‘Tis the season to be jolly, eat delicious food and rediscover your collection of Christmas DVD’s and Blu-Rays.
There’s nothing quite like sitting around your TV with your family, the tree lights twinkling in the background, all while digging through that tub of Quality Street (or whatever you prefer) for your favourite chocolate; on your TV, there will undoubtedly be a festive film airing.
There’s nothing quite like them: some are impossibly cheesy, others cause debate as to whether they’re a Christmas film at all (here’s lookin’ at you, Bruce Willis).
The Raving Gecko hereby presents a list of the top ten greatest festive films of all time.
10: Jingle All the Way (1996)
Who’d have thought Arnold Schwarzenegger could make such a fun Christmas movie? I’m not denying its cheesy in places but it’s a great warm-up film to get you in the mood.
Crucially, though, it’s honest. Jingle All the Way understands the plight of parents trying to get hold of that must-have toy, although Turbo Man has nothing on a Hatchimal. It’s a great film for adults and children alike – the kids are distracted by the awesomeness of the fictional Turbo Man while parents internally scream “Here, here” at every moment of Arnie’s festive struggle.
The supporting cast, including Sinbad, Phil Hartman and Rita Wilson, offer great one-liners throughout. Notably, Jake Bell stars as Arnie’s son, previous to his foray as Anakin Skywalker: a warning to parents, perhaps, pre-order that toy before your kids turn to the dark side!
A genuinely funny Christmas film, well worth a watch.
9: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)
Although not a typical Christmas film, the Harry Potter franchise was traditionally released in the UK in November – a precursor to the festive season. As Harry and Ron tear down the stone steps to the Gryffindor common room, Christmas lights twinkling – there’s nothing more remarkable.
Ron: Happy Christmas, Harry!
Harry: Happy Christmas, Ron! What are you wearing?
Ron: Oh, Mum made it. Looks like you’ve got one, too.
Harry: [Shocked] I’ve got presents?
The wintry setting of Hogwarts, the knitted sweaters from Mrs. Weasley and the magical atmosphere of Christmas emanates throughout every second of the scene. I know it’s not necessarily a Christmas film, but watch it this time of year and your heart will swell with festive joy… or maybe just encourage you to make a butterbeer.
(Butterbeer Recipes, anyone?)
8: Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
I recently watched this film; the last time having been when I was a kid. There is something genuinely heartening about observing Mara Wilson’s Susan starting to believe in Richard Attenborough’s Kris Kringle – it almost made me cry. When I was a child though, I remember thinking “How can you not believe in Santa?!”.
What sets this film apart from the others is its progression. From Kris getting his job in the fictitious Cole’s to becoming a big influence in Susan’s life. The transition into a courtroom drama serves to cement Kris Kringle as one of the greatest on-screen Father Christmas’ of all time.
Until I started writing this post, I wasn’t actually aware that Miracle on 34th Street is actually an adaptation of a 1947 film of the same name, starring Maureen O’Hara and John Payne.The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Edmund Gwenn), Best Writing, Original Story (Valentine Davies) and Best Writing, Screenplay. Needless to say, the 1994 adaptation had big shoes to fill.
It’s a peculiar film, that is oddly depressing but builds to an emotional climax of triumph; another to build up your festive spirit.
7: The Polar Express (2004)
No doubt the very phrase will conjure the song in your head. The Polar Express has sparked endless recreations on railways across the UK, reigniting the very magic of Christmas.
Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book, it’s hard not to be captivated by the adventure of Robert Zemeckis’ film. Created by performance capture, the animation teeters upon the realistic despite its form – it comes across as rather uncomfortable at times because of its special effects. Tom Hanks performs the majority of voice roles, although it is hardly noticeable.
The artistic skill of the visuals is mesmerizing. Children, however, do not notice anything untoward, they are entirely bewitched by the magic of The Polar Express.
The Polar Express is a movie for more than one season; it will become a perennial, shared by the generations. It has a haunting, magical quality because it has imagined its world freshly and played true to it, sidestepping all the tiresome Christmas clichés that children have inflicted on them this time of year. The conductor tells Hero Boy he thinks he really should get on the train, and I have the same advice for you.
It’s an experience from beginning to end: seeing is believing.
6: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Traditional and heartwarming, it would be sacrilege to omit this film from the list. I’ll admit, the first time I watched the film I was thoroughly unimpressed, but it definitely grows on you with age.
James Stewart stars as George Bailey, a compassionate but frustrated everyman whose life seems to be coming apart. But when Clarence, an angel with one chance to prove his mettle, arrives on earth he teaches George just how much life is worth living.
Tyneside Cinema, a firm favourite of mine, defines the film as ‘a tearjerking, hilarious masterpiece that just gets better every time you watch it’.
And it is just that.
5: Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Now, I’ll understand if you don’t agree with this selection, but this film’s humour is on point. Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther and Nora Krank who choose to skip Christmas (unfathomable!) as their daughter’s first Christmas away from home extinguishes their Christmas spirit.
