This is the fourth iteration of this list I think. More rad shit every year. More film versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’, the greatest story ever written, every year. No doubt elements of it will be melancholy for you, as it will be for me, but enjoy the season. Enjoy watching some of this rad stuff along the ride. Peace.
I’ve always loved Christmas films and TV, even as I got older. There’s something about those simple, lovely themes that I do think can add some beauty to what has become an overwhelming consumerist vibe to the season. All of these have something of that vibe of togetherness, love, and reflection, though not always in the most obvious of ways. Many of them also have that sense of loss and reflection, of melancholy, that is an unmistakable part of this time of year too.
Our little Aussie streaming service that could (little in the sense that it’s owned by a massive local media conglomerate) loves Christmas. They tag their stuff really well on here and have selections of Christmas TV episodes really well curated.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – I wrote a full review of this one a whiles back that you can read here. It’s a radical Christmas classic.
- Community: ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’(season 2, episode 11): One of my favourite things on this entire list. The spirit of the season examined through the exploration of one (Muslim) person’s mental health and search for the meaning of Christmas. A hilarious take on the Christmas musical in super cool stop motion animation.
- Parks and Recreation: ‘Ron and Diane’ (season 5, episode 9): The Parks and Rec Christmas episodes probably don’t stand alone as well as some others. But this still has giggly awed at woodworking royalty Ron Swanson which is beautiful. And the focus on Jerry Gergich, always an underrated supporting character, and his famous Christmas party is a cute way to bring in those traditional themes.
- The O.C.: ‘The Best Chrismukkah Ever’ (season 1, episode 13): This was in the brief golden period when this show’s dynamic was so sharp. Seth Cohen’s energy comes to the fore here with the made-up holiday and Summer/Anna. Even now, so far removed from this show the music still rules. And Ben McKenzie gives a good emotional performance here as Ryan, which delivers a lot of the thematic goods.
- Bad Moms 2 (2017) – This is a solid film that never quite lives up to the promise of having a hitchhiking Susan Sarandon play the mother of Kathryn Hahn (what film could). But this is a decent comedy that is actually pretty thematically rich – zeroing in on the mental load on women during the season. Let’s face it, Christmas can be fuckin stressful and most of that falls on mums. Those themes, some really nice performances and some interesting romantic stuff make it worth a look.
- Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (2010) – Generally I would frown on the themes of Dickens’ masterpiece being updated. But this does that in a way that totally reframes them, but is respectful – nature of memory, kids moving on from Christmas. In a way that enhances the original’s melancholy messaging. Michael Gambon is having a great time just hamming stuff up. A creative adaptation that leans into the sci-fi vibes. It’s legitimately emotional and beautiful.
- Gremlins (1984) – Not quite as fun as I recall, a bit of a plotless mess at times. But this is drenched in the Christmas season and is the ultimate ill-advised chrissy present tale. Has some of the best practical effects ever in the form of the animatronics. Gets dark.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: ‘Deck the Halls’ (season 1, episode 15) – In which Will is aghast at Ashleigh’s lack of Christmas spirit. Often the comedy in this show doesn’t really hold up. But this is very funny. Will Smith is great. And this is that outsider character of his brashly indoctrinating someone he cares about into Christmas. He’s a young and fearless performer here. Evander Holyfield also pops up for an all-time classic cameo.
- Batman: The Animated Series: ‘Christmas with the Joker’ (season 1, episode 38) – Starts with the Joker busting out of Arkham singing his own version of Jingle Bells. So that’s pretty sweet. It’s such a stunning looking show. Robin filled with Christmas cheer (and desperate to watch It’s a Wonderful Life) is a very good counterpoint to Bruce Wayne.
- The Polar Express (2004) – I’m certainly in the minority with this one as most people hate it. But I think it’s excellent. Something about the sensibility of it appeals. Christmas vibes and themes (particularly the role of belief in the season) mixed with some adventure film beats. One of the great cinema Santa’s Workshops too.
