You can’t have Christmas without at least one good Christmas movie – but which do you consider to be the greatest festive flicks of all time? In 2018, the Radio Times carried out a poll to discover the UK’s very favourite Christmas movie, and the results are displayed below. If you disagree, don’t take it up with us – blame the British public!
20. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
This first entry is admittedly a rather surprising one, given that it’s set over the course of an entire school year. However, the first Harry Potter film does have a memorable Christmas Day sequence, with Harry and Ron opening their presents to find the Cloak of Invisibility – and who wouldn’t want one of those for Christmas?
Plus, the great hall of Hogwarts looks more magical than ever with its mighty trees and snow in the air.
19. Nativity! (2009)
One might have thought that any low budget British movie that opened in cinemas at the same time as Avatar was almost certain to be forgotten.
Happily, 2009’s good-natured, kid-friendly musical comedy Nativity! has endured, becoming perennial viewing for families up and down the United Kingdom. (Best to steer clear of the increasingly awful sequels, though.)
18. Scrooged (1988)
The first of many Christmas Carol adaptations to pop up in this list, director Richard Donner’s Scrooged updates Charles Dickens’ classic tale to the 80s.
The dark comedy succeeds thanks to the casting of comedy icon Bill Murray as a cynical TV executive who encounters some ghosts and undergoes some personal revelations which help him see the error of his ways.
17. The Grinch (2000)
Even under all that heavy makeup, there’s no mistaking it’s Jim Carrey playing the furry green Christmas-hating curmudgeon in Ron Howard’s live-action take on Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
We’d argue it doesn’t hold up as well as the classic 1966 animated TV special narrated by Boris Karloff, but 2000’s The Grinch is certainly better than the 2018 CG-animated movie with Benedict Cumberbatch.
16. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
So what if it’s basically a beat-for-beat retread of the original Home Alone? Director Chris Columbus and writer-producer John Hughes knew better than to fix what wasn’t broken, and basically gave us the same movie again on a larger scale.
It certainly helps that New York City looks very pretty at Christmas time (something also taken advantage of by Scrooged, and another movie coming later on this list).
15. The Holiday (2006)
Rom-com pioneer Nancy Meyers writes and directs this tale of transatlantic strangers (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) who arrange a house swap over the Christmas season, and wind up finding romance with two very different guys (Jude Law and Jack Black).
Critics were unimpressed, but over the years The Holiday has built up a strong following; alas, Winslet has debunked recent rumours of a sequel.
14. Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Starring Dudley Moore as Patch the Elf, John Lithgow as crooked toy company owner B.Z. and David ‘The Big Lebowski’ Huddleston as the jolly old man himself, Santa Claus: The Movie was a box office bomb that nonetheless became a firm favourite of many through its seasonal TV screenings. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s got plenty of festive cheer.
13. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Some viewers might not realise that this 1994 film, starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle (aka Santa) and Mara ‘Matilda’ Wilson as a girl who believes in him, is actually a remake of a 1947 film.
Though many feel the original still stands up well, this version of Miracle on 34th Street has a devoted fanbase all of its own.
12. The Snowman (1982)
This entry could be considered a little more controversial, as it’s not technically a movie: it was made specifically for television, and lasts only 26 minutes.
However, most British households would agree that it simply isn’t Christmas without this moving, silent adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ equally beloved picture book.
11. A Christmas Carol (1984)
Once again, the movie credentials of this one could be brought into question, given that the 1984 adaptation of A Christmas Carol was made for television.
Still, with the esteemed George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge and a strong supporting cast including Frank Finlay and David Warner, this is a powerful piece of work which some have declared the definitive screen take on Dickens’ story.
10. Scrooge (1951)
A Christmas Carol had already been adapted to the screen no less than a dozen times before this 1951 British production from director Brian Desmond Hurst.
However, many consider this version (retitled A Christmas Carol in the US) to be the first truly great film based on Dickens’ tale, thanks in no small part to Alastair Sim’s turn in the lead.
9. White Christmas (1954)
Christmas movies don’t get much more feel-good than White Christmas. Directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, the film centres on old Army buddies reunited at a remote inn over Christmas.
Audiences today might not realise this film was not where the classic title song originated: Crosby first sang it years earlier in 1942’s Holiday Inn.
8. The Polar Express (2004)
Based on the 1985 book by Chris Van Allsburg (also the creator of Jumanji), The Polar Express follows the adventure of a young boy who takes a ride on a magical train to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.
Director Robert Zemeckis’ film is divisive due to its use of motion-capture CGI, which many viewers find creepy, but the film still works thanks to the warmth of the story and the festive setting.
7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
The third instalment in the National Lampoon’s Vacation film series sees Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and the rest of the Griswold family stay home for the holidays – but even there, things can’t help going wrong for them.
This is the second film on this list (after Home Alone 2) to have been written by John Hughes, and it won’t be the last either.
6. Die Hard (1988)
Here comes the never-ending debate about whether or not it’s really a Christmas movie… OK, so Die Hard isn’t the most conventionally festive tale, given it centres on a tough cop (Bruce Willis) battling terrorists in a skyscraper.
Still, the film is set on Christmas Eve, it’s long since become perennial Christmas viewing for millions, and it’s probably the greatest action movie ever made, so who really cares?
5. Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone is the third film on this list to have been written by John Hughes, plus the third from director Chris Columbus – and it’s far and away the best-loved of the bunch.
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when kids didn’t dream about spending Christmas Eve abandoned by their family, having to fend off burglars with home-made booby traps. Home Alone is one of those movies no one ever seems to get tired of.
4. Love, Actually (2003)
After making his name with Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill, writer-director Richard Curtis set out to make one of the most ambitious romantic comedies ever with 2003’s Love, Actually – and to cap it all, he set it at Christmas.
More cynical viewers might be unimpressed, but for many this tangled web of ten interlocking love stories is essential Yuletide viewing.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
As unlikely as it might seem, today’s best-loved movie version of A Christmas Carol is the one with The Muppets in it. Surprisingly loyal to the text and boasting a genuinely career-best performance from Michael Caine as Scrooge, The Muppet Christmas Carol is a time-honoured favourite which many of us insist on watching every single Christmas.
2. Elf (2003)
Are you surprised to see this one ranking quite so high? Funnyman Will Ferrell gives arguably his definitive performance in this often absurd yet undeniably wholesome tale of a human raised by Santa and his elves, who returns home to picturesque wintry New York in search of his biological father. Directed by Jon Favreau, Elf is hilarious and heartwarming in equal measure.
1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
If the line “every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings” doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, then you really must have the most hardened of hearts.
Directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart, critics have long hailed It’s a Wonderful Life (which is yet another loose adaptation of A Christmas Carol) to be the greatest Christmas movie ever – and it seems the British public agree!