36 Essential Fresh Holiday Family Movies

We believe the essential holiday movie (available to watch on FandangoNOW) is the movie you can’t wait to watch again – whether it’s the next day, or waiting until next year as part of an annual tradition. They’re nostalgic movies you can’t separate from memories of watching the leaves turn, the snow fall, and coming together with your family over warm food and even warmer drinks.

The end of the year is a time of reflection and appreciation, and the holiday movies chosen for this list reflect our most hopeful side – whether it’s seeing Scrooge’s redemption (there’s no shortage of Christmas Carol adaptations here!), the salvation of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, or Charlie Brown’s conquest of melancholia in his legendary Christmas special.

Meanwhile, other movies picked here are simply good-natured fare with plenty of snowy moments, like Cool Runnings, Eight Below, and Paddington. And finally, we come to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, with perhaps the most valuable lesson: You can’t choose family, but you can choose to smile and laugh. Happy Holidays from Rotten Tomatoes!

#36
#36
Adjusted Score: 88069%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A retelling of the classic Dickens tale with Disney's classic characters.... [More]
Directed By: Burny Mattinson

#35
Adjusted Score: 102630%
Critics Consensus: How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story -- and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Chuck Jones

#34

Holiday Inn (1942)
100%

#34
Adjusted Score: 103384%
Critics Consensus: With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic -- not least because it introduced "White Christmas" to the world.
Synopsis: At his New England inn, a singer (Bing Crosby) competes with a dancer (Fred Astaire) for the affections of a... [More]
Directed By: Mark Sandrich

#33
#33
Adjusted Score: 104749%
Critics Consensus: A disarmingly sweet musical led by outstanding performances from Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, Meet Me in St. Louis offers a holiday treat for all ages.
Synopsis: A St. Louis lawyer's (Leon Ames) family (Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien) stays in town for the 1904 World's Fair.... [More]
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

#32
#32
Adjusted Score: 104694%
Critics Consensus: Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.
Synopsis: The more Budapest co-workers (Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart) fight, the more they fall in love as secret pen pals.... [More]
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch

#31
Adjusted Score: 52475%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Steve Purcell (II)

#30

A Christmas Carol (1938)
100%

#30
Adjusted Score: 102077%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Dickens' London miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) meets the ghosts of Christmases past, present and yet to come.... [More]
Directed By: Edwin L. Marin

#29

Paddington (2014)
97%

#29
Adjusted Score: 103270%
Critics Consensus: Paddington brings a beloved children's character into the 21st century without sacrificing his essential charm, delivering a family-friendly adventure as irresistibly cuddly as its star.
Synopsis: A lost Peruvian bear (Ben Whishaw) finds shelter with a kind British family, but a museum taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) has... [More]
Directed By: Paul King

#28
#28
Adjusted Score: 103824%
Critics Consensus: Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.
Synopsis: An adwoman's (Maureen O'Hara) lawyer boyfriend (John Payne) tries to prove that Macy's Santa Claus (Edmund Gwenn) is the real... [More]
Directed By: George Seaton

#27
#27
Adjusted Score: 105021%
Critics Consensus: Enchanting, sweepingly romantic, and featuring plenty of wonderful musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney's most elegant animated offerings.
Synopsis: A French maiden takes the place of her captured father in the enchanted castle of an accursed prince, and her... [More]
Directed By: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

#26
#26
Adjusted Score: 106166%
Critics Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It's a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.
Synopsis: Ruined by a miser (Lionel Barrymore) on Christmas Eve, a suicidal family man (James Stewart) sees life anew thanks to... [More]
Directed By: Frank Capra

#25
Adjusted Score: 103911%
Critics Consensus: The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation.
Synopsis: The Pumpkin King gives the yuletide season a touch of Halloween in an animated tale from the mind of Tim... [More]
Directed By: Henry Selick

#24

Arthur Christmas (2011)
92%

#24
Adjusted Score: 98213%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: Santa's youngest son (James McAvoy) sets out on an urgent mission to deliver a present to a forgotten child before... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith

#23
#23
Adjusted Score: 84846%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman

#22
Adjusted Score: 96380%
Critics Consensus: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a yule-tide gem that bursts with eye-popping iconography, a spirited soundtrack, and a heart-warming celebration of difference.
Synopsis: This stop-motion animagic version of the classic Christmas tale adds a bit of a twist when Rudolph encounters an abominable... [More]
Directed By: Maury Laws, Larry Roemer

#21

Little Women (1994)
92%

#21
Adjusted Score: 94490%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gillian Armstrong's take on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told.
Synopsis: Louisa May Alcott's classic story of the lives, loves and triumphs of four sisters in Civil War-era New England.... [More]
Directed By: Gillian Armstrong

#20
#20
Adjusted Score: 95170%
Critics Consensus: Both warmly nostalgic and darkly humorous, A Christmas Story deserves its status as a holiday perennial.
Synopsis: In the 1940s, little Ralphie tries to convince his parents to get him a Red Ryder range-model BB gun for... [More]
Directed By: Bob Clark

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 94888%
Critics Consensus: The first collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands is a magical modern fairy tale with gothic overtones and a sweet center.
Synopsis: A deceased inventor's unfinished creation (Johnny Depp) becomes an instant celebrity when a cheery suburbanite (Dianne Wiest) brings him home.... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton

#18

Frozen (2013)
90%

#18
Adjusted Score: 101888%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: A fearless young princess (Kristen Bell) sets out with a mountaineer (Jonathan Groff) to find her sister (Idina Menzel), whose... [More]
Directed By: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

