How to Watch Classic Holiday Movies This Winter (2022)


It’s that time of year again. Put away your inflatable witches and get out your turkey basters and Christmas trees: now that Halloween is over, it’s time to begin preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas. One time-tested way to get in the holiday spirit is to wrap yourself in multiple blankets, sit down in front of the TV, and watch a classic holiday movie.

Over the years, Hollywood has made hundreds of holiday-themed movies, but some stand out as classics of the genre. Because the holiday theme is so loose, however, there are many kinds of movies that embrace it, from heart-warming romance movies to action comedies to song-and-dance musicals and everything in between. Here are some of the most beloved Thanksgiving and Christmas movies and where you can watch them this winter.


Classic Thanksgiving Movies

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Paramount Pictures

Thanksgiving tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to holiday movies, with Christmas stealing all the glory. However, there are still a couple of classics you can watch to get in the spirit of Thanksgiving this month. The first is the John Hughes-directed comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987). After a blizzard diverts his flight, stressed-out businessman Neal (Steve Martin) struggles to get home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family. He finds himself traveling with the infuriating Del (John Candy) in a series of hilarious failures. The movie is available to stream on Paramount+, The Roku Channel, and Tubi.

Another highly respected film is Scent of a Woman (1992), in which prep school student Charlie (Chris O’Donnell) takes a temporary job over Thanksgiving weekend to watch over a foul-tempered, retired veteran named Frank (Al Pacino, who won the Oscar for Best Actor for this role). The movie is available to rent on most VOD platforms. If you’re in the mood for something a bit darker, the 1987 Thanksgiving slasher Blood Rage is streaming on Tubi.

Classic Old Christmas Movies

It's a Wonderful Life
RKO Radio Pictures

Sometimes the older Christmas classics get overlooked in favor of more recent movies. However, the fact that they’ve remained fairly popular for so many decades is a testament to how great they are. Perhaps this winter, we should all take the time to revisit one of these classic holiday movies. The most famous of these is It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), often regarded as the greatest Christmas movie ever made and, in fact, one of the greatest movies of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, one of the most influential directors of classical Hollywood, the film centers around the depressed George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) and the angel sent to convince George not to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. It is available to watch on Prime Video and Hoopla.

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In Miracle on 34th Street (1947), event director Doris (Maureen O’Hara) hires a man to act as a department store Santa over the holidays, but she soon starts to think he might be the real Kris Kringle. The film won three Academy Awards when it was released and is available to rent on most VOD platforms.

The musical White Christmas (1954) is about a group of singers and dancers (led by Bing Crosby) who returns home from World War II and begins to fall in love with a female performance group (led by Rosemary Clooney, George Clooney’s real-life aunt). Directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood) and named after Crosby’s classic holiday song, “White Christmas,” the movie is available to stream on Netflix.

Modern Christmas Classics

Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold in a santa hat in Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros.

The last few decades have really been a golden age for Christmas movies, with dozens that are good enough to be on this list. Here are some of the most popular Christmas movies of recent decades.

One of the most beloved Christmas movies today is A Christmas Story (1983), made up of comedic vignettes about the ridiculous hijinks of the Parker family around Christmastime. It is available to stream on HBO Max. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) sees Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) learn the true meaning of Christmas from the beloved cast of The Muppets, including Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Rizzo the Rat and The Great Gonzo as comedic narrators, and more. It is available to stream on Disney+.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) stars Chevy Chase as a father who desperately wants to put on the perfect Christmas celebration for his family, but things never go his way. It is available to rent on most VOD platforms. Another highly popular movie that takes place during Christmas is Home Alone (1990). In this comedy, a family goes away on Christmas vacation but forgets to bring their eight-year-old son Kevin (Macaulay Culkin). When two burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) try to break into his house, Kevin must use a series of ingenious booby traps to foil the burglars until his parents can get home. The movie and its sequels are available to stream on Disney+.

In addition to these holiday staples, several other Christmas movies remain relatively popular. In terms of Christmas comedies, Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause (1994) is available to stream on Disney+, Will Ferrell’s Elf (2003) is on HBO Max, and both Bill Murray’s Scrooged (1988) and Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa (2003) are available to rent on VOD. The romantic comedy Love Actually (2003) is on Fubo, DirecTV, and Showtime.

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The Christmas horror movie Krampus (2015) is available on Peacock. The Christmas Chronicles (2018), in which Santa (Kurt Russell) takes young Kate and Teddy Pierce on a magical adventure, is available on Netflix. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heart-warming family comedy Jingle All the Way (1996) is on DirecTV and Starz. And finally, Tim Allen’s and Jamie Lee Curtis’ comedy Christmas with the Kranks (2004) is available on Hoopla.

Animated Christmas Classics

A scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas
Lee Mendelson Film Productions

The Christmas movie genre is also unique in how many of its classics are animated. An annual tradition for many, A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) is available to stream on Apple TV+. In The Polar Express (2004), a young boy finds himself on a magical train ride to the North Pole; viewers can watch the movie on HBO Max. Jim Carrey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) can be found on HBO Max and DirecTV.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), which sees Halloweentown learn the magic of Christmas, is available on Disney+. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), which shows a young Rudolph’s journey to becoming Santa’s lead reindeer, can be watched on YouTube, as can Frosty the Snowman (1969).

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