Thirty Good to Great Christmas Movies for 2014, by Gary and Sue Stratton

Our annual Christmas movie extravaganza compiled from our family’s favorite Christmas movies of all time and suggestions from members of the THW community.

by Gary & Sue Stratton

The #1 Made-for-TV Christmas movie of all time almost never aired because CBS doubted its ‘sacred’ view of Christmas would draw a large enough audience.

What better way to get in the holiday spirit than to fire up the DVD, Blu-Ray, Tivo, Wii, XBox, Laptop, IPad, Kindle, Smart Phone, Hulu, NetFlix, Roku, Amazon Prime, etc. and watch your favorite Christmas films.

We divided our list between good and great films and categorized them with either a ‘sacred’ view of Christmas (focused more on the birth of Jesus), or a ‘secular’ version (focused more on Santa Claus). Then we listed them chronologically within each group.

We hope they inspire as much holiday cheer in your household as they do in ours.

Merry Christmas!

Gary & Sue


GREAT Films with a More (or Less) ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

The toughest on the list to find, but worth the search if you want to talk about the real meaning of Christmas with your kids.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) Frank Capra’s masterpiece is not just a great Christmas movie, it is one of the ten best films ever made.

Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Charles Schultz’s enduring glimpse at the meaning of Christmas. Set the DVR and experience the least commercial Christmas tale ever told on network TV.

The Nativity (1987)  This Hanna-Barbera Greatest Adventures of the Bible video is hard to find, but worth it for your kids. We found a couple of YouTube links, but, uh …they might be bootleg.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) Okay, it’s cheating a bit, but there is a Christ figure, and a Christmas, and presents, and everything. Just don’t let the White Witch hear you talking about it.

The Nativity Story (2006) Not everything you’d hope it would be, but does a marvelous job of capturing the incredible faith (and sacrifice) of Mary and Joseph.

GREAT Films with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas as Part of  a Larger Movie

Zeffirelli’s Juliet (Olivia Hussey) makes a breathtaking Mary in Jesus of Nazareth

Ben-Hur (1959) Charlton Heston’s character’s life parallel’s the life of Jesus, (even if he actually misses his birth). Also, one of the best films ever made. As an added plus, that chariot scene can really get you in the mood to face the mall.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) Jean Negulesco directed this understated and haunting Nativity sequence.

Jesus of Nazareth (1977) Franco Zeffirelli’s masterful TV mini-series. Incredibly complex and textured. Get Episode 1 for the Nativity scene.

Jesus (1979) A clear and compelling account of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. With a worldwide audience of over 2 billion, the BBC calls Jesus “the most watched” movie of all-time.

The Gospel According to Matthew (1996) The Visual Bible‘s straightforward retelling of the birth of Christ from Matthew’s perspective.

GOOD Movies with a ‘Sacred’ View of Christmas

Muppet Christmas Carol: A scary ghost story for the PG set.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947) Samuel Goldwyn’s romantic comedy about a Bishop’s fundraising prayer that nets a lot more than cash. Cary Grant plays the angel with more on his mind than money. (The 1996 remake, The Preacher’s Wife, featuring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston isn’t bad at all.)

A Christmas Carol (1951) When you hear them singing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year in the Mall, you know it’s time for “scary ghost stories.”  You don’t get any scarier than the original adaptation of this “Dickens Horror Picture Show.”

Scrooged (1988) A snide and cynical take on Dickens tale with the inimitable Bill Murray as Scrooge himself.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)  Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and the gang in an offbeat, but faithful retelling of Dickens’ classic.

Silver Bells (2013) Bruce Dalt (Bruce Boxleitner) is an ambitious television sportscaster who approaches the holidays as he does life – competitively. But when a scuffle with the ref at his son’s basketball game leads to serious consequences Bruce finally encounters the true meaning of Christmas and hope.  Act One graduate Andrea Gyertson Nasfell’s third Christmas movie, after Christmas with a Capital C (2011) and Christmas Angel (2012), not to mention her 2014 hit Mom’s Night Out.

