The Best Holiday Movies and TV Shows Ever—Don’t Even Argue with Us

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“If they can make it into a holiday, I can make it into a picture—a motion picture!” Garry Marshall (probably) said once. And indeed, Hollywood has long used our wintry, woozy family get-togethers as the basis for all kinds of movies and TV specials, many of them as satisfying as a burning yule log to the head. But every once in a while, a film or episode comes along that perfectly captures the spirit of the holiday—or, at the very least, upends said spirit in delightfully fiendish ways! Here are some of our favorite seasonal stand-outs:

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Though it opens with the happily rollicking riffs of “Jingle Bell Rock,” the first Lethal entry is full of bad little girls and boys: This is a movie in which a drugged-up superfox takes a nosedive from a seasonally decorated high-rise apartment, and a film whose main hero, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), is introduced via a scene in which he kills a bunch of creepy coke-dealers who are doing business in a field of Christmas trees. It’s not a family-friendly movie—you’ll want to make sure your kids are too old for this shit before letting them watch—but its juxtaposition of dark, sleaze-soaked violence against the faux-happy holiday setting is a reminder that, in the movies, you can never be sure who’s naughty, and who’s nice. —Brian Raftery

Though it opens with the happily rollicking riffs of “Jingle Bell Rock,” the first Lethal entry is full of bad little girls and boys: This is a movie in which a drugged-up superfox takes a nosedive from a seasonally decorated high-rise apartment, and a film whose main hero, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), is introduced via a scene in which he kills a bunch of creepy coke-dealers who are doing business in a field of Christmas trees. It’s not a family-friendly movie—you’ll want to make sure your kids are too old for this shit before letting them watch—but its juxtaposition of dark, sleaze-soaked violence against the faux-happy holiday setting is a reminder that, in the movies, you can never be sure who’s naughty, and who’s nice. —Brian Raftery

Pitch Perfect (2012)

One New Year’s weekend, I ended up with a bunch of out-of-town friends staying at my apartment. Each night we would go out to dinner or a bar or go dancing, but always when we returned, we watched Pitch Perfect. It’s a surprising crowd-pleaser. There’s something for musical theater geeks, coming-of-age movie fans, and comedy aficionados alike. And thanks to the deadpan humor of folks like Rebel Wilson, it’s possible to watch it many times in a row and still catch a new gag every time. Aca-believe it. —Angela Watercutter

One New Year’s weekend, I ended up with a bunch of out-of-town friends staying at my apartment. Each night we would go out to dinner or a bar or go dancing, but always when we returned, we watched Pitch Perfect. It’s a surprising crowd-pleaser. There’s something for musical theater geeks, coming-of-age movie fans, and comedy aficionados alike. And thanks to the deadpan humor of folks like Rebel Wilson, it’s possible to watch it many times in a row and still catch a new gag every time. Aca-believe it. —Angela Watercutter

Seinfeld, “The Strike” (1997)

Most network show’s Christmas episodes are lovely and heartfelt, veering towards sickly sweet. Seinfeld’s best holiday special is the opposite. “The Strike” is as packed with storylines as any other episode—instead of gifts, George makes donations in co-workers’ names to the imaginary “Human Fund”; Kramer goes back to work after a 12-year strike; Elaine tries to track down her free sub card; and Jerry’s girlfriend looks vastly different depending on the light. But the crescendo—where every disparate plot converges on George’s parents’ home for Festivus, a holiday built around an aluminum pole, an “Airing of Grievances,” and “Feats of Strength”—is claustrophobic, frenetic, and beautifully insane. —Joseph Bien-Khan

Most network show’s Christmas episodes are lovely and heartfelt, veering towards sickly sweet. Seinfeld’s best holiday special is the opposite. “The Strike” is as packed with storylines as any other episode—instead of gifts, George makes donations in co-workers’ names to the imaginary “Human Fund”; Kramer goes back to work after a 12-year strike; Elaine tries to track down her free sub card; and Jerry’s girlfriend looks vastly different depending on the light. But the crescendo—where every disparate plot converges on George’s parents’ home for Festivus, a holiday built around an aluminum pole, an “Airing of Grievances,” and “Feats of Strength”—is claustrophobic, frenetic, and beautifully insane. —Joseph Bien-Khan

Die Hard (1988)

Frankly, every other movie in this list is wet trash compared to John McClane and Holly Gennaro’s against-all-odds love story. When a New York City cop (Bruce Willis) heads to LA to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) for Christmas, he stumbles upon a gang of bad-guy archetypes trying to pull off the bad-guy trifecta: hostagin’, hackin’, and heistin’. Armed with nothing but a tank top and a high pain threshold, he has to save a holiday party, a skyscraper, and his marriage. There were ’80s action movies with muscles and guns before this, and ’80s action movies that came after it, but the Battle of Nakatomi Tower was the perfect exclamation point to the perfect decade of a perfect genre. Yippee-ki-yay, movie-rankers. —Peter Rubin

