Despite the summer’s heat still warming the air, Christmas will be here before you know it, and no matter what else is going on in the world, if you have children, you simply must get yourself and them in the Christmas spirit.
There are all kinds of ways we go about doing this. We hang our decorations; we go for drives to look at everyone else’s Christmas lights; we listen to Christmas music on the radio, and we start planning out our perfect Christmas dinner menu months in advance.
We also watch Christmas movies, and we share the best ones with our children.
If you’re unsure about which Christmas movies to watch with your kids this season, here are 50 of our favorites.
Best Christmas Movies for Preschool Aged Children (2-4)
The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story (2011)
Elf on the Shelf didn’t really become popular until after my son was already a little too old to have fun with it, so we never really got into it too much in my family.
My brother’s family, though, is all about Elf on the Shelf, so this is one of my niece’s favorite Christmas movies to watch each year.
It follows the story of Chippey the Elf, who’s on a quest to restore a young child’s belief in magic.
If you’re looking for a sweet movie to help reinforce the idea of the Elf on the Shelf and Christmas magic, this is the one you’ll want.
All I Want for Christmas Is You (2017)
If you love the Mariah Carey song and the book by the same name, you’ll love this sweet cartoon about a little girl named Mariah.
Voiced by Mariah Carey – who sees a puppy in the pet store and decides that’s all she wants for Christmas that year.
This is for any kid who loves animals and/or who ever asked for a new pet for Christmas.
The Snowy Day (2016)
This is a very sweet, lovable little story based off the picture book by the same name.
It follows the story of Pete, a little boy, who goes around exploring his neighborhood after the first snow of winter.
It doesn’t have much in the way of a true plot, but it’s infinitely sweet, pure and safe for kids of all ages.
Despite the lack of story, this is actually one of my favorites to watch every year.
The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas! (2012)
As an English teacher, I’m a huge Dr. Seuss fan anyway, so I was thrilled when PBS announced its first ever Cat in the Hat Christmas special a few years ago.
It’s a great little movie that has all the fun and ridiculousness of the original Cat in the Hat with an additional Christmas flair.
It features a lot of different animals, which little kids seem to love, and even Santa and his reindeer make an appearance.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
This is absolutely, without a doubt, hands-down my favorite movie to watch every Christmas. I can’t remember a single Christmas in all of my 36 years when I didn’t watch this movie.
My mother made it a holiday tradition for us when I was young, and I carried on the tradition with my son as well.
The songs are great and will have you singing them around the house for the whole season; the animation style mirrors the Dr. Seuss book perfectly, and you just can’t beat Boris Karloff’s narration and voicing of the Grinch.
I hope you haven’t gone your whole life without seeing this cartoon, but if you have, you need to rectify that this Christmas season.
If I had to pick only one Christmas movie to watch every Christmas for the rest of my life, this would be the one, no contest…
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
…But this one would be a close second! I’m not sure what it is about the 1960’s that lent itself to making such great Christmas movies, but whatever it was, I’m eternally appreciative.
Done in traditional stop-motion animation, this movie features a great cast of characters including Rudolph, Sam the Snowman, the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice and Yukon Cornelius.
It’s the traditional Rudolph story with a twist that finds Rudolph at the Island of Misfit Toys. This is another one every family should enjoy together at Christmas.
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
This television special that originally aired on CBS is another example of the 1960’s putting out the best Christmas cartoons.
It was the first ever animated special to feature Frosty the Snowman, and it’s based on the popular Christmas song of the same name.
Frosty is brought to life by a magician’s magic hat and takes several schoolchildren on a song-filled, snowy adventure and a fun train ride to keep the magician from reclaiming the hat.
A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa (2008)
If you or your children enjoy the Muppets, you’ll love this Christmas special starring the whole Muppet gang.
This is a great one for the whole family because the humor is sophisticated enough that you can enjoy it right along with your little ones.
You’re sure to crack up as Miss Piggy, Kermit and all the rest rush around trying to deliver three letters to Santa that got delivered to them by mistake.
In true Muppets form, where the Muppet gang goes, chaos and mishaps follow.
Best Christmas Movies for Little Kids (5-7)
Frozen (2013) & Frozen 2 (2019)
I’ll be honest; I’m not a huge Frozen fan. I think I’ve just heard “Let it Go” one too many times. However, no list of Christmas movies is complete with these blockbusters on it, even though they aren’t technically Christmas movies.
