Holiday Movie Night Guide

For many, the holiday season can be a bit chaotic. Between shopping, holiday parties, traveling, decorating, wrapping, and baking, it seems like there’s barely a moment to relax. If you’ve found yourself running around with a never ending to-do list, but still want to watch some great holiday films or shows, then look no further. I’ve compiled a list of a few themed nights. If you only have time for one night of movie watching, my specially selected categories will hopefully guide you to the perfect mini-marathon that can help you cross another item off the list! Whether you live for the holidays, or you can’t wait until they’re over, there’s bound to be a mini-marathon on this list that’s tailor made for you!

by Betheny Rose

Mini-marathon 1: Overwhelmed by the Holidays

Depending on the year, I sometimes find myself in this category. I think it’s because I start planning things so early (my official Holiday Schedule adorns my refrigerator by August). I love wrapping last-minute gifts, turning on the tree lights, and going to seasonal festivities in the area, but I often find myself turning off the Christmas music, and searching for a non-holiday themed film to watch. If you’re in the same boat, but still want to watch some holiday films, then I think these three are your best bets.

The Holiday (2006). While it takes place during the holiday season, more focus is on relationships. As an added bonus, the friendship that blossoms between Iris and Arthur is just as significant to the film as the romantic relationships, and it is perhaps the least “holiday-ish” storyline in the film (minus a very entertaining Chanukah party).

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). This film focuses on Christmas for only a portion of the run time, yet that section provides viewers with one of the most beloved treasures of the season: Judy Garland’s rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Christmas with the Kranks (2004): If you are wondering if the season is just too much to take sometimes, watching Nora and Luther Krank attempt to skip Christmas might put things in a new (at least comical) perspective.

Mini-marathon 2: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!!

If you can’t get enough of the holiday season, you probably know all the movie options available. But there’s also a good chance that you definitely don’t have time to get around to them all. When you finally do have the time to watch some films, you want to make sure that your love of the season is represented in nearly every frame. In that case, you should go for these classics.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). No, the Griswold family does not always experience a blissful holiday, what with bickering in-laws, a powerless light display, and Cousin Eddie, there are plenty of flaws in Clark’s merry and bright plans. Still, he perseveres. Whether he’s searching for the perfect tree, replacing the perfect tree, sipping eggnog out of a moose head, or reminiscing on past Christmas’ while locked in an attic, Clark always lets the spirit of the season prevail over the chaos that’s sure to accompany it.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). You know it. You love it. You can’t enjoy the season without it. If you need time to reflect on all of the wonderful people you have in your life, you can’t miss with this film. Just make sure you have a box of tissues ready to wipe your tears!

Elf (2003). This film became a holiday classic almost immediately, and much of its success can be attributed to Will Ferrell’s performance as Buddy the Elf. This film is able to focus around a character who has all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a child when it comes to Christmas, yet it is definitely a movie for adults. You might never get to walk through the Candy Cane Forest, but you can enjoy some of the world’s best coffee (or maple syrup spaghetti if you’re really feeling adventurous) while watching this hilarious and heartfelt film.

Mini-marathon 3: A Christmas Carol Times 3

Charles Dickens’ classic tale is one of my favorites, and the idea of revisiting your past, reevaluating your present, and peeking into your future is one that many audiences can relate to. It’s no wonder then that this story is adapted all of the time, so if you love A Christmas Carol you might have a hard time picking which of the many adaptations to watch. In fact, as much as I love Christmas movies, this category was by far the hardest to narrow down. But I think you’ll be pleased with the results.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983). If you want to enjoy a film the whole family can appreciate, then head straight for this delightful re-telling that follows Scrooge (McDuck, of course), Marley (aka Goofy), and Bob Cratchit (Mickey Mouse). While Scrooge’s mistakes are still part of the story, more of the lighthearted moments are focused on. And if you have a busy holiday schedule, this film’s sparse running time is just under 30 minutes, allowing plenty of time to get back to those cookies (or to watch it just one more time before bedtime).

Scrooged (1988). Bill Murray’s portrayal of Frank Cross (the story’s Scrooge), is a perfect blend of comedy, heart, and heartlessness. Yes, the film is a constant reminder that it was made in the ’80s (“Send him a VHS home video recorder,” Bobcat Goldthwait, TaB soda, etc.), but the timeless story triumphs over its dated pop culture moments. Carol Kane is simply delightful as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and she’s just one of the great stars in the film. Even Robert Mitchum is in this one! Since there are a number of ghosts in this film, there are some comically macabre moments that appeal to my horror-loving side. And since most viewers have likely seen a version or twelve of the story, the ending wraps up by focusing on a sing-along of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” offering a refreshing take on the story’s ending.