GREAT Films with a “Secular” View of Christmas

We watch it as a family every year as we decorate the tree. And every year we say, “They just don’t make ’em like that anymore.”

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Classic, “Do you believe in something you can’t prove” premise.  Many remakes, none come close to the original.

White Christmas (1954) Not much Jesus (or Santa), but a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalty. We watch it every year as it chokes us up every time.

A Christmas Story (1983) I don’t know why we all get such a kick out of this admittedly B movie.  A pitch-perfect coming-of-age story surrounding the hopes and fears of a nine-year-old boy. Just don’t shoot your eye out.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1996) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) Both the television classic and Jim Carrey’s (over the top) psycho-drama-remake are well worth an evening. “I’m feeling!”

Elf (2003) Perhaps  Will Ferrell’s best movie. The story of Buddy the Elf is an irresistible recasting of the Santa story.  Zooey Deschanel‘s sterling role doesn’t hurt one bit.

GOOD Films with ‘Secular’ View of Christmas

Totally idiotic and totally entertaining.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) A New York food writer’s false personal brand as the perfect housewife is in danger of being exposed as a sham when her boss invites a returning war hero for a traditional family Christmas at her home in Connecticut. Only one problem, she doesn’t have a home n Connecticut.

Christmas Vacation (1989) Didn’t get enough of Chevy Chase on Community?  This is the movie for you.  The Griswold family’s plan for a big Christmas turns out to be “nuts’?

Prancer (1989) A bittersweet, but poignant tale of loss and redemption. One girl’s desperate faith changes her life and her father.

Home Alone (1990) A zany battle against the world’s least scary criminals. It made the list this year because so many THW conversation partners mentioned how strangely moving church scene (which wasn’t even part of the original script) added much needed gravitas to the moral premise of a very silly movie.

The Santa Clause (1994) Can you be drafted into the ranks of Father Christmas? Apparently, yes. Tim Allen’s best role since Home Improvement.

GREAT Films set During the Christmas Season (but, uh, not all are kid friendly)

Long before last year’s Oscar nominee GRAVITY, Alfonso Cuarón was shedding new light on stories of faith, like Christmas.

Die Hard (1988)  Police Officer John McClain thwarts a ring of Euro-terrorists who crash a corporate Christmas party. Bruce Willis is at his smarmy best, but Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber almost steals the show… and the dough.

While You Were Sleeping (1995) A touching and laugh-out-loud funny tale for anyone who has ever had a secret love or faced a Christmas alone. Sandra Bullock’s best role before Blind Side..

Family Man (2000)  Turns the “what if” premise of It’s a Wonderful Life on its head. With Don Cheadle as an angel on the edge, and some of the best acting of Nicholas Cage and Tea Leoni’s careers. We watch it every year and ponder our own what if?

Joyeux Noel (‘Merry Christmas’ in French, 2005) The remarkable true story of the WWI Christmas truce. German, French, and Scottish soldiers lay down their arms for a day of celebration and wind up friends with the ‘enemy’ on the opposite side of a brutal war.  A powerful expression of both the spirit of Christmas and the power of friendship. (Subtitles.)

Children of Men (2006) Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece confronts us with a tale of a miraculously pregnant unwed mother and her reluctant protector set amidst the most horrific violence an empire can throw at them: in short, a stark retelling of the Christmas story.


See also:

Alfonso Cuarón’s ‘Children of Men’ (2006): A Stark Retelling of the Christmas Story

40 Replies to “Thirty Good to Great Christmas Movies for 2014, by Gary and Sue Stratton”

  1. Unfortunately, you don’t have a category for best sarcastic, cynical Christmas movies. If you did, “Scrooged” would be on the list. Billy Murray as a heartless 1980s TV movie producer is hilarious (e.g., wanting to staple horns on mice to make mini reindeer).

