The 20 Best Holiday Comedies

It’s been a while since I’ve updated with a blog post, and since the holiday season is upon us, I figured I would give my list of the best holiday comedies, ranked in no particular order, except that sometimes I refer to some as better than others.  Confusing, right?  Let’s get to it.

1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Xmas VacationThe pièce de résistance par excellence of Christmas movies.  We have all had those experiences at the holidays where nothing goes right, where our family drives us nuts, and where wild animals jump out of the tree.  Easily the best of the Vacation films, Christmas Vacation is also one of the greatest holiday films ever made, because it shines a light on the dark underbelly of the holiday season. And it even spawned a sequel!*

*Protip: don’t watch the sequel.

2. Elf (2003)

elfA modern classic, Elf manages to merge the saccharine nostalgia of Christmas classics of old with a modern sensibility.  Add a great soundtrack and a blonde Zooey Deschanel singing Christmas songs, and you’ve got a Christmas movie with something for everyone.  Except people who don’t celebrate Christmas.  Those people are out of luck.

3. A Christmas Story (1983)

You can't always get what you want.
You can’t always get what you want.

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”  “Fragíle! It must be Italian!” “Oooh fudge!”  The pink bunny suit!  The frozen tongue!  Ah, the endlessly quotable and recognizable A Christmas Story.

I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard it’s great.

4. The Santa Clause (1994)

Santa and head Jewish elf, Bernard.
Santa and head Jewish elf, Bernard.

Another modern classic.  Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, a curmudgeonly toy maker who, after stripping a corpse of his clothes and wearing them himself, unwittingly signs a contract that turns him into a sort of celestial indentured servant, doomed to be the new Santa Claus until he too perishes and has his vestments stripped from him by another unsuspecting victim of this Sisyphean hell.  Soon, Calvin grows to relish in his newfound power, commanding a legion of servants who must toil endlessly in his sweatshop workshop for no pay.  Add the inspired casting of Jewish actor David Krumholtz as head elf Bernard, and we have a fascinating allegory for the atrocities committed in Auschwitz.

Of course, by naming the head elf "Bernard," the filmmakers are clearly prompting us to draw parallels to Doctor Bernhard Rust, Minister of Science, Education and National Culture for the Nazi Party, who attempted to disseminate the National Socialist philosophy to the youth of Germany.
Of course, by naming the head elf “Bernard,” the filmmakers are clearly prompting us to draw parallels to Doctor Bernhard Rust, Minister of Science, Education and National Culture for the Nazi Party, who attempted to disseminate the National Socialist philosophy to the youth of Germany, just as Santa disseminates presents to the children of the world.

This is one of the heavier films on the list, but its social implications are what make it such a valuable holiday film.

5. The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause (2002)

Scott Calvin sees his fate before him...
Scott Calvin sees his fate before him…

The second entry in Tim Allen’s Clause trilogy is arguably the best of the three, but I have ranked it slightly below the first if only because without the innovations of the first film, we would have no second film.  It’s the Empire Strikes Back of Santa Clause movies. Its ending is so unforgiving, so dark, so utterly shocking, that it had audiences everywhere on tenterhooks as they eagerly awaited the conclusion to this epic cinematic trilogy.

6. Scrooged (1988)

That guy from Ghostbusters and the chick from Raiders of the Lost Ark reenact Dickens’ classic tale of greed giving way to holiday cheer.  Oh, and nipples.

Scrooged

7. Home Alone (1990)

Macaulay Culkin stars in this prequel to the Saw franchise, where we see how Jigsaw got his start.

Seriously, this is one fucked up kid.
Seriously, this is one fucked up kid.

8. Gremlins (1984)

gremlinsAn anti-Christmas film which asks us if we, too, are consumer-driven Gremlins who shouldn’t be fed after midnight. The perfect antidote to Black Friday and late-night leftover binges.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Romance is in the air this holiday season!
Romance is in the air this holiday season!

Bruce Willis stars in this heartwarming story of a man struggling to reunite with his estranged wife, Holly (I see what you did there, screenwriters!) at Christmastime.  Willis’ John McClane would do anything to reunite with Holly, and that’s exactly what he does.  Die Hard shows us the importance of having loved ones near us during the holiday season.  A true family classic.

10. Love, Actually (2003)

Now, I’m not a huge fan of this movie, but a lot of people are.  If I learned anything from this movie, it’s that if the woman I love marries my best friend, I just have to play Christmas Carols and show her some cue cards, and she’ll be so enamored that she will start a long con to cheat on her husband with me. Oh, I also learned that if I’m the one doing the cheating, be sure to hide the presents I’m buying for my mistress from my wife. On second thought, this movie should be called Cheating, Actually.

11. A Christmas Carol  (2009)

WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?   Also, what's that candle thing to the left of the first thing?
WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?
Also, what’s that candle thing to the left of the first thing?

Yeah, this is the super creepy animated one with Jim Carrey as everyone.  And there’s that weird candle ghost.  This shit is scary.  Never mind.  I’m taking it off the list.  Jim Carrey ruined this classic Christmas story.  Goddamnit, Jim Carrey. 

11 (Re-do). The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)

This entry is much lower on the list than the first two movies, but I suspect that much like Return of the Jedi, it has its supporters who argue it’s the best in the trilogy.  For me, not so much.  The plot: a small band of Santa’s elves have been moved to a high-security “escape-proof” camp.  Steve McQueen leads the elves as they plan one of the most ambitious escape attempts the North Pole has ever seen.  Based on a true story.  Oh, and there’s a side-plot involving Martin Short (here, reprising his Ed Grimely character from Saturday Night Live, who has somehow been transformed into Jack Frost), who wants to take over Christmas.  jack_frost ed-grimley

12. Arthur Christmas (2011)

Dudley Moore gets drunk and ruins Christmas, I think.  I’ve never seen it, but I assume it’s a holiday-themed sequel to Moore’s Arthur (1981).

13. Batman Returns (1922)

513340-96639_batman_returns_movie_stills_ccbn_24_122_526lWerner Herzog directed this documentary that explores the holiday rituals of leather fetishists. Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone.  This film also introduced me to the fact that mistletoe is deadly if you eat it.  And to the fact that a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.

14. In Bruges (2008)

Bruges-1What says “Merry Christmas” more than two hit men waiting for their contract in Bruges?  Starring Mad-Eye Moody as a talking pile of guts, Voldemort as a man who habitually abuses telephones, and Bullseye as Bullseye, this film has it all: Christmas lights, murder, and little people.  It’s… confusing.

15. Roots (1977)

rootsIt’s the story of Kwanzaa, right?

16. Bad Santa (2003)

bad-santa-1-1000The pitch: What if the guy who plays the mall Santa is kind of an asshole?

17. Fred Claus (2007)

fred-claus-topperThe pitch: What if Santa has a brother, and they’re both kind of  assholes?

18. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

There's more mugging in this movie than at a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator conference being held in a coffee mug store that just also happens to be run by armed robbers.
There’s more mugging in this movie than at a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator conference being held in a coffee mug store that just also happens to be run by armed robbers.

The pitch: What if we let Jim Carrey ruin another classic Christmas story by having him just run around in front of a camera, acting like kind of an asshole?

19. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

"You can have your clothes back after I have made several glib comments about your predicament."
“You can have your clothes back after I have made several glib comments about your predicament, ma’am.”

James Stewart plays a suicidal psychopath who steals women’s clothes and forces them to hide in bushes while he publicly mocks them.  A classic for the whole family.

20. Life of Brian (1979)

The true story of our Lord and Savior, who is the reason for the season.

Glory unto Him.
Glory be unto Him.
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