My Top 10 Favorite Christmas Movies

Dr. Craig von BuseckBy Dr. Craig von Buseck14 Minutes

‘Tis the season for family gatherings (real or virtual this year!) and for watching favorite Christmas movies. Every year, members of my family enjoy a season of movie watching during the holidays. Here are the picks for my top ten favorite Christmas films — and then a bonus list of great movies that have a Christmas connection. Enjoy!

  1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

In the mid-1980s, legendary animator and storyteller Chuck Jones donated some of his animation equipment to my college. While he was in town, he shared his memories in a special lecture that was open to the public. I’ll never forget attending that lecture with my Mom and Dad. That night he talked about the making of the classic 1966 TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This wonderful story about the true meaning of Christmas was and is a yearly holiday ritual in my family. Who can forget how the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes, granting him “the strength of ten Grinches, plus two!” to lift the sleigh full of the Whos’ stolen Christmas presents to safety. He brings everything back to Whoville and participates in the holiday feast. He is given the honor of carving the Whos’ favorite Christmas dish, a rare roast beast — and his faithful dog, Max, receives the first slice for all his troubles. Watch the trailer.

  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A yearly ritual as I was growing up was to watch the Charlie Brown/Peanuts Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday specials. To this day, the scene where Linus calls for the spotlight and then relays the true meaning of Christmas by quoting Luke 2:8-14 is one of the most powerful moments in television. Charlie Brown’s attempt to remove the materialism that so often surrounds Christmas and his purchase of an almost-barren Christmas tree, is a powerful metaphor for what so many have done to take the meaning out of Christmas. The passage from Luke along with the rebirth of the tiny Christmas tree show us what Christmas is truly all about. Watch the trailer.

  1. White Christmas (1954)

One of the most popular movie musicals of all time, White Christmas tells the tale of two army buddies, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) who become big stars after the war. When they learn their old general is struggling with a ski lodge he has purchased, they try to help him by staging a show. Joined by a sister act comprised of Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen), they put their talent on display for the veterans of the general’s 151st Division. In the finale, Bob and Betty declare their love for one another, as do Phil and Judy. The background of the set is removed to show the snow falling, and Bob, Betty, Phil and Judy perform “White Christmas” while everyone raises a glass, and toasts, “May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white.” Watch the trailer.

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street is a 1947 Christmas comedy-drama film starring Maureen O’Hara (Doris Walker), John Payne (Fred Gailey), Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle), and a young Natalie Wood (Susan Walker). The story takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the effect of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. The skeptics are won over after a court case proves that Kris Kringle is actually the real Santa – further solidified by a gift to little Susan that fulfills her dreams. The film has become a perennial Christmas favorite. Miracle on 34th Street won three Academy Awards and was nominated for Best Picture. In 2005, the film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Watch a clip.

  1. Elf (2003)

On Christmas Eve, a baby boy at an orphanage crawls into Santa Claus’s sack, and is transported back to the North Pole. When the baby is discovered at the workshop, the elves name him Buddy and Papa Elf adopts and raises him. Buddy grows up at the North Pole, believing he is an elf and accepted by the elf community, but due to his human size, he is unable to keep up with the other elves and demoted to the demeaning job of toy testing. Soon, Buddy overhears that he is a human, and Papa Elf explains that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells and given up for adoption. Susan subsequently died, and Walter, who now works as a children’s book publisher at the Empire State Building in New York City, is unaware of Buddy’s existence. To Buddy’s horror, Santa reveals that Walter is on the naughty list due to his selfish and unscrupulous demeanor, but suggests Buddy could help redeem him. Elf is a heartwarming tale that immediately earned a spot on many people’s holiday movie watch lists. Watch the trailer.