With all the snow and reindeer and the powerful Ice Queen, nothing seems to get kids in the Christmas spirit quite like watching these movies.
As an avid lover, researcher and teacher of fairy tales, myths and origin stories, I love Klaus.
Featuring a great cast of voice actors including John Cusack, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones and Norm MacDonald, this movie is practically an origin story for Santa Claus, although it isn’t the typical story that everyone knows.
In this story, a reluctant postman (Jesper) meets a reclusive toy maker (Klaus), and together, the two of them create the legendary Santa Claus that every child knows today.
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)
This computer animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is nowhere near as good as the original cartoon from the 60’s, but it’s still a great flick to watch with your kiddos at Christmas.
The creators swapped out Boris Karloff in favor of Benedict Cumberbatch to voice the Grinch, and they added quite a bit more action and bigger, more exciting accidents and pitfalls for the Grinch.
All in all, it’s good, clean, holiday fun that your kids are sure to appreciate.
Shrek the Halls (2007)
Whether it’s because of all the nose picking, burping and passing gas or the hilarious talking donkey, younger kids absolutely adore Shrek, likely due in part to how well they identify with all the potty humor.
To be honest, when it comes to favorite kids’ characters, I’m a big Shrek fan too. I love it because it has some adult humor that flies right over younger viewers’ heads but is absolutely hilarious to adults.
In this Christmas special, Shrek, as ornery as ever, doesn’t really want to celebrate Christmas, prompting all the fairy tale creatures from Fairy Woods to stage an intervention for him.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Our second Muppet movie on the list, this one features the Muppets reenacting the famous Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol, with Gonzo portraying Charles Dickens and narrating the whole thing.
The grumpy Mr. Scrooge is played by a young(ish) Michael Caine, and the whole thing is actually a really great retelling of the famous story that even young children can understand and enjoy.
The Star (2017)
If you’re looking for a Christmas cartoon this holiday season that provides you and your child with more of a spiritual, rather than a secular, movie experience, The Star is the film for you.
It tells the biblical story of the birth of Jesus, but it tells it from the point of view of the animals that were present at the time.
It’s actually a very sweet, family-friendly movie, and it’s perfect for church lock-ins or movie nights for youth groups.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
This is a Christmas classic that you’ve probably already seen a dozen times. If you haven’t, though, you need to watch it this Christmas.
A man named Kris Kringle is hired as the Macy’s Santa and does a fantastic job. When he claims to be the real Santa, though, he’s thrown into court to defend both his sanity and his identity.
It’s a heartwarming movie that’ll make you shed a few tears, but you and your kids will love it.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
If possible, get your kids to watch the 1947 version of this movie instead. It’s the same story, but somehow this one is just better all-around. If they claim it looks too old, though, the 1994 version is a good fallback.
Babes in Toyland (1986)
This musical stars Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, and they’re so young and adorable! It’s based on the operetta of the same name but was made specifically for television.
The story is simple enough: A busy young girl who takes care of her younger siblings doesn’t have time for toys or believe in playing.
Magically, she’s transported to Toyland to bring a little joy and whimsy back into her life. The acting is great, and the singing is even better.
The Polar Express (2004)
When this movie first premiered, it was one of the most beautiful movies I’d ever seen. To this day, I still love it, even though my son had pretty much outgrown it by age 12.
It’s a fairly simple movie about a boy who takes a magical train that leads him to Santa Claus’ home.
It received mixed reviews from critics, with some claiming the movie was too tech-heavy and overrated, but it’ll always be one of my Christmas favorites.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
This is another flick my family tries to watch together every year sometime between Halloween and Christmas because luckily, it works well for both.
If you love Tim Burton, you’ll love this Halloween/Christmas classic about Jack, the King of Halloweentown, discovering Christmasland and wanting to take over there so he can experience something new and different.
Of course, a town full of skeletons, ghosts, vampires and other nasties doesn’t really know much about “Making Christmas,” so it’s a disaster, and Jack has to save Santa and get him back to Christmasland to save Christmas before it’s ruined forever.
Plus, the soundtrack is amazing.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Featuring the voices of James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent, this lesser-known Christmas cartoon had no choice but to be excellent.
