Twelve Classic and Eclectic Festive Movies You Can Stream This Christmas
Pour a glass of eggnog and get comfy on the couch to rewatch 'Die Hard', laugh through 'Elf' or get lost in a dark Finnish flick.
December 22, 2021
December is here, and we're sure the sound of jingling bells is well and truly lodged in your head — but if your TV isn't screening an endless festive movie marathon, is it really Christmas? This portion of year isn't just the prime period for gift-giving, lots of eating, and spending quality time with your nearest and dearest, but also for watching and rewatching all those flicks that make you feel merry.
Just what makes a Christmas film has been hotly debated. Some folks, like Last Christmas director Paul Feig, rightly believe that Die Hard counts. Others stick firmly to movies that weave in the season in a more overt way. Whichever category you fall into, we have 12 suggestions for your yuletide viewing pleasure. Pour yourself some eggnog, get cosy on your couch and start streaming.
HOME ALONE (AND ITS SEQUELS)
This year, a brand new Home Alone movie is here to demand your attention. Yes, the 90s classic has been remade — by Disney+, and with Jojo Rabbit's Archie Yates, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Ellie Kemper and Catastrophe's Rob Delaney among the cast. But the Mouse House's streaming platform is already serving up classic Home Alone delights, with the 1990 original, 1992's Home Alone 2: Lost In New York and 1997's Home Alone 3 all currently available (and also 2002's Home Alone 4, if you're a completist).
Naturally, the original is the one that calls everyone's names whenever they're feeling festive. It was the highest-grossing live-action comedy at the US box office for more than two decades for a very good reason. Watch as Macaulay Culkin puts in a star-making performance, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern play bumbling burglars, and plenty of inventive booby traps get in the way.
Home Alone, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Home Alone 3, Home Alone 4 and Home Sweet Home Alone are all available to stream via Disney+.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
More than a quarter-century ago, Tim Burton and Henry Selick served up one of the most enchanting holiday films to hit the big screen — and one that doubles as both Halloween and Christmas viewing. It's Burton's name that everyone remembers; however a pre-Coraline Selick is actually in the director's chair on The Nightmare Before Christmas, which charms with both its offbeat story and its gorgeous stop-motion animation.
Burton came up with the narrative though, because Jack Skellington only could've originated from the Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands filmmaker's brain. Imaginative, original and engaging (even as it nods to Dr Seuss a few times), it still remains a festive treat for all ages.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is available to stream via Disney+.
Some Christmas movies — many festive movies, let's be honest — get the usual carols stuck in your head. Fancy a little George Michael whirling around your brain instead? That's what's on offer with Last Christmas, for obvious reasons. Just read the title and you'll already be humming the appropriate tune.
This recent festive rom-com is both extremely likeable and very predictable. In other words, it's perfectly suitable feel-good Christmas in July viewing. The cast, which includes Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones), Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) and Emma Thompson (Late Night) are all an absolute delight, Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favour) directs with a light touch, and the George Michael hits just keep coming.
Every Christmas, real or otherwise could use a dose of the one and only Bill Murray — even when he's hardly brimming with festive cheer. So, back in 1988, Scrooged delivered just that in a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. Murray plays arrogant, selfish TV executive Frank Cross. He doesn't share the same name as Charles Dickens' famous grouch, but he's just as lacking in feel-good spirit.
Everyone knows how the broad story goes, with ghosts of Christmas past, present and future popping up to teach this cynical crank the error of his ways. When Murray is involved, though — and when he's also leading a sing-along — even what seems like the umpteenth adaptation of a well-known story doesn't feel routine.
Scrooged is available to stream via Binge.
If your attitude towards Christmas is 'bah humbug' or something similarly grinchy, then White Reindeer might just be the festive film for you. It starts with the festive season approaching, and with real estate agent Suzanne Barrington (Anna Margaret Hollyman, Don't Leave Home) happy with her weatherman husband Jeff (Nathan Williams, Boardwalk Empire) — and super excited about the most wonderful time of the year.
Then, tragedy strikes, and Zach Clark's (Little Sister) black comedy leans firmly into its genre. Tackling dark subjects, as well as the fact that Christmas isn't all presents, big hugs and glittering lights for everyone, this is a very funny, savvy and astute movie. It's also purposefully awkward, and remains a great example of low-budget indie filmmaking no matter the time of year.
RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE
Calling all festive horror fans — and fans of deadpan comedy. You'll get a bit of both with Finnish thriller Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, because sometimes, that's just what the season needs. Taking inspiration from the Joulupukki, a pagan and folkloric figure that's helped shape Santa Claus-centric stories, this creative film starts as all sinister tales do: with the unearthing of something eerie and perhaps best left forgotten. Here, after a British research team disturbs an ancient burial mound, the local reindeer become the first casualties.
