Christmas: that most wonderful time of the year where we can eat, drink and be merry — and dust off all of our favourite Yuletide-themed movies for their yearly viewing, of course.
We all have a number one pick when it comes to Christmas films, and we’ll passionately argue their case — even when it comes to Die Hard — until Boxing Day when the debate about which Christmas movie is the best all becomes a bit irrelevant as your massive wine/beer/fancy port-induced hangover really starts to kick in.
But which is the definitive Christmas film? It’s a very good question, and one that we at NME will now attempt to answer with our picks of the best festive movies ever made.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
I would watch literally any modern reinterpretation of classic literature providing the Muppets take on the leading roles. Thankfully, they picked one of the best festive tales in Charles Dickens’ timeless 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, with our Muppet-puppet heroes – and, er, Michael Caine – turning the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption into a colourful, heartwarming musical. Key moments include Statler and Waldorf’s spooky number as Scrooge’s former business partner(s) Jacob and Robert Marley, Sam Eagle’s turn as young Ebenezer’s schoolmaster (“it is the American way!”) and a surprisingly tear-jerking finale that is soundtracked by Paul Williams’ masterful closing song ‘When Love Is Found’.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The Breakfast Club and Home Alone may be touted as being among John Hughes’ best works, but the late filmmaker’s Christmas Vacation is in a (seasonal) league of its own. Chevy Chase plays do-it-all-dad Clark Griswold to perfection as he attempts to host a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. Naturally, it doesn’t entirely go to plan: road wars, attic mishaps, Christmas light japes, turkey disasters, boss kidnappings, flying squirrels, police raids and cousin Eddy are among the many, many calamities that befall the poor Griswold clan. Amid the tragedy, though, is a brilliant and enduringly hilarious story of heartwarming familial triumph: anyone who has ever attempted to play host to a mass family gathering over the festive period will have plenty of empathy for Clark’s trials and tribulations in Christmas Vacation. As Ellen, Clark’s wife, sagely notes to her teenage daughter Audrey (played by Juliette Lewis, no less): “I don’t know what to say — except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery!”
Home Alone (1990)
Here’s the strangest of prospects: a film containing scenes of torture, emotional distress and child neglect has somehow managed to become one of the most beloved festive family staples of all time. In the hands of director Chris Columbus, this ostensibly unsettling set-up is actually transformed into 103 minutes of pure cartoonish fun. Led by a career-making performance from Macaulay Culkin as young Kevin McCallister, here is a film that led a whole generation of kids to believe that they could face off against the most dastardly of home invaders. We definitely couldn’t, it should be added — but Home Alone is still a brilliant snapshot into a world where the kids are, undoubtedly, alright.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
What do Donnie Darko, Back To The Future II and It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie all have in common? The plot from Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, that’s what! Think about it: a disillusioned protagonist travels back in time and stumbles upon a harsher reality than their own, reforming their own worldview in the process. Of course, Capra’s screenplay borrows heavily from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – but in Hollywood terms, there’s only one winner. The best festive films transcend their genre — The Apartment, Gremlins, Die Hard (yes it is) — and none has done that better than It’s A Wonderful Life.
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Boasting giant knickers, a highly suggestive egg peeler from the shopping channel and an absolutely belting soundtrack (Diana Ross, Texas, Marvin Gaye, TLC and Robbie Williams to name but a few), not much of Bridget Jones’s Diary actually takes place in December. That being said: is it a Christmas film? Absolutely! Firstly, there’s snow. Plus, perfectly embodying the spirit of the season — where we all try to be relentlessly jolly (largely with the aid of booze) while grimacing through disgusting home cooking, dodgy, static-riddled jumpers and our family’s ill-fated matchmaking attempts — Sharon Maguire’s film also comes with a handy moral: if any of the Christmas dinner prep involves tying things with string, steer clear of the blue variety.
There’s a great Christmas tradition of festive frights, and this entry into the canon is as impressive as Santa’s mince pie intake. Sleepy American suburbia gets a rude awakening when everyman Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives a mogwai — a cute little critter with bat-like ears — whom he names Gizmo. He’s warned not to get the pet wet or feed him after midnight, but silly Billy mucks it up and unwittingly unleashes a gang of scaly, murderous gremlins. They cause pandemonium across town, weaponise a stair lift and generally create more havoc than a missed Amazon delivery. Executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, Gremlins is a super-smart satire on commercialism that packs a punch like your Grandma’s eggnog.
There’s more to Paddington than just the festive season, as the 2014 film maps the titular Peruvian bear’s journey to find his new family, the Browns. But still: there’s a reason the BBC shows it every Christmas. Paddington – and its 2017 sequel – beautifully captures the romantic twinkling lights of London with their traditional festive cheer, and Paddington’s wholesome values (“if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right”) perfectly align with the warm, fuzzy feelings of the Christmas holidays.
A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
Strap yourselves in for an all-star Christmas sleigh ride of pure loveliness. Picture the scene: Bill Murray is gearing up for a holiday special when a snowstorm hits and he has to cancel. Oh no! Fortunately, his two producers Liz (played by Amy Poehler) and Bev (Julie White) convince Murray that the show must go on. With help from a few Christmas miracles and the likes of Michael Cera, Chris Rock, Paul Shaffer, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones and the band Phoenix, a very Murray Christmas is had by all as we explore the true meaning of the holidays and have a ruddy good sing-song, jingling all the way. Oh, and it culminates with a grand musical finale featuring George Clooney and Miley Cyrus. What more do you want, Scrooge?