The Nice List — The Greatest Christmas Films of All Time

11 min readDec 25, 2021


Everybody wants to argue.

They want to argue over who should or shouldn’t be allowed to attend the family Christmas dinner. They want to argue over why their political party is allowed to do the things that yours isn’t. They want to argue over their trendy religion and why it’s better than yours. They want to argue over why egg nog is racist.

But, you know what they can’t argue over?

My list of the greatest Christmas films of all time. If they disagree, they are simply wrong.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Once in a while, something so original and wonderful comes along that you just have to share it with everyone you know. That is the case with Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. Filmed in Finland and Norway, it borders at some points on looking like a Spielberg film, and is an almost kid-friendly fantasy / horror, save for the unfortunate old-man nudity of Santa’s “little helpers”. I wouldn’t allow kids to watch it. It’s rated R.

A child named Pietari and his friend Juuso discover a secret drilling operation happening on top of a mountain in Korvatunturi. After listening in on a conversation between workers, they begin to believe that the mountain is actually an ancient burial mound… for Santa Claus.

Do yourself a favor and watch it with subtitles instead of overdubs. It’s always better to hear the inflection of the real actors’ voices.


Back in 2018, Hulu and Blumhouse struck a deal to launch a new holiday-themed horror movie every month under the series umbrella “Into the Dark”. The first few were decent. But when December hit, they struck gold. That’s when their Christmas film “POOKA!” premiered.

A struggling actor attempts to audition to play Ebenezer Scrooge in a live stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol, only to end up playing something very different. Even though he doesn’t end up playing Scrooge, there are definite parallels between his life and the story of A Christmas Carol. It’s interwoven so well that you may not even notice.

This genius bit of filmmaking may confuse you on first watch. I tell everyone that they probably won’t know what happened the first time they watch it. After watching a second time, you’ll probably realize a lot of what you missed the first time. I’m still discovering new things every time I watch it.

Rated R. Not for kids.

It’s a Wonderful Life

There’s simply no denying this tour de force masterpiece. When I was a kid, this movie was shown multiple times daily during the holiday season on just about every channel, due to a copyright lapse making it public domain. It is, however, back under copyright protection today, which unfortunately means that it’s a lot harder to find and watch. I did see it on NBC tonight, Christmas Eve. And it’s currently on Amazon Prime to stream.

George Bailey has spent his entire life serving others, out of a sense of duty toward those who need him. Despite this, he eventually gets mentally beaten down by the local monopoly-miser Scrooge-type, Mr. Potter, to the point that George believes everybody he knows and loves would be better off without him around.

The brunt of the weight on George’s shoulders finally breaks on Christmas Eve when he attempts to take his own life by jumping from a bridge.

An angel named Clarence is assigned to stop George from jumping, and convince him that the people of his town need him. He sets out to do this by showing George what the lives of not only his loved ones, but those of the entire town would be like if George had never been born.

There are some parallels between It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol (Scrooge), as alluded to in the previous paragraph. Both stories feature a man who gets visited by a supernatural being who shows them what the world would be like without them. In George Bailey’s case, it’s an angel. For Scrooge, it’s 3 ghosts. The biggest difference is that George is viewed as the nicest guy in town before this happens, while Scrooge is seen as the meanest. This minor difference in story just goes to show that anybody is susceptible to grief and depression. And regardless of the type of person it strikes, the cure for both is love.

It’s been said that making this movie is what saved James Stewart from the deep depression he was in after having just finished his stint in the military. Jimmy was a fighter pilot in World War II. He suffered from such extreme PTSD that he ended up channeling that into the senses of loss, hopelessness, anger and confusion that he expresses so well in this film.


My personal favorite production of the A Christmas Carol / Scrooge story.

This one breaks greatly from the original story, turning Ebenezer into a big shot TV executive named Frank, played by Bill Murray. While the comedy is cranked up more than sufficiently, the horror elements are also elevated from traditional productions of A Christmas Carol. It is both funnier and scarier than most (if not all) others.

And the final scene? Well, you’ve got to see it to understand. Bill gives the most uplifting Christmas speech you’ll ever witness. You could miss the entire movie, and even seeing just this scene alone could save you.

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

Let’s just start this one off by saying “not for kids”. But you probably already knew that. If you’ve seen either of the first two Harold & Kumar movies, you know what they’re about.

If you liked the first Harold & Kumar movie, I think you’ll love A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas. When Kumar stupidly burns down Harold’s Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, they have to go find another tree to replace it before Harold’s terrifying father-in-law to-be (Danny Trejo) sees what happened. Needless to say, a huge adventure ensues. Neil Patrick Harris returns from dying in part 2 (you’ll love the explanation), Danny Trejo teaches Harold how to be a man, and you’ll be introduced to WaffleBot, the greatest Christmas gift of all time. I still want one of these for myself.

The Shop Around The Corner

James Stewart’s other great Christmas movie.

Perhaps you’ve seen the remake, “You’ve Got Mail”. While that’s a fine movie, the original is light years better. In fact, you may remember that the small book store in YGM was named after the original movie.

This story takes place in a gift shop in Budapest, where apparently everybody speaks English, and most of them with an American accent. I’ve always been confused by this, and can only surmise that there must be a large American population in Budapest.

If you’ve seen the “You’ve Got Mail” remake, it’s fun to see how the original scenes took place in this film as compared to their equivalent scenes in the remake.

Jimmy Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, and The Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) all in the same movie. What else could you possibly need?

Sint (AKA Saint, AKA Saint Nick)

Filmed in Amsterdam and directed by Dick Maas, this horror comedy is probably not good for kids. Especially because so many kids die in the movie.

