It's Christmas in Heaven, there's great films on TV
'The Sound of Music' twice an hour, and 'Jaws' 1, 2 and 31.
- 'Christmas in Heaven' from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)
When asked 'what is your favourite festive film?' the h2g2 community enjoyed discussing their Christmas flick picks. Unsurprisingly, what is compulsory classic Christmas viewing in one household is considered overrated by others. Questions were asked over what makes a film feel festive – does it have to be a Christmas film or does Thanksgiving count too? If a film is set at Christmas, is it automatically a Christmas film? If only some of the film is set at Christmas, how much has to be set at Christmas for it to feel festive?
- A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) for me, the original White Christmas (1954) with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye for her. I guess we are getting older.
- Others I'm quite fond of are the Bill Murray classic, Scrooged and Terry Pratchett's Hogfather (2006).
- I always enjoy The Muppets' Christmas Carol. Hogfather too. BBC TV drama, The Box of Delights (1984) is good. Otherwise I don't think I'm really a fan of Christmas films!
- I agree that The Box of Delights is a real gem, a magical tale that is joyful and triumphant – I always watch it each year with my kids in the lead up to Christmas and watching it when it was first broadcast is one of the few memories I have of spending time with my dad before the divorce.
- One of my guilty pleasures is the Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962) cartoon. 'Winter Was Warm' is the reason; there are other neat songs, but 55 years later I still remember that song with affection.
- The first two Home Alone films - Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) – are fun and festive. The first most successful Christmas film of all time and the second will always be remembered for the cameo by Donald Trump. If only Kevin had set traps to incapacitate him!
- Actually looking at some lists has reminded me of a few I have enjoyed: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), Holiday Inn (1942), White Christmas, Nativity! (2009) and I do like Raymond Brigg's The Snowman (1982).
What is a Christmas Film?
In December 2017 it was reported by the BBC that apparently 'the internet is being torn apart' by the debate on whether or not Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas film. We asked h2g2 Researchers whether they consider this and other films such as Batman Returns (1992), Frozen (2013), Gremlins (1984), The Life of Brian (1979) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) to be Christmas films?
For one Researcher, the answer was clear:
I wouldn't class any of those listed as 'Christmas' films exactly.
While another Researcher's response was,
I like the idea of considering 'Die Hard' a crimbo film. I do not watch the normal family favourite holiday films.
What counts as a Christmas film can also depend on the cultural context, with one Researcher saying,
Did we decide exactly what a Christmas film was? Because 'Dinner for One' is a birthday celebration and there are no Christmas decorations up if I remember correctly. Still, 'festive' suits and it would have to be mentioned in the context of other Christmas traditions on German TV.
Another Researcher had very definite definitions as to what is a Christmas film.
- Die Hard obviously is, so obvious as to render arguments against pointless and dumb. As is, for that matter, Die Hard 2 (1990). They both EXPLICITLY take place over the holidays.
- Gremlins - So obviously a Christmas movie it's hardly possibly to argue about.
- The Life of Brian - More of an Easter treat, I'd have thought.
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Given that one of the characters is SANTA CLAUS, again, this is a daft question.
- Frozen - not really. It's just got snow in it. A lot. On that basis I'd count Fargo (1996) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and why not?
These comments led to one Researcher saying:
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Is it a Christmas film? Well, there's snow. The relentless Imperial attack on Hoth Base is how many feel when forced to go to busy shopping centres. Like many who visit their relatives at Christmas, Luke has to spend time with judgmental old people who are stuck in their ways and never think he's good enough - and besides, parking is a nightmare. At the end Luke's father cuts his hand off, and rather than agree to spend any more time with his dad when he asks if he'd like to rule the galaxy as father and son, Luke decides to instead plunge to his almost-certain death. Who hasn't had a Christmas dinner with their parents like that?
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Even then, there's the debate on whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween or Christmas film. This dilemma was quickly resolved:
'The Nightmare before Christmas' is a work of sheer genius. Watch at Halloween and Christmas, it's that good.
The Life of Brian (1979)
One Researcher has already said that Monty Python's Life of Brian has more to do with Easter, especially considering the famous crucifixion scene. That said, the nativity briefly features at the very beginning.
