Christmas, Ranked

Presenting our community’s 25 top rated festive films of all time (that you mostly watch during the holiday season).

Spoiler alert: Die Hard didn’t make the list. No fighting, it’s Christmas!  

The silly season makes us come over all festive, so we are pleased to present the 25 highest rated Christmas films, according to our community, as at December 2018. Not the most popular, not the most rewatched, not the ones we love to hate, but the seasonal favorites that have coaxed extra star ratings out of you over the years.


Unlike our highest rated horror list, we don’t have a Christmas genre tag to help us narrow the list of appropriate films. So we consulted as many other “best Christmas movie” lists as we could find (including the results of Letterboxd’s own recent Holiday Showdown).

Then we drilled down, applying some filters to ensure that only the most Christmassy of films remained in the list. This is where it got a little fighty at Letterboxd HQ. Eggnog was spilled, but in the end we agreed to a final, shocking, highly controversial 25: Die Hard out! Gremlins out! The Apartment out! “Please explain,” you demand. Happy to, read on.


All films had to be feature length; which meant highly-rated TV specials and short films were out. (For the record, your five highest rated Christmas shorts/featurettes are: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Snowman, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas, and Mickey’s Christmas Carol.)

Released at Christmas

Allowing for a few exceptions due to mid-century film release practices (Miracle on 34th Street was first released in June of 1947), we limited our selection to films released in the window around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Strange as it may seem now, Die Hard and Gremlins functioned primarily as US summer blockbusters that happened to be set at Christmas.

‘Christmassy’ or merely set at Christmas?

Is there just a sprinkling of Christmas, Shane Black-style? Or are the main characters’ actions significantly affected by the specific time of year? Does the film explore deeper moral questions inspired by the “reason for the season” à la It’s a Wonderful Life and Tokyo Godfathers? Does it feel festive?

Just because a film is called Navidad doesn’t mean it’s really about Christmas—sorry Sebastián Lelio. Could the events in the film happen at any other point in the year without significantly affecting the overall experience? Sure, there’s some extra emotional heft to John McClane’s predicament, but honestly? That work party could have taken place in July (and we will gladly receive all your reckons about Die Hard over here).

So where does that leave Carol, you ask…

Watched—and re-watched—at Christmas

Our ultimate filter. “A Christmas movie is like a Christmas song—you don’t want to listen to it except at Christmas,” argued Letterboxd co-founder Karl in the midst of our discussions. Using this theory, we took our master list and applied a new filter: how often are these films also watched at other times in the year? Or do they tend to be December-only appointments?

After running some numbers, a few more highly rated, still-somewhat-Christmassy films dropped off the list. Goodbye, The Apartment. Forget Remember the Night. So long, Carol (even though your name is literally Carol). We’re not saying these are not films you watch at Christmas, but that based on the data, you love these films every month of the year, not only in December. Therefore, we classify them as perennial favorites, rather than Christmas indulgences.

The Top 25

What remains is, we think, a very merry Letterboxd-y list. You have your vintage holiday classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St Louis and White Christmas. A problematic fave or two (looking at you, Holiday Inn). More recent family comedies like Home Alone and Elf. Also: Japanese anime, British animation, a French classic, a Finnish horror-fantasy, and a brand new zombie musical. And four adaptations of Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol (look out, here are 400 versions in a single video).

One thing we observed: that “highest rated” in a Christmas sense means these films carry a modest average rating of three stars or more (with only It’s a Wonderful Life earning an average above four), whereas all 25 films in our horror list are firmly in the four-and-above stratosphere. That’s a comment on the quality of Christmas-themed films, perhaps. (And an opportunity for screenwriters out there.)

So here you have it: the 25 highest rated Christmas films of all time, as at December 2018, according to you, the Letterboxd community. No fighting, it’s Christmas! Read on for recent reviews of each film in the list.

