The best Christmas movies are the ones that allow you to experience the holiday in new, unexpected ways. This list from Rotten Tomatoes reveals that the best Christmas movies of all time are varied, with the top ten (see below) including animated films, broad comedies, romance movies, and only really one film that actually stars Santa. From classics like Remember the Night (1940), Miracle on 34th Street and It's A Wonderful Life to newer fare like Carol (2015), see which films topped the Rotten Tomatoes list below.
For the full ranking of 55 Christmas movies, click here.
10. Remember the Night (1940)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: With a deft blending of humor, sentimentality and romance, this Preston Sturges-penned comedy centers on the romance between a caring attorney and the shoplifter he must prosecute. The whole situation begins near Christmas time when the girl (Barbara Stanwyck) is caught lifting a diamond bracelet from a posh New York store. Because the holiday is so close, the judge decides to postpone the case until after the New Year, leaving her to spend the season alone in jail.
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway
Directed By: Mitchell Leisen
9. Carol (2015)
Critics Consensus: Shaped by Todd Haynes' deft direction and powered by a strong cast led by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol lives up to its groundbreaking source material.
Synopsis: In this adaptation of the novel "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith, Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department-store clerk in 1950s Manhattan, meets Carol (Cate Blanchett), a beautiful older woman stuck in a depressing marriage of convenience. As their bond deepens and they become romantically involved, Carol finds the strength to leave her husband (Kyle Chandler). Unfortunately, her spouse starts to raise questions about her fitness as a mother when he realizes that Carol's relationships with her best friend Abby (Sarah Paulson) and Therese are more than just friendships. Directed by Todd Haynes.
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Kyle Chandler, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson
Directed By: Todd Haynes
8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)
Critics Consensus: How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story -- and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.
Synopsis: Chuck Jones' animated version of the classic Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas originally aired on television in 1966 and has since become a holiday family favorite. Voiced by Boris Karloff (who also narrates), the Grinch lives on top of a hill overlooking Whoville with his dog, Max. Each year at Christmas time, the Grinch's hatred grows stronger toward those insufferably cheerful Whos down in Whoville. Content to exchange presents, eat large banquets, and sing songs in the town square, the Whos live in a blissful ignorance of the Grinch's contempt.
Starring: Boris Karloff, June Foray, Thurl Ravenscroft, Eugene Poddany
Directed By: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Critics Consensus: The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation.
Synopsis: Despite having recently presided over a very successful Halloween, Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King, is bored with his job and feels that life in Halloweenland lacks meaning. Then he stumbles upon Christmastown and promptly decides to make the Yuletide his own.
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, Glenn Shadix, Danny Elfman
Directed By: Henry Selick, Tim Burton
6. Babes in Toyland (1934)
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Two bumbling apprentices to the master toymaker of Toyland try to raise money to help Little Bo-Peep and her sweetheart Tom-Tom.
Starring: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Charlotte Henry, Felix Knight
Directed By: Gus Meins, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers
5. Holiday Inn (1942)
Critics Consensus: With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic -- not least because it introduced "White Christmas" to the world.
Synopsis: Music by Irving Berlin, songs by Bing Crosby and dancing by Fred Astaire all add up to a really delightful musical that also just happened to launch the hit 'White Christmas'.
Starring: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale
Directed By: Mark Sandrich
4. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Critics Consensus: Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.
Synopsis: The Shop Around the Corner is adapted from the Hungarian play by Nikolaus (Miklos) Laszlo. Budapest gift-shop clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and newly hired shopgirl Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) hate each other almost at first sight. Kralik would prefer the company of the woman with whom he is corresponding by mail but has never met. Novak likewise carries a torch for her male pen pal, whom she also has never laid eyes on. It doesn't take a PhD degree to figure out that Kralik and Novak have been writing letters to each other.
Starring: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch
3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Critics Consensus: Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.
Synopsis: Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a bearded old gent who is the living image of Santa Claus. Serving as a last-minute replacement for the drunken Santa who was to have led Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Kringle is offered a job as a Macy's toy-department Santa. Supervisor Maureen O'Hara soon begins having second thoughts about hiring Kris: it's bad enough that he is laboring under the delusion that he's the genuine Saint Nick; but when he begins advising customers to shop elsewhere for toys that they can't find at Macy's, he's gone too far!
Starring: Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood
Directed By: George Seaton
2. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Critics Consensus: A disarmingly sweet musical led by outstanding performances from Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, Meet Me in St. Louis offers a holiday treat for all ages.
Synopsis: Sally Benson's short stories about the turn-of-the-century Smith family of St. Louis were tackled by a battalion of MGM screenwriters, who hoped to find a throughline to connect the anecdotal tales. After several false starts (one of which proposed that the eldest Smith daughter be kidnapped and held for ransom), the result was the charming valentine-card musical Meet Me in St. Louis. The plot hinges on the possibility that Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), the family's banker father, might uproot the Smiths to New York, scuttling his daughter Esther (Judy Garland)'s romance with boy-next-door John Truett (Tom Drake).
Starring: Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Lucille Bremer, Mary Astor
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli
1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Critics Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It's a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.
Synopsis: This is director Frank Capra's classic bittersweet comedy/drama about George Bailey (James Stewart), the eternally-in-debt guiding force of a bank in the typical American small town of Bedford Falls. As the film opens, it's Christmas Eve, 1946, and George, who has long considered himself a failure, faces financial ruin and arrest and is seriously contemplating suicide. High above Bedford Falls, two celestial voices discuss Bailey's dilemma and decide to send down eternally bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), who after 200 years has yet to earn his wings, to help George out.
Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell
Directed By: Frank Capra