20. ‘Arthur Christmas’ (2011)
The animated British gem centers on Santa Claus’ son Arthur (James McAvoy), who works to get a present to the one girl forgotten by his family’s militaristic, high-tech delivery system.
19. ‘Home Alone’ (1990)
Macaulay Culkin is unfailingly precocious, and watching an 8-year-old foil a pair of dimwitted burglars in inventive fashion is fine. What’s often forgotten is what the film has to say about the importance of family.
18. ‘The Ice Harvest’ (2005)
Set in Wichita, Kansas, on Christmas Eve, this twisty, funny film noir casts John Cusack as a Mob lawyer who steals $2 million from his boss (Randy Quaid) and has issues hightailing it out of town.
17. ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ (1947)
Maybe the strangest love triangle you’re bound to see – with an angel (Cary Grant) falling for the spouse (Loretta Young) of the bishop (David Niven) he’s supposed to be helping – yet it works.
16. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)
Tim Burton puts his spin on a holiday mashup where Jack Skellington, the big man in Halloween Town, decides to take over Christmas Town.
15. ‘Lethal Weapon’ (1987)
One of the best buddy-cop action pictures forces together Danny Glover’s aging Roger Murtaugh and Mel Gibson’s loose cannon Martin Riggs. The seasonal stuff makes it better, including a shootout at a Christmas tree lot and Riggs finding a family with whom to share a holiday dinner.
14. ‘Joyeux Noel’ (2005)
This war drama snagged an Oscar nomination for foreign-language film and explores the victory of humanity over brutality as it chronicles the reallife story of the Christmas truce of 1914.
13. ‘White Christmas’ (1954)
Two Bing Crosby musicals used the song “White Christmas”: Let’s leave off 1942’s “Holiday Inn” and go with Crosby and Danny Kaye as crooning World War II GIs who try to save their old commanding officer’s country inn.
12. ‘Gremlins’ (1984)
The holiday tale doubles as a good entry into horror for youngsters, with a small town beset by freaky gremlins. Try finding anything as cute as little Mogwai Gizmo in a Santa hat.
11. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (1940)
The basis for “You’ve Got Mail” is this Hungarian holiday jam featuring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering co-workers at a Budapest leathergoods store who’ve unknowingly fallen in love with each other through anonymous letters.
10. ‘A Christmas Story’ (1983)
I despised this movie as a kid who wasn’t into BB guns or leg lamps. As an adult the comedy resonates as an ode to the exhaustive nature of being a parent around the holidays.
9. ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1951)
Among the various “traditional” versions of the Charles Dickens classic this one cuts to the dark tones of the original text, with Scrooge (Alastair Sim) living through an insightful horror film to come out the other side a better man.
8. ‘The Apartment’ (1960)
The romantic dramedy stars Jack Lemmon as an office drone known for lending out his place for bosses to take their mistresses. He starts to fall hard for an elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine), whom the big boss (Fred MacMurray) secretly takes to the love den on Christmas Eve.
7. ‘Die Hard’ (1988)An
Sorry, Santa, no one squeezes through tight spaces in a building to get the job done – in this case thwarting terrorists and saving his estranged wife – better than Bruce Willis’ John McClane.
6. ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989)
Anybody who has ever tried entirely too hard during the holidays can empathize with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his battles to decorate his house, deal with wacko relatives and have the merriest Christmas imaginable.
5. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (1947)
If you can stand the gratuitous hokiness, there’s an intriguing “Law & Order” episode to be had when Kris Kringle(Edmund Gwenn) does a little too good of a job replacing a drunk Macy’s Parade Santa and is put on trial for mental instability when he insists he’s the real deal.
4. ‘Love Actually’ (2003)
Intertwining tales of love featuring Brits and others conjure all sorts of holiday emotions and are entirely manipulative. But watching a little boy race through Heathrow to find his crush or seeing Andrew Lincoln’s silent ode to Keira Knightley, you’re too busy being bombarded by feels to care.
3. ‘Elf’ (2003)
Will Ferrell has one of his best roles as an overgrown elf who finds out he’s human, and the high jinks that follow are filled with heart, humor and wonder.
2. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)
Jimmy Stewart’s heavenly journey as George Bailey is the “Citizen Kane” of Christmas movies. a man being shown how bad life would have been had he not been born will pull the Christmas spirit kicking and screaming out of you.
1. ‘Scrooged’ (1988)
“Scrooged” is a perfect blend of slapstick and black humor, love and loss, life and death that has no business being astounding. It’s superbly cast, from Bill Murray’s Frank Cross to Carol Kane’s fairy. If you’re not welling up when “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” kicks in, you might be visited by three ghosts yourself.
George Bailey’s (Jimmy Stewart) eyes are opened in the 1946 favorite “It’s a Wonderful Life.”