The 16 best Christmas movies that are actually good — family, comedy, action and horror, all certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes

Photo of Scott and Charlie Calvin from the Santa Clause movies
(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

For many of us, one of the best yuletide traditions is snuggling up with loved ones and watching classic Christmas movies to start the festive season. However, the definition of what’s considered a Christmas film can vary per viewer (ahem, I'm looking at you, Die Hard fans), and there are also plenty of Christmas movies that aren’t worth your time. So with that in mind, here are some that are actually good, as certified by Rotten Tomatoes.

There are plenty of Christmas-infected film genres for every elf and Grinch out there, with some delivering holiday sentiment and others exploring more of Santa's sinister side. These films bear gifts for all, with hours of entertainment, festive cheer, and some dark comedy to counterbalance traditional Christmas optimism. 

So grab those candy canes, pour some hot chocolate and settle in for some freshly baked treats — it's Christmas movie season. 

Home Alone

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals! Macauley Culkin's iconic role as Kevin McCallister, the 8-year-old kid left home alone for Christmas, will always have a place in many hearts. After his family mistakenly leaves for their family trip without him, Kevin assumes his wish for them to disappear has come true. But his excitement is short-lived when he discovers two con men plan to break into the house, and it's up to Kevin to protect the home. Home Alone's funny premise, stellar cast of characters, and undeniable charm continue to have audiences coming back for more, year after year.

Stream it on Disney Plus.

Die Hard

Scoring 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, this film follows Bruce Willis as he plays a New York policeman, John McClane, visiting his estranged wife, played by Bonnie Bedelia, on Christmas Eve. After joining her at an office holiday party, the festivities are interrupted by a group of terrorists who take control of the building, and it's up to John to stop these villains and rescue the hostages. This film isn't on my holiday watch list; however, it is an unconventional classic for people who don't love Christmas movies. 

Stream it on Disney Plus.


Another millennial classic filled with yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family film with an 86% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Will Ferrell's charm and hilarity bring his character Buddy, an oversized elf, to life as he seeks to spread holiday cheer. After being raised in the North Pole by Santa and the elves, Buddy sets off on an adventure to find his dad (James Caan) in New York City, all while finding love with coworker Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). 

Stream it on Netflix


Santa isn't the only one keeping tabs on those who've been naughty or nice. Meet Krampus — a demonic, horned figure from European folklore who shows up instead of Santa to punish non-believers and misbehaving children. Unfortunately for the Engel family, Krampus is set to pay them a visit they won't forget. This festive frightener is rounded out by its cast, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette and David Koechner. Overall, it's gory, good fun for fans of non-traditional holiday horror, with a ‘fresh’ 66% rating. 

Rent or buy it on iTunes or Amazon.

Violent Night

Violent Night may be a lot of fun for those seeking hard-edged holiday fare. With a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes, David Harbour takes the helm as Santa Claus, taking on mercenaries holding a wealthy family hostage. It's a definite watch for anyone wanting to see how savage Santa can be, especially when using an icicle to impale a mercenary named Tinsel. 

Stream it on Netflix.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Ranking at 95%, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a visually delightful, stop-motion animation film that centres around The Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, as he discovers Christmas (and Christmastown) for the very first time. The 1993 classic sees Jack gain a new lease on life when he plots to bring Christmas under his control by kidnapping Santa Claus when his plans seemingly go awry. This is a must-watch for those who can't choose between Halloween or Christmas as their favourite holiday. 

Stream it on Disney Plus


Sitting at a remarkable 95% on the Tomatometer, this 2019 film will capture the hearts of many, offering audiences an original take on the Santa Claus legend. At its core is reluctant postman Jesper, tasked with delivering 6,000 letters before the end of the year by his father, the Royal Postmaster General. However, the task proves difficult in the remote town of Smeerensburg, occupied by two feuding families who would rather argue than write letters. When all hope is lost, Jesper makes an unlikely ally in Klaus, a reclusive carpenter who lives alone in a house filled with handmade toys. Klaus also scored Netflix its first Academy Award nomination for an animated film. 

