How early is too early to start watching holiday movies? Based on the release schedule for new 2022 holiday movies from Netflix, Lifetime, and more, the festive period starts more than a week before Halloween.
Selecting the best holiday movies is a largely subjective exercise, and may depend on the decade you grew up in. Millennials will likely stump hard for “Elf,” for example, while Gen Xers will go to bat for “A Christmas Story.”
Other stories transcend generations, which is how we’ve gotten dozens of movie adaptations of “A Christmas Carol” over a century of filmmaking, ranging from 1901’s “Scrooge, or, Marley’s Ghost” to 2022’s “Spirited,” Apple TV+’s PG-13 musical version of the Dickens tale. (Spoiler alert: The Ryan Reynolds-Will Ferrell vehicle didn’t make our best-of list, but you can read our “Spirited” review here.)
To help you rediscover the holiday spirit through the magic of film, we’ve collected 20 of the best holiday movies currently streaming in 2022, aided in part by recommendations from Boston.com readers. Note: This list doesn’t include films that aren’t streaming for free on a major platform, so you won’t find classics like 1942’s “Holiday Inn” to 2002’s “About A Boy” that are only available via rental. This list also doesn’t have holiday TV specials, so before you send us an angry email about omitting “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” check out our guides to streaming holiday specials and holiday TV specials.
Here are 20 of the best holiday movies streaming right now (sorted alphabetically), and how to watch them.
“A Christmas Story” (1983)
Uncompromising and often laugh-out-loud hilarious, “Porky’s” director Bob Clark’s unexpected detour into family comedy has Darren McGavin as one of the funniest foul-mouthed screen dads ever, the world’s greatest movie prop (you know the one), and an unforgettable tagline: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” It probably doesn’t hurt the film’s legacy that TBS seems to run it on a loop for the entire month of December — you can’t help but see it every year, even if it’s just by accident. — Peter Chianca
How to watch: “A Christmas Story” is streaming on HBO Max.
“Arthur Christmas” (2011)
Thanks to its “Wallace & Gromit” shorts and feature films like “Chicken Run,” Aardman is one of the most beloved animation studios in cinema. So it should come as no surprise that the London-based company’s foray into holiday fare, 2011’s “Arthur Christmas,” is an unqualified delight. On Christmas Eve, Santa’s gangly, awkward son Arthur Claus (James McAvoy, “Split”) realizes that one little girl’s present has been left undelivered in his dad’s sleigh. With a team of fellow North Pole misfits, Arthur sets out to deliver the gift himself. — Kevin Slane
If we’re going to sneak one title onto this list that might not be a Christmas movie in the strictest sense, it has to be Todd Haynes’ 2015 romantic drama “Carol.” Sure, much of the film takes place at Christmastime in the 1950s, and the titular Carol (Cate Blanchett, “Tár”) first meets Therese (Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) while shopping for holiday gifts. But the pair’s forbidden romance — dogged by custody battles, private investigators, and the taboo nature of homosexuality during the era — doesn’t provide a whole lot of holiday cheer. That said, Carol and Therese’s relationship can be viewed as an honest metaphor for the holidays: A thrilling but temporary distraction from the monotony of everyday life that will always evoke fond memories, even when, as Carol puts it, “you wind up overcooking the turkey.” — KS
How to watch: “Carol” is streaming on Amazon Freevee.
“The Christmas Chronicles” (2018)
Who says they don’t make ’em like they used to? This 2018 Netflix adventure features the venerable Kurt Russell as Santa Claus, bringing all the same charm he brought to films like “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” “Escape From New York,” “Overboard,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” (The man is nothing if not versatile.) Plus, bonus points for taking place in Lowell, Mass.! — PC
How to watch: “The Christmas Chronicles” is streaming on Netflix.
“Christmas in Connecticut” (1945)
The plot of 1945’s “Christmas in Connecticut” is a reflection of the era, when men went to war and women were lionized for keeping the house in order. But there’s still a lot to enjoy about the film in present day, especially the performance of Barbara Stanwyck (“Double Indemnity”) as Elizabeth Lane, a magazine writer whose career is built on the big lie that she is a prodigious chef and decorated homemaker with a farm in Connecticut. When Elizabeth’s publisher sets up a publicity stunt in which a returning war hero gets to visit her farm, Elizabeth does everything she can to keep the lie going. You’ll probably see a dozen iterations of this plot on the Hallmark Channel each year, but none will be anchored by performances as winning as Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan (“My Wild Irish Rose”), who plays the WWII soldier whose fiancée may regret arranging this meet-and-greet. — KS
How to watch: “Christmas in Connecticut” is streaming on HBO Max.