The kings of Christmas schmaltz continue to flood their service with seasonal stuff, their own and older stuff too.
- A Very Murray Christmas (2015) – I’ve watched this every December since it came out. Murray’s schtick, which can be hit and miss for me, works really well in this. There are some cool songs that add to the storytelling and Sofia Coppola infuses some of her visual style in here as well. Importantly it’s also super funny.
- The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – AKA Kurt Russell Santa The Movie. This is actually quite a meaningful take on the Christmas mythos. Plus it looks really ace and is well acted all round. A lovely sense of magic and wonder to the world created here. Another favourite I watch pretty much every year.
- The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020) – Not as good as the first, but a more than worthwhile continuation of the characters and themes. Slick but in a not altogether bad way as there’s plenty of charm here. Goldie Hawn brings such joy and compliments Russell’s Santa very well. Leans into the elf stuff here, giving us loads more of that mythology.
- Klaus (2019) – This is an absolutely stunning looking animation. There is an interesting out of time quality to this, there’s no hint as to when it is set. It’s a different take on the character of Santa too, how they reframe it. The film at times falls into the pitfalls of contemporary animation and having too modern a sensibility, with glib winking montages making multiple appearances. But that take on Santa and the really quite poignant ending make it worthwhile.
- Holidate (2020) – Not strictly a Christmas movie. But it features and in terms of schmaltzy rom-coms this is extremely good. Plus there’s a grand romantic Christmas payoff. The sublime casting helps a lot, Emma Roberts is always ace (seeing her spit “fucking holidays” whilst smoking a durry makes this worth a watch by itself) and Luke Bracey is solid too. It’s kinda raunchy and there are loads of good laughs.
- Jingle Jangle (2020) – Love the storytime feel to this one. The whole vibe around the songs is great too. Musically interesting, great dancing and they flow beautifully with the film. Design and costuming are absolutely spot on. There are some charming relationships built up throughout the film as well, particularly a grandfather-granddaughter one.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine: ‘Captain Latvia’ (season 4, episode 10) – Latvian gun runners, a Jingle All the Way riff and a carolling competition. Is the best, and most Christmassy, of the series’ seasonal episodes. Also stands alone easily so can just watch it in isolation.
- Nailed It! Holiday! – Nailed It absolutely rules. It is somehow the kindest reality show that pokes fun at people truly awful at what they are attempting. Charming, unserious and Nicole Byers is the perfect host.
- ‘We’re Scrooged’ (season 2, episode 1): A Christmas Carol themed episode with co-host Jason Mantzoukas. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of his comedic energy. But he’s fucking hilarious here. And there’s some delightful riffs on Dickens’ work. The hosts, and I, basically had a laughing fit at one of the cakes presented.
- ‘A Classic Christmas’ (season 2, episode 2): The great Maya Rudolph brings a dry wit to this one that complements Byers and Jacques absolutely perfectly. I could listen to Rudolph riff over stellar incompetence such as not being able to open the fridge every day of the year.
- Stuff mentioned elsewhere that’s also available on Netflix: Community: ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ (see the Stan section), Bad Moms 2 (see the Stan section), The Polar Express (see the Stan section).
Maybe the other kings of Christmas content, as far as sheer volume goes.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – The best Muppets movie and a fantastic adaptation of Dickens’ work. So charming. Captures that snowbound sense of (northern) Christmas. Shows the class situation of the masses well too and Michael Caine is a really excellent Scrooge. It’s a very funny script but laces it with direct lines from the book to give it the Dickens vibe. Never shies away from the absurdity that it’s the Muppets doing this story.
- A Christmas Carol (2009) – Robert Zemeckis is the man and this is a criminally underrated adaptation of the source material. The performance (or four) from Carrey is the best use of his wonderful physicality in the last 20-odd years. And it doesn’t forget this is a ghost story, some of the horror beats are chilling. The script is an excellent, emotionally resonant rendering of Dickens’ novella.
