'Tis the season for holiday movies. Whether they're old classics or new favorites, these films are guaranteed to make your nights a little less silent, your road to Christmas a little more white, and your ho-ho-home a little less alone. So, here's a complete binge guide to the best films of the season.
The 1990 family comedy "Home Alone" was a game changer in its genre. Neither a romantic comedy nor a retelling of a classic holiday tale, it's the story of a family accidentally leaving one of their sons behind when they fly to France for a Christmas vacation. As a result, young Kevin McCallister, played by Macaulay Culkin, has to fend for himself and defend his home when two burglars attempt to rob it. With action, humor and heart, "Home Alone" is a must.
"A Christmas Story"
In "A Christmas Story," all nine-year-old Ralphie wants is an official Red Ryder BB rifle for Christmas. "You'll shoot your eye out," everyone tells him, but Ralphie doesn't care and ultimately gets his wish. Along the way, iconic antics ensue with Ralphie's friends and members of his family. There's the broken leg lamp, the tongue stuck to the pole, the dogs destroying the turkey.
"It's A Wonderful Life"
The holidays are about coming together with family and giving thanks for all we have. And that's what "It's A Wonderful Life" is about too. It's the story of a small town American man, named George Bailey, who's down on his luck, and considering suicide because of it. With the help of a bumbling guardian angel, however, Bailey is able to gain some perspective and realize that the life he leads is a rich and wonderful one after all.
"The Santa Clause"
In "The Santa Clause," Tim Allen plays an average father, who accidentally startles Santa, causing him to fall off a roof to his death on Christmas Eve. Allen's son then convinces him to put on Santa's suit and finish delivering all the presents. What he doesn't realize is that, in putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, he has unwittingly agreed to "the Santa Clause," which requires him to become the next St. Nick.
"Love Actually" is a holiday favorite that depicts the experiences of about fifteen different British people in the weeks leading up to Christmas. There is a couple dealing with infidelity, a young boy learning the drums to impress his first love, an unexpected romance between the new British Prime Minister and a junior member of his staff, etc. The film deals with a wide gamut of stories, and thus a wide gamut of emotions. The feel-good overarching message, though, is that "love actually is all around."
"Elf" is the story of what happens when one of Santa's elves visits New York City. Well, he's sort of an elf. Buddy, played by Will Ferrell, is a human who Santa unwittingly brought back to the North Pole from an orphanage years ago. Now, years later, Buddy is living and working as an elf, blissfully unaware of the fact that he is any different than those around him. That is, until he finds out about his humanity and goes on a quest to find his long-lost father.
The March sisters are growing up during and after the Civil War. Christmastime seems to play an extra character in the movie as the family gathers for the holiday even as the years progress and some of the sisters are living new lives in different places.
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
You've probably sung "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" a million times, so you know the story: a young reindeer cast aside for his physical differences ends up saving the day because of them. Now, why not watch it play out in charmingly nostalgic stop animation on the screen? It's the ultimate underdog (or rather, under-deer) story.
"The Family Stone"
"The Family Stone" is about the misadventures that often ensue when someone brings a new love interest home to meet the family at Christmas. Here, Sarah Jessica Parker plays Dermot Mulroney's soon-to-be fiancé, and let's just say her uptight ways aren't exactly a hit with his family. As it's a Christmas movie, everything works out swimmingly in the end, just not the way you might have thought at the start.
"Miracle on 34th Street"
The Christmas classic, "Miracle on 34th Street," asks the all important question; do you believe? And though, on the surface, we understand that question as referring to Santa, we also walk away from the film suspecting that it refers to something deeper and more universal as well.
There have been two notable versions of "Miracle" -- the 1947 original with Natalie Wood, and the 1994 remake with Mara Wilson -- and you really can't go wrong with either.
This 2006 charmer by romcom queen, Nancy Meyers, is almost Shakespearean in its setup of multiple couples finding friendship and love by switching places with each other for the holiday.
"Nat'l Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"
The third installment in the "Vacation" franchise, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" was only released in 1989, but it's already widely considered a sort of modern Christmas classic. A movie about all the things that can go wrong in the days leading up to Christmas, "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" covers everything from picking out a tree and covering the house with lights, to stressing out about a year-end bonus and dealing with bickering family members. While it's undoubtedly over-the-top, it's also difficult not to see a little of yourself in the film.
"A Charlie Brown Christmas"
The animated television special, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and its corresponding jazz score by Vince Guaraldi, have been synonymous with the holidays since they debuted on CBS back in 1965. Sure, parts of the film are a bit more melancholy than modern Christmas tales; but in the end, Charlie Brown and his friends remind viewers what the holidays are really about. And that's difficult to beat. So is Snoopy.
"While You Were Sleeping"
Lucy Eleanor Moderatz, played by Sandra Bullock, saves the life of a man who she's admired from afar while working as a a fare token collector for the Chicago Transit Authority.
While the man, Peter Callaghan, played by Peter Gallagher, is in a coma, his family assumes she is his fiancée. She doesn't correct them, but eventually a true love connection prompts her to set the record straight.
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is a holiday classic beloved by both children and adults for its quirky wit and heartfelt message. Originally a whimsically illustrated Dr. Seuss book, the Grinch has been turned into an animated TV special, a Broadway musical, and a full-length feature film starring Jim Carrey. So, check it out. All the Whos down in Whoville are doing it.
