From Yuletide classics to recent favorites, these are festive films the whole family can get behind.
We're making a list and checking it twice, counting down all of the best entries for your family's Christmas viewing pleasure. Whether they're in the mood for silly comedies, heartwarming romances, or traditional animated favorites, there are lots of films and holiday specials for your little ones to enjoy. Here are the 30 best Christmas movies for kids to ring in the season.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
It's time to get Christmas started with a most sensational, inspirational, Muppet-filled adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. In this feature-length musical, Michael Caine takes the lead role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the grasping old miser who needs a night full of visiting spirits to help him develop a capacity for friendship and joy. The familiar Muppet characters enliven the sometimes gloomy story — especially Gonzo and Rizzo, who act as squabbling narrators. Kermit and Miss Piggy are paired as Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit, with little Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim. The film is a perfect mix of jokes, scares, songs, and sentiment.
Director: Brian Henson
In this hilarious Christmas comedy, Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a misplaced boy who grew up at the North Pole as one of Santa's elves. Buddy feels out of place in the workshop as a fully-grown adult who's terrible at making toys — and when he learns that he's actually human, he travels to New York City to find the father who gave him up for adoption. Buddy's sugar-sweet demeanor clashes with the real world to great comic effect. Classic scenes include a wild snowball fight and a mad scramble when Buddy angrily unmasks a department store Santa Claus.
Director: Jon Favreau
Related content: Jon Favreau says he's not interested in making an Elf sequel
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)
The stop-motion animation wizards at Rankin/Bass Productions contribute several Christmas specials to this list, and Rudolph is the most special of all. A little reindeer is bullied and excluded for having a glowing red nose, but he finds a friend in another outcast: Hermey the Elf, who left Santa's workshop to become a dentist. The pair's struggle to be accepted as they are is just as timely now as it was in the 1960s, and their trip to the Island of Misfit Toys is unforgettable. It's a nostalgic treat for parents to share with a new generation.
Director: Larry Roemer
Cast: Burl Ives, Billie Mae Richards, Paul Soles
Related content: 3 things that make Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer so special
“It's a Wonderful Life” (1946)
This vintage Christmastime fable highlights how important each person can be to their family, friends, and community. George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) is stuck in a small town with a failing business wishing that he had never been born, and Clarence (Henry Travers), his guardian angel, is eager to earn his wings by helping George appreciate how many lives he's touched. This bittersweet movie digs deep into the joys of young love, the responsibilities of adulthood, and the effort it takes to remain honest in an unkind world. The triumphant finale, when George discovers his true worth, is a guaranteed heartwarmer.
Director: Frank Capra
“The Santa Clause” (1994)
It's the night before Christmas, and Santa's annual trip is interrupted when he accidentally falls off an icy roof. Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), a divorced dad who owns the roof in question, finds himself stuck with the job of delivering the remaining presents. Scott and his son Charlie visit the North Pole, where he's informed by the elves that he has a year to become the new Santa Claus. A reluctant Scott gradually takes on the appearance and powers of the legendary figure, but when his custody arrangement is threatened, he has to heal the rifts in his broken family as well.
Director: John Pasquin
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)
This classic story from beloved children's author Dr. Seuss is brought to life with hilarious animation by Warner Brothers director Chuck Jones. In this special, the Grinch, a holiday-hating supervillain with a heart two sizes too small, is determined to stamp out the cheery festivities in the nearby town of Whoville. Disguising himself as a felonious Santa, the Grinch grabs presents, decorations, and the Christmas feast, leaving the Whos with nothing to celebrate but each other. Kids will love the catchy song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and the furious, infectious joy the scoundrel takes in spoiling everyone's holiday season.
Director: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
Cast: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft
“A Christmas Story” (1983)
A Christmas Story is a collection of vignettes about 9-year-old Ralphie and his family as they approach the holidays in the early 1940s, experiencing the dreams and disasters of the season. All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, but his mother, his teacher, and even the department store Santa tell him, "You'll shoot your eye out!" The film also includes a pink bunny pajama suit, a secret decoder ring, a triple-dog-dare to lick an icy cold flagpole, and the iconic "leg lamp".
Director: Bob Clark
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“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
The first-ever Peanuts special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, turns seasonal depression into heartfelt comedy. As the Christmas season nears, Charlie Brown is worried that the holiday is getting too commercial, encouraging kids to think about nothing but presents, parties, and pink aluminum trees. He's supposed to be the director of the school's nativity pageant, but nobody pays him any attention, and the kids all laugh at the scrawny tree he picks out. A seasonal staple, Linus' show-stopping speech about the true meaning of Christmas remains the gold standard for holiday special sincerity.
