The Five Best Christmas Movies According to Rick29

MovieFanfare: The Five Best Christmas MoviesGuest blogger Rick29 writes:

With the holiday season upon us, it only seems appropriate to do a Yuletide version of “The Five Best” series. Between 1938 and 2000 alone, there were over 100 movies centered around Christmas and I’m not even counting films with Christmas scenes such as The Bells of St. Mary’s and Meet Me in St. Louis. Picking out a Top 5 was not an easy task and I fully expect to receive some comments on omissions and the rationale for my picks. But, as I’ve said previously, there’s nothing like a good movie discussion!

1. The Bishop’s Wife

When I first saw this film on TV in the 1970s, it was not the annual holiday favorite that it is today. Its stature has grown exponentially since then and it’s typically listed among the best films of all three of its stars: Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Aside from its magical moments (e.g., the angel Dudley’s visit with the professor, the ice skating scene, etc.), what I admire most about The Bishop’s Wife is Grant’s performance. For once, despite his looks and charm, he doesn’t get the girl. Furthermore, Dudley becomes jealous and, in one scene, perhaps a little petty. In the hands of a less gifted actor, this often human-like angel could have posed a problem. But Grant provides all the required character shading and still keeps Dudley likable. That was one of his greatest gifts as a performer.

2. A Christmas Story

Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic, affectionate childhood memories–centered around his Christmas wish for a Red Ryder BB rifle–come to life in this perfect family film. It’s a funny comedy, to be sure, but it’s the little family scenes that make this one special (e.g., when Mom has Randy play “piggy in the trough” to finish his dinner). This deft blend of warmth, humor, and the spirit of childhood is tough to capture on film. Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark tried again with a 1994 sequel called It Runs in the Family, which featured a different cast. Despite some amusing scenes, it lacks that special spark. (If you can find it, a better sequel is the TV-movie Ollie Hopnoodle’s Haven of Bliss, which also features Ralphie’s family).

3. It’s a Wonderful Life

Repeated showings on television may have diminished its impact for many people…but I still remember its emotional wallop when I first saw Frank Capra‘s holiday classic. Certainly, except for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, no Christmas tale has maintained such an enduring appeal and influenced popular culture. Hey, even Dallas did an episode in which J.R. Ewing was shown what would have happened to others if he had never existed. While there is much to admire in It’s a Wonderful Life, what always draws me to the film is James Stewart in his first great post-World War II performance.

4. White Christmas and Holiday Inn

OK, I’m cheating by listing two films in one slot, but it’s hard to separate these two Bing Crosby musicals that featured his biggest hit song. When I was young, I preferred Holiday Inn because it wasn’t shown frequently on television and contained a rare Crosby-Astaire pairing. As a adult, my preference shifted solidly to White Christmas. Its detractors harp about the flimsy plot, but with such an incredible cast and Irving Berlin’s songs, who cares? Danny Kaye is at the top of his game and has probably his best dance number with “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” with the underrated Vera-Ellen. Plus, Bing duets with Rosemary Clooney (who never sounded better) on “Count Your Blessings.” It’s worth mentioning that versatile Michael Curtiz directed–the one who helmed Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and many other memorable movies.

5. Christmas in Connecticut

Barbara Stanwyck so excelled playing “bad girls” in classics like Double Indemnity that her comedic skills are sometimes overlooked. She is simply marvelous in this fine example of a “snowball comedy” in which a simple situation quickly gets out of control. In Christmas in Connecticut, Ms. Stanwyck plays a food and style critic for a popular magazine–the only problem being she has no actual experience. When she’s required to play the part, she convinces friends to help out pull off the deception, to include getting a fake husband and baby. The supporting cast includes scene-stealing character actors such as Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, and Una O’Connor.

Honorable mentions:  Miracle on 34th Street; A Christmas Carol (the Alastair Sim version is my favorite); The Shop Around the Corner; The Cheaters (aka The Castaway); Remember the Night (also with Barbara Stanwyck); and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Do you agree with Rick’s choices? What are your favorite Yuletide films? Let us know in the comments!

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café, on Facebook and Twitter . He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course.

Have you ever wondered why It’s a Wonderful Life is so wonderful? Ask Movie Irv!

  • frankiedc

    one of my favorite Christmas movies is “The Ref” since it is so anti establishment. The highlight is the Yuletime dinner where Judy Davis insists the whole family wear these ridiculous crowns with candles on them and tries to enforce holiday conviviality on everyone, including her henpecked husband, Kevin Spacey, her detested mother in law, Glynis Johns and a thuggish thief, Dennis Leary. It really is an anti-Christmas movie although the ending ends up compromising the negative attitude conveyed through most of the film.

