Cue up the Mariah Carey and whip out your credit card — it’s Christmastime! With season’s greetings comes an abundance of food, unwanted relatives, tinsel everywhere, shopping bills that won’t get paid until 2024, and more holiday movies than you can shake a candy cane at.
Since the sheer volume of Christmas movies can be overwhelming, it helps to have a handy list to check twice and make sure each Christmas movie they are watching is, well, nice. (Sorry, you had to expect at least one Christmas pun.) From classics like It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story to newer films like 8-Bit Christmas and Violent Night, these 25 movies represent the best Christmas offerings in 2023 that Netflix, Max, Hulu, and other streamers have to offer.
Need more holiday viewing suggestions? Then please check out the best Christmas movies on Netflix, the best Christmas movies on Hulu, the best Christmas movies on Max, the best Christmas movies on Disney+, the best Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel, 7 great Christmas movies you can watch for free, and 7 best funny Christmas movies you should watch this season.
Love Actually (2003)
Most romantic comedies tend to focus on one or two couples. Love Actually ups the ante with eight different couples throughout the film, and you might need a scorecard to keep up with them all.
One of the strengths of Love Actually is its ensemble cast, which includes Academy Award winners and many well-known actors. The ensemble features Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Martine McCutcheon, and Rowan Atkinson. Also popping up are Shannon Elizabeth, Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, and a pre-Mad Men January Jones. It all amounts to a movie that you shouldn’t like as much as you do, and feel guilty for falling prey to its shameless, melodramatic charms.
Love Actually is streaming on Netflix.
Best. Christmas. Ever! (2023)
Best. Christmas. Ever! is the latest addition to this list, but its super cheesiness will make it a contender for a spot here every Christmas from now on. The story follows Charlotte Sanders (Heather Graham), a frustrated housewife who is jealous of her friend, Jackie Jennings (Brandy Norwood) because she’s found the success and happiness that have eluded her.
One Christmas, Heather’s son, Grant (Wyatt Hunt), gets his mother and father, Rob Sanders (Jason Biggs), to visit Jackie and her husband, Valentino (Matt Cedeño). When the Sanders family is snowed in and forced to stay longer, Heather tries to prove that Jackie’s life isn’t as good as she pretends it is.
Watch Best. Christmas. Ever! on Netflix.
Many people love the holidays. With themed parties and countless presents, the holiday season is a time to be with friends and family. Yet, Sloane (American Horror Story’s Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) despise the holidays. The duo hates awkward social outings and attending family gatherings without a significant other.
After a chance encounter, they to be each other’s “holidate” for every special occasion – New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. But as we’ve all learned by watching countless romantic comedies, pretending to be a couple always works until someone gets feelings. Then, it gets complicated.
Stream Holidate on Netflix.
HBO and Max
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
No other modern holiday movie gets the agony and ecstasy of Christmas quite as well as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The film is funny yet still grounded in the painful reality of sharing your home with other relatives, having terrible neighbors, and being disappointed by the weird gifts you get on Dec. 25.
Both Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo return as the Griswold matriarchs, with future Oscar nominee Juliette Lewis and The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki as Audrey and Rusty, respectively. Randy Quaid makes an appearance as Cousin Eddie, and yes, that’s a pre-Seinfeld Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Clark’s yuppie neighbor. Jeremiah S. Chechik directed the movie and runs at a thrifty 97 minutes.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is currently streaming on Max. It can also be streamed on Hulu.
A Christmas Story (1983)
There’s no denying the rose-colored nostalgia that A Christmas Story offers, and it’s the rare wholesome family picture that doesn’t make adults or cynics gag. The comedy is still fresh, and everyone can relate to the childhood traumas poor Ralphie goes through in the movie, like being bullied, not getting the present that he wants, and … yes, being forced to wear an embarrassing outfit the family insists he put on.
The film was directed by Bob Clark, who has one of the oddest résumés in film history. In the 1970s, he directed the terror classic Black Christmas (which showcases a different set of holiday horrors) before moving on to the ’80s teen sex comedy Porky’s. A Christmas Story is 94 minutes long and stars Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, and Jean Shepherd as adult Ralphie.
A Christmas Story is streaming on Max.
