Christmas movies are a staple of the holidays. Whether it’s enjoying the same films you watched when you were little or just finding something to bring your relatives together for 83 minutes, everyone has a different reason to love those movies. The bad news is that Netflix is really lacking in holiday spirit nowadays, at least the spirit we grew up with. Where once we had Christmas classics like Elf to warm our hearts during those long winter nights, today’s selection is bare, bleak, and packed with direct-to-video sequels you’ve never heard of. Sure, Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups might work for the littlest ones in your family, but everyone else might be better off putting on the endless fireplace stream.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some worthwhile titles hidden out there, though. But who has time to sift through it all? That’s why we put together a list of the eight best Christmas movies on Netflix right now, ranked, obviously after the new classic, Pottersville.
The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)
These two get lumped together because if you’re going to go beyond the first Santa Clause, you might as well go all the way into ridiculousness. The 2002 sequel sees the return of Tim Allen’s character, now a full-fledged Santa Claus, who’s forced to find a Mrs. Claus to keep Christmas from losing its magic. It’s mildly amusing with a few touching moments, but it’s by no means memorable. The 2006 follow-up, however, is memorable for all the wrong reasons. Santa Claus has to juggle bringing his non-magic parents-in-law to the North Pole and keeping the conniving Jack Frost (Martin Short) from hijacking Christmas. By the third film, the Christmas-y jokes have lost their luster, and the story doesn’t know what direction it wants to go in for most of the film. But for fans of the 1994 original, they’re both worth a not-completely-focused watch.
White Christmas (1954)
White Christmas is one of those holiday movies that most casual Netflix watchers have probably never gotten around to watching. It was 1954’s most successful film, however, and it’s packed with some of the biggest stars of the time. It’s that one with Bing Crosby tap-dancing with Danny Kaye you may have heard about. When their army buddy characters join a sister act of performers, they’re forced to sing and dance their way to saving an unsuccessful inn run by their old military general. It’s a lovely light vehicle for Crosby and Kaye along with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen to just do what they were known for, and the undeniable charisma of each lead carries White Christmas during the brief times between tunes.
The Santa Clause (1994)
A man (Tim Allen) accidentally kills Santa Claus and is then forced to take the position of international gift-giver/break and enter-er, all the while learning what Christmas and fatherhood is really about. It’s simplistic holiday favorite with lots of PG-rated shenanigans, despite being centered around a somewhat strange precedent. (For instance, what if a serial killer offed Santa? Would he really be the person we want sneaking into our homes and leaving presents for naive youths?) Tim Allen is what makes this movie works as this premiered in his Home Improvement/Toy Story hay day, even though he wasn’t even the first choice (Bill Murray) or even second choice (Chevy Chase) for the role. But it’s hard to picture anyone else as the lead in this Christmas tale.
Bad Santa (2003)
In this debaucherous Christmas classic, Billy Bob Thornton stars as Willie, a chronically drunk mall Santa who robs his employers year after year with his elf partner-in-crime, Marcus (Tony Cox). While the film underutilizes the late Bernie Mac and John Ritter, the incessant crude humor and the chemistry between Thornton and Cox are worth more than a few laughs. While its recent sequel was quite underwhelming, the original Bad Santa is still good for a cold winter’s night after a few too much eggnog.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The Ron Howard adaptation of the Grinch tale gets a bad rap, but it faced a nearly impossible task: How do you make a movie out of a short Dr. Seuss story? The solution was to pack it with as much Jim Carrey antics as possible. It didn’t jive with some audiences, but for any fan of Carrey in his heyday, Seuss/Christmas meta humor, and unusually-sized explosions of tiny cars, this movie is a Christmas must. The title of the movie pretty much explains it all, but the movie adds surprisingly emotional depth with Cindy Lou Who’s search for the meaning of Christmas.
Horror movies of the ’80s were obsessed with small creatures that try to kill everyone, and Gremlins is the finest and most adorable entry in this trend. After Billy gets a cute little Mogwai named Gizmo for Christmas, he proceeds to disobey the only three rules for the mysterious animal’s care, causing Gizmo to replicate more sinister versions. It doesn’t take long for the entire town to be overrun with evil creatures, who love to maim, drink, and smoke (despite their hatred of fire). The Joe Dante-directed film is the sort of lighthearted PG horror that only the ’80s and Steven Spielberg, who executive produced, could bring into the world. Gremlins is still a Christmas classic today (that’s very loosely a Christmas movie) because it keeps its antics simple, slightly stupid, and fun.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Jack Skellington, local hero and king of scare in Halloween Town, gets bored of scaring kids year after year and decides to steal a different holiday after stumbling into Christmas Town. And it goes about as well as you’d imagine a Christmas brought to you by ghosts, ghouls, and a guy with an ax in his head. It’s a dark yet jovial tale set in an intricately designed world, but it’s the memorable songs that bring the stop-motion animation to life. It’s a Halloween/Christmas classic that could really only be done justice by Tim Burton.