Holiday

32 movies to watch for all of your holiday moods

Consider this the definitive list — Santa isn’t the only one making them this year.

Consider this the definitive list — Santa isn’t the only one making them this year

3 women (all played by Vanessa Hudgens) dressed for winter and standing outside on the steps of a palace, in a still from the movie The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star.
(Source: Netflix)

Holiday films bring a lot of joy to my world. So as soon as the weather goes from crisp with colourful foliage to frigid and dark, my seasonal movie marathon begins. Familiar favourites, fresh takes, adorable love stories, epic depictions of delicious meals — I want it all. No matter what mood I'm in, I can usually find a film to match. 

If you're as eager as I am and also look for movies that scratch a particular holiday itch, I have a few — OK, many — suggestions. I've made some lists, checked them twice and done my best to make sure each pick is better than nice. 

Holiday movies that break some tired clichés 

Single All the Way (2021) — Netflix 

Not only is this comedy Netflix's first original gay Christmas movie, it's also genuinely hilarious and doesn't focus on a coming-out story. "The problems that we face in this movie are the same problems that straight people face in their Christmas rom-coms," star Michael Urie told Gay Times, before going on to say just how exciting and refreshing that is.  

Christmas in the Clouds (2007) — Tubi 

After his marriage falls apart, Ray Clouds on Fire (Timothy Vahle) ends up back in Utah and in charge of his tribe's new resort. When he learns that a travel writer is headed to review Sky Mountain Resort, he's determined to make a good impression. Hijinks, mistaken identities, a mouse on the loose and a high-stakes bingo game ensue in this delightful comedy featuring a largely Indigenous cast, including Graham Greene and a cameo from Wes Studi. 

Last Holiday (2006) — Available to rent 

After learning she only has three weeks to live, Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) is determined to make the most of every second. That includes, but is not limited to, going on vacation, buying beautiful clothes and ordering everything on the menu. Unlike other holiday films that are dripping in candy cane–sweet romance, Last Holiday is all about owning your joy — a lesson that feels like a gift in itself. 

Tangerine (2015) — Available to rent 

This indie dramedy, shot entirely on iPhone, breaks with convention on multiple fronts. It follows Sin-Dee Rella, a trans sex worker who gets released from jail on Christmas Eve and sets out on a mission to find the boyfriend who has apparently been cheating on her. Though the premise might not feel particularly festive, the filmmakers made an effort to include scenes with twinkling lights and decorated trees to reflect Christmas in L.A., and highlight the importance of chosen family. They also made sure to include a holiday tune with Alexandra's memorable rendition of the classic "Toyland." 

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011) — Tubi 

These two know how to have a dope Christmas — literally. In the third instalment of their series of stoner comedies, Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) reunite for a predictably chaotic, debaucherous and not-appropriate-for-children holiday adventure. 

Our Christmas Journey (2021) — Available to rent 

With its long history of releasing holiday films that lack diversity, Hallmark is finally showcasing more inclusive Christmas experiences. To that end, Our Christmas Journey is the first Hallmark film featuring an autistic character. Marcus is played by Nik Sanchez, an actor who describes himself as "awesomely autistic."

Barely-about-the-holidays flicks that are still right for watching 

Die Hard (1988) — Disney+ 

For the uninitiated or the skeptical, the entire premise of this film is basically a holiday party gone horribly, horribly wrong. Doesn't get more festive than that. 

The Sound of Music (1965) — Disney+ 

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this movie has it all: a beautiful wintry setting, great music, family drama and a plot that hinges on a Christmas concert. Julie Andrews even performed "My Favourite Things" on a 1961 TV holiday special, establishing the song as part of the holiday soundtrack well before the film's release. 

Babe (1995) — Crave

"Christmas dinner," mumbles Ferdinand the duck (Danny Mann) as the holiday season approaches. "Dinner means death. Death means carnage! Christmas means carnage!" And to be fair, for Ferdinand and some of his farm animal friends, the holidays — with dishes like duck à l'orange, honey baked ham and roast beef — aren't a jolly time. Warning: the depiction of Christmas in this Oscar-winning movie may convince you to go vegetarian for this year's feast. 

Mean Girls (2004) — Paramount+

This isn't like a regular holiday movie; it's a cool holiday movie. Between the candy cane plot to end the reign of a high school queen bee and a performance of "Jingle Bell Rock" like no other, Mean Girls is both fetch and festive. 