Director: Bill Melendez
Cast: Peter Robbins, Christopher Shea, Kathy Steinberg
“The Christmas Chronicles” (2018)
In this Netflix original movie, a brother and sister are determined to catch Santa Claus on camera and end up hitching a ride on his sleigh. Surprised by the stowaways, Santa loses control of his ride and ends up separated from his reindeer, his magic hat, and his sack of toys. Old Saint Nick and the kids need to get Christmas back on track, and their quest takes them through the night-time streets of Chicago in an endearingly down-to-earth adventure. Kurt Russell plays Kris Kringle as a gruff but lovable uncle who just happens to know what everyone is secretly wishing for.
Director: Clay Kaytis
Cast: Kurt Russell, Judah Lewis, Darby Camp
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” (2020)
Magical inventions abound in Jingle Jangle, a steampunk adventure with original songs by John Legend. Genius toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) is robbed of his prized creation and his notebook of ideas, causing both his family and his business to fall apart. Decades later, Jeronicus has lost his creative spark, but his precocious granddaughter Journey can help him to complete his most brilliant achievement — if she can convince him to believe in himself again. The film is a visual feast, featuring sumptuous costumes, a cute robot, and enormous musical numbers with inventive, enthusiastic choreography.
Director: David E. Talbert
“Home Alone” (1990)
If your family has watched enough treacly sentimental Christmas movies, Home Alone provides slapstick destruction instead. 8-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left behind when his family goes on a Christmas vacation to Paris, which seems like a wonderful opportunity to do whatever he wants — until his suburban home is besieged by a pair of bumbling housebreakers and he has to set a series of homespun booby traps to defeat them. Watching a bad guy fall down the icy stairs or get smacked in the face with a paint can may not sound in line with the Christmas spirit, but seasonal joy comes in many flavors.
Director: Chris Columbus
Related content: Home Alone cast: Where are they now?
“Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas” (1977)
This gentle Christmas classic from Jim Henson's Muppets features adorable woodland animal characters, a sweet story, and rousing tunes by songwriter Paul Williams. Young Emmet Otter and his widowed mother live a simple life by the riverbank, where they dream of giving each other something special for Christmas. They each sacrifice something for the chance to enter a town talent contest, where they compete against the electric mayhem of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band. Clever puppetry tricks and detailed miniature sets give this special a timeless charm that will never fade.
Director: Jim Henson
Cast: Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Marilyn Sokol
“The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974)
It's time to save Christmas again in this stop-motion favorite about the terrible year when Santa Claus decides he'd rather sleep in than get up and do his job. Knowing that children around the world will be disappointed if they don't receive a visit from Santa this year, Mrs. Claus sends the sprites Jingle and Jangle out into the world to prove that people still believe in the jolly old man. The songs are the main event in this special, especially the musical numbers sung by the temperature twins, Heat Miser and Cold Miser.
Director: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Cast: Shirley Booth, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving
Santa's origin story begins in the world's unhappiest town in this Netflix movie that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Jesper (Jason Schwartzman), the laziest postal carrier at the academy, is sent to Smeerensburg, a miserable village locked in an ancient family feud. Desperate to drum up some postal business, Jesper invents a tradition: If children write to the large bearded woodsman living on the edge of town, he'll deliver a handmade toy. As one selfless act sparks another, Mr. Klaus (J.K. Simmons) discovers that he can awaken the soul of Smeerensburg — although some villagers are determined to hang on to their feuding ways.
Director: Sergio Pablos
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones
“The Princess Switch” (2018)
Vanessa Hudgens plays a dual role in this yuletide romantic comedy about a baker from Chicago who switches places with a lookalike duchess from a fictional European country. Naturally, Stacy falls for Lady Margaret's royal fiancee, while Lady M takes a shine to Stacy's handsome business partner. As usual in a Christmas rom-com, your family should expect the expected, but Hudgens' effortless charisma and comic timing make this double act a delightful installment in the love-conquers-all genre.
Director: Mike Rohl
Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar
“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
The eternal question of Santa Claus' existence is taken to court in this merry black-and-white chestnut. The man hired by Macy's to be their department store Santa assures everyone that he really is the genuine Kris Kringle, and he wants to see if he can still spread "the Christmas frame of mind" in the middle of modern Manhattan. He ends up committed to a mental institution, but his friends are determined to set him free — if they can prove to a judge that he's the real Santa.
