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12 Christmas movie classics to give as gifts for the holidays

by Joe Bursley Tis the season to light the fireplace, drink some hot cocoa, and snuggle with your family watching Christmas movies once the sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon. Now, if you’ve ever browsed movie channels like Freeform, Lifetime, or Hallmark, you’ll realize that there are more holiday movies than you could watch between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. And sadly, most of them are garbage. So, if you want to use your movie-watching time wisely or need to gift a distant relative some decent DVDs for the family holiday party, here are, in no particular order, 12 great holiday films to enjoy this Christmas season.

12 – Elf

Image from IMDb
I am by no means a fan of Will Ferrell or this movie, but it does have an iconic place as a more modern 21st-st century Christmas film. Buddy the Elf’s annoying yet somehow-endearing cheerfulness lends some laughs to his quest to find his human family after discovering he isn’t a real elf. From putting syrup on pancakes, to befriending a narwhal, to tackling a department store Santa imposter, this movie has some iconic scenes surrounded by others that make a worthwhile movie to watch at the holidays. You know, if there’s no other option.

11 – The Polar Express

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While some cringe at the unsettling early-2000s rendering of a motion capture animated film, the story and heart behind The Polar Express is strong enough to overcome the fact that the main protagonist kinda looks like a middle-aged Tom Hanks. The classic tale of a magic train that takes a doubtful young boy to visit Santa at the North Pole is filled with humor, thrills, ear worm songs, Tom Hanks overacting in multiple roles, and a touching story about believing in Christmas magic. And, admit it, we all wanted to ride the Polar Express and drink that “HOT HOT” chocolate on Christmas Eve when we were younger.

10 – The Santa Clause

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This movie is part of the reason I had trouble spelling “Santa Claus” when I was younger. Starring Disney’s everyman from the 1990’s Tim Allen, The Santa Clause is about Scott Calvin who (accidentally) kills Santa on his roof one Christmas Eve. After putting on the red suit and finishing delivering the presents, Scott wakes up at home believing it all to be a dream. That is, until his body undergoes a magical transformation to become the real Santa Claus. The movie is as cheesy as any other 90s movie but has some good humor and touching moments between Scott and his son Charlie, who has to deal with his parents’ divorce at a young age. I won’t mention the two sequels made nearly a decade after the original film, because they are honestly just a cash grab, and not worth the ink I would use to write about them. If you’re looking for a nostalgic yet corny holiday film that only makes you groan half of the time, The Santa Clause is a great choice.

9 – How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

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Speaking of nostalgic, corny holiday films, Jim Carrey certainly knows how to ham it up in the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas based on the classic Dr. Seuss story. This zany holiday film retells the story of a green grump who steals Christmas from Whoville before realizing the true meaning of the holiday. However, it does so with outrageous sets, and costumes, and snarky jokes for kids and adults alike., To top it all off, the dedicated performance of Jim Carrey’s Grinch, makes living alone on a mountain with only a dog surrounded by garbage seem endearing. I’ve previously written about this film, and while I understand criticisms of the film diverging too far from the source material, this film is one of my holiday favorites, and I’m sure it can be one of yours too.

8 – Die Hard

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Since it is set on Christmas Eve, Die Hard makes a great action thriller addition to any Christmas movie collection. A group of terrorists take over a high-rise building hosting a holiday party, where NYC policeman John McClane and his family are celebrating. John must use his cunning, guns, and biceps to stop the terrorists and save the tower, his family, and Christmas. This movie can ruffle some feathers though, as some people incorrectly believe this is not a Christmas film, so take caution when turning it on for the holidays. Of course, if your family likes to argue incessantly about politics at the holidays, maybe this film can get them to argue about something that actually matters for a change.

7 – Home Alone

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Another corny 90s film that seems better through nostalgia filters is Home Alone, the story about a young boy at the holidays whose large family accidentally leaves him home, alone. While the story has lots of good life lessons about growing up and spending time with the family that truly loves you during the holidays, this film is iconic for the zany over-the-top booby traps that the young boy Kevin uses to stop a pair of bumbling burglars from breaking into his house. This climactic scene spawned four more unholy offspring in the form of bad sequels that ditch the endearing messages about Christmas and family for more cartoonish violence and amusing injuries inflicted on the criminals. Once again, only the first movie is really needed to enjoy the holiday spirit.

