Here’s our picks for the best Christmassy flicks on the service…
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Some have argued that this is the best version of Charles Dickens’ classic story to ever make it to the big screen. Certainly, it’s a strong contender for that prestigious title, imbuing the cautionary tale with a warm sense of fun while not losing sight of the serious themes at its centre.
Michael Caine takes the role of Ebenezer Scrooge and plays it superbly, providing a by-the-book performance that would be at home in any other adaptation of A Christmas Carol. But of course, this isn’t just a run of the mill retelling, as the all-star cast of Muppets are out in force and on top form.
Kermit and Miss Piggy as Bob and Emily Cratchit, Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Brothers, and the Great Gonzo as Dickens himself are just some of the superb puppet casting decisions at play here. The musical numbers are equally memorable, with almost every song in the film guaranteed to stick with you for the duration of the festive season.
Another timeless classic, It’s A Wonderful Life has become a long-held Christmas tradition among families all over the world. The touching drama tells the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), a man on the brink of committing suicide on Christmas Eve, who is shown just how much good he has brought to the world by his guardian angel (Henry Travers).
The film tackles some difficult themes but culminates in one of the most uplifting endings in cinematic history. Earning a slew of Academy Award nominations on the year it came out, It’s A Wonderful Life is never absent from discussions of the best Christmas films of all time. If you’re yet to see the picture yourself or are simply looking for your annual fix, it’s available to stream on NOW TV.
While audiences are divided on which version of this festive tale is superior, the original 1947 feature or the 1994 remake, both can easily be considered absolute Christmas classics. Miracle on 34th Street tells the story of a man called Kris Kringle who is taken to court after claiming to be the real Father Christmas, with a young girl and her mother coming to his aid.
The original film received three Academy Award nominations including a Best Supporting Actor nod for Edmund Gwenn as Kringle, a role inherited by Richard Attenborough for the remake. The 1994 interpretation also stars Mara Wilson, who made her name on iconic family fare like Matilda and Mrs Doubtfire. Both versions are available to stream on NOW TV today and throughout the Christmas period.
A decidedly different take on Dickens’ Christmas Carol story, Scrooged stars Bill Murray as cynical TV executive Frank Cross, visited by three ghosts who attempt to make him change his selfish ways. Anyone looking for an alternative to the sugar-coated sentiment of standard Christmas fare will feel at home here, as Murray’s natural dry wit takes centre stage.
He’s joined by an accomplished cast that includes Alfre Woodard (12 Years A Slave) and Karen Allen (Raiders of the Lost Ark), while Carol Kane (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is an absolute scene-stealer as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
The third Vacation film is one of the best entries in the farcical comedy series and has the distinction of being festive in theme. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to give his family the perfect Christmas, complete with beautiful decorations and gifts under the tree. However, his plans hit a snag when his cousin Eddie turns up out of the blue and starts living in a caravan on the front lawn.
As is standard procedure for poor Clark, his mild mannered persona is gradually worn down to the breaking point as things continue to go spectacularly wrong. The result is a Christmas movie jam-packed with silly fun and featuring memorable turns from Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid.
The Polar Express marked the first foray into cutting edge animation technology from visionary director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future). Based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg, the story follows a boy whose scepticism about the existence of Santa Claus lands him a ticket on a mystical train bound to visit the man himself.
The film uses motion capture to feature superstar Tom Hanks in various roles, including the train’s conductor, the boy’s father and a rather sinister looking Scrooge marionette. Made in the early days of the now commonly used technology, The Polar Express did face some criticism upon release that its style of animation looked uncanny, but this hasn’t prevented it from achieving festive classic status.
The spectacle of the film is truly something to behold, while its mysterious and inspiring story effectively taps into the sense of wonder that surrounds the Christmas season.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
This 2005 adaptation of the classic fantasy story by C.S Lewis is a family treat, following the four Pevensie siblings as they travel from wartime England to the magical realm of Narnia through a wardrobe in a spare room of their house. What follows is a sweeping epic that sees the children meet the noble talking lion Aslan (Liam Neeson) and fight the forces of the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton) in battle.
It’s a superb fantasy story that can stand on its own all year round, but is particularly appropriate at yule time thanks to its snowy aesthetic and a cheeky cameo from Father Christmas himself. Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley and Anna Popplewell do a great job establishing a believable sibling dynamic, reprising their roles for two sequels: Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
This dark comedy is the polar opposite of family friendly, viewer discretion is most certainly advised. However, if you’re a fan of dark and outrageous comedy, Bad Santa might have just the kind of festive debauchery to get you into the spirit.
Billy Bob Thornton takes the lead role as Willie T. Stokes, a crook whose annual scheme involves dressing up as Father Christmas in order to rob shopping malls. There can be no doubt that he’s lived a bad life so far, but after befriending a troubled young boy, he sees an opportunity to reform his wicked ways.
It won’t suit everybody’s tastes, but Bad Santa has gained a cult following over the years for its enjoyably crude spin on a Christmas story, even earning a belated sequel in 2016 which ultimately failed to live up to the original.
Whatever your stance on Die Hard’s legitimacy as a Christmas film, the sheer prominence of the debate is enough to earn it a position on this list. Sure, it doesn’t feature three ghosts or a scene in which a curmudgeon realises the true meaning of the season, but its complete abandonment of those tropes makes it a breath of fresh air from your usual festive viewing options.
Not to mention, it’s widely regarded as one of the best action movies ever made with sterling performances from Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman, the latter making his film debut here. You may well have seen it several times by now, but the arrival of the Christmas season gives you the perfect excuse to revisit this bona fide classic.
The other festive animation from Robert Zemeckis is this 2009 adaptation of A Christmas Carol that sees Jim Carrey take on the coveted role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Surprisingly, Carrey’s trademark wacky physical humour goes almost completely unused here, opting instead for a film that stays rigidly faithful to the original novella.
This makes it a bit less suitable for viewers with small children (go Muppets instead), but fans of classic literature may get a kick out of seeing Dickens’ vivid and often spooky imagery brought to life on the big screen. There have been roughly four million screen adaptations of this story since its initial publication, but this take from Zemeckis earns its place among the ranks on visual spectacle alone.