Sint is an exciting and original Christmas horror comedy that works off of the history of Sinterklaas. According to legend, every November 14th, Sinterklaas travels on his boat from Spain to Amsterdam, accompanied by his white horse and his Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes, the predecessors to Santa’s elves).

However, this film turns that legend on its head and turns Sinterklaas away from being a generous and giving figure, instead turning him into a terrible supernatural creature who visits once every 32 years to murder hundreds of people, adults and children alike. One man who witnessed Sint murder his entire family when he was a child has become a police officer and is waiting for Sint to return.

Watch with subtitles if you can, rather than overdubs.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994)

A man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Santa Claus begrudgingly accepts an offer to fill in for a drunkard mall Santa, soon becoming a huge hit with the kids who come to see him. Meanwhile, there’s a little girl who absolutely refuses to believe that Santa Claus is real, but she’s slowly beginning to question her hardline stance after seeing some curious things happen with this new mall Santa.

Pay extra attention to the scene with the young orphan Dutch girl who comes to see him. If it doesn’t leave you in tears, you have no soul. For the 1994 remake, this scene is replaced with one that’s just as poignant.

A problem arises when the Santa tells his employers that he is the real Santa. He soon finds himself on trial to judge his competency as to whether he can live on his own or be held as a ward of the state.

The original 1947 film and the 1994 remake are both great, although I’d suggest watching the original first. The remake keeps the story while changing a few scenes just enough to surprise you and keep things interesting.

And, remember: “Madam, I am not in the habit of substituting for spurious Santa Clauses!”

Scrooge (1951)

There are many versions of A Christmas Carol / Scrooge, and many of them are good. However, my favorite non-comedy (ie: Not Bill Murray) production of the story is the 1951 film “Scrooge” with Alistair Sim in the lead role. Not only is it a beautiful film, but it’s darker and digs more into the horror of the story than many others do.

Gremlins & Gremlins 2: The New Batch

A man visits a curious gift shop and buys an exotic pet for his son for Christmas. The animal only has three rules to abide by. But, accidentally breaking one soon leads to another, and, you can guess where this is going.

The sequel doesn’t just meet expectations, but actually surpasses the original in many ways, which is a rare thing for a sequel to accomplish. There have been talks of a 3rd movie for years, but, so far it has failed to materialize.

Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

A family accidentally leaves their eight year old child behind when they head to Paris on vacation. Little Kevin McCallister thinks this is the greatest thing ever, because he no longer has to deal with siblings and cousins bullying him.

Unfortunately, a couple of burglars decide to target the house while the family is gone, not knowing that Kevin is still there. This leads to a very ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ inspired sequence of events, much in the style that Nancy set up to stop Freddy Krueger.

The sequel is a purposeful almost-reboot in which the same events occur, but on a much grander scale. And, dare I say, it does it even better than the first movie.

Apparently, director Chris Columbus wanted to film Home Alone parts 2 and 3 back to back, because he knew Macauley Culkin was growing and would soon be too old to play the child. But, he was only given the ok to do part 2.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Who doesn’t love this movie? The third in the series of National Lampoon’s “Vacation” movies takes a stab at a home holiday gathering, rather than a trip to some far-off location, like the first two. And, as in all of the Vacation movies, while the parents are always played by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, the kids are played by two completely different people in each film. It’s like a holiday tradition. This time around, Audrey is played by Juliette Lewis and Rusty is played by Johnny Galecki (Roseanne, The Big Bang Theory).

Our hero Clark Griswold awaits his Christmas bonus check to arrive while his family Christmas gathering is in full swing at home. Every relative at the gathering is a weirdo in one way or another, with the grand prize going to Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid.

Next time you’re around people wearing Christmas sweaters, take a look. I bet you’ll see several with images and/or quotes from this movie, including “Are you serious, Clark?”, “Why is the carpet wet, Todd?”, and most famously, “Shitter’s full!”

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, wanders into Christmas Town and loves it so much that he decides that he wants to be Santa Claus. Hijinks ensue.

Jack’s speaking voice is provided by Chris Sarandon, while his singing is handled by Danny Elfman, who wrote all of the music.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stop-motion animation musical film, created and produced by Tim Burton.

A Very Murray Christmas

Bill Murray stands by the window in his hotel room

I am aware that this is the second Bill Murray-centered production in my list. If Jimmy Stewart gets two, why not Bill… too? You might even say this is Murray’s other great Christmas movie (Ok, it’s a special, not a movie).

And, it’s not technically a “movie”, per se, as it’s just under one hour in length. So, what is it? It’s a fictional comedy dramatization of the production of a live musical Christmas TV special, hosted by Bill Murray. Concise, huh?

Bill shows up to host his live Christmas special at the television studio on Christmas Eve, but a blizzard prevents any of the guests from showing up. After unsuccessfully trying to get a few celebrities to show up, Bill gives up and goes to the hotel bar to drown his sorrows. Instead, the musical part kicks into full gear once he gets there and starts meeting people. At one point, it seems that he may actually be knocked out and dreaming of the full production special actually happening, complete with the guests who he said didn’t show up.

This does have one thing… well, two things in common with Scrooged. Both star Bill Murray, and both portray Murray in a position of hosting a live Christmas special on Christmas Eve.

This one’s on Netflix.

And there’s the list. You do love every movie I’ve listed above, don’t you? You wouldn’t want to make Santa… angry.

Until next time… Peace, love and Christmas cookies to all, and to all a good night.

— Mikal




Musician, filmmaker, Halloween extremist, 90s movie hacker guy. Music: Film: