't seen Holiday Inn, I should check that one out sometime!

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 4 years ago from Iowa

      A Christmas Story is my least favorite of these, also, although I've not seen Bad Santa. It's a Wonderful Life is my favorite. Holiday Inn is one that you didn't mention that I make sure to watch every year.

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Rambo! That's interesting. I never thought of watching that at Christmas, good movie though. Thanks for stopping by!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      When we were growing up, every Christmas we watched Rambo. I know it's miles from being a Christmas film but hey, we have our own weird tradition.

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thank you tillson titan! It was a fun one to write.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      I really didn't care for Bad Santa but that may be because I am more of a traditionalist. I have to agree with Alocsin..."It's a Wonderful Life" relies solely on the actors and pulls it off beautifully! Of course there are tons more, but everyone has their own list of favorites.

      This is a great hub to get us started on the Christmas season.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Alocsin - Thank you! Yeah that is definitely a classic.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I've seen all these and my favorite is the classic "It's a Wonderful Life." No special effects -- just good acting, good story, mixed in with a bit of fantasy. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Ah yes, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I remember that one. I haven't seen that in a long time either. Maybe I should watch some of these movies this year.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      You listed some of my favorites. I,f or one think the original Christmas Carol is the best. But my number one, all-time favorite Christmas Movie My friends, family and I watch every year is Dr.Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

      I also am a HUGE fan of Home Alone

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Thank you Eddy!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      Brilliant reviews I loved this hub. Great work and I look forward to many more .

      Eddy.

    • Michelle Taylor profile image

      Michelle Taylor 4 years ago from New Jersey

      Understandable, my family watches it every year right before Christmas, it has become something of a tradition. Ooh, Miracle on 34th st too. Great movie!

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Yeah I thought about White Christmas but I haven't seen it in such a long time I don't think I would have known what to write about it. If there had a been a sixth entry, I would have put it on there.

    • Michelle Taylor profile image

      Michelle Taylor 4 years ago from New Jersey

      I'm a little sad White Christmas didn't make the list. Great collection of movies though and definitely a must see list for the holiday season.

    • nanderson500 profile image
      Author

      nanderson500 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Billybuc - Thanks! Actually, of these five films, A Christmas Story is my least favorite. I still think it's pretty funny though.

      Geekdom - Nah, not sad, I like pretty much any version of A Christmas Carol. I bet the Mickey version is better than the muppet one. Thanks for the comment!

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 4 years ago

      Great Hub and all wonderful films. Is it sad that my favorite version of A Christmas Carol is A Mickey's Chirstmas Carol and I am not a "younger folk".

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I may be the only person on the planet who does not like "A Christmas Story." Call it a character defect. The rest of the list most definitely; those are all must-see movies for this boy each and every year.

      Great list!