A Christmas Carol (1984). This was a tough one. The 1951 version is also great, along with some more non traditional versions like The Muppet Christmas Carol. But I picked this one for two reasons. I felt like I needed to pick a more traditional take on the story, especially since when you are working with such strong source material, there’s nothing boring or bothersome about a traditional version. And, while there have been some great takes on Ebenezer Scrooge, I just think George C. Scott’s performance is one of the greatest.

Mini-marathon 4: Is it Halloween Yet?

Since I love horror films, my first inclination when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the season is to watch horror films. There are actually a lot of great films that combine horror with Christmas, and, of course, there are a lot of cheesy takes on the combination as well. My picks for horrific Christmas movies have some genuine scares.

Gremlins (1984). You might not be able to watch this one with your youngest family members, but if you have teenagers who are showing some severe apathy towards the season (except for when it comes to gifts, of course), surprise them by popping in this creepy and funny holiday delight.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Definitely a more grisly take on the holidays. A couple killer Santas might be enough to make this a tradition for mature audiences only. I actually almost put Christmas Evil here instead of this film, but this was the first Christmas themed horror film I ever saw (yes, even before Gremlins), so I can’t help but recommend it.

Black Christmas (1974). When it comes to Christmas films and director Bob Clark, you might be more apt to watch A Christmas Story. I happen to like Black Christmas much more. The cast includes John Saxon, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, and Olivia Hussey, whose characters are all involved in some way in a holiday killing spree at a sorority.

Yes, I do have another scary treat to recommend. Keep reading my other marathon suggestions to find out what it is!

Mini-marathon 5: Not a Fan of Christmas Movies

Why watch a holiday marathon then? It might not be your first choice, but maybe your partner, best friend, or closest family member really wants to watch some Christmas movies with you. You don’t want to say no (well, maybe you do, but even you can’t escape the season of giving), so you need to think of a film that will satisfy both parties. Since I really do love this season, I took some advice from my not-so-festive partner on what films are more than tolerable during this time of year.

Trading Places (1983). The film takes place over the holiday season, so there are some festive decorations that at times make it feel like a holiday film, but those trees and wreaths could easily be replaced and the actual film wouldn’t change a bit. Like film versions of  A Christmas Carol, the actual storyline isn’t new, but the modern setting and casting makes this a fresh take on a classic. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are great as the leads, but the supporting cast of Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy, and Denholm Elliott help make this film one that never hits a low note. A lot of my favorite holiday films make me cry, but this one makes me laugh and laugh.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011). A great third addition to the Harold and Kumar franchise. This time, the guys are estranged, but a Christmas tree mishap could bring them closer together. Another really funny film. I wasn’t sure how this franchise could be turned into a Christmas film, but I have to admit it worked (though the 3D gimmick wasn’t needed).

Die Hard (1988). Of course!  Even I can’t wait for the annual Die Hard viewing. It’s so good. I don’t really have to explain this one, I don’t think!

Mini-marathon 6: Holiday Musicals

I love musicals. A lot. The ones listed here offer traditional music, as well as some non-holiday songs, just in case you are feeling a little tired of hearing the same songs over and over again.

White Christmas (1954). While the title song is one you might hear a lot this time of year, this wonderful musical also features some great non-holiday songs. My personal favorite is the “Sisters” song, which is performed gracefully by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Miles (though Clooney’s voice is the only singing voice used), and then comically by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. While Miles doesn’t do her own singing, her tremendous talent as a dancer is put to great use. Another great song is the “Snow” song the quartet sings on the train to Vermont, and I always wonder why this song hasn’t been included on more holiday compilations or played on any Christmas stations.

8 Women (2002). This French film is a great combination of three of my favorite types of films: Holiday, Musical, and Murder Mystery. A great cast featuring Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, and Fanny Ardant, this mystery is set during the holiday season, with the women breaking into song as they try to piece together the puzzle.

The Year without a Santa Claus (1974). A lot of animated holiday films include songs, but this one has two of my favorites. Yes, Rudolph has “Rudolph” and Frosty has “Frosty” but what these, and other animated films, don’t have are the quarreling Miser brothers! The Heat Miser and his brother Snow Miser both have their signature songs. While similar, each song is incredibly fun to sing along to, and unlike some of the other popular songs from animated films, these are ones you probably haven’t heard a million times during December. There are other fun songs too, and my favorite after the Miser songs has to be “Snow Right Here in Dixie.”