You can stream it on Netflix

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967)

Animated image of the Grinch and Max

(Image credit: MGM Animation Studios/Future)

You're a mean one, Mr Grinch. There's nothing more classic than the 1967 adaptation of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This film is the perfect reminder that there's more to Christmas than presents, trees and festive feasts. Perfect for any Who of any age, this tale follows the mean-spirited Grinch as he plots to steal Christmas from the residents of Whoville. As the story goes on, the Grinch's heart triples in size — much like its triple-digit rating of 100% on the Tomatometer

Stream it on Binge, and rent or buy it on Amazon

The Santa Clause

Certified fresh at 73% on the Tomatometer, The Santa Clause provides a lot of laughs along the way. It stars Tim Allen as divorced dad & toy company exec Scott Calvin, who knocks Santa Claus off his roof and kills him by accident. But before things get too dark, Scott dons the big red suit and discovers he's contractually obligated to be the new Santa Claus. This film is followed by a strong sequel, a poor threequel and a 2022 follow-up series on Disney Plus, where even more mistletoe and mischief ensue. 

Stream it on Disney Plus

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Animated image of Charlie Brown and Peanuts characters around Christmas tree

(Image credit: CBS Studios)

Much like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this holiday classic revolves around the true meaning of Christmas and how it can cause some yuletide blues. Under the guidance of Lucy, Charlie Brown directs a Christmas play to hijack his holiday cheer but instead gets made fun of for his definition of a Christmas tree. This short special rates at 86% and would make any Peanuts fan go wild. 

Rent or buy it on iTunes

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Animated image of Rudolph and Elf

(Image credit: NBCUniversal)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a yuletide gem that celebrates the importance of difference. The classic stop-motion film receives a stellar 95% rating on the Tomatometer and follows the story of Rudolph with a bit of a twist when he encounters an abominable snowman. This lovable tale of belonging, spirited soundtrack, and iconic characters will have elves of any age returning for more. 

Rent or buy it on iTunes or Amazon

The Holdovers

A new addition to the list and ranking 3rd on Rotten Tomatoes' 100 best Christmas movies of all time, this Paul Giamatti-led film is beautifully bittersweet. Set in 1970, the story follows a bad-tempered professor at a boarding school forced to remain on campus with "the holdovers" — a group of students with nowhere to go over Christmas break. He forms an unlikely friendship with one of the students and the school's head cook, who just lost a son in the Vietnam War. The film is a bit long, with its 2-hour and 13-minute run time, but it lands with an emotionally satisfying end. 

Rent or buy it on iTunes

Love Actually

It's a controversial addition to this list, but Love Actually has amassed a cult following over the years. The ensemble cast, wacky storylines, and overall holiday fun have left audiences coming back for more, time and time again. With a 64% rating, the film follows nine intertwined stories, all facing the complexities of love at Christmas time. Featuring killer performances from Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, and many more, Love Actually is the epitome of a love-hate relationship: many people adore it, while others can’t stand it. 

Stream it on Netflix, Stan or Binge

Let It Snow

Like Love Actually, this 2019 Netflix film follows an ensemble cast (this time portraying high school seniors) who find their worldviews colliding. Based on a novel collectively written by John Green, Lauren Myracle, and Maureen Johnson, three romances are woven together by a snowstorm and injected with the right amount of holiday fanfare. While some may find Let It Snow among other cheesy Christmas films, it's a silly little film and can be easily enjoyed by many seeking a lighthearted festive watch. 

Stream it on Netflix

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Coming in at 77%, the Muppets-infused adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale is not to be missed. Following along as Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) encounters the ghosts of Christmas' Past, Present and Future and learns the error of his coldhearted ways, the film takes audiences young, and old, on a journey of the joy of Christmas. Not only does it have Caine giving a wondrous performance of Scrooge, it'll tug at the heartstrings and relieve audiences with comedy through the Muppets' endless calamities and catchy musical numbers.  

Stream it on Disney Plus


Still looking for a gift for that special someone? This kooky Christmas classic revolves around Billy (Zach Galligan), a teenager who receives a mysterious pet mogwai from his father as a Christmas present. The cheeky creature named Gizmo comes with a serious warning— no bright lights, water or food after midnight. Panic prevails after the warning slips the mind of Gizmo’s new owner and his friend Pete (Corey Feldman), when a splash of water sees five new beings emerge and transform into a gang of Gremlins that wreak havoc on Christmas Eve. For first time watchers, be warned — you’ll never listen to “Do You Hear What I Hear?” the same way again. 

Stream it on Binge.

Lucy Scotting
Staff Writer

Lucy Scotting is a digital content writer for Tom’s Guide in Australia, primarily covering NBN and internet-related news. Lucy started her career writing for HR and staffing industry publications, with articles covering emerging tech, business and finance. In her spare time, Lucy can be found watching sci-fi movies, working on her dystopian fiction novel or hanging out with her dog, Fletcher.