New Line/courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line/courtesy Everett Collection)

25 Modern Christmas Classics to Add to Your Holiday Movie List

When most people think of classic Christmas movies, their minds sleigh-ride back through the decades to films like It’s A Wonderful LifeA Christmas StoryMiracle on 34th Street, and Christmas Vacation. To movies that they’ve grown up with, movies they’ve spent dozens of holiday seasons sprawled out in front of, digesting Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holiday dinners. But there are a number of holiday-themed and holiday-set movies released in the last 20 years that are just as worthy of your Yuletide viewing as those tried-and-true favorites. These are the world’s modern Christmas classics – or should-be-classics – and we think that this year, once that bell rings and the angel gets its wings for the umpteenth time in your household, you should try something Fresh for your festive viewing.

We compiled this list of modern Christmas classics using a very simple set of criteria: the movies had to be about Christmas or set firmly during the holiday; they had to have been released after the year 2000; and they had to have a Fresh score with a minimum of 20 reviews. Some are titles you will no doubt be familiar with, movies from the earlier years of the 21st Century that have already assumed the “classic” label in the ensuing years – we’re looking at you Elf and the ever-divisive Love Actually. Others are Certified Fresh gems that have gone totally under-appreciated in our opinions. (Why Arthur Christmas, at 92% on the Tomatometer, isn’t every kid’s go-to holiday flick is beyond us.) Others still are off-beat foreign gems, like the scary, weird, and wonderful Finnish killer Santa movie, Rare Exports, or the anime  Tokyo Godfathers

And with our most recent update, we’ve added Klaus, Jingle Jangle, and the 2018 Grinch, which is just barely Fresh. Because we can’t make green meanie too happy, right?

If you’re looking for something different this season, slip a sack-full of these charming/hilarious/weird/heartwarming/scary flicks into your holiday rotation.

Best Christmas Movies | Worst Christmas Movies
Best and Worst Christmas Horror | Best Foreign Christmas Movies
Rotten Christmas Movies We Love | Modern Christmas Classics

Adjusted Score: 70610%
Critics Consensus: The Grinch gives the classic Seuss source material a brightly animated update that's solidly suitable for younger viewers without adding substantially to the story's legacy.
Synopsis: The Grinch and his loyal dog, Max, live a solitary existence inside a cave on Mount Crumpet. His main source... [More]


Love Actually (2003)

Adjusted Score: 71405%
Critics Consensus: A sugary tale overstuffed with too many stories. Still, the cast charms.
Synopsis: Nine intertwined stories examine the complexities of the one emotion that connects us all: love. Among the characters explored are... [More]
Directed By: Richard Curtis


Krampus (2015)

Adjusted Score: 71085%
Critics Consensus: Krampus is gory good fun for fans of non-traditional holiday horror with a fondness for Joe Dante's B- movie classics, even if it doesn't have quite the savage bite its concept calls for.
Synopsis: While the holiday season represents the most magical time of year, ancient European folklore warns of Krampus, a horned beast... [More]
Directed By: Michael Dougherty

Adjusted Score: 69835%
Critics Consensus: Viewers seeking a fresh holiday viewing option -- or those simply in the mood for Santa Kurt Russell -- should find The Christmas Chronicles well worth a yuletide stream.
Synopsis: Siblings Kate and Teddy Pierce hatch a scheme to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When the plan goes awry,... [More]
Directed By: Clay Kaytis

Adjusted Score: 71960%
Critics Consensus: Still raunchy, still irreverent, and still hit-and-miss, this Harold & Kumar outing also has a Christmas miracle: The audience gets to see the sweeter side of the duo.
Synopsis: Six years after their last adventure, stoner pals Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart and found... [More]
Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson


The Night Before (2015)

Adjusted Score: 74411%
Critics Consensus: The Night Before provokes enough belly laughs to qualify as a worthwhile addition to the list of Christmas comedies worth revisiting, even if it isn't quite as consistent as the classics.
Synopsis: For the last 10 years, lifelong buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gathered on... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Levine

Adjusted Score: 73499%
Critics Consensus: The Best Man Holiday manages honest laughs out of broad humor, and affects convincing drama from a deeply conventional plot.
Synopsis: Nearly 15 years after they were last together as a group, college friends Lance (Morris Chestnut), Harper (Taye Diggs), Candace... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee


Merry Christmas (2005)

Adjusted Score: 78473%
Critics Consensus: The poignant humanity on display in Joyeux Noel makes its sentimentality forgivable.
Synopsis: With the advent of World War I, Europe is thrown into a brutal and vicious chaos as men are forced... [More]
Directed By: Christian Carion


