We’ve all got our favourite Christmas film and, if you’re anything like us, you’d be willing to fight to the death to defend it’s honour.
In an attempt to put bickering to bed this holiday season, we’ve compiled the ultimate list of the top 20 Christmas movies, rather scientifically using a combination of their IMDB, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores to work out an overall average.
We gingerly opened our excel app (for the first time this year) and took all the films we could find that fall under the category of festive features to make this super official list. Want to prove the genuine excellence of your all time favourite? Not sure what to watch this December?
We’ve done the science.
20. Scrooged (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
At the bottom spot of our list is the 80s classic starring Bill Murray as the self-centered TV exec who gets visited by three ghosts who change him for the better. Despite its classic status, the film received mixed to low reviews from critics. As The New York Times puts it, “the mundane demands of the sentimental story keep interrupting what are, essentially, revue sketches, a few of which are hilarious.”
19. The Santa Clause (1994)
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
The Santa Clause tells the story of Scott (Tim Allen), who unknowingly signs up to become the new Santa Claus after knocking the OG santa off a roof on Christmas Eve. Even though it won the US People’s Choice Award for Favourite Comedy Motion Picture in 1995, The Santa Clause takes 19th place. Still, we’re glad it made the cut and that Disney went on to make two more films in the series, (even if each was liked less by critics than the last).
18. Love, Actually (2003)
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
If you’re as heartbroken as we are that this film features so far down on the list, you’ll know this early noughties ensemble is a stroke of Christmas genius. Highlights include Emma Thompson crying to Joni Mitchell, Kiera Knightly’s denim baker boy hat and a cameo from Ant and Dec. Stacked with as many famous faces as it is certified bangers, this film is bursting with festive magic (well, we think so anyway).
17. Bad Santa (2003)
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Bad Santa teaches us that Christmas isn't the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. Billy Bob Thornton plays the titular character, a pro thief who gets a job as a shopping-mall Father Christmas so he can rob the place at night with his sidekick, played by Tony Cox. It’s the seminal dark comedy Christmas film, and the best one on this list for those of you who don’t take fondly to over sentimentality or blubbering.
16. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Surely the greatest Dickens adaptation there’s ever been? Aside from genius casting (Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchet, Michael Caine as Scrooge), it’s as funny as it is moving. Disney make the pretty mundane story of an old man essentially realising he’s a git into a colourful period spectacle complete with Miss Piggy in a bonnet and musical numbers. As The Ghost of Christmas Present rightfully says, “wherever you find love, it feels like Christmas.”
15. Elf (2003)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
It seems 2003 was the year for Christmas excellence. Elf, unsurprisingly, has by far the highest Rotten Tomatoes score so far. It’s the beloved story of Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) who travels from the North Pole to New York in search of his human father. When he gets there, he finds that the jaded, Christmas-hating man already has a family. As critic Roger Elbert describes it, it’s “one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humour, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece”.
14. Gremlins (1984)
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
That’s right. This universally recognisable eighties horror comes in hot at number fourteen. One Chrismtas, Billy (Zach Galligan) receives an unusual Christmas present from his father - a Mugwai. Along with his frankly adorable new pet, which he names Gizmo, Billy receives a set of strict care instructions, the most important being that he must NEVER feed Gizmo after midnight. Of course, Billy breaks the rules, and Gizmo turns into a mischievous gremlin and wreaks havoc on Billy’s small town. Festive? Only just. A classic? Definitely.
~13. Arthur Christmas (2011)
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
What could be more Christmassy than Bill Nighy voicing Santa Clause? Arthur Christmas follows Santa’s awkward son Arthur (James McAvoy) as he sets out on adventure to save one girls’ Christmas after he notices a technical glitch in her gift. It has a whopping 92% on Rotten Tomatoes, and with good reason. Also starring Hugh Laurie and Jim Broadbent, it’s stuffed with enough comforting classical actor’s voices to make you feel all cozy inside.
~13. Trading Places (1983)
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Average: 77.3 (same as above)
Although it has exactly the same average score as Arthur Christmas, this film could not be more different. The comedy features a classic rags and riches switcheroo, with homeless man Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) finding himself swapping lives with wealthy, uptight commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd). Despite critics discussing, in recent years, that it has a pretty overtly pro-capitalist stance on happiness and success, as well as offensive language, it’s seemingly liked by audiences for what it is on the surface; a story about redemption.
11. Klaus (2019)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
The penultimate animation on the list is the Spanish-made Netflix release, Klaus. It was nominated at the 92nd Academy Awards for best-animated feature, but lost to Toy Story 4. It’s beautifully, classically animated and serves as an alternative origin story of Santa. It tells the story of Jesper Johansson (Jason Shwartzman), a spoilt postman who is sent to the distant, northern town of Smeerensburg, where he meets Klaus (J.K Simmons), a reclusive toymaker.
10. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Edward Scissorhands is one of two Tim Burton features to make the list (can you guess the next one?). This stylised dark fairytale romance stars Winona Ryder as Kim and Johnny Depp as Edward, but the role was actually turned down by Tom Hanks and Gary Oldman prior to his casting. Both Burton and the film’s composer, Danny Elfman, consider Edward Scissorhands their most personal and favorite project.
~9. A Christmas Story (1983)
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
We hadn’t heard of this one, either. Apparently an American family classic, A Christmas Story is told through a string of vignettes, narrated by Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsly), in which he reminisces about one holiday season when he was 9 years old. The film comically depicts the realities of Christmas; the arguments, the commerciality and the disappointments. In 2012, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
~9. Christmas, Again (2014)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Average: 81.7 (same as above)
Christmas, Again ranks as the best independent Christmas film, according to our calculations. The rather ironically named Noel (Kentucker Audley) is a Christmas tree salesman who returns to his home town of New York, hoping to leave his heartbreak behind him. As the title suggests, the film demonstrates how the holiday season rolling around brings about feelings of dread for those who are working behind the scenes to bring the commercial magic into the homes of the masses. It’s not all bad though, and the New York Times reviewed it as “just the right mix of chilly and sweet”.
7. Die Hard (1988)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
John McClane (Bruce Willis)’s hopes of spending Christmas with his estranged wife are dashed when he arrives in LA to discover she and several others are being held hostage in an office building. John, being a detective and certified muscleman, makes it his mission to rescue them. Is it really Christmas without German terrorists being shot at and falling 30 stories to their grizzly death? Not only does Die Hard feature so highly on this list, it’s also number 10 in the Time Out list of the best action movies of all time.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
The second Tim Burton masterpiece and highest-ranking animated film, The Nightmare Before Christmas has over 80% across the board. The stop-motion spectacle is based on a poem written by Burton when he was working for Disney in the 80s, and follows Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween town, who is bored of all things scary. One day, when he wanders too far from home, he stumbles across Christmas Town, and discovers a brand new way of living. It was the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for best visual effects, and uses over 230 claymation puppets with Jack having over 400 different puppet heads, allowing him to express every emotion.
5. Carol (2015)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
An unlikely front runner and the last film on the list made in this millennium, Carol is a 2015 smash hit set in 1950s Manhattan. It stars Cate Blanchett as Carol Aird, a glamorous mother who meets Therese Belivet (Roony Mara) at a department store when she is looking for a Christmas gift for her daughter. Things get complicated when Therese starts to fall for Carol, and their forbidden love affair begins. Carol was nominated for 6 Oscars and 9 BAFTAs, and it’s hugely positive response from audiences and critics alike places this gorgeous LGBTQ+ love story at number 5.
4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Kris Kringle is hired to be the Macy’s santa when he proves himself as a huge hit with children of New York. His genuine kindness and reluctance to act with greed irritate his employers, made worse by the fact that he claims to be the real Saint Nick. Santa comes under scrutiny and his authenticity is questioned, but Ed Gwen is so sweet and believable as Kris Kringle that you have no choice but to believe that he is Father Christmas. This sometimes makes the film a little bit stressful to watch (why are they being so mean to Santa?!) but it’s moments of warmth and laughter make it more than palatable.
3. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
With an almost perfect score from all three platforms, it’s no surprise that It’s a Wonderful Life features on basically every list of the greatest films, never mind greatest Christmas films, ever made. It’s number 24 on IMDBs list of top rated movies, sharing it’s 8.6 rating with blockbusters like The Matrix, Goodfellas and Silence of the Lambs. It’s the tale of everyman George Bailey (James Stewart) who, after a string of misfortunes, feels like the world would be better off without him. In his most desperate hour, he’s visited by an angel who shows him what the world, and the lives of those he loves, would be like without him in it. Tissues recommended.
2. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
The MGM musical that brought us the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” gets the number 2 spot. Judy Garland plays Esther, one of four Smith sisters who are preparing for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The film follows them as they learn valuable lessons of life and love with the help of the classic boy next door, John (Tom Drake). In the year of its release, The New York Times wrote, that “the Smiths and their home, in Technicolor, are eyefuls of scenic delight, and the bursting vitality of their living inspires you like vitamin A”.
1. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
It looks like we can officially call James Stewart the face of Christmas, as he stars in two of the top three films on our list. In The Shop Around the Corner, he plays Alfred Kralik, an employee at Matuschek and Company, a general store in Budapest, who is endlessly at odds with his colleague Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan). The quarreling duo are both in love with their anonymous penpals, communicating with them through their romantic letters (no prizes for guessing how it ends). This feel-good classic is basically You’ve Got Mail, but in black and white and with more pre-World War II nostalgia.
Well, there you have it. What films were you expecting to see on the list that didn’t make it? Our honourable mentions are definitely The Grinch and the first two instalments from the Home Alone franchise. Nonetheless, it fills our hearts with Christmas joy that there are so many good films to explore here, from whimsical animation to Bruce Willis killing bad guys.
Merry Christmas, film lovers.