The Polar Express (2004)
The Polar Express exists in the rare gray area of being both visually stunning and off-putting at the same time, because the human characters aren’t as convincing as the CG backgrounds. Those were the limitations of performance capture animation at the time when animators just didn’t have all of the tricks and advancements that they do now.
Regardless, director Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book The Polar Express has become a perennial favorite during the holiday season. Asteroid City‘s Tom Hanks lends his voice to several characters in the film, most notably the conductor of the Polar Express, a magical train heading directly for the North Pole that allows some lucky children to meet Santa Claus (Hanks) and have their Christmas wishes come true.
The Polar Express is streaming on Max.
A Christmas Story Christmas (2022)
Nearly 40 years after the original, A Christmas Story has finally gotten a proper sequel with A Christmas Story Christmas! (No, we’re not counting the dreadful A Christmas Story 2, a movie that’s best avoided). A now grown-up Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) returns to his old house on Cleveland Street to try to give his kids the kind of magical Christmas he experienced as a kid.
But between reconnecting with childhood friends and reconciling the passing of his Old Man, things don’t go as smoothly as Ralphie hoped.
A Christmas Story Christmas is streaming on Max.
Four Christmases (2008)
When you’re in a relationship, you have to spend Christmas with two different families. It’s stressful, right? Well, in Four Christmases, that idea is taken to its greatest extent as Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) get caught red-handed in their annual ruse of avoiding their families during the holidays.
Suddenly, each of their single parents knows Brad and Kate have been trying to get out of Christmas, and everybody wants a piece of them on Christmas Day.
Four Christmases is streaming on Max.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Everybody knows that each Christmas, Santa and an army of dutiful elves manage to produce and distribute gifts to children worldwide. But how do they do it? Well, Arthur Christmas tells you through the lens of Santa’s misfit son, Arthur (James McAvoy).
When one of the 600 million children to receive a gift from Santa gets mistakenly overlooked, Arthur takes it upon himself to execute an unauthorized mission to get the last present to the other side of the world before Christmas morning.
Arthur Christmas is streaming on Max.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Soak up some classic Christmas vibes with Christmas in Connecticut! Barbara Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane, one of America’s most famous food writers, who adopts a persona as a hard-working farm woman and perfect housewife and mother. Unfortunately, it’s all a lie. In real life, she’s an unmarried New Yorker who can’t use a toaster — she’s just been taking recipes from her friend, Felix (S.Z. Sakall).
So, when her magazine publisher decides to send a heroic sailor, Jefferson (Dennis Morgan), to spend Christmas with Elizabeth as a publicity stunt, she has to pull out all the stops to fake it until she makes it.
Christmas in Connecticut is streaming on Max.
8-Bit Christmas (2021)
This HBO Max Original takes place in suburban Chicago in the late 1980s. It’s something of a refresh of A Christmas Story as 10-year-old Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) makes it his life’s (or at least his Christmas) mission to get the latest 8-bit gaming system for Christmas.
Does he succeed? And can he escape a determined bully to attain the ultimate Christmas gift for any kid in the late 1980s: the Nintendo Entertainment System? Neil Patrick Harris stars as an older, not-much-wiser Jake, who still fondly remembers one of the best holidays he’s ever had.
8-Bit Christmas is streaming on Max.
Amazon Prime Video
This is Christmas (2022)
Never heard of This is Christmas? Don’t worry, no one else has either. Released without a peep in 2022, the genuinely sweet British comedy is one of the most charming movies you’ll see in a while. Harry Potter’s Alfred Enoch stars as Adam, a depressed commuter who, tired of taking the same train every day with the same people and not knowing any of them, impulsively decides to invite them all to an impromptu Christmas party.
What follows is a sweet, sentimental journey as Adam and fellow passenger Emma get to know each of their fellow commuters as they all plan for the party. Of course, this being a Christmas rom-com, Adam and Emma begin to develop feelings for each other, complicating things. While this may sound like a cloying Hallmark movie, This is Christmas manages to rise above the clichés and deliver a crowd-pleasing good time without overdosing too much on the sugar.