Happy Christmas (2014)

Adjusted Score: 77836%
Critics Consensus: Intelligent, well-acted, and satisfyingly low-key, Happy Christmas marks another step in prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg's creative evolution.
Synopsis: An immature party girl (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother's family to get over a breakup and throws their... [More]
Directed By: Joe Swanberg

Adjusted Score: 83060%
Critics Consensus: Anna and the Apocalypse finds fresh brains and a lot of heart in the crowded zombie genre - not to mention a fun genre mashup populated by rootable characters.
Synopsis: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - forcing Anna and her friends to... [More]
Directed By: John McPhail


Get Santa (2014)

Adjusted Score: 79326%
Critics Consensus: With a bombastic performance from Jim Broadbent, Get Santa brilliantly captures the joys of the Christmas holiday.
Synopsis: After crashing his sleigh, Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) asks a father (Rafe Spall) and son (Kit Connor) for help to... [More]
Directed By: Christopher Smith

Adjusted Score: 90974%
Critics Consensus: The Man Who Invented Christmas adds holiday magic to the writing of A Christmas Carol, putting a sweetly revisionist spin on the story behind a classic yuletide tale.
Synopsis: In 1843 London, author Charles Dickens finds himself in financial trouble after writing three unsuccessful novels in a row. Desperate... [More]
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri


Bad Santa (2003)

Adjusted Score: 86237%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
Synopsis: In this dark comedy, the crotchety Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) reunite once a... [More]
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff


Ben Is Back (2018)

Adjusted Score: 93366%
Critics Consensus: Refreshingly understated, Ben Is Back subverts family drama stereotypes - and provides a forum for terrific performances from Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.
Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old Ben Burns unexpectedly returns to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve. Ben's mom, Holly, is relieved and welcoming... [More]
Directed By: Peter Hedges


Elf (2003)

Adjusted Score: 91229%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau


A Christmas Tale (2008)

Adjusted Score: 90267%
Critics Consensus: A sharp black comedy about a chaotic family holiday gathering, A Christmas Tale is always involving, thanks to an impressive ensemble cast.
Synopsis: When steely French matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) learns she has leukemia, she asks her children and grandchildren at the family... [More]
Directed By: Arnaud Desplechin

Adjusted Score: 92842%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Synopsis: Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from... [More]
Directed By: Shane Black


Better Watch Out (2016)

Adjusted Score: 93220%
Critics Consensus: Carried by its charismatic young cast, Better Watch Out is an adorably sinister holiday horror film.
Synopsis: Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to baby-sit their 12-year-old son Luke at Christmastime. She must soon... [More]
Directed By: Chris Peckover


Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Adjusted Score: 92106%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful and substantive, Tokyo Godfathers adds a moving -- and somewhat unconventional -- entry to the animated Christmas canon.
Synopsis: Middle-aged alcoholic Gin (Toru Emori), teenage runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) and former drag queen Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) are a trio... [More]
Directed By: Satoshi Kon

Adjusted Score: 92822%
Critics Consensus: Rare Exports is an unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror.
Synopsis: A young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think a secret mountain drilling project near... [More]
Directed By: Jalmari Helander


Arthur Christmas (2011)

Adjusted Score: 98688%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: Everyone knows that, each Christmas, Santa Claus delivers presents to every last child on Earth. What everyone doesn't know is... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith

Adjusted Score: 93768%
Critics Consensus: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey celebrates the yuletide season with a holiday adventure whose exuberant spirit is matched by its uplifting message.
Synopsis: Decades after his apprentice betrays him, a once joyful toymaker finds new hope when his bright young granddaughter appears on... [More]
Directed By: David E. Talbert


Klaus (2019)

Adjusted Score: 97897%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful hand-drawn animation and a humorous, heartwarming narrative make Klaus an instant candidate for holiday classic status.
Synopsis: A desperate postman accidentally brings about the genesis of Santa Claus.... [More]
Directed By: Sergio Pablos


Carol (2015)

Adjusted Score: 106454%
Critics Consensus: Shaped by Todd Haynes' deft direction and powered by a strong cast led by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol lives up to its groundbreaking source material.
Synopsis: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department... [More]
Directed By: Todd Haynes


Tangerine (2015)

Adjusted Score: 102319%
Critics Consensus: Tangerine shatters casting conventions and its filmmaking techniques are up-to-the-minute, but it's an old-fashioned comedy at heart -- and a pretty wonderful one at that.
Synopsis: After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a transgender sex worker and her best... [More]
Directed By: Sean Baker

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