An Affair to Remember (1957)

An Affair to Remember (1957)

Hankies ready for Leo McCarey’s remake of his own 1939 weepie, Love Affair, which (spoiler alert) reaches its climax on Christmas Eve. Six months after their romance on a transatlantic liner, playboy-turned-painter Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) discovers why piano teacher Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) failed to make their rendezvous atop the Empire State Building…

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Disney+


The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

The Bishop's Wife (1947)

Obsessing over a new cathedral rather than his wife (Loretta Young), Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) is given a festive lesson in priorities and perspective in this charming take on a Robert Nathan novella. His prayer is answered in the form of Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel who can decorate Christmas trees and rewrite sermons in a trice.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian nightmare unfolds against the backdrop of Christmastime – albeit in a bureaucratic, totalitarian future where consumerism is out of control. Gilliam’s vision features carol singers, presents, piped Christmas music and multiple Santa Clauses, as well as a terrifying scene in which a family reading A Christmas Carol is invaded by stormtroopers.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


The Candlemaker (1957)

The Candlemaker (1957)

Despite acclaim for their breakthrough feature Animal Farm (1954), John Halas and Joy Batchelor remained jobbing animators. Hence, this commission from the United Lutheran Churches of America, whose story of a young boy, his pet mouse and a Christmas candle teaches the meaning of “Christian stewardship”. With Roald Dahl’s half-brother, Louis, serving as second unit director, this short came in monochrome and colour versions.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Carol (2015)

Carol (2015)

One of the great American films of the last decade, Todd Haynes’ rapturous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, The Price of Salt, also contains some of the most swoon-inducingly festive scenes in just about any Christmas film. Rooney Mara plays the department store clerk in 1950s New York who falls for Cate Blanchett’s worldly married woman. 

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: BFI Player


A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Good grief! Charlie Brown is depressed at the commercialisation of Christmas, so in an unusual act of goodwill Lucy Van Pelt invites him to direct the Nativity play. In typical style, Charlie screws things up, but by the end of the day he is filled with cheer as the gang remind him and themselves of the true meaning of Christmas. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Apple TV+

 


Comfort and Joy (1984)

Comfort and Joy (1984)

Bill Forsyth’s comical Glasgow-set tale of woe and redemption stars Bill Paterson as morning radio DJ Dicky Bird. In the lead-up to Christmas, he’s dumped by his kleptomaniac girlfriend and embarks on enforced peace talks between warring local ice-cream business owners. A wistful break-up movie about a man teetering towards existential crisis. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BFI Player


The Crowded Day (1954)

The Crowded Day (1954)

It’s the day of the staff Christmas party at a London department store (shot in Bourne & Hollingsworth), and the shopping rush is in full swing. John Guillermin’s vivacious postwar ensemble piece follows five shopgirls and their men through romance, heartbreak and scandalous pregnancy out of wedlock. Starring Joan Rice and Vera Day, it’s a film that boasts multiple great female performances.

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BFI Player


The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

It’s on Christmas day that young Amy makes the shocking revelation to her father that her invisible friend is in fact his dead first wife, Irena. In this Val Lewton-produced anti-sequel, childhood imagination, loneliness and grief manifest as a radiant ghost who brings great comfort to a girl shunned by her peers. Chiaroscuro lighting and yuletide carols make this a dazzling and atmospheric festive fantasy. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BBC iPlayer 


Dead of Night (1945)

Dead of Night (1945)

There’s nothing like a Christmas ghost story, and there are six for the price of one in this revered Ealing portmanteau, which exerted a considerable influence on postwar British horror. ‘The Christmas Party’ sees teenage mansion guest Sally O’Hara (Sally Ann Howes) have a close encounter of the spooky kind during a game of sardines.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Die Hard (1988)

Die Hard (1988)

You could spend December yawning your way through articles debating whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, or you could just watch the thing. Again. Bruce Willis’s high-rise hijinks at Nakatomi Plaza land on Disney+ on 3 December, where you can also find its similarly Christmas-set sequel.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Disney+ from 3 December


Distant Voices Still Lives (1988)