- One Magic Christmas (1985) – First the good stuff (and it’s mostly really good stuff). Harry Dean Stanton as a cowboy Christmas angel! An excellent Mary Steenburgen performance as an utterly worn-down mother figure, in a film that is super concerned with class. Another film that digs into the load on mothers at this time of year. Quite an adult film thematically. Now the bad (which is a bit of a spoiler): The film has a woman believe her whole family is dead, so she’ll get some Christmas spirit… that’s super super fucked up. But the fact I still recommend this shows how strong (and original) those good elements are.
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999) – Donald Duck is the worst fuckin character. But despite that, this Disney anthology is a good, easy Christmas watch. Some nice slapstick and traditional Christmas messages presented in a slightly different way. And the final segment functions as a quite sad indictment of what the consumerist nature of Christmas forces us into.
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – Until the ghosts appear, this is not great at all. Aside from Scrooge being amazing casting as Ebenezer Scrooge (funny that). Looks a little cheap and some of the changes fuck up the messaging. But once the three ghosts stuff starts, this rules hard. Absolutely crushes the messaging through all three. Gets really bleak and frightening (seriously I will never understand how Dickens’ book came to be for kids) but the second half of this is as good as any of the other adaptations on the list.
- Santa’s Workshop (1932) – A rad little short. Old fashioned Disney hand-drawn animation and music at its best. It’s all nice and jauntily done, particularly the lovely rhyming script.
- Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year (2002) – A good one for the smallest of Christmas fans. Uses carols well and Eeyore is quite funny. Some of the messaging – spirit over presents – is really nice.
- Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special (2016) – First off, this is not as really young kid friendly as I was expecting. So that’s worth being aware of. But it’s also unexpectedly anarchic. Has a lot of little jokes more aimed at parents, which didn’t bother me like it often does. Uses music, both traditional and new, really well and the animation styling is cool too.
- The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022)– I have felt a little checked out on the Guardians recently. But this is a good use of those characters and screen personas. I think having the focus being on Drax and Mantis helps massively. They have a very fun, winning dynamic. In terms of soundtrack, this mix of alternate Christmas songs, is one of the best films on the list.
- The Simpsons – I was sort of surprised when I went looking that there were actually very few Christmas episodes in the show’s golden age. The ones that do exist are only ok really and I think in a way the show is too cynical to totally embrace the spirit of the season. But these two are decent enough if you really want a fix:
- ‘Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire’ (season 1, episode 1): Rough as guts animation and voiceover. But it’s a passable Christmas storyline with a nice finish to it.
- ‘Miracle on Evergreen Terrace’ (season 9, episode 11): Nice and Christmassy with lots of the iconography. A reasonable arc for Bart too which is rarely a strength of the show.
As evidenced by the small list of stuff only they have, Christmas is not a prime focus of these big evil folks.
- The Field Guide to Evil (2018) – This is a good not great horror anthology, held together by the commitment to the folklore vibe. And importantly for the purposes of this piece, the fifth short from Greece titled ‘Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan’ is a Christmas story. A very cool little one at that, with a nice mixture of and new themes and imagery. The creature is super creepy too.
- Stuff mentioned elsewhere that’s also available on Prime Video: Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (see the Stan section) and It’s a Wonderful Life.
If you are not aware, Tubi is a really fun, free (though ad supported) streaming service. Traditionally known for their genre/lower budget stuff, there’s some really interesting pockets of Christmas viewing to be had.
- Jack Frost (1997) – Stories about killer snowmen should be fun, and this one really is. An absolute silly delight. Plays in the slasher space. Incorporates Christmas iconography very very well (and bloodily). Though one word of warning: there is one crappy assault scene in here involving the Shannon Elizabeth character.