  2. More from Jesus Creed, hosted by Scot McKnight

    28) Comment by Mike
    My favorite Christmas movie is called “Joyeux Noel” and is the true story of how, during World War 1, the Germans, British and French soldiers decided to stop fighting in the trenches and came out and shared Christmas together. It is a phenomenal movie.

    29) Comment by Terry
    Mike, you’re absolutely right. Joyeux Noel is a wonderful film!

    30) Comment by Michael Snow
    I hope that while we all enjoy movies about Christmas that we will take time to think about sharing Christ with someone we know who is without Christ and a true Christmas. Maybe a gift of a movie or book can open the door for the conversation.

    My dog disappeared from the farm yesterday afternoon while I was away. I spent a lot of time looking for Niko and grieving over a lost dog. The question that our Lord impressed upon me was, “Do I do the same for those who are lost and do not know him?”

    31) Comment by Darren
    A Christmas Story

    32) Comment by Julie

    We have a family tradition of watching Christmas movies over the week leading up to the holiday. I would have to say my favorites are Elf, Home Alone, and Rudolf. Here is list and complete run down of my top 11 Christmas movies

  3. I hope that while we all enjoy movies about Christmas that we will take time to think about sharing Christ with someone we know who is without Christ and a true Christmas. Maybe a gift of a movie or book can open the door for the conversation.

    My dog disappeared from the farm yesterday afternoon while I was away. I spent a lot of time looking for Niko and grieving over a lost dog. The question that our Lord impressed upon me was, “Do I do the same for those who are lost and do not know him?”

  4. More comments via Jesus Creed, hosted by Scot McKnight

    25) Comment by kevin — December 9, 2011 @ 9:24 am
    “my mouth’s bleeding Burt, my mouth’s bleeding!!!”

    26) Comment by kevin — December 9, 2011 @ 9:24 am
    Earnest Saves Christmas!!!

    27) Comment by Wyatt — December 9, 2011 @ 12:25 pm
    Anything schmaltzy. You know, hazy camera shots, unsubtle manipulative storyline, a screenplay written by an 8-year old, talking animals (especially puppies), anything that makes you feel like a total loser if you have no family “to spend the holiday with.” That would be the manipulation I was referring to. Hallmark.

  5. 5 Comments (so far) via Facebook

    1) Bethany Jones ‎
    I love “The Snowman” based on Raymond Briggs artwork

    2) Scott Reitz
    LOTR of course!

    3) E Drason Anderson
    Die Hard 1,2,3

    4) Steve Broyles
    <---The Christmas Story 5) Elle Miller White Christmas!

    1. ‎Bethany,
      I don’t think I’ve seen “The Snowman.” Now I have something NEW to look forward to at Christmas,
      Thank you!

    1. Sam, I LOVE your “Children of Men” choice. Never had it as a Christmas movie, but of course it truly is. Just rewatched it and wept even more than the first time I saw it. Powerful!

  6. 24 Comments (and counting) via Jesus Creed, hosted by Scot McKnight

    1) Comment by Pastor Matt — December 8, 2011 @ 2:29 pm
    Black Christmas (1974). Best Christmas horror movie ever!

    2) Comment by Marc — December 8, 2011 @ 2:34 pm
    A Charlie Brown Christmas is just about perfect. It’s funny and warm, has a great soundtrack, and deals with consumerism and the real meaning of Christmas.
    Elf is also quickly becoming a favourite.
    Christmas Vacation (with Chevy Chase) used to be a favourite, but every year I like it less.
    I noticed at least one omission from Gary’s list, under “great movies set during the Christmas season”: The Family Stone.

    3) Comment by Ernest Manges — December 8, 2011 @ 3:07 pm
    Our family’s favorite, which we watch every year: Muppets Christmas Carol.

