The holidays are finally here (thank goodness), and there’s no better way to celebrate than brewing a cup of hot chocolate and unwinding with some of your favorite Christmas movies. HBO Max makes this surprisingly easy, as its roster of holiday movies encapsulates most of the iconic films of the past few decades — along with a new HBO Max exclusive that’s brimming with nostalgia.
If you’re looking for a festive way to get through these snowy nights leading up to December 25, here are the best holiday movies on HBO Max. Whether you’re in the mood for a family-friendly flick or something a little off-beat, the popular streaming platform has you covered.
For fans of: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, “Elf Culture”
Elf (2003) follows the story of Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human who was raised by elves in Santa’s Workshop. However, after growing up and literally towering over his toy-making peers, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) has no choice but to reveal to Buddy that his true family is in New York City.
The rest of the iconic movie sees Buddy getting into an assortment of Christmas related hijinks as he tries to reconnect with his biological father (James Caan). Along the way he’ll find himself in the middle of an epic snowball fight, disrespect a department store Santa, and befriend an employee at a local holiday shop. Ferrell’s performance is nothing short of fantastic — and watching Elf on a snowy winter night is the perfect way to spread some Christmas cheer.
For fans of: Stranger Things, quirky comedies, retro video games
The movie 8-Bit Christmas (2021) tells the story of Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) who has come home to celebrate the holidays with family. Doyle ends up recounting a Christmas Day story from 1988 – a day he vividly remembers, since he so desperately wanted to be gifted a Nintendo Entertainment System.
The story then jumps back in time to 1988, giving you a closer look at the life of young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) as he attempts to do everything possible to get an NES. It’s a charming (and, if you’re old enough, nostalgic) look back into the 80s, and 8-Bit Christmas makes a fun addition to the HBO Max holiday catalog.
The Polar Express
For fans of: Animated movies, fantastical adventures, Tom Hanks
As far as Christmas movies are concerned, you’d be hard-pressed to find one filled with more adventure than The Polar Express. The 2004 film is set on Christmas Eve, as a young boy discovers a magical train outside his home that’s headed straight for the North Pole.
Over the film’s 100-minute runtime, you’ll be treated to impeccable voice acting from Tom Hanks, who drives home a tale of friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas. And if you have any young children running around your home, be prepared to have a sleigh bell ready for them on Christmas morning.
A Christmas Story
For fans of: Classic films, Red Ryder BB guns, leg lamps
There’s always one special gift every kid wants for Christmas. And for Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), that gift is an official Red Ryder carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle! Of course, his family isn’t quite as receptive — a nine-year-old with a BB gun can only lead to one thing – but Ralphie can’t stop imagining what it’d be like to run around stopping bad guys with his new toy.
A Christmas Story (1983) has long been a classic in the world of holiday movies, and for good reason. Top-notch writing, stellar performances, and plenty of hilarious scenes add up to one of the best films you can watch around the holidays.
But if any youngsters in your family want a BB gun for Christmas, let this be a cautionary tale to first start with Nerf.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
For fans of: Quirky comedies, living in an RV, failed family get-togethers
Let’s be honest – family gatherings never go as planned around the holidays. And if you’re Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), every day of the season just seems to get more difficult. Whether it’s a cousin pulling up in an RV and dumping toxic waste into your sewers or spectacular Christmas lights that refuse to work properly, there’s no shortage of mishaps in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989).
Chevy Chase is the star of the film, and he’s largely the reason for Christmas Vacation‘s continued popularity more than 30 years after its original release. He’s joined by excellent performances from Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki, and Randy Quaid.
For fans of: Vince Vaughn, off-beat Christmas movies, comedies
Fred Claus couldn’t be further from your standard Christmas film. At the center of the action is the eponymous Fred Claus (Vince Vaughn), Santa’s older brother who can’t stand the holiday season. However, things aren’t going well up in the North Pole, and Fred will need to abandon his current plans (or scams) to help Christmas go off without a hitch.
The movie pulled in mixed reviews when it released in 2007, but has since managed to find a cult following. If you’re looking for a change of pace this December, let Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, and Elizabeth Banks join your holiday plans.
Sesame Street: Elmo Saves Christmas
For fans of: Sesame Street, family-friendly films
After Elmo saves Santa from getting stuck in a chimney, he’s granted three wishes – one of which is for everyday to be Christmas. What at first seems like a dream come true quickly turns into a disaster, and Elmo learns that maybe it’s best to save the special holiday for one magical day per year.
Elmo Saves Christmas (1996) is just as touching and educational as all other Sesame Street productions. It’s rather short runtime of one-hour makes it easy for young children to sit through, and it’s the perfect way to get the whole family into the holiday spirit.
For fans of: Quirky holiday movies, comedy-horror genre
Gremlins (1984) is without a doubt a Christmas movie, although it doesn’t focus much on Santa, elves, or the spirit of the season. Instead, it tells the tale of an innocent pet that’s hiding a sinister secret. Everything should be fine if their owner just followed three simple rules, but when those are broken, the town of Kingston Falls is overrun by tiny green Gremlins.
Well-received by critics when it was first released, Gremlins has stood the test of time thanks to stellar performances from Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Corey Feldman, and Hoyt Axton – and the adorably terrifying Gremlins have become an iconic Christmas gift.