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8 Holiday & Christmas Movies You Need to Watch

  • The Shop Around the Corner
  • We're No Angels
  • The Poseidon Adventure
  • Gremlins
  • Die Hard
  • Home Alone
  • Bad Santa
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“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” John McClane’s (Bruce Willis) classic yuletide carol, written in blood during a key sequence in 1988’s Die Hard, still stands as one of the great Christmas quotes in film history. Not only does McClane’s clever quip reveal how a little levity can transcend even the deadliest scenarios, it also reminds us that the best Holiday films provide a sense of humor and warmth when it’s needed most. Despite age or background, we return to films like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street time and again because of a certain comfort level that can’t be denied.

While each of us has our own unique queue of Holiday films lined up for viewing in the coming days, there are so many underappreciated or forgotten gems that demand rediscovery by new generations. Below, you’ll find my Holiday favorites listed in chronological order. Please consider them each a present in their own right:

The Shop Around the Corner (1940): To know bliss is to know Ernst Lubitsch, the great German filmmaker whose smart, airy, and knowing cinematic confections were defined by a singular imprint critics coined, “The Lubitsch Touch.” While it’s hard to pick a favorite Lubitsch film, his masterpiece The Shop Around The Corner starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two retail employees who mistake love for hate, is the perfect Holiday choice, one of the great romances born from close-contact frustration and wit. The film’s Internet-age remake, You’ve Got Mail is not without its charms, but it doesn’t come close to capturing the original’s pure loveliness. Netflix

We’re No Angels (1955): Michael Curtiz directed Humphrey Bogart in a little film you may have seen entitled Casablanca, but it’s their funny and feverish adaptation of We’re No Angels, the story of three hardened criminals made new again by the Christmas spirit, that is a true joy. Ranald MacDougall’s break-neck script helps the great cast of actors transcend the film’s theatrical roots and achieve a beautifully harmonic and compassionate rhythm. Most of all, We’re No Angels is an effortless reminder of Hollywood Cinema at its best. Netflix

The Poseidon Adventure (1972): Technically more of a New Year’s Eve movie, since the titular ocean liner gets plowed over by a massive tsunami wave just as the clock strikes midnight. But the film’s themes of survival, sacrifice, and family are strong nonetheless, and if anything, The Poseidon Adventure shows how quickly the safe confines of Holiday cheer can turn to life and death. Plus, this is a thrilling disaster film from start to finish. Netflix

Gremlins (1984): Director Joe Dante is one of the unsung masters of American cinema, and his Gremlins remains one of the darkest Christmas satires Hollywood has ever produced. Consumer America’s obsession with material “things” becomes the film’s crucial thematic slant, a devastatingly funny critique hidden underneath the impressive action set pieces and horror special effects. Netflix

Die Hard (1988): The greatest Action film ever made is also my favorite Christmas movie, bar none. You’ve probably seen Die Hard before, but look at it again as a striking Holiday wake-up call for a father in crisis and the entire story takes on a Dickensian sense of urgency. Netflix Stream

Home Alone (1990): Every kid’s dream and every parent’s nightmare. My family still talks about the day we accidentally walked into a screening of Home Alone one chilly December day and came out two hours later sore from gut-busting laughter. What makes Home Alone such a lasting Christmas film to this very day is its sobering appreciation for community. Throughout his awesome battle with two bumbling thieves, young Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) discovers that a life without family is a lonely ride toward dissatisfied adulthood. Netflix

Bad Santa (2003): Who knew Billy Bob Thornton’s filthy mouth and drunken antics could provide such a telling analogy for the Christmas spirit? RIP Bernie Mack. Netflix

Last Holiday  (2006): Certainly a head scratching choice at first glance, but this wonderfully pure Queen Latifah Holiday vehicle embodies the seamlessness and joy of classic Hollywood cinema more than any other recent romantic comedy. With fun supporting turns by Gerard Depardieu, LL Cool J, and Timothy Hutton, Last Holiday dares to be smart, sentimental, and courageous all at once. No matter how many times this film replays on late-night TBS, once bitten I can’t stop watching.  Netflix