    4) Comment by John W Frye — December 8, 2011 @ 3:10 pm
    The classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart because of the imaginative and magical “what if” of the story.
    The original Grinch (ok not a movie).
    A Christmas Story
    It’s a wonderful life

    5) Comment by RJS — December 8, 2011 @ 3:38 pm
    The Patrick Stewart version of A Christmas Carol (“made for tv”)
    All time favorite – “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
    2nd favorite – “The Fourth Wise Man”.
    Comment by Sherman Nobles — December 8, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

    6) Comment by Terry — December 8, 2011 @ 3:54 pm
    The lists so far could certainly be mine. Except for Elf. I pray for Will Ferrell, and I’ll pray for Marc too…
    Yes and Amen to A Charlie Brown Christmas,
    And I’ll second the original Grinch,
    RJS is spot-on with Patrick Stewart’s A Christmas Carol,
    1972′s A House Without a Christmas Tree continues to grab my attention every year for its reality to this former child,
    I’ve recently enjoyed The Nativity Story,
    And perhaps from the sad but true department, The Santa Clause. A little magic is good for what ails…
    And I know I’m a sap, but the 1964 Rudolph is a an absolute must. Call it an ongoing mid-life crisis.
    I am sure it’s obvious by now I kinda like Christmas movies. “A” favorite is about impossible.

    7) Comment by S. Sharkey — December 8, 2011 @ 3:55 pm
    If you’re willing to get passed the awkward nude scene near the beginning, the movie “Love Actually” is one of my favorites. It’s an ensemble including about 10 intertwining stories (ranging from sweet to comical to real and depressing), If follow all the stories through the movie, the pay off at the end is like getting 10 happy endings for the price of one. Very artful, very creative.

    8) Comment by Jeff Doles — December 8, 2011 @ 4:00 pm

    My Christmastime movies include:

    We’re No Angels (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Rey, Leo G. Carroll)

    The Bishop’s Wife (David Niven, Cary Grant, Loretta Young, Monty Woolley)

    The Man Who Came to Dinner (Monty Woolley)

    The Family Man (Nicholas Cage, Tea Leone, Saul Rubinek)

    Miracle on 34th Street (Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood)

    Scrooge (musical, Albert Finney)

    A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sims)

    9) Comment by K.W. Leslie — December 8, 2011 @ 4:17 pm
    The last time I was asked this question, I included a lot of the movies above, but I surprised quite a few people when I threw in Die Hard. It does, after all, take place during an office Christmas party.

    10) Comment by Susan N. — December 8, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

    Ditto on the “great” secular Christmas movie for ‘Elf’. I would also bump ‘Christmas Vacation’ from “good” to “great.” These movies make me laugh, year after year. We own both on DVD

