Favorite Christmas Movie Classics
These are my favorite Christmas movie classics. These great movies open a window into the past. Four of these movies were released between 1942 and 1954. The other four were released between 1971 and 1987, but all except one tell stories of by-gone times. These classic Christmas movies make great gift ideas. Better yet, gift yourself with one of these great Christmas classics this Christmas, and enjoy it every year as part of your holiday tradition. See also my favorite animated classics in my article, Christmas TV Classics- Favorite Christmas Cartoons and Animations on HubPages.
Movies reviewed in this article:
- White Christmas
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- The Gathering
- The Homecoming- A Christmas Story
- A Christmas Story
- A Child’s Christmas in Wales
- Miracle on 34th Street
White Christmas Movie Trailer
Growing up, we were very close to our neighbors. When the neighbor’s oldest son and I were in our teens, the folks decided we were old enough to look after the younger kids while they went out. On Christmas Eve they would all go dining and dancing at the Skyline Club near the Columbia airport. Around that time, White Christmas aired on network TV most every Christmas Eve, and became a tradition for us kids.
I saw the musical in San Antonio in 2017 as part of the Broadway Series. In 2016 I saw the movie in the theater as part of the monthly Turner Classics showings at Regal theaters. It will show again in December 2018 at Regal.
Initial Release: 1954.
Amazon Rating: 4.8 of 5 stars, from 2432 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 7.6 of 10 from 25,769 votes.
Director: Michael Curtiz
Run Time: 120 minutes.
Bing Crosby-- Bob Wallace
Danny Kaye-- Phil Davis
Rosemary Clooney-- Betty Haynes
Vera Ellen-- Judy Haynes
Dean Jagger-- Major General Thomas F. Waverly
Mary Wickes-- Emma Allen
John Brascia-- John
Anne Whitfield-- Susan Waverly
This is the second of two movies featuring the Irving Berlin classic song, White Christmas (the other is Holiday Inn). The movie showcases the relationships between two singer-performer sisters and two war buddies, also performers, and their developing relationships with each other. The quartet wind up on a train together bound for Vermont, expecting snow. They end up at a ski lodge with no snow, and the buddies are stunned that the proprietor is their war theater commander, now retired General Waverly. The group prepares for a Christmas show, and Bob and Phil hatch a secret plan to bring in the troops from all over the US to surprise “the Old Man”. Comic, serious, romantic and sentimental antics punctuate the film. This movie has great song and dance performances including "Sisters", "Snow", "We’ll Follow the Old Man", "Mandy", "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep", and of course "White Christmas".
White Christmas, We'll Follow the Old Man
It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart
This classic inarguably ranks as one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time. Apparently however it disappeared for years due to copyright controversy. Thankfully it re-emerged in the late 70s as an often-repeated holiday telecast. In 2017 I saw the movie on the big screen as part of the monthly Turner Classics showings at Regal theaters. It is available on DVD colorized, or in the original black and white.
Initial Release: 1946.
Amazon Rating: 4.8 of 5 stars from 3099 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 8.6 of 10, from 330,980 votes.
Director: Frank Capra.
Run Time: 130 minutes.
James Stewart -- George Bailey
Donna Reed-- Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore-- Mr. Potter
Thomas Mitchell-- Uncle Billy
Henry Travers-- Clarence
Beulah Bondi-- Mrs. Bailey
Frank Faylen-- Ernie
Ward Bond-- Bert
Gloria Grahame-- Violet
H.B. Warner-- Mr. Gower
Frank Albertson-- Sam Wainwright
Todd Karns-- Harry Bailey
Samuel S. Hinds-- Pa Bailey
Mary Treen-- Cousin Tilly
Virginia Patton-- Ruth Dakin
Jimmy Stewart delivers his trademark good guy persona at its best in this Capra classic. As George Bailey, he sets aside his worldly aspirations to remain a hometown family man, trying to keep the family savings and loan afloat. Lionel Barrymore is the villain, a rich banker determined to run the town, Bedford Falls. Due to a financial mishap, the small savings and loan is in danger of folding, which means personal ruin for George, and hard times for many good working-class people. Distraught on Christmas Eve, George is contemplating suicide when he is visited by Clarence, his guardian angel. Clarence revisits George’s life in a series of flashbacks, then visits an altered future where George had never been born.
Two Iconic Christmas Classics!
The Gathering, Ed Asner
This mad-for-TV Christmas movie may seem like the strange bedfellow in the bunch. And it is a little difficult to come by, though I have a VHS copy, and it is available on Amazon in multiple formats. I stand by my recommendation of this film, but have a confession. During the late 70s, I had a crush on Ed Asner. Not the Mary Tyler Moore Show quirky Lou Grant, but the serious newsman Lou Grant with his own show starting in 1977. Strange I know. He was not a likely candidate for People’s Sexiest Man Alive, but he's one of my top celebrity picks for a lunch date.
Initial Release: 1977.
Amazon Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars, from 570 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 8.1 of 10, from 519 votes.
Director: Randal Kleiser.
Run Time: 90 minutes.
Edward Asner-- Adam Thornton
Maureen Stapleton-- Kate Thornton
Veronica Hamel-- Helen Thornton
Gregory Harrison-- Bud Thornton
Lawrence Pressman-- Tom Thornton
Gail Strickland-- Peggy Thornton
Stephanie Zimbalist-- Toni Thornton
Adam Thornton, played by Ed Asner, is alienated from his children, due to having left their mother Kate, played by Maureen Stapleton. Years have passed and Adam now reaches out to Kate to bring their grown children together at the family home for a traditional Christmas. The catch is, she must not tell them that he is dying. The tense situation suggests that not all of the grown children will leave their busy lives and come home for this dubious gathering. The kids have a cacophony of feelings about their mother’s calm acceptance of their father imposing himself back into their lives. But one at a time, the kids with their own families in tow, return to the nest, including the last arrival, youngest son Bud, a draft dodger living in Canada with a wife and new baby. Though it may seem like a gloomy movie due to Adam’s terminal diagnosis, his illness is never fully revealed, and is more of a supporting player in the drama. Great movie, I promise.
