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!

Adjusted Score: 72.309%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A 1983 animated version of the Dickens classic, with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit and Scrooge McDuck as the miserly... [More]
Directed By: Burny Mattinson

Adjusted Score: 102.144%
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: Chuck Jones' animated version of the classic Dr. Seuss book How the Grinch Stole Christmas originally aired on television in... [More]
Directed By: Chuck Jones, Ben Washam


Holiday Inn (1942)

Adjusted Score: 103.288%
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: Music by Irving Berlin, songs by Bing Crosby and dancing by Fred Astaire all add up to a really delightful... [More]
Directed By: Mark Sandrich

Adjusted Score: 104.709%
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: Sally Benson's short stories about the turn-of-the-century Smith family of St. Louis were tackled by a battalion of MGM screenwriters,... [More]
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

Adjusted Score: 103.986%
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 Shop Around the Corner is adapted from the Hungarian play by Nikolaus (Miklos) Laszlo. Budapest gift-shop clerk Alfred Kralik... [More]
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch

Adjusted Score: 44.117%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: During a post-Christmas play date, the gang find themselves in uncharted territory when the coolest set of action figures ever... [More]
Directed By: Steve Purcell (II)


A Christmas Carol (1938)

Adjusted Score: 102.057%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: One of the better versions of the Dickens classic features Reginald Owen as Scrooge, real-life relatives Gene, Kathleen and June... [More]
Directed By: Edwin L. Marin


Paddington (2015)

Adjusted Score: 103.829%
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: From the beloved novels by Michael Bond and producer David Heyman (HARRY POTTER), PADDINGTON tells the story of the comic... [More]

Adjusted Score: 104.04%
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: Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, a bearded old gent who is the living image of Santa Claus. Serving as a... [More]
Directed By: George Seaton

Adjusted Score: 103.241%
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: Walt Disney Animation Studios' magical classic Beauty and the Beast returns to the big screen in Disney Digital 3D(TM), introducing... [More]
Directed By: Gary Trousdale

Adjusted Score: 106.041%
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: This is director Frank Capra's classic bittersweet comedy/drama about George Bailey (James Stewart), the eternally-in-debt guiding force of a bank... [More]
Directed By: Frank Capra

Adjusted Score: 102.794%
Critics Consensus: The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation.
Synopsis: Despite having recently presided over a very successful Halloween, Jack Skellington, aka the Pumpkin King, is bored with his job... [More]
Directed By: Henry Selick, Tim Burton


Arthur Christmas (2011)

Adjusted Score: 97.021%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: The 3D, CG-animated family comedy Arthur Christmas, an Aardman production for Sony Pictures Animation, at last reveals the incredible, never-before... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook

Adjusted Score: 95.335%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Christmastime is here. Happiness and cheer. And for Peanuts fans everywhere, it just wouldn't be Christmas without this classic holiday... [More]
Directed By: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman

Adjusted Score: 96.24%
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


Little Women (1994)

Adjusted Score: 93.969%
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: This newest version of Louisa May Alcott's tender novel is considered to be among the best as it chronicles the... [More]
Directed By: Gillian Armstrong

Adjusted Score: 93.888%
Critics Consensus: Both warmly nostalgic and darkly humorous, A Christmas Story deserves its status as a holiday perennial.
Synopsis: In the 1940's, in the town of Hammond, 9-year-old Ralphie wants one thing for Christmas -- an official Red Ryder... [More]
Directed By: Bob Clark

Adjusted Score: 94.015%
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: Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands opens as an eccentric inventor (Vincent Price) lovingly assembles a synthetic youth named Edward (Johnny Depp).... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton


Frozen (2013)

Adjusted Score: 99.621%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, "Frozen" is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen.... [More]
Directed By: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Adjusted Score: 89.891%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: War hero Dennis Morgan becomes the object of a publicity stunt staged by magazine publisher Sidney Greenstreet. The corpulent print... [More]
Directed By: Peter Godfrey

Adjusted Score: 92.671%
Critics Consensus: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek finds director Preston Sturges at his most zanily subversive -- not to mention hilarious.
Synopsis: This wild, once-controversial comedy stars Betty Hutton as Trudy Kockenlocker, a man-crazy single girl whose favorite pastime involves entertaining every... [More]
Directed By: Preston Sturges


Anastasia (1997)

Adjusted Score: 89.019%
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: The first feature from the 20th Century-Fox animation unit in Phoenix, Arizona, this is the ninth film produced and directed... [More]
Directed By: Don Bluth


Elf (2003)

Adjusted Score: 89.509%
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: For his sophomore stab at directing, actor/writer/director Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made), took on this holiday comedy starring Saturday Night Live-alum... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau


Gremlins (1984)

Adjusted Score: 90.625%
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: "Don't expose him to bright light. Don't ever get him wet. And don't ever, ever feed him after midnight." This... [More]
Directed By: Joe Dante

Adjusted Score: 87.193%
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 harassed bishop's prayers are answered when an angel (Cary Grant) is sent from heaven to help him raise money... [More]
Directed By: Henry Koster


Cool Runnings (1993)

Adjusted Score: 78.847%
Critics Consensus: Cool Runnings rises above its formulaic sports-movie themes with charming performances, light humor, and uplifting tone.
Synopsis: Cool Runnings fictionalizes the true story of a bobsledding team from Jamaica making it to the Olympics. The tale begins... [More]
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub


Happy Feet (2006)

Adjusted Score: 81.551%
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: In the world of the emperor penguin, a simple song can mean the difference between a lifetime of happiness and... [More]

Adjusted Score: 83.385%
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: C.S. Lewis' timeless adventure "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" follows the exploits of the... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Adamson


The Santa Clause (1994)

Adjusted Score: 74.263%
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: Television sitcom star Tim Allen made his big screen debut with this light, family-friendly holiday comedy. Allen stars as Scott... [More]
Directed By: John Pasquin


Eight Below (2006)

Adjusted Score: 77.966%
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: In the extreme wilderness of Antarctica, three members of a scientific expedition -- Jerry Shepard, his best friend, Cooper and... [More]

Adjusted Score: 87.188%
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: Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" is a live-action re-telling of the studio's animated classic which refashions the classic characters from... [More]
Directed By: Bill Condon

Adjusted Score: 79.234%
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: Brian Henson, the son of Muppet founder Jim Henson, took over directing duties after the untimely death of his father... [More]
Directed By: Brian Henson

Adjusted Score: 70.172%
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: This is the third in the "National Lampoon" series about the Griswold family. In this sequel, the Griswolds must deal... [More]


Home Alone (1990)

Adjusted Score: 68.514%
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: Home Alone is the highly successful and beloved family comedy about a young boy named Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) who is... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

Adjusted Score: 74.158%
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: This special release celebrates the 45th anniversary of an animated Christmas classic, Frosty the Snowman. First airing on CBS, the... [More]


The Snowman (1982)

Adjusted Score: 42.111%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: This half-hour British production faithfully recreates author Raymond Briggs' classic children's holiday tale, in which a young boy's snowman magically... [More]

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