    One of my favorite “great” movies set during the Christmas season is ‘The Holiday’ with Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and {Jack Black}<–adorable, like a teddy bear, in this film role. 'The Holiday' is re-run on cable *often* throughout the year. I watch it over and over, and my daughter thinks I'm nuts. "That movie AGAIN?!" It's more than a romantic story… There is sweetness, and adventure, and in the end, a hopeful, happy ending. It's a coinky-dink that Gary David Stratton came up on JC this week. My teen daughter has been watching LOST on Netflix (I catch an episode or two with her now and then), from the beginning, and I was just thinking of Gary David Stratton's blog series on that show… Just watched the episode with Mr. Eko (Fr. Tunde) when he comes nose to nose with The Smoke Monster. WHY didn't The Smoke Monster annihilate Mr. Eko in that encounter?! Was it his 'Jesus Stick' or that he was an "ordained minister" (protected status)? Interesting character (Mr. Eko) that I didn't focus on much the first time around. But I digress – NOT a Christmas movie! Will go look on Two Handed Warriors site now for LOST 11) Comment by T — December 8, 2011 @ 4:32 pm Terry might be an angry elf Elf. 12) Comment by Susan N. — December 8, 2011 @ 4:36 pm An angry *South Pole* elf! That scene is my FAVORITE 13) Comment by Blake — December 8, 2011 @ 4:54 pm The Nightmare Before Christmas is my favorite movie to watch each Christmas season. 14) Comment by Terry — December 8, 2011 @ 5:10 pm (@12) From one T to another, I’m praying for you too. Gosh, with you liking Elf T I’m thinking perhaps I’ve misjudged. Nah. 15) Comment by discokvn — December 8, 2011 @ 5:15 pm oh who could forget the warmth and tenderness of die hard 16) Comment by ΔΡΤ — December 8, 2011 @ 5:28 pm I must be a humbug, the only one I like is Christmas Vacation. 17) Comment by DRT — December 8, 2011 @ 5:29 pm But I do like Rudolph, Bumbles Bounce! 18) Comment by Bet — December 8, 2011 @ 6:06 pm I have to confess that “Love Actually” is my favorite Christmas movie. It’s not family fare by any means, but it packs a fun, emotional, energizing punch. 19) Comment by Phillip — December 8, 2011 @ 6:59 pm 1. It’s a Wonderful Life. A reminder of the cumulative effects of daily small good deeds, and thatnour calling may not be our first choice. 2. A Christmas Story. It is just so funny. I also consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. Lethal Weapon too. I don’t like Rudolph. Santa is mean, and values Rudolph only for utilitarian reasons. The head elf is a tyrant. 20) Comment by Keith — December 8, 2011 @ 8:02 pm Not in any particular order: Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol Miracle on 34th Street (the original B&W version) It’s a Wonderful Life Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas 21) Comment by Dana Ames — December 8, 2011 @ 8:07 pm 1. A Christmas Story Our family tradition is to watch this together Christmas afternoon or evening. ["You'll get worms!" "It's a Major Award!" "You'll shoot your eye out!" "Look! He's smiling!"] 2. A Christmas Carol, Alistair Sim version 3. It’s A Wonderful Life Dana 22) Comment by Jerry — December 8, 2011 @ 9:39 pm 1. The Bishop’s Wife 2. It’s a Wonderful Life 3. White Christmas 4. Miracle on 34th Street (the Original!) 5. A Christmas Story I like most of the rest mentioned too. 23) Comment by reJoyce — December 8, 2011 @ 9:55 pm “Love Actually” for me, too. We also watch the cartoon version of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” every year. 24) Comment by Debbie — December 8, 2011 @ 10:27 pm The cartoon version of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” is simply the best. Love how the Grinch carves that roast beast! I also enjoy “The Christmas Story” with Ralphie and the BB gun.

  7. Joyeux Noel (2004) the story of the Christmas truce. [I would rate it R for one brief mild bedroom scene. No profanity or gross violence.] I doubt that you can watch it withour tears. It is at amazon.

  8. Without hesitation, my top three Christmas movies would be the 1951 “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “White Christmas,” although I think ” A Christmas Story” is so unique it needs its own category. I’m glad to see “White Christmas” finally getting the recognition it deserves.

  9. My favorite Christmas movie on the list would be Muppet Christmas Carol. My favorite movie that takes place during the Christmas time is actually The Holiday with Jack Black, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, and Cameron Diaz. Love this list!

  10. Great list(s)! I would have to add “Love Actually” to your list of either “Great Movies Set During the Christmas Season” or “Great Movies with a Secular View of Christmas”. Admittedly, Some parts are more raw than others…but the emphasis on love and community and commitment set amidst the varied emotions of the holiday season, is excellent. We watch it every December.

  11. Please add "The Bells of Saint Mary". Bing Crosby's Father O'Malley returns from "Going My Way" to show that God isn't done working in an old parish, or in the life of Sister Benedict. A group of children show the adults that they understand the true meaning of the Christmas story by staging their own pageant.

  12. Great list(s)! I would have to add "Love Actually" to your list of either "Great Movies Set During the Christmas Season" or "Great Movies with a Secular View of Christmas". Admittedly, Some parts are more raw than others…but the emphasis on love and community and commitment set amidst the varied emotions of the holiday season, is excellent. We watch it every December.

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