Letterboxd’s 25 Highest Rated Christmas Films (as at December 2018):

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, US)

Directed by Frank Capra

“This is a perfect movie but also the scene where Mary and George are on the phone with Sam and sharing the receiver is like the most sexual tension beautiful wonderful scene ever.” —⁠Emalie

2. Tokyo Godfathers (2003, Japan)

Directed by Satoshi Kon

“Satoshi Kon was only 46 when he died and left behind a small but near perfect and amazingly innovative body of work, all of which I’d like to revisit. This is the one I’ve seen the most as it’s become a semi-regular Christmas tradition. Beyond the animation (which is just incredible) the thing that shines most is Kon’s humanism. Each of the three main characters is complex, sympathetic and very real.” —⁠Delthorpe

3. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, US)

Directed by Henry Selick

“A Halloween/Christmas classic that still stands as one of the best examples of stop motion. The design of the film is amazing and just drenched in atmosphere and the music is just as fantastic. It may not have the grandness and complexity of stop motions that have come after it, but this is still an absolute joy to watch.” —⁠Armin

4. Scrooge (1951, UK)

Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst

A Christmas Carol is a treasure of spirit and good will with which any holiday season is incomplete. Alastair Sim plays Scrooge so magnificently his performance has become the standard by which all other Scrooges are compared. It’s hard to believe now that the film had such a slow start, such an uneven and unheralded journey on its way to becoming a classic. But it did become a classic and for that we can be thankful, forever and without condition. Bonus items: Animated Victorian Puppets.” —⁠Thomas

5. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944, US)

Directed by Vincente Minnelli

“Think I’ll make this film a new annual tradition I loved it so much. Judy Garland is, frankly, magnificent—and I adored her gutsy, knows-who-she-is-and-what-she-wants character.” —⁠Danny

6. Black Christmas (1974, Canada)

Directed by Bob Clark

“It’d been so long since I’d seen this it was almost like watching it for the first time and wow, this is how you make a slasher movie. Everything works so well; the story, the characters, the Christmas setting. But what I enjoyed most is the dark, depressing and moody tone… it is so befitting of the holidays.” —⁠Horrorfan

7. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, US)

Directed by Brian Henson

“Obviously what separates this film apart from other adaptations is the crossover with the Muppets. I never really grew up with them, but this film won me over almost instantly. Being a Jim Henson production the world was full of imagination. The set design looked great, the cinematography captured the feel of Victorian London perfectly, so much so that the Muppets felt like they belonged perfectly in the world.” —⁠Ben

8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, US)

Directed by George Seaton

“The whimsy in this film would’ve been unbearable if Edmund Gwenn wasn’t the greatest Santa ever… It ends on a high note, corralling its whimsy into a joyfully absurd, yet played completely straight, courtroom drama. Once again Gwenn shoulders much of it, but there’s a lot of clever writing too, particularly a moment were a party boss walks the judge through the economic and political implications of ruling Santa Claus doesn’t exist. That’s the strength of this film.” —⁠Hannibal

9. A Christmas Story (1983, US/Canada)

Directed by Bob Clark

“Maybe this dead heart of mine isn’t completely immune to the Christmas spirit after all.” —⁠Detritustank

10. Home Alone (1990, US)

Directed by Chris Columbus

“I never realized how much of a well put-together screenplay Home Alone was till I started to notice all the subtle clever information chunks given out throughout the film and the heavy use of Chekhov’s gun… Not only is it tightly paced, funny, and conveying a lot of information (through dialogue and letting the camera show and not tell): it, in the end, has the warm holiday vibes that I look for in a Christmas classic.” —⁠Lillian

11. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989, US)

Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik

“You know a comedy is a classic that has stood the test of time when a theater full of people who have seen it countless times, still breaks out in laughter at every great moment. Which comes about every couple minutes. Comedy perfection. Christmas perfection.” —⁠Lyndell

12. Joyeux Noël (2005, Belgium/France/Germany)

Directed by Christian Carion

“It’s now been 100 years since the great war ended, so I felt it was fitting to revisit the story of the 1914 Christmas truce, to remind us that light can shine even in the darkest of times… The goodness that these people show just makes one more bitter towards the war and the dehumanization of the enemy. I consider this essential viewing for anyone.” —⁠Rhomega

13. White Christmas (1954, US)

Directed by Michael Curtiz

“So after watching two awful Christmas movies on Netflix yesterday with Mom, we decided to switch to stuff we have on DVDs. It was definitely a good idea.” —⁠Marta