This is Christmas is streaming on Prime Video.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
The Man Who Invented Christmas’s title might be giving Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) too much credit, but he really did play a major role in how we celebrate the holiday season. That’s how much influence Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has had over the last 180 years. This film dramatizes Dickens’ life when he struggles to write his next story before coming face-to-face with his creation: Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer).
The visions of Scrooge and other characters from A Christmas Carol may not be real, but the emotions they bring out of Dickens force him to reconsider his story and his relationship with his own family. From there, a classic novel is born.
The Man Who Invented Christmas is streaming on Prime Video.
Scrooged is basically A Christmas Carol, but modernized and played more for laughs with Bill Murray in the leading role as Frank Cross, a Scrooge-like network executive at the IBC Television network. On Christmas Eve, Frank forces his employees to work on A Christmas Carol broadcast while giving them chintzy gifts for Christmas.
In other words, Frank is a perfect candidate for some Christmas Carol magic to find any humanity under his sleazy exterior. The Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane), and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Hammond) are really going to have their hands full trying to convince Frank to change.
Scrooged is streaming on Prime Video.
Last Christmas (2019)
Warning: If you’ve been trying to avoid hearing Wham!’s Last Christmas this holiday season, you will be Whamed several times in this film. The name of the movie really should have been a dead giveaway. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke goes the full rom-com here as Kate Andrich, a young woman whose recovery from a life-threatening illness has left her working at a year-round Christmas store with no prospects in her life.
Kate soon takes a liking to Tom Webster (Henry Golding), a handsome guy who disappears from her life for days at a time. And while Kate finds that aggravating, she is also inspired by Tom’s innate goodness to become a better person herself. The only thing that Kate can’t understand is why she and Tom can’t be together as a couple.
Last Christmas is streaming on Prime Video.
Violent Night (2022)
Unless your kids are old enough to see a candy cane turned into a lethal weapon without running away screaming in terror, then Violent Night may not be the perfect family Christmas film for you. Once you look past the over-the-top action and grisly deaths of the bad guys, you may see that this movie really does get what Christmas is supposed to be about. It’s also very easy to sympathize with David Harbour’s burnt-out Santa Claus.
Santa is ready to call it a day on Christmas for good when he finds himself trapped in a rich family’s home on Christmas Eve while a thief calling himself Scrooge (John Leguizamo) and his men threaten their lives. Because one of the family members, Trudy (Leah Brady), really believes in both Santa and Christmas, Santa embraces his inner John McClane in the best Die Hard-adjacent film we’ve seen in years.
Violent Night is streaming on Prime Video.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the holiday mainstay It’s a Wonderful Life. The immortal classic stars James Stewart as George Bailey — a man ready to end it all before the intervention of an angel (Henry Travers) reveals to him exactly how the lives of the people of Bedford Falls would have unfolded without him.
The vision is a revelation to George, whose second chance at life comes with rare, ecstatic gratitude. Ironically, It’s a Wonderful Life was a commercial bomb upon release, while today it’s as much a mandatory part of our annual traditions as A Christmas Carol.
It’s a Wonderful Life is streaming on Prime Video.
Twenty years ago, Ferrell starred in the still-great Elf, which has become the defining Christmas movie of the 21st century. From the memorable quotes (“Buddy the elf, what’s your favorite color?”) to laugh-out-loud scenes (Peter Dinklage in the boardroom), Elf is a Christmas movie with heart, humor, and love, three key ingredients we seek at the holidays.
Directed by Jon Favreau, Elf stars Ferrell as Buddy, a human raised by elves at the North Pole. Unfortunately for Buddy, he struggles to fit in with the other elves due to his size and ineptitude in the art of toymaking. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) reveals to Buddy that his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), works in New York City, but is unaware of his elflike son’s existence. To make matters worse, Walter is on the Naughty List. Convinced he can fix things, Buddy must travel to New York City and spread a little Christmas cheer in the Big Apple.
Stream Elf on Max or Hulu.
Happiest Season (2020)
A holiday rom-com, Happiest Season takes a distinct approach to the formula by telling the story of a relationship between two women, one of whom hasn’t come out to her parents yet. When the two go to visit her parents, they pose as friends, straining their relationship almost to its breaking point.
While there are plenty of genuinely funny moments in Happiest Season, which features stellar supporting turns from Aubrey Plaza and Dan Levy, Happiest Season is propelled by the chemistry between its two leads, Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, who combine to make this one of the best Christmas movies on Hulu.
