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Christmas movies

From Die Hard to Home Alone: Battle of the Christmas Movies

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Dec. 23 2021, Updated 12:05 p.m. ET

Everyone knows that America is a country of strong opinions. From the best chicken sandwich to the best truck brand, everyone has a thought about something. One area where everyone also seems to have an opinion: the best Christmas movie. Is there a clear winner? We examine some favorites in a head-to-head to see which ones come out on top as people sit down to pick the family movie night winner. 

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Ha-Ha Head-to-Head

Christmas movies

First we’re going to take a look at some of the best and most beloved Christmas comedies. If Christmas has you feeling a little melancholy, when you reach for the remote you might be looking for something to make you laugh. If this sounds like your kind of Christmas movie night, you probably already know our line-up of ho-ho ha-ha favorites:

  • Elf: This campy comedy starring Will Farrell came out in 2003, but has seen a resurgence in recent years. Buddy the Elf grows up in the North Pole with the other elves – but he’s actually a human child who wandered into Santa’s magical sack during a Christmas Eve pit stop at an orphanage. While we’re a little unsettled at Santa’s, “just found a baby in my bag, let’s keep him” attitude – it works out in the end because Buddy’s adoptive father, played by Bob Newhart, is a pretty swell dad. Unfortunately, as Buddy grows – and grows, and grows – he starts to feel like he doesn’t fit in with the elves. It comes as quite a shock to Buddy when he discovers he’s actually adopted, and he sets off to New York to find his “real dad.” Buddy of course finds love along the way, realizes family is more than blood, and in the end – all is wrapped up in a beautiful bow. It’s a feel good movie that might give you a toothache because it’s just so darn sweet. Comedy rating: 7/10. Saccharine level: 10/10.
  • Home Alone: This 1990’s classic starring Macaulay Caulkin is considered one of the greats. It’s every disgruntled sibling’s dream: your family annoys the daylights out of you and you wish for them to disappear – so they do. Caulkin, who plays Kevin McAllister, is convinced that he Christmas wished his family away, and he sets about enjoying himself. In reality, the family loaded up and headed off to an European Christmas vacation – but left Kevin behind. Kevin’s mom, played by the incomparable Catherine O’Hara, is frantic to get back to her young child – but Kevin is on cloud 9. Meanwhile, two ne’er-do-wells are staking out the neighborhood for the perfect Christmas robbery. The movie is a battle of the wits between Kevin and his clever traps, and the robbers who get beaten up every way to Tuesday before they’re arrested without the big haul they dreamed of. Kevin’s mom makes it back on Christmas Day – and a spider is roaming the house. 9/10 for comedy, 8/10 for sweet factor. Mostly, we’re just worried about the adults in Kevin’s home town – they missed a lot of red flags.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas: This movie has seen endless iterations over the years but for the purpose of this battle we’ll talk about both the original cartoon (1966) and the Jim Carey version (2000) that everyone hates to love, or loves to hate depending on who you ask. The premise of both  movies is the same.  A curmudgeonly green Grinch lives on a mountain overlooking the idyllic storybook town of Whoville, populated by obnoxiously pert and positive Whos, who celebrate Christmas in a big way. The Grinch decides to pretend to be Santa, ruin Christmas, and prepares to revel in the resulting misery. Unfortunately for our green grump, it backfires. The Whos rediscover the joy of Christmas underneath the commercialism of it all – and the Grinch’s heart grows in size. Comedy: The original cartoon isn’t very funny, but the Carey version nets a solid 6/10. Sweet factor: 8/10. 
  • The Santa Clause: This movie starring Tim Allen borrows from an old theme: someone misses the point of Christmas. Allen’s character is a little bit over the whole holiday thing, and when he’s forced to take over the role of Santa he’s a little jaded and skeptical. Through the movie, his son Charlie helps him rediscover a love of Christmas and helping people – which spawned a few more Santa Clause movies, but none as good as the first. Funny factor: 8/10. Sweet factor: 7/10. 
  • National Lampoons Christmas Vacation: You absolutely cannot talk about Christmas movies without talking about this classic starring Chevy Chase. Clark Griswold wants to give his family the perfect Christmas, so in classic Griswold style, everything goes spectacularly, hilariously wrong. From a Christmas tree that won’t fit on the car – or under the roof for that matter – to obnoxious house guests, a sled disaster (or win, depending on your perspective), a brush with the law, and electronics that just won’t seem to work – Griswold’s family Christmas is not exactly what he dreamed of. In the end, everyone hugs and things are perfect, right? Of course not, it’s a National Lampoon’s movie after all. Hilarity: 10/10. Sweet: 1/10. There are moments. 

There are of course a number of other classic comedies, including Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, Scrooged and more – but we have to move onto feel-good classics. 