Twisted and off-kilter, eager to play with mythology and unafraid of gruesome imagery, this is the kind of Christmas flick that doesn't come around very often.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is available to stream via SBS On Demand.
Forget Twilight. Yes, it's the film franchise that Kristen Stewart is best known for, but her resume spans much further than sparkly vampires. And, courtesy of Happiest Season, it includes a festive rom-com that gives its well-worn genre a much-needed queer focus.
Stewart plays Abby, the girlfriend of Harper (Mackenzie Davis, Irresistible). The former usually hates Christmas, but she's willing to give the usual trimmings a go for the latter. Alas, it turns out that Harper hasn't come out to her family, which cause more a few complications over the holidays. From the get-go, it's easy to see where the film is headed, but Happiest Season willingly sticks to a formula in order to update it. And, it's likely this LGBTQIA+-friendly dose of merriment wouldn't have found the right mix of festive familiarity and emotional substance with other leads.
Happiest Season is available to stream via Amazon Prime Video.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
It's been 75 years since Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life first warmed hearts, and started to become a festive tradition. The ultimate 'what if?' tale, the five-time Oscar nominee is also a shining example of a movie that didn't do well at the box office originally but has more than made up for it since.
Featuring a pitch-perfect performance from the great James Stewart as the downtrodden George Bailey, the film's charms are many. It's sweet, optimistic but still willing to look at grim realities. That's what happens when Bailey has bleak thoughts one Christmas Eve, and contemplates ending it all, before a guardian angel shows him what life would've been like in his home town of Bedford Falls without him.
It's a Wonderful Life is available to stream via Stan.
Fun fact for Breaking Bad fans: Jonathan Banks, aka Mike Ehrmantraut, plays a deputy in Gremlins. He's not the star of the show, though, and nor are any of the movie's humans. No, that honour goes to its furry creatures that definitely shouldn't be exposed to water or sunlight, or fed after midnight. That's the warning that Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) receives when he buys an unusual gift for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan) from a Chinatown store and, as Joe Dante's upbeat, anarchic comedy demonstrates, it's advice that should be heeded.
Another trusty tidbit that's worth remembering: no matter how old you are, watching Gremlins will make you want a mogwai for yourself.
Will Ferrell plays an elf. It sounds like the idea for a Saturday Night Live sketch, really. To the joy of Christmas-themed film fans everywhere, that's not the case with Elf — and even though it was written with Jim Carrey in mind, this festive comedy ranks alongside Anchorman as one of the movies that Ferrell will always be remembered for.
He's both amusing and endearing as Buddy, a human raised by Santa's elves who only realises that he's not like everyone else he knows when he grows up. It's a basic fish-out-of-water setup, but showered with humour, heart and festive goodwill. Also, long before he directed Iron Man, The Jungle Book and the photorealistic version of The Lion King, this is what actor-turned-filmmaker Jon Favreau served up.
Yippee ki-yay, fans of both action and seasonal hijinks (and of Bruce Willis crawling around in vents trying to fight off terrorists, too). It's time to follow in the footsteps of Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Jake Peralta and love Die Hard unconditionally, because — by virtue of being set on Christmas Eve — this is a Christmas-appropriate film.
The story, if you somehow don't know it, involves NYPD cop John McClane (Willis), a Los Angeles building attacked by the nefarious Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and plenty of explosive antics. We know, we know, Rickman also features in that other, more overtly festive-themed favourite, aka Love Actually, but there's nothing quite like a couple of hours spent at Nakatomi Plaza.
Die Hard is available to stream via Disney+.
Carol falls into the category of films that, purely because they're set at the right time of year, automatically qualify as Christmas movies (see also: Die Hard). If that's the excuse you need to revisit Todd Haynes' aching romantic drama, then that's completely fine. Any excuse will do, really. The more eyeballs soaking in this sumptuous tale of forbidden love either for the first time or the hundredth, the better.
Starring Rooney Mara as a shopgirl who falls for Cate Blanchett's titular character, and based on Patricia Highsmith's novel The Price of Salt, the 50s-set drama fills the screen with emotion as the two women confront their feelings. Haynes' resume isn't short on highlights (Velvet Goldmine and Far From Heaven, for example), but might be his crowning achievement.
Looking for something non-festive to stream? Check out our monthly list of must-see streaming picks
Introducing Concrete Playground Trips
Book unique getaways and adventures dreamed up by our editors