Not all Christmas movies are created equal. Finding a good festive film requires an increasingly long trek through the morass of animated holiday specials, random variety shows, Hallmark made-for-TV goo and just plain bad efforts from studios who should know better.
So if you’ve exhausted all the usual go-to’s, look no further. Here are ten classics that are guaranteed to warm the cockles of your Christmas heart.
An English clergyman realises the error of his ways as he reconnects with his estranged famliy at Christmas. Based on a play by Wynyard Browne the film bravely examines the complexities of family and the ambiguities of emotional neglect with unexpectedly heart-warming results.
Nothing says Christmas like a John Wayne western, right? A hard-hitting, surprisingly emotional reimagining of the story of the three wise men as wild west bandits fleeing the law who stumble across a mother and her newborn son in the desert.
A comedic counterpart to the gunslinging godfathers, here three convicts on the run share Christmas dinner with a family and upon learning of their financial troubles decide to forego their devious plans and perform a few good deeds. Humphrey Bogart plays a loveable con as only he can.
Not as vintage as the other offerings on this list, but a classic in it’s own right. Set in Quebec, this movie is often cited as the best Canadian film ever made. Benoit accompanies his uncle to retrieve the body of young boy at Christmastime. A beautiful meditation on life and death, family, age and the innocence of youth.
Judy Garland in her sparkling prime in a big screen musical about the lives and loves of four sisters around the time of the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. Not a Christmas movie per se, but it gave us the perennial classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and for that we will be forever grateful.
Arguably the best rendition of the ubiquitous Dickens story, it is a sheer joy to watch veteran actor Alastair Sim in the titular role as he transforms utterly from a miserly old man into a redeemed champion of the virtue of generosity and the value of human life.
Bing Crosby dazzles in both movies, singing and dancing his way through colourful holiday shenanigans and general musical greatness. There’s snow, romance, timeless Irving Berlin tunes, and all the festive kitsch you could desire. Holiday Inn comes out slightly ahead simply because it also features the incomparable Fred Astaire.
The classic tale of a Macy’s Santa Claus who may or may not be the real deal. An ingenious portrayal of the power of childlike faith to overcome adult narrow-mindedness, cynicism and doubt. There are several remakes, but try this one first.
Charmingly set in Budapest, this movie is an embodiment of everything that was once grand about romantic comedies. Two shop assistants who can’t stand each other gradually realise they have fallen in love as anonymous pen pals. A gorgeously tangled plot handled with surprising range, it manages to never get too sweet or too sour.
James Stewart takes the helm in the top two movies on this list, and really, who else can be the hero of Christmas vintage if not for the man who brought us George Bailey, the troubled businessman facing personal crisis on Christmas Eve. A surprisingly dark concept for a Christmas movie, George is rescued from suicidal contemplations when the angel Clarence takes him on a journey through his past to show him how different the world would be if he had never existed. The final scene, that look on Bailey’s face as he realises the true value of his life to those around him, is one of the most life-affirming moments in cinema.