The Ultimate Christmas Movie Guide To Help You Find The One That Embodies Your Holiday Spirit

The “Christmas movie” label doesn’t actually say all that much about the work of cinema to which it applies. When you're trying to find the right Christmas movie for you, you can be held up by the fact that these holiday films come in all shapes and sizes, spanning comedy and drama, live action or animation, targeting audiences young and old. They may tell the stories of Santa Claus, Rudolph, Jack Frost, or the Grinch, or perhaps your average American family struggling to stick together despite bitter cold and stark commercialism. They can teach wholesome lessons about love and friendship or vie for gory horror, sinister satire, or explosion-heavy action.

A Christmas film might set its tale in the North Pole, the suburbs of the Midwest, a New York City skyscraper, or the planet Mars. Its plot could involve fantastical adventures, existential crises, or screwball home invasions. And its star may take form as Jimmy Stewart, Barbara Stanwyck, Tim Allen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Kermit the Frog. There are so many different kinds of Christmas movies that it can be tough, especially considering the ubiquity of the breed’s basic cable broadcast during the holiday season, to pick and choose which ones suit your personal tastes for yuletide viewing.

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide to the many members of the Christmas movie canon may be of some service…

1. Miracle on 34th Street

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; debates about the value of faith; the menace of American commercialism.

Yuletide lesson: Sometimes, that delusional holiday freelancer is actually a magical demigod of Western lore.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Disillusioned divorcees; conniving attorneys; Dutch children.

2. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Christmas checklist: Rudolph; toy-making elves; singing snowmen; a hearty endorsement of believing in yourself.

Yuletide lesson: Follow your dreams. Your mediocre, dentally-inclined dreams.

Perfect holiday viewing for: The nasally self-conscious; prospectors; anyone excited for Anomalisa.

3. It's a Wonderful Life

Christmas checklist: Angels; the menace of American capitalism; Seasonal Affective Disorder; manipulation of the space-time continuum.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t become a banker.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Chaos theorists; anyone who can’t find the remote at any point after Thanksgiving; my dad.

4. A Christmas Story

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; the menace of American consumerism; idealization of post-War society.

Yuletide lesson: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid. (It’s a metaphor.)

Perfect holiday viewing for: Gun activists in desperate need of some perspective.

5. Frosty the Snowman

Christmas checklist: Singing snowmen; magic; Santa Claus.

Yuletide lesson: Mortality looms for us all.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Haberdashers; anyone worried about the threat of Global Warming; people who hate magicians.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Christmas checklist: Decorative trees; pageants; Bible passages.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t judge a tree by its trunk.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Hapless losers who never give up.

7. Home Alone

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; the bounties of American consumerism; surprise visitors.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t worry about your children — they can handle themselves in a bind.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Latchkey kids; burglars who want to keep one step ahead of the latest home security advancements; Pizza Underground fans curious about where the band’s frontman got his start.

8. Babes in Toyland

Christmas checklist: Toys; babes; the menace of American capitalism; lands.

Yuletide lesson: If you’re in a dead-end relationship, employ a pair of slapsticky vaudevillians to bust up your wedding.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone stuck at his or her grandma’s house for the weekend and armed with only a select few options on VHS. (But don’t fret, it’s actually pretty entertaining.)

9. Love Actually

Christmas checklist: Love; holiday albums; deleted sequences about guardian angels.

Yuletide lesson: It’s perfectly acceptable to put the moves on your newlywed best friend’s spouse — and right under your pal’s nose, no less — as long as it is done in the absolute creepiest fashion imaginable.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Loners; lovers; liars; lechers; losers; livers; Liams; the think-piece generation.

10. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus and reindeer costumes; surprise visitors; romanticization of the working class; propagation of the merits of generosity.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t be a jerk.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone whose heart is in need of growing a size or two.

11. Die Hard

Christmas checklist: Holiday parties; alcohol; plots to take over the world (as if you haven’t entertained such thoughts in the midst of a few Christmas dinners?).

Yuletide lesson: Don’t spend the holidays in New York City.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Disillusioned divorcees; Plutarch enthusiasts.

12. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; gift delivery; holiday-themed musical numbers; disembodied heads? No, not that.

Yuletide lesson: Kidnapping Santa is very un-Christmas.

Perfect holiday viewing for: The Hot Topic shopper who secretly harbors that glimmer of old school sentimentality.

13. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Christmas checklist: Household decorations; family squabbles; surprise visitors.

Yuletide lesson: Kidnapping your boss is very Christmas.

Perfect holiday viewing for: A wistful Chevy Chase; a wistful Randy Quaid.

14. The Polar Express

Christmas checklist: Magic; the North Pole; unintentional horror.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t let Robert Zemeckis make animated movies anymore. (We didn’t learn, people…)

Perfect holiday viewing for: Your misbehaving children who need some obedience scared into ’em.

15. The Santa Clause

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; magic; family squabbles; debates about the value of faith; Tim Allen.

Yuletide lesson: Sometimes, your emotionally distant absentee father is actually a magical demigod of Western lore.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Jonathan Taylor Thomas; Zachery Ty Bryan; Taran Noah Smith; whoever else is oddly touched by the idea of Tim Allen proving himself as a father figure.

16. Eyes Wide Shut

Christmas checklist: Love; family squabbles; festive costumes, although…

Yuletide lesson: Whatever it is, it's NSFW.

Perfect holiday viewing for: After hours.

17. Trading Places

Christmas checklist: The menace of American capitalism; Santa Claus costumes; alcohol.

Yuletide lesson: Nurture trumps nature, at least in matters of predicting pork futures.

Perfect holiday viewing for: The 99 Percent; people who hate their bosses; those nostalgic for the heyday of Eddie Murphy (and Dan Aykroyd, for that matter).

18. Holiday Affair

Christmas checklist: The menace of American consumerism; love; sprightly young tots.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t marry that guy, marry the other guy!

Perfect holiday viewing for: The newly unemployed; disillusioned divorcees.

19. While You Were Sleeping

Christmas checklist: Love; romanticization of the working class; family squabbles; outlandish mistruths.

Yuletide lesson: Taking advantage of a grieving family’s vulnerable condition can be the right move!

Perfect holiday viewing for: The comatose; the perpetually single; pre-resurgence Bullock fans who want to say, “I told ya so!”

20. Any of the dozen Christmas Carol adaptations

Christmas checklist: The Christmas spirit; magic; the menace of American capitalism; manipulation of the space-time continuum.

Yuletide lesson: Not celebrating Christmas is grounds for dying alone.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Dickens traditionalists; Disney classicists; Bill Murray lovers; Muppet fanatics; people who still haven’t gotten the memo about Zemeckis’ thing with animation.

21. Jingle All the Way

Christmas checklist: The menace of American consumerism. That's it.

Yuletide lesson: ‘Tis better to give than to receive. Did we really need to go through this entire movie for a lesson that monumentally obvious?

Perfect holiday viewing for: Terminator fans.

22. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Christmas checklist: “Directed by Shane Black.”

Yuletide lesson: Most of this one’s lessons veer a bit darker than the holiday season’s margins generally allow. So, in keeping with the Christmas spirit, let’s just say…acting’s a hard racket to get into?

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone who thinks Christmas has gone soft in its old age, and could use a bit of that old school Bogey charm.

23. Ernest Saves Christmas

Christmas checklist: Childlike innocence; Santa; propagation of the merits of generosity.

Yuletide lesson: From the loins of a successful commercial line can spring a likewise successful, albeit regrettable, film franchise.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Vern.

24. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; magic; nonsense.

Yuletide lesson: Who knows?

Perfect holiday viewing for: Mystery Science Theater wannabes who’ve already worn out their Manos: The Hands of Fate and Plan 9 from Outer Space tapes.

25. Jack Frost

Christmas checklist: Jubilant snowmen; magic; familial heartbreak; snowball fights.

Yuletide lesson: Yet another tribute to the inevitability of death. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone writing a paper about the strange turn Michael Keaton’s career took between the Batman movies and his Birdman/Spotlight resurgence.

26. The Lemon Drop Kid

Christmas checklist: Holiday-themed musical numbers; outlandish mistruths; Santa Claus.

Yuletide lessons: Crime doesn’t pay.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Floridians; gamblers who’ve kicked the habit.

27. Black Christmas

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; family (in the Greek life sense) squabbles; surprise visitors.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t spend Christmas in Canada.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Whichever of your kids didn’t get the message after Polar Express.

28. White Christmas

Christmas checklist: Pageants; holiday-themed musical numbers; idealization of circa-War society.