Definitely Christmas Films
A Christmas Carol
Well, I do like to get a viewing of 'A Christmas Carol' in at some point before Christmas, preferably on Christmas Eve. For me, the favourite would always be the Alistair Sim version, though one or two others have been quite entertaining.
While another said,
The Muppets for me, every time. Alistair Sim cannot compete with singing vegetables.
And another informed us they had heard the story summarised with the words, 'A Christmas Carol tells the story of how it takes supernatural bullying to get a rich man to share his wealth'.
Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951)
This popular Black & White British version starring Alistair Sim was released as Scrooge in the UK and A Christmas Carol in the US and is considered definitive by many. But does the fact it was filmed in Black and White add to the experience? One Researcher said,
We've seen the Sim version already this year, but sadly a colourised version, which isn't quite the same and somehow lacks the atmosphere of the original black and white. My favourite scene is definitely when Patrick Macnee plays a young Jacob Marley. He isn't in it enough, alas. Though it isn't my favourite adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol' it is certainly well worth watching.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Now I really, really enjoy 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' – but there's a problem. I didn't see the film in the cinema and the first time I saw it was on VHS, which added a scene not in the original cinema edition. This was the song 'When Love is Gone', which I've always found to be the emotional keystone of the film – it just doesn't work without the moment in which we see how Scrooge lost his heart. But every release on DVD of 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' is missing the scene, and I refuse to watch the film without it. So when I watch it I have to pause the DVD at that moment, unplug the SCART lead from the DVD player and plug in the VHS, watch the scene on our VHS copy, unplug the VCR and replug in the DVD player to continue watching the DVD as I do a zero-return on the videocassette so it will be back in the right place for next year. And with DVDs, Disney could release a DVD of the film with an option at the start asking if you'd like to watch the inferior or 'When Love is Gone' version of the film.
Another Researcher replied, saying,
I think that was down to a rights issue. Actually, if Michael Caine was singing, it was down to a human rights issue.
A Christmas Story (1983)
This is a very popular film in the United States that is less well known elsewhere. For many, it is truly a classic. It's the nostalgic tale of a young boy in Post-Depression, Pre-Second World War Indiana and his quest to convince his teachers, parents, and even Santa Claus that he deserves a Red Ryder BB Gun2 for Christmas. It widely supplanted It's a Wonderful Life as 'The Must-See Christmas Classic' for American audiences after It's A Wonderful Life stopped being aired ubiquitously each season. A Christmas Story is a property of Ted Turner's company and airs as 24-hour marathons each Christmas Eve on Turner Broadcast System, a cable network in North America.
This story raised some eyebrows.
A plot involving a boy asking for a gun doesn't sound like the sort of film they'd broadcast...
However it should be noted that Ralphie, the central character in A Christmas Story is repeatedly denied his wish for a Red Ryder BB Gun with the admonishment, 'You'll put your eye out, kid!' The film's popularity has inspired spin-offs, with one Researcher noting,
I finally burned out my affinity for 'A Christmas Story' just in time for Fox TV to air a live version… [which] was a musical. I'm not fond of musicals so I quit watching it after the Leg Lamp scene.
Trivia lovers will love to learn that Scott Schwartz, who plays Flick, the kid who licks the frozen flag pole, went on to a brief but avid career in the porn industry. Once described as a 'cheerleader' for the industry, he went on to manage several porn actors. He has since become president of a charity that works to protect children in the entertainment industry.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
Aardman's Arthur Christmas is about an elderly Santa thinking of retiring, with his elder son Steve wanting the job. When a gift is accidentally left behind, his younger son, Arthur, along with Grandsanta travel all across the Earth to ensure the right gift is given to the right girl. It certainly met with approval from our Researchers, with two saying:
'Arthur Christmas' is worth a watch for the opening sequence alone. Ninja elves and awful family relations.
I love the bit at the end where the bike he's riding is being gift-wrapped at the same time.
Babes in Toyland
Babes in Toyland (1934) was a highly successful Laurel and Hardy film considered among their best, based on the book by Glen MacDonough. In 1961 Disney made a colour remake, complete with the same songs and impressive special effects.
