It's the most wonderful time of the year… to watch lots of festive holiday films! Honestly, what better way to enjoy your time right now than with a binge of all the best Christmas movies on Max.
The streamer formerly known as HBO Max carries a packed catalog of Christmas hits among the best Max movies, if these aren't already in your annual rotation, are likely to join the ranks following a first viewing. There's something for everyone in this mix with classic comedies, family-friendly adventures, modern feel-good tales, and however you'd describe Gremlins. So don't waste another moment endlessly scrolling and hit play on one of our top picks.
Runtime: 96 mins
Director: Jon Favreau
Age rating: PG
No-one expects a Will Ferrell Christmas comedy to be anything other than wacky and outlandish, and Elf finds the star in a scenario that matches his comedy style. This slapstick stocking filler is about Buddy, a human boy who grows up in the North Pole with a group of Santa's elves. Cast out due to his giant proportions, Buddy journeys to New York to find his birth parents and make a new life living among his fellow man.
As he experiences the modern festive world he encounters his curmudgeonly father Walter Hobbs (a perfectly cast James Caan) and the kindness of work colleague Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), while trying to figure out why elves are not as beloved in the city. Ferrell injects a healthy dose of exuberance and festive cheer into his performance which is nothing short of silly; it's precisely why it's become a modern festive classic.
Runtime: 106 mins
Director: Joe Dante
Age rating: PG-13
In Joe Dante's Christmas creature caper, teen Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives a Christmas present for the ages when his father brings home a strange creature called a mogwai. Along with this animal comes a list of instructions to ensure everyone's safety, which, of course, Billy promptly ignores. Before long, a horde of tiny creatures take over the small town of Kingston Falls at Christmas.
It's a simple idea that screenwriter Chris Columbus expands upon beautifully, winding together the broad comedic silliness of the creatures, who are utter chaos merchants, with much darker themes. The gremlins attacking the residents could certainly be deemed a stand-in for the oncoming hedonism of the 1980s, but the true jet-black comedy originates from our human characters. Whether the horrific barbs from Mrs. Deagle or the melancholic remembrance from Phoebe Cates' character about her worst Christmas, they, in all their unflinchingly awful glory, are what make this a truly special Christmas movie.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Runtime: 98 mins
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Age rating: PG-13
It's hard to find fault with National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. It's a standout amid a sea of so-so Christmas movies in that it's both perfect for the family with sweetness and slapstick for everyone to enjoy, but with adult jokes that'll fly over kids' heads. Chevy Chase reprises his National Lampoon role as Clark Griswold, the dunderhead husband and father who'll do anything to give his family an old-fashioned Christmas. That commences as soon as the opening titles fade when the Griswolds venture to the snowy wilds to chop down a tree… that comes replete with squirrels and branches that shatter windows.
Each day closer to Christmas finds Clark up against another obstacle as he navigates an onslaught of relatives, getting locked in the attic, and a legendary struggle to get his house lights to work. Much of the dialogue is embedded in popular Christmas culture, from Cousin Eddie's cheery explanation of "Shitter's full!" to the neighbor's cry of "Why is the carpet wet, Todd?" You can't go wrong with Griswold's brand of comedy that oscillates from deadpan sarcasm to slapstick idiocy.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Runtime: 94 mins
Director: Bob Clark
Age rating: PG
A Christmas Story feels as comfy and snug as a worn pair of slippers. Based on the semi-autobiographical tales of writer Jean Shepherd, this family favorite lifts from several of his works which inspires its episodic nature as we go from one mishap to the next. The movie hails from director Bob Clark and traces the Christmas wish of nine-year-old Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who wends his way through schoolyard scrapes and consumer desires during the holiday season.
The voiceover provided by an adult version of the character wistfully looks back on his 1940s childhood, and Ralphie's need to have a Red Ryder BB gun on December 25th. It's gleefully over-the-top and each adventure Ralphie embarks on carries a great comedic tone thanks to the performances of Billingsley and Shepherd, who delivers the voiceover.
8 Bit Christmas (2021)
Runtime: 97 mins
Director: Michael Dowse
Age rating: PG
This warm-hearted pic dropped on the streamer back in 2021 without much fanfare yet it's one of the best new Christmas movies of recent years. This sweet tale feels like A Christmas Story crossed with Jingle All The Way and will no doubt be looked back on as favorably as both of those festive staples in due course. Instead of a rifle or a Turbo-Man, young Jake is desperate for a Nintendo Entertainment System – the classic NES.
The movie opens with Neil Patrick Harris as adult Jake regaling his daughter with the story of a Christmas in the late 1980s when all he wanted was that sought-after console. Starring alongside Harris are June Diane Raphael as his mom Kathy and Steve Zahn as his dad John, who both bring heart and laughter to this tale of making the best of what you've got. This sweet story will have you chuckling and maybe even wiping away a tear or two by the time the credits roll. A perfect family watch.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Runtime: 101 mins
Director: Peter Godfrey
Age rating: PG
If you're looking for a Christmas movie that explores influencer culture through a 1940s lens then Christmas in Connecticut is the movie for you! Barbara Stanwyck stars as magazine writer Elizabeth Lane, a fast-talking New Yorker whose weekly column on her life as a wife and mother in the countryside has transformed her into one of America's most beloved food writers. There's just one snag: it's entirely fabricated.
Unfortunately for Elizabeth, when a wounded sailor Jefferson (Dennis Morgan) becomes enchanted by her fictitious lifestyle, her publisher decides to send the veteran to her homestead for the holidays. The perfect publicity opportunity becomes a juggling act for Elizabeth whose lack of culinary skills are immediately put to the test. Stanwyck is magnificent and the movie is packed with amusing setpieces and heart as she fumbles at disguising her true self.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Runtime: 97 mins
Director: Sarah Smith
Age rating: PG
Children the world over have wondered the same thing for generations; just how does Santa make all his deliveries in one night? The Aardman team decided to answer that in the best way possible by tackling the traditions within Santa's workshop for this festive flick. Aardman packs the feeling of fun, warmth and frivolity found in their well-known pics Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run into this feel good story that delves into what happens at Santa HQ when everything goes wrong.
One Christmas Eve Santa's high-tech operation malfunctions, leaving one poor kid singled out with no present. This is where Santa's youngest child, the loveable Arthur Christmas (James MacAvoy), comes in to ensure the gift finds its home. Roping in nostalgic Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) and enthusiastic elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen), he embarks on a global adventure. This is a terrific one to watch with the whole family that has an absolutely cracking voice cast, sparkling animation, and a sweet feelgood ending.
The Polar Express (2004)
Runtime: 100 mins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Age rating: G
Audiences weren't sure what to make of Robert Zemeckis' ambitious Christmas flick when it hit theaters in 2011. An animated movie about a magical train that scoops up kiddies and whisks them away on a journey to the North Pole could easily have mimicked countless other movies. But it escapes the "been there, done that" element through motion-capture. Granted, this is one of the first big-budget motion-capture movies, so it's easy to find fault with the technology, especially bearing in mind where it's since ventured.
Nevertheless, this story is a magical affair that finds Tom Hanks mo-capping five different roles, with his turn as the conductor absolutely brilliant, and a sign of things to come for the CGI medium. It's interesting to note that he appealed to Zemeckis for this adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book to be live-action. It's hard to imagine this wintry tale any other way.
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Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, GamesRadar+, Total Film, What to Watch, and Certified Forgotten. Librarian by day, scribbler by night, Gem loves 90-minute movies, time travel romance, single-camera comedy shows, all things queer, all things horror, and queer horror. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie. She won't stop raving about Better Things.