13 Best Christmas movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Rapaport, Allan Wibor Christensen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp, Bjarne Henriksen, Daniel Engstrup, Frank Rubæk, Jacob Højlev Jørgensen, Josefine Gråbøl, Jytte Kvinesdal, Lars Ranthe, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Mads Mikkelsen, Mona C. Soliman, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton, Ole Dupont, Øyvind Hagen-Traberg, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Søren Rønholt, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen, Troels Thorsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

, 2019

Shot by Sergio Pablos, a weathered animation film creator, here's a future holiday classic to be reckoned with. Klaus is a beautifully old-school-looking, 90s Disney-style animation movie about the origin story of the world's most beloved toymaker, Santa Klaus. Dispatched to a bleak arctic town, because he really wasn't very good at his job at all, mailman Jesper stumbles upon the now-famous Klaus, making an acquaintance that will change the town forever, and, with it, the way Christmas is celebrated around the world. In addition to its homely warmth, funny moments, and nostalgic hand-drawn animation style, you will recognize many famous voice-overs in this festive family film, including the always amazing J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Jason Schwartzman, to name a few.

Genre: Animation

Actor: J.K. Simmons, Jason Schwartzman, Joan Cusack, Neda Margrethe Labba, Norm Macdonald, Rashida Jones, Sergio Pablos, Will Sasso

Director: Sergio Pablos

Rating: PG

What’s great about this highly inventive film is that it doesn’t look like it was shot through three iPhone 5s. Instead of using shaky cameras and static shots, Tangerine glides us through saturated, orange-toned scenes that evoke the Los Angeles sunset. Launching director Sean Baker into prominence, Tangerine is an innovative film that, at heart, is a nuanced comedy about the trans sex worker community. Newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor run the show, and their performances create a vivid, electric drive that powers the whole movie. But it’s the quieter moments, the moments after betrayal, the moments of recovery, that make this movie truly special.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ana Foxxx, Chris Bergoch, Clu Gulager, Graham Mackie, Ian Edwards, James Ransone, Jason Stuart, John Gulager, Josh Sussman, Karren Karagulian, Kitana Kiki Rodriguez, Luiza Nersisyan, Mickey O'Hagen, Mya Taylor, Scott Krinsky, Shih-Ching Tsou

Director: Sean Baker

Rating: R

A recent holiday classic you likely haven't seen, Arthur Christmas uses its premise of the North Pole as a massive spy organization to touch on how commercialization tears people apart. It's a surprisingly smart film with a fascinating dynamic among its family of Santas, with an incredibly funny script full of dry, British wit. And while the animation may already look dated at first glance, Arthur Christmas more than makes up for its looks with truly imaginative art direction and director Sarah Smith's fast-paced set pieces. This is that rare Chirstmas movie that doesn't just surrender to schmaltz; the lessons learned by the characters here are unique, complex, and timeless.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Adam Tandy, Alistair McGowan, Andy Serkis, Ashley Jensen, Bill Nighy, Brian Cummings, Bronagh Gallagher, Clint Dyer, Cody Cameron, Danny John-Jules, David Menkin, David Schneider, Deborah Findlay, Dominic West, Donnie Long, Emma Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, Iain McKee, Ian Ashpitel, Imelda Staunton, James McAvoy, Jane Horrocks, Jerry Lambert, Jim Broadbent, Joan Cusack, Julia Davis, Kerry Shale, Kevin Cecil, Kevin Eldon, Kris Pearn, Laura Linney, Marc Wootton, Michael Palin, Peter Baynham, Ramona Marquez, Rhys Darby, Rich Fulcher, Rich Hall, Robbie Coltrane, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sarah Smith, Seamus Malone, Seeta Indrani, Stewart Lee, Tamsin Greig

Director: Barry Cook, Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer, Christopher Speed, Cole Doman, Colton Ryan, Hannah Black, Jane McNeill, Judy Greer, Lois Smith, Margo Martindale, Michael Banks Repeta, Paul Bettany, Peter Macdissi, Sophia Lillis, Stephen Root, Steve Zahn, Voltaire Colin Council

Director: Alan Ball

Rating: R

, 2015

Watching Carol is like reading a really interesting book while relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. It is one of those movies that you probably heard about during its Oscar run, and have since delayed actually viewing it. Well now that it is on Netflix and other streaming services you have no excuse! It’s refreshingly unique, incredibly charming, and features a kind of story that hasn’t been told very often – a love story between two women. Both characters played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara attempt to live true to their own principles while facing unjust yet severe backlash from society. If you are open to it, the love story in this will stay with you forever.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Amy Warner, Anita Farmer Bergman, Annie Kalahurka, Carrie Brownstein, Cate Blanchett, Chelsea Carnder, Christine Dye, Cory Michael Smith, Deb G. Girdler, Douglas Scott Sorenson, Giedre Bond, Greg Violand, Jake Lacy, John Magaro, Ken Strunk, Kevin Crowley, Kk Heim, Kyle Chandler, Michael Haney, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Mike Dennis, Nik Pajic, Rooney Mara, Ryan Wesley Gilreath, Sadie Heim, Sarah Paulson, Tanya Smith, Taylor Marie Frey, Todd Haynes, William Cross

