Top 10 Films & TV Specials To Get You In The Mood For Christmas

If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet, perhaps these great festive movies will kick-start your anticipation for Santa’s arrival. Dan Grant talks about why Christmas means so much to him and why these particular films are a perfect way to enjoy the season.

In Canada, it is said that the Christmas season starts after November 11th (Remembrance Day). For me, it starts the day after Halloween. I love Christmas. I love everything about it. The Christmas Carols, the benevolence of people, the snow, hot chocolate, the Tree, the decorations and everything else. But if you aren’t quite as excited for Christmas as I am, then these ten films will help to get you into the festive spirit.

Editor’s Choice: The Snowman (Jackson, 1982)

Produced for the then-fledgling UK TV broadcaster – Channel 4 – Dianne Jackson’s adaptation of English author Raymond Briggs’ pop-up picture book, The Snowman, was an instant hit. In fact, it won a BAFTA and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Like the book, it eschews dialogue in favour of dreamy hand drawn animation. The 26-minute TV special, about a magical snowman who takes a child on a winter’s adventure to meet Father Christmas, is also memorable for its musical score and the song “Walking In The Air” performed by Peter Auty. Since its first appearance on UK TV, The Snowman has become a staple part of the season.

10. Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)

Home Alone will get you into the Christmas spirit for several reasons. The Chicago setting is simply breathtaking in some scenes. Here we get to hang out with Kevin McAllister who spends most of his time in his massive house decorated festively for the season. What makes this one such a Christmas elixir is that underneath all of the slapstick comedy, you have a film about family and appreciating what you have. The subplot with the old man next door, Old Man Marley, is heartwarming and will bring a lump to your throat. Home Alone is known for it’s hilarity but when it slows down to talk about family, love and forgiveness, it takes things to another level.

9. Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988)

Die Hard, Now I Have A Machine Gun Ho Ho Ho, Top 10 FilmsWhat Christmas list is complete without mentioning Die Hard? You can throw this one on anytime after the American Thanksgiving and it’ll get you in the mood for Christmas. This film was released in the dog days of summer and it contains more action than most other films but producer Joel Silver is a big fan of the Christmas setting (see Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), so we’re treated to huge Christmas trees, off-beat Christmas carols and a dead terrorist with the words HO HO HO written on him. Die Hard is a classic Christmas film in setting only but it has become a staple at Christmas time.

8. A Christmas Story (Clark, 1983)

A Christmas StoryBeautiful toys displayed in department store windows. The agonizingly long wait for toys ordered via mail and learning too late they are not quite what was expected. The excitement of buying a Christmas tree, the joy of setting it up and how much bigger Christmas trees seemed when we were kids. Ralphie wanting a BB gun more than life itself. Mom covering trouble for Ralphie to his dad, and the same mom making him eat soap for uttering words — learned from Dad. A panicky visit to a tired Santa. An unwanted gift from a well-meaning aunt. The furious unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning. The Asian restaurant open on Christmas Day (check out the top 10 restaurant scenes in movies). I could go on and on. A Christmas Story is a staple of my Christmas season and because this is such a classic film, it can get you in that Christmas mood pretty quickly.

7. Scrooged (Donner, 1988)

Scrooged, Frank Cross, Bill MurrayThere are hundreds of films out there that are some kind of variation and interpretation of the classic Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. The 1951 version is considered by many to be the best of the bunch. That may be true but to get you in the mood for the season, the best version is the Richard Donner/Bill Murray classic. Bill Murray does Scrooge like only he can. Here he plays a womanizing, slimy, cold-hearted TV executive who fires people on Christmas Eve. But then he is visited by three ghosts at Christmas and they help him change his ways. Carol Kane almost steals the film from Murray as she plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and she kicks the bah-hum-bug out of him. Scrooged will get you in the mood and it will have you laughing all the way through.

6. It’s A Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)

A Wonderful Life, Christmas MoviesOne of the things that endears me to Christmas is the message the season conveys. It’s a time of year where people are a little more charitable. Strangers greet you in the street. The family that seemed a burden during the year suddenly is a welcome sight. It’s a Wonderful Life touches on all of this and much, much more. It’s religious in theme but not to the point where the theme takes away from the rest of the film. There are many classic lines and when you watch it and hear words like, “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” and “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” you can’t help but get into the spirit of Christmas. It also helps that the film’s main message is to appreciate what you have and not fret over what you don’t.