Arthur, the son of Santa, really tries to do the right thing, but somehow, everything always seems to go wrong.
When he’s sent out on a mission to return a lost gift, the movie turns into a hilarious comedy of errors that you don’t want to miss.
The Dog Who Saved Christmas (2009)
If you have kids who love dogs, they’ll love this movie. If they happen to also love Home Alone, that’s another point in this movie’s favor because it’s practically the canine version of Home Alone.
A family adopts a new pet – a former police dog – and leaves it at home while they go to visit Grandma for Christmas.
When robbers try to rob the house, the dog sets up booby traps and pitfalls to keep the robbers from being successful.
Best Christmas Movies for Bigger Kids (8-9)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
Very loosely based on The Nutcracker, this film takes the story to a whole new level by adding in a vast, magical world, larger, scarier monsters and Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
This movie is a little darker than other versions of The Nutcracker you’ve probably seen, but it also has – in my opinion, at least – a much better, more evolved plot as well.
I love Will Ferrell in just about everything he does, but his portrayal of Buddy the Elf is absolutely perfect.
Raised as an elf at the North Pole, Buddy has never quite fit in because of his huge size, so he goes to find his biological dad in New York.
His dad, a wealthy businessman who doesn’t really like Christmas, isn’t happy to learn he has a long-lost son who he thinks is suffering from some sort of psychological delusion.
The movie is a hilarious movie about family, falling in love and the innocence and wonder of Christmas. It also features a very angry Peter Dinklage tackling the huge Will Ferrell across a table.
If you haven’t seen it, you’ll love it, and your kids will too.
Beauty And The Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)
This Christmas-themed tale adds a new chapter to The Beauty and the Beast story we all know and love.
It features the same great characters, some sweet songs and is high-quality Disney at its finest.
A Christmas Story (1983)
I’m not sure that I know a single person who hasn’t watched A Christmas Story at least twice in his or her lifetime.
In fact, leg lamps and Red Ryder BB guns have practically become synonymous with the Christmas season.
If you haven’t watched this movie, you need to do so, and if you haven’t shared it with your kids yet, now’s definitely the time.
If there truly is a “Christmas classic” out there, this is probably it.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)
If you can’t get your children to appreciate one of the older versions of Dickens’ famous Christmas story, try showing them the Disney version instead.
It stays pretty true to Dickens’ tale, but it’s filmed in computer animated 3D and stars a slightly odd-looking Jim Carrey as Scrooge.
It also features the talents of Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Cary Elwes and is a great way to introduce your kids to classic Dickens.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
This is my least favorite retelling of the Grinch story, but Jim Carrey does make a spectacular, if creepy, Grinch, and the little girl playing Cindy Lou Who is absolutely adorable.
It’s a little odder and little darker than the cartoon versions, but it isn’t scary, and it still has the same great Grinchy message.
Fred Claus (2007)
If you’re like me, you probably love the movie Bad Santa; it’s not, however, appropriate for kids.
Fred Claus is the happy alternative you can share with them and still have a blast yourself. Fred, played perfectly by Vince Vaughn, is the younger brother of Santa Claus, played by Paul Giamatti.
The two don’t get along, and Fred pretty much hates Christmas. One Christmas, though, Fred is broke, so he offers to help Santa for a fee.
The two men are absolutely hilarious, which turns this Christmas movie into pure comedic gold.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
This Christmas movie never gets old. If you haven’t yet introduced your kids to Ernest P. Worrell, now’s the time to do so.
My son likes to tell me that this movie is “so cringe, Mom,” but he never fails to sit down and watch it with me anyway because he secretly loves it.
Ernest, played by the absolutely ridiculous Jim Varney, decides to become Santa Claus and save Christmas after the real Santa decides it’s time to retire.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
This isn’t one of my favorite Christmas movies, but most kids seem to really like it, so I added it.
It stars Jonathan Taylor Thomas when he was all the rage in the late 90’s as a college kid who must make his way home to New York from his college in California in order to win his dad’s Porsche.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
This movie constantly gets mixed reviews from parents. About half of all parents hate it, saying it glorifies consumerism and praises everything Christmas shouldn’t be about.
The other half, myself included, love this movie because we see it as mocking consumerism and everything Christmas has turned into.
I think Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad are hilarious in their portrayals of two dads who go to extreme lengths to get their sons the last Turbo Man doll for Christmas.