Distant Voices Still Lives (1988)

Paul McCartney fondly recalls the family sing-songs of his youth, and music features prominently in fellow Liverpudlian Terence Davies’ near-perfect evocation of a place and its people. ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ plays over a typically telling sequence, as tough-loving father Tommy (Pete Postlethwaite) trims the tree and plays Santa before shattering the Christmas spirit with a yank of the tablecloth.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Tim Burton’s Frankenstein-like fairytale tells the age-old story of a popular cheerleader falling for an outsider with scissors for hands. The most romantic moment takes place on Christmas Day, with Winona Ryder’s strawberry blonde dancing under the beautiful snowflakes that fall from Edward’s gorgeous ice-sculpture creation. Alongside these enchanting images, Danny Elfman’s magical score illuminates the bittersweet beauty of standing out from the crowd.

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Disney+


The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight (2021)

Beginning on Christmas morning, this stunning envisioning of the Arthurian legend sees Dev Patel playing the round-table nobleman who must travel through a land of magic and danger in order to keep a date the following Christmas with the mysterious Green Knight. If Steeleye Span’s version of ‘Gaudete’ is your favourite Christmas song, then you’ve just found your new favourite Christmas movie.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


A Guest Is Coming (1947)

A Guest Is Coming (1947)

Plenty of films get claimed as Christmas films on a tenuous basis. Not this one. Arne Mattsson’s mystery thriller offers snowmen, sleigh rides, carol services and Christmas dinners. An obscurity that’s ripe for discovery on Netflix, it’s set at a Swedish country mansion, where the festive family gathering is disrupted by the murder of the wealthy owner.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Netflix


Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018)

Ben Wheatley’s dysfunctional family comedy blends contemporary post-Brexit politics and Shakespearian drama. The ensemble cast are fantastic, with Neil Maskell starring as the short-tempered Colin who has arranged a New Year’s Eve bash at a lavish tinsel-laden manor house. When an estranged brother makes a surprise appearance, grievances are aired and emotions run high. Much like many Christmas family get-togethers, it’s an explosive occasion. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BBC iPlayer


The Holiday (2006)

The Holiday (2006)

Nancy Meyer’s romcom is so saccharine it may make some viewers physically sick, but it also features a humdinger of a score by Hans Zimmer and amusing performances from Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, who play heartbroken women who swap houses for a Christmas getaway. Jack Black’s Hollywood composer threatens to break into nonsense song every few minutes and Jude Law delivers one of cinema’s goofiest moments with ‘Mr Napkin Head.’ 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Netflix/Amazon Prime


Holiday Affair (1949)

Holiday Affair (1949)

“It happened in December… but it’s hotter than July!” boasts the tagline for this holiday season romcom starring Janet Leigh as a widow caught in a love triangle. Will she choose the fiery passion of Robert Mitchum’s free spirit or the security of Wendell Corey’s lawyer? At the same time, her son Timmy is longing after a train set. They both learn some valuable lessons. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BBC iPlayer


Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone (1990)

John Hughes’ and Christopher Columbus’s Christmas classic starring Macaulay Culkin is not only a heartwarming tale about family, it’s a work of slapstick comedy genius. John Williams’ use of sleigh bells on the score creates a sense of wonder, and the moment ‘Carol of the Bells’ kicks in as Kevin rushes off to set up his booby traps delivers menacing perfection. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Disney+


Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

The majority of Shane Black-scripted films take place at Christmas, and this LA-set film noir parody embraces the holiday season with tours of lavish festive parties, including a Torture Garden-style soirée. Robert Downey Jr stars as a petty criminal who stumbles into Hollywood after accidentally nailing an audition. He teams up with Val Kilmer’s gay detective and hardboiled mystery novel obsessive Michelle Monaghan to solve a series of murders. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


Klaus (2019)

Klaus (2019)

Ever wondered how the tradition of sending letters to Santa started? Netflix received one of its first Oscar nominations for Spaniard Sergio Pablos’s engaging, hand-drawn origin story. It sees bone-idle postal cadet Jesper Johansson (Jason Schwartzman) distract children in the island town of Smeerensburg from the age-old Krum-Ellingboe feud by coaxing them into requesting toys from a reclusive woodsman (J.K. Simmons).

