Twelve Great Christmas Movies That Don’t Feature Clarence the Angel, Bing Crosby, Tiny Tim, or a Leg Lamp

Posted on December 3, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Reprising from 2007:

I love It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and A Christmas Story as much as anyone. I love the bittersweet struggles of George Bailey and never get tired of seeing him try to resist falling in love with Mary when they’re on that phone call to Sam “Hee Haw!” Wainwright. I love the way Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Wallace and Davis preserve the old general’s pride when they help him keep the resort going. And I love the way that Ralphie and his family find that Christmas is not about neatly wrapped gifts and perfectly harmonized carols or even a turkey dinner. That last scene, when they all laugh, knowing that this will be one of their best Christmas memories ever, is one of my favorite moments in any film I’ve ever seen. I’ve already written about how much I love every version of A Christmas Carol.

So, let’s assume you’ve seen all those already this year and are looking for something else. Here’s a list with one for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas. And I’d love to hear about your favorites, too.

(From #6, Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Plus Halloween & Easter Celebrations)

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For Your Netflix Queue Holidays Lists Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Rediscovered Classic Spiritual films

41 Replies to “Twelve Great Christmas Movies That Don’t Feature Clarence the Angel, Bing Crosby, Tiny Tim, or a Leg Lamp”

  1. Hi Nell–
    Nice list.
    Here are a few of my favorite Christmas movies that weren’t mentioned:
    Prancer (the most underrated and overlooked, IMHO)
    National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (I can watch this over and over and still laugh)
    The Polar Express (best of this decade, I think)
    Christmas Evil (definitely not a family film, nor a slasher film as it was marketed, but a shattering psychological drama about a man whose love for the holiday leads him to some extreme actions)
    Toys (not the whole thing, but for the absolutely beautiful opening sequence with the song “The Closing of the Year”)
    Here Comes Santa Clause (little-known French film that I loved as a child)

  2. It’s not on my top Christmas movie list, but my wife is a big fan of the TV movie The Gathering, a movie about family reconciliation and reclamation starring Ed Asner.
    Hea, I wanted to respond to a comment of your’s from a while ago. I mentioned that my brother’s father-in-law was an extra in the Sean Penn movie Into The Wild. You asked if his scene was included in the finished movie.
    I just spoke with my brother this weekend and asked whether he saw the movie yet. He said he did, but the scenes in the Carthage bar were so tightly edited that they did not know if his father-in-law was there or not. He added that Sean Penn’s film crew spent 30 days in Carthage, but all that made it into the film was about five minutes worth.
    My brother says he plans to rent the DVD and try again.

  3. Thanks for the recommendation of “The Snowman,” Nell. I think I may have seen this when I was little, but I can’t remember. Either way, I think it will be perfect for the holidays/winter season and I have ordered the DVD from Amazon.
    On the subject of recent Christmas movies, I really enjoyed “The Family Stone.” Compared to a lot of the disappointing films of the last few years–“Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” “The Santa Clause 3,” etc.–I found this one both genuinely funny and ultimately quite touching. I took my mom to see it on Christmas Day 2005 and she loved it, too, even if it made her cry 🙂

  4. Good list, Dustin! And I agree with you about “The Family Stone.” I felt that one suffered badly from a misdirected ad campaign. They kept showing that one scene of Sarah Jessica Parker dropping the casserole on the kitchen floor and made it look like it was a silly comedy. So people were expecting something else and were disappointed. The romances didn’t do much for me but I liked the family interaction very much. And you are so right about “Deck the Halls,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Santa Clause 3” and all the other drecky holiday movies: “Surviving Christmas,” “Jingle all the Way,” “Fred Claus”…..

  5. I love the Claymation movie of the bells!! It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. It doesn’t matter that the technology is now obsolete, the creativity and imagination shine through and make it timeless!

  6. Sometimes silly can be fun. Try “Santa Conquers the Martians” (1964). It’s about Martian children in love with Earth TV shows about Santa, and Martian parents who kidnap Santa (with the help of two Earth children (one played by Pia Zadora) and bring him to Mars.
    Terribly campy (think “Plan 9 from Outer Space), but how often do you find a Christmas movie with Santa, Martians, and a giant robot?

  7. My family stumbled across a wonderful Christmas movie called “The Christmas Card” with Ed Asner; it is a great movie. Also, another good movie for the holidays is The Ultimate Gift with James Garner; this is a “have-to-see”!!! for the whole family. I think it’s one of the best movies ever made. Blessed Christmas!

