With cinemas having been closed for much of the year, we’ve all had to get used to watching great films on the small screen in 2020 – and that will be the case more than ever over the Christmas period.
The festive season has long been a great time to revisit old favourites, discover new gems and enjoy some great entertainment, and luckily the TV schedules more than deliver on each of those fronts this year.
From Christmas classics such as Home Alone to all time-greats like Ben-Hur and new favourites such as Coco to musical classics like The Sound of Music, there really is something for everyone this year to keep us entertained for a more indoors festive period than usual.
Read on for the best movies to watch for free on TV this Christmas and New Year, handily organised by genre for whatever mood you’re in.
Best kids films on TV this Christmas and New Year
Pixar had a few misses during the 2010s, but Coco was a spectacular and emotional return to form for the prestige animation company. A young boy’s journey in the Land of the Dead may not sound like a heartwarming Christmas Day film, but Coco looks dazzling, has Pixar’s signature humour, and captures the importance of family like few other films – have tissues at the ready.
Christmas Day, BBC One, 3:10pm
Santa Claus: The Movie
The Santa Claus origin story we didn’t know we needed, the aptly named Santa Claus: The Movie explains how a simple working man became the legendary figure we know and love today. Now a cult classic, this very ’80s film will be perfect for kids and kids-at-heart alike in one of the most thorough examinations of the Santa mythos put to screen.
Christmas Eve, ITV, 11am
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
While the original sadly won’t be gracing our screens this Christmas period, this just-as-enjoyable sequel expands the Home Alone action from the McCallister household to the entirety of New York. The final Home Alone film to star the iconic Macaulay Culkin – who inexplicably is abandoned by his family at Christmas again – this sequel makes the most of its setting for more cartoon-esque holiday hi-jinks. (Look out for the bizarre Donald Trump cameo.)
Christmas Day, Channel 4, 5:30pm
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
A family favourite for well over 50 years, it seems fitting that Chitty Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is shown on Christmas Day. Adapted from an Ian Fleming novel with a script co-written by Roald Dahl and starring Dick Van Dyke, this film is stuffed with legendary talent – and some awfully catchy songs too.
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
The iconic Paddington bear gets a second live-action adaptation – and it’s one of the best family films in recent years. The adorable plot sees Paddington take on odd jobs to afford the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy’s birthday, only for the gift to be tragically stolen.
It’s not just the bear who’s stuffed – this film is stuffed with British talent such as Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, and Hugh Grant in a rare villain role.
Christmas Eve, BBC One, 4:15pm
One of the better films to focus on one of Santa’s previously unknown relatives, Arthur Christmas stars James McAvoy as Santa’s clumsy son Arthur who sets out to deliver presents to a young girl his father missed out. Again the British stars are out in full force, with Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, and Imelda Staunton lending their voices.
Tuesday 22nd December, ITV, 11:35am
Horton Hears a Who!
The Dr. Seuss classic is given the animated treatment in this charming tale of misunderstanding. Dr. Seuss veteran Jim Carrey voices titular elephant Horton, who is tasked with protecting the microscopic city of Whoville led by Steve Carell’s Mayor – despite his neighbours refusing to believe it exists.
Boxing Day, Channel 4, 12pm
Directed by, produced by, and starring Danny DeVito, this 1996 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book still holds up today. Surprisingly faithful to the book, the film follows child prodigy Matilda who gains psychokinetic powers and uses them against her neglectful parents and ruthless principal.
Tuesday 22nd December, Channel 5, 1:35pm
How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World
The How To Train Your Dragon franchise has given Pixar a serious run for its money for the 3D animated crown, and this third and final instalment doesn’t let the quality slip. When Hiccup discovers another Night Fury – who gets awfully close with Toothless – he must find dragon utopia “The Hidden World” before dragon hunter Grimmel. Bring tissues – it’s a very definitive ending to the three-film saga.
New Year’s Day, BBC One, 2pm
A suitably snowy animation for the kids, Happy Feet stars Elijah Wood as the only Emperor penguin who cannot sing – but can throw some serious shapes on the dance floor. From the director of children’s classic Babe (and, er, Mad Max also), Happy Feet also stars Robin Williams, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, and Hugo Weaving.
The sequel, Happy Feet Two, is on the next day at 11:30am.
Tuesday 29th December, ITV, 11:35am
Best action films on TV this Christmas and New Year
James Bond movies always seem to crop up on the TV schedules around Christmas for some reason – not that we’re complaining. In one of the best ever Bonds, 50th anniversary film Skyfall sees Daniel Craig take on Javier Bardem’s former MI6 agent Raoul Silva and question his relationship with Judi Dench’s M. The perfect catch up before No Time To Die‘s eventual release – and a great excuse to hear Adele’s catchy theme song once again.
New Year’s Eve, ITV, 9pm
Diamonds are Forever
If you need more 007 this Christmas, ITV is also showing this old school Bond flick. The late Sean Connery returns to the role he made famous as he investigates a diamond smuggling operation, only to come face to face with old rival Blofeld. For those who miss the more outlandish villain plans, this film will certainly scratch that itch.
