Christmas movies have been a staple of the medium since Thomas Edison first cranked a roll of celluloid through his Kinetoscope, and you can bet that, as long as movies keep being made and Christmases continue to be celebrated, there are plenty more holiday-themed flicks yet to come.
The first Christmas movie is widely believed to be The Night Before Christmas from way back in 1905, directed by Edwin S. Porter, the same man who helmed the revolutionary film The Great Train Robbery (1903). But you have to go back even further, into the previous century in fact, to find what might be perhaps the earliest Christmas film ever, a barely one-minute short from England simply titled Santa Claus, which was shot in 1898! The short clip shows Santa visiting an abode to do his thing and employs some rather impressive special effects for the 19th century. Check it out below:
Obviously, we’ve come a long way since those hand-cranked silents, and the proceeding century has given us a seemingly endless list of holiday films to fill us with Christmas cheer every year. Here are 5 of my personal favorites:
1 – A Christmas Story (1983)
Well, duh. This is pretty much a staple, and TBS has been dutifully hammering it into our subconscious for a few years now with its Christmas Day 24-hour marathons. Even for such a great movie, that’s a bit of overkill, but no one can deny or weary of this gem’s charm and appeal. The movie revolves around little Ralphie, a typical suburban kid from the 1940s, and his quest to obtain the ultimate Christmas gift: a Red Ryder BB Gun. We can all relate to the feeling of wanting that one present soooo bad, it practically consumes all our thoughts the entire month of December, and it’s pretty hard to choke back the tears of joy when Ralphie finally opens his prized possession at the end of the film. “Frah-gee-leh!”
2 – Elf (2003)
This is still a fairly new flick, and as such has only recently been added to my Christmas repertoire. Regardless of what your feelings about Will Ferrell may be any other day of the year, most of us can agree that he was pitch-perfect as the wide-eyed innocent elf-human Buddy who ventures from the North Pole to New York City (by way of the Candy Cane Forest, of course) to meet his real father (James Caan), who happens to be on the Naughty List. Along the way, he falls for ZooeyDeschanel, who is perhaps the only person on the planet who can match Buddy the Elf in adorkability. Fun fact: The elf who scolds Buddy for not making enough Etch-a-Sketches is none other than Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie from A Christmas Story!
3 – Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
This is a sentimental favorite. I grew up on this film and literally watched it every Christmas Eve with my mom before I went to bed. Not too many people these days have heard of it though. The film tells the origin story of Santa, how he began as a humble peasant named Claus from the Middle Ages who delights in making woodcut toys for kids. One night, during a bad blizzard, he and his wife end up at the North Pole, and Father Christmas declares Claus the Santa we all know and love! Hooray! The movie pulls back the veil on many factors of the Santa mythos, like how the reindeer came to fly, how Santa gets up and down those chimneys, and how he got so fat (all the cookies!). Along the way, evil John Lithgow tries to take over Christmas and stuff, and Santa has to save the day with the help of a scrappy street urchin who doesn’t believe in him. Let the heartwarming commence!
4 – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s hard to believe, but this film initially bombed when it was released in 1946. But after television was invented and became more common in households, airings of the film reached a whole new audience, and it’s since become a classic. And why not? It’s the ultimate story of triumph over adversity. All George Bailey (James Stewart) wants to do is see the world. But tragic circumstances keep him nailed to his small town of Bedford Falls where he has to run his family’s Building and Loan. Fed up with the bullcrap, he makes a wish that he had never been born. An apprentice angel named Clarence grants his wish, and George sees his life before him without him in it – the town’s gone to hell, his little brother is dead, and his wife ends up a spinster thanks to a lack of good ol’ Bailey lovin’ to save her. George sees the error of his ways and begs for his old, crappy life back. His duty fulfilled, Clarence ascends to Heaven or something and finally gets his wings. And everyone George knows, including his poor maid, shows up at his house and gives him all their money. Atta boy, Clarence!
5 – Scrooged(1988)
For as many Christmas movies that exist out there, at least half of them are adaptations of Charles Dickens's yuletide allegory, A Christmas Carol. Seriously, I think at least two new versions come out every year (usually on either Lifetime of ABC Family). But none of them were quite as clever or memorable as Richard Donner's 1988 update of the story of a miserly a-hole learning the "true meaning of Christmas" thanks to a series of ghostly encounters. Bill Murray stars as the Scrooge character, Frank Cross, who is the President of a television network. In a shrewd meta twist, that TV network happens to be preparing for a live broadcast of Dickens's original tale. Cross, who has stepped on everyone he knows to rise to the top, goes on a series of wacky adventures with the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, ultimately realizing that there's more to life than winning Emmys. (wait... what??) A tremendous cast and an ingenious script make this one an annual must-watch!!!
What’s YOUR favorite Christmas movie? Let us know in the comment below!