Rent (2005) — Available to rent 

The film adaptation of Jonathan Larson's acclaimed musical about a group of friends living la vie bohème in New York City during the HIV/AIDS crisis is often overlooked as a holiday film. But while the story itself has little to do with Christmas, it begins and ends on Christmas Eve, and features perhaps the most beautiful Santa of them all (Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel). Plus, the soundtrack is the perfect alternative to overplayed festive favourites. 

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) — Available to rent 

On the surface, this movie is about a close-knit family that is super excited for the 1904 World's Fair in their hometown of St. Louis. But much of it takes place over the holidays, and it gave us one of the season's must-play songs, with Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Films with that epic baking or feast scene 

Home Alone (1990) — Disney+ 

Sure, macaroni and cheese paired with milk in a wineglass may not be everyone's idea of a holiday feast, but Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) makes it look better than any turkey dinner. This movie may also leave you craving a large cheesy pizza followed by a tub of ice cream. 

Nothing Like the Holidays (2008) — Available to rent 

For the Rodriguezes — a Puerto Rican family living in Humboldt Park, Chicago — getting together for the holidays is synonymous with boisterous love, music that makes your hips move and delicious food. Tostones and natilla de coco are just a couple of the many dishes served at their family feast. Boozy coquito is passed around in the evenings followed by fresh pastelillos in the morning. And if you're lucky, Anna Rodriguez (Elizabeth Peña) may teach you the secret to her pernil.  

The Family Stone (2005) — Disney+

The holidays are a time to share traditions. For Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), that means sharing her family's tradition of making a breakfast strata. "My grandmother used to make [strata] every Christmas morning," writer-director Thomas Bezucha told Refinery29, adding that, much like the film, there were often mishaps before the strata made it to the oven. 

Elf (2003) — Crave 

As an elf, Buddy tries to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup. By that measure, his breakfast of spaghetti, chocolate syrup, crumbled Pop-Tarts and marshmallows is a balanced meal. 

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) — Crave 

Sometimes — OK, in my case, often — dishes don't quite turn out like you hoped. That's the case at the Griswold family Christmas dinner. The turkey may look picturesque, but the reality is a different story.  

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) — Paramount+, Prime

In Whoville, the holidays are a time to sit down to a feast. "And they'll feast, feast, feast, feast. They'll eat their Who-Pudding and rare Who-Roast Beast," grumbles the Grinch (Jim Carrey). The whimsical dishes in this film may not be real-life favourites, but they still look delicious. 

Animated holiday movies for grown-ups 

Tokyo Godfathers (2003) — Available for rent 

When three unhoused people find a baby on Christmas Eve, they're determined to return her to her parents. Japanese anime legend Satoshi Kon's take on the story of the Three Wise Men is more sentimental than his other films, but nonetheless, contains mature themes like loss, depression and grief, making this animated adventure best suited for adult audiences. 

Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas (2021) — Netflix 

This comforting Claymation adventure comes from the famed British studio Aardman Animations, which gifted us with the Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep franchises. As the Guardian Australia's Luke Buckmaster pointed out, the wit and creativity encompassed in every frame of these films make them a "soul-invigorating" watch for viewers of all ages. And with its lack of actual dialogue, this 30-minute short film is a particularly good pick for multi-generational and multilingual families. 

Klaus (2019) — Netflix 

While it's not explicitly for adults, Netflix's first animated film is truly enjoyable for audiences of all ages. Writer and director Sergio Pablos, known for crafting the story of Despicable Me, offers a unique take on a Santa origin story, centring the tale not on elves, reindeer or a particular holiday but a mailman who gets banished to a remote community and tasked with increasing mail circulation. The resulting story is dark, funny and heartwarming — and may motivate you to send some good old-fashioned holiday cards. 

The merriest meet-cutes 

The Holiday (2006) — Available to rent 

Perhaps my favourite meet-cute of all time is not a romantic one at all. When Arthur (Eli Wallach), a famed former screenwriter, loses his way in his L.A. neighbourhood, Iris (Kate Winslet), a heartbroken British journalist vacationing nearby for the holidays, offers to give him a ride home. "Well, this was some meet-cute," Arthur tells Iris with a chuckle. When it's clear Iris isn't familiar with the term, he explains. "It's how two characters meet in a movie. Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men's pyjama department. And the man says to the salesman, 'I just need bottoms.' The woman says, 'I just need a top.' They look at each other, and that's the meet-cute. Of course, this isn't quite that cute." Disagree. 