6 – Arthur Christmas

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This surprisingly well-made holiday film comes at a time when both animated movies and Christmas movies are low in quantity and in quality. This unique tale tells of the Claus family, consisting of the current Santa and his wife, the retired Grand-santa, and the two grown children Steve and Arthur. Steve runs the highly advanced technical operation of delivering presents on Christmas Eve while Arthur answers letters sent to Santa. When a child’s present gets missed during Christmas Eve, Arthur must work with his Grand-santa and a wrapping elf to deliver the present before sunrise Christmas morning. The film is funny, has great animation, and tells a wonderfully unique and inspiring story with amazing characters. If you want something newer to watch that still has that Christmas charm and spirit, definitely make sure you watch Arthur Christmas this season.

5 – A Christmas Story

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Set in a fictional Indiana town based on a real Indiana town, A Christmas Story showcases a series of vignettes surrounding one eventful Christmas for a 9-year-old Ralphie, which ends with him shooting his eye out with a BB gun and his family eating Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Based on a series of semi-autobiographical tales of Jean Shepard, who co-wrote and narrated the film, this classic story embodies a traditional childhood Christmas in the Midwest during the late 1930s and early 1940s, when radio dramas, leg lamps, Ovaltine, and giving children rifles for Christmas were standard fare. If you can’t wait for the 24-hour TV marathon on Christmas Day, consider buying A Christmas Story to own and watch at any time of year.

4 – Toy Story

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Just as Die Hard counts as a Christmas film based on the time frame setting, so too does Toy Story. The first film Pixar ever produced as well as the first fully CGI feature length film changed the animation industry as we know it, not only for its technical prowess, but also for the intriguing characters and endearing story told about toys that come to life. This movie is a classic in many regards, and it fits wonderfully as a Christmas film as well (not just because it features a lot of toys). Do not worry, I won’t mention Iron Man 3 or Batman Returns as Christmas films on this list, mostly because there is no good reason to watch either of those movies.

3 – A Christmas Carol

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Charles Dickens’ popular tale of a greedy miser who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future has had many versions and revisions over the years. You can pick the Disney version, starring Scrooge McDuck; or the Muppets version; or the modern Bill Murray version; or the CGI motion capture version with Jim Carrey; or the Looney Toons version; or any other rendition you’d like. I think it would be cruel to choose one version over another, because they all have unique aspects they bring to the classic tale. The general message is what really matters here: Christmas is a time for giving, generosity, and goodwill towards all men.

2 – A Charlie Brown Christmas

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The holiday TV special that launched an iconic franchise from a simple newspaper comic strip brings the Peanuts gang to life in a story about the true meaning of Christmas. Much like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, Charles Schulz’s holiday tale bemoans consumerism and focuses on the caring and giving towards one another that should be the focus of the season, symbolized by a worn out yet real tree that transforms into a beautiful decoration against the aluminum counterparts that were popular in the 1960s. The animation is cheap yet stylistic, and the smooth jazz motifs from the Vince Guaraldi Trio are just as iconic as this holiday classic.

1 – Rankin/Bass Holiday Specials

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You may say that I’m cheating by not mentioning just one film for this entry but considering that the Rankin/Bass stop motion holiday specials were made for TV, none of their works are feature length. From well-known classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerFrosty the Snowman, and The Year Without a Santa Claus to less popular features like The Little Drummer Boy, their specials have become staples of the season, especially since network television hardly creates holiday specials anymore. What’s more, these specials are often combined into multiple-disc collections, so you can watch more than just one special with a single purchase. These collections will add a classic holiday tradition to any Christmas movie binge. These 12 holiday film icons will surely be a welcome present for anyone this Christmas season. There are certainly many other Christmas films to list, not to mention the three Hanukkah movies in existence, but those films aren’t as distinguished or considered classics in the same way, so you would risk confusing or disappointing your average Secret Santa or distant cousin if they unwrapped Jingle All the Way or Jack Frost this season. These movies are entertaining, endearing, and evoke the true Christmas spirit of kindness, generosity, and family love.
Images: IMDb Featured image: Tt Shinkan

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