(Photo by New Line/courtesy Everett Collection)
30 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 Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle 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 Happiest Season, Love Hard, 8-Bit Christmas, Single All the Way, and a Boy Called Christmas.
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
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Rotten Christmas Movies We Love | Modern Christmas Classics
Adjusted Score: 53598%
Critics Consensus: Love Hard's interesting setup and charming cast have a definite rom-com appeal, even if the story never quite develops its main characters' love connection.
An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise... [More]
Adjusted Score: 69368%
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.
The Grinch and his loyal dog, Max, live a solitary existence inside a cave on Mount Crumpet. His main source... [More]
Adjusted Score: 71871%
Critics Consensus: A sugary tale overstuffed with too many stories. Still, the cast charms.
Nine intertwined stories examine the complexities of the one emotion that connects us all: love. Among the characters explored are... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67626%
Critics Consensus: While it's missing some of the magic of the original, The Christmas Chronicles 2 serves up a sweet second helping of holiday cheer that makes the most of its marvelously matched leads.
Teenager Kate Pierce is reunited with Santa Claus when a troublemaker threatens to cancel Christmas -- forever.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 68491%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Desperate to avoid his family's judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter (Michael Urie) convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon... [More]
Adjusted Score: 72678%
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.
Six years after their last adventure, stoner pals Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart and found... [More]
Adjusted Score: 70614%
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.
Siblings Kate and Teddy Pierce hatch a scheme to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When the plan goes awry,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 75313%
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.
For the last 10 years, lifelong buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gathered on... [More]
Adjusted Score: 73839%
Critics Consensus: The Best Man Holiday manages honest laughs out of broad humor, and affects convincing drama from a deeply conventional plot.
Nearly 15 years after they were last together as a group, college friends Lance (Morris Chestnut), Harper (Taye Diggs), Candace... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77659%
Critics Consensus: The poignant humanity on display in Joyeux Noel makes its sentimentality forgivable.
With the advent of World War I, Europe is thrown into a brutal and vicious chaos as men are forced... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79039%
Critics Consensus: Intelligent, well-acted, and satisfyingly low-key, Happy Christmas marks another step in prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg's creative evolution.
An immature party girl (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother's family to get over a breakup and throws their... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83423%
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.
A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven - at Christmas - forcing Anna and her friends to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85674%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
In this dark comedy, the crotchety Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) reunite once a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79480%
Critics Consensus: With a bombastic performance from Jim Broadbent, Get Santa brilliantly captures the joys of the Christmas holiday.
After crashing his sleigh, Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) asks a father (Rafe Spall) and son (Kit Connor) for help to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 88191%
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.
In 1843 London, author Charles Dickens finds himself in financial trouble after writing three unsuccessful novels in a row. Desperate... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93871%
Critics Consensus: A jolly good time with heartfelt performances and more than enough holiday cheer, all you'll want for Christmas is Happiest Season.
This romantic comedy is about longtime lesbian couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who made plans to go... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93942%
Critics Consensus: Refreshingly understated, Ben Is Back subverts family drama stereotypes - and provides a forum for terrific performances from Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.
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]
Adjusted Score: 84651%
Critics Consensus: For viewers seeking an undemanding and sweetly nostalgic ode to yuletide seasons past, 8-Bit Christmas boots up without a glitch.
A humorous and heartfelt look back at the adventures of childhood. Set in suburban Chicago in the late 1980s, the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 84651%
Critics Consensus: A Boy Called Christmas offers few surprises, but makes up for its lack of originality with a heaping helping of winsome holiday spirit.
An ordinary young boy called Nikolas sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north in search of his... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92925%
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.
Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90918%
Critics Consensus: A sharp black comedy about a chaotic family holiday gathering, A Christmas Tale is always involving, thanks to an impressive ensemble cast.
When steely French matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) learns she has leukemia, she asks her children and grandchildren at the family... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92655%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91310%
Critics Consensus: Carried by its charismatic young cast, Better Watch Out is an adorably sinister holiday horror film.
Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to baby-sit their 12-year-old son Luke at Christmastime. She must soon... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93653%
Critics Consensus: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey celebrates the yuletide season with a holiday adventure whose exuberant spirit is matched by its uplifting message.
Decades after his apprentice betrays him, a once joyful toymaker finds new hope when his bright young granddaughter appears on... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92760%
Critics Consensus: Rare Exports is an unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror.
A young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think a secret mountain drilling project near... [More]
Adjusted Score: 93996%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful and substantive, Tokyo Godfathers adds a moving -- and somewhat unconventional -- entry to the animated Christmas canon.
Middle-aged alcoholic Gin (Toru Emori), teenage runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) and former drag queen Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) are a trio... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98480%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Everyone knows that, each Christmas, Santa Claus delivers presents to every last child on Earth. What everyone doesn't know is... [More]
Adjusted Score: 109680%
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.
Aspiring photographer Therese spots the beautiful, elegant Carol perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department store. The two... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98328%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful hand-drawn animation and a humorous, heartwarming narrative make Klaus an instant candidate for holiday classic status.
A desperate postman accidentally brings about the genesis of Santa Claus.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103729%
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.
After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a transgender sex worker and her best... [More]