Whether you’re after mood-setting entertainment for festive travels, or films for the whole family, don’t miss our top festive movies of all time.

Festive films have never been an oeuvre typically blessed with gripping plots or Oscar-worthy performances – but that’s not the point. As the holidays descend it’s about suspending disbelief and getting drawn into the magical, schmaltzy and feel-good movies of the season. Whether you’re four or 40, here are our top 10 festive films to stream this Christmas. Simply add some popcorn and a dash of festive cheer, and enjoy.

The Snowman (1982)

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Raymond Briggs’ 1978 picture book was brought to life in 1982 and, arguably, claimed its place in the canon thanks to a Welsh chorister, Aled Jones, warbling what is now a festive anthem, ‘Walking In The Air’. Replayed each year to an equally enraptured new audience, and now re-told by Michael Morpurgo in prose form, its 40th year is approaching and it shows no signs of losing an iota of its festive magic.

Elf (2003)

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When Will Ferrell realises that although he was raised by elves in the North Pole he is in fact, mere mortal, (remember what we said about suspending disbelief?) he ventures to New York in search of his biological father. As it transpires, you can take the elf out of Lapland, but you can never take the Christmas out of the elf. A family rib-tickler that is full of exuberant Ferrell brilliance, plus an extra dose of festive frolics to delight fun-loving smalls and grown-ups alike.

Home Alone (1990)

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Both the original and the sequel are perennial festive favourites. Sure, the premise of ‘forgetting one of your children and leaving the country’ is perhaps a tad questionable, the universal appeal of ‘kid triumphs over the grown-ups’ storyline – complete with slapstick baddies and booby traps – will have younger audiences delighted. ‘Merry Christmas ya filthy animal’ may indeed go down in history as one of the best Christmas film lines of all time.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947 + 1994)

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Whether you’re a fan of the 1947 original, or the 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough as the main man himself, Miracle on 34th Street will keep everyone believing, just one year longer. Just as sceptical six-year-old, Susan, starts questioning Santa’s existence, her mother employs the oddly named Kris Kringle to pose as Father Christmas in the grotto at Cole’s toy store. When he assures her he is in fact, the real deal, it takes a young lawyer to defend his claims, keep him out an asylum and prove, once and for all, he DOES exist.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Frank Capra’s timeless American classic, It’s a Wonderful Life will forever be a heart-felt, nostalgic favourite. When George Bailey feels his problems are insurmountable and he’s contemplating jumping from a bridge, he ends up saving his guardian angel, Clarence, instead who then shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn't been for all his good deeds over the years. Wrongs are righted, faith in humankind is restored and a festive favourite was born.

Love Actually (2003)

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Richard Curtis plus Christmas equals a yuletide rom-com that makes the top 10 lists every year, in part thanks to its true Brit ensemble cast – including Bill Nighy, Hugh Grant, Chitwetel Ejiofor, Emma Thompson and the late, great Alan Rickman. The intertwined relationships, sub-plots and central theme of love, in all its guises, at Christmas will melt even the most Scrooge-like-at-heart.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

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The Jim Henson retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is full of all the muppet mayhem you’d expect, plus Michael Caine who adds metaphorical the star on top of the tree. The songs, puppetry and set design are utterly transportive, as Ebenezer Scrooge is taken through a tour of his life by the ghosts of his past, present and future – to allow him to right his wrongs, just in time for Christmas Day.

The Holiday (2006)

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It’s got the winning formula for a festive feel-good movie: a (somewhat predictable) ‘will they, won’t they?’ romance; a cast stuffed full of national treasures including Kate Winslet and Jude Law; and a chocolate box cottage setting, dusted in a seasonal flurry. Prime time schmaltz at its finest. What it lacks in plot it makes up for in happy-ever-afters.

Die Hard (1989)

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Bruce Willis’s John McClane, the machine gun toting, terrorist fighting, one-man action film may not have all the ‘festive feels’ but it’s an undeniable Christmas classic. Voted ‘The Greatest Christmas Film of All Time’ by Empire, after 30 Christmases it still pulls in the viewers for its swagger, action and wise-cracking one-liners. Perhaps one for after the watershed, it’s a firm festive favourite nonetheless.

The Grinch (2018)

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Only released last year, The Grinch is the latest addition to our top ten. The animated version of Dr. Seuss’ festive tome, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, it has bumped Jim Carey’s 2000 version off the top spot (a little creepy for younger viewers) for the stunning animation that really captures the fun and imagination of the original books, its finger-tapping soundtrack and the stellar cast: it is narrated by Pharrell Williams with Benedict Cumberbatch as The Grinch himself.

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By Lydia Mansi
December 2019