If you’ve seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” once, chances are you watch it every year as part of some multi-generational family tradition. Or maybe it’s “Home Alone.” “Love Actually?” “Elf!” Surely “A Christmas Story,” too. All to say, this holiday season could use a little variety, and as festive as these classic films may be, they are certainly not one-age-fits-all.
To aid in your jolly merriment – and help keep the kids entertained during the long winter break – we’ve assembled a list of overlooked holiday films that serve as good alternatives to the movies you can recite by heart. These might even keep your little ones fully engaged, and that would be a very joyous, silent night indeed.
Holiday movies: 2-4 years
“All I Want for Christmas is You” (2017)
91 minutes, Rated G
If your young merrymakers are fans of the bald baby and dubiously produced nursery rhymes of “Cocomelon” fame, then perhaps “All I Want for Christmas is You” will serve a twofold purpose: keep the children’s attention with similar computer animation and pleasant, non-threatening characters, while also giving parents a chance to sing along to the many hits of Mariah Carey, who also provides voiceover.
“The Snowy Day” (2016)
38 minutes, Rated TV-Y
Short. Sweet. Classic. Based on the iconic 1962 picture book “The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats, this short film from just a few years ago reimagines Peter’s journey through his neighborhood and all the people he meets along the way. With an impressive cast of voice talent including Angela Bassett and a timeless tale of friendship and new discoveries, “The Snowy Day” comes in at a lean, mean 38 minutes, catering to even the shortest attention spans.
Holiday movies: 5-6 years
“An American Tail” (1986)
80 minutes, Rated G
Kids of the 90s will likely remember this heartwarming story of the Mousekewitzes, a clan of Russian Jewish rodents who emigrate to America for the promise of “no cats.” Their assimilation is not as easy as they hoped, but ultimately they overcome without sacrificing their love for one another. The film opens with a Hanukkah celebration, and baby mouse Fievel is a charismatic lead still remembered over 35 years later. “An American Tail” is an enjoyable film that can help your household recognize and celebrate Jewish traditions this time of year.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992)
85 minutes, Rated G
Marking its 30th anniversary, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is an instant hit with everyone in the family. Featuring all your favorite Muppets including Kermit and Miss Piggy as Mr. and Mrs. Bob Cratchit, the film also finds the acting talents of the great Michael Caine, who stars as the lead live-action role, moneygrubber Ebenezer Scrooge. The film serves as a gentle introduction to the Charles Dickens classic with original songs, funny puppets and plenty of good cheer.
96 minutes, Rated PG
It may have lost the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (to “Toy Story 4”), but “Klaus” offers an off-kilter take on Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick. Set from the perspective of an enterprising postal carrier hoping to up the number of letters entrusted in his care, he begins the tradition of children writing to a recluse woodsman named Klaus with the promise he will secretly bring them handmade toys. With top-notch voiceovers by Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons and Rashida Jones, “Klaus” is sure to keep the kids engaged and ready to write their own letters to the big man.
Holiday movies: 7-9 years
“Arthur Christmas” (2011)
97 minutes, Rated PG
Cheeky and overflowing with imagination, “Arthur Christmas” is certainly a cult classic in the making. For fans of British comedy, this one packs the heavy hitters: Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie and James McAvoy. Set on Christmas Eve, the film follows Arthur Claus, the clutzy but well-intentioned son of Santa himself who makes it his mission to deliver the one present his father’s well-oiled, military-style operation somehow left behind.
“Snow Day” (2000)
89 minutes, Rated PG
It’s every kid’s dream: School is canceled and there is snow for miles and miles with very little adult supervision. “Snow Day” may not be the most sophisticated of films, but its “Home Alone”-like antics and feverish appeal to this age demographic is worth dusting off the VHS and showing to a new generation of aspiring trouble-makers.
