Family Christmas Movies
‘Tis the season to be jolly – and to find ways to entertain ourselves at home. With covid-19 shutting down many of our usual seasonal celebrations, most of us are looking for activities that will build bonds and fun memories in our own homes. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite Christmas films, with links to detailed reviews for each one. (We also have recommendations for movies about Santa and about the spirit of Christmas.)
Most critics (and many families) agree that the archetypal Christmas film is It’s a Wonderful Life.Directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart, this touching film reminds us that every life has value. When a deeply despairing George Bailey is convinced that the world would be better off without him, his guardian angel gives him a glimpse of what would have happened if he had never been born. Amazon Prime Unrated, Grade: A
Bing Crosby stars in two films that have embedded themselves in our holiday culture. White Christmas tells the tale of two entrepreneurial veterans and a pair of lovely ladies who are determined to sing and dance their way to Christmas cheer. Netflix Unrated, Grade: B+
The second Crosby film that overflows with Bing’s Christmas crooning is Holiday Inn. Crammed full of classics like White Christmas, this is a nostalgic view of classic festive films at their most fun and frothy. Digital on Demand Unrated, Grade: B+
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
Christmas memories usually center around home and hearth and plenty of movies celebrate family ties. In Coming Home for Christmas, not only is the family home gone but the siblings are embroiled in a feud. When one sister decides that it’s time to heal the breach and stabilize her parents’ marriage, she asks the current owner of the family home if she can borrow the house back over Christmas. Free on Amazon Prime, Vudu, Tubi Unrated, Grade: B
Tired of the usual Christmas chaos, Luther decides to trade in the regular seasonal celebration for a tropical cruise. Christmas with the Kranksshows the unexpected consequences unleashed by that simple decision. Digital on Demand PG, Grade: B
Few movies portray a more appealing family Christmas than Little Women. Although not technically a Christmas movie, both the 1994 and 2019 versions feature food, family, and the joy of giving. 1994 version – Digital on Demand PG, Grade: B+. 2019 version – Digital on Demand PG, Grade: A-
Christmas is a time for miracles and Hollywood has stepped in to tell those stories. Mrs. Miracleintroduces Mrs. Mirkle, a housekeeper who works wonders in the home of lonely widower, Seth Webster. She brings order to the chaos, settles his twins, and gets involved in the nativity pageant, with far-reaching effects. DVD Unrated, Grade: A
Based on the picture book by Susan Wojciechowski, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomeytells the gentle story of a bereaved carpenter whose life changes for the better when a widow commissions a nativity set. As Mr. Toomey spends time with the Widow McDowell and her son, Thomas, he begins to lift out of his fog of grief and despair. DVD, YouTube Unrated, Grade: A-
Jeronicus Jangle is the world’s greatest inventor, with a toyshop filled with marvels. But when his apprentice steals his plans and his newest wonder – a living toy – Jeronicus sinks into despair, losing everything. Only when his granddaughter Journey arrives, determined to help him invent again, does the magic return. But before Jingle Janglefinds its happy ending, Jeronicus and Journey are going to have to deal with that thieving apprentice…Netflix PG, Grade: B+
What “essential” Christmas toys can you remember? Cabbage Patch Kids? Tamagotchis? Tickle Me Elmo? In Jingle All the Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a harried father desperate to buy the perfect toy for his son – a Turboman action figure. Despite its predictable plot, this provides a comic tribute to the power of giving. TBS, TNT, Digital on Demand PG, Grade: B
Toy Story is such a beloved classic that it’s easy to forget that it’s also a Christmas movie. When Andy unwraps his Buzz Lightyear toy, Woody suddenly has competition in the toy box. This is an unbeatable story of friendship, courage, and loyalty. Disney+ G, Grade: A
Living toys and magical creatures add to the sense of wonder in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Based on the beloved ballet, this adaptation provides lush visuals with some occasionally frightening content. PG, Grade: B-
Let It Snow!
Although only a portion of the world experiences snow at Christmas, those frozen white flakes are inextricably tied to the season in the public imagination. For a movie that celebrates the peaceful beauty of winter, try The Snowman. This wordless animated film begins with a young boy making a snowman, which later comes to life. A silent flight over the winter landscape caps off a soothing movie that can help over-excited youngsters settle down. Free on Amazon Prime, Tubi, Vudu Unrated, Grade: A
We know it’s not a Christmas movie, but Frozennails the eerie beauty of winter. And its message of sibling love and loyalty resonates at this family holiday season. Disney+ PG, Grade: B
Another non-holiday film that focuses on snowy fun is Racetime.Suitable for preschoolers, this winter story is all about a toboggan competition and the rivalry between two groups of kids. Hulu, Digital on Demand Unrated, Grade: A-
If you are wondering where to find movies listed as Digital on Demand, go to reelgood.com.
If you live outside the US, try justwatch.com.