    • Susan

      Really love all these sroites.. have been reading them daily. Please add more if you have any? Thanks a lot again for this awesome work.

  • RcB

    1. Holiday Inn
    2. White Christmas
    3. It’s A Wonderful Life
    4. Home Alone

  • Makumba

    My Favorites are:
    It Happened on 5TH Avenue,
    March Of The Wooden Soldieres,
    Miracle on 34TH street,
    Christmas In Connecticut and
    Holiday Inn. I’m not sure if the first 2 are considered Christmas movies but in my book they are.

  • Claude

    I have several versions of A Christmas Carol and both of Miracle on 34th Street. My favorite by a big margin is Christmas on Division Street although it was a TV movie originally.

  • bugster2

    1.White Christmas
    2 The Bishop’s Wife
    3 The Gathering
    4 A Christmas Carol- Alistair Sim
    5 Miracle on 34th Street

    I can’t stand “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  • Gypsy331

    1) “Miracle on 34th Street” and “White Christmas”
    2) “A Christmas Story”
    3) “Holiday Inn”
    4) “The Bishop’s Wife”
    5) “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Sleepless in Seattle” (Like “Holiday Inn,” neither of these two are specifically Christmas movies, but I consider them as Christmasy as any other movie.)

  • callsign

    I don’t understand why The Cheaters with Joseph Shildkraut never makes any lists. I think it’s probably my favurite Xmas film and certainly deserving of a full restoration. ANyone else have any thoughts on this forgotten gem?

  • heidibee

    My Five Christmas Faves are:

    1.Scrooge with Alastair Sim
    2.Shop Around the Corner
    3.Meet Me in St. Louis
    4.Penny Serenade
    5.Moonlight Bay

  • Thom Bennett

    1. A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim)
    2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
    3. Holiday Inn
    4. A Christmas Story
    5. Love Actually

  • Charles Bogle

    I agree with all those nominating Holiday Inn, the original Miracle on 34th Street, Christmas in Connecticut, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Also with the one who mentioned The Cheaters, a little known gem.

    Remember the Night is probably my favorite because of the multi-layered Preston Sturges script and Barbara Stanwyck’s great (as usual) performance.

    Count me among those who get almost nothing from A Christmas Story. I enjoy Jean Shepherd on the printed page but extensive reliance on narration in a film is almost always a sign of deficient visual storytelling. Also the humor is frankly sophomoric and closer to director Bob Clark’s work in the Porky’s franchise than most viewers seem to recognize. Anyway, it leaves me cold and I dread having to sit through it as part of someone else’s beloved holiday ritual.

    Not to be even more of a curmudgeon, but I have never understood how anyone can put Holiday Inn and White Christmas in the same category, or even rank White Christmas ahead of Holiday Inn. White Christmas is a likable but generally inferior picture on every level. And the song “White Christmas” makes its debut in Holiday Inn anyway, so you don’t even need to see the movie to get the song of the same name.

    Okay, I realize I have just made myself a Scrooge in the eyes of many readers. So be it. Merry Christmas!

    • Doctor Doom

      Actually, I couldn’t agree with you more. White Christmas is above average because of the cast but falls short everywhere else of other more notable gems.

    • Joyce Buckley

      Danny Kaye is smoked ham.

  • goarmy

    scrooge w alastair sim
    beyond tomorrow
    christmas in conn.
    meet me in st. louis

  • Richard

    The Bishop’s Wife
    A Christmas Story
    A Christmas Carol – Alistair Sims
    Silent Night
    It’s a Wonderful Life

  • Jack Jones

    I agree with CHARLES BOGIE re Holiday Inn vs. White Christmas. The latter has never particularly appealed to me. The Bishop’s Wife has long been a favorite of mine (love the skating scene) but really never considered it a Christmas movie.

  • Gord

    My five favourites:

    “Christmas Eve” (Loretta Young’s final film, an 80s MOW)
    “A Christmas Carol” aka “Scrooge” (1951)
    “Holiday Inn”
    “Going My Way”
    “Meet Me in St. Louis”

    Honourable mentions: “In the Good, Old Summer Time” and “Auntie Mame.”

  • Tito Pannaggi

    Why is snow always conected to Christmas? Jesus was not born in an iglo!!!

    • Wayne P.

      Secular humanism, plain and simple, Tito…we seem to worship the creature and not the creator!  sad, but true…and we can choose our choices only, not our consequences.  ;)  WP

  • http://twitter.com/LarryCox6 Larry J. Cox

    A Christmas without Snow
    The Touched by an Angel Christmas episode, with guest Randy Travis. Amazingly weepy, but I like it.
    There was at one time a vhs of an early 50s TV musical of Christmas Carol with Frederick March as Scrooge. I remember seeing it every year in the Ike era. Please someone put this show on DVD.

