10 Movies to Watch to Put You in the Christmas Spirit

G. Connor Salter

SEO Editor
Updated Nov 16, 2023
10 Movies to Watch to Put You in the Christmas Spirit

Every year brings new discussions about what Christmas movies to watch. Something old? Something new? Something the kids or the grownups will enjoy?

These 10 movies provide a little something for everybody. Each can be watched as a family, but even the ones directed at children are clever enough to keep the grownups interested. Each comes with a helpful link to a parental guidance site showing which movies go nearer to PG or PG-13 than G, which helps parents decide the best movies for their families.

Photo Credit: © Getty ImagesProstock-Studio

while you were sleeping 1995 movie

1. While You Were Sleeping

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Romantic comedies are one of the most popular genres to watch at Christmas. Each year produces some new ones, and most are okay. However, few get remembered years later. While You Were Sleeping is the rare Christmas romantic comedy that has aged well.

The story seems simple . . . at first. A Chicago train employee has a crush on a daily commuter. Then, on Christmas Day, she rescues him from a train accident. He ends up in the hospital in a coma. A mix-up leads his family to believe she is the man’s fiancée. Spending time with them over the holidays makes her consider what she’s lost by not having a family. But when the man’s brother starts to suspect she’s hiding something, the innocent game seems to be over. Unless they have feelings for each other.

Like every romantic comedy, the plot becomes absurdly complicated. However, it makes the ridiculous moments plausible and keeps viewers enjoying how silly events can become. Unlike many romantic comedies, it highlights that marriage is more than two people falling in love. Loving someone means joining their family, which should provide support and joy.

Photo Credit: © Walt Disney Pictures

The Peanuts gang gathers around the tree at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas, christmas movies

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Any of the original Charlie Brown holiday cartoons are worth watching, but there’s something special about the first one. In theory, the cartoon seems a bit dreary for Christmas—a story about Charlie Brown not feeling the holiday spirit. However, his journey to find holiday joy—watching his dog compete in a holiday lights contest and his struggle to organize a Christmas pageant—is filled with hilarious moments.

As the story progresses, Charlie Brown and his friends engage in some profound discussions about what Christmas is all about. The ending proves to be far more profound than viewers may expect.

A terrific meditation on remembering the season’s true purpose.

Photo Credit: AppleTV

muppet christmas carol movie poster, christmas movies

3. A Muppet Christmas Carol

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

The Muppet movies do something rare: they are equally good at telling original stories and spoofing other stories. In this holiday classic, they spoof Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The basic story is the same: cruel Ebenezer Scrooge has ghostly visitors who make him reconsider his ways. Muppets bring two things. First, great song-and-dance sequences (from the joyful “It Feels Like Christmas” to the tragic “When Love Has Gone”). Second, humor: the movie has a lot of fun with Gonzo the Great playing Dickens and narrating the story. Sometimes, his commentary goes away from the script.

The Muppet Christmas Carol has the most charm for viewers who like old-fashioned special effects over CGI. However, its appeal goes beyond that. Too many Christmas Carol spoofs or retellings work overtime to update the story and just seem snarky. Others add to the story with songs or dances, but low quality leads to boring results. Here is a Christmas Carol retelling that avoids either path. It’s not afraid to spoof the story, but the spoof elements work because the script is clever. It’s not afraid to add to the story, but its additions are well-crafted.

Photo Credit: © Walt Disney Pictures

how the grinch stole christmas 1966, christmas movies

4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

The 1966 cartoon or the 2000 Jim Carrey movie are worth watching, though the Jimy Carrey one has a few PG moments that may not work for small children. Parents who want to introduce their kids to the original cartoon will find it remains charming today. The story doesn’t alter much of the Dr. Seuss book’s material. What makes this cartoon unique is it doesn’t just follow the story. It understands the book’s tone: darkness and light working together.

Boris Karloff was best known for playing villains in 1930s movies, but he was kind in person: he may be the only person who has played the Grinch and Santa (giving out toys to hospital children in 1941). His performance makes the Grinch believable as a villain, then makes his change of heart believable. The danger element makes the story interesting. The redemption element makes the story uplifting. The way they work together makes the story inspiring.

Photo Credit: © MGM

Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, christmas movies

5. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Maybe

Watching detective stories at Christmas may be more of a British tradition than an American fun, but it’s fun for everyone. Exploring Golden Age Detective Fiction stories by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and others provides a chance to watch something exciting but not too intense. Something the whole family can participate in—and maybe provide a nice change when no one wants to watch another Christmas cartoon or romantic comedy.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, starring David Suchet as the Belgian detective, has an unusual beginning. Most of Poirot’s cases involve someone visiting his office. Here, a client asks Poirot to come to him. Mining magnate Simeon Lee is having his extended family at his estate for Christmas and wants Poirot to join them. Lee won’t say why, but he implies he thinks his life is in danger. Poirot agrees to come because he can’t spend Christmas alone. His building’s central heating is broken.

When the detective arrives, it becomes clear that Lee’s family is complicated. Some have secrets they might kill for. Lee may have secrets about how he made his fortune. It’s no spoiler to say that there will be a murder by Christmas Eve. But Poirot has plenty of experience solving mysteries.

Fun , family-friendly suspense for a change of pace at Christmas.