The Homecoming- A Christmas Story (The Waltons)
Who from the 70s did not watch The Waltons? This is the pilot to the series. The Waltons stories are based on the auto-biographical writings of Earl Hamner, as was the 1963 movie Spencer’s Mountain. In this movie, Mama Walton, Olivia is played by Patricia Neal, not Michael Learned. Likewise, most of the key adult characters were played by different actors than the series. The cast for the Walton children however, headed by Richard Thomas as John-Boy, remains largely intact.
Initial Release: 1971.
Amazon Rating: 4.7 of 5 stars, from 707 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 8.2 of 10 from 482 votes.
Director: Fielder Cook.
Run TIme: 100 minutes.
Patricia Neal-- Olivia Walton
Richard Thomas-- John-Boy Walton
Edgar Bergen-- Grandpa Zebb Walton
Ellen Corby-- Grandma Walton
Andrew Dugan-- John Walton
Judy Norton-Taylor-- Mary Ellen Walton
Mary Beth McDonough-- Erin Walton
Kami Cotler-- Elizabeth Walton
Eric Scott-- Ben Walton
David W Harper-- Jim-Bob Walton
Woodrow Parfrey-- Ike Godsey
Cleavon Little-- Hawthorne Dooley
The large multi-generational Walton family lives a tough rural existence on Walton Mountain in Virginia during the Depression. The setting is incongruent to eldest son John-Boy’s aspirations to become a writer, which worries him. The grim circumstances force the father to seek work in the city. When he fails to return home on Christmas Eve, Olivia sends John-Boy in search of his father, while she maintains a calm façade for the children.
A Christmas Story Tongue, vs Flagpole
A Christmas Story, Red Rider BB Gun
Some consider this film to be a cult classic, and is one of my brother’s favorites. In recent years, it has been shown continuously on TNT, beginning in the evening on Christmas Eve and concluding 24 hours later on Christmas night.
Initial Release: 1983.
Amazon Rating: 4.7 of 5 stars from 5083 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 8.0 of 10 from 116,339 votes.
Director: Bob Clark.
Run Time: 94 minutes.
Melinda Dillon-- Mrs. Parker
Darren McGavin-- Mr. Parker
Peter Billingsley-- Ralphie Parker
Ian Petrella-- Randy Parker
Scott Schwartz-- Flick
RD Robb-- Schwartz
Tedde Moore-- Miss Shields
Yano Anaya-- Grover Dill
Zack Ward-- Scut Farkus
Jeff Gillen-- Santa Claus
Patty Johnson-- Head Elf
Set in the 40s, this classic movie stars Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, whose fervent desire is to get a Red Rider BB rifle for Christmas. No one seems to share his enthusiasm, as one after another adults, including Santa, tell him “You’ll shoot your eye out.” There are many amusing family moments in this film, including Ralphie’s appearance in his bunny pajamas, a present from his aunt, and the family’s ruined turkey dinner. There are also great scenes involving Ralphie’s bully and quirky friends. In one jewel of a scene, a boy is goaded into sticking his tongue to a frozen light pole.
A Child's Christmas in Wales
This movie is an enactment of the 1955 Dylan Thomas poem, which was first written for radio. I was first exposed to the poem in my 12th grade English Literature class. What stuck in my mind about the poem was the unexpected endings to passages, such as this: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."
Initial Release: 1987.
Amazon Rating: 4.8 of 5 stars from 234 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 7.9 of 10 from 396 votes.
Director: Don McBrearty.
Run Time: 55 minutes.
Denholm Elliott -- Old Geraint
Mathonwy Reeves-- Thomas
Glynis Davies-- Mrs. Wales
Denholm Elliott narrates this tale, as a grandfather relating stories of his Welsh childhood to his grandson. The stories are amusing recollections of the seemingly mundane. There is unending snow, a fire in a neighbors’ parlor, uncles with cigars, aunts with rum-laced tea, and ridiculous gifts.
Miracle on 34th Street, 1947
This classic version of this story is available in the original black and white, and in a beautiful colorized version. The cast is great, including young Natalie Wood as Susan, and Maureen O’Hara, the original Parent Trap mom, as single mother Doris Walker.
(The remake from 1994 stars Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, and Mara Wilson is a pretty good movie, but only rated 6.5 of 10 stars on IMDb.)
Initial Release: 1947.
Amazon Rating: 4.7 of 5 stars from 3970 customers.
The Internet Movie Database Rating: 7.9 of 10 from 34,657 votes.
Director: George Seaton.
Run Time: 96 minutes.
Maureen O’Hara-- Doris Walker
John Payne-- Fred Gailey
Edmund Gwenn-- Kris Kringle
Gene Lockhart -- Judge Henry X Harper
Natalie Wood-- Susan Walker
Porter Hall-- Granville Sawyer
William Frawley-- Charlie Halloran
Jerome Cowan -- Dist Atty Thomas Mara
Phillip Tonge-- Julian Shellhammer
Doris Walker, special events planner for Macy’s, must quickly find another Santa when the current Santa is found drunk. Oddly enough, the new Santa’s stated name is Kris Kringle, and he claims to be the real Santa. Cynical Doris is uneasy, but daughter Susan and others begin to see special qualities, that are in keeping with the true meaning of Christmas. A villainous Macy’s psychologist sets in motion events that culminate in a courtroom competency hearing for Mr. Kringle.
© 2009 rmcrayne