  • ed

    IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE has always left me cold. Donna Reed was always a dull leading lady and the script is rather distasteful

  • Tyme Warp

    Nobody’s mentioned “We’re No Angels”.

  • Cee

    Some of my favorites are under represented or not shown at all.
    > I’ll Be Seeing You,– a wonderful romantic drama with Ginger Rogers
    > A Chirstmas Without Snow
    > Since You Went Away
    > Silent Night, Lonely Night

  • http://twitter.com/LarryCox6 Larry J. Cox

    Re Gene Shepherd flicks: not a really Christmas movie but one I saw in ’76 at Christmas time on PBS in my hospital bed was The Phantom of the Open Hearth–about a factory town kid and all the adventures he had at his senior prom, to which he took Wanda Hickey on a bus. Lots of Shepherd stuff, including Dad’s woman’s leg lamp. Please someone , put this show on DVD soon.

  • Gayle

    What was the name of the TV movie with James Garner & Julie Andrews? And I want to add
    HOMECOMING with the Waltons……..thanks.

    • DonF

      The TV movie with James Garner and Julie Andrews was “It Happened One Night”. Coincidentally I just ordered it last week as a Christmas present for my wife.

  • Brian

    Christmas Eve(1947)

  • Mario Brescio

    It Happened One Christmas (1977) with Marlo Thomas, Cloris Leachman and Orson Wells
    The Gathering (1977)
    The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
    Scrooge (1970) Musical with Albert Finney
    Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

  • Doctor Doom

    Miracle on 34th street should be on the list first. Christmas story is one of the funniest and would be no. 2. 3rd for me is the original Christmas Carol with Reginald Owen. 4th I guess would have to be Bishops Wife. 5th would be the Santa Claus with Tim Allen.

  • Toby Martin II

    Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol”–with a memorable extraordinary performance by George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge–is an overlooked masterpiece.

    • Rhonda

      A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott is a must see every year. Love this movie!

  • Bill

    I would go with “It Happened on 5th Ave” as a sleeper. It’s about a hobo-Victor Moore who invites himself in to the second richest man in the world’s- Charlie Ruggles home for the holidays while the millionaire is at his winter residence. Along the way an interesting cast of characters enter the home… including the millionaires daughter-Gale Storm and a down on his luck ex GI Don Defore and equally down on their luck Army buddies looking for a place to live in New York City. You will have to watch the rest of the movie to find out what happens… But I highly recommend it if you have never seen it before.

  • Donna B

    Three Godfathers, the John Wayne version. I’m a desert rat and love the Death Valley scenes. John Wayne is the best he’s ever been. Ward Bond is wonderful as well, and has a great baritone.

  • hiram

    Offbeat, but these really are my favorites. THE DEAD, John Huston’s last film, an adaptation of the James Joyce novella, 90% of which is a Christmas party in Dublin. JOYEUX NOEL, about the Christmas truce in the trenches in 1914. BADDER SANTA, the best antidote imaginable to sappy Christmas movie. Among old-timers, the original MIRACLE ON 34th STREET.

  • al.hooper@comcast.net

    “White Christmas” over “Holiday Inn”? You’re kidding, right? Other considerations aside, “Holiday Inn” achieved a narrative integrity that “White Christmas” could only dream about. (Pun intended.)
    – Al Hooper (E-HOOPER.COM)

  • zeke1956

    I have Miracle on 34th Street (the original) as my favorite. I also like Holiday Inn and White Christmas. For fun its National Lampoons Christmas and The Santa Clause For the Scrooge- George C. Scotts version. Animated would have to Charlie Brown Christmas

  • Ellen Christy Snyder

    Meet Me in St Louis, Love Actually, White Christmas, Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney), and It a Wonderful Life are my top 5 favorite Christmas movies.