Photo Credit: © BBC

Polar Express movie, christmas movies

6. The Polar Express

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Maybe

Taking a children’s book story and making it long enough for a movie is no easy process. This movie successfully translates the Chris Van Allsburg book into a larger story that never loses the original focus. The story follows a young boy riding a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. The final destination—whether he will meet Santa, whether Santa truly exists—raises simple but universal questions about faith. The movie expands on those questions as various characters wrestle with what they believe about Santa.

While these questions relate specifically to Santa Clause, the applications could apply to other topics, too. What does it mean to believe in something? Does spouting facts equal knowing all the answers? Do those who keep wrestling with what they believe eventually find the answers? The Polar Express gets viewers thinking while providing great train race scenes and even a song or two.

Photo Credit: © Warner Bros

a christmas carol 1984 tv movie, christmas movies

7. A Christmas Carol

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Maybe

If The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best spoof of Charles Dickens’s novel, this 1984 adaptation starring George C. Scott may be the best straightforward adaptation. It may not have the crazy chase scenes of the 2009 CGI movie. It may not have the music and songs of the movie Scrooge (the original or the animated remake). But it contains almost everything from the original story: the joyous holiday parties, the scary ghost scenes, the heartbreaking Tiny Tim scenes. Few movies can make these many elements work together, but this one blends them into a seamless whole.

It also highlights something many Christmas Carol adaptations downplay: the story’s message about caring for the oppressed. Dickens wrote his book to get Victorian readers thinking about impoverished people, to recognize poverty may not be due to laziness. The book is filled with little scenes—like Scrooge meeting two ghostly children named Ignorance and Want—which push him to consider his biases. This movie includes many overlooked scenes, challenging viewers to realize the story is more than just time travel and ghosts. However, the movie never becomes propaganda: the message fits the material and works alongside the entertainment.

Plenty of Christmas movies are entertaining. Some have a clear moral for viewers to think about. Few movies combine the two into a pleasing package.

Photo Credit: © Entertainment Pictures Ltd

rudulph the red-nosed reindeer, christmas movies

8. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Rankin-Bass released some wonderful Christmas cartoons, from Frosty the Snowman to ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. However, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may be the best. Based on a poem by Robert L. May, the story follows a reindeer who wants to join Santa’s sleigh team. However, Rudolph has a secret: his nose glows. His unusual trait soon leads to bullying and struggling to fit in. However, with help from several other misfits—including an island of toys that children didn’t want—Rudolph finds community and a sense of where he belongs.

It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing that makes this Christmas special so memorable. It makes an odd story (a reindeer with a magic nose?) believable. Its believable (yet never too scary) danger scenes mean the characters have chances to show real heroism. Perhaps most importantly, the story captures how it feels to be a misfit and how people can heal from the trauma by finding a loving community.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

the man who saved christmas 2002 movie, christmas movies

9. The Man Who Saved Christmas

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Alfred Carlton Gilbert did many things, from winning an Olympic gold medal for pole vaulting to receiving a Yale education in medicine. However, most people know him for his toys. He invented the Erector Set, one of the most popular building toys ever.

The Man Who Saved Christmas tells the surprising story of his company’s rise and struggles. In 1911, Albert convinces toy sellers that kids will love the Erector Set. He struggles against their skepticism. His father dismisses toymaking as frivolous. The Erector Set’s success allows Albert to achieve his dreams, but World War I brings a new challenge. The government asks Albert to manufacture weapons instead of toys. Later, he joins a debate about boycotting Christmas presents to support the troops. Albert finds he must decide whether serving his country means giving up his creativity or whether he can serve both.

The Man Who Saved Christmas tells an inspiring story with applicable themes. Is Christmas gift-giving purely about getting things or serving others? Can something silly like playing with toys become a pathway to learning and creativity?

Photo Credit: © CBS

a year without a santa claus 1974 cartoon, christmas movies

10. A Year Without a Santa Claus

Where to Watch

Kid-Friendly: Yes

Not quite as famous as Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, this sequel is well worth exploring. The story starts with Santa Claus deciding to take a year off, convinced no one believes in him anymore. Two of his elves vow to search the world for proof that children still believe in him. However, supernatural foes who control fire and ice threaten their plans. Santa may have to get involved himself to save his elves. He may learn along the way whether people value him.

Like the best Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, this cartoon is about people working together to solve problems. Its characters may not suffer as much as Rudolph, but their problems (cynicism about the holidays) are just as relatable. While the story initially seems materialistic (whether kids will get more possessions this year), it emphasizes Santa as representing the Christmas spirit. It becomes a charming story about gratitude, community, and joy.

Photo Credit: © Rankin-Bass

If you enjoy this article, check out the following articles:

10 Classic Christmas Movies for Kids and Adults

10 Holiday Movies Christians Need to Know About

10 Must-Watch Christmas Classics to Put You in the Christmas Spirit

10 Inspiring Christmas Movies on Netflix

10 Christian Movies about the True Meaning of Christmas

13 Old and New Christmas Movies to Watch with the Family

Connor SalterG. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.

This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ!

Songs of Hope to Prepare Your Heart for Advent
How to Celebrate Advent with Your Kids
Christian Christmas Songs

Christmas Prayers and Blessings
Why Jesus Is the Reason for the Season
Why Was Jesus Born in Bethlehem?

Originally published Thursday, 16 November 2023.