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: R

It may seem like it’s targeted at a specific demographic, but Spoiler Alert is actually a universal tale about love, grief, and moving on. Jim Parsons affectingly plays Michael, a romantic and TV aficionado who has trouble separating fact from fiction. He views life as one big sitcom, but his cheery outlook is increasingly challenged by the tragedies he encounters, not least of which is the surprise diagnosis of his boyfriend Kit (Ben Aldridge). 

Spoiler Alert is very sweet, perhaps too sweet for some viewers, but if you enjoy the unabashed schmaltz of romantic dramas, then this comes highly recommended. Of course, for that extra fluff, Spoiler Alert is mostly set during the holidays, so it’s best to watch while cozying up with a loved one—just make sure you have spare tissues on-hand for those tearjerking moments.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Allegra Heart, Antoni Porowski, Ben Aldridge, Bill Irwin, Christine Renee Miller, Eleni Yiovas, Erica Cho, Jeffery Self, Jim Parsons, Josh Pais, Kate Pittard, Nikki M. James, Paco Lozano, Sally Field, Scott Burik, Shunori Ramanathan, Supriya Ganesh, Tara Summers, Winslow Bright

Director: Michael Showalter

, 2004

Director Wong Kar-Wai made this loose sequel to one of the best films ever made, his 2000 classic In the Mood for Love. Much of the story is set around Christmas eve.

In the far future, people take a train to the world of 2046, where no sadness or sorrow can be experienced. No one has ever returned from that world except for a lonely Japanese writer, who narrates the first part of the film.

There are four acts to the story and as is common to Wong Kar-Wai, they are listed in non-chronological order. Not that you will care but 2046 is far from confusing. Instead, it functions as a dazzling visual poem on unreciprocated love.

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Akina Hong, Akina Hong Wah, Ben Yuen, Ben Yuen Foo-Wah, Berg Ng, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Chen Chang, Ching Siu-Lung, Dong Jie, Farini Cheung, Farini Cheung Yui-Ling, Faye Wong, Gong Li, Jie Dong, Li Gong, Maggie Cheung, Ping Lam Siu, Ronny Ching Siu-Lung, Siu Ping-lam, Takuya Kimura, Thongchai McIntyre, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Zhang Ziyi, Ziyi Zhang

Director: Kar-Wai Wong, Wong Kar-wai

Rating: R

A beloved children’s story gets its umpteenth adaptation here, this time from the screenwriter of 2018’s Watership Down — who proves that it’s a story worth retelling. This version of The Velveteen Rabbit is mostly faithful to Margery Williams’ original 1920s-set tale, but it does pad the plot out with a backstory of sorts about the shy little boy at its center. We’re introduced to William on the last day he spends at his school before moving to another town; the filmmaking gently plays on memories of the scariness of that first-ever goodbye, starting us off on a tender melancholy note that sets the tone for the rest of the 45-minute-long seasonal special.

For his first Christmas in the family’s new house, William is given a cuddly toy bunny in which he finds the comfort and company he misses so acutely. If you had a beloved plaything as a child, chances are you wished they’d come alive with all the might that little you could conjure up — nostalgia that this adaptation taps right into when the rabbit comes to life via mixed animated styles. The sincere emotion of the duo’s commitment to each other — involving sickness and self-sacrifice — is thus difficult to resist, no matter how grown up you are.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Alex Lawther, Bethany Antonia, Clive Rowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Leonard Buckley, Lois Chimimba, Nathaniel Parker, Nicola Coughlan, Paterson Joseph, Phoenix Laroche, Samantha Colley, Sean Duggan, Tilly Vosburgh, Саманта Колли

Director: Jennifer Perrott, Rick Thiele

Rating: G

Don't let the title and poster fool you—Riders of Justice isn't the testosterone-filled action flick you'd expect going in (though it does get ridiculous at some points). It centers on deployed military man Markus, played by the appropriately masculine Mads Mikkelsen, who has to return home to his teenage daughter Mathilde after his wife dies in an accident. Instead of coping normally and sticking with his daughter to get through the tragedy, he goes down a rabbit hole discovering how the accident that killed his wife is more than just bad luck and may have been collateral damage from a gang orchestrating an assassination.

Surprisingly, director Anders Thomas Jensen injects this violent film with a lot of gentle moments about trauma and togetherness. Mikkelsen and the rest of the cast play off of each other very well, using dark humor to bring together a bunch of characters who are, in oversimplified terms, "fucked up but trying their best."

