A Guide to the Best (and Worst) Christmas Movies on Netflix
Since Christmas is a holiday that's meant to be celebrated at home with your family, there's only one way to entertain everyone: alcohol! Then, after that runs out, Netflix! After all, there's nothing quite like sitting together with the people that human law has forced you to love, enjoying a movie together.
Sadly, Netflix's holiday friendly selection is iffy at best. A search for anything Christmas-themed will turn up a lot of made-for-TV movies and half-hour animated specials. Where are all of the real movies? Where are all of the good movies?
Well, we can answer the first of those questions. There is a serious dearth of Christmas movies on Netflix and only about half of those that are there are worth your time. So we've rounded up most of the heavy-hitters (and a few not-so-heavy-hitters) to give you an idea of what you can expect ... and to warn you what to avoid. Now, presented in alphabetical order, here is our guide to the best and worst Christmas movies on Netflix!
'All I Want For Christmas'
'All I Want For Christmas' is your typical early '90s kids' movie: not that great, but fluffy and harmless, perfect to distract the kiddos while you go about applying copious amounts of rum to the eggnog supply. The plot is also very typical of its decade, following two children who scheme to get their divorced parents back together in time for Christmas. Naturally, there's a last-minute injection of holiday magic that greases the wheels and everyone ends the film happy. You've seen better, but hey, you've got to take what Netflix is offering.
You aren't going to find too many Christmas documentaries hanging around on Netflix, but if you're looking for some non-fiction entertainment over the holidays, 'Becoming Santa' is for you. A charming (if slightly rough around the edges) doc, the film tracks a man as he attends "Santa school" and attempts to live as a professional Santa for awhile, working at a mall, ringing bells outside of stores, waving from parade floats and so on. The films final conclusions are fairly obvious, but they're good natured enough to leave you and your family feeling nice and warm and ready to engage in your particular Christmas traditions.
'Christmas Carol: The Movie'
Despite being one of the most famous and popular stories of all time, there are very few versions of 'A Christmas Carol' on Netflix. You won't find the iconic 1951 version starring Alistair Slim, the '80s reinvention 'Scrooged' or even the shockingly good 'The Muppet Christmas Carol.' However, you will find 'Christmas Carol: The Movie,' a poorly animated direct-to-DVD take on the material. Only small children will truly engage with this mess, but it's worth half-watching for the voice acting of Michael Gambon (!), Kate Winslet (!!) and Nicolas Cage (!!!), all of whom seem very happy to be picking up a quick paycheck.
'The Christmas That Almost Wasn't'
If you're going to watch one hilariously awful, Z-grade Christmas movie this year, you have better options. But if you're going to watch two hilariously awful, Z-grade Christmas movies this year, make sure you find time for 'The Christmas That Almost Wasn't. Filed very cheaply in Italy, this 1966 kids' flick is downright weird. After a truly strange animated opening that tells you everything that's going to happen in the movie through a wonderfully awful song, film begins proper. You see, Santa Claus is a year behind on his rent and his evil landlord is prepared to kick him out of the North Pole, therefore canceling Christmas. You've either moved onto the next paragraph of this list by now or you're the kind of person who enjoys this kind of junk. You know who you are. Welcome.
'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas'
If you want a little indie filmmaking spirit to intermingle with your Christmas spirit, your best Netflix choice would be 'The Fitzgerald Family Christmas.' Similar in tone to much of director, writer and star Edward Burns' (who never seems to stop working) output, this isn't a traditional holiday film, but a dysfunctional family comedy that, as the title implies, takes place during the holiday season as a broken brood gets together to meet with their estranged father. In typical Burns style, it's all very low-key and won't appeal to anyone looking for flash or excitement, but at least it doesn't have singing snowmen or Arnold Schwarzenegger battling Sinbad.
'I'll Be Home For Christmas'
The only reason to turn on 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' is if you want to punish your loved ones for committing unspeakable crimes, but hey, we're trying to be at least somewhat comprehensive with this guide. Jonathan Taylor Thomas (remember him?) stars in the comedy debacle about a young guy stranded far from home in a Santa suit, forcing him on a long, strange quest to get back in home to win back his girlfriend and receive his father's prized car. Seriously. You'd probably be better off just watching 'Home Improvement' reruns if you have some JTT nostalgia, but hey, we don't choose what goes up on Netflix.
'Jack Frost' is essentially a modern take on the story of 'Frosty the Snowman,' following a young boy whose deceased father (Michael Keaton) comes back to life as a terrifying, walking, talking snowman. Of course, the terrifying part is completely unintentional. There's a lot to dislike about 'Jack Frost,' but the Keaton-voiced snowman takes the cake. He will haunt your dreams. If your kids don't run out of the room screaming at the sight of the main character, the rest of the movie is fairly standard coming-of-age stuff with a final message about love and letting go that's well-intentioned (if pretty tired). But that snowman. Yeesh.
'Jingle All the Way'
'Jingle All the Way' is a movie so weird that it's hard to believe it actually exists. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as an average joe father (who just so happens to be an Austrian accented bodybuilder) whose busy schedule has kept him from buying his young son's perfect Christmas present. This leads to Arnie battling a psychotic mailman (played by Sinbad, of all people) to find one of the last Turbo Man dolls left in the city and various loud, obnoxious and often grotesquely unfunny set pieces occur. Make no mistake: 'Jingle All the Way' is a disaster, but it's a crazy and totally entertaining disaster that makes up for its lousiness by simply being something that has no right to exist.