One Researcher wrote,
Ann Jillian played Little Bo Peep in the Disney 'Babes in Toyland'. I adored her singing of 'My Sheep have Gone for Good'. She was about ten at the time… If any of you find it laughably inane, please remember that I was at an awkward age (13) when it came out. The year before, I was stoked for Disney's 'Sleeping Beauty', which had magnificent Tchaikovsky score and great animation. I hoped/expected that 'Babes in Toyland' would be similarly great. It wasn't, but I still bought the LP and learned all the songs.
Bad Santa (2003)
I instituted a tradition at my local pub to watch 'Bad Santa' each year as close to Christmas Eve as the calendar allows. However, I must recommend anyone that liked the original to avoid the sequel. It stank on ice.
Batman Returns (1992)
Is Batman Returns a Christmas film? It is set entirely over Christmas, with the first line: 'Merry Christmas' and last line: 'Merry Christmas Alfred, and good will to all men – and women.' Gotham has two official Christmas tree light switch-on ceremonies for the tree in the main square, and Bruce Wayne has his own tree, which Alfred decorates. There is mistletoe, which Batman and Catwoman and later Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle kiss beneath. There's a street corner Santa, who admittedly is assaulted by an evil gang of circus clowns when lots of people go Christmas shopping. Just as Santa lives in the North Pole, the Penguin lives in Arcticworld in an abandoned zoo.
Like Father Christmas, it involves a costumed character interested in whether you're naughty or nice. As Santa has little elf helpers who help him deliver gift to good children, the Penguin has little penguin helpers who help him deliver gift to the firstborn children of Gotham (admittedly these are explosives).
Like Jesus, the Penguin disappears from all records following his birth until he is an adult. If you're looking for more Bible allegories, the beginning sequence in which Penguin is abandoned in a river leading to the zoo's sewer is very Old Testament, just like Moses in the bulrushes. As is his initial plan to kill all Gotham's firstborn sons, which is not dissimilar to the Death of the Firstborn in Egypt or how Herod killed all boys in the Bethlehem area after Jesus' birth, which Penguin later amends to killing everyone. Just as Jesus was born surrounded by animals in a stable, Penguin too was a baby surrounded by animals - in this case Arcticworld's penguins.
The soundtrack is by Danny Elfman who also scored Christmas films Scrooged, Edward Scissorhands and especially The Nightmare Before Christmas, with which the score shares several similarities. Besides which, how more Christmassy can music be than if it is by an Elf man?
Comfort and Joy (1984)
My favourite Christmas movie is 'Comfort and Joy'. Bill Forsyth and Bill Patterson were involved in making this. It takes place during the Christmas season in Glasgow. A radio host has broken up with his girlfriend, and is feeling blue. Lo and behold, he finds himself stopping for ice cream, only to get in the middle of an insane turf war between rival ice cream vendors. There is an insanely tuneful jingle for the ice cream vans. It turns into a real earworm.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
A Tim Burton fantasy film that was one of Vincent Price's last appearances is also a firm favourite. Our Researchers comments included,
- Came across another list that mentioned one I hadn't thought of - Edward Scissorhands. Love that, always makes me feel weepy at the end.
- I always wondered if Edward Scissorhands' dates had to wear armour.
This again, like A Christmas Carol, shows that a festive favourite film is emotionally engaging with the audience, who like to feel a moving investment with the characters.
Elf stars Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel3, Bob Newhart and James 'Sonny Corleone' Caan. The film has been so successful it has inspired an animated spin-off and a stage musical. This film attracted numerous comments from Researchers, especially as Will Ferrell is an actor who divides opinions.
- My wife introduced me to a good Christmas film - it's a hoot. In June 2016 I bought her tickets to see the live musical version... which we went to last Saturday. I managed to keep it a surprise for 18 months.
- While I haven't seen Elf yet, it does seem to be the go-to Christmas flick for millennials.
- In the evening I watched 'Elf'. Neither I nor my wife are fans of Will Ferrell or his ilk, but I think he played his character in 'Elf' perfectly to make one of the best festive films this century. My wife can't stand it, though.
The Grinch (2000)
One of the more divisive Christmas films, with some loving the Jim Carrey version of Dr Seuss' well-loved tale, others finding it disappointing compared to the How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) animation they grew up with. It was noted that a third Grinch film was made by Illumination in 2018, the animation studio best known for the Despicable Me films who also made Seuss' The Lorax.