Moonstruck (1987) —  Available for rent 

Moonstruck may not be your typical Christmas pick (though it does take place at Christmastime). Yet for some, like writer Carla Ciccone, the family chaos, setting and big meals make it a holiday favourite. When bookkeeper Loretta Castorini (Cher) meets Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), he is a sweaty, tormented man who lost his hand (!), lost his bride (!) and gained a long-held grudge against his brother, Johnny. Loretta and Ronny's meeting may not be "cute," but it is one of the most iconic scenes in this classic film from Canadian director Norman Jewison. 

You've Got Mail (1998) — Crave, Netflix 

Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks — need I say more? "Shopgirl" and "NY152" (their characters' AIM handles) connect online, but in the real world, the local bookstore owner (Ryan) and big bookstore chain executive (Hanks) find themselves at odds … just in time for the holiday season. 

Serendipity (2001) — Crave, Prime 

Amid the hustle and bustle of a crowded department store, two last-minute holiday shoppers reach for the same pair of gloves and lock eyes. The rest is history, or rather, one and a half hours of frozen hot chocolate and fate. 

Carol (2015) — CBC Gem, Crave, Prime

While the mall is mostly a source of stress during the holiday season, in films, it appears to be a hot spot for romance. In the award-winning period drama Carol, store clerk Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) meets Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett), who is looking to buy a doll for her daughter. Instead, Carol walks away with a train set and a crush. 

All winter — hold the holidays, please

Cool Runnings (1993) — Disney+ 

Based on the true story of the Jamaican bobsled team that competed at the 1988 Winter Olympics, this film is perfect for anyone struggling with the transition from warm to winter weather. Plenty of snow and sleds, no Santa. 

Paddington (2014) — Crave

It's no coincidence that Paddington was released in time for the holiday season in 2014. The critically acclaimed adventures of a Peruvian bear with a penchant for marmalade sandwiches is set in the cosiness of a wintry London, sans holiday content. 

Snowtime! (2015) CBC Gem, Crave and Netflix 

Catch Canadian treasure Sandra Oh as the voice of a precocious young boy known as Four-eyed Frankie, one of a group of children battling it out in a snow fight for the ages, in Snowtime! The animated remake of the beloved 1984 French Canadian film La guerre des tuques (The Dog Who Stopped the War) features songs from homegrown artists like Simple Plan, Walk off the Earth and her royal highness Céline Dion. Note: though it is rated PG and starts off lighthearted, this film is an allegory for war and does explore the tragedy that accompanies conflict. 

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) — Disney+ 

C.S. Lewis's classic imagines a hidden magical world plunged into a perpetual winter. "Winter's not all bad. There's ice skating and snowball fights. Oh, and Christmas!" Lucy (Georgie Henley) says in the film. But as Mr. Tumnus, the faun, is quick to reply, in Narnia, it's "always winter, never Christmas."

Films to play in the background of your celebration

The Princess Switch series (2018, 2020, 2021) Netflix 

Visit the magical land of Belgravia where Vanessa Hudgens rules supreme. The first film in the trilogy plays on the prince-and-pauper trope, in which a royal and a commoner discover they look remarkably alike and decide to switch lives. But as the series progresses, there are more Vanessa Hudgens characters and fewer logical plot lines, making it the perfect background watch. 

The Nutcracker (1993) — Crave 

Dance along with the Sugar Plum Fairy and waltz with the snowflakes. This film adds an instantly recognizable soundtrack to any gathering while doubling as digital holiday decor. 

Bonus: The Yule Log — Crave 

A yule log burning in a fireplace.
(Source: Crave)

A film of sorts! This tried-and-true background favourite brings all the comforts of a fireplace with no mess. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ishani Nath is a freelance entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She has appeared as a pop culture expert on CBC, CTV and Global News Radio and has bylines in Chatelaine, Maclean's, The Juggernaut, Flare and more. Follow her @ishaninath.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

From life's little projects to its big questions; the latest in food, style, relationships, work and money, home, wellness, pets and travel delivered directly to your inbox each week.

...

The next issue of CBC Life Newsletter will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window

now