The Essential Holiday Movie List

The holidays are upon us. If you’re ready to embrace the season, crank up the Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, light some fresh balsam scented candles, and turn on any one of these movies. These films may be ever so familiar, or they might be brand new to you--either way, I invite you to put on your reindeer patterned fuzzy socks, make some hot chocolate, and sit by the fire to check these gems out.


  1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

I had to start this list off with a bang. This late ‘80s classic, written by John Hughes, stars Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid, along with other stars, as a family deals with an onslaught of holiday horrors. From a burnt tree to a kidnapping, this comedy/farce is pure gold. My family makes it a priority to watch this movie at least twice a year--on Black Friday and on Christmas Eve. Pro tip: watch the movie on DVD or via streaming, not on TV. You’ll miss out on some of the best lines if you catch the movie after it’s been censored or cut for time.

2. The Holiday (2006)

By all accounts, this movie has just about everything I’m looking for in a great movie, let alone a great holiday movie. From an all-star cast including Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Jack Black, to an incredible score from Hans Zimmer and charming storytelling from writer/director Nancy Myers, The Holiday feels like a breath of fresh air this season. I have loved this movie for years. It’s funny, dramatic, romantic, heartwarming, and just so enjoyable to watch. It’s a tearjerker for sure, but oh so worth your time.

3. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

I have to practice a lot of restraint to keep from listing every single Rankin & Bass Christmas special on this list. With so many childhood favorites to choose from, including Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (1976), and Jack Frost (1979), I decided I had to go with my absolute number one. This movie features fan favorites Snow Miser and Heat Miser, along with a sassy and self-sufficient Mrs. Claus, and of course, Ignatius Thistlewhite. I have an intense love for all of these stop-motion animation movies, but The Year With a Santa Claus is arguably the most well-rounded of the bunch. I can’t help but sing along to every song, laugh at every joke, and yes, cry, especially when Mr. Thistlewhite sings “I Believe in Santa Claus.” Ugh. When Freeform was still ABC Family, the network always played these movies during their “25 Days of Christmas” event. Now, I recommend buying a multi-movie collection on sale at Target to watch these movies.

4. Elf (2003)

Would it really be Christmas if I didn’t mention this Cotton-Headed-Ninny-Muggin? We all know and (hopefully) love Buddy the Elf in this early 2000s comedy. Somehow, I never grow tired of this movie, which features Will Ferrell at his best as an elf who discovers he’s actually a human, and goes on a search to reconnect with his father in New York City. All I have to say is, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, I can’t talk to you. “Now now, Arctic Puffin!”

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)

This entry may be a smidge controversial, but I have to stick to my guns on this one: the original adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas is by far and away the best there is. At just 26 minutes long, this hilarious short, narrated by Boris Karloff, needed no remakes. There’s no denying that Jim Carrey is hilarious in the titular role in the live-action adaptation, but this 1966 animated classic stays so loyal to the source material that it’s always managed to be my favorite. Please excuse me while I try to get “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” out of my head.

6. Most Hallmark Original Holiday Movies

It would be absolutely impossible for me to mention every Hallmark holiday movie that I keep dear to my heart, in part because the network churns out more than a dozen new movies every year! Suffice it to say that one of my favorite parts about going home is having the chance to sit back and watch marathons of these movies for hours on end, preferable with my momma at my side. The following are just a few of the movies I look forward to watching at this time each year: Let it Snow, Snow Bride, A Bride for Christmas, Love at the Christmas Table, One Starry Christmas, With Love, Christmas, Finding Santa, and 12 Gifts of Christmas. This is a very brief list, but it does give a sense of some great movies to check out this season. Remember, the cheesier the title, the better. Bonus if the female protagonist’s name is Holly or Eve.