Christmas 2023 is here: it’s time to rewatch your go-to holiday films and discover new gems! Here are 10+ movies to watch this year, recommended by our writers.
Christmas 2023 is coming, and if you’re a film fan, this means getting your pop corn ready and putting on your go-to holiday flick. But if you’d like to watch something new this year, we have you covered! Here’s a list of 10+ movies to watch for Christmas 2023, from all time classics to recent releases, all recommended by our staff writers.
1. 8 WOMEN
Director: François Ozon
A farcical musical murder mystery featuring some of the most recognisable female faces in French cinema, 8 Women could just be an unlikely remedy for anyone craving another Knives Out film this Christmas. After the patriarch of an upper-class family is found murdered in the grand country house to which they have all arrived for the holidays, the titular eight women remaining in the snowed-in mansion must deduce who among them is responsible.
For any fan of French film, the cast of 8 Women is a real treat; Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Deneuve and Danielle Darrieux, in one of her final roles, are directed by François Ozon in the film that made his name outside of France. The mise en scène is a delightful homage to mid-century Hollywood melodramas, while the rich Christmas colours adorning the glamorous cast complete a feast of festive aesthetics. Perhaps more than most musicals, the francophone pop songs scattered throughout the film’s 111 minutes might feel somewhat contrived, but if you can’t embrace a bit of spontaneous joie de vivre at Christmas, when can you?
2. A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Director: Clive Donner
Adaptations of A Christmas Carol are almost as numerous as soul-crushing Christmas advertisements. The story of old, bitter Ebenezer Scrooge, who’s visited by three Christmas ghosts to have his soul rejuvenated and his Christmas spirit returned, has been told so many times that it’s almost impossible to point out the definitive version. But I consider the best one to be the 1984 television special directed by Clive Donner. Despite being made for TV, this version of A Christmas Carol is shot and staged marvelously. The colors are a perfect blend of vibrantly warm and bleakly cold, and I especially love how it plays with shadows and darkness when the Ghost of Christmas Future is around.
George C. Scott brings a very dry, belittling wit to Scrooge, and yet you can see the slightest traces of the happier, kinder man he once was and still could be. The whole film has a lot of similarly subtle touches that highlight the most important details Scrooge is taking in and make his radical transformation much more believable. The pacing can feel rushed and the dialogue is sometimes too stiff when reciting the book’s text word-for-word, but this version of A Christmas Carol branches out more than many others and, most importantly of all, captures the core heart and layers of one of the most definitive Christmas stories ever told.
3. BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY
Director: Sharon Maguire
Bridget Jones’s Diary is undoubtedly most commonly known as a romantic comedy, but it is one of the films I always find myself revisiting during the holiday season. While the world may still be busy debating on whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, I want to focus on another under-appreciated film for the holidays. It may not be a classic Christmas film – not yet anyway – but it features some key elements of many beloved Christmas films. Bridget Jones’s Diary follows the titular character Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger), a 32-year-old British single woman who finds herself involved in a love triangle with two men: Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant), her boss, and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a former childhood acquaintance.
It is true that Bridget Jones’ Diary takes place over an entire year and not solely during Christmas, but some of its most iconic scenes take place over the festive season. Bridget meets Mark during the holidays when he is wearing a reindeer Christmas sweater. And, of course, who could ever forget the iconic ending of the film when the two share a kiss in the snow? Not to mention that much of Bridget’s story focuses on her loneliness which not only is a theme often discussed in Christmas movies but also a feeling many people can relate to, especially during the holidays. In short, Sharon Maguire’s movie is as festive as any other staple holiday film and perfect to revisit during Christmas, or discover for the first time if you have not seen it already.
Director: William Oldroyd
William Oldroyd’s sixties set sapphic psychological crime thriller is a trojan horse Christmas film. Although the film eschews all notions of tidings of comfort and joy; the fact that the action exists around Christmas at Moorehead juvenile detention facility where Eileen Dunlop (Thomasin McKenzie) first meets the object of her obsession, Rebecca Saint John (Anne Hathaway), qualifies it for holiday viewing.