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Netflix


The Little Match Girl (1914)

The Little Match Girl (1914)

From James Williamson’s The Little Match Seller (1902) to Joann Randle’s Matchstick Girl (2015), Britain has a long tradition of adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale. Percy Nash’s version has a drunken father sending his daughter into the snow to sell matches on Christmas Eve and makes evocative use of tints and superimpositions, as the waif sees visions in the flames.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Little Women (2019) 

Little Women (2019)

‘Jingle Bells’ was written a short drive away and just a few years prior to the events of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. We’re in Massachusetts in the mid-19th century, and Greta Gerwig’s gorgeous recent adaptation features a suitably nostalgic vision of a period Christmas. It begins as Saoirse Ronan’s Jo March opens her window on to a landscape of fallen snow on Christmas morning and sighs: “Happy Christmas, world.”

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Netflix


Malmkrog (2020)

Malmkrog (2020)

Set entirely in a Transylvanian manor house and its snowy grounds at Christmas in the year 1900, Malmkrog invites us to draw up a chair as we watch gathered aristocratic friends engage in a series of lengthy debates on war, religion, Russian identity and European culture. At 3 hours and 20 mins, Cristi Puiu’s ruminative epic won’t be for everyone. But, hardcore arthouse fans: this is the three-bird-roast festive viewing you’ve been waiting for.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Mubi


The Man from Majorca (1984)

The Man from Majorca (1984)

A post office robbery on St Lucy’s Day and a murder on Christmas Eve provide the Yuletide backdrop for Bo Widerberg’s conspiracy thriller. Stylistically indebted to The French Connection (1971), this pugnacious procedural was adapted from a crime novel by Leif G.W. Persson that was inspired by a 1970s scandal involving Swedish minister of justice Johan Geijer.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Netflix


Meet John Doe (1941)

Meet John Doe (1941)

The power of the press and the susceptibility of the public come under scrutiny in Frank Capra’s classic underdog saga. Christmas Eve proves pivotal, as washed-up baseball pitcher John Willoughby (Gary Cooper) threatens to commit suicide after tiring of the social protest stunt devised by columnist Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) that strikes a chord with a beleaguered nation needing a champion.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)

This Disneyfication of Dickens marked Mickey Mouse’s first original big-screen outing since his 126th and final cartoon short, The Simple Things (1953). Mickey’s Bob Cratchit and Donald Duck’s Nephew Fred (voiced for the last time by Clarence Nash) are largely support players in this Oscar-nominated delight, however, as Scrooge McDuck (Alan Young) learns a festive lesson from an apparitional trio.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Disney+


The Mistletoe Bough (1904)

The Mistletoe Bough (1904)

A favourite of one of the murderers in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), the 19th-century story of a bride who climbs into a trunk during a wedding day game of hide-and-seek was an early example of the Christmas ghost story. Filmed with a gothic touch at Croydon’s Clarendon Studios, Percy Stow’s version sends shivers despite missing its bone-rattling denouement.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Morvern Callar (2002)

Morvern Callar (2002)

No, not the cheeriest of Christmas beginnings. This second feature from Lynne Ramsay starts in a wintry Scottish port, where Samantha Morton’s eponymous supermarket worker awakens – amid the benign flash of Christmas lights – to find her boyfriend dead in the bed next to her. He’s left a mixtape, a suicide note and an unpublished manuscript. It’s the latter that holds the key to Morvern’s sunnier future in Spain.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Netflix


The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Brian Henson’s first directorial credit for a Muppets production, after the passing of his father and creator Jim, is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol starring Michael Caine as the cold-hearted Scrooge. In an inspired move, screenwriter Jerry Juhl gave Jacob Marley a brother so that cantankerous old hecklers Statler and Waldorf could appear to sing ultimate banger ‘Marley and Marley’, written by the legendary Paul Williams. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Disney+


My Favourite Wife (1940)

My Favorite Wife (1940)