It may seem like the guns, blood, and badass moments are a front for this film that, at its core, shows men who badly need therapy banding together to cope with the harshness of life. Extremely funny and deeply moving, it qualifies as a heartwarming Christmas movie, believe it or not.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Alice E. Bier Zandén, Anders Nyborg, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Anne Birgitte Lind, Anne Fletting, Christina Ibsen Meyer, Gustav Dyekjær Giese, Gustav Lindh, Henrik Noël Olesen, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, Jesper Groth, Jesper Ole Feit Andersen, Johanne Dal-Lewkovitch, Kaspar Velberg, Klaus Hjuler, Lars Brygmann, Mads Mikkelsen, Morten Suurballe, Natasja Crone, Nicolas Bro, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Omar Shargawi, Peder Holm Johansen, Raivo Trass, Rigmor Ranthe, Rikke Louise Andersson, Roland Moller

Director: Anders Thomas Jensen

It’s easy enough to pitch Moonstruck with the promise of Cher and a young Nicolas Cage getting hot and heavy in 80s New York, but it’s so much more than its two outsized leads. Loretta (Cher) is on track to marry Johnny (Danny Aiello) when he tasks her with inviting his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to their wedding. Before long Loretta and Ronny are having a whirlwind affair that threatens to derail everything. 

Despite the somewhat risque premise, Moonstruck is a lighthearted, sentimental, romance fit for the holidays. A big cast playing the warm-hearted family rounds things out, and some of the best moments are digressions that explore the romantic entanglements outside of the central couple.  At times Moonstruck feels a bit too big, too over-the-top, too cheesy, but it’s a New York slice cheesy, it’s a ‘That’s Amore’ cheesy, it’s a cheesy that tucks you in at night after a  helping of manicotti and a big bottle of wine.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Al Therrien, Amy Aquino, Anita Gillette, Ann McDonough, Antonia Minella, Betty Orsatti, Catherine Scorsese, Cathy Ladman, Charles Scorsese, Cher, Curt Hayward, Cynthia Dale, Danny Aiello, David S. Howard, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Frank Gio, Gina DeAngeles, Helen Hanft, Joe Grifasi, John Christopher Jones, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Leonardo Cimino, Lisa Howard, Lou Pitoscia, Louis Di Bianco, Louis Guss, Matt Myers, Mimi Lizio, Nada Despotovich, Nicholas Pasco, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Paul Benedict, Paula Trueman, Peter Austin Noto, Robert Weil, Robin Bartlett, Sonny Bono, Stephany Hitchcock, Tim Koetting, Tommy Hollis, Tony Azito, Vincent Gardenia

Director: Norman Jewison

It’s very interesting, if not startling, to see an earnest movie made about the white upper class these days. Metropolitan is one such film, and even though it was released in the ’90s, it still stands the test of time precisely because it neither judges nor defends the group of WASPs it follows. It simply shows them in all their elegance and sophistication, as well as their insulation and irony. 

Metropolitan takes place in the upper crust of New York debutante society, during Christmas vacation, where soirees are rampant and afterparties even more so. The young-adult leads who navigate the scene in their expensive clothes and self-important aura recall a Scott Fitzgerald novel, or if you like, Gossip Girl episode. But instead of falling into tragedies, these characters just end up in silly but relatable mishaps and misunderstandings: they’re just kids after all. And as high and mighty as they may seem, whiling away in tall Park Avenue apartments, they’re still prone to the universal pains that haunt and shape teenagers. Expect to see heartbreak, jealousy, and longing even among the brightest and wealthiest of New York. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alice Connorton, Carolyn Farina, Chris Eigeman, Donal Lardner Ward, Francis Creighton, Isabel Gillies, Taylor Nichols, Thomas R. Voth, Will Kempe

Director: Whit Stillman

Rating: PG-13

This is a great movie to watch on say a Sunday. The story of three homeless people who find a newborn baby while foraging through trash on Christmas eve and decide to care for the baby and track down its parents. Middle-aged Gin, aging Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki form a makeshift family haunted by its members’ past and troubled by their present. As expected, Satoshi Kon (who also directed Paprika) delivers a beautifully animated story with unique characters and unique dynamics. The result is a very humane and moving animation, not to be missed by both Kon fans and those willing to be introduced to his style.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama

Actor: Akio Otsuka, Aya Okamoto, Chiyako Shibahara, Hidenari Ugaki, Hiroya Ishimaru, Koichi Yamadera, Kouichi Yamadera, Kyoko Terase, Mamiko Noto, Mitsuru Ogata, Rikiya Koyama, Ryuji Saikachi, Satomi Korogi, Satomi Kourogi, Seizo Kato, Shozo Iizuka, Tohru Emori, Tôru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Yūsaku Yara, 冈本绫

Director: Satoshi Kon, Shougo Furuya

Rating: PG-13