Right off the bat, I’m going to get myself on the naughty list by cheating a little. Our family’s all-time favorites, the ones we seem to watch every year, are “A Christmas Story” (1983), “Home Alone” (1990), and “Elf” (2003). Chances are you’ve already watched these with your kids, but if you haven’t, you absolutely need to start with these three. But I don’t want to take up three recommendation slots with such obvious choices, so I’m cramming them all together — which technically makes this list have twelve suggestions ... for the 12 days of Christmas! Thematically appropriate! Ho ho ho!!
You might also notice some all-time classics missing from our list. “It’s a Wonderful Life”(1946) is a magical story your kids might appreciate when they’re older. But if your gang is anything like mine, anything in black-and-white makes their eyes roll back in their skull. So we’re only going as far back as the ’80s.
1. For some reason, we watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) at an outdoor screening last summer. The film is way more family-friendly than the other National Lampoon vacation movies, and my kids laughed the whole way through the story of Chevy Chase stuck hosting his entire extended family for Christmas.
2. Okay, time for a little controversy. People have been arguing for years about whether or not “Die Hard” (1988) should be considered a Christmas movie. I say yes. It’s set at Christmas, and it features lots of Christmas music. But the important thing to keep in mind is if you’ve got older kids (the movie is rated R) who seem reluctant to want to sit down for movie time, they will probably make an exception for what is inarguably the greatest action movie of all time. Yippee ki-yay, Christmas lovers!
3. The Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” gets retold in “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992). I’ve always had a soft spot for Kermit and the gang’s gentle but still laugh-out-loud comedy. With any luck, your kids will like it enough that, afterward, you can stream them old episodes of “The Muppet Show.”
4. I know not everyone thinks “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) is an all-time classic. And frankly, it’s nowhere near my personal favorite. But there are only so many versions of “Santa’s in trouble” and “Let’s save Christmas” I can stand every year. And Henry Selick’s stop-motion dark fantasy that blends Christmas with Halloween is an imaginative change of pace that’s worth checking out.
5. “Get Santa” (2014) is another one of those familiar versions of kids saving Christmas, with the fun twist here that Santa is going to prison. With its British roots, it has a different vibe than most typical American holiday films. But there are farting reindeer, so your kids will love it.
6. “The Christmas Chronicles” (2018) follows familiar ground in a story about kids racing against the clock to save Christmas. But it’s well made, and Kurt Russell brings his trademark swagger to the role of Santa. There’s a sequel I haven’t seen yet, but I expect more of the same, especially from Netflix.
7. I’m recommending the animated version of Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” (2018) and not the Jim-Carrey-looks-creepy live-action one. We all know the story, but the movie manages to add a lot of topical humor for today’s audiences.
8. I can’t think of an actress who more embodies the holiday spirit than Anna Kendrick, who brings her unbridled joy to “Noelle” (2019), where she plays Santa’s daughter who gets wrapped up in some family drama. This one’s as charming as it is funny.
9. If you’re looking for something completely original, try “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey”(2020). It’s a story about a toymaker trying to right a wrong. I just learned it was originally supposed to be a stage production, which makes sense — the music and dancing are fantastic. This film was nominated for nine NAACP Image Awards, too.
And that’s it — let us know in the comments if there’s any we missed!
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