These are the Best Six Christmas Movies of All Time. Period.
#6: Bad Santa
This was going to be a top five list, but you can't not include this new classic. It follows the rules for Christmas movies: a sour character that learns the true meaning of Christmas, a hopeful Character that will never give up on Christmas (or the sour character), redemption, rebirth, renewal, dark moments, glorious moments, a greedy villain with no respect for the season, and in the end friendship, family, and love triumph over all.
But this movie also adds alcohol, sex, profanity, Bernie Mac, and John Ritter. It's also hilarious. The recipe for this movie is like your grandmother's recipe for strawberry shortcake, and you've mixed vodka with it.
#5: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Although not technically a feature film, the Grinch is able to pack so many ups and downs in a 25 minute span. It's iconic, which all great Christmas movies need to be. It has a sad and dark moment, which all great Christmas movies need to have. There are cheerful characters (the Grinch's dog) conflicting with grumpy ones (the Grinch). And in the end it's all about heart, redemption, forgiveness, and a new start in the light after living the dark. Birth and rebirth are significant Christmas themes.
#4: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens' classic has been adapted and remade and remade and remade within an inch of its life. However the Muppets give it a unique twist while staying true to the story. Kermit as Bob Cratchit, the old guys from the balcony as Marley and Marley, the songs, and of course my cocaine as Scrooge. I mean Michael Caine.
The Muppets don't interfere with the classic story as it unfolds, they add to it. They don't try to tweak it or rearrange it or sanitize it. They just play along.
Another adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Whereas the Muppets left Dickens' story alone, this movie brought it to the twentieth century. Bill Murray plays TV executive Francis Cross, who has lost the meaning of Christmas, gets the ghost visits, et cetera. Murray is the key to this movie's greatness. Scrooge's 19th century greediness is modernized to a believable 20th century workaholic's greed. A story created by Dickens, acted out by Bill Murray, you can't do better than that. And the end the movie makes you get all emotional. You can't not get emotional when the little kid finally... Well, I won't ruin it if you haven't seen it.
#2: Home Alone
Both one and two. These movies came out as part of an onslaught of family movies. And they have exceptionally strong staying power. I loved these as a kid. And now as an adult I enjoy both the Holiday when-I-was-a-kid nostalgia they trigger along with the things I didn't quite get as a kid. Example: "He said if I walked in there and saw him naked, I'd grow up never feeling like a real man. Whatever that means." Didn't understand that joke as a kid, it cracks me up now.
These movies also feature outcasts that are warmly welcomed into the Christmas community, which is something all great X-Mas flicks have, from Bad Santa to Scrooge. There's also some seriously dark moments mixed perfectly with hilarious ones. The plots of these films are well constructed, the actors are great, there's a perfect blend of humor and drama, and in the end love and family and friends triumph over greed.
#1: It's a Wonderful Life
The recipe for a Christmas movie can't work without sappiness as an ingredient. And nothing is sappier than It's a Wonderful Life. It really doesn't get cornier than this. And that's why it is so powerful.
Jimmy Stewart has the uncanny ability to act like a jerk at times and make you think he's the nicest guy in the world, like when he verbally abuses his kids and then berates their teacher over the phone. But you still love him. And just like Culkin carried Home Alone, Murray carried Scrooged, and Thornton carried Bad Santa, Stewart quarterbacks IAWL and makes it fun to watch. We like him. Even though the movie has racist moments. Even though the bad guy is disabled, which is an old device to make audiences dislike and distrust bad guys. Even though the female characters are token and stock and act only relative to male characters. Even though George Bailey invented subprime lending. You can't help but love this movie.
That's why I picked it as #1. Because on paper it's shallow and has so many flaws. Nevertheless it draws you in and gets you on George Bailey's side anyway. And you love watching it. I can't not watch it if it's on. It's like the best friend you don't have much in common with but love hanging out with. It's like family.
So that's it. No question about it. The best six Christmas movies, beyond a reasonable doubt. All I have left to say to you readers out there is...