Cinematic classics that kindle the holiday spirit

'Santa Claus is Comin' to Town'
Courtesy of Freeform

Salena Moran & Evan Penrod | Staff Writers


Come Dec. 1, binge-watching holiday movies never fails to get one into the holiday spirit. Among the countless movies in existence, five have stood out to us as hallmarks with their underlying feel-good lessons, cinematic aesthetic and lovable characters. No matter what style of Christmas movie you enjoy, there is something for everyone to enjoy during the most wonderful time of the year.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Deemed a cinematic flop upon its release, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) has since become a classic household staple of the holiday season. The movie follows the life of George Bailey (James Stewart) who falls into financial troubles during the height of the Great Depression. After wishing he never was born, George witnesses a world in which he never existed and sees what his town and those he loves would be like without him. In a tear-jerking ending, George realizes that he, indeed, lives a wonderful life, and he drastically improves the quality of the lives around him. This film’s message extends beyond the Christmas season with its themes of love, self-happiness and generosity. With its heartfelt and melancholic ups and downs, settle in for this two-hour, black-and-white flick that reexamines what it means to live a fulfilling life.

Courtesy of New Line Cinema
Despite a modest budget of $33 million, Elf netted $220.4 million, $173.4 million of which was from the U.S.


In the beloved film that kickstarted his movie career, Will Ferrell stars in Elf (2003) as Buddy, a blissfully unaware, gullible and Christmas-spirited human raised in the North Pole. When he realizes he does not quite fit in among Santa’s helpers, he ventures to New York City to find his biological father and uncover who he really is. Over the course of the film, Buddy grows closer to his dad and family, finds love, eats the most ridiculous food concoctions and, most importantly, saves Christmas. Elf’s incorporation of cartoonish elements from beloved Christmas classics and modern effects and sensibilities delivers the ultimate holiday movie. Moreover, Buddy’s character is relatable to viewers in different ways, whether through his humor, his journey of self-discovery, or his contagious excitement and frustrations. Perhaps the most quotable Christmas movie in existence, Elf is definitely a must-watch every year.

The Santa Clause

After becoming a household name through Home Improvement, Tim Allen stars as a reluctant Santa who struggles with his new identity as the famous gift-giver in The Santa Clause (1994). When divorced father Scott Calvin puts on the big man’s suit, he fails to realize what responsibilities would ensue. He must adapt to his changing physical status and job status while juggling custody of his son, Charlie. This movie delivers a lot of laughs while exhibiting greater lessons in love and the value of family. Even though the computer-generated reindeer show the film’s age, the cheesiness of this entire movie still delights in a nostalgic and heartwarming way. Ultimately, the bright costumes and sets for this film just scream Christmas time. The Santa Clause went on to create two subpar sequels, but the original will always be a memorable Christmas classic.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town/ The Year Without a Santa Claus

When ranking holiday films, a “Best of” list would not be complete without at least one Rankin/Bass film. Both Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970) and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) are very similar and feature similar casts. In two short stories about the old Saint Nick, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town answers the frequently asked questions about Father Christmas, including his penchant for toy making and the origins of his signature red suit. In The Year Without a Santa Claus, an ill Claus feels that the Christmas spirit is waning and decides to take a year off. In their efforts to prove Santa is still loved and needed, his elves Jingle and Jangle, with the help of Mrs. Claus, set out to find people who believe in Santa Claus and the Christmas spirit. With the outpouring of love, Santa ultimately makes his famous journey to deliver gifts and joy. Filled with songs from the iconic Heat Miser and Snow Miser, this movie remains an undisputed cult classic.

A Christmas Carol

In one of Charles Dickens’ most famous tales, A Christmas Carol (1843) reveals a more serious and grim plot in the realm of holiday movies. Since its release, A Christmas Carol has garnered multiple film adaptations, including a Muppet version and a musical. Set in Victorian England, cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts detailing his past, present and future of Christmas to remind him of the importance of holding the values of the holiday season the entire year. The concept that kindness and generosity are always in demand is still a very prevalent theme. Perhaps the best rendition is either the George C. Scott version from 1984 or the much older Scrooge from 1951. Regardless of the adaptation, the feelings of both fear and joy keep audiences on the edges of their seats as they follow the story to discover Scrooge’s fate.