What Christmas Movie Should You Watch? The 11 Best Holiday Films in Every Genre

There is hardly just one kind of Christmas movie. Yes, the traditional cinematic celebrations of the holiday all take similar form: sweet, schmaltzy, riddled with life lessons. But times have changed since the days of It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. No longer are we beheld to the misadventures of earnest do-gooders who only want to show the world the merits of a pure spirit; now, Christmas can mean steet fights, jump scares, and raunchy banter.

The years have given us plenty of varied takes on the yuletide theme, expanding its reach to every imaginable genre: comedy, horror, action, romance, sci-fi, you name it. But with such a prominent standing in all corners of the Hollywood output, it might be tough in today’s world to find the Christmas movies that work best for you. Of all the Santa-centric comedies out there, which is the funniest? Of all the North Pole-set slasher flicks, which is the scariest? These are the big questions we must face each December… hopefully, this little guide can be of service.

Peruse this gallery and you’ll find a few suggestions for the best of every sort of movie that pays tribute to the holiday. And have a merry, funny, scary, romantic, action-packed, adventurous, or otherwise entertaining Christmas!

Image: United Artists

by Michael Arbeiter

The Funniest Christmas Movie

While Christmas has lain the setting for many a big screen laugher (like Home Alone and Shane Black’s terrific Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang) the harebrained comedy Trading Places easily tops the list. Using the holiday as a backdrop that expertly juxtaposes the cozy homesteads of the rich with the haggard lifestyles of everyone else (not to mention all the seedy, underhanded tricks going on behind closed doors on both sides of the equation), the Dan Aykroyd/Eddie Murphy classic is nearly perfect as a comedy and a Christmas film.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The Scariest Christmas Movie

Not only a pioneer in combining the ordinarily merry holiday with the darkest of themes, but one of the earliest slasher films altogether, Black Christmas is a tour de force in the ill-at-ease.

Image: Warner Bros.

The Most Romantic Christmas Movie

By the measures of all good sense, While You Were Sleeping shouldn’t be the colossal splendor that it is. Melding your typical rom-com ingredients with an admittedly creepy premise, the movie should wind up a forgettable mess… but maybe it’s the addition of Christmas into the mix that makes it an indelibly sweet little love story.

Image: Buena Vista Pictures

The Most Action-Packed Christmas Movie

“If this is their idea of Christmas, I’ve got to be here for New Years!” chuckled a pre-fame Chris Rock after witnessing the full run of John McClane’s holiday celebration in Die Hard. An obvious runner-up would be Lethal Weapon, another bit of pulpy fun from the mind of Shane Black.

Image: 20th Century Fox

The Best Sci-Fi Christmas Movie

Brazil, Terry Gilliam’s finest non-Monty Python masterpiece, weaves its holiday setting in with a world so surreal and twisted that it makes the impending visit to your in-laws’ seem altogether pleasant.

Image: Universal Pictures

The Campiest Christmas Movie

A staple of 1980s kookiness, Joe Dante’s critter feature Gremlins is also seen as a take on the rampant commercialism of the modern American Christmas season. As a runner-up, we have to recognize the wonderfully odd Edward Scissorhands.

Image: Warner Bros.

The "Superest" Christmas Movie

Doesn’t it seem like every Tim Burton movie is set at Christmas? The director’s second Bruce Wayne venture, Batman Returns, shows us what merriment and good tidings look like in Gotham. Not exactly Babes in Toyland caliber.

Image: Warner Bros.

The Best Christmas-set War (But Not "War on Christmas") Movie

To make up for the fact that I opted to award the “Most Romantic” superlative to While You Were Sleeping over The Apartment, here’s a different Billy Wilder movie worthy of celebration: Stalag 17, the prolific writer/director’s serio-comedic (and thrilling!) take on World War II in the harshest of seasons.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The Most Criminal Christmas Movie

Though a great deal more internalized than your average crime drama (or your average Christmas movie), the brooding transcontinental mobster tale In Bruges highlights the darkest elements of the lifestyle and the holiday.

Image: Universal Studios/Focus Features

The Best Christmas Movie in the West

Johns Ford and Wayne bring yuletide to the frontier with this story about three bank-robbing cowpokes charged with protecting a newborn baby (all the while evading the wrath of the law). If that ain’t the Christmas spirit…

Image: MGM

The Best... or, Most... or, Weirdest Damn Christmas Movie Ever

Brazil held the title for a solid decade, but no one can “out weird” the great Stanley Kubrick. His final feature, Eyes Wide Shut, might also be his most chilling (and that’s saying a great deal), and is certainly no kind of Christmas that we’d ever want to experience firsthand.

Image: Warner Bros.