14. Scrooge (1970, UK)

Directed by Ronald Neame

“Albert Finney attacks his Ebenezer Scrooge with glee, from the miserable miser of the first hour, to the ghostly revelations, to the manic and sociopathic reforming zeal of the final sequence, Finney is a delight… Wonderfully seasonal.” —⁠Wilson

15. Santa Claus is a Stinker (Le Père Noël est une ordure) (1982, France)

Directed by Jean-Marie Poiré

“Strong new entry in my list of mandatory Christmas movies.This French Christmas cult comedy tells the story of a group of volunteers from an anti-suicide telephone line, forced to work the Christmas Eve shift. It has, of course, lots of black humor, violence, and slapstick.” —⁠Gregory

16. Christmas in Connecticut (1945, US)

Directed by Peter Godfrey

Christmas in Connecticut is worth checking for the excellent holiday ambiance. A huge, gorgeous Christmas tree features in one scene. Meanwhile, the majority of the film is blanketed in snow, the kind of fake classic movie snow that feels like December to me. At the same time, it doesn’t push the Christmas-y atmosphere too far, like too many modern flicks tend to.” —⁠Zack

17. Arthur Christmas (2011, UK)

Directed by Sarah Smith, Barry Cook

“Within the first couple of minutes the audience is introduced to a different kind of Santa Claus with a whole load of mysticism around [him] that I found incredibly fun and original to witness. Many, many great ideas that joyfully play with the ideas we all have about Santa’s mythos.” —⁠Calib

18. Elf (2003, US)

Directed by Jon Favreau

“I think we all need to come together as a society and admit that Mary Steenburgen is hot as fuck. Then, and only then, are we one step closer to a more peaceful world.” —⁠Veronica

19. Holiday Affair (1949, US)

Directed by Don Hartman

“I’ve been stingy on my five-star ratings, and so was hesitant to give it to a 1940s studio picture that no one has ever considered noteworthy in any way… but how can I not? This is pitch-perfect the whole way through, particularly the child actor (Gordon Gebert), who should join the boy from Jerry Maguire in Hollywood’s pantheon of impossibly adorable children.” —⁠Dave

20. Love Actually (2003, UK)

Directed by Richard Curtis

“Depending on how sentimental or cynical one feels this is the worst garbage or the sweetest piece of cinematic candy that includes f-bombs.” —⁠Rolo

21. Scrooged (1988, US)

Directed by Richard Donner

“I’ll admit that I’ll watch any adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic tale but this is one of my favorites and has secured an every year view… Bill Murray is able to be a funny asshole successfully, seriously the stuff this man does would irritate audiences if it wasn’t accompanied by that smirk we all know and love.” —⁠John

22. Anna and the Apocalypse (2017, UK)

Directed by John McPhail

“Making a movie for the intersection of the Venn diagram of fans of campy zombie movies and fans of cheesy teen musicals seems like a risk, but if you, like me, exist at the center of that intersection, you’ll have a ridiculous amount of fun at Anna and the Apocalypse. I kind of can’t believe this movie ever got made, but I’m glad it did.” —⁠Lauren

23. Holiday Inn (1942, US)

Directed by Mark Sandrich

“Far better than the more popular White Christmas, this one has a lot more musical numbers and a much faster pace. It also has Fred Astaire, who is much stronger than Danny Kaye; he also gives a rare turn as the villain, which actually works. There is an embarrassing blackface number, unfortunately, and despite the faster pace it does overstay its welcome a bit.” —⁠Galen

24. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010, Finland)

Directed by Jalmari Helander

“This was a lot of fun. Jalmari Helander co-writes and directs this endearing little Christmas tale of grief, manhood, love and acceptance. This Finnish comedy/adventure/fantasy is well worth checking out and is a perfect watch for Christmas time.” —⁠Jason

25. Bad Santa (2003, US)

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

“Elevated material, this is. Stocking-stuffed with a clever mix of raunch and good old fashioned Christmas magic, Bad Santa is always worth the seasonal screening.” —⁠Gilbert

Happy holidays!


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