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Christmas Feels

Christmas movies

This category will elicit eyerolls from some and nostalgic anticipation from others. It’s time to look at some of the classics that make us feel things. This one is full of controversy, because what constitutes a classic is up to interpretation.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life: If your family celebrates Christmas, you’ve probably been tortured with – sorry, we mean blessed by – this movie every Christmas for most of your life. It’s a cautionary tale about focusing on the wrong things in life, and gave us some of the most classic movie lines of all time including, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings,” and, “I want to live again!’ George Bailey, played by James Stewart in this 1946 black and white film, is fed up with obligations to a life he never dreamed he would live. Feeling a suicidal urge, Bailey is stopped by his guardian angel Clarence who takes the young businessman on a journey through what life would look like if he wasn’t around. Turns out, Bailey is much more important and loved than he realizes. Bailey gives up on his dream of unaliving himself, focuses on his family, and gets to celebrate with his loved ones after all. Feelings: 7/10. Nostalgia: 8/10. 
  • A Christmas Story: Once considered the penultimate classic, this movie is seeing its popularity wane as movie watches of a certain age get older. It doesn’t resonate as well with the under-60 crowd, but it’s still a classic. 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (played by Peter Billingsley) really, really – really – wants a Red Ryder BB Gun. There’s not a lot of substance to this movie, it’s all nostalgia. Although the movie came out in 1983 and became an instant hit, it was written in the setting of the 1940’s and the movie brilliantly weaves nostalgia and memories throughout the film. Adults in the ’80’s looking back at their childhoods saw themselves in little Ralphie and his attempts to prove his maturity to his parents to get the present of his dreams. In the end, Ralphie gets his BB Gun – and nobody shoots their eye out. Feelings: 6/10. Nostalgia: 8/10. 
  • The Holiday: This movie can’t rightfully be called a classic – yet. But the star-studded 2006 film starring Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and more has quickly become a beloved holiday movie staple. Diaz and Winslet switch lives to get away from the stress – and men – driving them crazy. Of course they aren’t looking for love, but find it anyway. It’s an endearing and sweet holiday movie with nothing to make you feel bad, guilty, or stressed about – making it as fluffy and sweet as a holiday classic should be. Feelings: 8/10. Nostalgia: 2/10.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: This 1964 stop-motion classic won’t have you feeling a lot of feels – unless you cry when Rudolph is bullied – but it will definitely make you think of days of yore. The classic tale of Rudolph shows him being born with his big blinkin beacon and bullied by his peers. Rudolph finds love with the Misfit Toys and ends up coming through for Santa in a storm that threatens to cancel Christmas. The bullies look pretty dumb when Rudolph takes his place at the head of Santa’s sleigh and saves the day. Feelings: 4/10. Nostalgia: 10/10.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas: Charlie Brown just wants to know what the true meaning of Christmas is in this 1965 cartoon classic. This movie brings us some of our most iconic songs, plus fun in the snow with the whole Peanuts gang. Brown and his friends find the true meaning of Christmas in each other and giving – not presents and perfection. Feelings: 7/10. Nostalgia 8/10.
  • Miracle on 34th Street: This adorable 1947 classic is pretty easy to sum up. Would you recognize the real deal if he stood right in front of you? Santa (Edmund Gwenn) appears in New York but is treated like a madman. A series of miraculous occurrences convinces the main characters, played by Maureen O’Hara and John Payne, to believe. Feelings: 7/10. Nostalgia 8/10. 
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The Christmas classics are endless. We can’t forget Frosty the Snowman or The Polar Express – but do you recall Die Hard? There’s a yearly brawl between those who believe Die Hard is a Christmas movie – and those who just don’t understand. Well, IGN took a poll to see once and for all if we can put this debate to ret – and a whopping 77% of the 23,000 respondents want you to know that Die Hard is absolutely a Christmas Movie. Plus the director John McTiernan – inarguably an expert in this area – says yep, it’s a Christmas movie. Although to be fair, it wasn’t always intended to be. Inspired by a scene in It’s a Wonderful Life, McTiernan says the film evolved on its own. Per MSN, “‘Everybody, as they came to work on the movie, began to get … this idea of this movie as an escapee,’ he said. ‘And there was a joy in it. Because we … had changed the content. And that is how ‘Die Hard’ became — we hadn’t intended it to be a Christmas movie — but the joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie. And that’s really the best I can tell you about it.'” So there you have it. The anti-capitalist, working-man hero movie is undeniably a holly jolly holiday film. 

Who Wins?

Christmas movies

Ultimately, our rating system is based on very little science and a lot of intuition, but it leaves us wondering: which is the most beloved holiday classic movie of all time? The Irish Post conducted a survey of 2,000 people and there was a clear winner with 24% of the vote. And the winner is…

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Home Alone

But it’s not just the Post’s survey that leads to this surprising winner. It also raked in $285 million in box office sales, putting it well ahead of the next highest grossing Christmas movie which is Elf, at $175 million. 

But there’s more to it than box office sales. Considering the fact that some of these movies are really old, it’s hard to compare dollars to dollars for popularity. If you ask children, Elf might be the winner, or Rudolph. Boomers probably would choose A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life, while their parents might pick Miracle on 34th Street. Gen X is of the National Lampoons generation and Millenials can claim The Santa Clause.

So which is the winner? The real winner is the memories we made along the way. Also, it’s Home Alone

We at CELEB wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a wonderful holiday season, and warm seasons greetings – wherever and however you might celebrate.  

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