Twenty Movies You Can Stream This Christmas No Matter How You Feel About the Festive Season
Pour a glass of eggnog, find your comfiest spot on the couch, then swoon over 'Carol', rewatch 'Die Hard', fall in love with 'Last Christmas' and get twisty with 'Eyes Wide Shut'.
December 21, 2023
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. Or, if you're hardly the jolly type, to get a dose of Christmas with some offbeat, action-packed and/or darkly comic picks.
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, and however you feel about the season, we have a list of suggestions for your Yuletide viewing pleasure. Pour yourself some eggnog, get cosy on your couch and start streaming.
HOME ALONE (AND ITS SEQUELS)
In 2021, a brand new Home Alone movie arrived to demand your attention. Yes, the 90s classic was remade — by Disney+, and with Jojo Rabbit's Archie Yates, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt's Ellie Kemper and Catastrophe's Rob Delaney among the cast. Nostalgia might draw you to it, 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 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 (Entergalactic) puts in a star-making performance, Joe Pesci (Bupkis) and Daniel Stern (For All Mankind) 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 stream via Disney+.
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, Station Eleven). 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.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
More than a quarter-century ago, filmmakers Tim Burton (Wednesday) and Henry Selick (Wendell & Wild) 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 streams 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 (Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical) are all an absolute delight, Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, A Simple Favour) directs with a light touch, and the George Michael hits just keep coming.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
It's been 77 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 streams via Stan.
EYES WIDE SHUT
It isn't by accident that Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick's last complete film and one of the masterful director's absolute best, takes place during the holidays. The late, great filmmaker plunges into a fraying marriage at a time of year that's either blissful or fraught in relationships, or seesaws between the two, with then real-life couple Nicole Kidman (Faraway Downs) and Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One) as his leads. And, in the process, he has plenty to say about the institutions, traditions and expectations that society tells us will bring contentment — the wealth and romantic ideals that fall into the same categories, too — and the gaping chasm between those glossy notions and reality.
When it hit cinemas, Eyes Wide Shut was marketed as an erotic thriller — 'twas the 90s — but despite the sex, masquerades and relationship games, that's only one layer of the feature. Following Bill (Cruise) and Alice (Kidman) Hartford as they navigate the festive period, complete with indulgent parties and strung-up lights aplenty, this probing film has zero cheer for Christmas' shiny facade, or the annual promise that forced jolliness will make anyone's lives better.
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
It's time to play the music, light the lights and see Charles Dickens' classic play out in felt — and with Michael Caine (Best Sellers) as Ebenezer Scrooge. Any Muppets movie is ace seasonal viewing because they're all so warmhearted, but The Muppet Christmas Carol was obviously made for the merriest time of year.
The movie follows Dickens's tale, with the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge given a change of perspective by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Here, however, Jim Henson's beloved creations join in, with Kermit the Frog playing clerk Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit, Gonzo narrating the story as Dickens (with help from Rizzo the Rat), Fozzie Bear as Fozziwig and Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim. Other Muppets show up, because of course they do.
The Muppet Christmas Carol streams via Disney+.
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 — all from Jalmari Helander, the filmmaker behind 2023's underseen Sisu.
Before writer/director Sean Baker gave the world The Florida Project and Red Rocket, each among the best movies of their year, he spent Christmas Eve with two transgender sex workers as one learns that her boyfriend and pimp has been unfaithful. Sin-Dee Rella ( ) is fresh from a 28-day stint in jail when she teams up with her best pal Alexandra ( ) to chase down her other half Chester ( ) — and while getting revenge on cheating spouses isn't a new topic on film, Tangerine is its own raw and delightful effort.
Baker also shot the Los Angeles-set feature solely on iPhones, which proves quite the technical feat, and doesn't stop it from being visually inventive again and again.
"Happy holidays" might be two of the most-used words each and every December, but this time of year isn't jolly for everyone. With the gripping and affecting Christmess, writer/director Heath Davis (Broke, Book Week and Locusts) stares clear-eyed at the haunting regrets, aching loneliness and complicated family dynamics that are part of the festive season for many — and has his characters chat about the best Christmas movies, too.
Fresh-out-of-rehab actor Chris Flint () is at this Australian dramedy's centre, as he tries to get his life back on track — a job playing a shopping-centre Santa included — while living in a halfway house with his sponsor Nick ( ) and fellow recovering alcoholic Joy (musician Hannah Joy).