“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
89 minutes, Rated PG
Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sinbad. A stereotypical 90s children’s action-adventure premise. There is possibly nothing better to watch this time of year than “Jingle All the Way.” Harkening back to the craze of Christmas toy buying à la Tickle Me Elmo, the film pits Schwarzenegger against Sinbad to get the hot action figure, fighting crowds, traps and a girl-stealing neighbor, played by the late Phil Harmon. This age will die for the epic superhero ending, and parents will find plenty of laughs from the veteran comedians.
Holiday movies: 10-12 years
“8-Bit Christmas” (2021)
97 minutes, Rated PG
Like an 80s kids flick made in the 21st century, “8-Bit Christmas” knows what its target audience wants and delivers. Neil Patrick Harris tells his daughter a story from his childhood when Nintendo first arrived on the scene and the frenzy of securing the prized entertainment system. Today’s kids may not understand what this antiquated machine is, but they can surely commiserate with their own Christmas lists full of Apple products and digital ware.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
76 minutes, Rated PG
Often touted as a Halloween movie, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with the classic designs of Tim Burton coupled with the stop-motion animation of Henry Selick, is arguably better in December than October. There is no greater rush than when Jack Skellington stumbles from his native Halloweentown through a door in a tree into Christmasland, a glittering, perfect place of presents and happiness. Danny Elfman writes the score which, some might argue, should be added to every Christmas music catalogue, just so we can have a few extra months with it.
Holiday movies: 13-15 years
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (1998)
86 minutes, Rated PG
Yuletide, romance and JTT. That’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas, for those of you not hip to 90s heartthrobs. Like most rom-coms of that decade, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” finds JTT stranded in the desert, desperate to get home for Christmas or else lose out on a vintage Porsche his dad has been dangling over him for years. Also starring a young Jessica Biel, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a fun holiday comedy that your teen will love.
106 minutes, Rated PG
Technically, “Gremlins” is only rated PG. But it was actually one of the films that prompted the MPAA to improve its rating system, thus creating a PG-13 rating. Known for its unsettling monster movie set with the backdrop of a snowy Americana Christmas, “Gremlins” gives young adults enough tame violence to feel a little thrill, without completely corrupting the merry season.
“Tokyo Godfathers” (2003)
92 minutes, Rated PG-13
“Tokyo Godfathers” is not your typical Christmas film. Operating in realism, rather than the edge of fantasy for which many Japanese animated films are known, the tragicomedy tells the story of three homeless people who discover an abandoned newborn on Christmas Eve, setting them on the path through Tokyo to find the child’s parents through many dark and twisted avenues. This one is not for the immature teen as it deals with abandonment and grief, but it also touts acceptance, compassion and a very Christmas-approved theme: the survival of hope and promise of redemption.
Holiday movies: 16+ years
“Happiest Season” (2020)
102 minutes, Rated PG-13
An LGBTQIA+ love story for the holidays, “Happiest Season” is charming, funny and offers all the feels. Harper (Mackenzie Davis) brings her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) home for the holidays, but there’s one problem: She hasn’t come out to her family. There’s more dirt in the family than a gay daughter, and the film is juicy with drama around every corner and from every relative. Coming home can be hard for most, but “Happiest Season” celebrates what family is meant to do, which is accept, love and cherish all year but particularly during Christmas.
“Iron Man 3″ (2013)
130 minutes, Rated PG-13
Is your teen a Marvel fan? Then maybe “Iron Man 3” is your new holiday tradition. The film finds Tony Stark doing his usual saving-the-world-in-a-robot-suit thing, but set around Christmas time. It stands out among other MCU films thanks to writer-director Shane Black whose trademark humor and sarcastic sensibilities make it a true Christmas unicorn that sparkles, shines and blows stuff up.
“Die Hard” (1988)
132 minutes, Rated R
This one has slowly been entering the canon of classic Christmas films, but it’s worth noting here too. For your older teen who enjoys action, comedy and ridiculous antics, “Die Hard” has it all. Bruce Willis is the role he was born to play, John McClane, an NYC police officer unwittingly dragged into saving his estranged wife from German terrorists, led by the incomparable Alan Rickman as the epically named villain Hans Gruber. Merry Christmas and yippee-ki-yay mother …