Yuletide lesson: Say what you will, Bing Crosby’s got charisma.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone who wistfully recalls a time when ties and jackets were considered casual wear.

29. Fred Claus

Christmas checklist: Santa Claus; family squabbles; propagation of the merits of generosity.

Yuletide lesson: Living in your brother’s shadow is nothing to be ashamed of.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Resentful less impressive siblings; fans of True Detective season 2.

30. Holiday Inn

Christmas checklist: Holiday-themed musical numbers; alcohol; pageants.

Yuletide lesson: Never do blackface.

Perfect holiday viewing for: People who want to see Fred Astaire’s fancy feet and don’t mind turning a blind-eye to some incredibly regrettable of-the-era insensitivities.

31. About a Boy

Christmas checklist: Outlandish mistruths; pageants; a hearty endorsement of believing in yourself.

Yuletide lesson: Adult-children friendships aren’t always creepy.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Manchildren; childrenmen; other discordant combinations of physical and emotional age.

32. Christmas with the Kranks

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; holiday decorations; Tim Allen.

Yuletide lesson: Not celebrating Christmas is grounds to be ostracized from society.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Empty nesters; War on Christmas mercenaries; John Grisham completists.

33. Gremlins

Christmas checklist: The menace of American consumerism; sagas in midnight snacking.

Yuletide lesson: Eh, you know the rules already.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Damaged cynics who can only access their love for the holidays through the channels of horror.

34. Bell, Book and Candle

Christmas checklist: Magic; a lit-up Greenwich Village; nicknames like Shep.

Yuletide lesson: Love trumps career, at least in the witching game.

Perfect holiday viewing for: People who thought Vertigo needed a happier ending.

35. The Ref

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; surprise visitors; the menace of American criminality.

Yuletide lesson: Whatever your problems, seek the professional counsel of B. D. Wong.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone dreading spending the holidays at home; burglars who want to keep one step ahead of the latest white-collar psychological maladies.

36. Christmas in Connecticut

Christmas checklist: Hearty feasts; outlandish mistruths; love.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t marry that guy, marry the other guy! Love triangles were apparently a common problem in the ’40s.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Nutmeggers; columnists; disillusioned loners.

37. Elf

Christmas checklist: Elves; Santa; debates about the value of faith; snowball fights.

Yuletide lesson: Sometimes, your ostensibly delusional estranged adult son is actually a disciple of a magical demigod of Western lore.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Manchildren; candy addicts; corporate stooges jaded by the industry of children’s book publishing.

38. The Family Stone

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; hearty feasts; outlandish mistruths.

Yuletide lesson: Never trust the trailers.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Anyone dreading spending the holidays at someone else’s home.

39. Bad Santa

Christmas checklist: Santa costumes; alcohol; surprise visitors; propagation of the merits of generosity.

Yuletide lesson: Family can take all forms, including one made up of a drunken thief, an oddball outcast, his senile grandmother, and a between-seasons Lauren Graham.

Perfect holiday viewing for: All those concerned about brushing up in time for Bad Santa 2.

40. The Dead

Christmas checklist: Hearty feasts; alcohol; family squabbles; love.

Yuletide lesson: Even when physically incapacitated, John Huston was a hell of a director.

Perfect holiday viewing for: The literate; the Huston family; proud Irish folk.

41. The Family Man

Christmas checklist: Family squabbles; love; romanticization of the working class; manipulation of the space-time continuum.

Yuletide lesson: Don’t become an investment banker.

Perfect holiday viewing for: Chaos theorists; anyone hoping to validate his or her decision to not go to grad school; people fascinated by the notion of Nicolas Cage playing a normal person.

See? As I said, there's something for everyone to be found in the wide genre of the Christmas movie. No matter who you are or what you're into, if you can't find a movie to pull from the lot that utterly embodies your personal views toward Christmas, then... How The Grinch Stole Christmas is for you. You're welcome.

Images: Warner Bros (10); 20th Century Fox (5); DreamWorks Classics (2); RKO (2); MGM/UA Entertainment Co.; United Feature Syndicate; MGM; Universal Pictures (3); Buena Vista Pictures (6); Paramount Pictures (4); Embassy Pictures; Columbia Pictures (2); New Line Cinema; Dimension Films; Vestron Pictures