Not every storyline in the sprawling, ambitious romantic comedy 'Love Actually' works, but there's so much movie in this movie that it all balances out. Actually, it more than balances out since this is one of the best holiday movies of the millennium and a certified modern classic. Tracking a bunch of different relationships over the course of one hectic December, the film exposes love at its best, worst, simplest and most complex. So many Christmas movies are directly about the holiday, but 'Love Actually' rarely makes annual festivities part of the main plot. Instead, it becomes one of the best Christmas movies ever by being about taking a moment to do something special for someone you care about. It's not deep, but you'll probably cry.
'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation'
If your family is at that awkward stage where the kids are too old for Rankin and Bass fare but not quite old enough to revel in the anti-Christmas joys of 'Die Hard,' 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation' should fit the bill nicely. Probably the most beloved of Chevy Case's 'Vacation' movies, this entry finds the Griswold clan staying home for Christmas ... and still causing all kinds of havoc. Until Netflix manages to get 'Scrooged' streaming, this should be your go-to choice for sardonic Christmas fare this month.
'The Nightmare Before Christmas'
It's hard to believe that 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' was, at one time, considered to be a blemish on the Disney company's name. Now, this twisted and wickedly entertaining movie has become a seasonal favorite and its creepy but adorable characters have become iconic figures in the holiday landscape. With animation that's just as gorgeous today as it was two decades ago and songs that will get stuck in your head and never leave, this is the rare case of a Christmas movie that takes the holiday to unexpected and crazy places without losing an ounce of its earnestness. Its characters may not understand Christmas, but the movie itself certainly does.
'The Polar Express'
So much of 'The Polar Express' doesn't work that it's easy to forget what does work. Robert Zemeckis' animated film is a technically ambitious adventure filled with big ideas and interesting set pieces. It's also a little clunky, with much of the action feeling tacked on to its very simple story (to say nothing of the early mo-cap animation, which is often just plain creepy). So yeah: we have issues with 'The Polar Express,' but it's also a handsome, well-intentioned movie that makes up for many of its flaws with scope and grandeur. It's worth seeing at the very least and, believe it or not, it's worth giving a second chance.
'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale'
Put the younger children to bed before you put on 'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,' one of the best Christmas movies of all time. We're not kidding about this movie being absolutely terrific, but we're being a little tongue-in-cheek by referring to it as a Christmas movie. After all, this Finnish horror movie is about an archaeological excavations that digs up the "real" Santa Claus, resulting in a small town being laid to waste by one of history's greatest monsters. Despite the R-rating, this movie is more like 'Gremlins' or 'Poltergeist' than a typical horror movie, so braver kids don't mind reading subtitles will probably have a blast ... and they'll grow up really cool because they've seen 'Rare Exports.'
'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians'
'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' isn't just the best bad Christmas movie ever made, it's one of the best bad movies of all time. Made for pennies on sets seemingly constructed out of cardboard, this oddball classic of hilarious awfulness sees Santa abducted by aliens and taken to Mars, where he's tasked with making toys for the children of the red planet. Although ostensibly a children's movie, your kids will probably be bored silly by this poorly paced, incomprehensible mess. Instead, save it for late at night after you've drank/smoked/inhaled your substance of choice.
'Santa Claus: The Movie'
In 1985, 'Santa Claus: The Movie' arrived amidst a great deal of sound, fury and advertising, only to vanish into obscurity after a disastrous box office run. Now, this very expensive epic has made its way to Netflix, where it'll continue to baffle audiences everywhere. Strangely similar to the 1978's 'Superman' (both films had the same producer), this movie acts as an origin story for Santa Claus, spending the first half establishing how he came to be and the second half sending him on an adventure. The origin story isn't awful, but the film really bites off more than it can chew in the second hour, reducing its title character to a supporting role. This is an unwieldy and unsuccessful movie, but it's also a fascinating one. Why does it exist? How does it exist? We don't know, but we'd like to find out.
'Tokyo Godfathers' is a definitely not a traditional Christmas movie, but it does take place on Christmas Eve and tell a story of a love, family and redemption. That (and the fact that it's streaming on Netflix) should be all it needs to make it on this list, frankly. A Japanese animated film from director Satoshi Kon, the film tracks three homeless people who discover a newborn baby in a dumpster and set out to find its parents. What follows is an exciting, heartwarming and occasionally downright weird adventure through a snowy Tokyo. In a genre where so many movies take place in the United States and star white people, 'Tokyo Godfathers' is a nice change of pace in style and location, putting the holiday season in a fresh new context.
What is the Christmas season without Christmas music? More specifically, what is Christmas music without Bing Crosby? Even if it had nothing else going for it, 'White Christmas' is still a Christmas musical starring Bing Crosby, but it also happens to be a lush, gorgeously shot Christmas musical that balances out its predictability with plenty of amusing performances and laughs. It's lightweight stuff, but it's from a generation where even frivolous entertainment was crafted with wit. This is probably the best traditional Christmas movie on this list and you should make it a priority if you enjoy nice things.