Just in time for Christmas, here’s your official GO! list of the absolute best and worst holiday movies known to mankind.
And just so you know? This list is not up for debate. It is the completely objective, final word on the subject of holiday movies.
(Unless, of course, you decide to write in and tell us otherwise.)
1. “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947)
This black-and-white classic is, hands down, the best — and most underrated — holiday movie in the genre. The always-suave Cary Grant plays Dudley, an angel sent to help harried bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) raise money to build a cathedral and save his relationship with his wife and daughter. And bonus! It co-stars Salt Lake City native Loretta Young in the title role. “The Bishop’s Wife” was remade in 1996 as “The Preacher’s Wife,” starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. It’s good, but still no match for the original.
2. “It’s a Wonderful Life”/“Miracle on 34th Street” (1946 and 1947, respectively)
We’ve opted to include these two films in the same listing because they’re arguably the two most venerated holiday movies of all time. Even offering basic plots here seems unnecessary, as anyone who hasn’t seen — and loved — these movies probably can’t read.
3. “Elf” (2003)
This disarming Christmas comedy stars Will Ferrell as a human raised by elves, who returns to New York City in search of his real father. The solid cast includes Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen and Ed Asner. And remember: Yellow ones don’t stop.
4. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
How do you make a movie with the Muppets even better? Add an amazing human actor. Michael Caine stars as a deliciously miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, with Kermit the Frog playing Bob Cratchit and Gonzo the whatever-it-is acting as narrator Charles Dickens. This family film is filled with catchy songs, talking plants and animals, and an important holiday message from the Dickens classic.
5. “A Christmas Story” (1983)
This nostalgic tale based on the stories of Jean Shepherd tells the story of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker’s attempts to talk his parents — and Santa — into bringing him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. (Fun fact: Twenty years later, Peter Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, appeared as Ming Ming in “Elf.”) Even the annual all-Christmas-Story-all-the-time marathon on TBS and TNT on Christmas Day can’t diminish the charm of this movie.
6. “White Christmas” (1954)
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as a variety performing duo intent on helping their former commanding officer, post-World War II. The film, which is basically just an excuse to show off the singing and dancing chops of its talented cast, also stars Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. There’s not much of a plot, but that makes it a great film to watch when you’re, say, wrapping presents or baking Christmas cookies.
7. “Scrooged” (1988)
If you’re a fan of funnyman Bill Murray, odds are “yule” love this movie. It’s a modern take on the Dickens tale, with Murray as Frank Cross, a miserable television executive who eventually discovers the true meaning of Christmas after being visited by three ghosts. Carol Kane plays a wacky Ghost of Christmas Present, and Bobcat Goldthwait steals the show with his portrayal of sad-sack Eliot Loudermilk.
8. “The Family Man” (2000)
Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni star in this heartwarming holiday tale about second chances. Cage plays a ruthless investment broker who let the love of his life (Leoni) get away back in college. But one Christmas morning he wakes up to find his life completely changed, giving him a glimpse into what might have been. It’s a gentle, funny movie, with impressive supporting roles from Don Cheadle and Jeremy Piven.
9. “While You Were Sleeping” (1995)
This is the lone exception to our “Die Hard” rule of not considering non-Christmas movies that just happen to be set at the holidays. But Sandra Bullock is just so darned adorable in this movie that it gets a pass. Bullock plays Lucy, a subway worker who saves a total stranger from getting hit by a train. When he lapses into a coma, the man’s family mistakes Lucy for his fiancee. Eventually, she begins having feelings for the man’s brother. The film also stars Bill Pullman, and Peter Boyle, with a hilarious Michael Rispoli as Joe Jr.
10. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo reprise their roles as Clark and Ellen Griswold from the original “National Lampoon’s Vacation” film. Clark attempts to give his family the perfect Christmas, to perfectly disastrous results. When you need a silly Christmas movie, this is it.
WORST 1. “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” (2014)
This is probably the only movie on the list that we haven’t actually seen. We have, however, watched the trailer and read a number of reviews from reputable sources. Besides, you don’t have to step in a fresh cowpie to know it would be an unpleasant experience.
2. “Christmas with the Kranks” (2004)
Based on the John Grisham book “Skipping Christmas,” this is a mess of a movie. We watched the first 20 minutes and promptly lost interest.
3.“The Christmas Shoes” (2002)
Bad song, equally bad movie. This made-for-television tale stars Rob Lowe and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as — well, frankly, it’s just not worth telling you the plot. Listen to the treacly holiday tune by NewSong and you’ll know everything you need to know about this one.
4. Any holiday movie with a numeral in it
A long-standing truth is that a sequel is rarely as good as the original. This is especially true for holiday movies. (We’re looking at you, “Jingle All the Way 2” and “The Santa Clause 3.”)
5. “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000)
This one’s a lot like “Scrooged.” If you happen to like the actor who stars in it, you probably like the movie. If not? It’s going to be a long two hours. We happen to enjoy Bill Murray’s humor, but not Jim Carrey’s. Which is why the one makes our “nice” list and the other ends up on the “naughty” ledger. This is a live-action remake of the original animated classic, based on the Dr. Seuss book by the same name. Sorry, but the original is still the king.
6. The “Home Alone” franchise (1990-2012)
We weren’t fans of the first “Home Alone” movie with the terminally cute Macaulay Culkin, but it was downright “Citizen Kane” compared to the ones that followed. Apparently, five of these were made. We only saw the first one. It was more than enough.
7. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1998)
Speaking of bad child actors, Jonathan Taylor Thomas stars in this Disney offering about a college student trying to make a cross-country tip to get home in time for Christmas. If he makes it, his father will give him a Porsche. We lasted about 30 minutes into this one.
8. Any movie airing on the Hallmark or Lifetime channels
The thing is, if you’ve seen one of these films you’ve pretty much seen them all. Boy meets girl and they take an instant dislike to one another. Then they go through a bunch of dramatic/humorous stuff at the holidays and end up falling in love. In the end, everyone learns the true meaning of Christmas. Lather, rinse, repeat.
9. Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
Acknowledging that many people loved this movie, Tim Burton’s vision is just a bit too unsettling for some of us. Yes, it was a commercial and critical success, but still — this film creeped out a LOT of children.
10. “The Polar Express” (2004)
Speaking of creepy, there’s something equally unsettling — albeit much more subtle — about Robert Zemeckis’ reimagining of the Chris Van Allsburg children’s book. Perhaps it’s the dead, shark-like eyes of the computer-generated characters. Or maybe it’s the fact that most of the grownups in the film sound suspiciously like Tom Hanks. (He voiced six of the roles, according to imdb.com.) It’s a beautiful movie, and we really should love it, but “The Polar Express” never fails to leave us cold.