Christmas Film Classics - The Essential List

Just like Santa Claus himself, ODEON always delivers. It’s why we’ve pulled on our novelty Xmas sweaters, cracked open a fresh pack of candy canes and assembled this list of surefire Christmas crackers.

Every film here is ho-ho-ho not so-so. So, grab onto your baubles, because our classic Christmas films list is here to get the whole family in a thoroughly festive mood.

Elf (2003)

When the suspiciously tall Buddy – a human adopted and raised by Santa’s elves – learns that he’s not actually an elf, he journeys to New York City to locate his biological father, spreading chaos and wide-eyed Christmas joy throughout the city.

Anchored by a never better Will Ferrell as the irrepressibly festive Buddy, Elf is a near-perfect Christmas movie – a joyous ode to the power of the magic of Christmas to melt even the hardest of hearts (in this case a fantastically curmudgeonly James Caan). It ought to be schmaltzy as heck, but thanks to Ferrell’s borderline-manic levels of festive spirit and excitement, you’ll be laughing so hard that Elf will make you a believer without you even realising.

Elf top moment

There may be more heartwarming moments in Elf but Buddy’s excitement at hearing ‘Santa’ is coming to Gimbel’s Department store is pure comic genius. Altogether now…

Home Alone (1990)

Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister is accidentally left at home when his chaotic family jet off for a Christmas break, but what seems like his dream-come-true becomes a hilarious fight for supremacy as two bumbling burglars attempt to break in.

In the hands of writer John Hughes and director Chris Columbus, these decidedly un-festive elements are spun into feel-good, cinema gold. The cast is phenomenal, with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Harry and Marv hitting the sweet spot between genuine menace and pratfalling perfection, while Macaulay Culkin is surprisingly endearing for a kid hellbent on dishing out a party pack of hurt on the hapless thieves.

Home Alone top moment!

Just like Fuller’s bladder, Home Alone is full to bursting (with standout moments). For us, though, it’s hard to beat the Wet Bandits’ calamitous entry into the McCallister home and Kevin’s terrific taunt, “You guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?”

Die Hard (1988)

When terrorists seize an LA skyscraper during a Christmas party, John McClane finds himself fighting a one-man war to take out the bad guys and rescue the hostages, including his estranged wife.

Die Hard is 100% a Christmas classic, here's why:

  1. It’s set at Christmas. (Heck, it even ends with Dean Martin’s butterscotch smooth rendition of Let it Snow!)
  2. It’s full of festive cheer – ‘Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho’, for example. ;-)
  3. It delivers an exciting shot of fail-safe festive joy that's the hallmark of universally beloved Christmas traditions. And you can’t say that for Brussel sprouts.

Die Hard top moment

Again, there are so many great scenes in Die Hard, but we’re going with the moment McClane gets desk-jockey cop Al Powell’s ‘attention’ by dropping a terrorist on the bonnet of his police cruiser. “Welcome to the party, pal!”

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

With not a single ounce of festive spirit in his withered soul, cantankerous 19th century money lender Ebenezer Scrooge is visited on Christmas Eve by three spirits that show him how his meanness has blighted his and others’ lives but that a path to salvation still exists.

The Muppet Christmas Carol sticks heart-warmingly close to the details of Dickens’ immortal tale of ghostly redemption. Yes, there are a few more rubber chicken factories, rat-based calypso and full-production song and dance numbers than you might expect, but they all combine with a phenomenally grumpy performance by Michael Caine as Scrooge to make this a festive delight.

The Muppet Christmas Carol top moment

Caine’s introduction – to the catchy Muppet-ensemble song, Scrooge – is everything you could want from a Christmas classic.
“There goes Mr Humbug! There goes Mr Grim!”

Love Actually (2003)

Love in all its hopeful, heart-warming and heart-rending shades is woven through the fabric of ten interconnecting stories that unfold over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Written and directed by Brit comedy legend Richard Curtis, Love Actually is a star-studded joy that’s even more than the sum of its frequently very funny parts. There is unrequited love and a broken heart or two, but overall the film’s vignettes celebrate love as a source of hope and transformation. And if that’s not a message to get behind this and every Christmas, we don’t know what is.