I'm a real Grinch now. I don't want to steal Xmas from the all the little Hoos in Hooville, but I don't particularly want to be involved in the holiday personally. I'd rather just skip it... but I can't. It's ubiquitous.
Legitimate concerns were raised about one particular scene:
I actually gave the Jim Carrey 'Grinch' a viewing. Jim Carrey was well cast in the role. He is best when playing cartoonish characters. But adding a love interest wasn't necessary or interesting. And did they really need to make a key-party joke in a kids' film?
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life shows us how everyone's life affects those around them. It is the tale of George Bailey, a man who has great ambitions to explore the world but circumstances and family commitments keep him apparently trapped at home all his life. It is only after he wishes that he had never been born does he come to appreciate how much love and affection all who know him have for him. He also has a daughter named Zuzu.
It's A Wonderful Life was considered public domain for decades until a claim regarding a single song on the soundtrack ended a tradition for local TV stations of airing it repeatedly and royalty free.
The film hinges on comparing how his hometown and those living in it would be different if he had never been born, which raises some questions about how much impact can one man have?
Now I get that if George Bailey had never been born there wouldn't have been a force for good in Bedford Falls and as Potter would have owned everything, the town would have become Pottersville and full of dives and drunks. Without a friend like George, the taxi driver would never have had a good home or lived happily ever after with his wife. What I don't get is how, if George hadn't been born, Mary's eyesight would be affected, nor how, without George, it would snow.
How could George Bailey's life have made the difference between snow and no snow? Well, landscape can affect weather. George Bailey is responsible for creating a fair-sized housing area called Bailey Park, which otherwise would be a graveyard and wasteland – this presumably has chimneys. Similarly, Bailey also gives advice as to where a plastics factory should be located. So is this the reason why in the world in which he lives it is snowing, and in the world in which he doesn't it isn't?
One Researcher simply replied,
A butterfly flaps its wings...
A different trouser leg of time...
Another question was would it hurt most to know that if you hadn't been born, your wife would have become:
- An old maid librarian who now requires glasses, or
- A successful millionaire's wife married to your wealthy industrialist friend
It seems a little judgmental that the worst thing that could happen to a woman is for her to become an old maid librarian. Would it be more painful for George to discover he had been holding her back all her life and without him Mary would have become a millionaire in her own right? Mind you, that scenario would not have helped convey the film's positive message that everyone, no matter how miserable they are feeling at any one time, overall have had a positive impact on those around them.
Of course it is important to remember that not every well-known film in the UK or US are well-known all around the world. One Researcher in Germany said,
As 'It's a Wonderful Life' was only introduced as a regular Christmas TV event in 1972 in the UK (at least, that was what I read somewhere) and before that there was no real standard Christmas film - even 'The Sound of Music' was fairly new to TV - I never got into the swing of that, having left the UK in 1973 and emigrated completely in 1976. So I only saw 'It's a Wonderful Life' 2 years ago for the first time, albeit dubbed into German.
Until then, I had always thought that people were talking about the Roberto Benigni film of a similar name4, and could never quite figure out how an Italian film got to be so popular in Britain until someone here on h2g2 explained it to me.
Jingle all the Way (1996)
A film in which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a father who desperately tries to find a toy for his son, based on the writer's experience in trying to buy his own children toys such as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story and a Power Ranger. Arnold Schwarzenegger, best known for facing Predators and Terminators, fights his most fearsome foe yet; he punches a reindeer. Jake Lloyd, who plays his character's son, later became Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999).
Love Actually (2003)
This is definitely a guilty pleasure feel-good Richard Curtis film - just nice people (and some not-so-nice) finding happiness at Christmas. There are about nine different threads, which cross at various points. Being set in London, most of the characters are English. There is the typical Working Title crew of Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, and myriad other English names who have gone on to bigger things: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Martin Freeman, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln. Also some outsiders such as Liam Neeson, Claudia Schiffer, Laura Linney and Heike Makatsch, who was very popular in Germany at the time. Alan Rickman was better known in those days for his Die Hard role than for being Severus Snape, and Bill Nighy is the same Bill Nighy as in every other film you have seen him in.
It's hard to summarise the plot as there are so many intertwined threads, but the various stories all come to a head at a school Nativity play attended by everybody whose storyline we have been following. Highlights are:
- Emma Thompson freaking out when she finds out her husband is (possibly) being unfaithful.
