9 Classic Christmas Movies

Holiday Films to Put You in the Spirit of the Season

The power of the holidays to thaw chilly hearts and help the lost find their way is an enduring theme in classic Christmas movies. Here are nine of the most memorable, which include terrific love stories, silly comedies, and entertaining musicals.

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'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)

It's a Wonderful Life
RKO Radio Pictures

Frank Capra's magical tale of a man who's allowed to see what his family, his friends, and his community would have been like if he had never been born was a flop when it first came out. Thanks to repeated television airings over the decades, it has now become one of the most beloved holiday films ever. With Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore as a great despicable villain, it is a little dark. Ultimately, though, it's a moving tribute to the power of love, faith, and redemption.

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'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947)

Miracle on 34th Street - 1947
20th Century Fox

This is a charming tale of a department-store Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle—and he just may be. Jolly Edmund Gwenn helps thaw the practical hearts of a young Natalie Wood and her single mom, Maureen O'Hara, in a tale that kicks off with the Macy's Day parade, just like the actual holiday season. And the courtroom battle to establish Kris' sanity and the real identity of Santa Claus is genuinely stirring.

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'White Christmas' (1954)

White Christmas - 1954
Paramount Pictures

The song "White Christmas" was a long-established hit by the time Hollywood crafted this fluffy, sweet-natured holiday movie around it. A light romantic comedy, the film is an excuse to show off Bing Crosby's pipes, Danny Kaye's comic chops, Rosemary Clooney's voice, and Vera-Ellen's dancing, along with a series of great sets and costumes. The rest of the tunes are hummable, and the whole enterprise is as sweet and peppy as a candy cane.

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'The Bishop's Wife' (1947)

The Bishop’s Wife
RKO Radio Pictures

Here, Cary Grant stars as an angel come to earth to help a beleaguered bishop, played by David Niven, who's trying to build a cathedral and has lost his true vision. Grant makes for an urbane, well-dressed heavenly visitor, who finds himself tempted by earthly joys—and the bishop's wife, played by Loretta Young. Don't miss the hilarious figure-skating scene, in which the skating doubles look nothing like the actors.

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'A Christmas Carol' (1951)

A Christmas Carol - 1951
Renown Pictures Corp.

This was not the first time Charles Dickens' classic moral fable was adapted for the screen, but it's one of the best. The film follows the classic story of Scrooge, the miserable miser who on Christmas Eve is shown his fate if he continues his evil ways. It includes wonderful performances by Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Mervyn Johns and Hermione Baddeley as the Cratchits. And a truly scary performance by Czesław Konarski as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. 

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'A Christmas Carol' (1984)

A Christmas Carol - 1984
CBS Television

Starring George C. Scott, this version made for television features lush production values, is faithful to the book and is sometimes chilling in its depictions of the ghosts. Scott is masterful in the role, with a sympathetic David Warner as Bob Cratchit and Susannah York as his fetching missus. It's an evocation of the glories and the miseries of Victorian England that spurred Dickens to write the tale.

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'A Christmas Story' (1983)

A Christmas Story - 1983

Hilarious and sweet, this picture of Christmas and family life in 1950s small-town America is hard to beat. The infamous "leg lamp," the kid who sticks his tongue to a frozen lamppost, the pink bunny pajamas, the terrifying trip to a department store Santa, and Ralphie's vivid imagination will make anybody but a true Grinch remember the fun of the holidays. This is humorist Jean Shepherd's storytelling at its best, and it's supported by a terrific cast.

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'Christmas in Connecticut' (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut - 1945
Warner Brothers

Barbara Stanwyck ​stars as a Martha-Stewart type who writes a column about her idyllic life with her husband and baby in perfect Connecticut, always with a lip-smacking recipe. Trouble is, there's no husband, no baby, and she can't cook. Of course, circumstances require her to mount an elaborate hoax, and romantic comedy ensues in this frothy bit of holiday fun.

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'Babes in Toyland' (1961)

Babes in Toyland -1961
Walt Disney Productions

A somewhat cheesy Disney rendering that nods only faintly to the Victor Herbert operetta, "Babes in Toyland" is nevertheless a fond childhood memory for millions. Annette Funicello plays the storybook heroine whose plans for a wedding are thwarted by a villain played by Ray Bolger. The film is soaked in color, and the march of the wooden soldiers is a great bit of live animation. A happy trip down memory lane for many, it probably won't engage you if you didn't love the movie—or at least Funicello—when you were a kid.