The Top Five Classic Christmas Movies

It's A Wonderful Life

Wonderful Life image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The Top Five Classic Christmas Movies

| published December 23, 2016 |

By Thursday Review editors

A lot of Americans this year will be trapped inside on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day thanks to snow or rain, depending on where one lives (and our heart goes out to you if you are one of those unlucky ones stuck in an airport). If you are at home, what better way to spend some quality time with family and friends than with one of these all-time great classics? Sure, you’ve seen them all a dozen or more times; and yes, they can be corny on occasion. But here at Thursday Review we think these are the five best for Christmas viewing—preferably on DVD or Blu-ray, and with freshly made hot chocolate, apple cider, or holiday punch. (Note: this list is meant to compliment Lori Garrett's list which illuminates her choice for the five bast contemporary comedies of Christmas; see link below).

    Scene from It's a Wonderful Life It’s A Wonderful Life, 1947.

    This may be everyone’s all-time favorite. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are perfectly cast in this tale of a compassionate but sometimes hapless local banker who faces a desperate financial crisis. Wishing out loud that he had never been born, George Bailey’s wish is brought momentarily to life by an angel named Clarence. Packed wall-to-wall with a great cast and frequent memorable scenes, and filled with what was at the time a few edgy, even controversial segments, the story remains fresh and relevant to all audiences. Plenty of colorized versions out there, but this one remains best viewed in its classic black and white state. A Frank Capra classic; also stars Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers and Ward Bond. (Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

    scene from Miracle on 34th Street Miracle on 34th Street, 1947.

    Another classic from the great Christmas movie year of 1947, Miracle of 34th Street tells the story of an easy-going, jolly fellow—by the name of Kris Kringle—who is hired by Macy’s department store to act as the retailer’s Santa one season. In some way or form, he manages to touch everyone in some important way, though he clearly rubs one or two the wrong way with his simple charm and unwavering ethics. At an hour and 37 minutes, this classic is faster and easier to digest than Wonderful Life, but its message resonates just as well with all audiences. You can find this one in both black and white and in reasonably well colorized versions. Stars Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, William Frawley, and a very young Natalie Wood. (Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

    Scene from White Christmas Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, 1954.

    The Christmas musical to top all the others, this one with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. Part musical, but also parts romance and comedy, this one is fun to watch and filled with great music and superb dancing—and a visual feast as well, with lots of eye-candy scenes. Crosby and Kaye are two recent-ex-GIs recruited after the war to help their old commanding officer who now manages a Vermont ski lodge and resort. In a time-honored but classic plot development, they all team up to write and perform a splashy Christmas-themed musical designed to attract a newly expanded audience. Another classic that is fun for the whole family, though a few younger viewers may tire of its old-fashioned romantic ethos. One of Irving Berlin’s most memorable musical scores, and one of Crosby’s showcase film performances. (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

    scene from Holiday Inn Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, 1942.

    Another classic with Bing Crosby, this time bantering and dancing alongside Fred Astaire—one of the best movie pairings ever. The soundtrack for this one—music trivia buffs—became one of the biggest sellers of all time; in fact, the recording remained the all-time top seller until The Beatles came along more than twenty years later. Like White Christmas, this one is also a visual feast, and worth it to watch in one of the colorized versions. Newer re-mastered editions surpass the original in clarity and depth on HD and on Blu-ray. And like White Christmas, this one may grow tiresome to the youngest viewers in your family. Suggestion: force them to watch it anyway, sans iPads and smart phones, if only to see two masters of song and dance at work. Especially fun to watch when there is real snow outside your home or apartment.

    scene from Bishop's Wife The Bishop’s Wife, 1947.

    What was it about 1947 that it produced so many classic Christmas and holiday-themed movies? Some critics and film historians suggest that it was the first fully-Post-War year, and for the first time in more than a decade, the harsh deprivations of economic depression and war were finally over. This classic tells the story of an angelic intervention by an angel named Dudley, sent to help a church bishop and his wife manage the daunting, challenging task of financing a new cathedral. Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young are all unforgettable in this film. Cinematography by Gregg Toland, which makes it an automatic classic. (Image courtesy of Warner Brothers)


Related Thursday Review articles:

One Day of Book-Giving Left Before Christmas; Thursday Review editors; Thursday Review; December 24, 2014.

The Five All-Time Best Christmas Movies; Lori Garrett; Thursday Review; December 23, 2014.