Love Actually top moment

However much we try, we can’t quit the scene where Mark (Andrew Lincoln) uses cards to profess his unrequited love for Juliet (Keira Knightly). It doesn’t end with an overblown Hollywood moment, but that only makes the scene perfect.

The Polar Express (2004)

It’s Christmas Eve 1956 and a young boy who’s beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus is invited to board a magical steam locomotive bound for adventure en route to the North Pole and an audience with Santa himself.

We all doubt the existence of Santa sometimes, and that’s why the Robert Zemeckis-directed The Polar Express exists. Using (then) state-of-the-art motion-capture CGI, this feature animation – featuring Tom Hanks in five separate roles – conjures enough skepticism-melting magic to have even the gruffest of family Scrooges grinning.

The Polar Express top moment

The hair-raising rollercoaster descent into Glacier Gulch and (sideways) across the frozen lake is a masterclass in breathtaking spectacle. 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

On the cusp of taking his own life on Christmas Eve, disillusioned and financially ruined George Bailey is visited by a novice angel who shows him the profound and positive effect he’s had on the lives of others, with glimpses of a timeline in which he’d never existed.

Starring James Stewart and directed by Frank Capra, It’s a Wonderful Life received mixed reviews on its release. How times change. These days, this poignant and ultimately uplifting look at what a successful life really means isn’t just an evergreen Christmas classic, it’s justly regarded as one the greatest films of all time.

It’s a Wonderful Life top moment

We won’t spoil the surprise, but when you hear Bailey shouting “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls!” as he runs through the snow, you’ll know what we mean.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Rejected by the town of Whoville, the Grinch plots to ruin the Christmas-loving citizens’ festive season by stealing all their presents, but is the spirit of Christmas really to be found in packages, boxes or bags?

Setting aside the Boris Karloff-narrated 1966 TV special and Benedict Cumberbatch’s 2018 animated Grinch, we’re all about Ron Howard’s live-action version and Jim Carrey’s extraordinary Grinchy transformation. With the right vehicle, Carrey can do no wrong and this thoughtfully expanded and updated version of the classic Seuss story lets him loose, while never losing sight of the original’s wholesome heart.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas top moment

Jim Carrey hams up the moment the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes brilliantly. “Max! I’m… feeling!”

Scrooged (1988)

In this Big Apple-based, late 80s reimagining of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, mean-spirited TV channel president Frank Cross (Bill Murray on top form) is visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts who set out to crack his ruthless exterior and teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

This irreverent and laugh-out-loud update of the Dickens classic is often cited as an antidote to traditional Christmas movies but, while it takes a lot of liberties with its source material, at its core, Scrooged is all heart. That Murray’s Frank Cross emerges from his ghostly ordeals transformed but still a bit of a jerk strikes an authentic note that is so refreshing.

Scrooged top moment

We’re tempted to nominate the moment where Frank tries to order a stagehand to staple reindeer antlers onto a mouse for his channel’s live Christmas Eve extravaganza, but in the end Carol Kane’s hilariously volatile Ghost of Christmas Present fairy is simply unbeatable. “The truth is painful, Frank!”

The Santa Clause (1994)

When toy salesman Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) accidentally causes Santa Claus to fall off his roof and die, he inadvertently takes on Santa’s responsibilities (and, over time, his jolly appearance), creating chaos in his already complicated life.

Tim Allen is fantastic as the divorced dad slowly transforming into the legendary, ho-ho-hoing present dispenser much to the delight of his son (and consternation of his ex and her new partner). Add loads of laughs and just enough real-world peril to make the pay-off all the sweeter, and it’s no wonder this has become a go-to Christmas classic.

The Santa Clause top moment

Scott/Santa heroically sets out with elves and son Charlie to deliver Christmas gifts, soundtracked by ZZ Top’s Gimme All Your Lovin’. It shouldn’t work but it so does.

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