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Film + TV

ChristmasThe Best and Worst Christmas Movies Of All Time

Words by Tom Billinghurst

It’s the most wonderful time of year to watch a snowy, nostalgic flick full of hope and joy. But not all of them are miracles on 34th Street.

Christmas time and movies are natural sofa fellows. It doesn’t get much better over the festive season than curling up on the couch in front of a blazing fire, a hot cup of something in hand and a classic, overly-sentimental movie on. So here are five to watch and five to avoid this Holiday (spoiler alert – avoid) season.

Top 5

  • The Snowman (1982)

If Christmas was a soundtrack, it would be Andy Burrows’ score from Raymond Briggs’ adapted picture book, The Snowman. There can be no debate about that.

The magical escapism of flying through a snowy sky at night to meet Santa, his reindeer and all the other merry-making snowmen around: it’s the very stuff that boys’ dreams are made of at Christmas. And for all the make-believe wonderment, the hard-hitting dénouement of the animated classic is a painfully beautiful metaphor of the reality we all have to confront as we get just a bit too old to unquestionably believe in the Christmas legends.

  • White Christmas (1954)

How could you possibly save a picturesque country inn and your old boss from falling into financial ruin? You could start by having Bing Crosby, Phil Davis, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen put on a musical to produce something of a tear-jerking yuletide miracle. You won’t need much more than that to feel the spirit of Christmas wash over you and elevate your soul to the airy heights of Santa’s sleigh. And that’s exactly what this 1954 classic does, with not a dry eye in the house.

  • Polar Express (2004)

The animated adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 book is everything you want from a Christmas film: a benevolent Tom Hanks spreading his dulcet, reassuring tones across the film, a dark and curious sense of adventure, snowy landscapes and the feeling that you could be the protagonist experiencing this fantastical journey.

  • Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Richard Attenborough was actually born under the name Kris Kringle. True story. Well, not really. But he was born to play the real-life (and legally ratified) Santa Claus for this heart-warming tale that justifies belief if that belief is benign and empowering. “Just because we have no proof does not mean he does not exist” – a flimsy argument to put forward in a court of law, but you don’t care about the logic behind this movie, nor the quantum physics that rule out the feasibility of Santa’s worldwide delivery speed. It’s too romantic for logic. So you suspend your disbelief and you savour ever sentimental drop of this Christmas miracle.

  • Bad Santa (2003)

Billy Bob does a wonderful job of striking that wafer thin balance of the hard-hearted cynics of the festive cheer and the eternal optimists that see Christmas as some sort of magical rejuvenator. Thornton is the bad guy you love to love. The version of ourselves we think we are each Christmas before we remember that actually, this is quite a fun time of year — for whatever reason that may be.

Santa as a bad guy, sleeping, drinking and swearing his way through a meagre existence only made tolerable by telling kids everything they don’t want to hear… wonderfully ironic, witty and compared to everything else out there, unique in its depiction of the reality of this time of year. It’s like The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” in film form.

(And yes, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone and Love Actually missed out. But only just. They are all wonderful in their own Santa-sational way.)

Worst 5

  • I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998)

What says Christmas — the season of thoughtful gifting and filial rejoicing — than, “Come home and I’ll buy you a Porsche for Christmas, son.” Ah, the fruits of the mindless consumerism and discontented holiday shopping obligations. In Roger Ebert’s wonderful description of this film, it is “Pleasantville made from anti-matter.”

  • Fred Claus (2007)

If you like your movies to be well put-together with some care, thought and substance… this is not for you. Vince Vaughan is the underachieving brother of the real Santa (Paul Giamatti) in this bonkers hotchpotch of a film. No surprise it was a box office flop. In all honesty, you’ll get more entertainment by watching gifs and videos on the Darwin Awards Twitter feed for 90 minutes than putting yourself through this agony.

  • Jingle All The Way (1996)

Arnie should have said Hasta La Vista, Baby to this movie as soon as it was brought to his desk. Come to think of it anyone that said yes, at any stage of the production of this film should’ve said Hasta La Vista, and walked away from it. But they didn’t. Like Arnie’s character in the film, they kept chasing the metaphorical Turbo Man doll. They chased it so far and so hard that we all just wanted to take the doll apart, limb by limb by the time that Arnie manages to get his mits on one. And though this mumble jumble of a film does hint at the craziness of Christmas-time consumerism, it’s just comically bad, from start to finish.

On a positive note, you do get to hear Arnie shout, “Put the cookie down!” – perhaps one of the best-worst lines in any Crimbo flick. But that doesn’t save it.

  • The Holiday (2006)

Yeah, that’s right. This appalling sequence of gag-reflex testing scenes is one of the worst. Contrived doesn’t even begin to cover this seasonal abomination’s plot. Yes, Jude Law as a writer and editor looks positively scrumptious in his reading glasses and rumpled hair, but this plot that would crack if a feather landed on its surface is every bit the nauseating, forced fun and saccharine sentimentality that puts many a sane person off their turkey and brussels, and every other sort of Christmas cheer that can be conjured up.

  • Santa With Muscles (1996)

I mean, just re-read the title. Dear oh dear. Hulk Hogan, not exactly the most gifted actor by any stretch, wakes up after being hit on the head and believes he’s Santa. Santa with 24-inch biceps, brother! No, no, no. As plots go, this is up there with: man paints wall, audience watches wall dry. Painful.

Other nominations included:

A Christmas Prince (2018), for its horrendous acting and eye-scratchingly infuriating stereotyping.

A Christmas Carol (2009), for the sacrilege committed by Jim Carey’s annoying, try-too-hard means of turning Scrooge into a caricature and not a character.

Elf (2003), mainly because it’s Will Ferrell at his most annoying.

Is there another Christmas Carol sung out of tune in film form that we’ve missed? Let us know, and we’ll add it to the list.

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