Frankly, every other movie in this list is wet trash compared to John McClane and Holly Gennaro’s against-all-odds love story. When a New York City cop (Bruce Willis) heads to LA to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) for Christmas, he stumbles upon a gang of bad-guy archetypes trying to pull off the bad-guy trifecta: hostagin’, hackin’, and heistin’. Armed with nothing but a tank top and a high pain threshold, he has to save a holiday party, a skyscraper, and his marriage. There were ’80s action movies with muscles and guns before this, and ’80s action movies that came after it, but the Battle of Nakatomi Tower was the perfect exclamation point to the perfect decade of a perfect genre. Yippee-ki-yay, movie-rankers. —Peter Rubin

Love Actually (2003)

When you’re looking for a heart-warming Christmas movie, maybe you want Liam Neeson in a father-son bonding story. Or Bill Nighy as a washed-up, sleazy rock star making an unlikely reach for the Number One single of Christmas. Or Hugh Grant as a love-struck Prime Minister, dancing through 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters. Well, it’s a Christmas miracle: Love Actually has all of that! Yes, it’s gloriously cheesy—but with a star-studded cast scattered across eight different plotlines, it’s got the right cheese for everyone, whether you’re laughing at Rowan Atkinson or swooning over Colin Firth. Or (likely) both. —Charley Locke

When you’re looking for a heart-warming Christmas movie, maybe you want Liam Neeson in a father-son bonding story. Or Bill Nighy as a washed-up, sleazy rock star making an unlikely reach for the Number One single of Christmas. Or Hugh Grant as a love-struck Prime Minister, dancing through 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters. Well, it’s a Christmas miracle: Love Actually has all of that! Yes, it’s gloriously cheesy—but with a star-studded cast scattered across eight different plotlines, it’s got the right cheese for everyone, whether you’re laughing at Rowan Atkinson or swooning over Colin Firth. Or (likely) both. —Charley Locke

Elf (2003)

Love Actually gets all the think pieces, but the best holiday movie released on November 7, 2003 was actually the film that launched Will Ferrell to leading-man stardom and Jon Favreau to blockbuster director status. This is the origin of the “Will Ferrell as a…” elevator pitch that was for a time an automatic green light—he’s more committed to Buddy the Elf’s magical innocence that any other actor in a holiday classic. Plus, Bob Newhart as Papa Elf and Ed Asner as Santa. James Caan as a gruff children’s book publisher scrambling for a hit to save his job. And Peter Dinklage as the hot-shot author with a list of ridiculous demands. What more do you need? —K.M. McFarland

Love Actually gets all the think pieces, but the best holiday movie released on November 7, 2003 was actually the film that launched Will Ferrell to leading-man stardom and Jon Favreau to blockbuster director status. This is the origin of the “Will Ferrell as a…” elevator pitch that was for a time an automatic green light—he’s more committed to Buddy the Elf’s magical innocence that any other actor in a holiday classic. Plus, Bob Newhart as Papa Elf and Ed Asner as Santa. James Caan as a gruff children’s book publisher scrambling for a hit to save his job. And Peter Dinklage as the hot-shot author with a list of ridiculous demands. What more do you need? —K.M. McFarland

Community, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2010)

The first-season holiday episode of Community dealt with political correctness on a college campus. But the second season went full Rankin and Bass, with a stop-motion animated special revolving around Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) having a full emotional breakdown over not spending the holidays with his mother. It uses the nostalgia of the old Christmas specials to tell a story about coping with loss through new friendship—with funny songs, fantastical characters, and Jon Oliver as a psychology professor angling for a high-profile journal article with a unique case. —K.M. McFarland

The first-season holiday episode of Community dealt with political correctness on a college campus. But the second season went full Rankin and Bass, with a stop-motion animated special revolving around Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi) having a full emotional breakdown over not spending the holidays with his mother. It uses the nostalgia of the old Christmas specials to tell a story about coping with loss through new friendship—with funny songs, fantastical characters, and Jon Oliver as a psychology professor angling for a high-profile journal article with a unique case. —K.M. McFarland

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The entire run of National Lampoon’s Vacation movies are great antidotes to family drama, but Christmas is the perfect one for the holidays. That’s mostly because every family has a Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase)—that one guy who wants everyone to be together for the holidays, even when it’s the worst idea possible. In Clark’s case, though, that family also includes an elderly aunt who gift-wraps cats and a drunk cousin who empties his RV’s “shitter” in the storm drain outside Clark’s house. This is a must-watch. You’ll have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fuckin’ Kaye. —Angela Watercutter

The entire run of National Lampoon’s Vacation movies are great antidotes to family drama, but Christmas is the perfect one for the holidays. That’s mostly because every family has a Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase)—that one guy who wants everyone to be together for the holidays, even when it’s the worst idea possible. In Clark’s case, though, that family also includes an elderly aunt who gift-wraps cats and a drunk cousin who empties his RV’s “shitter” in the storm drain outside Clark’s house. This is a must-watch. You’ll have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fuckin’ Kaye. —Angela Watercutter

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