10 Christmas Movies and Specials We Can't Live Without Karen Belz

I’m pretty sure the official rules of Christmas state that it’s not officially Christmas until you see a few legendary Christmas specials. Can I use the word Christmas more in a sentence? Let’s find out!

Here are ten of our absolute favorite holiday classics. If your favorite didn’t make the cut, feel free to share it below, and spread some Christmas cheer!

10. Elf

It’s tough to make a Christmas classic these days, but Will Ferrell’s role as Buddy the Elf has become absolutely legendary. Can you believe it came out ten years ago?

The movie focuses around Buddy, a human who grew up among Christmas elves after he sneaked away in Santa’s bag of presents. On a quest to find his real dad, he travels to New York City – where everyone thinks he’s a bit loony. Eventually he falls in love with our girl Zooey Deschanel, who proves – as a blonde – that she can rock any hair color.

9. Gremlins


At first glance, you might not expect to see a movie like Gremlins on the list, but it’s a Christmas favorite with a bit of – well – horror. After Billy Peltzer breaks the three important rules of owning a rare, adorable mogwai named Gizmo, he pretty much endangers his entire town when the mogwais multiply. And get less cute.

8. Frosty the Snowman

This Christmas classic from 1969 gains a new audience every year. It’s a classic for all!

I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends, natural. For it was the first snow of the season. And as any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas.

I didn’t write that (it’s the opening lines from the movie), but I did write this: Frosty has a magical hat that turns him into more of a singing snow-human than an immobile snow-man, and the movie focuses around the evil plots of a greedy magician who’s trying to gain the hat powers for himself.

7. The Nightmare Before Christmas

The best part about 1993′s The Nightmare Before Christmas is that it combines two pretty powerful movie-worthy holidays into one. The film is a stop motion musical fantasy film that was co-written by Tim Burton, and focuses on Jack Skellington, who accidentally opens the portal to Christmas Town and tries his hardest to celebrate this crazy new holiday by nearly destroying it.

I mean – the man is the Pumpkin King, and this is all quite new to him and his fellow Halloween Town residents.

6. Charlie Brown Christmas

Let’s hear it for Charlie Brown Christmas, for being one of the very few Emmy award winning specials that has aired every single year since premiering in 1965. It touches on some serious issues, including the over-commercialization of the holiday and seasonal affective disorder. (I mean, Charlie was pretty bummed out throughout the majority of the special. Then again, there’s a 98% chance I’m reading way too much into it.)

Who can forget the moment when Linus props his blanket around Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree?

5. The Tangerine Bear: Home In Time For Christmas


I have a weird obsession with this movie – and for the life of me, I’m not sure why. After accidentally finding it on Netflix and figuring it might be good for a laugh (since last year’s Christmas selection on Netflix wasn’t quite that strong), I watched it twice. In its entirety. And talked about it at family parties.

The movie is based on a poor stuffed teddy who was accidentally given a frown instead of a smile when he was made, and the malfunction caused him not to be sold that Christmas season. After ending up in a bargain bin, he finds his way through a few scenarios in his hope of finding “home”.

Also, Jonathan Taylor Thomas voices the bear. Bonus!

4. The Muppet Christmas Carol


There’s nothing the Muppets can get wrong, but they really nailed this 1992 version of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. With Kermit playing the lead as Bob Cratchet, a poor book-keeper who works under Ebenezer Scrooge (played by Michael Caine), Scrooge soon learns how his nasty ways truly have had an impact on his community. Co-starring Robin the Frog, as Tiny Tim. (If you’ve ever wanted your heart broken by a small puppet frog with a crutch, look no further.)

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This movie holds up, year after year. Poor Clark Griswold just can’t catch a break when he’s trying to give his family the ultimate perfect Christmas – lights be damned. The movie was written by John Hughes, and based on his short story that was featured in National Lampoon magazine in 1959. Let’s all be thankful that we don’t have Uncle Eddie in our family this season.

2. Garfield Christmas Special


My family taped this off the television, and I’m pretty sure I warped the VHS based on overplay. There’s something about that opening scene where the credits rolled – Garfield sat in a dream chair that dished presents based on your thoughts, and seemed to totally disregard the meaning of Christmas in an adorable way. (I mean, he gets a pass – he’s Garfield!)

By the end, you might be crying. It wraps up in such a positive and heartwarming way. I honestly can’t go a Christmas without watching it.

1. The Grinch

First, it should be noted that I mean the original cartoon, and not the Jim Carrey live action version. I saw that version in theaters, and it was the worst day of my life.

Who doesn’t love this little recluse? The Grinch goes through a massive life change in the 15 minutes we see him, by realizing that attempting to sabotage the holiday for the Whos’ down in Whoville didn’t ruin their spirits. It wasn’t just about the gifts that were stolen – it was about much more than that.

Very Honorable Mention: Home Alone

I didn’t forget you, Kevin McCallister. But “Top 11 List” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Congratulations for being in a movie so big, that I couldn’t even sit together with my family of four when it was in theaters. But trust me: Every time I get a large cheese pizza, or buy a toothbrush, I think of you.

Will you be watching any of the top ten this season?

Image Credits: AvClub (Gizmo), Listal (Garfield), Blu-Ray (Kermit), Phoenix New Times (featured) DailyMotion (Tangerine Bear)


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  1. I’m sorry, but the live action Grinch is in my top 10 favorite movies ever… judge all you want! nothing beats the original, but don’t talk down my love of Jim Carrey and pre fish-net & smokey-eyed Taylor Momsen!!

  2. What about A Christmas Story?!?!

  3. Bit of a UK thing maybe, but Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a must for me! Also, Belle’s Enchanted Christmas (Disney Beauty and the Beast spin-off), Love Actually, the version of A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart and Richard E. Grant, and after recently seeing it, I think Arthur Christmas will become one to watch over and over, if only for Bill Nighy’s Grand-Santa :-) Oh and Miracle on 34th Street. Can’t leave that out!

  4. Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas is my fave.

    I always love watching Whit Stillman’s “Metropolitan” at Christmas along with “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) starring Jimmy Stewart & Margaret Sullivan and
    “Holiday Affair” with a charming and surprisingly sweet Robert Mitchum who falls for a war widow (Janet Leigh) raising her son (1949)

    Freddy the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner (1981) aired on HBO starring Red Skelton, Vincent Price & Imogene Coca (available on YouTube)

    I have to disagree with Gremlins – I remember keeping my brother from watching this one because in the film Phoebe Cates dad dies by getting stuck in the chimney pretending to be Santa. Pretty grim.

  5. Pretty good list but I agree with the other commenters that A Christmas Story should be included. Also, if you have not seen Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas you really need to remedy that. It’s basically claymation music videos for your favorite carols; the California Raisins do an awesome version of Rudolph. It’s definitely a classic.

  6. One minor correction: National Lampoon magazine was founded in 1970, so John Hughes’ short story couldn’t have been published in 1959. His story was titled “Christmas ’59,” which was published in National Lampoon’s December 1980 issue. It was the follow-up to “Vacation ’58,” which was the inspiration for “National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

    Great article, by the way. I had forgotten how poetic the opening of “Frosty the Snowman” was :)

  7. Does anyone A Muppet Family Christmas? It’s from like ’85, and they go visit Fozzie Bear’s mom and meet the Fraggles. I am STILL obsessed with it. I found it on Amazon, but the seller sold me a scratched copy (sad forever).

  8. What about Home Alone? Classic! ^^

  9. What about Home alone? Classic! (:

  10. A Christmas Story!

  11. you missed rudolph but also WHITE CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!! that should be in every christmas movie list. Or Miracle on 34th St ! a young Natalie Wood? its a must.

  12. Love, Actually :)

  13. I don’t care for Will Ferrell even a little bit, but since Zooey Deschanel is in it maybe I’ll get a bit drunk and then watch it. I might try The Nightmare Before Christmas and I saw Frosty when it first came out, I think.

    I just saw The Flight Before Christmas. I liked that one.

  14. For me it`s not Xmas without Die Hard & The Doctor Who Xmas Special.

  15. Elf rules! Blonde Zooey gives the movie a lot of heart.

  16. what the fudge? I expected “A Christmas Story” to be number one.. SMH -.-

  17. Great list chock FULL of Christmas essential goodness…
    For me, personally, my essentials are “Garfield” (absolutely applauded the day they finally released it on DVD cuz it hadn’t shown on cable in 10 yrs), “Charlie Brown” and a “Home Alone” movie…. and “Rudolph”… how is Rudolph not on this list? :-P

    back in the day, we had a recorded VHS full of Christmas specials, which included Muppet Family Christmas, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Rudolph, Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas and Claymotion’s Christmas… hello nostalgia 8-)


  19. The Year Without a Santa Claus is the only holiday movie I watch consistently every year.

  20. The Ref with Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary, The Holiday, A Christmas Story. If you’re an MST3K fan like me than you can’t beat Santa Conquers the Martians. :)