  • rocky-o

    i’m so glad to see ‘christmas in connecticut’ listed here…best one hands down…i’m also glad to see a few people who don’t seem to be so ‘enamored’ by ‘it’s a wonderful life’…jimmy stewart is a great actor, but the ending always annoyed me to much to enjoy it…

  • Lance Kirtley

    My top 5 Christmas programs are 1) It’s a Wonderful Life (also my favourite movie of all), 2) Charlie Brown’s Christmas, 3) The Santa Clause trilogy (w/Tim Allen — and my preference runs The Mrs Clause, The Santa Clause, and the Escape Clause), 4) Scrooge – 1970 w/Albert Finney (musical perfection), and 5) Scrooged – w/Bill Murray

  • FalmouthBill

    Here is my personal pecking order that “I” watch one a day up to, and including, Christmas day. Except for the last 7, or 8 days, they may vary in their order one or two days.
    I don’t show the Edmund Gwenn Miracle on 34th Street on this list because I always watch that on Thanksgiving morning whilst cooking the holiday turkey. As a kid, in my Dad’s house, Thanksgiving was the start of the Christmas season, and since I’m still a kid, I still do it the same !
    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

    25th] Scrooge [Albert Finney]
    24th] Christmas Carol [Alistair Sims ]
    23rd] Desk Set [ I have always thought of this as a Christmas movie
    22rd] It’s a Wonderful Life
    21st] The Bishops Wife
    20th] Christmas Vacation
    19th] Scrooged
    18th] A Christmas Story *
    17th] A Christmas Carol [ George C.Scott ]
    16th] Holiday Affair
    15th Christmas in Connecticut
    14th] It Happened One Christmas [ Marlo Thomas, a wonderful twist, well acted, and worthy ]
    13th] The Man Who Came to Dinner
    12th] Trading Places
    11th] Remember The Night
    10th] A Christmas Carol [ Reginald Owens
    9th] Three sections of O’Henrys Full House, [ The gift of the Magi, The Last Leaf, and The Cop & the Anthem ]
    8th] Emmet Otters Jug Band Christmas
    7th] The Grinch who Stole Christmas [ the 1966 Boris Karloff version ]
    6th] A Christmas Carol [ Patrick Stewart ]
    5th] The Snowman [ 1982, wonderful animated short story that all should see ]
    4th] A Christmas Carol, [ early T.V. production starring Fredric March ]
    3rd] The Pride of the Marines [ I saw it as a kid at Christmas time, and it's my list ! ]
    2nd] Scrooge [ Seymour Hicks ]
    1st] Amahl & the night Visiters, [ a very old, very blurry, very bad, vhs of an early 50's T.V. show, narrated by Alistair Cook, I am after all older than dirt ! ] My Mother and I watched it traditionally for years when I was very young, it is an homage to my Mom, and her wonderful sense of humor !

  • Doc Ostrow

    My favorites are:
    1) Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
    2) A Christmas Carol (1951), with original UK title as “Scrooge”
    3) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    4) A Christmas Story (1983)
    5) Babes in Toyland (1934) originally from the operetta “March of the Wooden Soldiers”

    • Doc Ostrow

      Oops! I made a mistake. March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934) was based on Victor Herbert’s famous operetta, “Babes in Toyland”.

  • Jim Hasselbach

    Whereas I can generally agree with those listed, my all-time favorite remains “Miracle On 34th Street” (1947). “A Christmas Story” does not make my list of favorites and indicates a depletion of true Christmas values adopted by our society, nor does “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.”

  • Boobear

    Some of the newer movies are amongst my favorites: My favorites are: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, Holiday in Handcuffs, a Season for Miracles and A Princess for Christmas. One more I’d like to add that came out this year is Snow Bride.

  • ww

    1- It’s a Wonderful Life
    2- A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim)
    3- White Christmas
    4-The Bishop’s Wife
    5-Scrooge (Albert Finney)
    Honorable mentions to The House Without a Christmas Tree, Meet Me in St. Louis, Holiday Inn, A Christmas Story, Love Actually, Auntie Mame, and The Gathering

  • Joyce Buckley

    I agree with the five listed but, easily, the list could have been stretched to 15. Wonderful Life was perfectly cast with a perfect story. Holiday Inn is an easy win over White Christmas which I found irritating. The plot smacked of Andy Hardy…”Come on kids, let’s put on a show.”

  • Jan

    Ya Did Good – for the most part. I would have dropped ‘A Christmas Story’, simply because I never cared for the movie, and put ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ in that spot and I would have put ‘A Christmas Carol’ (Sim’s version naturally) as #5 because I can never watch it too many times. I also would have put ‘Christmas Eve’ with Loretta Young in the honorable mentions because it is such a lovely and touching movie. (Is there anyone else besides me who even pulls these special movies out at other times of the year and watches them?)

    • Micky

      I totally agree with you , i watch these thru out year when i just want to feel a little christmas just because.

  • John Patterson

    Okay.Here are my faves.Granted,some of them aren’t your normal Xmas pix,but what the heck,here they are:
    (1)”Battleground”.December 1944.A sudden Nazi counterattack takes the allies by surprise,but James Whitmore;Ricardo Montalban;James Arness and Van Johnson and the 101st airborne*(*The Screaming Eagles)stop them.