Naturally, plans change and the Krank’s have to put on their annual Christmas party within a matter of hours. Allen and Curtis’ brilliant comic timing allows you to overlook the film’s discrepancies. Honestly, it’s a laid-back take on Christmas that celebrates community spirit and family – what’s not to like?
Sure, it may be a little unrealistic at times and, perhaps, a little contrived but hell, it’s Christmas! It seriously does have its moments, hence its placement on this list.
Despite the scathing comments and hatred (yes, hatred) exhibited online for this film, please, I urge you to still give it a go. If nothing else, you’ll appreciate your own Christmas traditions and thank god that you’ve already bought your Christmas turkey.
Give the Kranks a chance!
4: The Santa Clause 2 (2002)
This, for me, is a family classic.
Yes, its Tim Allen (again) as Santa – not the most traditional but it is, undoubtedly the most enjoyable. I haven’t written off its predecessor, The Santa Clause – it’s a great film that unfortunately hasn’t stood the test of time as well as its sequel.
The Santa Clause 2 is a treat. It’s one of the few films that genuinely makes you feel Christmassy when the credits roll. I don’t know what it is, either. If anything, it’s more of a rom-com with a bit of Christmas thrown in for good measure. Where the first film was about Scott Calvin becoming Santa Claus, this is the opposite, forcing him to find a Mrs. Claus.
Look too far into the plot and you’ll realise that it’s a bit daft; ignore your filmic common sense, view the film for what it is, and you’ll find yourself enjoying a festive favourite.
3: Die Hard (1988)
Die Hard causes something of a stir every festive season. There are two camps: those who view it as a Christmas film and those who do not (although I’m tempted to say, they’re undoubtedly wrong). Personally, there’s nothing more festive for me than watching Bruce Willis as John McClane running barefoot around the Nakatomi Plaza. A
lan Rickman’s Hans Gruber is delightful as the terrorist mastermind who wants nothing more than to steal $640 million, what a Grinch.
It’s a thrilling film from start to finish, made all the better with nostalgia and a damn good 80s soundtrack. It has its faults, it has its triumphs, and not everyone will agree with this placement. Some people loathe it just for others’ celebration of its imagined festivity:
“Ok, sure. Die Hard is about reconciling with family. But it’s mostly about explosions, and a weird accent, and a sort of conceived robbery plot when you think too much about it. It is a fun action movie that takes place on Christmas Eve for some built-in pathos”
Dana Schwartz, Observer
That’s what, personally, I feel plays to its strengths. Die Hard has its explosions, weird accents and fantastic action sequences – it is not saturated in cheesy Christmas tradition.
It is a film that takes place at Christmas.
And a damn good one too, mofo.
2: Arthur Christmas (2011)
Charming and undoubtedly festive, Arthur Christmas challenges technology over tradition. James McAvoy lends his voice to Arthur, alongside a cast consisting of Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton – British acting royalty. When a child’s present is not delivered on Christmas Eve, Arthur, Santa’s youngest son, takes it upon himself to ensure that the magic of Christmas reaches little Gwen in Trelew, Cornwall.
Arthur Christmas is surprisingly moving, touching on rather deep issues despite its fluffy exterior – it truly is a pleasure to watch.
From Aarhus in Denmark to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, it is quite the visual escapade across the world. While its plot is a little flimsy at times, the ending makes up for it. Olly Richards of Empire defines it as ‘an ending that stuffs in all the Christmas jollity and huggy business that is absolutely core to a Christmas movie but without the overdone syrupy nonsense.’ It’s full of real family issues right in the middle of the North Pole – who knew?
The feeling with which it leaves you is unfettered cheer. It’s just so happy. I always find myself grinning away.
1: Elf (2003)
Like Marmite, you either love it, or hate it. Regardless, it’s hard not to appreciate the festive effervescence of Jon Favreau’s Elf.
I will literally sit and grin from ear to ear for the duration of this film.
It’s so juvenile that it taps into our inherent inner child that still loves Christmas. Imagine if everyone was more like Buddy the Elf? Kind, jovial and full of Christmas spirit. It would be brilliant… for a season. What is great about Elf is that it’s a full-on, in-your-face Christmas-fest that you can thoroughly enjoy (or loathe) once a year.
There’s plenty of opportunities for sing-a-longs, quotable phrases and hilarious gags. It’s just one of those films that is full to the brim of christmas spirit.
This is one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece
Elf challenges the world’s cynicism, which is all too relevant of late, and offers a festive respite in the form of Will Ferrell in yellow tights.
Buddy the Elf is our only hope.
There it is, dear reader, The Raving Gecko’s 10 Greatest Christmas Films of All Time. Think I’ve missed something?
Let me know your favourites in the comments.
Have a great Christmas everyone.
Enjoy the season for what it is – a time to eat, drink and be merry.
Roll on 2017.
Thanks for reading.