10 classic festive films to watch with your family this Christmas

Published on December 7, 2023 by Andrew
A woman relaxing on a sofa with her feet up at Christmas

Whether you’re looking for a fun family film to keep the kids quiet this Christmas, or you’re looking for an alternative take on the festive period for grownups, there are plenty of great movies to choose from.

From the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life to The Muppet Christmas Carol and even the “Christmas-adjacent” Die Hard, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s your rundown of classic festive films to enjoy with your family this Christmas, whatever your age.

1. The Snowman

This perennial Christmas favourite is based on a story by Raymond Briggs.

An animated story of a snowman who comes to life, the beautiful animation, heartbreaking story and soaring soundtrack make for a magical experience that continues to captivate children of all ages more than four decades after its release.

Made famous by Aled Jones, chorister Peter Auty performs the film version of ‘Walking in the Air’.

2. The Polar Express

Making use of a very different form of animation, Robert Zemeckis’s computer-generated adventure The Polar Express stars a motion-captured Tom Hanks in multiple roles.

A young boy boards the Polar Express on Christmas Eve, bound for the North Pole in a tale of bravery and adventure.

The film is based on a 1985 children’s picture book by the American author Chris Van Allsburg.

3. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Despite numerous adaptions of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, the 1992 version starring Michael Caine and the cast of Jim Henson’s The Muppets remains one of the best.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Caine) learns the error of his ways with the help of Kermit the Frog’s Bob Cratchit, Fozzie Bear as Mr Fozziwig, and Statler and Waldorf as the ghosts of Jacob and Robert Marley.

Great fun for all the family this (and every) Christmas, this is an unforgettable and captivating take on an enduring story.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life

Another true Christmas classic and regularly voted one of the greatest films ever made, Frank Capra’s tale sees James Stewart’s George Bailey given a second chance at life.

Classified as “U Universal – Suitable for all” it’s worth noting the suicide theme that begins the narrative. Guardian angel Clarence comes to George’s rescue as the latter stands on a bridge with thoughts of taking his own life.

Clarence shows George a version of reality without him in it. George, seeing the impact his actions have had – and the lives of his loved ones in a world without him – begs Clarence to return him to his wonderful life.

5. Miracle on 34th Street

A remake of the 1947 original starring Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood, the 1994 version stars Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle.

When Kringle takes on the role of a department store Santa, the man he replaces frames him, landing Kringle in court.

Also starring Mara Wilson as the sceptical Susan Walker, the film is a fine retelling of a Christmas classic that retains all the magic (if not the Oscar wins) of the original.

6. Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin was only 10 years old (but five films into his career) when he starred as Kevin McCallister in 1990’s Home Alone.

When his family head to Paris for Christmas they accidentally leave Kevin behind. Initially enjoying his newfound freedom, things get complicated with the arrival of the “wet bandits”, two burglars played by Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci.

The slapstick, cat-and-mouse adventure that follows has so far spawned five sequels, most recently the 2021 reboot Home Sweet Home Alone.

7. Love Actually

Despite a revisiting of some characters and motivations in recent years, Richard Curtis’s 2007 romantic comedy remains a modern classic and a family favourite.

The all-star cast is headed up by Bill Nighy as the ageing rock star Billy Mack, whose unique take on ‘Love is All Around’ (titled ‘Christmas is All Around’) makes a bid for Christmas number one.

Meanwhile, Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Kiera Knightley (among others) struggle with unrequited love, family, infidelity, and language barriers in the run-up to Christmas.

8. Gremlins

Before Chris Columbus directed Home Alone he wrote the 1984 horror comedy Gremlins. The screenplay was taken on by Steven Spielberg and the pair worked together again, including on The Goonies. Columbus would go on to have a career as a director, including the first two films in the Harry Potter franchise.

In Gremlins, Billy Peltzer receives a mogwai called Gizmo as an early Christmas present, along with three clear rules for looking after it:

  • Don’t expose it to light
  • Don’t get it wet
  • Never feed it after midnight.

Despite Billy’s best efforts, when a friend spills water on Gizmo he begins to multiply and before long a band of Gremlins – led by the violent Stripe – is unleashed.

9. Batman Returns

In Tim Burton’s sequel to his own 1989 film, Batman, Michael Keaton returns in the lead role.

Businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is known as the “Santa Claus of Gotham” until he’s kidnapped and held hostage in the Arctic exhibit at Gotham Zoo. There, he’ll join forces with Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito as the Penguin).

Above ground, meanwhile, Bruce Wayne and Batman cross paths with Selina Kyle, Shreck’s former secretary. Kyle will soon look to take revenge on Schreck in a new guise, as Catwoman.

The holiday season has rarely looked as dark as in Burton’s comic book take on Gotham at Christmas.

10. Die Hard

In this archetypal action film and bona fide classic, Bruce Willis’s John McClane, an NYPD officer, arrives at Nakatomi Plaza for his estranged wife’s Christmas party.

Cue a band of armed terrorists, led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, and McClane finds himself on a one-man mission to save his wife, her fellow hostages, and (probably) Christmas.

Based on Nothing Lasts for Ever, a 1979 book by Roderick Thorp that was itself a sequel, Bruce Willis went on to reprise the role of John McClane in four more Die Hard films, ending with 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard.

Incidentally, the first two films take place during the festive season. With Die Hard 2: Die Harder set on Christmas Eve, why not enjoy the perfect Christmas double bill?

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