This holiday season, when looking for kids films the whole family will enjoy that are also imbued with a holly and jolly touch, you’re definitely going to want to watch some Christmas movie staples that not only will appeal to both the young and the young at heart, but are also available with the quickness. With there being more options than ever before — both in terms of movies and streaming platforms — deciding on one or two, or even a marathon of Christmas classics and modern gems, can be a mad dash through the snow without a guiding (red) light to lead the way.
Worry not, for we have put together a list of 15 Christmas movies that are great for the whole family, while also being a treat for solo viewing. From staples like A Charlie Brown Christmas to more recent offerings like 8-Bit Christmas, and even Home Alone (how could we forget that?), there’s a lot to unpack in this bag of holiday hits that totally sleigh.
A 2000s family movie that’s remains fantastic and weirdly timeless, Jon Favreau’s Elf is one of those flicks that just seems to get better over the years. Released 20 years ago this fall, this beloved holiday classic follows Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) as he travels from the North Pole to the Big Apple to find his long-lost father, a grumpy executive at a children’s book company who has forgotten the Christmas spirit. Outrageous comedy, syrupy spaghetti dinners, and a whole lot of heart make this the perfect way to kick off the 12 days of Christmas with your family. Bob Newhart is just extra.
Home Alone (1990)
Can you really celebrate Christmas unless you’ve watched Home Alone at least once, if not multiple times? Featuring one of cinema’s most epic battles between a kid and adults, the 1990 classic never gets old, thank in part to an incredibly touching mother-son arc and some of John Huges’ funniest characters. One could argue that watching the Wet Bandits get owned would still be great even without the holiday setting, but the festive nature of Home Alone adds a whole other dimension to the story, turning a fun and exciting film into a tradition. Plus, Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McAllister is the GOAT of juvenile Christmas heroes, and probably wouldn’t have been left alone on a random weekend in January.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
One question that seems to come up every year is “How do I watch A Charlie Brown Christmas?” With the Peanuts library streaming exclusively for those with an Apple TV+ subscription, at least for the foreseeable future, that’ll the best way to check out the classic 1965 holiday special. This beloved treasure follows the young and blockheaded, er, dedicated director of the annual Christmas pageant as he searches for the true meaning of the season. It’s short, sweet, and honestly one of the best specials of its kind ever created, and its music alone should be on everyone’s holiday playlists.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Nearly a decade after releasing one of the best Christmas horror movies, director Bob Clark brought a completely different approach to the holiday season with 1983’s A Christmas Story. This undeniable family-friendly masterpiece centers on Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a young boy who does everything he can to get a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, whether it’s through an essay at school, begging a mall Santa, or leaving hints for others around the house. The movie also features other iconic vignettes that are just as entertaining and quotable 40 years later, and the yearly 24-hour cable marathons have become a yearly tradition on their own.
The Santa Clause (1994)
Before turning into a franchise that would eventually be brought back as a Disney+ streaming sequel series, The Santa Clause started out as a fun family-friendly movie about a toy marketing executive named Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) who becomes Santa after accidentally killing “Old St. Nick” on Christmas Eve. Despite his best efforts to deny the job (and the metaphorical and literal baggage that comes with it), Scott is forced to step up and save the day for billions of children and non-believers around the world. Nobody can “Ho Ho Ho” quite like Allen.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Some would say How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is the best Christmas special of all time, and there’s a strong case to be made for the 1965 cartoon. Clocking in at a little under 30 minutes, this brilliant adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ iconic children’s book is full of so much charm and cheer, it’ll make your heart grow three sizes by the time the Grinch finds the reason for the season after taking everything from the Whos. Come for Chuck Jones’ timeless animation, and stay for the the earworm narration from Frankenstein‘s monster himself, Boris Karloff.