The nuptials of Nick (Cary Grant) and Bianca (Gail Patrick) are threatened when his presumed-drowned wife, Ellen (Irene Dunne), suddenly resurfaces. But who’s Stephen (Randolph Scott) and why do he and Ellen keep calling each other ‘Adam and Eve’? Be patient, the Christmas pay off comes late in this Garson Kanin screwball, which was based on Tennyson’s poem, ‘Enoch Arden’.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BBC iPlayer


My Night with Maud (1969)

My Night with Maud (1969)

French New Wave master Eric Rohmer may be more associated with films set at summertime, but with 1969’s My Night with Maud he created an arthouse Christmas all-timer. Set in snowy Clermont-Ferrand, it’s one of the finest of his series of ‘moral tales’, pitching a devout Catholic into a festive battle with his own willpower during a one-night stay with an attractive divorcée.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Curzon On Demand


The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

This gloriously macabre stop-motion musical initially sprung from the mind of Tim Burton after he saw Halloween decorations being replaced by Christmas ones. Jack Skellington can’t quite grasp the concept of Xmas, so, in a misguided attempt to do it his way, he kidnaps ‘Sandy Claws’ and accidentally sabotages the festive season by delivering blood-thirsty toys to all the good little boys and girls.

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Disney+


The North Wind (2021)

The North Wind (2021)

In a wintry, magical Russia, the turbulent family struggles of a matriarchal clan play out over many New Year’s celebrations in their imposing gothic mansion. From Russia’s most prominent modern female director, Renata Litvinova, this opulent Golden Compass-style fantasy serves up a seasonal banquet for the senses.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Klassiki from 23 December


On the Twelfth Day… (1955)

On the Twelfth Day... (1955)

Fifteen years before creating the title sequence for Scrooge (1970), Ronald Searle designed the sets for Wendy Toye’s trot through Frederic Austin’s famous carol. Toye herself plays the prim Miss Tilly becoming overwhelmed by the eccentric generosity of her Edwardian swain, Truelove (David O’Brien). Gloriously filmed in Eastman Color, it was nominated for the Academy Award for best two-reel live-action short.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)

Pluto’s Christmas Tree (1952)

This seven-minute Disney short sees Mickey Mouse head out to find a Christmas tree, inadvertently bringing home two chipmunks living in its branches. It’s Pluto that spots them, but the cheeky rodents proceed to run rings around him. Christmas chaos ensues before carol singers arrive with a rousing, howl-along rendition of ‘Deck the Halls’.

Where to stream it: Disney+


The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

God’s gift to women, Denzel Washington stars as an angel fallen from heaven in Penny Marshall’s modern remake of The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Hallelujah! – because no one is more in need of a Christmas miracle than Courtney B. Vance’s Baptist church pastor who is losing his faith and paying little attention to his gospel choir leader and wife – played by Whitney Houston (who belts out some major tunes). 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Disney+


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

Celebrating and subverting festive mythology, Jalmari Helander’s chilling revision of the Father Christmas origin story is marbled with grimy authenticity and macabre wit. Coming after two knowingly acerbic shorts, it also carries an eco message, as the Subzero company’s drilling on the unspoiled Korvatunturi fell in Lapland unleashes a horned beast who really does know who’s been naughty or nice.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown (1964)

The Rise and Fall of Nellie Brown (1964)

Jamaican born singer Millie Small (My Boy Lollipop) stars in this charming 1960s musical as Selina Brown, who hits the road to travel from Liverpool to London to spend her first ever English Christmas with her glamorous cousin. Her high expectations differ from reality, but the friends and family she meets along the way make this a joyful celebration of companionship and community. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Santa’s Workshop (1932)

Santa’s Workshop (1932)

A musical Disney short from their Silly Symphony series, Santa’s Workshop depicts the busy preparations by Santa and his factory of elves on Christmas Eve. Lists are consulted, toys are put together (be warned: some featuring racist caricatures) and the reindeers are brushed down before Santa heads off on his sleigh into the Christmas night.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Disney+


Scrooge (1951)

Scrooge (1951)

