Seven years ago, I outraged a sizable portion of humanity by declaring Die Hard the greatest Christmas movie of all time. My 2011 article was among the earliest to point out this indisputable fact, and it quickly earned loud condemnations from people who resent reality. Nowadays, there’s a wrongheaded backlash against the notion Die Hard is even a Christmas movie at all, despite the obvious fact it revolves around holiday themes, pays homage to a wide array of classic and iconic Christmas characters and stories, and so on. But that’s not why I’m here today — today, I’m here to offer you a whole new reason to either love my Christmas lists or double down on your burning hatred of my ranking of Christmas movies, because today I offer you my list of the greatest Christmas films of the 21st Century so far. So grab your glass of eggnog and read on!
As usual, I’ll quickly lay out the rules for my list choices. These are all feature films that received theatrical release, and they all include Christmas themes and/or settings that make them . It’s obviously not enough for a film to simply release during the Christmas season, if it lacks any association with the actual holiday. Some folks will probably object to one or two entries on this list, but I stand by the selections and those who don’t like it can find plenty of other lists online that cater entirely to expected choices with no surprises or outside-the-box selections.
Christmas is an important season for the box office, providing billions of dollars in revenue. Typically, some of the year’s biggest blockbusters are released during the holiday season. The past five years saw some of the all-time highest grossing movies in history arriving for Christmas — Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug combined for $6.37 billion in worldwide box office receipts. This year sees the release of blockbuster contenders Aquaman, Bumblebee, and Mary Poppins Returns, each of which has strong odds of hitting in the $700-900 million range, and potentially topping $1 billion.
But notice, none of those are actually Christmas films in the sense that would earn them a spot on my list. My list in fact includes few entries that could be classified as “blockbusters.” That doesn’t make them any less deserving of a spot on your holiday viewing list, however, and they definitely earned their places on my list of the top 10 best Christmas films of the 2000s. So read on as I count them down!
10. The Polar Express (2004) — An example of the “uncanny valley” problem, this touching and charming beloved Christmas story is still lots of fun for the whole family and is filled with plenty of amazing visuals and endearing lead performances. It earned $310.6 million at the box office, boosted by the popularity of the book on which it’s based.
9. A Christmas Carol (2009) — An underappreciated animated gem with a wildly entertaining lead performance from Jim Carrey, it’s a familiar classic story given eye-popping visual revival. Despite some mixed reviews, it still garnered $325 million worldwide and is an imaginative interpretation of an oft-adapted Christmas tale.
8. The Grinch (2018) — The original cartoon classic is mandatory holiday viewing, but this animated remake expands the story nicely and will entertain fans of the original while creating new fans among younger viewers. A recent release, it’s nabbed $216 million to date and looks to top $400-500+ million by the end of its run, with several major foreign markets ahead.
7. Krampus (2015) — The first of two horror entries on the list that offers an alternative portrayal of Christmas and Santa Claus, this bizarre horror-comedy offering is a delightful tonal change of pace for your holiday viewing. With a great cast and mix of fun scares and laugh-out-loud jokes, it took $61.5 million at the box office and earned an instant cult following.
6. Arthur Christmas (2011) — Grossing $147 million on a Thanksgiving release, this is a fabulous animated offering that deserves a much larger audience than it found upon release. Its beautiful visuals, excellent humorous storytelling, and nonstop charm make it one of the very best Christmas holiday offerings ever made.
5. Joyeux Noël (2005) — A remarkable true story representing the truest sense of peace on Earth and good will to men, despite taking place in the middle of one of the worst wars in human history. Rightly loved by most critics, it earned $17 million in global receipts and wasn’t as successful as it deserved to be, but hopefully you’ll discover it this Christmas.
4. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) — At once a grounding Dickens’ literary genius by portraying regular people who inspire his classic “A Christmas Carol” yet also a whimsical fantasy letting his characters develop a life of their own off his pages, it reinvents an iconic story with its unique, fantastical, and redemptive themes.
3. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) — This $4 million grossing horror-holiday release is the sort of gem many folks haven’t seen, but everyone tends to love when they finally discover it. Visually remarkable and offering a modern take on an old Finnish mythical figure associated with Christmas and Santa Claus, this is among the finest alternative holiday viewings.
2. Iron Man 3 (2013) — Still one of the best entries in Marvel’s shared cinematic world, it’s an oft-forgotten super-sequel that delivered laugh-out-loud entertainment, thrilling action sequences, and blockbuster box office to the tune of $1.2 million. It’s still among the five-highest grossing Marvel Studios releases, and sports a hidden reimagining of A Christmas Carol’s narrative.
1. Elf (2003) — Hilariously quotable and filled with tremendous heart, this remains one of the all-time best holiday movies ever made. It grossed $220 million and enjoyed mostly rave reviews, especially for Will Ferrell’s brilliant all-in performance and the wonderful supporting cast including Bob Newhart, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, and Zooey Deschanel.
And there you have it, dear readers, a list of the ten best Christmas movies of the 21st Century. I hope you check out any of them you haven’t seen yet, especially the more off-the-wall films like Rare Exports. I’ll have plenty more coverage of Christmas movies in the coming weeks, including new releases like Mary Poppins Returns, so be sure to check back!