With all the food, drinking, shopping, arguing, drinking, and drinking that await you this holiday season, some crucial downtime decisions lie ahead. The holidays are prime movie-watching time to be sure, but what to watch this year? To help you out with the tough decisions, we’ve got the holiday movie rundown on lock. We’ve got everything from classics to recent favorites, from comedies to action blockbusters, and all with enough holiday spirit to go around.
8. The Ref
One of those dark comedies that definitely goes against the holiday grain, The Ref uses the holidays as a backdrop for hilarity when Dennis Leary (in prime Dennis Leary form) chooses the wrong house to break into during the holidays. With both humor and cringe-worthy moments, this is definitely one of those movies that will make you both laugh and give thanks for the family you’ve got.
7. Bad Santa
There’s only one thing better than a feel-good Christmas flick and that’s a feel-bad Christmas flick, which director Terry Zwigoff delivers with Bad Santa. Better known for arthouse indie Ghost World and award-winning documentary Crumb, Zwigoff surprised us all by making an indispensable subversive Xmas movie by turning the sacred (Santa Claus) into the profane, with a not-so-jolly suicidal thief in the classic fake beard and red suit. Starring Billy Bob Thornton as the titular corrupt Kris Kringle, the film is more interested in playing naughty than nice. It’d get coal for Christmas if it wasn’t so damn funny—the best seasonal dark comedy around. Lauren Graham, also playing against type, delivers the funniest and most over-the-top encouragement Santa has ever received. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about.
The most classic holiday story is likely Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The Muppets have done their version, Mickey Mouse has done his, and Jim Carrey played half of the cast in Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture adaptation, but no one does the story like Bill Murray does in Scrooged. As TV exec and Christmas crank Frank Cross, Bill Murray bah-humbugs his way to enough laughs to fill a million kids’ stockings. Sure, the final plea of the film suggests we turn off our TV sets and spend time with our families, but you might wanna wait until this movie’s over for family time because it’s just too damn good to miss.
5. A Christmas Story
Ever since 1997, there’s been a marathon of A Christmas Story on either TNT or TBS every year, with the movie played on repeat from 8 pm on Christmas Eve all the way through the holiday. There's a reason this is the most watched movie each season: It's because this tale of the best Christmas present Ralphie Parker ever received, a Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle, reminds us all of what it was like to be young, the time in our lives when the holiday season meant the most. More so than for some fat dude in a red suit, it’s the promise of presents, the time for play, and the potential for mischief that make Christmas so magical for children. This movie perfectly personifies all those qualities.
4. Home Alone
Home Alone shows Macaulay Culkin as a MacGyver-like kid, petulant but adorable, crafting rube goldberg devices to outsmart and escape some devious bandits after he’s left home alone for the holidays. Whether using Micro Machines or broken Xmas ornaments, paint cans or tarantulas, Culkin’s Kevin McCallister brings the pain to these burglars, torturing them with a glee only an 80s movie could get away with while still being considered a “family entertainment.” If outsmarting baddies doesn’t seem sufficiently Christmas-y, the message of family and forgiveness will surely hit home during the holiday season. Don’t change the channel, ya filthy animal.
3. Die Hard
You could argue that Die Hard isn’t really holiday-enough to be considered a Christmas film, but you’d be wrong. The ultimate action Xmas flick, Die Hard not only has Bruce Willis saving citizens from terrorists, but it does this while ticking off all the items on the classic Christmas film checklist. Does it take place during the holidays? Check. Does it have a pro-family message? Check. Does it offer Xmas gifts? Only the best present of all: the gift of stopping terrorism and saving lives. Check. Does it include a mythic hero going down a chimney? If a ventilation shaft counts, then yup. Check. Compromise with your sweetheart and watch Love Actually one night this month so that she’ll watch Die Hard with you on another evening. Trust me, it’ll make this holiday season a little more badass. Yippee-ki-yay, Father Christmas.
Elf became an immediate Christmas classic when it came out in 2003. While the movie’s got as much sugary sweetness as any of the four main elf food groups—“candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup”—it’s also got more laughs per minute and quotable lines than most of the holiday season’s must-sees. Will Ferrell as Buddy, a man who crawled into Santa’s sack as a baby and was subsequently raised by elves on the North Pole, brings the funny like only he can. In one scene, he whispers to a department store Santa in anger, “You sit on a throne of lies!” You should sit on whatever throne you want, whether of lies or La-Z-Boy and watch this film with your loved ones this season. If you don’t, you’re likely a “cotton-headed ninny-mingus”.
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
A holiday season without Christmas Vacation isn’t really a true holiday season. While It’s a Wonderful Life may be the Christmas movie with the best heart, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the one with the most laughs and is an all-time classic. After two road trip movies with the Griswolds, National Lampoon knew they had to do something different with their third “Vacation” film, so they left the Griswolds at home and let the comedic chaos reign there instead of on the road. Delivering comedy in droves, Christmas Vacation is one of the few Christmas movies that works even when it’s not in season. It’s like a membership to the Jelly of the Month Club, it’s “the gift that keeps on giving throughout the entire year.” But I promise that if you top your Christmas traditions off with a dash of this Yuletide doozy, “when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney, he's gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”