Skip to content

The Ultimate Christmas Movie Guide

Sat around trying to decide what Christmas film to put on? Look no further, Annie has got you covered with this list of classic Christmas films for all tastes for the indecisive amongst us!

By Annie McNamee, First Year, Film and English

Christmas is a special time. Like any other holiday it comes with its own quirky traditions: decorating a tree, buying matching jumpers for you and your dog, and my personal favourite, arguing with your family about which Christmas movie you’ll try out tonight until you’re all in a bad mood and end up agreeing to ‘just stick on Elf’ again. Someone will make a comment about how overplayed it is, and your hot chocolate gets cold before you even press play.

Christmas films are a staple of the season- but which should we leave in the past, and which retain their status as classics year after year?

Love Actually (2003)

Once you get past that always uncomfortable 9/11 reference in the first five minutes that you definitely forgot about, Love Actually is everything you could want from a Christmas film. The film stays fresh with every rewatch, thanks to its multiple interwoven stories, which are brought together at the end with just the right degree of magical unbelievability. Watching Emma Thompson realise that her husband (Alan Rickman) has another woman in his life is subtle yet devastating, and it’s scenes like this that add an emotional depth and nuance to the film, which solidifies its place as a classic of British cinema. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to pretend that Hugh Grant is the Prime Minister for a couple of hours, which might allow you to feel something other than complete despair about certain current events. Naming no names.

Love Actually // Photo by Peter Mountain, courtesy of Universal Studios and IMDB

Die Hard (1988)

Is it even Christmas if no one is debating whether Die Hard is even a Christmas film? Bruce Willis being held hostage by terrorists is not what most of us would consider the image of holiday joy, but at least it adds variety to the season.

Die Hard also completes the ‘Alan Rickman being Evil at Christmas’ cinematic universe, but unlike his sleazy affair in Love Actually (2003), Hans Gruber is a timeless villain, so charismatic you almost forget to root for John McLean (Bruce Willis).

Die Hard is for anyone who loves guns and explosions, making it THE choice if you’re a fifteen-year-old boy and/or Transformers fan. Though, perhaps my favourite thing about it is the never-ending and ever more ridiculous sequels. Bruce Willis has probably now single-handedly taken out more terrorists than the American government- I hear he’s in line for the US Medal of Honour.

Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images, courtesy of IMDB and Gordon Company Silver Pictures

Elf (2003)

My experience with Elf has been mixed. On the one hand, it’s a cosy classic that I watch every year with my family- even my dog takes it as a queue to start decorating the tree. However, at some point, it became every teacher's and TV channel’s way to fill up time in December. Buddy (Will Ferrell) started to feel like an unsettlingly zealous friend who wouldn’t leave you alone. Which is, I suppose, ironically apt.

Does this mean I won’t watch it every single time? Absolutely not.

Buddy’s love of the holiday is infectious, and Ferrell’s physical comedy makes it a great choice for all ages. If you in any way enjoy ‘having fun’ or ‘being happy’, experiences which are rare when it gets dark at 4pm, Elf is the way to go. If that doesn’t sound like you, all I can say is that Homes Under the Hammer is always on iPlayer.

Elf // Courtesy of Warner Home Video and IMDB

Nativity! (2009)

Debbie Issit, Nativity!’s writer and director, hit a stroke of genius with this film. Basing a Christmas film on Martin Freeman being a failed actor turned sad primary teacher in Coventry? Truly inspired. To then cast local children and encourage them to play up to the cameras? Instant classic.

Nativity! is so full of heart that Matt Hancock might even be able to experience a real-life human emotion watching it. The relationship between the scrooge-like Mr Maddens (Martin Freeman) and man-child Mr Poppy (Marc Wotton) is endearing, and their ongoing battle with a local rival school, headed by Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) is petty enough to be realistic regarding the dizzying heights of local town drama.

And when you inevitably can’t get enough, you get to watch David Tennant haul a group of twenty children and a donkey through the Welsh countryside in the sequel- just as Jesus would’ve wanted.

Nativity! // Courtesy of IMDB and BBC films

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Often cited as the definitive Christmas film, It’s a Wonderful Life has outlasted all of its contemporaries and is still loved almost eighty years after its initial release. If you want to remember that there is good left in the world, this is the film for you.

It’s a Wonderful Life will make you want to apologise to everyone you’ve ever wronged and call your mother to thank her for all she’s done for you. It will warm you from the inside out and give you something to laugh about when you realise that a nearly forty-year-old James Stewart is supposed to be in his early twenties.

This is normal and not at all off-putting if you completely refuse to think about it. I can say with confidence that It’s a Wonderful Life is easily the best piece of pro-angel propaganda of the twentieth century.

It's A Wonderful Life // Photo by Herbert Dorfman and Getty Images, courtesy of IMDB

Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone is, statistically, in my completely subjective opinion, the most common answer to ‘what’s your go-to Christmas film?’ This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s definitely a great watch, and as a very forgetful person, it does make me feel very seen.

Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is an inspiration to every annoying eight-year-old, and I have to hand it to him; no one in popular culture has ever come close to his booby trap prowess. It is, however, the most boring answer to a favourite festive movie.

At least Home Alone 2 has a bit of shock value- that Trump cameo ages worse and worse every year.

Home Alone // Courtesy of 20th Century Fox and IMDB

There’s something about all Christmas movies that makes them feel a bit magical. So this year, when you’re getting out the mulled wine and using cinnamon as a seasoning for anything that you can think of, don’t argue over what to put on. It’s okay to watch Love Actually again just to see the ‘pretend it’s carol singers’ scene again; I promise it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Featured Image: IMDB and 20th Century Fox

Did your favourite Christmas movie make the list?