Best films on TV for Christmas and New Year 2021

There's a huge selection of cinematic treats on the small screen over the festive period.

ET

There’s no better time than Christmas to sit down and enjoy a brilliant film.

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There are plenty of Christmas movies on streaming services including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – where you can stream favourites including The Princess Switch franchise, Love Actually and The Holiday at the cost of a subscription or membership.

However, if you’re looking to avoid a streaming service subscription and want to watch some festive flicks in 2021 for free, there’s a huge selection of treats showing on the box over the festive season this year.

As part of the best films on TV for Christmas 2021 there’s the usual mixture of old favourites like Home Alone, rom-com classics like When Harry Met Sally…, and family-orientated options like ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, so whatever your taste, there should be plenty of options to keep you entertained.

We’ve put together a list of some of the best movies to watch for free on TV this Christmas and New Year, separated by genre – take a look below to find out what’s on at no cost.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for the best Christmas TV shows to watch this year, why not check out our guide.

Best free kids films on TV this Christmas and New Year

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns (trailer screenshot, EH)

Following up one of the most beloved family films of all time more than half a century after it’s release was never going to be an easy task – but this delightful sequel works brilliantly as a tribute to the original Mary Poppins – with Dick Van Dyke even returning for a cameo. Emily Blunt makes for a brilliant successor to the legendary Julie Andrews, and while the songs don’t reach the heights of those in the original, there are still some excellent musical numbers including Trip a Little Light Fantastic and A Cover is Not The Book.

Christmas Day, BBC One, 3:10pm

ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

ET
Universal

Few directors working today have made as many bonafide classics as Steven Spielberg – and this tremendous film from 1982 remains one of his very best. Telling the story of an alien creature who is adopted by a young boy when he is left behind on Earth, it’s an emotional and rather profound exploration of friendship and childhood – undoubtedly when of the finest family films ever made.

Wednesday 22nd December, ITV, 11:30am

Pete’s Dragon

Oakes Fegley is Pete and Oona Laurence is Natalie in Disney's PETE'S DRAGON, the story of a boy named Pete and his best friend Elliot, who just happens to be a dragon.

David Lowery made one of 2021’s very best new films with The Green Knight, but a few years before he made this terrific version of classic Disney tale Pete’s Dragon – up there with the best of the studio’s recent spate of live-action remakes and arguably improving on the original. It’s a fantasy adventure that tells of an orphan and his guardian dragon and is a wonderful dose of family entertainment – thrilling and beguiling in equal measure.

Wednesday 22nd November, BBC One, 3:05pm

Sing

Sing
SEAC

A sequel for this animated film is about to hit cinemas, so what better time to revisit the original – which includes an all-star voice cast featuring the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane and Scarlett Johansson. The story concerns a koala who throws a talent show to save his ailing theatre but accidentally inflates the cash prize leading to a stampede of animal contestants. The film includes karaoke versions of many popular hits and is bright, vibrant experience that’s sure to keep the kids entertained.

Thursday 23rd December, ITV, 1:50pm 

Home Alone

Home Alone
20th Century Fox

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a showing of this beloved festive classic – which remains the best entry in the ever-expanding Home Alone franchise. Macauley Culkin gives one of the all-time great child performances as the plucky kid left behind by his parents, who utilises all manner of complex booby traps to stave off a home invasion by a pair of incompetent burglars. No matter how many times you’ve seen it before, this remains a raucous laugh riot that should definitely get you in the festive spirit.

Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 6pm

Abominable

Abominable

This adorable animation was released in 2019 and tells of an escape mission by the Abominable Snowman – who finds three allies after he breaks out of a Chinese laboratory. What follows is a thoroughly sweet and entertaining adventure that even manages to fit in some Zen philosophy – as the yeti does his best to return to his Himalayan home.

Christmas Eve, BBC One, 3pm 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Still a family favourite more than  50 years on from its release,  Chitty Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gets another Christmas Day outing this year. Adapted from an Ian Fleming novel with a script co-written by Roald Dahl and starring Dick Van Dyke, this film is packed with catchy songs and features an unforgettably terrifying villain in the shape of the child catcher. The plot, if you need reminding, follows a down-on-his-luck inventor who transforms a Grand Prix car into a fantasy vehicle – one that might just fly.