8-Bit Christmas (2021)
Make no mistake about it, 8-Bit Christmas is not only one of the best holiday movies of the past decade, it also has what it takes to one day be in the conversation for best of all time. Michael Dowse’s stellar comedy follows Jake Doyle (played in youth by Winslow Fegley, and in adulthood by Neil Patrick Harris) as he goes to great lengths to aquire the then-new Nintendo Entertainment System in the late ‘80s. It’s an adventure that takes him from the safety of the suburbs to the streets of Chicago, resulting in a Christmas experience Jake and audiences will never forget. Though as silly and raucous as can be at times, 8-Big Christmas also packs quite an emotional punch, one you’ll probably think about for some time.
The Polar Express (2004)
Once you get past the uncanny valley of its visuals, specifically the arguably disturbing faces of the human characters, Robert Zemeeckis’ 2004 adaptation of the children’s classic The Polar Express is an easily enjoyable animated adventure. Mostly set on the titular train, the movie travels with a group of young children to the North Pole to visit Santa as he’s preparing for his annual trip around the world. It’s a delightful and sentimental exploration of the joy and wonder of Christmas, and even though it could stand to use a video game-esque animation upgrade, that shouldn’t stop it from being an annual treat for audiences of all ages.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There have been countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but perhaps the best version for the whole family to enjoy this (and any other) holiday season is The Muppet Christmas Carol. With late creator Jim Henson’s son Brian Henson as director, this version sees Michael Caine take on the role of everyone’s favorite grump, Ebenezer Scrooge as he is taken on a transformative experience to his past, present, and future. Only this time time, he’s dealing with Muppets, who step in as some of the novella’s most iconic characters. Fun and not as dark as say the 2019 FX version starring Guy Pearce and Andy Serkis, this is a great option for the family.
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Though it’s fun to joke about some of the disturbing truths about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, there’s no denying the fact that it will forever go down as one of the greatest holiday specials in the history of television. Released on NBC in 1964, the stop-motion animated special from what would later become known as Rankin/Bass Productions tells the story of the unlikely reindeer who saved Christmas after embarking upon a perilous journey with new friends and abundant dangers. Classic songs, unforgettable characters, and nostalgia make this a must-watch.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Action, comedy, and holiday cheer all come together for Clay Kaytis’ 2018 Netflix original movie, The Christmas Chronicles. This new spin on the Santa Story sees none other than Kurt Russell take on the role of St. Nick as he deals with a pair of stowaways who cause him to crash and nearly ruin Christmas. With a ticking clock that could spell disaster for children around the world, the trio attempt to find a way to deliver all the presents (to the right kids) before time runs out.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
One of the defining releases of 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas is also one that could be included on the list of best Halloween titles in addition to being a holiday staple. Directed by Henry Selick from a story by producer Tim Burton, the 30-year-old stop-motion movie follows Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) as he attempts to take over “Christmas Town,” only to find some hiccups (and joy) in his grand scheme. The soundtrack remains as classic as the animation itself, and Jack and Sally have become some of the most brand-friendly characters in Disney’s library, especially from October-December.
The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
A black-led Christmas movie that will never not be amazing, Penny Marshall’s The Preacher’s Wife follows Reverend Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance) and his wife, Julia (Whitney Houston) as they are visited by Dudleye (Denzel Washington), an angel who changes their lives in more ways than one. Between crises of faith, Christmas pageants, and Whitney Houston’s outstanding singing voice, there’s so much working for this 1996 fantasy drama.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
Directed by David E. Talbert, the 2020 Netflix musical fantasy film Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey centers on Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker), a once joyful inventor and toymaker who finds new purpose in life when his granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills) shows up. Fantastical sets, enchanting songs, and outstanding performances from the Jingle Jangle cast all work together to create a phenomenal holiday romp for those who want something they probably haven’t seen a thousand times already.
The Princess Switch (2018)
One of the best Christmas movies on Netflix right now, The Princess Switch follows the Duchess of Montenaro and a Chicago baker (both played by Vanessa Hudgens) as they discover they are practically identical to one another. Having fun with the situation, the pair decide to switch places for a couple of days, a decision that will ultimately lead to major changes in each of their lives.
Well, these 15 movies and holiday specials will certainly give you and your family plenty to watch this Christmas. Here’s hoping more modern classics are on the way in the years to come.