If you’re skimming Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol looking for Mr Jorkin, don’t bother. He was created to accommodate Jack Warner in Brian Desmond Hurst’s all-star adaptation. Variety warned parents it could give children “the screaming-meemies”. But it’s difficult to see today’s tinies cowering behind the sofa at Alastair Sim’s masterly display of lugubrious Yuletide humbug.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: BFI Player


Scrooge (1970)

Scrooge (1970)

It wouldn’t be Christmas without Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer. But Albert Finney won a Golden Globe for interpreting the old skinflint in Ronald Neame’s lively take on Leslie Bricusse’s musical rendition. The staging owes much to Carol Reed’s Oscar-winning Oliver! (1968), but there’s a beguiling menace and merriment to the spectral support provided by Alec Guinness, Edith Evans and Kenneth More.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

What a fuss greeted Charles E. Sellier Jr’s debut, after parents complained kids had been traumatised by TV commercials featuring an axe-wielding Santa. The furore about a psychologically disturbed toy-store worker going on a killing spree persuaded TriStar Pictures against seeking BBFC approval. But the uncut version was passed in 2009 and you can judge for yourselves what the brouhaha was about.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Shudder from 2 December


Stick Man (2015)

Stick Man (2015)

Many parents with toddlers could recite the words of this Julia Donaldson children’s story in their sleep, and this half-hour special for the BBC by London animation house Magic Light Pictures captures much of the magic. “I’m not a stick, I’m Stick Man!” insists our twiggy protagonist as he’s passed from one misuse to the next, en route to a surprise Christmassy cameo that saves the day.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: BBC iPlayer


Tangerine (2015)

Tangerine (2015)

Not your run-of-the-mill Christmas movie, Sean Baker’s tale of the misadventures of two transgender sex workers one Christmas Eve in Los Angeles is fresh, subversive and foul-mouthed. It was all shot on an iPhone too, so provides ample inspiration for stuck-at-home Christmas creativity.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime


Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Inspired by John Ford’s 1948 cowboy Christmas movie 3 Godfathers, Tokyo Godfathers is a Japanese anime classic from Satoshi Kon – a simpler fable that he made between his brainiac marvels Millennium Actress (2001) and Paprika (2006). On Christmas Eve, three homeless people discover an abandoned baby and set out to find its parents.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Netflix


Wake in Fright (1971)

Wake in Fright (1971)

More handle-with-care Christmas counter-programming. This harrowing voyage into the dark heart of the Australian outback takes place over the Christmas holidays. A school teacher is travelling to Sydney to stay with his girlfriend, but unadvisedly makes a stopover in the mining-town backwater Bundanyabba, nicknamed ‘The Yabba’…

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: BFI Player


When Darkness Falls (1960)

When Darkness Falls (1960)

Before Nordic noir, Maria Lang pioneered the Swedish crime novel, and Arne Mattsson’s adaptation of her 1954 tome feels like Ingmar Bergman discovering Agatha Christie. A village vicarage even provides the main setting after a shopkeeper is slain on Christmas Eve. The pastor is Nils Asther, returning to Swedish cinema after following occasional co-star Greta Garbo to Hollywood in 1927.

– David Parkinson

Where to stream it: Netflix


The White Reindeer (1952)

The White Reindeer (1952)

This nightmarish Lapland-set oddity centres on a lonely wife who – left to spend too many cold winter nights alone when her husband is away working – goes to visit the local shaman for help alleviating her sexual frustrations. The cure? She’s transformed into the eponymous white reindeer – a vampiric shapeshifter that proves dangerously alluring to the local men.

– Sam Wigley

Where to stream it: Shudder from 6 December


You’ve Got Mail (1998)

You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Nora Ephron’s modern update of The Shop Around the Corner (1940) is the ultimate romcom for bookish types. The festive season marks Meg Ryan’s independent bookshop owner’s lowest point. She’s missing her deceased mother, going out of business and is stood up by Tom Hanks’ bookstore magnate on what is supposed to be their first date after months of charming anonymous correspondence via instant messenger. 

– Katherine McLaughlin

Where to stream it: Amazon Prime