  8. Nakhash, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a legend! I got to see it on TV this summer and thought it was hilarious. Completely inept but of course that is its charm. And Andi, you are right about “Christmas Card” and “Ultimate Gift.” Two great family films. Thanks for commenting!

  9. What about “Christmas in the Clouds”? The kooky, quirky Native people who run a ski resort.

  10. “O’Henry’s Full House” is a hard-to-find flick that offers five star-packed renditions of O’Henry short stories. “Gift of the Magi,” “The Last Leaf,” and more. Marilyn Monroe. Charles Laughton. Several have Christmas themes and those that don’t are still gorgeous, deep, timeless. Here’s one link.
    Happy Holidays, everyone.

  11. Does anyone else remember Mircale in the Wilderness? It has a marvelous retelling of the Nativity story in Native American terms.

  12. I am looking for a movie that myfamily watched over the holiday season back in the 80s. It was about two men who were vagabonds and ended up in this litle town. The one man had lost his wife and was dealing with terrible grief and was asked to carve a new Mary statue for the churches navity scene. He carved it to look like his wife. I don’t remember much more about it except that the entire family was moved by the story and I have been trying to find out the title to surprise them. If you have heard of it or remember seeing it I would love to know. Thank you and Merry Christmas.

  13. I also found Miracle in the Wilderness on aol’s hq movie list-and it can be downloaded for free, or at least it could be when I did it a few months ago.

  14. This year my family gathered around the television on Christmas Eve to watch The Nativity Story. A great movie ! Another moving favorite is A House Without a Christmas Tree. An older movie from the early 1970’s starring Jason Robards which can be purchased on ebay as a VHS tape.

  15. Thanks, Nancy! I’m glad you share my affection for “The Nativity Story,” and I agree with you about “A House Without a Christmas Tree.” Still hoping it will be out on DVD.

  16. “A Wish For Wings That Work” belongs on the list of animated Xmas classics. Skip Jones at his finest. Need I say more.

  17. Hey Nell,
    Here are some more great Christmas classics that get overlooked.
    1. Christmas in Connecticut
    2. Meet John Doe
    3. Marx Brothers: The Big Store
    4. Heidi (with Shirley Temple)
    5. The Littlest Princess (with Shirley Temple)
    6. Laurel & Hardy: BABES IN TOYLAND 1934 also called MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS
    7. Holiday Inn
    8. Three Godfathers (John Wayne)
    9. Auntie Mame
    10. Meet Me in St. Louis

  18. I’ve got “I’ll Be Seeing You,” in my Netflix queue – it came out in 1945, is set during Christmas, is directed by George Cukor, and stars Ginger Rogers, Joseph Cotton, and Shirley Temple. I’ll let you know how if I like it.
    Someday, I hope someone will make the perfect New York Christmas movie. I feel it hasn’t yet been done, though I suppose “Miracle on 34th Street” comes closest.
    Here’s a recommendation – “A Christmas without Snow” (1980) starring Michael Learned, James Cromwell, and John Houseman, about a divorcee who moves to San Francisco and joins a chorus that is rehearsing Handel’s Messiah. It is listed in Netflix but the availability status is uncertain. I remember seeing it when it first came out.

  19. “A Christmas Without Snow” is a lovely film and Michael Learned (who played the mother in “The Waltons”) is wonderful. I am also fond of “I’ll be Seeing You,” but I am a sucker for corny movies — and Cukor, Rogers, and Cotton, too. “Shadow of a Doubt” was on TCM tonight, one of Hitchcock’s best.
    If you have not seen it, I recommend you put “Random Harvest” on your Netflix queue. I think you will like it.

  20. I like Ronald Colman movies, and “Random Harvest” is a good, though very strange (with that whole amnesia element) movie. I saw it about a year ago, from the beginning. I love all things Hitchcock (in fact, I think he’s become my favorite director, though I’m also a sucker for Frank Capra and Billy Wilder).
    His classics can be watched over and over again and seem better every time. I was able to see Farley Granger in person at the Silver Theatre when they showed “Strangers on a Train” recently. What a film, and what a wonderful man. Oh, well – off the subject of Christmas films, I guess.