This movie is a mess, and it has enough action scenes, car chases and big explosions to keep your kids entertained.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
This is another movie that often gets mixed reviews, but most people I know seem to enjoy it. It has a phenomenal cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd.
It’s about a married couple (Curtis & Allen) who decide to skip Christmas because their daughter isn’t coming home. The neighbors are having none of that though, which turns into a whole big thing.
It’s a lighthearted movie with lots of laughs and some slapstick humor that’ll make you roll your eyes, but it’s fun.
Best Christmas Movies for Tweens (10-12)
The Home Alone Movies (1990-2012)
These movies are a classic staple of Christmas entertainment, especially the first one, which were easily the best of the bunch.
Everything that makes Christmas special – family, food, the stress of striving for the “perfect holiday” – is included in this movie about a young boy accidentally left behind and forced to guard his house against wannabe robbers when his family leaves to go on vacation.
Even better, it’s a barrel of laughs, and you can pretty much watch it with the whole family without having to cover anyone’s eyes or fast forward through objectionable material.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
There have been plenty of different versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol throughout the years, but this one is my favorite. It doesn’t feature a ton of well-known actors and actresses, but the casting choices were spot-on for every character in the movie.
The ghosts, especially, are done perfectly, and the actor portraying Scrooge (George C. Scott) really makes you feel each emotion he experiences. It is, by far, the superior version of A Christmas Carol.
The Santa Clause Movies (1994-2006)
These movies, starring Tim Allen as a recent divorcee who accidentally kills Santa (yikes!) and then has to become Santa to make up for his mistake, are ridiculous, cheesy and a lot of fun for the holiday season.
The first one is the best, but the following two movies aren’t bad either. Allen makes a very likable, if reluctant, Santa, and the little boy who plays his son is entirely lovable. Also, having Santa’s elves played by children was a very good choice.
The Nutcracker in 3D (2010)
This is the traditional story of The Nutcracker, but it’s done in stunning 3D for an immersive experience. It stars a young Elle Fanning, who plays her role very well, along with Nathan Lane and John Turturro.
Honestly, though, the Nutcracker gave me the creeps a little. (I have a puppet phobia, and he looks very puppetty.) I don’t recommend watching it with young children or children who are prone to nightmares.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Is it just me, or has Kurt Russell become much more attractive in the last five years? Either way, he makes an excellent Santa Claus. The kids in the movie also do a great job.
Hoping to gain actual “proof” of the existence of Santa, the kids set up a trap that’ll allow them to record him on their phones. When they sneak into Santa’s sleigh, though, things get a whole lot more exciting.
Unaccompanied Minors (2006)
Somehow I missed this one when it first came out in 2006. I watched it for the first time last year when my son ran across it on some streaming platform.
It’s actually a lot of fun, although it does feature kids causing a lot of mayhem and getting away with it.
Five kids stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve make the most of their situations by turning the airport into their own personal amusement park to the extreme frustration of the airport personnel.
This is a more modern retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
It features Bill Murray as a money hungry TV executive who puts profit before everything else. After he’s visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, he decides to make a life change.
I prefer the more classic versions of the story, but this one is a little easier for children to relate to and understand.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
This movie is actually told in four stages – one for each season, with the holiday season covering a huge chunk of the movie.
Starring Judy Garland in her prime and featuring some truly great musical numbers, this movie is about sisters coming to terms with a huge move across the country, all while dealing with their own coming of age dramas and issues.
It’s a very sweet, warmhearted, family drama to which even kids living in 2020 can relate.
Get Santa (2014)
I love, Love, LOVE this movie! It features Jim Broadbent as Santa and Warwick Davis as a convict turned fake elf, which would have been enough for me right there. However, the movie’s actually really great.
Santa crashes his sleigh and is thrown in jail as a crazy person, and it’s up to one “true believer” little boy and his cynical dad to track down all the reindeer, get the sleigh up and running and save Christmas.
It’s a heartwarming movie about a family reconnecting that also just happens to be hilarious. Plus, there’s a farting reindeer, which automatically gives anyone under the age of 13 the giggles.
The Knight Before Christmas (2019)
Most people missed this movie when it premiered in 2019, and if you’re one of them, I suggest you give it a watch. It reminds me a little of Outlander.