5. The Polar Express (Zemeckis, 2004)

I watched The Polar Express for the first time with my 4-year-old niece a few years ago and even though she didn’t really understand all of it, she sat in pure wonder at the visual beauty of the film. It’s an incredible feast for the eyes and ears. What makes the film such a success is not so much the story but the execution which somehow manages to inject every frame with a feeling of childlike wonder and exuberance. In addition, there are so many clever touches and details added throughout that a feeling of mystery and excitement just fills the viewer. Among these are the waiters dancing and singing while serving hot chocolate to the kids on the train, the factory where the presents are prepared, and a ghost-like hobo who is never really explained, but is incredibly crucial to the feel of the film. At one point, three of the children wander lost through the empty streets of Santa’s North Pole town. As they wander, various old Christmas recordings are heard playing on phonographs throughout the town. The music provides a pleasant and nostalgic ambience to the scene. It’s touches like this that absolutely make the film.

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Chechik, 1989)

No one does Christmas like the Griswalds. Everything you need to get you in the mood for the festive season is here. You have every single Christmas trope here. The family that comes by once a year, the over decorating, the hunt for the Christmas tree, the Christmas dinner and the true spirit of Christmas. What I love about this movie is that beneath all of the zany and crazy situations (cousin Eddie is still one of the best parts of the film) that are played for laughs, you have a film that has the true spirit of Christmas at the heart of it all. Clark tells us that what matters most is family and this is one of the things I think Christmas is all about.

3. Doctor Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Jones, 1966)

It’s the Christmas film with the most simple of messages. Christmas isn’t about commercialism and presents, it’s about family. The Grinch learns this, of course, after he tries to steal Christmas from the Who’s of Whoville. This is the version that will stay in our memories. Chuck Jones takes the book we all know and turns it into a masterful twenty-some minutes of excellence. The music pulls at our emotions and the character of the Grinch is so well portrayed. The signature character plots with his little dog Max to steal everything he deems is a part of the Christmas world. He believes it is about things. He thinks it is about excess. He thinks it is about greed. As he plots his way to stealing the season from under the Whos, he drools with anticipation of the pain he is causing. Of course, we all know the story. Boris Karloff narrates this film in a way that perhaps no one else could.

2. Planes, Trains And Automobiles (Hughes, 1987)

Del Griffith, John Candy, Planes Trains and Automobiles, 1980s Comedy Film Characters - Top 10 FilmsThis is the only film to make the list that is not a Christmas film or even has a Christmas setting. It takes place over the American Thanksgiving as John Candy and Steve Martin struggle to get home for the holidays. The reason this makes the list is that in America, once Thanksgiving is over, everything is geared towards Christmas. This is the catalyst into the holiday season. It’s a beautiful film where two men go on a journey of discovery. It will bring a lump to your throat at times as both men learn things about themselves and by the end of the film the cold-hearted, work-a-holic is a changed man. The final scene is the definition of cinema perfection as Martin finally gets to see his family as the snow falls and “Every time You Go Away” plays over the soundtrack.

1. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (Roemer/Nagashima, 1964)

The quintessential Christmas film. The North Pole, the abominable snowman, Yukon Cornellius, Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist, it’s all here and it’ll get you in the mood. Maybe because this is one of the TV films that me and my family used to set our schedules around, this one just gets me in the mood for Christmas trees and wrapping presents. It also has Burl Ives narrating and some of his great songs are sung in the film, including Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Everything about this film gets you in the mood for the season. There’s even a nice denouement as the fearsome giant snowman becomes a friend to Santa and his village. And of course Rudolph guiding Santa’s sleigh just brings a warmth and grace to the film. It’s a perfect film to get you in the spirit

Written & Compiled by Dan Grant

Your turn? What Christmas films get you into the festive spirit? Let us know…

About the Author
Dan Grant is an author and horror film fan from Canada. His first novel Terrified and Defenseless is now available for e-download from Amazon. Follow Dan on Twitter @baumer72.

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  1. Avatar
    Courtney Reply

    This is an absolutely solid list! Glad to see Scrooged on here as it’s my favorite holiday movie 🙂 Cheers!

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      Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks Courtney. Scrooged is definitely a lot of fun. Carol Kane kills me every time I watch it.

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    Rory Reply

    Top stuff Dan! Love the film inclusions but haven’t seen the TV ones. I’ll have to seek them out.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      Thanks Rory. I didn’t realize the TV inclusions might not have been available to everyone around the world. The Grinch is just classic. Rudolph is horribly dated in a few things (women in the presentation are definitely a character of the times. But if you can get past some of the politics and just enjoy it for the wonderful Christmas tale that it is, I think you’ll love it like I do.

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    Callum Reply

    Great choices Dan.