It is at the Moorehead Christmas pageant (a desultory affair) where Eileen is shining the spotlight on the youth offenders that Rebecca shines her light on the broken and self-loathing young woman who has never been “seen” before. There is no tinsel in Eileen’s squalid home shared with her abusive alcoholic father, Jim Dunlop (Shea Whigham), a former cop. For Eileen, her Christmas miracle is being noticed and seduced/manipulated by the sophisticated and urbane Rebecca.
Eileen occurs over a short period of time. The lead up to Christmas and the break in which Rebecca seemingly leaves “x-town” Massachusetts. With other people celebrating in their homes or drinking in bars, no one is watching Eileen or Rebecca. Eileen’s disappointment at apparently being forgotten by Rebecca leads to elation when Rebecca invites her to spend Christmas Eve with her in her home. Rebecca calls Eileen “A Christmas Angel,” although that nomenclature has little understanding of Eileen’s pathology. A mistake on behalf of a woman who is a psychologist.
Oldroyd’s dark comedy evokes noir and Sirkian melodrama. It revels in its twisted Hitchcockian approach. Snow and snow angels are neither comforting nor romantic. Nevertheless, if the viewer wants something dark and bitter in their Christmas stocking, Eileen is a must.
5. HAUL OUT THE HOLLY
Director: Maclain Nelson
One of my favourite parts of the festive season is trailing through the channels on TV for something Christmassy to watch. Last year, I found an all time favourite that I’m here to recommend to you this year. On the surface, Haul out the Holly may seem like your typical Hallmark movie. It’s much more than that. Usually, you’re left with side stories you barely care about. But in Haul out the Holly, the characters are so likeable that you care about them solving their indifferences in time for Christmas Day.
Holly (Lacey Chabert) decides to travel home to her parents house for Christmas after breaking up with her boyfriend. When her parents reveal that they’re moving to Florida and spending Christmas house hunting, she plans to have a lowkey Christmas. All she wants to do is catch up with childhood best friend, Jared (Wes Brown), who still lives on the same street where they grew up. This street, however, is not your usual street. This is Evergreen Lane, the most festive street in the neighbourhood.
Under obligation by the HOA, with newly elected Jared as president, Holly must dig through her parents’ shed for decorations to make the house look as Christmassy as possible. Holly doesn’t care much for even putting up a little inside tree, let alone decorating the entire outside of her house with lights. When the house begins to look more and more festive, her mood slowly lifts, making her fall in love with her childhood home once again. And maybe, there’s even a new romance on the cards. Haul out the Holly is a must-see this Christmas.
6. THE HOLDOVERS
Director: Alexander Payne
With every passing year comes the release of countless new Christmas movies and festive stories, but very few manage to immediately cement themselves as a modern classic as quickly and effortlessly as Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers. His film follows a young boy named Angus (Dominic Sessa) who’s forced to spend Christmas at boarding school with his apparently boring teacher Mr. Hunham (Paul Giamatti), but in typical holiday fashion, the pair gradually learn to open up to one another and discover the value of friendship and compassion. Payne adopts an extremely warm and sentimental tone with this story, which easily could’ve come across as insincere, but every single performance is perfectly tuned to this unique atmosphere in a way that’s constantly gripping and emotional.
Christmas movies have a tendency to favour the happier, more positive aspects of the holiday period (with the exception of a few timeless tear-jerkers), but The Holdovers somehow manages to do both. It has all the tender, nostalgic storytelling that you’d expect from this kind of story, but it never shies away from the darker corners of life either, with some genuinely tragic and upsetting subplots. This helps Payne to paint an authentic, multi-faceted portrait of life that merely uses Christmas as a backdrop to highlight the best parts of humanity in the face of adversity. All of this comes together to craft a powerful, memorable narrative of hope that’s an instant Christmas classic.
7. THE HOLIDAY
Director: Nancy Meyers
Some films exist to watch underneath a pile of blankets with a warm cup of soup, and The Holiday is just that. In woe of broken relationships, Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) decide to swap homes over Christmas, one a quaint English cottage, and the other a crisp white California mansion. Iris has spent years strung-along-in-love with a co-worker and hopes to recapture her gumption. Amanda, a hard-driving exec, is looking to get away from her cheating boyfriend. Their vacations unexpectedly change when they meet and begin to fall in love with two local men.
