25 Essential Films For The Holidays
There’s nothing better than snuggling up on the couch, sipping hot chocolate, and watching your favorite holiday movies at Christmas time. But singing along to their soundtracks is a close second. Some of these movies have spawned original songs that have become instant classics, while others indulge in a playlist of timeless favorites. Below are the best Christmas soundtracks to get you in the holiday spirit.
25: Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
The 1992 sequel to Home Alone inspired kids around the world to add Talk Boys to their Christmas wish lists, and it made accidental solo trips to New York City look pretty glamorous (who wouldn’t want unlimited room service at the Plaza Hotel?). While Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) dodged bandits Harry and Marv in the streets of midtown, a collection of contemporary holiday tunes helped to set the scene, including this 1986 recording of “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas” by Johnny Mathis, which re-entered the pop charts after its inclusion on the film’s soundtrack.
24: Office Christmas Party (2016)
When you’re throwing the world’s wildest office party, you’d better have a solid playlist. Plenty of danceable tracks up the ante in this ensemble comedy (featuring the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman, and Kate McKinnon), including The Struts’ “Kiss This,” Black Joe Lewis’ “Come To My Party” and a cover of Madonna’s “Holiday” by Capital Cities. However, “Make It Jingle,” an original song from The Queen Of Bounce, aka Big Freedia, takes the cake.
23: Four Christmases (2008)
Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan play a couple who are both the products of divorce. As the pair shuffles between all four of their parents, and family secrets are revealed, plenty of drama and comedy ensues. The film’s offbeat soundtrack goes a little deeper than the standard holiday fare, including “Cool Yule,” a jazzy number from Louis Armstrong, making it a favorite among more traditional Christmas soundtracks.
22: A Bad Mom’s Christmas (2017)
Overextended moms Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) return for this holiday-themed sequel, in which they all have to host their respective mothers for Christmas. The ensuing hilarity is backed by a selection of timeless holiday songs performed by some of today’s biggest acts. Highlights include The Lumineers’ take on “Blue Christmas,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Run Run Rudolph” and a vampy rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ by Gwen Stefani.
21: Jack Frost (1998
Michael Keaton plays an absentee dad (literally named Jack Frost) who gets reincarnated as a snowman after his tragic Christmas Day death. Thanks to a little holiday magic, Frost gets a second chance at fatherhood. The film’s soundtrack is very much of its time, with songs by such 90s favorites like Lisa Loeb, Spice Girls, and Hanson, whose cover of “Merry Christmas Baby” has a surprising amount of soul.
20: Christmas With The Kranks (2004)
Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis star as empty-nesters who decide to skip Christmas celebrations while their daughter is out of the country, much to the chagrin of their friends, co-workers, and neighbors. The film boasts one of the more refreshingly hip Christmas soundtracks, produced by Steve Van Zandt. Van Zandt curated new recordings with classic tracks, bringing in a variety of indie acts, including The Raveonettes, whose original tune, “The Christmas Song,” gets points for the most glam-rock holiday lyric ever: “Santa’s coming to town/With sequins in his hair”.
19: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
This TV special, based on the children’s book of the same name, offered a twist on O Henry’s The Gift Of The Magi, as performed by Jim Henson’s Muppets. In hopes of winning money to pay for each other’s Christmas gifts, Emmett Otter and his Ma separately enter a talent competition. The catch? They both end up sacrificing the other’s livelihood while preparing for the big event. The special includes plenty of memorable originals penned by Paul Williams, like this song sung by villainous characters Riverbottom Nightmare Band. These shady characters might be surly, but they certainly know how to rock.
18: Die Hard (1988)
It’s hotly debated as to whether or not Die Hard is actually a Christmas film, but the action-packed flick does offer a great holiday soundtrack. As John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) defends his wife and her colleagues against a swath of German terrorists, an evocative score by Michael Karmen, adds to the drama. The film also features songs of the era, including this seasonal rap from Run-DMC, which plays during the opening credits. It’s one of the rare holiday soundtracks all family members can rally around.
17: Miracle On 34th Street (1994)
There’s nothing like a little holiday courtroom drama, and this remake of the 1947 holiday film, starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle himself, will warm the hearts of even the harshest skeptics. The soulful soundtrack mixes a collection of beloved Christmas recordings with contemporary material, including this upbeat version of “Jingle Bells” by Natalie Cole.
16: Scrooged (1988)
A modern-day twist on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this 1988 movie stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a cold-hearted TV executive who has the opportunity to re-evaluate his life’s decisions, and his attitude, thanks to several spectral visitations. Not only did Scrooged become a timeless favorite, it also produced seven singles, including this Top 10 hit by Annie Lennox and Al Green.
15: How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Dr. Seuss’ beloved 1957 children’s book was first made into a TV special in 1966. Nearly half a century later, The Grinch and all of the Whos in Whoville were brought to life in this feature film starring Jim Carrey. How The Grinch Stole Christmas went on to become one of the highest-grossing holiday films of all time. It also featured one of the most successful Christmas soundtracks ever, including songs by *NSYNC, Smash Mouth, and Ben Folds, as well as a rousing performance of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Carrey.
14: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Clark Griswold and his family return for holiday hijinks in this third installment of the popular National Lampoon series, starring Chevy Chase. As chaos ensues around him, Clark is banking on receiving a holiday bonus from work, which he’s planning to put towards a swimming pool in his backyard. As always in the … Vacation series, there’s a token fantasy scene for Clark, complete with a sexy siren. This one revolves around his future pool and features a visit from actress Nicolette Scorsese, all while the exotic sounds of Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka” play in the background.
13: Love Actually (2003)
Love it or hate it, this ensemble rom-com has become a modern holiday classic. Love Actually’s soundtrack boasts a Who’s Who of the early 00s, including Dido, Sugababes, Kelly Clarkson, and Norah Jones. Word has it that screenwriter and director Richard Curtis listened to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” non-stop while writing the film – so much so, that he used the song in a climactic scene. Amid the more festive tunes, the holiday soundtrack also features some more atmospheric numbers for dramatic moments, from Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” to Norah Jones’ “Turn Me On,” from the latter’s breakthrough album, Come Away With Me.
12: Home Alone (1990)
When Kevin McCallister’s family accidentally leaves him behind during a Christmas trip to Paris, he has to get crafty to defend his home against some not-so-bright burglars. Beloved by a generation of 90s kids, Home Alone boasted a lively score from John Williams, a host of Christmas standards, and countless memorable scenes. One such moment, set to Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”, features the inventive eight-year-old creating the illusion of a house party.
11: This Christmas (2007)
There’s nothing better than a holiday-themed romcom (especially one starring Idris Elba) to warm up a chilly winter evening. The soundtrack for This Christmas includes plenty of soulful tunes from artists like TLC, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. This rendition of “Please Come Home For Christmas,” by Aaron Neville, delivers all of the feels, making for one of the more soulful holiday soundtracks.
10: Christmas At Pee-wee’s Playhouse (1988)
This cult-favorite TV show hosted a star-studded (and delightfully campy) cadre of guests to join Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens) for his 1988 holiday special, including Zsa Zsa Gabor, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Oprah Winfrey, and Cher. While Pee-wee learned the valuable lesson of selflessness and discovered holiday traditions around the world, he was serenaded by such musical legends as k.d. lang, who performed ‘Jingle Bell Rock’; Charo, who sang “Feliz Navidad”; and the inimitable Grace Jones, whose dramatic rendition of “Little Drummer Boy” is just as fabulous as you’d imagine.
9: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
An original score by Danny Elfman offers a charmingly gothic backdrop for this stop-motion animated film by Tim Burton. Equally festive and spooky, The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the tale of what happens when Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, crosses into Christmas Town. The film’s signature song, “This Is Halloween,” ensures The Nightmare Before Christmas’ place among the best Christmas soundtracks.
