10. Home Alone (1990)
Written by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) and directed by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter), Home Alone took the simple premise of a child pranking robbers and turned Macaulay Culkin into a cheek-slapping star. Catherine O’Hara and John Heard are the perfect blend of loving and frantic parents, John Candy propels a subplot straight from Planes, Train and Automobiles (1987) and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are the most lovable crooks ever to hit the screen, the same year Pesci won his Oscar for Goodfellas (1990). The film features the best Christmas soundtrack around, from Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run” to The Drifters’ “White Christmas” to Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” all on top of a fantastic John Williams score. When adjusted for inflation (the fairest way to compare box office numbers), Home Alone remains the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time and the second highest grossing comedy of all time, behind only Beverly Hills Cop (1984). Inspired numerous sequels, including Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992).
Best Line: “You bomb me with one more paint can, kid, and I’m gonna snap off your cahones and put ’em in motor oil!” –Harry Lime (named after Orson Welles in the 1949 classic “The Third Man”)
9. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Fifty years after a New York Sun editorial declared, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” Hollywood captured the same magical reassurance in Miracle on 34th Street. The Oscar-winning script puts a New Yorker named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) on trial for insanity because he insists he is Santa Claus. The only one who believes him is young Susan Walker (Natalie Wood), who tries to convince both her mother (Maureen O’Hara) and lawyer neighbor (John Payne) to defend his case. The film was nominated for Best Picture, won Gwenn the Oscar, launched Wood’s career and memorably featured Gene Lockhart (His Girl Friday) and William Frawley (I Love Lucy). Voted #9 on the AFI’s 100 Cheers, the tale inspired the holiday aura of Macy’s on Manhattan’s 34th Street and ensured the staying power of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The pop culture impact continues decades later, from the opening scene playing on a kitchen TV set in Home Alone (1990) to the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough (Gandhi) and Mara Wilson (Matilda).
Best Scene: Kringle’s defense laywers dump baskets full of “letters to Santa” onto the judge’s bench, a time capsule to a lost era of the U.S. Postal Service.
Best Line: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial; it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.” –Fred Gailey
8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The Ron Howard remake may be one of the highest grossing Christmas movies of all time, but much of its success came from the public’s adoration of the 1966 animated original. Despite hilarity by Jim Carrey and an instant radio classic in Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas?,” critics ranked the remake a mediocre 53% on rottentomatoes, while the public gave it a measly 5.7 on IMDB. Those scores don’t hold a Christmas candle to the original’s 100% on rottentomatoes and 8.4 on IMDB. Narrated by Boris Karloff (Frankenstein) and co-directed by the legendary Chuck Jones (Looney Tunes), the famous Dr. Seuss tale rhymes its tale of the grumpy Grinch, who lives atop a snow-covered mountain and hates the joyful sounds of Whoville below. He becomes so fed up with the holiday cheer that he sabotages Christmas Eve for the Whos, only to realize Christmas means more to them than presents. The musical montage of the sabotage has become legendary for its song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” performed by Thurl Ravenscroft and written by Albert Hague and Dr. Seuss himself.
Best Scene: The Grinch ransacks Whoville, stealing everything including the roast beast.
Best Line: “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” –Narrator
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Charles M. Schulz invented the Peanuts gang in 1950, but they didn’t hit prime-time until this 1965 CBS special. It was so successful that the network aired a follow-up the next year, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966), making Brown the original “King of Halloweentown and Christmastown.” Filled with legendary music from the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from “Christmas Time is Here” to the de facto Peanuts theme song “Linus and Lucy,” the program won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award. It’s aired every Christmas since, cementing a number of priceless moments in our memories, from Snoopy decorating his dog house to the entire gang jamming out to Schroeder’s piano.
Best Scene: Linus takes his blanky on stage to explain “what Christmas is all about.”
Best Line: “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” –Charlie Brown
6. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The greatest of all the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classics, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer could very well be the favorite of many a Christmas viewer. The shiny-nosed character had been invented for a Montgomery Ward catalog in 1939, and was popularized by country singer Gene Autry a decade later. Yet it was this ’64 TV special that cemented its version of the story in our minds, from Rudolph’s parents trying to cover his shiny nose, to fawn Clarice thinking he’s cute; from Rudolph meeting Hermey the dental-aspiring elf, to their teaming with loud prospector Yukon Cornelious; from their stop on the Island of Misfit Toys to their dangerous encounter with the Abominable Snowman. Burl Ives is a charming guide as the snowman narrator, singing “Silver and Gold,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Best Scene: The misfit toys sing about their fatal flaws, including a Charlie in the Box, a train with square wheels and a cowboy who rides an ostrich.
Best Line: “Hermey doesn’t like to make toys!” –Santa’s Elves