A woman, having given up on love, finds a 14th-century knight who’s been sent to the future by a witch. It’s simple and straightforward, but it’s not a bad movie if you enjoy romance.
Best Christmas Movies for Teens (13+)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
This is a Christmas classic that really needs no description, but I’ll give it a short one anyway.
Patriarch Clark Griswold drives his family out to a country tree farm to find the perfect tree for the perfect family Christmas. In true Lampoon fashion, though, nothing goes right, and everything that goes wrong does so horribly.
This is a movie you watch less for the plot and more for the back-to-back laughs you’ll have while watching it.
A lot of people forget that Gremlins is, in fact, a Christmas movie. Despite its genre, which is somewhere between horror and dark comedy, my son and I – and usually my brother – get together to watch it every Christmas.
A busy, never-really-there dad gives his son a truly unique gift for Christmas to make up for the fact that he’s rarely around to spend time with him.
The gift, an odd creature called a Mogwai, turns out to be more of a nightmare than a gift when he begins to spawn less cute, more evil monsters that bring chaos and destruction to the whole town.
Jack Frost (1998)
The actual age recommendation for this film is quite a bit younger than 13, but I, personally, feel like there are just too many instances of adult humor and sexual innuendos for this movie to be appropriate for younger viewers.
Once you get past all that, though, it’s quite a good movie that features Michael Keaton as a recently deceased rock star (and lousy dad/husband) who comes back to life as a Snowman and gets another chance to reconnect with the family he neglected while alive.
Let It Snow (2019)
Based on the John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle book by the same name, Let It Snow is a great romantic comedy for teens that holds a little deeper meaning to it.
It follows a group of teens, each with a lack or longing in his or her heart, and their actions on a beautiful winter ‘snow day.’ Be aware that there are some instances of bad language, drinking and partying.
Black Christmas (2019)
If you have a horror buff in the family, this is a good one for them. There aren’t too many people who would consider any type of horror film “a Christmas movie,” but for those few of us out there, this movie is one that is as family friendly as horror ever gets.
It’s a remake of a popular 70’s thriller and follows a group of sorority sisters who are being stalked and killed over Christmas break.
I definitely don’t recommend this as a “family movie night” movie, but if you have a teen that gets easily bored with the sweet, funny, loving Christmas movies, this is a nice change of pace.
Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (2013)
Teens love comedy. If you love comedy, as well, then this is the perfect movie for you and your teenage children to watch together this Christmas.
It does have a few mild cuss words and references to sex, but beyond those mildly objectionable things, it’s actually a good movie that explores some pretty important topics, like secular vs. spiritual celebrations of Christmas, race relations, the importance of honesty between parents and children, etc. Plus, it’s hilarious.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
No list of “Best Christmas Movies” would ever be complete without this Christmas classic. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t name this movie when asked, “What’s a good Christmas movie I should watch?” It’s that good.
The actual suggested age rating on this flick is nine years old because there’s nothing objectionable in the film that makes it inappropriate for young children.
The problem is that most young children just can’t appreciate this movie. Although you may be tempted to sit your kids down to watch this one together as a family when they’re younger, I suggest you wait until they’ve at least hit their teen years, maybe even older teen years.
Much earlier than that and they get bogged down by “the old way they talk” or voice the “It’s in black and white!” complaint. This is definitely a movie you want your kids to experience at Christmas; just make sure you present it to them at the right time.
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Movies (2001-2014)
Okay, hear me out. I know these movies are not Christmas movies by any definition of the term.
However, that being said, these movies have been a Christmas tradition for my son and I for the past decade – first just the Lord of the Rings movies and then later, after their releases, The Hobbit movies as well.
If you and/or your children are a fan of fantasy movies, let me tell you why these should become your new Christmas tradition.
If you were to sit down and watch all of The Hobbit movies followed by all of The Lord of the Rings movies, you’d be watching a grand total of 20 hours and 23 minutes worth of movies.
That’s a whole lot of movies, even if you break them up into only one movie a day. The only time my son and I have enough time for the two of us to sit down and watch all of these movies together is during our Christmas breaks from work and school.
That’s why, in my house, nothing says Christmas quite like the original Grinch cartoon from the 60’s and a several-days-long Middle Earth Movie Marathon.
Try it out for yourself this Christmas. You won’t be disappointed.