All four leads are rather excellent, but writer-director Nancy Meyers crafted two superbly likeable love interests in suave single dad Graham (Jude Law) and hopeless romantic Miles (Jack Black). I love watching movies about making movies, and in one of The Holiday’s most charming scenes—almost entirely improvised by Black—Miles, a film composer, hums various film scores to a giggling Iris while sorting through the aisles of a Blockbuster. Across the Atlantic, Amanda loosens her heart-strings for Graham, whose only character flaw is fearing a relationship may take time away from baking and sewing for his little girls.
The Holiday allows us to both bathe beneath the LA sun and rub our hands together by the glow of the cottage fire in Surrey; it’s self-care cinema at its finest, and it feels so good this time of year.
Directors: Sergio Pablos & Carlos Martínez López
There’s nothing else that quite looks like Klaus, despite almost every animated film nowadays seemingly trying to imitate it. Christmas movies can so often be content with just following the standard formula and doing everything in the most bland way imaginable that to see one push boundaries and innovate genuinely feels like a holiday miracle. Klaus blends the contrasting looks of 2D and 3D animation to craft a style that’s always fascinating to watch, elevating its alternate Santa Claus origin story to heights far beyond what one would expect from a children’s animated Christmas film. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill holiday special that only exists to exploit bored parents scrolling through Netflix; this is a studio at the top of their game, who rightfully won the BAFTA for Best Animated Film.
Klaus follows the postman Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman) as he’s banished to a northern island town and given an impossible task to complete. Initially dejected and resigned to failure, everything seems to change when he discovers the creatively-named woodsman Klaus (J. K. Simmons), who’s also a secret toymaker in his spare time. As far as premises for Christmas films go, the “origin story” of Santa Claus is a pretty common well for them to go to, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of an established classic that uses the alternate history approach, again meaning that this film feels so different from all of its contemporaries. There’s plenty of familiar plot beats scattered throughout that may stop the film from feeling as unique as it could, but as far as animated Christmas films go, you’ll struggle to find one as formally inventive and as much fun as Klaus.
9. LITTLE WOMEN
Director: Greta Gerwig
Before Greta Gerwig doused the world in pink with her box-office shattering Barbie, she directed an impeccable retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women. With an all-star cast and breathtaking screenplay, every moment of Gerwig’s Little Women is captivating. The film follows four sisters navigating life, love, and womanhood in post-Civil War America.
Little Women spans years of the March girls’ lives, inviting viewers into the highs and lows they experience, holding family—and more directly, sisterhood—as its powerful theme. Every March sister brings various qualities to the family, and Gerwig’s Oscar-nominated screenplay weaves together the tapestry of their family perfectly. Amy’s (Florence Pugh) childlike humor is cushioned by Jo’s (Saoirse Ronan) aspirations and Meg’s (Emma Watson) simple hopes of having a family—all of which are driven by love for their ill sister, Beth (Eliza Scanlen).
Many cinematically beautiful moments in Little Women are found in its wintry scenes: the March sisters cozily huddle around a fire in their Massachusetts home, later clomping through the snow past Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) in his stately home. But perhaps the most heartfelt and unifying moments take place on two Christmas mornings. The March sisters search for reasons to celebrate the holiday in 1861, knowing they won’t get gifts and their father (Bob Odenkirk) is away at war. Marmee (Laura Dern) requests that they give their breakfast to a poor family as a Christmas gift. They do so, and their joy doesn’t wane. On Christmas in 1862, they receive their most prized gift, as Father March returns. Little Women is many things: a tale of romance, independence, hardship, and family. But it might be best watched as a Christmas film about the impact of giving—giving oneself in love, one’s belongings in humility, and one’s heart for their family.
10. NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
While the holidays are fun, they’re also super stressful, thanks to all the shopping madness, seasonal events, and family functions, which often means tolerating all your weird relatives. No movie more perfectly epitomizes just how stressful (but also magical) Christmastime can be than National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989).
Chevy Chase (Community) is Clark Griswold, a quick-witted family man, working man, and giant child when it comes to celebrating Christmas. As the holidays approach, he seeks perfection in having the most decorative house with the brightest lights and the biggest tree anyone has ever seen. Clark returns home with a 25-foot pine strapped to his station wagon and when his neighbor jokes about where he’s going to put it, Clark tells him to “Bend over and I’ll show ya!”. And that sets the entire tone of Christmas Vacation.
