Holiday traditions are unique to every family. Some families read classic holiday books or poems like “The Night Before Christmas,” every year. Others embrace newer traditions like The Elf on the Shelf or celebrate with religious traditions. These and other special customs help create meaning and magic in the holiday season for families everywhere.

For many families, including mine, watching holiday movies is a favorite annual tradition, right up there with decorating the tree, baking Christmas cookies, and hanging stockings. From classics to newer favorites, it’s always fun to settle in for a cozy night with a favorite movie, a mug of hot cocoa, and the people you love.

Just as every family has their own traditions, everyone has their favorite holiday movies. We picked five of our favorite holiday movies, and then asked our readers to pick their favorites, to compile this list of the ten best holiday movies.

Top 10 Holiday Movies for Kids

1. It’s a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made, which certainly earns it a place among the best holiday movies! I love the original, but if your kids object to black and white movies, there is a color version available. Very young kids might not be able to appreciate this bittersweet and inspiring film, but it’s certainly appropriate for teens and kids over age 10 or so. Not rated

2. The Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppet’s version is a kid-friendly take on Dickens’ holiday classic. A number of notable film adaptations have brought Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim to the screen, with the oldest dating back to 1901! For younger kids, Kermit and his crew of Muppets provide a fun introduction to Dickens’ classic story, which also made our list of favorite holiday booksRated G

3. Rankin/Bass Stop-Motion Christmas Specials

I’m cheating a little here and lumping a bunch of classic TV Christmas specials into one. The Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials from the 1960s and 70s are brilliant, and you really can’t go wrong with choosing any of them for your movie night. From Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (the longest running Christmas special on TV, airing every year since 1964), to Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus, these specials run on TV each year and still delight kids and adults.

Between Rudolph’s visit to the “Island of Misfit Toys,” and the amazing Heat Miser and Snow Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus, the Rankin/Bass specials are holiday classics for a reason. Not rated

4. Elf

This funny and endearing 2003 film, starring Will Ferrell, tells the story of the good-natured, but naive, Buddy the Elf and his journey of self-discovery. Quotable dialogue, a great cast, and Buddy’s cheerful antics as he attempts to spread Christmas cheer make Elf a fun holiday movie for kids and adults alike. Rated PG

5. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton’s 1993 Halloween-Christmas mashup is a slightly spooky departure from the usual holiday fare. Burton’s trademark visuals in this stop-motion animated film are at their best, and the funny, somewhat dark story and catchy songs make Jack Skellington’s story a wonderfully offbeat addition to the holiday film genre. Very young children might find it too scary, but kids 7+ should be fine. Rated PG

6. White Christmas

Several of our readers mentioned this 1954 classic musical starring Bing Crosby. As you might guess, it includes Crosby singing the holiday song of the same name, which just happens to be the best-selling single of all-time. Reader TTStyle had this to say: “I love White Christmas. Selfless acts of kindness, thinking of others at Christmas time. Old time classic with no bad language. A must watch every year.” Not rated

7. The Polar Express

This 2004 adaptation of a popular children’s book was another reader favorite. This CGI-animated film takes us on a magical train ride to the North Pole, as our doubting protagonist discovers the true Spirit of Christmas. Rated G

8. Home Alone

A favorite of any 90s kid, this comedy starring Macaulay Culkin is still popular with kids today. Reader Kim LR shared: “Home Alone! Still love it to this day and had my little girl give it a whirl… she’s four and laughed all the way through.” Rated PG

9. A Christmas Story

This 1989 holiday favorite tells the story of Ralphie, his zany family, and his longing for a Red Ryder BB gun. Several readers said it was their favorite, and the stories on which it was based also made our list of favorite holiday books for kids. Rated PG

10. Holiday Inn

Our readers love these classic musicals, and it’s not hard to see why – they’re classics for a reason, after all! Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire star in this 1942 story that takes place at an inn that’s only open during the holidays. Not rated

11. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation*

There were several readers who said they thought Christmas Vacation should be on the list. Since this is primarily a list of movies for kids, we’ll include it, but with a disclaimer. The PG-13 rating (for profanity and sexual situations), means parents should use their discretion and decide if it’s appropriate for their kids. Teens may enjoy this slapstick holiday comedy, but for younger kids, parents may want to think twice. Rated PG-13

Note: we limited our selections to full-length movies, which sadly meant leaving out some favorite TV specials like A Charlie Brown Christmas and Dr. Seusss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But of course, at less than 30 minutes a piece, both of these much-loved classics are easy to include in your holiday movie marathon!

Did I leave out your favorite movie? Leave a comment and tell us which holiday movies make your top 10 list!


This post originally appeared on the ThinkTank12 blog.


Image credit: Jason Mrachina (cropped from original) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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