Christmas Day, Channel 5, 3:10pm

Paddington

Paddington

We’re eagerly anticipating the third film in the superb Paddington series, but while we wait this first film in the franchise makes for a delightful Boxing Day treat. The lovable Peruvian bear is adopted by the kindly Brown family but soon discovers he is the target of a wicked taxidermist, played with relish by Nicole Kidman. Updated for the modern-day but retaining the comforting spirit of the original, this is easily one of the best family films of the last decade – and a thoroughly rewatchable one too.

Boxing Day, BBC One, 4:20pm (not in Scotland)

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the beast

One of the most high profile of Disney’s recent live action remakes, this new version of the tale as old as time was a huge hit with audiences – and although it falls short of the 1991 animated classic, it still makes for a rewarding viewing experience. Emma Watson stars as Belle and is joined in the cast by an exceptional all-star lineup including Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and Josh Gad, while the musical numbers are well staged – with a showstopping rendition of Be Our Guest a particular highlight.

Boxing Day, BBC One, 2:20pm

Inside Out

INSIDE OUT

Pixar has put out a huge number of classics since debuting with Toy Story back in 1995, and this 2015 effort is one of the animation studio’s very best. Following the various anthropomorphised emotions living inside the head of eleven-year-old Riley, it’s a film that is as entertaining as it is profound – deftly, and intelligently dealing with emotional conflict in an accessible way. As ever, the animation is inventive and bright with some brilliant visual gags sprinkled through the runtime.

Wednesday 29th October, BBC One, 1:40pm

Coco

Coco follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who sets off a chain of events relating to a century-old mystery, leading to an extraordinary family reunion.

Another recent masterwork from Pixar, Coco is perhaps one of the most emotional animations ever made – superbly tackling the issue of bereavement in an exceptionally inventive way. The film brilliantly brings to life Mexican culture in all its colourful glory, with a terrific mariachi inspired soundtrack and a rather macabre conceit – as young Miguel is transported to the magical Land of the Dead and find himself discovering more about his roots.

New Year’s Eve, BBC One, 2:40pm

Best free action films on TV this Christmas and New Year

Die Hard

Die Hard

Wednesday 22nd December, ITV, 10:45pm

Every year there are endless arguments about whether Die Hard is a Christmas film, but whatever side of the argument you sit on, there’s one thing that can’t be denied – it’s an absolutely terrific action flick. Bruce Willis is in fine form as New York cop John McClane, who is forced to defend his estranged wife’s LA office building when German terrorists led by criminal mastermind Hans Gruber (a superb Alan Rickman) attack. Full of brilliant action and even better dialogue, it’s deservedly regarded as a bonafide classic.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) in Hobbs & Shaw
Universal

For complicated reasons, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham were absent from the latest instalment of the long-running Fast and Furious saga – which was released earlier in 2021. But the duo did get their very own film a couple of years earlier, which now gets a Boxing Day outing this year. The film follows Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Statham) as they find themselves forced to joining forces for a vital mission: putting a stop to a genetically enhanced supervillain.

Boxing Day, ITV2, 8pm

The Meg

TheMeg

Speaking of Jason Statham, this 2018 blockbuster sees the action star do battle with a giant prehistoric shark – as his character attempts to rescue is reputation following a failed submarine machine five years earlier. It’s an unashamedly unpretentious film that does exactly what it says on the tin – delivering some big action and an enjoyable turn from Statham. A sequel directed by Kill List filmmaker Ben Wheatley is on the cards – so here’s your chance to get up to speed before then.

Tuesday 28th December, Channel 5, 9pm

Ready Player One

readyplayerone

This sci-fi action thriller from Steven Spielberg is based on Ernest Cline’s best-selling novel of the same name – and takes place in a future where the main source of entertainment is an ultra-immersive virtual reality simulation. Inside that simulation, teen gamer Wade Watts is desperate to find a hidden Easter egg that will grant him ownership of the whole system but finds himself up against assorted villains. Very much an exercise in pure nostalgia, the film includes nods to various pop culture touchstones from the ’80s and ’90s, with references to everything from Back to the Future to The Shining.

