Readers Share Their Favorite Holiday and Christmas Movies

Readers Share Their Favorite Holiday and Christmas Movies

When it comes to Christmas and holiday movies, the best ones aren’t necessarily new. In fact, it’s the universal themes of redemption and gratitude, presented in Charles Dickens’s 1843 novel, “A Christmas Carol,” that resonated most with you.

Nearly 3,000 New York Times readers responded to our callout asking for the best holiday film recommendations. The 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” (titled “Scrooge” in Britain) starring Alastair Sim as the quintessential main character was most frequently cited among the dozens of adaptations out there. Others included children’s versions “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) and “Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol” (1962) and variations starring Patrick Stewart (1999), Reginald Owen (1938) and Ryan Reynolds, in “Spirited” (2022). There’s also “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (2017), which tells the tale of Dickens’s creation of the classic story.

“A Christmas Carol” also aligns closely with Philip Van Doren Stern’s story “The Greatest Gift,” which itself inspired “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946), your second-most mentioned film. Then there’s “The Family Man” (2000), starring Nicolas Cage as a modern-day version of George Bailey that brought tears to many of your eyes.

Other top picks included “A Christmas Story” (1983), “Love Actually” (2003), “White Christmas” (1954), “Elf” (2003), “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), “Die Hard” (1988), “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947), “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989), “Home Alone” (1999) and “The Family Stone” (2005).

You had us streaming more unusual recommendations including “The Ref” (1994), starring Denis Leary as a cat burglar dealing with a dysfunctional family; the Finnish horror comedy “Rare Exports” (2010), about the unearthing of the real Santa Claus; “Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas” (1977) from Jim Henson; and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” (1987), based on the prose of Dylan Thomas.

Here’s a look at some of the themes that emerged from your responses.

Donna L. Potts of Pullman, Wash., on “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

I first saw it after my dad took his own life before Christmas. He was every bit as kind and generous as George Bailey, and the movie has always reminded me of the ending he should have had.

Barbara Miner of Queensbury, N.Y., on “The Family Stone”:

I had seen this before, recommending it to my two sisters. The three of us, all adults well into our 40s, sat down to watch it one cold December evening about a year after our mother had died. Experiencing the movie’s ending with my siblings wordlessly added to our healing process. We sat in silence for several minutes, grieving, yet hopeful for the future.

Gregory E. Howard of Vancouver, Wash., on “A Christmas Carol” (1951):

I was delighted to discover that my late wife was as enchanted with the movie as much as I was (and am). We watched it every Christmas Eve for 19 years, until cancer took her. She’s been gone a decade now, but I still watch it on the same day with her spirit beside me.

Janice Robinson of Riverview, New Brunswick, on “A Christmas Story”:

It wasn’t Christmas without this movie. Even when our daughters were too old to watch movies with their dad and I, we would watch this together and howl laughing. The narration is superb and actually makes the movie. We all remember school bullies, and school rules that are portrayed to perfection. And the love of family rings so true throughout the movie, during Christmas and the entire year. The main character looked like my husband when he was a little boy, glasses and all. My husband passed away in 2022 of cancer, and I haven’t been able to watch it again, yet I know I will eventually.

Melanie Thompson Mette of Oakland, Calif., on “A Christmas Story,” “Elf” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”:

The holidays would not be complete without watching all three of these movies at least once. They never get old and even now that our kids are in college, we all gather around to watch them together with a fire in the fireplace. We sing along to the Grinch and can recite most of the lines in “Elf” and “A Christmas Story.” Can’t wait to watch them again this year!

Barbara Gross of Wellesley, Mass., on “It’s a Wonderful Life”:

We’ve been watching this movie every year since our daughters were little, and now they’re parents with their own kids. Whole sections of the script have been committed to memory by now, and we always, always cry at the end.

Hannah Adams of Royal Oak, Mich., on “Love Actually”:

I first saw it when I was a teenager, only a few years after it came out. Though it has now become a popular movie to hate, I have never stopped loving it. It’s perpetually quotable (“I hate Uncle Jamie!” and “Wisconsin babes!” are two of my most-used lines, but Emma Thompson’s iconic “There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?!” comes up surprisingly often). I love that there are many different kinds of love portrayed, and that not all the love stories work out.

Elizabeth Greenberg of New York City on “Meet Me in St. Louis”:

My family watches this movie every year at Christmastime (and sometimes during the year). Our favorite tradition is saying the lines along with the characters and “guessing” what will happen next. We never get tired of this game or our favorite quotes.

Dee Pinnix of Westchester, N.Y., on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”:

It is my husband’s favorite movie and now it has turned into the family’s holiday staple. We quote the movie endlessly and laugh as the poor cat gets electrocuted.

Cecilia Vidal of Brooklyn on “La Guagua Aérea”:

My family and I always watch “La Guagua Aérea,” (1993) a Puerto Rican Christmas movie directed by Luis Molina Casanova and based on a short story by Luis Rafael Sánchez. It takes place in the early 1960s on a flight from San Juan to New York during the holiday season and tells the bittersweet stories of why each passenger is leaving Puerto Rico for New York.

James Donovan of Dallas on “The Family Man”:

My grown daughter, Rachel, and I have watched this criminally underrated variation on “It’s a Wonderful Life” every Christmas for the last 20 years — since she was 7. Nicolas Cage has never been better, and the rest of the cast is excellent. The writing is pitch-perfect, and it’s funny and touching — heartwarming in the best sense. I defy anyone with a heart to keep it from melting when Cage’s 5-year-old watches his pathetic attempt to change her little brother’s diaper and says, “You’re not really my dad, are you?”