Clark’s Christmas plans go awry when—on top of his parents, aunt and uncle, and in-laws—his unfiltered hick cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid, of Vegas Vacation) rolls up unexpectedly with his family and dog, Snot, and parks his broken-down camper in Clark’s front yard. Clark finds himself amidst madness as he’s hosting the entire family, doing his best to tolerate idiosyncrasies while having to buy everyone’s holidays gifts, and daydreaming about the swimming pool he plans to install with his Christmas bonus. But, when his boss replaces his bonus with a membership to a “Jelly of the Month” club instead, Clark loses his you know what. And that’s when the magic happens.
If you’re looking for a holiday flick with non-stop laughs and some of the best quotable dialogue, sit down with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. You’ll be glad you did.
11. PHANTOM THREAD
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
While you might think that Phantom Thread has no chance of being labeled a Christmas movie, it actually ends up being a film that captures the feeling of winter the best. We often associate Christmas with love, family, and joy, but that is not the case for every person during the winter, and this film shows that perfectly. Phantom Thread is set during the 1950s in London. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a famous dressmaker, meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), and their relationship changes everything he thought he knew about his perfectly crafted life.
Almost every frame of Phantom Thread exudes winter energy. From the interiors that look like they are lit by a warm fireplace to the cool blue exteriors, this is exactly how I imagine an ideal winter to look like. The emotional climax of Woodcock’s and Alma’s romance also occurs on New Year’s Eve, and the party is one of the most devastatingly beautiful set pieces I’ve seen for this holiday. Anytime the holiday spirits are not working the best on you, put on Phantom Thread and witness the moody masterpiece that’s easily one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best.
Director: Pablo Larraín
With Season 6 of The Crown having just been released on Netflix, Princess Diana has entered our lives again. If you’ve just finished the show and would like to immerse yourself in that world once more, why not try a completely different kind of film? Jackie director Pablo Larraín imagines what Diana’s (Kristen Stewart) Christmas 1991 might have been like, when she visited the Queen’s Sandringham Estate to celebrate the festivities. But this was no celebration for the central character of this “fable from a true tragedy,” who feels more and more trapped in a world where she doesn’t belong. And so, Diana’s universe becomes surreally timeless, almost as if we were stuck in that moment with her, as we experience all her emotions as she goes through all the required rituals, and tries to endure it all.
With a career-best performance from Kristen Stewart, Spencer is not an easy watch, but it will stay with you for a long time. The holidays are a time to be cheerful, but it’s not always easy to spend time with our family, and Spencer might just be what you need if you’d like to see these complex dynamics portrayed on film. Not only that, but if you liked Larraín’s recently released film El Conde and would like to discover more of the director’s work, Spencer is also one of his very best movies.
Director: Paul King
Wonka tells the origin story of the Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”‘s protagonist, before he became the morally questionable chocolatier later played by Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 1971) and Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005). In fact, Wonka has very little to do with these other films: it’s hard to imagine how the harmless young man we meet in Paul King’s movie could ever become the various versions of his grown-up self we’re already acquainted with. Yet, if you take this as a story that’s completely unrelated to the other Willy Wonka movies, you’ll have a great time with it.
Timothée Chalamet plays the titular Wonka, who has just arrived in an unnamed big city that seems to combine features of various European capitals, and dreams of selling chocolate at the prestigious Galeries Gourmet. But it’s not going to be so easy, as not only has a “funny little man” been stealing his chocolates, but there’s a Chocolate Cartel in town, and the chief of police (Keegan-Michael Key) is on their side. When a bad decision has him trapped in the most unlikely of places, Willy’s dream becomes a challenge: escaping with the help of his newfound friends, defeating the Cartel, and finally becoming a chocolatier.
Wonka is light on plot, but Chalamet is so magnetic that your eyes will be glued to the screen as you watch him effortlessly embody the character, joined by an all-star cast that also includes Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Jim Carter, and many more. And while it might not traditionally be considered a Christmas movie, the charming musical numbers and magical atmosphere will definitely put you in the right mood for the holidays.