New Year’s Day, BBC One, 4:30pm
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
We’ve had many Robin Hoods over the years, from the BBC series to the recent Taron Egerton reboot, but few are as iconic as Kevin Costner’s 1991 interpretation. When Robin returns to England from the Crusades, he becomes an outlaw to fight back against the Sheriff of Nottingham – a particularly memorable Alan Rickman.
Sunday 20th December, ITV, 4:40pm
Truly living up to the description of an epic, Ben-Hur broke several records upon its release including the largest budget and biggest sets built at the time. Its religious themes make it an ideal choice to watch this Christmas, not to mention the action in that iconic nine-minute chariot race.
Christmas Eve, Channel 4, 3:05pm
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
You may have to record this one, or Mr. and Mrs. Smith can make a great late-night action film after a few too many mince pies. More well-known for the real-life romantic implications for stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Mr. and Mrs. Smith is still great fun in its own right following a married couple who discover each other are assassins.
Wednesday 30th December, Channel 4, midnight
One of DC’s biggest successes recently, Wonder Woman made quite the splash at the box office as one of the first major live-action female superhero films. Gal Gadot’s Amazonian warrior ventures into the world of men to stop the god of war Ares from destroying mankind – and learns a few things about herself on the way.
It’s the perfect refresher before sequel Wonder Woman: 1984, due to hit theatres this month.
Tuesday 29th December, ITV, 7:30pm
Best rom-coms on TV this Christmas and New Year
A Christmas rom-com with a difference, The Holiday sees Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz cross the Atlantic and swap homes over the festive period, only to find love across the pond. Jude Law and Jack Black play the romantic interests in this Anglo-American comedy, which even makes sunny California seem Christmassy.
Boxing Day, ITV, 10:45pm
Some Like It Hot
A classic Marilyn Monroe comedy, Some Like It Hot sees two male musicians (the brilliant Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) dress up as women to escape the mob, with hilarity predictably ensuing. It’s considered by many to be one of the best comedies of all time – and undoubtedly has one of the best closing lines of all time.
Christmas Day, BBC Two, 1:15pm
I Give It A Year
Another one to record, this Brit rom-com see a newlywed couple attempt to make it work despite concerns from friends and family. Starring Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Farris, Simon Baker and Stephen Merchant.
Christmas Day, BBC One, 00:45pm
Best of the rest on TV this Christmas and New Year
Daniel Day-Lewis announced his retirement from acting after production on this film had wrapped, and if it is to be his final screen appearance then what a way to go out: Paul Thomas Anderson’s ’50s set drama is lavish, hypnotic and it times splendidly funny. Day-Lewis stars as enigmatic and egotistical dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock who finds that his new muse may be more than he bargained for.
Wednesday 23rd December, BBC Two, 10pm
Singin’ in the Rain
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.
Christmas Day, BBC Two, 11:35am
An all-star cast including Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance and Harry Styles fature in Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning war film, which portrays the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II from the point of view of land, sea and air. Expect a moving tour-de-force of cinematic spectacle.
Boxing Day, BBC One, 9:05pm
The Greatest Showman
The perfect feel-good movie for this time of year, The Greatest Showman surely needs no introduction at this point. The plot follows Hugh Jackman’s PT Barnum as he invents what we now know as the circus, but the main reason you’ll be watching are for the soaring songs.
New Year’s Day, Channel 4, 5:30pm
The Sound of Music
Something of a Christmas tradition now, The Sound Of Music is of course the timeless tale of Julie Andrew’s nun who leaves a convent to become a governess to the children of a widowed naval officer. The perfect mix of wholesome musical fun during the post-Christmas hangover.
Sunday 27th December, BBC One, 3:45pm
Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, this underrated magical adventure is perfect for all ages. Future Daredevil Charlie Cox is the besotted young man on a quest to retrieve a fallen star for his beloved Victoria, only to find the star far more human than he first thought. It has a great ensemble cast, including Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Sienna Miller, and Ricky Gervais, and also inspired one of Take That’s biggest songs, ‘Rule The World’.
New Year’s Day, Channel 4, 5:05pm
We’re sure little introduction is needed here – Jurassic World is the hugely popular reboot of / sequel to Jurassic Park, following a now-opened theme park as it is terrorised by a genetically modified hybrid dinosaur. A threequel, Jurassic World: Dominion, has recently finished filming and is expected in 2022.
Sunday 27th December, ITV, 4:40pm
The popularity of the classic ’70s musical shows no signs of stopping over 40 years later, with Grease getting a prime Boxing Day showing on BBC One this year. Opposites Danny and Sandy fall in love over summer – can they rekindle their romance back at school?
Boxing Day, BBC One, 5pm
The Karate Kid
For those who have been binging the critically acclaimed Cobra Kai on Netflix this year, see where it all began with the original Karate Kid. A somewhat younger Ralph Macchio and William Zabka face each other at a karate tournament after rigorous training sessions in this ’80s classic.
Sunday 28th December, Channel 5, 11:30am