It’s the most wonder-ful time of the year… for film buffs. Over Christmas, a mountain of unmissable movies are available to watch, on both terrestrial channels and on-demand platforms.
But which are the best films available to binge on? You can see a more detailed lists of movies via the links below or scroll down to see the biggest festive highlights to look out for…
The best films on TV this Christmas
The best films on demand this Christmas
Elf – Sunday 23rd December 4:55pm ITV2
Director Jon Favreau’s sweet seasonal comedy relies entirely on the talents of Will Ferrell, who plays Buddy, a fully grown human adult raised from a baby by Santa’s little helpers. Now too clumsy and outsized — by elf standards — to assist with present creation and testing, Buddy discovers the existence of his birth father (James Caan in full-bore Scrooge mode) and heads for New York.
Despite the digital effects used to create pint-sized toymakers and flying reindeer, this strives on the feel of vintage Disney through twee settings and storybook narration. An infectiously entertaining Christmas celebration.
Zootropolis – Christmas Eve 2:55pm BBC1
Anthropomorphised animals have been a staple of Disney feature films since the days of Jiminy Cricket. Zootropolis creates a finely balanced mammalian ecosystem where rabbits are farmers, foxes and weasels exhibit criminal tendencies, rhinos and buffalo dominate the police force, elephants instruct naked yoga, and so on.
Visualised in stunning CG animation by directors Byron Howard (Bolt, Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph), and an army of digital artists and compositors, the crime-solving plot revolves around a rural bunny (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) hoping to overcome bestial prejudice by enrolling in the police, who makes an unexpected ally in a sly fox (Jason Bateman). The scene in the Department of Mammal Vehicles manned by glacial sloths is hard to top, although the line, “Deep down, we’re still animals” shows a genuine, think-about-it depth.
The Jungle Book – Christmas Day 3:10pm BBC1
The original, animated Jungle Book from 1967 holds a special place in the hearts of a certain generation who may not initially have liked the idea of Disney turning the same Rudyard Kipling stories into a CGI-enhanced, live-action version in 2016. However, under the sympathetic direction of Jon Favreau — entrusted with a mega-budget after Iron Man and its first sequel — it turns out to be pretty good.
The landscapes are deep and verdant despite being created using green-screen technology, and there are decent substitutes for the original voice cast, including Christopher Walken as the fire-obsessed King Louie, Bill Murray as Baloo the laid-back bear and Idris Elba as the villainous tiger Shere Khan. Neel Sethi as “man-cub” Mowgli is the only human in sight. The revived songs — The Bare Necessities, I Wanna Be Like You — feel a little incongruous given the largely non-musical circumstances, but the film still made almost a billion dollars at the box office. Favreau will hope to repeat the trick with The Lion King, set for release in the summer.
The Greatest Showman – Christmas Day 6:45pm Sky1
It opens in sepia-tinted black-and-white, with R&B bass throbbing and soulful voices wailing over the familiar 20th Century Fox logo, until a silent-era title card cuts to the silhouette of Hugh Jackman’s ringmaster PT Barnum. Beneath the bleachers, a crowd stamps their feet in synch. He whispers, “Ladies and gents, this is the moment you’ve waited for…”
Michelle Williams glows as Barnum’s wife, Zac Efron is his business partner, and La La Land lyricists Pasek and Paul provide the sing-along songs (“This is me!”) — it’s a package that’s futile to resist (as many critics did). An athletic cast belts out the matinee-friendly story and the album is still somersaulting off the shelves.
The Muppet Christmas Carol – Christmas Day 4pm C4
With Michael Caine as Scrooge, Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits, and Gonzo as Dickens, this is quite simply corking Christmas viewing. Although certain elements have been Muppetised (with Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig, the owner of a rubber-chicken factory), no attempt has been made to water down the story, and the poignancy of the moral tale is as affecting as ever.
The BFG – Boxing Day 5:40pm BBC1
A perfect fit for family entertainer Steven Spielberg — and for his talismanic new thespian pal Mark Rylance (who’s been in three out of the director’s last four films) — The BFG is one of Roald Dahl’s best-loved works and was crying out for a proper cinematic adaptation.
Ruby Barnhill plays the young Sophie, who is whisked away from her orphanage by a benevolent 24-foot giant. He protects her from other, more carnivorous ogres — motion-captured by the likes of Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader and Icelander Olafur Darri Olafsson.
Eddie the Eagle – Friday 28th December 8pm C4
The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary inspired two feature films: Cool Runnings (1993) and Eddie the Eagle (2016). The latter immortalises Eddie Edwards, the likeable plasterer from Gloucestershire whose ski-jumping efforts were destined not to trouble the winners’ podium.
Hugh Jackman (as his washed-up trainer) and Christopher Walken add further star power, albeit at the expense of the facts of the story.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Friday 28th December 1:15pm BBC1
The Temple of Doom saw the Indiana Jones series lurch off the rails a little, but all was restored with this third movie. The masterstroke here was the introduction of Sean Connery as Indy’s crotchety dad, and the snappy by-play between him and Harrison Ford added a nice new twist to the adventure.
The quest this time is for the Holy Grail, no less, and finds Jones reunited with old chums, such as Marcus Brody (played by Denholm Elliott), and old enemies, namely the Nazis. As usual, the action is on an epic scale and delivered with breathless enthusiasm and much panache by director Steven Spielberg
Ant-Man – Saturday 29th December 7:50pm BBC1
Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an ex-con attempting to re-bond with his ex-wife and daughter, who reluctantly returns to his thieving ways.
After stealing a SHIELD-developed shrinking suit during a break-in, he then finds himself mentored by its designer, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who wants Lang to use it as a force for good rather than villainy. However, Pym’s protégé (Corey Stoll) has other, militaristic-minded ideas.
Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie – New Year’s Eve 9pm BBC1
Jennifer Saunders’s fashion-industry sitcom Absolutely Fabulous ran on the BBC for five series between 1992 and 2003, with an anniversary three-part revival following in 2011-12. This belated feature-length outing is almost a parody of itself, but is knowing and exuberant enough to carry it off. Its list of celebrity cameos acts as a bingo card for followers of fashion and the famous, including Judith Chalmers, Joan Collins, Jon Hamm, Tinie Tempah and assorted Delevingnes “as themselves”.
Inside Out – New Year’s Day 5pm BBC1
A jewel in Pixar’s crown, Inside Out is on a visual, musical and emotional par with Toy Story, Up and Finding Nemo. It injects the domestic reality of Toy Story with the imaginative flair of Monsters, Inc, and will remind viewers of a certain age of that old comic strip The Numskulls, in which miniature workers are seen to control the senses in a human head.
Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust are immaculately visualised and voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader and Mindy Kaling. But when Joy and Sadness are accidentally cast loose from their centre of operations, a surreal race against time ensues, and important lessons are learnt along the way.
The Revenant – New Year’s Day 10pm BBC1
It took the physical demands of sadomasochistic survival yarn The Revenant to finally earn Leonardo DiCaprio his best actor Oscar in 2016. Alejandro G Iñárritu’s 19th-century wilderness saga took nine months to shoot, using only natural light, in genuinely unyielding conditions. The budget ballooned from $60 million to $135 million, but this is an old-school Hollywood epic — although, unlike earlier horse operas, indigenous people are treated with fastidious respect.
And it seems that no animals were harmed in the staging of Leo’s famous fight with a grizzly bear, which involved a deft mix of CGI and a massive cuddly toy.