It’s the most wonderful time of year for family gatherings, food, and watching heartwarming holiday classics. There’s nothing like kicking back and relaxing after a hectic day of holiday shopping or errands to watch a Christmas movie on DVD from the comfort of your couch. But what makes a classic a classic? Does it have to be in black and white? Does the Christmas holiday have to serve as a backdrop? Does it need an uplifting theme?
Classics are defined as the “best” books or films based on popular opinion. Christmas movies are no exception, as they have become part of holiday traditions. Just like hearing a Christmas song, movies can evoke comforting memories of Christmas past.
The first time Santa Claus appeared on film was in 1898. Fittingly called Santa Claus, the film ran just under 2 minutes. It wasn’t until the 1930s when Hollywood studios began making Christmas movies, resulting in the Golden Age of holiday films. In 1938, MGM studios released the film adaption of Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol starring Reginald Owen as the crotchety Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge who was visited by three spirits showing him the error of his miserly ways. Though directed by the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz, it only did moderately well at the box office. It wasn’t until decades later when A Christmas Carol was re-released on videocassette, DVD and Blu-ray, and made a regular staple on channels like Turner Classic Movies during the holiday season did the film finally achieve the glory it deserved.
On that note, check out some classic Christmas movies below, both old and new. Are any of your favorites on the list?
1930s-1950s: The Golden Age
A romantic comedy about an unmarried food writer whose articles about an idyllic farm in Connecticut are so convincing that she must put on a charade by hosting a Christmas dinner for a returning war hero who she falls in love with.
Jimmy Stewart stars as the down-trodden George Bailey who gives up his dreams to stay in his hometown to run the Building and Loan. He is overwhelmed with keeping the business solvent. On Christmas Eve 1945, he is contemplating suicide when a guardian angel appears to show him a reality where he never existed. George is returned home to his family in time to celebrate Christmas Eve.
When a jolly old man by the name of Kris Kringle fills in for an inebriated Santa Claus in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, he lands the job at the iconic department store on 34th Street. He claims he’s the real Santa Claus, leading to a court case and a young lawyer who defends his authenticity. Natalie Wood was just 8 years old when she was given the co-starring role in the film.
Cary Grant stars as an angel who materializes at Christmastime to answer the prayers of a harried young bishop, David Niven, whose efforts to raise money for a new cathedral have endangered his marriage to a beautiful wife.
A musical about song-and-dance, two former GIs team up with a sister act to play at a resort for charity, not knowing their former general runs the Vermont inn that is in financial straits. Irving Berlin wrote the title song. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen star in this holiday classic.
1960s-1970s: Animated Favorites
Christmas will be canceled unless Santa can find a way to guide his sleigh through a blizzard. This stop-motion animated film is narrated and sung by Burl Ives.
Discover how everyone's favorite happy, jolly soul came to life one day in the original holiday special.
Charlie Brown and his friends discover the true meaning of Christmas. The film is based on the iconic comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, and the music is by Vince Guaraldi.
The Grinch decides that he can't take any more happiness from the Who village, so he and his dog Max steal everything from trees and ornaments. But in the process, the Grinch learns that Christmas is more than presents. Narrated by Boris Karloff.
After being discovered by a family of elves, baby Claus is raised by the Kringles and grows up to become a toymaker. Wanting to share his toys with the children of Sombertown, Kris must overcome the Winter Warlock and the Burgermeister Meisterburger along with some help from Miss Jessica and Topper.
1980s: Modern Classics
Adapted from a memoir by humorist Jean Shepherd (who narrates), the film centers on Ralphie Parker, a young boy living in 1940s Indiana desperately yearning for a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. Despite protests from his mother that he'll shoot his eye out, Ralphie persists, unsuccessfully trying to enlist the assistance of both his teacher and Santa Claus.
Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale of one man learning the true meaning of Christmas is brought to the screen once again in this made-for-TV movie starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, whose only concern is money.
In this modern comedic retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a selfish and cynical TV executive, Frank Cross, is haunted by three spirits on Christmas Eve who give him a chance at redeeming himself.
The Griswold family's plans for a big family Christmas celebration predictably turns into a disaster.
1990s: Christmas Comedies
Accidentally left behind when his parents rush off on their Christmas vacation, eight-year-old Kevin McCallister embarks on a hilarious, madcap mission to defend the family home when two bumbling burglars try to break in, and find themselves tangled in Kevin's bewildering battery of booby traps.
Bored with the same old scare-and-scream routine, Pumpkin King Jack Skellington longs to spread the joy of Christmas. But his merry mission puts Santa in jeopardy, and creates a nightmare for good little boys and girls everywhere.
On Christmas Eve, divorced father Scott Calvin and his son Charlie discover that the current Mr. Claus has fallen off their roof. When Scott dons Santa's suit, he unwittingly triggers 'The Santa Clause,' and they are immediately whisked away to the North Pole to take on the role of jolly old St. Nick.
A father waits until Christmas Eve to buy his son the hottest toy of the season. He stops at nothing to get the toy and reunite his family.
2000s-today: Something for Everyone
A young orphan child mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag and is transported back to the North Pole to be raised as an elf. Years later, Buddy learns he is not really an elf and goes on a journey to New York to find his true identity.
When a doubting young boy takes an extraordinary train ride to the North Pole, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery that shows him that the wonder of life never fades for those who believe.
At a fifteen-year reunion over the Christmas holidays, a group of college friends soon discover how simple it is for old rivalries and romances to resurface.
Ethan, Isaac, and Chris have been friends since childhood, and for a decade, their yearly Christmas Eve reunion has been an annual night of debauchery and hilarity. Now that they're entering adulthood, the tradition is coming to an end, and they want to make it as memorable as possible.
A woman sees her life take a sudden turn when she finds a new love interest while working as Santa's elf in a department store.
With Christmas festivities in the background, recently widowed Ed moves into his daughter’s house, but takes over his grandson Peter’s bedroom, causing an all-out war of pranks between Ed and Peter.