These are the best films to watch at Christmas

From a modern comedy classic to a pair of festive-season action thrillers, these are the best flicks to put on your TV...

Festive films – they’re out of control. With Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and countless other streaming services creating and curating Christmas content, there are more low-budget, spirit-sapping, made-for-TV tales available to us than ever before. And, most are about as entertaining as a lump of coal.

That’s why, ahead of the big day, we’ve rounded up some of our favourite festive titles – films that we look forward to watching year after year. Whether it’s an outwardly Christmassy comedy, a classic musical or an action thriller with bells on, this is what to stick on the TV during December…

Elf, 2003

Why does it feel festive? Because it’s a modern Christmas classic (although, at two-decades old, it’s hardly a ‘new release’ anymore). Will Ferrell’s spirited performance – and bright-yellow tights – cement this as a seasonal must-watch.

When should you watch it? We’d save this one for close to the big day. Such is the focus on the sleigh, the reindeer, the North Pole and Santa’s eponymous, brightly dressed workers that this makes for ideal Christmas Eve viewing.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

Die Hard, 1988

Why does it feel festive? Let’s get this one out of the way early. It’s a great film, it’s set at Christmas and festive hits including ‘Winter Wonderland’ and ‘Let it Snow!’ feature on the soundtrack. This makes it a Christmas film, gunfights notwithstanding.

When should you watch it? When you feel the first inkling of Christmas fatigue. Perhaps after your own office Christmas party, or after a particularly boisterous bout of gift shopping. Nothing’s quite as cathartic as watching Bruce Willis dispatch some pesky Germans.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”

Scrooged, 1988

Why does it feel festive? Because it’s based on the greatest Christmas story of all time, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. And, while many adaptations hit the seasonal spot (we’re looking at you, Muppets), the suiting is infinitely sharper here.

When should you watch it? Whenever you’re in the mood for some Bill Murray. Like Ferrell in Elf, above, the film hinges on the stellar performance of the former Saturday Night Live player, who pivots from dour to delightful after encountering three caricatured ghosts.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, 1989

Why does it feel festive? Another American Christmas classic from the 1980s; another starring a former SNL comedian. This time, it’s Chevy Chase, hamming up the holidays with as much vigour and slapstick as Murray in Scrooged.

When should you watch it? Before the family arrives. This one farcically (and realistically) lampoons the tinsel-trimmed trials and tribulations of a full house at Christmas. Best enjoy it before life begins imitating rib-tickling art.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f**king Kaye.”

Trading Places, 1983

Why does it feel festive? Because it’s set, partially, at least, around Christmas – and makes great use of Brenda Lee’s ‘Jingle Bell Rock’. Plus, that image of a down-and-out Dan Aykroyd in a dishevelled Santa outfit? Christmas-comedy gold.

When should you watch it? Early in December, as a way to ease yourself into the festive season. It won’t feel like you’ve been thrown into the hall-decked deep end, but there’s enough plot and performance to get you excited for Christmas.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Hey, we’re losing all our damn money, and Christmas is around the corner!”

Miracle on 34th Street, 1947

Why does it feel festive? Because, unlike all the Die Hards and Trading Places, this is as wholesome and family-friendly as Christmas entertainment comes. Telling the tale of a department-store Santa who claims to be the real thing, it’s a winter heart warmer.

When should you watch it? This is another to save until closer to the big day. It may build to an extended courtroom battle, but it’s far from dry viewing. In fact, when the film reaches its conclusion, there won’t be a dry eye in the house.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Your Honour, every one of these letters is addressed to Santa Claus. The Post Office has delivered them. Therefore the Post Office Department, a branch of the Federal Government, recognises this man Kris Kringle to be the one and only Santa Claus.”

Home Alone, 1990

Why does it feel festive? If brutally attacking home invaders doesn’t immediately call Christmas to mind, then what will? The Macaulay-Culkin-starring classic has become a festive mainstay – for good reason.

When should you watch it? Whenever you want. There’s really not a wrong time to watch Home Alone (or Home Alone II). It’ll reliably deliver laughs, festive cheer and an admiration for Joe Pesci’s acting range on every viewing.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal!”

White Christmas, 1954

Why does it feel festive? How could it not? Spun off from Bing Crosby’s earlier film, Holiday Inn, this story follows two army men putting on a joint Christmas show to put their old commander’s failing inn back in business.

When should you watch it? When all the hope of an actual white Christmas has gone out of the window. This is a return to the romance of festive seasons past – and one best enjoyed with a large mug of mulled wine.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “We came up here for the snow. Where’re you keepin’ it?”

Klaus, 2019

Why does it feel festive? Because, despite this being an animated film, it’ll keep even the most diehard Die Hard fans gripped. Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, it’s a Netflix-produced triumph.

When should you watch it? Right now. Go on, stick it on. Because, although many of us adults wouldn’t choose to watch an animated film, this one delivers on every festive-feeling, heart-warming, Christmas-heralding front.

Most ‘Christmassy’ line? “Letters. You don’t really write many these days, do you? But I bet there’s one you never forget. Send it off to a certain plump guy in a red suit and, provided you’ve kept your act together more or less, he’ll drop off a toy or two.”

Three Days of the Condor, 1975

Why does it feel festive? It doesn’t – not overtly, at least. But, this Robert Redford thriller is the perfect option for any festive-skeptics. Set in a frosty New York City, there’s plenty of Christmas carols to be heard amidst the conspiracies.

When should you watch it? When you’re done with all the jingling bells and Christmas lights. Redford’s desperately determined performance is extraordinary – enough to distract you from your present wrapping for a while. Perhaps the best Boxing Day watch there is.

Want the perfect Christmas cocktail to enjoy alongside a film? Here’s how to make Raymond Blanc’s mulled wine…

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