Thursday 30th December, BBC One, 10:35pm

Spectre

Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann in Spectre
SPECTRE © 2015 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

2021 was the year that finally gave us Daniel Craig’s much delayed final outing as James Bond, and there’s a chance to enjoy his penultimate mission on New Year’s Eve. The second successive 007 flick to have been directed by Sam Mendes, the film sees Bond come up against his arch-nemesis Erns Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Blofeld) and despite a rather preposterous third act twist, it’s a thoroughly entertaining affair – with the opening one-shot sequence through a Day of the Dead parade Mexico City a particular highlight.

New Year’s Eve, ITV, 9pm

Best free rom-coms on TV this Christmas and New Year

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
SEAC

The first of two romcoms starring Henry Golding to air over Christmas, this film was a huge critical and commercial hit upon its release in 2018 – the first major studio rom-com to feature a predominantly Asian cast. Vibrant, smart and – crucially – very funny, the film explores the burgeoning romance between Asian-American couple Rachel and Nick as they travel to a wedding in Singapore, where Nick discovers for the first time that Rachel’s family are mega-rich.

Wednesday 22nd December, BBC One, 10:35pm

Last Christmas

Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in Last Christmas (Universal)

Henry Golding also stars in this festive romance which was released in 2019 – from a script co-written by Emma Thompson, who also stars. It tells the story of chaotic 26-year-old Kate (Emilia Clarke) – who aspires to an acting career but is currently working as a department store elf – and her meeting with a mysterious soup kitchen volunteer Tom (Golding). As the title suggests, the soundtrack is packed with songs from the late George Michael, while the film also contains a love-it-or-hate-it twist in the final act.

Thursday 23rd December, BBC Two, 9pm (not Northern Ireland)

Sleepless in Seattle

Sleepless In Seattle

Nora Ephron’s classic script and soulful performances from Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ensure that this romcom remains timeless, and Christmas Eve is a perfect time to give it a rewatch. It follows the romance that developed between a recently widowed man (Hanks) and a journalist (Ryan) who hears his call to a radio phone in, as the two end up forming an unlikely long-distance relationship. Inspired by Golden Age Hollywood pictures such as An Affair to Remember, this is a brilliantly funny and oh-so charming modern classic.

Christmas Eve, W, 7pm

Some Like It Hot

Some Like it Hot – Marilyn Monroe

Billy Wilder’s classic comedy – featuring a never better Marilyn Monroe – follows sees two male musicians (the brilliant Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) as they dress up as women to escape the mob, with hilarity ensuing in the resulting mix-up. It’s easily one of the finest comedies of all time – with undoubtedly one of the best closing lines – and holds up remarkably well more than 60 years after its release.

Boxing Day, BBC Two, 2pm

Moonstruck

Moonstruck
MGM

Cher won the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in this terrific romantic comedy, one of the best films ever made about New York’s Italian American community. It follows a widow who falls for the moody brother of her prospective fiancee and makes for a thoroughly entertaining watch – full of heart and affection for the community it portrays.

Boxing Day, BBC Four, 9pm 

Best of the rest on TV this Christmas and New Year

It’s A Wonderful Life

Clockwise from top: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Carol Coombs, Jimmy Hawkins, Larry Simms and Karolyn Grimes. (Photo by Herbert Dorfman/Corbis via Getty Images, BA)

Frank Capra’s superb film is often regarded as the best Christmas films ever made – but it’s also one of the best films ever made full stop. It follows the life of George Bailey (an extraordinary Jimmy Stewart), who finds himself unable to escape his small town – but who learns to value the importance of family and friendship following a crucial intervention from his guardian angel. Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, it has an outstanding ending which hasn’t lost any of its power since the film was first released in 1946.

Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 2pm

North by Northwest

North by Northwest

One of the finest films in Alfred Hitchock’s peerless filmography, this excellent espionage thriller sees an innocent man (Cary Grant) accidentally pulled into a dangerous plot. Complete with buckets of tension, a helping of wicked humour, and two incredibly memorable set pieces – one featuring a rouge airplane and the other an irresistible climax at Mount Rushmore– this is an unquestionable masterpiece from the master of suspense.

Christmas Eve, BBC Two, 3:20pm

Casablanca

Casablanca
SEAC

Often regarded as one of the best films of all time, this tremendous romantic drama follows the developing romance between cynical cafe owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and beautiful Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) who arrives with her husband seeking passage to America. Equal parts thriller and romance, this is a wonderfully gripping and immensely quotable film that is thoroughly deserving of its fine reputation.

Christmas Day, 11am, BBC Two

Meet Me in St Louis

Meet Me In St Louis

Vincente Minnelli’s sublime MGM musical finds Judy Garland at the very top of her game – playing the daughter of a perfect American family, as we follow their various trials and tribulations over the course of the year. Margaret O’Brien is also terrific as younger sister Tootie, and it contains a couple of the best musical numbers ever committed to film – including The Trolley Song and, fittingly for this time of year, Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Christmas Day, BBC Two, 12:50pm

Singin’ in the Rain

Singin' in the rain
MGM

There can be no better example of the movie musical than Stanley Donen’s joyous 1952 classic, which includes a string of unforgettable musical numbers (the title song, Good Morning, Good Morning and All I Do is Dream of You are three of many highlights) and stupendous performances from Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. If this doesn’t lift your spirits and get you dancing, then nothing will.

Boxing Day, 12:40pm, BBC Two

Blade Runner 2049

Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049
SEAC

Denis Villeneuve had the unenviable task of making a film that would live up to the reputation of its outstanding predecessor – but he delivered an exceptional piece of sci-fi cinema that cemented his reputation as one of the finest filmmakers working today. Ryan Gosling is great in the lead role as mysterious Los Angeles Police Department officer K, while Harrison Ford reprises his role as Rick Deckard from the original Blade Runner to brilliant effect.

Monday 27th December, BBC Two, 9pm

West Side Story

Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer in West Side Story, Getty

With Steven Spielberg’s new version of West Side Story currently playing in cinemas, there’s never been a better time to revisit the original – which remains one of the best movie musicals ever made. Filmed in glorious technicolor, this is an outstanding film with numerous iconic scenes – from the tremendous finger-clicking opening to the electric rooftop rendition of America. Rita Moreno, who stars in a different role in the new film, is particularly good value as Anita.

Tuesday 28th December, BBC Four, 9pm

A Star is Born

A Star Is Born (2018) Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga
SEAC

Wednesday 29th December, BBC One, 9pm

Few Hollywood films have been remade as often as A Star is Born, and the most recent version, released in 2018, was a real triumph. Starring Lady Gaga in her first major leading screen role, and Bradley Cooper – who was also making his directorial debut – it’s a brilliant modern update of the timeless story, following the touching relationship between a rising star and her troubled mentor.

Judy

Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland (premier comms, EH)

Thursday 30th December, BBC Two, 9pm

Renee Zellweger won an Oscar for her pitch-perfect portrayal of Hollywood legend Judy Garland in this incredibly moving film  – easily one of the best musical biopics of recent years. It follows Garland towards the end of her life as she reminisces about her career, meets some of her adoring fans, and recounts the horrendous abuse she suffered at the hands of some of the industry’s most powerful men. Heartfelt, sincere and empathetic, it’s a brilliant portrait of an icon.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
SEAC

Few films are as rewatchable as the Indiana Jones trilogy – and this opening instalment arguably remains the best of the bunch. Introducing Harrison Ford as the adventurous archeologist this is a pure cinematic joy from beginning to end – with some stellar action set pieces and brilliant chemistry between Ford and Karen Allen – as Indy fights off a troop of Nazis.

Thursday 30th December, Channel 4, 6:45pm 

Looking for something else to watch? Visit our Movies hub for more news, interviews and features, or check out our TV Guide

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