“Die Hard” (1988)
Is “Die Hard” a holiday movie? That’s an argument John McClane has no time to think about as he dispatches terrorists and crawls through the air ducts of Nakitomi Plaza. While other action movies from the time period like “Lethal Weapon” and “Batman Returns” happen to take place during the holidays, John McTiernan’s film is anchored by a protagonist (played by Bruce Willis) whose sole motivation beyond survival is to make it home to his family for Christmas. As a bonus, “Die Hard” features a masterful performance by Hart Bochner as the absolute worst guy at every office holiday party. — KS
How to watch: “Die Hard” is streaming on Starz.
“Elf” was the first sign that Jon Favreau — previously known mainly as one of the guys from “Swingers,” but who went on to make “Iron Man” and “The Mandalorian” — might be pretty good at this directing thing. His tale of Buddy (a perfect Will Ferrell), the human raised by elves who heads out to find his true dad, had the ideal blend of sly humor and holiday cheer, and a flawless cast that featured inspired turns by stalwart professionals like Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, and a brilliant James Caan, along with a star-making cameo from “angry elf” Peter Dinklage. Plus, the world’s best cup of coffee! — PC
How to watch: “Elf” is streaming on HBO Max.
Billed as “a forgotten but wonderful madcap Christmas rom-com” by a Boston.com reader, “Fitzwilly” is a prime Dick Van Dyke performance, coming shortly after the conclusion of his eponymous TV show. The plot strains credulity: Van Dyke plays Claude Fitzwilliam, a butler to heiress Miss Victoria Woodworth, whose wealth is a sham. Unbeknownst to Vicki, her father left her almost nothing, but Claude keeps the illusion alive for her and the rest of the estate staff through an array of schemes. Featuring one of the first film scores by John Williams (listed as “Johnny Williams” in the credits), “Fitzwilly” is carried almost completely by the charm of Van Dyke, who is thankfully one of the most charismatic leading men of his era. — KS
Can “Gremlins” really be considered a holiday film? After all, it frightened legions of young kids who went to theaters expecting a cuddly family film thanks to a deceptive marketing campaign — one that was largely responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating two months later. However you classify it, “Gremlins” is a prime piece of ’80s entertainment, telling the story of a young child whose early Christmas present — a cute mogwai named Gizmo — turns into a horde of horrible gremlins overnight. Joe Dante turns a fun-house mirror back at the audience, hatching gremlins that resemble a grotesque but familiar version of the American id. You’ll never eat after midnight again. — KS
“Home Alone” (1990)
Probably the only movie on this list in which characters are set on fire, electrocuted, impaled, and/or hit in the face by paint cans, director Chris Columbus’s cheery tale of child abandonment remains a holiday staple. And you’ve got to admit it had a great soundtrack, and that Macaulay Culkin was a pretty cute (albeit preternaturally precocious) kid. — PC
How to watch: “Home Alone” is streaming on Disney+.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946)
Yes, it benefited from an extended stay in the public domain that led to this post-war production — which had elicited mostly shrugs upon its initial release — becoming a holiday season stalwart on every channel from PBS to HGTV. But beyond its ubiquity, it’s a heartwarming story that manages (mostly) to steer clear of schmaltz thanks to a sharp script and a stellar cast, from Donna Reed’s ever-plucky Mary Bailey right down to Ward Bond and Frank Faylen as the original Bert and Ernie. And of course national treasure Jimmy Stewart, who made the movie’s frustrated, eventually suicidal, and finally grateful hero George Bailey an everyman for the ages. — PC
How to watch: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is streaming on Prime Video.
It’s a little hard to tell which holiday movies will become classics that families revisit year after year, but if Netflix remains a dominant force in the coming decades, “Klaus” has a pretty good shot. Set in 19th century Norway, the Oscar-nominated animated film is an alternate origin story of Santa Claus than the Saint Nicholas legend. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman, “Rushmore”) is an entitled postman’s son exiled to the remote island of Smeerensburg by his father. There, Jesper finds a reclusive woodmaker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash”), and together the pair hatch a plan to bring joy to the town’s children. With gorgeous visuals and additional voice work from Rashida Jones (“Parks & Recreation”) and Joan Cusack (“School of Rock”), “Klaus” is a worthwhile addition to your Netflix queue this holiday season. — KS
How to watch: “Klaus” is streaming on Netflix.