  1. A Christmas Story (1983)

My freshman year of college, a bunch of friends invited me to join them in watching a movie with the deceptively boring title, A Christmas Story. From my impression of the title I almost didn’t go with them. But I was instantly glad I did within minutes of the opening credits. From my first viewing of A Christmas Story, I have loved this movie. Part of the reason is that because it was filmed just up the Lake Erie shoreline in Cleveland (from my hometown of Erie, PA), so much of the scenery and events mirror my own childhood. A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark and is based on Jean Shepherd’s semi-fictional books. It stars Melinda Dillon (Mom Parker), Darren McGavin (Dad Parker) and Peter Billingsley (Ralphie). The author, Jean Shepherd, plays the voice of adult Ralphie. In the film the adult Ralphie reminisces on one particular Christmas when he wanted only one thing: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. Ralphie’s desire is rejected by his mother, his teacher Miss Shields, and even a Santa Claus at Higbee’s department store, all giving him the same warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” In 2012, A Christmas Story was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Watch the trailer.


  1. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Every year since my children were little, we have put up the Christmas tree while watching The Muppet Christmas Carol. Adapted from the 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, it stars Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge, alongside Muppet performers Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire, Jerry Nelson, and Frank Oz portraying various roles. Although artistic license is taken to suit the aesthetic of the Muppets, The Muppet Christmas Carol otherwise follows Dickens’s original story closely. Michael Caine’s decision to play the role of Ebenezer Scrooge straight and dramatic provides balance with the fun and humor of the Muppets – something that puts this movie on par, or even superior to other film adaptations of “A Christmas Carol.” Watch the trailer.

  1. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

A unique take on one of Charles Dicken’s most popular tales, “A Christmas Carol,” this movie jumped to near the top of my list when I first watched it in the theaters. While all the necessary parts of the classic holiday story are there, the plot device of interweaving the story with Dickens’ internal struggles to write the novella and deal with the people in his own life make this a delightful instant classic. Under deadline with a massive case of writer’s block, Dickens is desperate to write a successful story after his last three novels bombed. In the process, Dickens has an epiphany that becomes the take away of the beloved book. The always superb Christopher Plummer puts in a brilliant performance as Ebenezer Scrooge – possibly the best I’ve ever seen. Jonathan Pryce is also excellent as Charles Dickens. Watch the trailer.

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by Frank Capra, based on the short story and booklet The Greatest Gift, which Philip Van Doren Stern published in 1943. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams to help others. Although It’s a Wonderful Life initially received mixed reviews and was unsuccessful at the box office, it has become a classic Christmas, and is now considered one of the greatest films of all time. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made. Capra revealed that it was his favorite among the films he directed and that he screened it for his family every Christmas season. In 1990, the film was designated as “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” and added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Watch the trailer.

  1. The Nativity Story (2006)

An authentic telling of the biblical story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, The Nativity Story is also a part of my family’s yearly Christmas traditions. The Nativity Story is a 2006 American biblical drama film based on the nativity of Jesus, directed by Catherine Hardwicke and starring Keisha Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac. The Nativity Story is reported to be the first film to hold its world premiere in Vatican City. The movie realistically portrays the nearly impossible obstacles faced by Mary as she yields to God’s will in her life to carry the Christ-child. It also provides a glimpse into the challenge faced by Joseph and how he obeyed God and gave himself to being a father to the Son of God. My favorite line comes from Joseph, wonderfully played by Oscar Isaac, when he humbly declares, “I wonder if I will be able to teach him anything at all.” This is a moving film that will bring meaning and wonder to your Christmas holiday. Watch the trailer.

Bonus: 10 great movies with a Christmas connection

  1. Home Alone (1990)
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
  3. The Ultimate Gift (2006)
  4. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
  5. Scrooged (1988)
  6. The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
  7. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
  8. Little Women (1994)
  9. Joyeux Noel (2006)
  10. The Santa Clause 2 (2002)

What are your favorite Christmas movies?

Check out the lineup of great Christmas movies on Inspiration TV on Demand!

Photo credits: Flickr / Travis Spencer / Still-of-Will-Ferrell-in-Elf

Flickr / Frankie Leon / PSA: Don’t Try This at Home