One of the best parts of the season is gathering with friends and family, taking a break from hectic shopping and last-minute preparations and indulging in one of America’s favorite pastimes: crowding around the TV for a holiday movie marathon. There are plenty to choose from, including beloved classics that are decades old as well as the newer favorites that have emerged within the last 10 years. This list has films that will inspire all ages — and provide some big laughs.
1.) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Probably the most quintessential holiday film, James Stewart had the role of a lifetime with George Bailey, a down-on-his-luck bank owner living in the small town of Bedford Falls. Though he longs to escape the town, he can’t quite get away from it — especially when incidents with evil business tycoon Mr. Potter start threatening the rest of the townspeople.
One Christmas Eve, Bailey tries to commit suicide, which leads to a chance encounter with his happy-go-lucky guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence arrives and grants Bailey’s wish, taking him through a world in which he never existed. The experience opens Bailey’s eyes and heart as he discovers the true value of life and the importance of friendship. Without a doubt, the ending is one of the most inspiring and heartwarming in Hollywood history.
2.) A Christmas Story (1983)
Who is immune to the charm of chubby-cheeked, bespectacled Ralphie Parker and his Christmas dream to become the proud owner of a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range air rifle? There are so many brilliant scenes in this film — like the tongue on the pole, the leg lamp and of course the bully scene, where Ralphie takes on the meanest kid in school, resulting in cheers from everyone. There are elements of slapstick comedy that accentuate the great storyline (as well as brilliant quotes from almost every character), making it at once hilarious, poignant and memorable.
TNT runs a 24-hour marathon of this classic on Christmas Day, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to do so.
3.) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Of course, any film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” is a must-see for Christmas. Though there are many of them, this one remains the most accessible, especially for children (thanks to the Muppets). It also features the great Michael Caine as Scrooge, and none other than Kermit the Frog as his assistant Bob Cratchit. Narrated by Gonzo and his assistant Rizzo the Rat, this is a delightful tale told with humor and warmth that the whole family will love.
4.) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the loveable, far-from-perfect Clark Griswold. This time, Griswold is forced to spend the holidays with his in-laws, which introduces a brand new character to the mix: the show-stealing Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid), who portrays a bizarre redneck.
Other notable moments include the sled ride from hell and a terrifying squirrel incident. Like many other Griswold films, it contains the trademark situations that quickly spiral out of control — despite Clark’s best intentions.
5.) The Polar Express (2004)
“It’s just so Christmas-y” — and that’s exactly why it had to make this list. Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s childrens book of the same name, this film has some stunning visuals and gorgeous scenes.
It’s basically about a boy who finds himself hoping for belief in the true spirit of Christmas on Christmas Eve. Soon, a magic train called “The Polar Express” pulls up outside his home, and he’s invited aboard by a conductor for a journey to the North Pole. Tom Hanks expertly plays six different roles, wearing the Conductor’s hat as well as Santa’s.
6.) Home Alone (1990)
Another hilarious classic features the mischievous Kevin McCallister, played by the once-cute Macaulay Culkin. Accidentally left behind by his family in the holiday rush, he must fend for himself over Christmas — even contending with two bumbling, idiotic robbers (played very well by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) who are more silly than scary. To defend himself, Kevin puts his imagination to work, creating numerous traps and diversions to ruin their dastardly plans.
The sequel — Home Alone 2: Lost in New York — is also a great holiday classic, which some might argue is funnier than the original.
7.) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
This is one of the most-loved holiday classics, starring Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker, Natalie Wood as daughter Susan and Oscar-winner Edmund Gwenn, who won the award for his charming portrayal of Kris Kingle. It follows St. Nick and his dealings with Christmas outside the North Pole, where he’s continually met with cynicism and disbelief. He takes on a deity-like role as he performs miracles, such as instilling good faith between the heads of Macy’s and Gimbels department stores, sparking a romantic relationship between Doris Walker and her attorney and neighbor Fred Gailey. The heart of the story, however, lies within his attempt to persuade young Susan of his existence.
8.) White Christmas (1954)
Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, this movie — complete with great music, dancing and all around talent — is the closest to a spectacular, storytelling variety show on your TV screen.
Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye) are old Army buddies who served in WWII together. After the war, they team up to become a top song-and-dance act. Enter beautiful sisters Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen), who have their own song-and-dance act.
When the girls head to Vermont to perform a Christmas show, the men follow — only to find that their former commander, General Waverly, is the struggling lodge’s owner. As the performers try to help the General, a series of romantic mix-ups (and delightful musical numbers) ensue.
9.) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), The Grinch (2000)
This Dr. Seuss classic has become a Christmas staple, telling the story of The Grinch, who tries to take Christmas away from the townsfolk of Whoville. The story and the voice of The Grinch are voiced by none other than Boris Karloff. The Grinch, a surly character with a heart “two sizes too small,” has especially hated Christmas for 53 years. The story opens on Christmas Eve, as The Grinch wishes he could stop Christmas. Suddenly, he comes up with a plan to disguise himself as Santa — and steal Christmas.
If you’re not a huge fan of animation, you can always check out Jim Carrey’s stellar portrayal of the grumpy character in the 2000 production The Grinch.
10.) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, discovers the shiny, glorious world of Christmas Town — but he doesn’t quite get the concept. He’s bored with doing the same old thing for Halloween every year and is hungry for something new. With the best of intentions (but not always the best results), he gets the resident ghosts, ghouls, witches and other creatures of Halloweentown to help him with his endeavor.
Produced and co-written by Tim Burton, it’s visually stunning, creepy and uplifting at once.