Christmess streams 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.
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: a few other flicks on this list). If that's the excuse you need to revisit Todd Haynes' (The Velvet Underground) 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 (Women Talking) as a shopgirl who falls for Cate Blanchett's (The New Boy) 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.
Why so seasonal? No, the Joker doesn't say that in Batman Returns. In fact, that villain isn't even the Dark Knight's nemesis in this 1992 film. The sentiment still fits, though. Given the amount of times that Batman has graced cinemas, one of those movies was always going to be appropriate Christmas viewing — and Tim Burton's (Wednesday) second stint unpacking Bruce Wayne's alter ego, plus Michael Keaton's (The Flash) second round of playing the titular character, is 100-percent that movie.
Christmas provides the backdrop for Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, Haunted Mansion) and Selina Kyle's (Michelle Pfeiffer, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) antics — aka The Penguin and Catwoman — in this sequel to 1989's Batman, and lights up Gotham City as its namesake endeavours to save the day. Again, there's never any shortage of Dark Knight flicks to choose from, including two more follow-ups in the 80s and 90s franchise, Christopher Nolan's trilogy, Ben Affleck in the cape and cowl and 2022's Robert Pattinson-starring The Batman, but 'tis the season for this one.
Batman Returns streams via Paramount+.
Will Ferrell (Strays) 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, and even though he went seasonal again with Spirited in 2022, 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.
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, King Cobra) receives when he buys an unusual gift for his teenage son Billy (Zach Galligan, Midnight Peepshow) from a Chinatown store and, as Joe Dante's (Nightmare Cinema) 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.
Gremlins streams via Binge.
A fun, feisty remake with a female perspective and a refreshing sense of sisterhood, Black Christmas is a college-set slasher flick for the #MeToo era. The latter gets thrown around a helluva lot, but with this updated version of a 1974 cult movie, writer/director Sophia Takal (Always Shine) firmly leans into the term. Indeed, Black Christmas circa 2019 lives and breathes its #MeToo mindset, particularly in its story and characters.
In this Imogen Poots (Outer Range)-led, Cary Elwes (BlackBerry)-costarring effort, a masked predator stalks women as the festive season swings into gear, specifically targeting sorority sisters at a stately university. There's a mounting body count, but these gals aren't merely a parade of powerless, disposable victims.
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, Assassin), a Los Angeles building attacked by the nefarious Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, Eye in the Sky) 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 streams via Disney+.
Before The Banshees of Inisherin, filmmaker Martin McDonagh teamed up with actors Colin Farrell (The Batman) and Brendan Gleeson (The Tragedy of Macbeth) on another darkly comic gem. In Bruges is writer/director McDonagh's first feature, in fact, and what a stunning debut it is, diving into hitmen chaos in Belgium over the Christmas period.
McDonagh's whip-smart script only mentions the time of year a few times, but its titular setting is lit up for the occasion. Farrell's Ray is hardly thrilled, though; "For two weeks? In fucking Bruges? In a room like this? With you? No way," is his response to being holed up and hiding out with his mentor Ken (Gleeson) at the behest of their handler Harry (Ralph Fiennes, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar). Blackly comedic amusement springs from their predicament, and so does mayhem, melancholy and even hope.
In Bruges streams via Netflix.
The sequel didn't stuff anyone's stocking full of laughs, sadly, but the original Bad Santa is a masterclass in seasonal misanthropy and utterly inappropriate humour. Now two decades since Billy Bob Thornton (The Gray Man) first popped on the red suit to play the world's most begrudging Father Christmas — actually a professional thief that uses his gig as a department-store Santa as a cover to case the place — he's still one of the most memorable festive figures there is.
Everything that can go wrong does for Thornton's character Willie, and every boundary that director Terry Zwigoff (Art School Confidential) and writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Jungle Cruise) can test gets pushed as well. Grinches, this comedy understands your Yuletide disdain and milks it — and finds hilarious uses for a sack full of the festive film genre's cliches, child sidekicks and all.
Every Christmas, real or otherwise could use a dose of Bill Murray (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) — 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.
Looking for something non-festive to stream? Check out our monthly list of must-see streaming picks and our rundown of recent big-screen releases fast-tracked to digital.
We also rounded up 2023's 15 best straight-to-streaming movies, 15 best new TV series of 2023, another 15 excellent new TV shows of 2023 that you might've missed and the 15 best returning shows as well.
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