Mini-marathon 7: Bethany’s Movie Night

Any of these three films could have gone in another category, but if I were to create my own mini-marathon,  I think I’d pair these three for the reasons listed here.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940). James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are such a great pair. This is actually a film I didn’t get around to seeing until only a few years ago, and I almost feel robbed of all my Christmases without it. It is such a beautiful film that always has me in tears. It has a little of everything I want in a holiday film, but it never goes overboard on any element. The focus is really the relationship between Stewart and Sullivan’s characters. Beautiful movie directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch!

I’ll be Home for Christmas (1988). One of my personal favorites. My dad and I always looked forward to watching this one, but it seems like I don’t know a lot of other people who do. You should. One needn’t be a former (or current) fan of JTT to enjoy this film. It’s a holiday road-trip that is family friendly but not super juvenile, even though the stars are all teens. Watch this film and “Desert, Santa, Buzzard, Tumbleweed” might become part of your holiday lexicon.

Batman Returns (1992). Another great one for those who don’t love Christmas movies, or those who are feeling a bit overwhelmed, and a great way to end a night of Christmas movies. Yes, it seems like there’s an abundance of superhero films coming out these days, but I still haven’t enjoyed any of the new films as much as I did Tim Burton’s Batman films. Jack Nicholson’s Joker from Batman usually gets the fanfare when it comes to the two Burton films, but I think Danny DeVito’s Penguin is an equally great performance.

Mini-marathon 8: Television Episodes and Specials

I’m finishing this list with some suggestions for those of you who are incredibly pressed for time, or those of you who feel like you watch the same movies every December. With the abundance of TV on DVD sets, streaming services, and television channels, it’s easier and easier to find some great television episodes to watch. Here are some of my favorites that have a holiday theme.

“The Night of the Meek” Season 2, Episode 11 of The Twilight Zone. My annual December 31st tradition is sitting on the couch and watching The Twilight Zone marathon, but just a week prior I watch this episode that features Art Carney as a department-store Santa. It’s an episode that starts with a man who’s down on his luck, but unlike many of the series’ signature episodes, this one ends with a more hopeful twist.

“And All Through the House” Season 1, Episode 2 of Tales from the Crypt. This episode isn’t the first time this macabre tale was filmed. It was one of the segments featured in the Tales from the Crypt movie (1972), and the film version is great. But, again, if you are short on time, the television version is equally scary and gruesome.

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988). This special features nearly everything you’d want from a variety show. There’s lots of guest stars (Joan Rivers, Frankie and Annette, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cher , to name a few), musical performances (including truly zany but fun performances from k.d. Lang and Grace Jones), corny jokes, and a silly storyline that culminates in one of the more serious moments of the show.

“Christmas Party” Season 2, Episode 10 of The Office (American version). Even if you haven’t followed the Jim and Pam will-they-or-won’t-they relationship, the pain Jim feels when his incredibly special Christmas gift might not get to Pam is palpable. And the reason Jim’s in the predicimant in the first place is a classic case of Michael Scott’s childish, awkward behavior at its finest (aka worst).

“Amends” Season 3, Episode 10 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As the title suggests, a lot of feelings have been hurt in the town of Sunnydale, and while supernatural elements are a major part of the episode, the very real feelings of the Scooby Gang are a major part of the show. But what makes this a great episode is the ending scene, as Buffy and Angel experience a unique “Christmas miracle.”

“The Gift” Season 2, Episode 11 of Matlock. Minus the holiday setting, most of this episode plays out like a typical Matlock episode, meaning this episode is just slightly more awesome than most. Yes, I love this show. But this episode really is good, even if you aren’t a mega Matlock fan like I am. And the Santa Ben has to defend is played by Bryan Cranston, so for those of you still in Breaking Bad withdrawal, well, maybe this will help. Love the way Ben solves the case in this one, too.

“The Polarizing Express” Season 5, Episode 14 of Psych. Great episode that takes a look at things that might have been if Shawn never returned to Santa Barbara. This episode is very much a holiday episode, but it still embraces all the quirk of the show and its characters, so it doesn’t feel too far removed from the rest of the season or series.

“The Strike” Season 9, Episode 10 of Seinfeld. Sure, Tim Whatley throws a Hanukkah party, but what this episode really offers is “Festivus,” a holiday for the “rest of us.”

“The Pick” Season 4, Episode 13 of Seinfeld. In true Seinfeld fashion, there are a number of story lines, not all holiday themed, but if you think Christmas cards without thinking of Elaine’s “nip slip,” then you must watch this immediately!

I’m sure I missed some of your favorites (no Rudolph or Miracle on 34th Street—GASP—), but I hope that I’ve offered you some ideas for a nice mini-marathon! I’ll admit that I don’t know of too many holiday films that don’t involve the specific holiday of Christmas. So if you think I missed a great film or television episode, or have any non-Christmas films or shows to suggest, feel free to submit a comment. Happy Viewing!!