"Frosty the Snowman"
Much like "Rudolph," "Frosty the Snowman" was a song before it was a TV special. But when the animated short aired on CBS in December 1969, it struck an immediate chord with the American public and forever solidified its position in the hierarchy of holiday films. "Frosty" is the story of an ordinary snowman who is magically brought to life by a magician's top hat, a group of school children, and the spirit of Christmas. It is simply not to be missed.
During the mayhem of the holiday shopping season, two New Yorkers reach for the same pair of gloves at Bloomingdale's. The two hit it off, and decide to spend the evening together but ultimately part ways when Sara Thomas, played by Kate Beckinsale, argues that fate will bring them back together if that's what's meant to be.
Years pass, and on the eve of his wedding to someone else, Jonathan Trager, played by John Cusack, feels he can't escape signs that are leading him to figure out where Sara ended up -- but all he has is her first name. She's in a similar situation, but do the two ultimately end up finding one another?
In "White Christmas," two American World War II vets, played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, find success on Broadway and fall in love with a pair of sisters, set to perform at a Vermont Inn over the holidays. So, Crosby and Kaye follow the sisters north to the inn and a series of misadventures and musical numbers ensue.
"Home Alone 2: Lost in New York"
After the first "Home Alone," you'd probably think the McCallisters had learned their lesson, right? They couldn't possibly lose Kevin en route to another Christmas vacation. Right?
Wrong. In "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," Kevin once again gets separated from his family by boarding a plane to New York, instead of the one to Florida that everyone else is on. He then checks into the Plaza, befriends a homeless woman in Central Park, and takes on the Wet Bandits (now renamed the Sticky Bandits) yet again. Oh, and did we mention Donald Trump has a cameo? It's a definite must see.
"The Muppet Christmas Carol"
The only thing cuter and more heart-wrenching than Tiny Tim is the miniature Kermit the Frog version of Tiny Tim, and the muppet renditions of the other "Christmas Carol" characters aren't half bad either. Funny and heartwarming, this film is the perfect distillation of the classic Dickens tale for kids.
"Bad Santa" is about a drunk, sex addict, thief, played by Billy Bob Thornton, who poses as a department store Santa Claus every year, so that he can rob the stores at night. It's an entirely different sort of holiday movie that adds a welcome bit of black comedy to the mix.
"The Nightmare Before Christmas"
"What's this?" The only movie on the list that's equal parts Christmas and Halloween, Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" illustrates the unparalleled infectious charm of the season in quirky stop motion animation. It's funny, unique, and Danny Elfman's score is not to be missed. What's more, it's available on Netflix streaming.
"Jingle All The Way"
Before the days of Amazon and Cyber Monday, parents had to actually go to the store to track down the toys on their kids' lists. And in "Jingle All The Way," Arnold Schwarzenegger does just that. Battling long lines, going head-to-head with a difficult mailman (played by Sinbad), and even attempting to win a radio contest, this dad will do almost anything to get his hands on a coveted Turbo Man action figure.
"Die Hard" may not be your typical holiday movie, but it does technically take place on Christmas Eve. So, if you're looking for a little violence to break up all the sap on your holiday queue, John McClane just might be the answer.
"The Polar Express"
In 2004, the beloved children's book, "The Polar Express," was brought to life as a CGI fantasy film by acclaimed director Robert Zemeckis, using live action performance capture technology. It's the story of a young boy's chance trip to the North Pole aboard a magical train. It's the first ever all-digital capture film. And it features Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks in six different roles.
Sounds pretty good, right? Just considered yourself warned: You may never look at a single bell the same way again.
In "Scrooged," the 1988 comedic modernization of the classic "Christmas Carol" story, Bill Murray plays a cynical, high-powered TV executive in New York City, who forces his staff to work on the holiday. In typical Scrooge fashion, he is then visited by three ghosts.
The film came out just a few years after Murray's mega hit "Ghostbusters," and this irony was not lost on advertising execs. As such, the movie was marketed in the U.S. with the tagline, "Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it's three against one."
Anyone who's ever grown up in a divorced family knows that balancing the various sets of relatives can be a nightmare on holidays. That's why, in "Four Christmases," Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn -- both children of divorce -- try to avoid the whole thing by going on a tropical vacation. When their flight is cancelled, however, they have no choice, but to try and navigate all four of their families' celebrations.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles"
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is like a holiday version of "The Odd Couple." It features Steve Martin as an uptight marketing executive and John Candy as a clumsy, chatterbox shower curtain ring salesman. The two are stuck together, butting heads, for several days as Martin tries desperately to get home for Thanksgiving. And, as you might have guessed, the unlikely duo end up as friends.
"Best Man Holiday"
If your idea of the perfect Christmas movie involves Terrence Howard in a Santa suit, "Best Man Holiday" is the film for you. The sequel to 1999's hugely popular "The Best Man," this 2013 tragicomedy shows the fan favorite group of friends reuniting for the first time in 14 years. There are laughs. There are tears. There are even catfights under the Christmas tree. And somehow, it all feels like home.
Everyone knows Santa depends on his reindeer to deliver presents to the children of the world by Christmas morning. So what happens if one of those reindeer gets lost? "Prancer" is the story of just that. And it's a rare opportunity for a reindeer other than Rudolph to get a little screen time.