    Scrooged is a Xmas fave for me but I also love National Lampoon’s and Home Alone. I’d say Home Alone is the family fave. The Polar Express has also become another one we love.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      Glad you have so much love for these films. I can watch Christmas Vacation anytime of the year. Cousin Ed just cracks me up every time….same with Elaine from Seinfeld and her yuppie mate…..WHY’S THE FLOOR ALL WET TODD!!! I DON’T KNOW MARGO! HAHAHAHA

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    Roger Keen Reply

    Scrooged is a Xmas favourite in our house.

    We do like our alternative Xmas films though, not exactly in keeping with the Xmas spirit shall we say. Therefore you’ll find Bad Santa, Die Hard and Gremlins playing in our living room.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      I need to see Bad Santa again, lot’s of love for it here. And yes, Gremlins is another classic that could have made the list. Maybe even Lethal Weapon as well.

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    Rachel Reply

    I’ve never seen A Christmas Story but it sounds like a great movie.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      It’s a classic 80’s film directed by the same man who gave us Porky’s. But they are so different. I hope you get a chance to find it.

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    Georgia Reply

    Rudolph! This was a staple at our family Christmas growing up. Thanks for reminding me about it.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      Thank you! Yes, Rudolph is classic in every sense. I still love watching it with my young nieces.

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    Paul G Reply

    Good choices. I would add: Trading Places, A Muppet Christmas Carol and The Santa Clause.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      Love all these films as well. Trading Places is one of the funnier films out there that takes place around Christmas.

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    Graham Townsend Reply

    Good mix of films. Die Hard always gets me in the mood for Xmas.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.

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    Sarah Peters Reply

    A film that I always watch at Christmas is Santa Claus, the one with Dudley Moore. I love Home Alone too.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      The Dudley Moore one is funny and it’s got a good message as well. Home Alone is one of the all time greats. As I mentioned, beyond all the slapstick is a great message about forgiveness and family.

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    ArchE Reply

    Well, although I’m a bit of a humbug I do acknowledge Planes, Trains and Autombiles as being a precursor to Christmas. That first sight of snow always fills me with dread. Thankfully I’m reminded by the film’s end that it’s only Thanksgiving.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      BAH! Hum Bug, ArchE. But yes, PLA is a great film to get you in the mood for the coming season.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    I didn’t realize when doing this list, that three of these films have John Hughes’ finger prints all over them. Hughes loved Christmas as much as Joel Silver does.

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    Dan Reply

    I do love Christmas movies. And it’s great to see so many of my favourites on your top 10, Dan. Home Alone, Die Hard, National Lampoon’s Xmas Vacation and Scrooged stand out.

    I watched The Polar Express last night actually. It’s such a wonderfully realised film; I love the visuals and Tom Hanks’ work on it. I think it’s a technical triumph – Zemeckis’ glorious camera work and the beautiful score to accompany it. I do enjoy the first half on the train more than the second but it’s still a solid, enjoyable Xmas film.

    In addition, I do love Bad Santa too. It makes me laugh – A LOT! Although that one isn’t really about the Christmas “spirit”.

    Elf, the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, Trading Places, Home Alone 2 and a relatively new British film called Get Santa (2014) are also annually re-watched.

  13. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Dan, Polar Express really does a lot of things right. I too like the first half more but once they get to Santa’s village, it’s a lot of fun.

    I love both Miracle on 34th Streets as well. And now you have given me two British Christmas films to watch. Thank-you.

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    Derek Reply

    I like Elf. But my favorite is Home Alone.

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    Lawrence Wren Reply

    Great to see The Snowman appear here. It’s been a family favourite for years in my household. I do prefer Christmas films that possess a good message, the Christmas spirit so to speak. For that reason It’s A Wonderful Life is another I’ve seen countless times.

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      Dan Grant Reply

      The Snowman is certainly one I’ll have to check out. It’s a Wonderful Life is a classic in every way. A great Christmas film and a terrific message. The black and white look to it just adds to the overall feel of the film.

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    Jonny Bradley Reply

    Home Alone is my go-to Christmas film. But I always wait until December to start watching festive films.

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    Rita Broad Reply

    The classics always get me in the mood for Christmas and like you I always start watching them after Thanksgiving. Great choice to include Rudolph but I’d also add White Christmas, Christmas In Connecticut, Holiday Inn, The Shop Around The Corner and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

    • Avatar
      Dan Grant Reply

      You’re right Rita, some of the older classics could have made this list as well. White Christmas especially, is one that gets me in the Christmas mood.

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