The best Christmas films ever

The top 10 festive films ever made, perfect to snuggle up with this December.


Buddy the Elf was, quite simply, the character Will Ferrell was born to play. An overgrown man-child who’s intentionally faintly irritating, Buddy swaps Santa’s workshop for New York City in a surreal quest to find his real dad. With a scene-stealing cameo by Peter Dinklage and Zooey Deschanel in full manic-pixie-dream-girl form, Elf has, against all the odds, solidified its status as a Christmas classic. Ferrell has starred in quite a few festive flicks down the years, but there’s something about bright yellow tights that just seems to bring out his best.

Love Actually

A bloated, messy, mushy piece of cinema drowning in over-sugared schmaltz, Love Actually is also universally adored and undeniably magical. The ensemble cast includes all manner of Christmas curiosities, from Mr. Bean cameos to handsy US Presidents and a butt-naked Martin Freeman. If you’re one of the three people living who haven’t already seen and loved it, watch it just for disarmingly honest ageing rocker Billy Mack telling the nation’s children “don’t buy drugs… become a pop star and they give you them for free.” Sweet, seasonal, sexy, and definitely not subtle, Love Actually is the life-affirming romp to melt even the iciest in-laws.

In Bruges

For many years, Die Hard was the shooty-shooty Christmas movie (“Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”), but in 2008 In Bruges stole the crown in a hail of bullets and black humour. A nihilistic, philosophical film from the twisted mind of Martin McDonagh, this thriller tries hard to disguise its Christmas setting with a whirlwind of drugs, contract-killing and prostitution. With barnstorming performances from Hollywood heavyweights Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes, it’s the perfect winter watch for cinephiles seeking something seasonal that’s also really, really good.

Jingle All the Way

We don’t know whose idea it was to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead in a holiday movie, but they’re either a genius or a moron. Not for five seconds can Arnie pull off his role as a bedraggled mattress salesman, and conventionally it’s dreadful beyond measure, but there’s something strangely sympathetic about watching the hapless bodybuilder flex his way through 88 minutes of last-minute Christmas shopping. One of those films in which the protagonist “learns the true meaning of Christmas”, Jingle All The Way is an agreeably surreal way to pass a long winter evening.

The Holiday

An extremely conventional Christmas romcom, The Holiday knows its target audience and hits it squarely between the shoulder blades. Romance blossoms when workaholic Cameron Diaz and unlucky-in-love Kate Winslet trade homes for a Christmas vacay, and get more than they bargained for with holiday hunks Jude Law and Jack Black. Sweet, snow-flecked, and wholly predictable, those looking for ‘rom’ will be well-served. Those seeking ‘com’, not so much.

Last Christmas

It’s the most wonderful time of year for snuggling up on your sofa in front of an old DVD, but for those willing to brave the trip to the cinema, we present Last Christmas, a Paul Feig-directed romcom with a George Michael score and a script co-written by Emma Thompson. Emilia Clarke plays Kate, a cynical Londoner whose life has been a parade of bad decisions and even worse luck, until she takes a job as a department store elf and bumps into relentless nice guy Tom. Daenerys Stormborn playing Bridget Jones in an elf costume? Sign us up.

Bad Santa

Conventionally, Christmas is about giving, receiving, and getting sozzled in front of the in-laws. But if you believe Bad Santa, it also includes urinating in your Santa suit, punching children in the face, and precisely 172 uses of the ‘F’ word. Unapologetically vulgar yet still somehow heart-warming, Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed mall Santa-cum-conman gets his comeuppance amid just enough festive cheer to save the movie from meanness. Perfect for a film night with friends, or perhaps a partner, Bad Santa is definitely not fun for all the family.

The Polar Express

A children’s film that doesn’t talk down to its audience, this icy adventure is almost other-worldly, thanks to its dream-like story and oddly haunting score. A pioneering project for motion capture, Tom Hanks plays six distinct roles as he guides both train and film towards the North Pole. Packed to the rafters with sentiment, the film’s heartfelt message will easily enthral the younger generation, and though the CGI looks rough around the edges 15 years on, the swirling snowscapes are still more than stunning enough to keep adults from drifting off.

The Grinch

The latest iteration of this Seussian Scrooge, Benedict Cumberbatch serves up an appropriately grumpy Grinch, who’s much more soft-spoken than Jim Carrey’s surrealist, and downright scary interpretation in the live-action film from 2000. A bright and breezy retelling dripping with colour and quirk, expect to be inundated with warm, fuzzy feelings by the time the credits roll. It doesn’t matter who’s voicing him, the Grinch is still a mean one, and a necessary addition to your festive filmography.