- Martin Freeman is naked most of the time, with Joanna Page playing his love interest. They are incredibly funny together.
- Liam Neeson's heart-to-heart talks with his little boy.
- Andrew Lincoln's declarations of adoration to Keira Knightley.
- Right at the beginning, the 'impromptu' flashmob version of 'All you Need is Love' in the church at the wedding.
- Hugh Grant's dance round No 10 and his altercation with Billy Bob Thornton over the tea lady.
One Researcher described the film with the words,
I'm the sort of gal who will sit and watch 'Love Actually' every year and be quite content. Most people I know will enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching it sometime around Christmas. Well, most women, anyway. When 'Love Actually' came out in 2003, DVDs were available and we expats could finally watch films with the original sound track whenever we wanted. I can't remember if I ever saw it in the cinema, but I have certainly watched my DVD several times - at Christmas or whenever I feel like it! Yup, 'guilty pleasure' is the only way to put it - there are no morals preached, not all threads are tied up, but boy will you get through some Kleenex.
In 2017 a Comic Relief sketch reunited many of the original cast to see what their characters were doing 15 years later.
The Man who Invented Christmas (2017)
A new film about Charles Dickens that one Researcher who saw it felt was quite good and can see it becoming one of their favourite seasonal films.
Maybe decades from now, 'The Man who Invented Christmas' will be remembered as the best Christmas movie of 2017. For one thing, Christopher Plummer is really cool as Ebenezer Scrooge. He's so convincing that when he's in the grave, his sudden fear of death and being forgotten is hard to square with his previous confidence.
As it is the only Christmas film of 2017 any of our Researchers mentioned, it certainly looks as if the prediction of it being the best this year is already coming true.
The Miracle on 34th Street
The Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
This film revolves around whether a man who calls himself Kris Kringle and believes himself to be Santa Claus is mad or the real Santa. Curiously the film was originally released in Spring, so the earliest film posters only show the romantic couple, while of course today the film is promoted with pictures of Santa and the tragic Natalie Wood. Edmund Gwenn, the actor who plays Santa, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, even though he surely counts as the lead role.
I found it quite funny how even in the late 1940s, an era of austerity and rationing, they were discussing how Christmas was becoming over commercialised. Some things never change.
Call me stupid, but I just realised that the little Dutch girl who cannot speak English is a war orphan.
Another Researcher replied,
The story takes place in the United States. Although rationing and austerity were common in the UK after the Blitz in the US prosperity returned almost as soon as the troops came home. I don't think most of us thought that [the Dutch girl was a war orphan] either, but our people at home were far removed from the horrors of the war, except for the stories of our fathers and uncles - and they seldom spoke about them.
The Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
One Researcher had an amusing take on the remarkable remake, starring Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle.
Yesterday we watched the 1994 'Arthur Dent' version of 'Miracle on 34th Street'. This is the story of Arthur Dent5 who works for an old department store that is facing financial difficulty. At the Thanksgiving Parade after he points out to Mrs Dorey Walker how much Richard Attenborough looks like Santa, she promptly hires Attenborough to be Cole's Santa, and he proves an incredibly popular choice. When Arthur Dent hears Santa advising customers where they can get toys cheaply, he decides that Cole's should adopt a policy of putting customer's first, even if it means sending them to rival shops. He lets Dorey share the credit for this idea, which revolutionises the shop's fortune.
At the end he is contacted by Santa to oversee the arrangements Santa made for his best friends, Bryan and Dorey. He is the first to congratulate them on their marriage and - on Christmas Day no less - travels out first thing in the morning to the middle of nowhere in order to hang around on a cold street corner just to be the one to give Dorey the bonus for sharing in his idea; a brand new, huge house that has to be worth millions6. Genuinely happy for them, he walks away with a hearty 'chin chin'. Friends like that are worth their weight in gold, I tell you.
The remake also features two cameos from the original cast.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is another seasonal classic comedy. Starring Chevy Chase as a man determined to create the best Christmas ever, only for everything to be over the top, such as the number of lights on his huge house7, or go disastrously wrong. Tellingly, both the child actors went on to enjoy successful careers as adults. Juliette Lewis enjoyed both a singing career as well as acting8. Johnny Galecki, who plays her brother Rusty, is one of the leads in the very successful US sitcoms Roseanne (1992-7) and The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019).