#17
#17
Adjusted Score: 90081%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) of a women's magazine has his best columnist (Barbara Stanwyck) play holiday host to a Navy... [More]
Directed By: Peter Godfrey

#16
Adjusted Score: 88878%
Critics Consensus: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek finds director Preston Sturges at his most zanily subversive -- not to mention hilarious.
Synopsis: A bank clerk (Eddie Bracken) gets in trouble after posing as the unknown GI father of his girlfriend's (Betty Hutton)... [More]
Directed By: Preston Sturges

#15

Anastasia (1997)
86%

#15
Adjusted Score: 88580%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful animation, an affable take on Russian history, and strong voice performances make Anastasia a winning first film from Fox animation studios.
Synopsis: Years after losing her family to evil Rasputin, Czar Nicholas' grown daughter is able to reunite with her grandmother in... [More]
Directed By: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman

#14

Elf (2003)
85%

#14
Adjusted Score: 90462%
Critics Consensus: A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers.
Synopsis: Adopted as a baby by one of Santa's elves (Bob Newhart), a man (Will Ferrell) leaves the workshop to search... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

#13

Gremlins (1984)
85%

#13
Adjusted Score: 91010%
Critics Consensus: Whether you choose to see it as a statement on consumer culture or simply a special effects-heavy popcorn flick, Gremlins is a minor classic.
Synopsis: An inventor (Hoyt Axton) gives his son (Zach Galligan) an odd little creature which multiplies into monsters which wreck the... [More]
Directed By: Joe Dante

#12
#12
Adjusted Score: 87906%
Critics Consensus: The Bishop's Wife succeeds thanks to the strength of winning performances from a stellar cast, which includes Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
Synopsis: A suave angel (Cary Grant) saves a woman (Loretta Young) and her Episcopal husband (David Niven) from spiritual doubt and... [More]
Directed By: Henry Koster

#11

Cool Runnings (1993)
76%

#11
Adjusted Score: 79683%
Critics Consensus: Cool Runnings rises above its formulaic sports-movie themes with charming performances, light humor, and uplifting tone.
Synopsis: Two Jamaicans (Leon, Doug E. Doug) make their way to Calgary as long-shot bobsledders in the 1988 Olympics.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub

#10

Happy Feet (2006)
76%

#10
Adjusted Score: 82381%
Critics Consensus: Visually dazzling, with a thoughtful storyline and catchy musical numbers, Happy Feet marks a successful animated debut from the makers of Babe.
Synopsis: Born without the ability to sing, a young emperor penguin (Elijah Wood) expresses himself and hopes to attract a mate... [More]
Directed By: George Miller

#9
Adjusted Score: 83189%
Critics Consensus: With first-rate special effects and compelling storytelling, this adaptation stays faithful to its source material and will please moviegoers of all ages.
Synopsis: Children (Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley) join forces with the lion mystic Aslan to free the land of Narnia... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Adamson

#8

The Santa Clause (1994)
72%

#8
Adjusted Score: 76199%
Critics Consensus: The Santa Clause is utterly undemanding, but it's firmly rooted in the sort of good old-fashioned holiday spirit missing from too many modern yuletide films.
Synopsis: An adman (Tim Allen) takes over for the bearded, big-bellied fellow after a rooftop mishap on Christmas Eve.... [More]
Directed By: John Pasquin

#7

Eight Below (2006)
72%

#7
Adjusted Score: 77678%
Critics Consensus: Featuring a stellar cast of marooned mutts, who deftly display emotion, tenderness, loyalty and resolve, Eight Below is a heartwarming and exhilarating adventure film.
Synopsis: Members (Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs) of a scientific expedition must leave their beloved sled dogs behind in the... [More]
Directed By: Frank Marshall

#6
#6
Adjusted Score: 89034%
Critics Consensus: With an enchanting cast, beautifully crafted songs, and a painterly eye for detail, Beauty and the Beast offers a faithful yet fresh retelling that honors its beloved source material.
Synopsis: In this live-action re-imagining of the fairy tale, a young woman (Emma Watson) takes her father's place as prisoner in... [More]
Directed By: Bill Condon

#5
Adjusted Score: 80507%
Critics Consensus: It may not be the finest version of Charles Dickens' tale to grace the screen, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is funny and heartwarming, and serves as a good introduction to the story for young viewers.
Synopsis: Kermit, Miss Piggy and friends play Dickens characters as Scrooge (Michael Caine) meets the spirits of Christmases past, present and... [More]
Directed By: Brian Henson

#4
Adjusted Score: 70959%
Critics Consensus: While Christmas Vacation may not be the most disciplined comedy, it's got enough laughs and good cheer to make for a solid seasonal treat.
Synopsis: The Griswolds (Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo) spend the holiday in a garish way, especially when a country cousin (Randy Quaid)... [More]
Directed By: Jeremiah S. Chechik

#3

Home Alone (1990)
66%

#3
Adjusted Score: 69691%
Critics Consensus: Home Alone uneven but frequently funny premise stretched unreasonably thin is buoyed by Macaulay Culkin's cute performance and strong supporting stars.
Synopsis: Accidentally left by his Paris-bound family, an 8-year-old (Macaulay Culkin) makes mincemeat of two burglars (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern) in... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#2
#2
Adjusted Score: 74474%
Critics Consensus: Frosty the Snowman is a jolly, happy sing-along that will delight children with its crisp animation and affable title character, who makes an indelible impression with his corncob pipe, button nose, and eyes made out of coal.
Synopsis: Frosty must get to the North Pole before he melts or before professor Hinkle steals back the magic hat that... [More]

#1

The Snowman (1982)
80%

#1
Adjusted Score: 49929%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: ... [More]
Directed By: Dianne Jackson

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