Director: George Seaton
Cast: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn
“Prep and Landing” (2009)
If you think Christmas magic just happens on its own, the animated special Prep and Landing is an eye-opener. It turns out the elves run a high-tech command center, complete with amusing call signs and complicated checklists. Wayne, an elf who's been passed over for promotion this year, decides to take it easy during a prep mission, which turns into a disaster that could threaten the entire Christmas Eve operation. Cute character design and a witty script make this sub-half-hour Disney special a fast-paced treat for a cozy Christmas movie night.
Director: Kevin Deters
Cast: Dave Foley, Derek Richardson, Sarah Chalke
“Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas” (2021)
Aardman Animation, the claymation studio behind Wallace and Gromit, brings Christmas to the farm in this half-hour Shaun the Sheep special. Little lamb Timmy stows away on the farmer's truck to the local Christmas Eve festival, and it's up to Shaun to bring him safely back to the farm. Wrapped up like a present, Timmy is accidentally given away to an energetic little girl, and the sheep have to flock together for a night-time caper to get the little guy home. The special is full of Aardman's trademark visual ingenuity, featuring loony inventions and surprising disguises.
Director: Steve Cox
Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Laura Aikman
“A Boy Called Christmas” (2021)
In this Santa Claus origin story, a Finnish boy named Nikolas embarks on a quest through the dangerous frozen north to find the mythical land of Elfhelm and bring a sign of hope back to his magic-deficient homeland. Along with his companions — a talking mouse and a reindeer named Blitzen — Nikolas manages to locate the enchanted village and befriend the resident elves. Returning to his kingdom with a sackful of wooden toys, the boy inspires a new annual tradition. It's easy to see where this story is heading, but the film is enlivened by a comedian-heavy cast including Kristen Wiig, Stephen Merchant, and Jim Broadbent.
Director: Gil Kenan
Cast: Henry Lawfull, Sally Hawkins, Maggie Smith, Kristen Wiig, Stephen Merchant, Jim Broadbent
“Frosty the Snowman” (1969)
Thumpity-thump-thump! A chilly creation comes to life in this charming cartoon about magic and meteorology. When a group of kids put an enchanted hat on their snowman's head, Frosty discovers that he can walk, talk, sing, and tell jokes… but he won't last long once the temperature rises. Frosty's two friends — a girl named Karen and a rabbit named Hocus Pocus — have to usher their wintertime pal up to the North Pole before he melts away. With a wicked magician literally hot on their heels, it's a problem that can only be resolved with the intervention of Santa Claus.
Director: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Cast: Jimmy Durante, Billy De Wolfe, Jackie Vernon, Paul Frees, June Foray
Related content: Frosty the Snowman turns 40
“Christmas Eve on Sesame Street” (1978)
In the Sesame Street gang's first Christmas special, Oscar the Grouch teases Big Bird by asking him how big ol’ Santa Claus can squeeze down the chimney to deliver everybody's presents — and suggests that if the eight-foot canary can't figure it out, then maybe Santa won't come this year! Meanwhile, Bert and Ernie both make a sacrifice to buy each other the perfect Christmas present in a Gift of the Magi-themed storyline, and Cookie Monster finds that it's hard to write to Santa Claus when he eats his typewriter before he can finish the letter.
Director: Jon Stone
Cast: Caroll Spinney, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson, Jim Henson
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
This musical holiday mash-up qualifies as both a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie, and luckily, it's good enough to watch twice a year. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, is bored with all of his realm's usual scares. He finds inspiration in the neighboring land of Christmas Town, where he discovers mysterious phenomena like snow, carols, and flying reindeer. Fascinated, Jack decides to become the new "Sandy Claws" and deliver his own brand of macabre gifts to the world's children. Inventive stop-motion visuals make this a seasonal treat, no matter the season.
Director: Henry Selick
It's a star turn for Anna Kendrick in this Disney+ Christmas comedy. When the latest Santa Claus dies, the job of delivering presents falls to his eldest son, Nick (Bill Hader), who is spectacularly bad at sliding down chimneys and remembering who's naughty and nice. When an overwhelmed Nick leaves the North Pole for a weekend and doesn't return, it's up to his sister Noelle to track him down in Phoenix, Ariz., and bring him back in time for the holiday. It's a decidedly modern take on tradition, with Noelle discovering that a female Santa is the best person for the job.
Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Kingsley Ben-Adir
“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
If your family is looking for a little holiday-themed mayhem, Jingle All the Way offers comical action sequences based on an all-too-familiar Christmas challenge. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Howard, a dad who's made the unwise promise to deliver the season's hottest toy to his son on Christmas Eve after every store has already sold out. Frustrated in his quest, Howard develops an unhealthy rivalry with another dad (Sinbad), who's made the same promise to his own child. Holiday traditions are mined for chaotic comedy, but ultimately, the movie is most concerned with repairing Howard's relationship with his son.
Director: Brian Levant
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman
Related content: Jingle All the Way cast: Where are they now?
“March of the Wooden Soldiers” (1934)
March of the Wooden Soldiers is the oldest film on this list — and one of the sweetest. Comedy legends Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play bumbling toymaker apprentices who live in Toyland, a world populated by storybook characters. The plot involves an unpaid mortgage for the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe, who faces eviction unless she allows Silas Barnaby, the meanest man in Toyland, to marry her daughter Bo Peep. When a thwarted Barnaby threatens to unleash a gang of evil bogeymen on the town, Stan and Ollie restore order with a squadron of six-foot-high wooden soldiers, leading to fairy-tale endings for everyone.
Director: Gus Meins, Charles Rogers
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry
“Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town” (1970)
Another stop-motion masterpiece from Rankin/Bass, Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town tells the story of how the man in the red suit became a legend. An orphaned child from the gloomy village of Sombertown is adopted by a family of toy-making elves who name him Kris Kringle. Years later, the leader of Sombertown — a cranky old tyrant with the delicious name of Burgermeister Meisterburger — trips on a toy duck and decides to ban all playthings. The story manages to explain the beard, the flying reindeer, the North Pole workshop, and the annual tradition of gift-giving at Christmas.
Director: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
Cast: Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn
“Mickey's Christmas Carol” (1983)
Clocking in at just half an hour, Mickey's Christmas Carol is a kid-friendly version of the famous Dickens tale, chock full of their favorite characters. This adaptation has pitch-perfect casting, with Uncle Scrooge as the money-minded Ebenezer, Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit, Donald Duck as Scrooge's spendthrift nephew, and ghosts played by Goofy, Jiminy Cricket, and the big bad Pete. The film sprints through the story at a record clip but manages to hit all the important moments and memorable images. (Keep an eye out for fun cameos featuring more faces from Disney's golden age!)
Director: Burny Mattinson
Cast: Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Hal Smith
“The Polar Express” (2004)
Tom Hanks plays five roles in this wintry epic, which was made exclusively through motion-capture animation. A young boy who's almost too old to believe in Santa Claus is awakened on Christmas Eve by the arrival of an enormous steam locomotive pulling up outside his house, ready to take him to the North Pole. He boards the train for a magical adventure with new friends through a treacherous snowbound landscape, all the way to Santa's workshop. The art style is hauntingly beautiful, and where else can you see a fleet of tap-dancing waiters performing a catchy musical number about hot chocolate?
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Daryl Sabara, Nona Gaye
Related content: Next stop: The best train movies
“Arthur Christmas” (2011)
In this clever animated comedy, the Claus family has modernized the Christmas Eve delivery protocol, distributing toys around the world thanks to a battalion of elves using high-tech spy equipment, including a gigantic metal sleigh-ship that resembles a merry MCU helicarrier. The current Santa's younger son Arthur (James McAvoy) is a hapless lad, decidedly not next in line to take the reins in the family business. But Arthur's the one who really believes in the holiday, and when he discovers that an otherwise successful present drop has missed one little girl's gift, he demonstrates the real spirit of Christmas to his jaded family.
Director: Sarah Smith
“Dr. Seuss' The Grinch” (2018)
This computer-animated update to the 1966 special boasts an all-star cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of the Grinch and Pharrell Williams as the story's narrator. Expanding the special's run-time to feature length gives the film the space to explore the Grinch's grumpy personality, adding delightful character moments and sly sight gags. The Whos of Whoville also get the chance to shine, with a strong subplot for Cindy Lou Who's overworked single mother (Rashida Jones). The Grinch is entertaining for kids at any age, all the way up to the grouchiest of adults.
Director: Scott Mosier, Yarrow Cheney
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury
Related content: Benedict Cumberbatch admits what makes him Grinch-y
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.