The Polar Express (2004)
This was a divisive film despite being aimed at children. The characters were described as 'plastic people' and 'weird'. Typical descriptions were that the film finally answered the question, what would Tom Hanks would look like if he were a Barbie doll?
Yes, I saw 'The Polar Express' movie, but didn't enjoy it at all, neither did the youngsters. They just found it weird. The plot was pretty forgettable.
The reason for this is that The Polar Express is deep in 'Uncanny Valley', which postulates that the more humanlike something inanimate appears, the more positively humans respond to it up until a point. Following this point people feel revulsion and creepiness when confronted by replicas that appear almost, but not quite, entirely like a human. The first extensive use of a fully-animated film made with Performance Capture, the problem was they either didn't include catch lights in the eyes as they rendered the lighting or they did a very poor job of it. With no catch lights in their eyes, the eyes look dry and dead. One Researcher summarised this with the words,
I have no desire to ever watch it.
Not everyone disliked the film so strongly, with another Researcher presenting the opinion,
I think these reviews of 'The Polar Express' are entirely unfair. It is a cute story with a good message.
Santa Claus aka Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
A cheesy 1980s classic, Santa Claus: The Movie, is the first Christmas film to show Santa flying with reindeer and delivering presents. Before it there were films such as Miracle on 34th Street or Santa Conquers the Martians in which Father Christmas appeared as a character, often with toys or reindeer. But the whole delivering gift bit had not been done before. Held with great fondness by those who grew up in the early 1980s, the soundtrack by Mancini is particularly superb.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians has been called the worst film of all time, but fits neatly in the 'so bad it's good' category. More than one Researcher has a fondness for the film.
'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' should be compulsory watching. It has a cute theme song, adorably inept characters, and a fair amount of heart. Of course, it's cheesy at its heart, but bad is good.
Another Researcher agreed, saying
Great imagination in 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' in the way the King of Mars is called Kimar, the boy Martian is Bomar, the girl Martian is Girmar and the mother Martian Momar. What would happen if there were more than one boy, girl and mother on Mars, eh?
While another Researcher said,
Poor old Santa - he's kidnapped by Martians in 'Santa Claus Conquers the Martians' by a leader who wants to bring Christmas to Mars, whereas in 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' he's kidnapped by a leader who wants to bring Christmas to Halloween. What's this? Very similar plots now I think about it…
Following these constant kidnappings it's no wonder Father Christmas is so grumpy in the animated short film Father Christmas9 (1991).
The Santa Clause Trilogy (1994-2006)
The premise is that Tim Allan's character, Scott Calvin, inadvertently kills Santa Claus and due to a clause, has to become Santa. All three star Tim Allen as Scott Calvin/Santa Claus. They're very cheesy feel-good films. No elf actor appears in all the films as they cast children to be elves and as there's a 12-year gap between the first and last film, the child actors in the first weren't children any more when they made the third.
The Santa Clause (1994)
This film focuses on the strain that being Santa has on Scott Calvin's relationship with his son. Scott does not believe he is Santa, while his young son's insistence that he is makes his mother and stepfather believe that his seeing his dad is having a bad influence, and decide to stop the father and son from spending time together. A Researcher confessed,
In 'The Santa Clause' what bothers me is that no-one at the North Pole, none of the Elves or reindeer are in the slightest bit bothered that the previous Santa has died. There's no grieving widow, no-one as much as blinks an eyelid but instead smilingly welcomes the new guy. No memorial service or candles or wreath, a shrug would be something. No, after all his hard work Santa does not get as much as a tear. Also 'there arose such a clatter', a quote from poem 'The Night Before Christmas', doesn't really sound like 'rose-scented ladder'. The North Pole's miniature railway looks great fun, though.
The Santa Clause 2 (2002)
In the sequel it is revealed that in order to be Santa, you have to be married. If Santa does not have a wife, the 'desantification' process takes place, which will mean he can no longer be Santa. One Researcher wondered why the Santa who died in the first film wasn't married, and commented,
Hmm, so no North Pole Pride then. Also, where has the miniature railway gone?
