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While it’s much easier to gather with family this year, that doesn’t mean we can’t uphold some well-worn holiday traditions, like settling in on the couch with some hot cocoa to watch Christmas movies. Even if you’re not physically in the room with them, watch parties using integrated apps or Zooms or other virtual meetups means you can still have a collective, shared experience — just over the internet.
And if you are lucky enough to be in the same place as your family, you can spend time with your loved ones and cherish the fact that you’re able to be close to them IRL when so many people cannot be with theirs. If you don’t own a physical copy of your favorite Christmas flick, chances are it’s available to stream online somewhere, whether as a part of one of your existing streaming subscriptions or as a rental on Amazon. We’ve rounded a list of some of our favorites below, including well-worn classics and newer selections.
If your favorites aren’t on this list, chances are they’re available on a multitude of other streaming services — or you can rent them via Amazon Prime, Redbox, or any number of other ways. For more movie guides read our list of the best Blu-rays for $10, and Criterion Collection Blu-rays to pre-order for the holidays.
Paramount Home Entertainment
Where to Stream: Amazon Prime
What better place to start than with this 1946 Frank Capra Christmas classic, which IndieWire deemed the No. 1 Christmas movie of all time. The plot’s kind of a bummer though — suicidal family man George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is so overwhelmed by his problems that it takes the intervention of a guardian angel showing him what life would look like in his hometown of Bedford Falls without him to make him realize just how important he is in so many people’s lives, and how much he needs to stick around.
Jim Carrey transforms into the Grinch in this live-action adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss tale. Directed by Ron Howard, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” finds the revenge-seeking green character going to extreme lengths to ruin Christmas in Whoville. Taylor Momsen, Christine Baranski, Jeffrey Tambor, Molly Shannon, Mindy Sterling, Bill Irwin, and Josh Ryan Evans appear in the film, which is narrated by Anthony Hopkins. If you have cable, “The Grinch” will air on FX on December 11 and 12.
“A Christmas Story” is probably one of the most popular holiday movies of all time. Based on the hilarious work of Jean Shepherd, this ‘80s film follows the holiday hijinks of Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) as he dodges the neighborhood bully and daydreams of the perfect Christmas gift: a Red Rider air rifle. You can watch “A Christmas Story” on most of the major streaming platforms, but it’s also airing on TBS all month long.
Warner Bros/Everett Collection
The holidays are the perfect time to take a ride on “The Polar Express.” Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the animated fantasy film is about a boy who sets out on a magical expedition to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and learns about life and friendships along the journey. Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Eddie Deezen, Nona Gaye, and Peter Scolari are among the cast.
Denzel Washington plays an earthbound angel who helps the pastor of a small-town’s struggling church in this 1996 dramatic comedy directed by Penny Marshall. The all-star cast of “The Preacher’s Wife” includes Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, Jenifer Lewis, Gregory Hines, and Loretta Divine.
Warner Bros/Everett Collection
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is another Christmas classic from the ‘80s, and the third film in the “National Lampoon’s Vacation” film franchise starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. Written by John Hughes, the comedy centers on Clark Griswold’s (Chase) quest to have the perfect family Christmas. Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis, and Randy Quaid are featured in the movie.
Another Christmas classic from the ’40s, the original version of this film follows a man who fills in as Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — but who is suspected of being mentally ill when he insists to customers that he is the real Santa Claus (going by the name of Kris Kringle doesn’t help). But when a court case puts his identity up for debate, it’s up to nine-year-old believer Susan (Natalie Wood) to convince her skeptical single mother (Maureen O’Hara) that Kris is the real deal.
Reportedly Annette Funicello’s favorite of all her films, the 1961 musical was based on Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta of the same name and starred the actress as nursery rhyme heroine Mary Contrary, who’s about to marry her sweetheart Tom Piper (Tommy Sands). But their walk to the altar might be canceled thanks to the villainous Barnaby (Ray Bolger), who wants to ruin the wedding and force Mary to marry him instead.
Note: This is not to be confused with the 1934 Laurel and Hardy version, or the 1986 made-for-TV version starring Drew Barrymore, Pat Morita, and Keanu Reeves.
Want to feel old? Macaulay Culkin turned 40 in 2020 — but the Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up with this Christmas classic have already come to terms with the fact that they’re not that young anymore. But the fact remains that this film, starring Culkin as an eight-year-old who is accidentally left behind when his entire extended family goes on a vacation to Paris — and then must fight off burglars — has been a holiday classic since its debut 31 years ago.
Where to Stream: Disney+
This ’90s movie has become a Christmas classic alongside so many other revered films. “The great Michael Caine plays Scrooge with all of the gravitas of a Shakespearean actor in this joyous remake of the Charles Dickens classic, except his scene partners are all puppets,” wrote IndieWire’s Jude Dry. “Caine understood the comedic possibilities of juxtaposing his dour Scrooge with a gaggle of squawking Muppets, and he was right. Brilliantly casting Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as odd couple narrators, director Brian Henson delivered a smart and accessible joy ride of a film that introduced a generation of kids to the Christmas classic.”
You might not find it on your typical list of Christmas movies, but “Little Women” hits the mark for a family-friendly holiday film. Aside from taking place during Christmas, the film follows the story of four March sisters, played by Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen. Greta Gerwig wrote and directed the 2019 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel. You also might like the 1994 version of “Little Women” with Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Trini Alvarado, Susan Sarandon, and Christian Bale.
In a way, Tim Burton’s spooky holiday classic is the perfect Christmas movie, in that it follows long-legged Jack Skellington as he tries to get the residents of Halloween Town excited about Christmas — and time has moved so strangely since the pandemic started that plenty of people began decorating for Christmas before Halloween. The stop-motion animated feature has a score by Danny Elfman (who also provided Jack’s singing voice), and also lands on IndieWire’s list of the 20 best holiday movies.
Where to Stream: Disney+
Like many movies on this list, the basic premise of “The Santa Clause” is kind of disturbing. Tim Allen accidentally kills Santa and then has to assume his identity? Weird! And terrifying when re-cut as a horror movie. But it’s true — Allen plays a divorced dad who is magically transported to the North Pole with his son following a Christmas Eve mishap, where he’s told that he will have to take Santa’s place before next Christmas. Scott tries to write it off as a crazy dream, but when he starts to put on weight and grow a white beard he realizes that the experience probably wasn’t a dream after all.
Where to Stream: Starz
Chances are you can quote several lines from “Elf” even if you haven’t actually seen the movie, and that’s because the comedy came out at the height of Will Ferrell’s popularity and very quickly made its way to the pop culture lexicon. Ferrell stars as Buddy, a human raised as an elf at the North Pole who sets out on a journey to find his birth father (and coincidentally spread Christmas cheer to a bunch of cynical New Yorkers in the process). Wrote William Earl in IndieWire’s list of the 20 best Christmas movies of all time, “The adorably clueless Buddy the Elf experiences New York City through the eyes of a 6’3″ child; hilarious set pieces like revolving doors, maple syrup, and telephones are a prime showcase for the comedian’s infectious charm.”
Where to Stream: Hulu
“Happiest Season” might not have debuted to universal critical acclaim — IndieWire’s Jude Dry wrote that it has “a lackluster script that offers little in the way of surprise or delight.” But the rom-com, about a woman (Kristen Stewart) who plans to propose when she goes home with her girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis) for Christmas only to discover that her girlfriend isn’t out to her family yet, has an appealing cast (Dan Levy and Aubrey Plaza in particular) and is filled with the same familiar tropes that make all those made-for-TV Christmas movies so eminently watchable. If you’re burned out on existing holiday cheer, you could certainly do much worse.