The winter timed holidays are nothing if not a collection of traditions. Some are religious themed festivals, each with their own distinct practices, while others celebrate the aligning of the earth with the sun. Everyone has their own beliefs and traditions but no holiday has as many traditions like Christmas. Some countries honor St. Nicholas (who was the inspiration for Santa Claus), while others teach their children to fear the young’n stealing Krampus. The English like wearing paper crowns and eating gross deserts, while Americans like getting drunk on eggnog, gifting fruit cake to people we hate and going overboard on presents and decorations.
However you celebrate it, I think we can all agree that there are few things that fill one with the Christmas spirit quite like a Christmas movie. Whether they’re about mayhem creating monsters, a kid wanting a gun for Christmas or a lone cop trying to save the day, films set on or about Christmas are as synonymous with the holiday as decorated tree corpses surrounded by a mountain of presents or stockings hanging over a fireplace. This list is a celebration of cinemas best depictions of the holiday. The good, the bad and the ugly.
This is The Greatest Christmas Movies Of All Time (and The Polar Express).
25. The Polar Express (2004)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Plot: A kid boards a magical train that takes him to the North Pole. Unfortunately, it doesn’t crash on the way there.
Duke’s take: We debated for some time on whether or not this was a worthy inclusion. Sailor argued it was not. I argued the generation that grew up with it loved it. So we took to the FilmExodus Twitter account to settle the matter. We tweeted this:
— FilmExodus (@Filmexodus_) December 10, 2018
So needless to say The Polar Express made the cut. Honestly, I’m surprised it was even on the chopping block. I saw this film in theaters in 3D. I caught the snowflakes as they fell. I was awed. I didn’t know what live-action motion-capture animation was. I was just enjoying a new Christmas film. Sure the animation can be jarring at times and almost all of the kids are annoying, but at its heart is a story that stands the test of time.
Sailor’s take: I vehemently disagree with this films inclusion. This list was originally supposed to be the 50 Greatest Xmas Movies and even on that list, I didn’t want this film included. It’s 90 minutes of animated sex mannequins that rape the uncanny valley.
24. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Plot: A what tries to fuck over some whos by stealing all of their shit on Jesus’ birfday.
Duke’s take: This was another film I had to push Sailor to include. My generation has about five films that they will watch on repeat each year. Three are coming up later, the fourth was #25, and the fifth is The Grinch. Jim Carrey turns in a remarkable performance as the Scrooge of the Seuss universe.
Sailor’s take: It’s fine but there’s like 15 other movies that could’ve made the cut in its place. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) is so fucking good, y’all.
23. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Directed by: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Plot: A magical hat brings a pile of frozen water to life.
Duke’s take: I hadn’t seen this in years so I watched it right before writing this blurb. It’s alright, but nothing special. It definitely holds a place in Christmas pop culture due to its age and timelessness. The old man selling them a ticket to the North Pole was funny. The magician all of a sudden being evil and thinking nasty was a hard 180 turn for the character.
Although, what might be the most disturbing moment of the whole special is that when Frosty comes alive he always says “Happy Birthday” and acts like this is his first time coming to life. So he basically forgets everyone he ever met which has to be hard on the children each year. However, for 30-minutes it moves by at a brisk pace, so if you need something quick to watch, pop this in.
Sailor’s Take: It’s cute.
22. The Ref (1994)
Directed by: Ted Demme
Plot: A cat burglar takes a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.
What Demme‘s film captures, better than any other holiday film, is how much it sucks to be stuck with your family on Christmas. None of us want to admit it but for some of us, Christmas is a holly jolly prison that is one passive aggressive comment away from turning into a bloody Damien Hirst art installation. Most of the other films on this list are traditional comfort food you watch every year but The Ref is the only one that becomes more and more relevant the older you get.
21. Bad Santa (2003)
Directed by: Terry Zwigoff
Plot: A piece of shit conman poses as Santa to rob department stores on Christmas Eve but a dopey kid throws a wrench in the works.
Written in part by The Coen Bros, Bad Santa lives up to its title and then some. Billy Bob Thorton has never been better than as Willie T. Soke, a crude, hilariously crass thief who fucks and steals everything in sight. His character, as well as pretty much everything else in the film, is almost unbearably foul but slowly, you start caring about the miserable bastard and even hoping he ends up ok. Much like Scrooge or the Grinch, the tale of Willie is a tale of redemption and there’s nothing more Christmas-y than that.
20. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Directed by: Brian Henson
Plot: A Christmas Carol but with puppets.
Second only to Dracula, there might not be a more adapted book than Dickens holiday classic. There’s been multiple live action and animated versions, as well as a musical but The Muppet Christmas Carol has something none of the others do– puppets. Or more specifically– Muppets. On paper, it shouldn’t work but when Michael Caine yells at Kermit or gets harassed by felt ghosts, you never question it. It may not be the best adaptation but it’s secretly our favorite.
19. The Silent Partner (1978)
Directed by: Daryl Duke
Plot: A crazy bank robbing Santa hunts the bank teller that pocketed some of his ill gotten gains.
Christopher Plummer (at his most unhinged) takes on Elliott Gould (at his most schleppy, which is saying a lot), in this underrated 70’s thriller. Written by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential), this cat and mouse heist film packs more unpredictability and grime than a game of Twister at a seedy bordello. Perfect for the holidays.
18. Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by: Bob Clark
Plot: A crazy killer hides in a sorority and hunts and kills the women that live there.
Before he made the most watched Christmas movie of all time, Bob Clark directed the definitive Xmas horror film. Often regarded as the first slasher, Black Christmas is every bit as creepy as it’s predecessors (Psycho, Peeping Tom) and is inarguably better than its imitators (too many to list). It definitely won’t put most in the spirit of the season but for horror fans, this is essential viewing.
17. Gremlins (1984)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Plot: A father desperate for a last minute Christmas present for his son, buys a weird ass creature. Chaos ensues.
Duke’s take: I honestly do not remember much from Gremlins let alone that it was set during Christmas. So I guess don’t feed the mogwai after midnight (which is never if we get technical) and don’t set the movie during Christmas because no one is going to remember that detail. Fun fact, Iron Man 3 is also set during Christmas. Yeah, I bet you forgot that, too.
Sailor’s take: Gremlins is the perfect analogy about the consumerism of Christmas. Or something. Who the fuck cares what it’s about, it has fun monsters in it.
See you on the 22nd for Part 2, ya filthy animals!