As the film continues, Santa falls in love with the principal of his son's school. We're told how it is a good school that gets good grades – yet bizarrely it has a security guard, who appears armed. This attracted comment.
What sort of school is it if it needs a beweaponed security guard! As a Disney Christmas films I expect it to present the world in an unrealistic, happy glow. It might just be me, but I find the idea that the existence of armed security guards in US schools being considered so normal that it is unaffected by Disney's rose-tinted filtered view of earth to be quite worrying...
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause' (2006)
The third film has a plot nicked straight out of It's a Wonderful Life, Santa wishes he'd never been Santa and sees a parallel world in which Jack Frost becomes Santa, though somehow Jack doesn't need a wife. The elves pretend to be Canadian by making a fuss about eating chips with vinegar and there's still no miniature railway. Oh, and the film is fairly terrible, but in a feel-good, cheesy Christmassy way.
My children found it confusing that Jack Frost was a baddy in 'The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause' though the hero of 'Rise of the Guardians'.
Santa Who? (2000)
Starring Leslie Neilson as Santa, who hits his head and has amnesia, the plot comes across as a TV Movie version of Miracle on 34th Street. Highly enjoyable despite being as cheesy as only a Christmas TV Movie can be.
This comedy is a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol with a fantastic cast and a strong sense of humour throughout. The plot is about a miserly television executive who is putting on a production of A Christmas Carol on the night before Christmas while he too is visited by three spirits and the ghost of his old boss, and it works perfectly. There are plenty of laughs and the mark of a good Christmas film is that it brings a tear to the eye at the end, as one Researcher agreed.
Though I've seen this film lots of times over the years, every year and every time – at the climax, Niagara Falls.
Are These Christmas Films?
If you were to include any movie in which there is occurrence of Christmas, then the field is wide open. Suggestions included Bridget Jones' Diary (2001), Carol (2015), The Railway Children (1970), Toy Story (1995)… While one said I don't think I'd call those festive in the spirit of the original question! another said, Well, they would be festive enough if they were among your favourite movies.
If a significant portion is set at Christmas, then surely a film can count as a borderline Christmas film? It was felt that a great film that's marginally about Christmas might be worthier than a terrible film that's exclusively about Christmas. A favourite festive film can be a favourite despite being considered terrible, though not every terrible film is someone's favourite.
There's a Christmas scene in Meet Me in St Louis (1944), but I don't know if this counts, as the movie shows all four seasons.
Meet Me in St Louis is not the only film to be set over many seasons, with the film that gave the world its best-selling song, 'White Christmas'10, doing something similar.
Holiday Inn (1942)
'Holiday Inn' was a particular favourite of my late mother's. We stared at it with 21st-century eyes, agog, suddenly realising that in the words of the postmodern deconstructionists, there was 'a lot to unpack here'. Starting with the blackface number. I only wanted to [see] Fred Astaire's astounding firecracker dance...
Trading Places (1983)
I suppose it's not really a Christmas movie, but in 'Trading Places' there's a great section in which Dan Aykroyd as a store Santa gets gradually more under the influence and worse for wear as he hijacks a party and a side of salmon.
Another Researcher agreed, saying
'Trading Places' is an honorary Christmas film, complete with Jamie Lee Curtis playing the Ho Ho Ho.
One Researcher simply listed the following:
'Rocky' (1976), 'The Big Chill' (1983), 'Scent of a Woman' (1992), 'Grumpy Old Men' (1993), 'You've got Mail' (1998), 'Funny People' (2009). Let me say that some of these movies also have Christmas scenes. Unless you want to think of 'festive' as an adjective that applies to Thanksgiving as well as Christmas...
This brings us finally away from Christmas to
Sadly the only notable Hanukkah film I know of is Adam Sandler's.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles seems to be the most notable Thanksgiving film, with two people discussing it,
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the only Thanksgiving film I can even think of at the moment.
I, and some rather besotted friends, got kicked out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles in college after rather raucously enjoying it but specifically after an empty whiskey bottle rolled under the seats to the front of the cinema. We missed the very end which was fine as we knew it was just getting to the maudlin, saccharine denouement.
It isn't the only recommended Thanksgiving film, with others including Hannah and her Sisters (1986) and Avalon (1990). The Miracle on 34th Street, original and remake, both begin with a Christmas parade on Thanksgiving.