  21. In my video stack next to the TV I also have John Denver & the Muppets Christmas, Animaniacs (a true classic of chaos), as well as some of these listed. I am also a great fan of Disney’s “Small One”, a short piece that is worth watching for the art as well as the story. I wil be watching these and wrapping tonight – with a smile and gooey fringers (adhesive tape is not my best medium)

  22. Here’s a 8 Minute Holiday Treat!
    One of my new favorite Christmas movies, “The Gift Wrapper”, I saw in a film festival this year and it was just posted on youtube for the holidays!
    Apparently they are only screening it for the holidays and then it goes back into the vaults till next year.

  23. My wife has been looking for a Christmas movie where the plot was a priest that helped a woman whose daughter was murdered love again, she ends up helping the family of the man who went to jail for murdering her daughter. Anyone know the name of this movie.

  24. Some additions:
    “The Homecoming” – the pilot for “The Waltons” TV series – should be mentioned.
    I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement, but I’m fond of 2003’s “Love, Actually”, set in the month leading up to CHristmas.
    1987’s “The Dead”, from James Joyce’s story of a Dublin Christmas party.
    And if you need an action fix – “Die Hard” and “Die Hard II”.

  25. I love the movie Love Actually and find myself watching it at least once every Christmas. When I was a kid, there was a movie called Miracle Down Under…I don’t know if it’s available on DVD, but I thought it was a very sweet story and great for kids. Also, last year I saw Midnight Clear, not much action, but I really liked the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ story.

  26. I agree that Love Actually is the best Christmas movie I have ever seen. To me it has everything a good movie should have: laughs, tears, pathos, irony, love, loss, disappointment, regret, surprise, joy, more laughs. Emma Thompson’s scene in the bedroom trying to compose herself with Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” in the bacground is just so powerful.
    I watch it every year — preferably with someone who also appreciates it (this year, my daughter). I only own one movie — Love Actually.

  27. Thanks, JR! It is a wonderful film, beautifully written and performed, shifting between hilarious, touching, and bittersweet, and finally inspiring.

  28. I would add “A Wish for Wings That Work”, a wonderful adaptation of the Berkeley Breathed story by the timeless and always inspired Skip Jones.

  29. Hi, Nell
    In compiling Movies About Christmas ( we came up with over 400 movies involving Christmas. Here are 10 that will appeal to different tastes, but take six minutes to watch the first one on-line to validate the others’ value:
    1) The Great Toy Robbery is a wonderfully funny animated short from the National Film Board of Canada ( about Santa’s run-in with some western villains and heroes.
    2) Before he made Slumdog Millionaire, director Danny Boyle created Millions, a mystical comedy about a pair of boys who find a pile of stolen money and use it to create one of the funniest and most original Christmas movies ever.
    3) For romance between mature adults, it’s hard to beat One Special Night, with Julie Andrews and James Garner as widowed characters who are thrown together by fate and bad weather just before Christmas.
    4) When Henry Winkler brings a handsome stranger to his niece’s house for Christmas in The Most Wonderful Time of Year it doesn’t look good, but the inevitable romantic-comedy ending comes about in entertaining fashion just the same.
    5) A London art dealer stumbles on a dirty old lamp in the middle of a terrible Christmas and unleashes a 2000-year-old Arabian Genie, and that creates one of the sweetest holiday comedies ever — Bernard and the Genie.
    6) Because he’s just too self-involved to get Christmas right, a harried businessman is given a dozen opportunities to fix it in The 12 Days Of Christmas Eve, a clever comedy in the Groundhog Day tradition.
    7) For animal lovers, it’s hard to beat A Dog Named Christmas, which tells the story of a stricken family that is healed by saving a lost dog in a real-world program that can always use extra participants.
    8) In the all-too-brief category of films about young girls turning into women, none is better than The World of Henry Orient, which climaxes at an unforgettable Christmas.
    9) It may seem incongruous at first, but one of the best family-based entertainments in years is Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring The Rockettes, which dials down the dancing girls for a very respectful and surprisingly moving version of the events of the first Christmas, featuring live camels on stage and other wonders. Seriously.
    10) The best Christmas movie that doesn’t take place at Christmas is Babette’s Feast, which is not really a food movie; it is instead a story that says more about faith, love, honor, family, friendship and spirituality than any traditional Christmas movie ever made.
    Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
    Alexander Law

  30. Thanks, Alexander! The NFBC has produced some of the greatest animated films of all time. I’ll be sure to check out The Great Toy Robbery.”

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