- A Christmas Carol (1984) – I don’t say this lightly: this is the supreme adaptation of the Dickens novella. George C. Scott as Scrooge nails the world-weariness, frustration, and coldness of the character. It’s a super-rich characterisation. A really strong adaptation that is brought to life in a really atmospheric way. Gets to the melancholy of the story, which is so important. That recognition of time wasted. Has the class politics of the Dickens, but also the emotion. A masterpiece.
- A Christmas Carol (1999) – starts slow and early it mainly functions as comforting late 90s BBC adaptation vibes. But this grows into one of the best adaptations of this story. Patrick Stewart is excellent. Taking the journey from sneeringly harsh, to frightened, to reflective, to redeemed. It’s not just the melancholy of the season, but of a life that Dickens is concerned with and this one draws that out. The power of Christmas to transform a mindset or a person.
- Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970) – A lot of the classic Rankin Bass stuff is a little hard to come by on streaming so it’s cool this has popped up. Their brand of stop-motion is such a strange, mainly charming, artform. This is a fantasy informed Santa origin story. Undoubtedly old fashioned. Some amazing character design, particularly of the really quite scary villain. A straightforward, delightful Santa story. Though the future Mrs Claus does sing a very uncomfortable love song with trippy visuals.
- Tales From the Crypt (1972) – This is the best horror anthology I’ve ever seen. But for the purposes of this piece, just know that the first tale is an amazing slice of Christmas horror. Carols and Christmas trimmings give way to brutal slaying. A prototypical escaped maniac dressed like Santa story. Short, sharp and perfectly constructed.
Horror streamers Shudder have a small, but interesting selection of stuff. What I have watched is a mixed bag, but I absolutely love this one.
- A Creepshow Holiday Special (2020) – This has a delightfully off-kilter vibe to it. It creeps along for a while, with no real Christmas content. But the moment it reveals the Christmas connection is a brilliant little beat! An awesome reframing of the department store Santa. The whole thing weird and funny, really helped along by a wonderful performance from Anna Camp and some super funny effects & costuming.
Not too many folks have jumped aboard this service. And I see why to be honest. But these are two of my absolute things on this entire list. So grab a free trial and check these two out.
- Hey Arnold!: ‘Arnold’s Christmas’ (season 1, episode 20) – this absolutely crushes. Helga is a perfect character to be a cipher for Scroogey Christmas commercialism. It looks great – snowy city streets and decorations. Uses some heavy shit to convey its message – we’re talking Vietnam War flashbacks and families being separated. A refugee story, which is pretty bloody apt for Christmas. Close to perfection as a piece of Christmas media. I cried.
- The Twilight Zone: ‘Night of the Meek’(season 2, episode 11) – Bloody radical stuff. Drenched in Christmas from the start. Opens with a department store Santa on the turps. The emotion is really raw in this thing. It’s well realised and slick, with a very good script. Stark depiction of alcoholism and very class conscious. It’s a great take on the magic and spirit of Christmas, and a rare super class-conscious take on the season that’s not a Dickens adaptation.
- Santa Claus (1898) – A fun little curio. Directed by British film pioneer George Albert Smith, this is a one minute 16 second long piece of early cinema trickery as Santa visits a couple of kids. You can see a nice copy from the BFI here.
- Star Wars Christmas Special (1978) – I can’t in good conscience recommend you sit down and watch this. As a piece of art it’s wildly misjudged. But it’s a hilariously ‘good-bad’ choice to have on in the background as you wrap presents or even at a Christmas party. It’s well known that Disney will never release this officially. But given the version here has been up for 6 years and been watched a couple of million times, it’s clear they don’t give a shit enough to have it pulled down.
- A Luchagore Christmas (2015) – Two minutes of very atmospheric Christmas horror. Cool set dressing that gets darker quickly. Really dig the reinterpretation of Christmas imagery and tropes here, particularly the carol on the soundtrack. There’s a rad, gross kicker to finish it off. You can watch it here.