“Love Actually” (2003)
Regardless of how you feel about its occasionally overbearing sentimentality, “Love Actually” is a film whose cultural impact has remained strong nearly two decades later. At this point, the “To me, you are perfect” scene featuring Andrew Lincoln and Keira Knightley is rom-com shorthand, and the assemblage of talent on hand is unmatched, with memorable performances from Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, and about 20 other (mostly British) actors. When Garry Marshall tried to Americanize the formula with his own trio of forgettable ensemble-driven romcoms built around holidays (“Valentine’s Day, “New Year’s Eve,” “Mother’s Day”), it was the ultimate proof that the magic of “Love Actually” can’t be replicated so easily. — KS
How to watch: “Love Actually” is streaming on Peacock.
“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
It’s a rare movie Santa who’s as clever and downright loveable as Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle. Throw in adorable little Natalie Wood, years before she’d go on to “West Side Story” glory, and the most intrinsic artistic use of the United States Postal Service this side of Newman on “Seinfeld,” and you’ve got a Christmas winner for the ages. — PC
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but with music and Muppets? Sign us up. The first Muppets film following the death of creator Jim Henson, “The Muppets Christmas Carol” offers just enough of the puppets’ trademark irreverent humor while remaining faithful to the Dickens tale. In particular, Michael Caine is masterful as Ebenezer Scrooge, and his cruelty isn’t diminished in the slightest by the fact that he’s dishing out humbugs to Muppets instead of human townsfolk. — KS
How to watch: “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is streaming on Disney+.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
Let’s face it, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is kind of a horrible person. He’s constantly (albeit ineptly) hitting on women who are not his wife, he engages in highway antics that almost get his entire family killed, and at one point he threatens to do untoward things to his snobby neighbor (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus!) using a Christmas tree. And yet, there’s something inspiring about his determination to create a holiday display with 250 strands of lights, or take his boss hostage. — PC
How to watch: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is streaming on HBO Max.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
Stop-motion maestro Henry Selick will happily correct anyone who mistakenly says that Tim Burton directed the 1993 hit “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with Selick recently telling The A.V. Club that Burton was directing two other films at the time and was almost never on set. Nevertheless, much like Halloween and Christmas in the film, Selick’s animation and Burton’s story blend together perfectly, telling the tale of Halloween Town king Jack Skellington, who discovers a portal to Christmas Town and decides to take over Santa’s duties for the holidays. “Nightmare” is the rare film that bridges the gap from October 31 to November 1, doing the job of retailers everywhere who swap out the candy corn and jack-o’-lanterns for candy canes and mistletoe while we sleep. — KS
How to watch: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is streaming on Disney+.
“The Santa Clause” (1994)
You’ve got to admit it’s chucklesome to see Tim Allen gradually transmogrifying into old St. Nick, even though the actual Santa has to suffer a painful and untimely death in order for it to happen. (Did we mention it’s a comedy?) Allen pulls it off, even if this movie has no doubt contributed to the perennial misspelling of Santa’s last name. — PC
How to watch: “The Santa Clause” is streaming on Disney+.
Upon its release in 1988, some critics and audiences found this Dickens adaptation starring Bill Murray to be too mean-spirited. If anything, “Scrooged” was ahead of its time, with Murray playing a TV executive whose loathsomeness went above and beyond the penny-pinching of crotchety old Ebenezer Scrooge. Murray apparently hated making the movie, and director Richard Donner found Murray to be “difficult,” which just might be the combative spirit that makes “Scrooged” what it is. — KS
“White Christmas” (1954)
“White Christmas” shares a lot of DNA with “Holiday Inn,” another 1942 Bing Crosby film centered around the music of Irving Berlin. This time around, Crosby is teamed with Danny Kaye, who go from entertaining their fellow soldiers in Europe on Christmas Eve to hitting it big in showbiz, first as a performing duo and then as producers. Much of the film’s plot is disposable window dressing for the duo’s musical numbers, but when you’ve got Crosby doing his thing and the song “White Christmas” as your centerpiece, do you really need much else? — KS
How to watch: “White Christmas” is streaming on Netflix.
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