Happiest Season is streaming on Hulu.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
If you ever needed a reminder that Michael Caine is an actor’s actor, then watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. Caine gives an excellent performance in this movie as he plays Ebenezer Scrooge absolutely straight. Most of Caine’s co-stars may be famous Muppets, but Caine himself never breaks character as Scrooge or winks to the audience. Caine’s absolute commitment to the role elevates everything else about the movie.
The script is actually pretty close to the original story by Charles Dickens. On Christmas Eve, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future visit Scrooge and warn him to change his ways before it’s too late.
The Muppet Christmas Carol is streaming on Disney+.
Ferrell is so talented and funny that any co-star who can match his wit and energy will thrive next to the comedian. Enter Ryan Reynolds, one of the more underrated comic actors in Hollywood. Ferrell and Reynolds collaborated on a retelling of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in Apple TV+’s 2022 movie Spirited.
Every Christmas Eve, the Ghosts of Christmas Present (Will Ferrell), Past (Sunita Mani), and Yet to Come (Loren G. Woods) pick one soul to redeem. This year, the ghosts select Clint Briggs (Reynolds), a lonely and controversial media consultant. The roles are reversed in Spirited as the ghosts become the ones to examine their past, present, and future. Oh, did I mention it’s a musical comedy? And you can now belt out all the songs in the singalong version of Spirited.
Stream Spirited on Apple TV+.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
First broadcast in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas is still watched yearly as the holly goes up and the carolers start singing. Yes, it’s over a half-century old and the animation is dated (or retro, depending on your point of view), but it’s charming as can be, and perfect for anyone to get in the mood for Christmas.
Plus, it’s funny! You forget how many laughs are packed in these Peanuts specials, and Schultz is at his best with this special. Who can forget Lucy’s wayward advice to poor Charlie or any of Snoopy’s antics? A Charlie Brown Christmas taps into nostalgia for a “simpler time” without being too heavy-handed about it.
A Charlie Brown Christmas is streaming on Apple TV+.
Bad Santa (2003)
Bad Santa is one of the more unconventional holiday movies on this list, but it’s the Christmas movie for the cynic in your life. Telling the story of a con man who runs an annual con in which he poses as Santa, the movie is really a redemption story about whether a man who uses Christmas to get over on other people can be saved.
Billy Bob Thornton is outstanding in the central role, and Bad Santa benefits from being much more clear-eyed about the nature of Christmas than your typical holiday fare. It may end happily, but at least it’s willing to acknowledge the holiday’s seedier underbelly.
Bad Santa is streaming on Paramount+.
A Christmas Tale (2008)
Arnaud Desplechin directs French icon Catherine Deneuve and a stellar supporting cast in the 2008 comedy-drama A Christmas Tale. A tale of dysfunctionality like no other, the film follows a family gathering for Christmas after learning the matriarch has leukemia.
Morbid, sardonic, and wickedly humorous, A Christmas Tale is a biting examination of the ties that bind us. Led by a commanding Deneuve, the film explores the thornier sides of family dynamics, delivering a refreshing take on a well-known trope. A Christmas Tale might not be necessarily depressing, but it’s certainly gloomy and pessimistic, with a truly cynical and uncompromising ending.
A Christmas Tale is available to watch on YouTube.
The Christmas Tree (1969)
There are bleak Christmas movies, and then there’s Terence Young’s 1969 tearjerker The Christmas Tree. William Holden stars as Laurent Ségur, a French millionaire who learns his 10-year-old son Pascal is dying after being exposed to radiation. Together with his new girlfriend, Laurent tries to fill Pascal’s last days with joy and adventure.
The Christmas Tree is dark, but strangely unsentimental. Unlike Stepmom, a film that wants you to suffer, The Christmas Tree wants you to analyze and feel blessed about what you have because others have it worse. However, the film is not subtle with its imagery (spoiler: the kid dies , but the way he goes is equal parts emotional and slightly absurd). Still, The Christmas Tree is as grim as Christmas movies come, a slice-of-life story about a life that is ending.
The Christmas Tree is available for free on Tubi.