8: The Best Man Holiday (2013)
Fourteen years after The Best Man premiered in theatres, Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, and the rest of the ensemble cast reunited in this bittersweet, holiday-themed sequel. The soundtrack showcases festive songs from an impressive collection of contemporary R&B artists, including John Legend, Ne-Yo, Monica, and Mary J Blige, with a joyous rendition of “This Christmas.”
7: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
This remake of the enduring Dickens story featured everyone’s favorite Muppets playing alongside a surly Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Longtime Henson collaborator and acclaimed songwriter Paul Williams wrote the film’s original songs, including “One More Sleep ’Til Christmas,” “When Love Is Gone” and “It Feels Like Christmas,” sung by The Ghost Of Christmas Present. While most of the classic Christmas soundtracks are full of standards, Paul Williams succeeded in making new classics of his own.
6: The Snowman (1982)
This magical, wordless animated TV special, based on Raymond Briggs’ beloved children’s book, first aired in 1982, capturing the hearts of children across the UK. Howard Blake’s moving score was punctuated by the film’s sole lyrical composition, “Walking In The Air,” which has become a beloved holiday staple. The song was initially recorded by Peter Auty, a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral, and released as a single following the film’s television premiere. In 1985, it was re-recorded by Aled Jones, who became a national sensation when his version went to No.5 in the pop charts. Since then, dozens of artists have covered the song. Here is the original, as it appears in the film.
5: Elf (2003)
A modern favorite, this 2003 film centers around Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human raised as an elf in the North Pole. Buddy travels to New York City to meet his biological father (played by James Caan) and acclimatizes to life in the real world. When it was released, Elf’s classy collection of jazz, soul, and unexpected covers proved to be a magical combination – the film’s soundtrack was certified gold by the RIAA and became one of the best-selling holiday soundtracks of all time. Here is a swinging rendition of “Sleigh Ride” by Ella Fitzgerald, one of the highlights from the album.
4: Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer has become an annual tradition for generations of children ever since it aired in 1964, making it the longest continuously running Christmas TV special of all time. Showcasing the trademarked AniMagic stop-motion animation of Rankin/Bass Productions (who created a variety of seasonal TV specials throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s), Rudolph… follows the adventures of the outcast reindeer who eventually helps save Christmas. The soundtrack features the jolly voice of Burl Ives singing the original music of Johnny Marks, whose iconic songs are now standard holiday fare, including “A Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Silver And Gold” and, of course, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
3: Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Though this 1944 Judy Garland flick isn’t a holiday movie per se, it produced one of the most popular Christmas songs in modern history. The dramatic musical documents the life of a St Louis family over the course of the year, leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. In a Christmas Eve scene, Garland’s character sings “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to her young sister, in hopes of cheering her up. Though the lyrics have changed slightly throughout the decades, the bittersweet song remains an enduring favorite.
2: White Christmas (1954)
This mid-century musical, featuring the songs of Irving Berlin, stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as WWII veterans and Broadway producers. Crosby and Kaye – along with performers played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – plan an extravagant holiday performance to save their former general’s failing Vermont lodge. Though “White Christmas” made its debut in the 1942 film Holiday Inn (ironically, the hotel-themed plots are merely a coincidence), the song has become most closely associated with one of the most beloved Christmas soundtracks of all time.
1: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
In 1965, Charles M. Schulz’s beloved Peanuts comic strip was transformed into an animated TV special, to the delight of children across America. A Charlie Brown Christmas aired across the country, kicking off an annual tradition and inspiring a string of future holiday specials. Rather than supply the film with pop music, the Bay Area-based production team turned to local artist Vince Guaraldi, who wrote a sophisticated jazz score. Guaraldi’s lively themes have become holiday standards in their own right, while the timeless score has become one of the best-selling Christmas soundtracks of all-time.
Looking for more? Discover the best Christmas songs of all time.
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