Richard Pruitt of New York City on “The Santa Clause”:

To be honest, this is not my favorite holiday movie, but it is dearest to my heart. In 1994 I was working out of town and wouldn’t be home for Christmas. My two young sons (7 and 3 at the time) came out to spend a few days with me before the holiday. The three of us went to the movies and enjoyed “The Santa Clause.” We laughed a lot, then went out for a festive after-movie meal and laughed some more. So now I watch it every year, sometimes with one or both of my big, fully grown sons. I laugh again, and I cry a little, and mostly I just remember.

Amy Crossman of New York City on “Love Actually”:

I saw ”Love Actually” in theaters with my parents when I was 11, which was a slightly inappropriate age to see it (I remember my mother trying to cover my eyes at moments). It hasn’t aged perfectly, but perhaps my favorite holiday tradition is putting it on despite the complaints of my father and watching him slowly get invested. He cackles at everything Bill Nighy does and marvels at the scene where Emma Thompson quietly listens to Joni Mitchell. Watching it with my family reminds me — perhaps more than the film itself — that love is, actually, all around.

Mary Jane Fine of Mystic, Conn., on “White Christmas”:

Fifteen or so years ago, a good friend and I were watching “White Christmas” in my living room. It was a fraught time for me, as I was contemplating a divorce after 30 years of marriage, and my husband had just stomped upstairs, leaving me and my friend alone with Bing and Danny and Rosemary and Vera. The onscreen romances must’ve been the prompt. My friend turned to me, leaned in and planted a kiss — our first — on my lips. We’ve been married, happily so, for 14 years now. And we’ve watched “White Christmas” every one of those years.

Jennifer Gregory of Haddon Township, N.J., on “While You Were Sleeping”:

My favorite movies are about friendships and, although the romance between Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman is adorable, at its heart, “While You Were Sleeping” is about the inclusiveness of Bill Pullman’s family and how they fill the hole in Sandra Bullock better than romance ever can. This film literally helped shape how I raised my children, how I welcomed their friends into our home, and how this introvert fostered a “more the merrier” view.

Kate Hagner of White River Junction, Vt., on “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”:

During the period of Covid-19 isolation, I was also adjusting to being recently separated from my husband, and my children and I watched the “Frozen” movies almost weekly. This simple and silly movie became one of our favorites at Christmas. In addition to having some great lines, the song “When We’re Together” resonated with my experience of trying to find joy at home with my kids during that difficult period: “When we’re together, it’s a holiday every night.”

Vicky Schippers of Brooklyn on “Love Actually” and “White Christmas”:

“White Christmas,” filmed in the 1950s, has the same thin plotline as “Love Actually,” but the gorgeous songs of Irving Berlin and sublime singing and dancing by its stars. However, its message is the same and I suppose eternal for any holiday movie. Love matters.

Jake Fejedelem of Olivia, Minn., on “Die Hard”:

Ever since we got married (15 years!) my wife and I go to bed on Christmas Eve around 9:30 and watch “Die Hard.” Even though we’ve seen it dozens of times, we still enjoy it.

Erin Tapken of Marion, Iowa, on “The Ref”:

It might not seem like the typical holiday movie, but “The Ref” has all the trimmings that you could want. Start with a theft/heist in a small town, bumbling law enforcement, a couple with a strained marriage who can come together as a unified force when necessary, a bitter and overbearing Christine Baranski, who shines, and Denis Leary wrangling them all together in his most Leary-est. This is the movie I wrap presents to, if only for the constant reminder that no matter how bad I think my holidays could be, at least I’m not stuck in the house with the Chasseurs!

Ryan Deemer of Roswell, Ga., on “The Deer Hunter”:

While initially it may seem a strange and nonsuitable selection, the core of this film centers on friends and family and the struggles to hold this unit together through happiness and loss. It’s a powerful statement that reminds us to think and care about others.

Emily Dodson of San Francisco on “Miracle on 34th Street”:

I have spent many adult Decembers feeling rather blah, and I never believed in Santa Claus. And yet I love this movie. It’s a story that never gets old, and the subtle humor gets me every time. I identify with the no-nonsense characters who have zero interest in believing — and yet the “proof” of Kriss Kringle is undeniable.

Marshall Lancaster of Clemmons, N.C., on “The Ref”:

This movie saved my house from turning into something from the Hallmark Channel. What a relief.

Jonathan J. Margolis of Brookline, Mass., on “Miracle on 34th Street”:

I’m Jewish, but when I watch “Miracle on 34th Street,” I believe in Santa Claus.

Laurie MacKenzie-Crane of Granville, Ohio, on “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”:

I still watch this 1987 film with my son nearly every Christmas, and now he’s 33! The faithful representation of Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same name is remarkable — every word is there, every scene wonderfully tailored to the verse.

Rich Farr of West Hartford, Conn., on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn”:

It’s not a traditional “Christmas movie,” but there is a Christmas scene, and the overall story is just so much more, um, Christmas-y, than, say, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Trust me. It’s one of the best films of all time. Watch it. As a “Christmas movie.”

Michael Scott Ryan of Dutchess County, N.Y., on “The Dead”:

The late-year holidays tend to make me consider what I’ve lost, with the absence mitigated by busy traditions and the honest cheer found in the company of others. The celebration depicted in this film provides insight about the catharsis of tradition, and how it changes us when provoked.

Shivani Gonzalez contributed reporting.