Christmas

happy family in checkered pajamas: mother father and children watching projector, TV, movies with po...
Shutterstock

The 20 Best Christmas Movies For Kids

Grab a mug of cocoa and cozy up with these kid-friendly faves.

In my household, there is no better way to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year than with a giant mug of hot cocoa, curled up in front of the TV to watch one of our favorite Christmas movies. Some of my favorite Christmas memories are family movie nights, where we watched the best Christmas movies for kids over and over again.

But there’s an added bonus: a kid-friendly Christmas movie is also a great distraction for little ones when you need to sneak away to your bedroom and wrap the mountain of gifts hidden in your closet. And it’s not like there’s any short supply. From 1960s claymation classics to ones you remember from your own childhood to ones released just a few short years ago, this list of the best Christmas movies for kids has something for everyone. And in the middle of each? A little lesson about what Christmas really means, about how determination and hard work can make anything happen, and about how magic really does fix everything.

So while you’re saving up your screen time for a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon, try one of these Christmas movies for kids to get the cheer started. There’s a wide range of streaming services present here, so you’ll surely find something just right for your family.

1

The Grinch

Of course, I will forever be a fan of the OG 2000s classic starring Jim Carrey (and who can forget 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas!), but my kids prefer the 2018 animated version. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as everyone’s favorite anti-Christmas hero (kind of?), the film also has a stellar cast with Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, and Maggie Smith helping to round out the citizens of Whoville. Cindy Lou Who is still a major part of the story, but this time she’s being raised by a single mom with twin brothers, and attempts to trap Santa so she can ask him to help her family out for Christmas. Of course, you know where this goes — The Grinch is pretending to be Santa, and his heart just can’t take sweet little Cindy. Growing three sizes and all that jazz.

Stream The Grinch, rated PG, on Hulu.

2

Elf

The best way to spread Christmas cheer is actually not “singing loud for all to hear” — it’s watching Elf with your kids. This 2003 movie very quickly became a classic, starring Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, and Mary Steenburgen. Talk about an all-star cast. The story follows Buddy the Elf (“What’s your favorite color?”) and his realization that he, a human, is not actually an elf like he was raised to be. He decides to travel to New York City to find his biological father and, as you can imagine with a human man who believes he’s an elf, hilarity ensues. But also? A whole lot of sweet Christmas spirit.

Stream Elf, rated PG, on HBO Max

3

The Santa Clause

I could probably recite every line from this movie if I wanted to. Sequels The Santa Clause 2 and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause are just as delightful as the original, featuring the same lovable characters and plenty of holiday mayhem. Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a dad who doesn’t exactly have his priorities in line, and the Christmas Eve where he and his son Charlie have to step in for the big guy in red after he falls off a roof. Turns out there’s the Santa Clause, the person, and the Santa Clause, a contract that makes Calvin now Santa until he’s no longer able to hold the position. Too many people are angered by Calvin’s sudden change into Santa Clause, and a whole lot of heartbreaking scenes begin, but the underlying message — “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing” — will make you feel better.

Stream The Santa Clause, rated PG, on Disney+

4

Noelle

For a fun look at the story of Santa, try watching this one with your kids that stars Anna Kendrick as Kris Kringle’s daughter Noelle, who has to save Christmas after her brother Nick (played by the hilarious Bill Hader) gets overwhelmed taking over the job of Santa for their dad. It’s cute, fun, and Anna Kendrick is as hilarious as always. (Plus the chemistry with Hader is too good.) It’s such a sweet family choice, and there is a definite air of girl power throughout the whole thing.

Stream Noelle, rated G, on Disney+

5

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas

Though it’s not so much a movie as it is a film-length collection of animated shorts, Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas earns a spot on this list thanks to its charming holiday appeal. Kids who love Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and the whole crew won’t be able to resist these heartwarming stories. Each one stands alone as a sweet story — Donald’s nephews wish Christmas was every day, Goofy tries to prove Santa is real (and the true meaning of Christmas) to a disenchanted Max, and Mickey and Minnie reenact The Gift of the Magi — so if you’re just looking for a short Christmas film before bed, this is definitely one you can pause and restart.

Stream Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas on Disney+

6

The Polar Express

I think every ‘90s kid remembers Polar Express day at school where you got to wear pajamas, drink hot chocolate, and have your teacher read the classic Christmas story The Polar Express. But now you can spread the magic even further by hosting a Polar Express movie night in your own home. This beautifully animated story features the king of all that is good and holy, Tom Hanks, in several roles as children travel to the North Pole via The Polar Express on Christmas Eve. The story of Christmas and its meaning is so lovely in this adaptation, and I can’t get over all the beautiful graphics and scenes. Make a big mug of hot chocolate to watch this one.

Stream The Polar Express, rated G, on HBO Max

7

The Star

If you’d like a sweet telling of The Nativity, this is a gorgeous computer-animated version featuring a really incredible cast. Kelly Clarkson, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Gina Rodriguez, Steven Yeun, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth and Tracy Morgan play the roles — oh, and Mariah Carey wrote the song. A stellar, stellar movie, and is such a lovely way to talk about the birth of Jesus if your family wants to discuss.

Rent The Star, rated PG, for $3.99 on Amazon Prime Video

8

Home Alone

It’s just such a classic. Who didn’t stand in the mirror as a kid and recreate that iconic scene? Home Alone 2 is just as good if your kids can’t get enough of Kevin Mcallister and the Wet Bandits. The ‘90s story of a family accidentally leaving their 8-year-old son home alone in Chicago while they jet off to Paris is a classic now, and its well known for some amazing lines and booby traps as Kevin writes out Operation Ho Ho Ho to catch Marv and Harry as they try to burglarize his home. More Christmas lessons are learned throughout the comedy, too, like family above all else — even when they drive you crazy.

Steam Home Alone, rated PG, on Disney+

9

The Muppet Christmas Carol

I mean, growing up, I definitely thought Charles Dickens was just Gonzo the muppet. This charming Christmas story is a perfect one for families, and is the sweetest way to introduce your kids to Ebenezer Scrooge (played by the incomparable Michael Caine), Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and the rest of the characters in A Christmas Carol. The best part of this adaptation are all of the very subtle jokes that will go right over your kids’ heads, but that you’ll totally clock and have a big laugh about.

Stream The Muppet Christmas Carol, rated G, on Disney+

10

Klaus

Another animated choice, Klaus tells the story of a spoiled son named Jesper who meets Klaus, a man who has a home full of handmade toys to deliver to children. Jesper shares the story of Klaus only giving toys to children who behave to the townspeople, and the entire town is inspired by this, pushing to end a long feud and get the kids back in school. It also features a great cast, including Rashida Jones, Norm Macdonald, Will Sasso, J.K. Simmons, and Joan Cusack, and it’s an english-language Spanish film with strong, lovely roots.

Stream Klaus, rated PG, on Netflix

11

Santa Buddies: The Legend Of Santa Paws

What do you get when you add in a big dose of Christmas spirit, a dollop of magic, and a whole bunch of cute pups? You know where this is going. Part of the Air Bud series famous in the ‘90s, this 2009 film finds Santa Claus and his all-white Great Pyrenees dog Santa Paws a little stressed as they realize people are no longer believing in Santa and the Christmas Icicle is melting because of it. The two must save Christmas and magic, and it’s as adorable as it sounds. Maybe don’t show this one if you’re hoping your kids won’t ask for a dog for Christmas.

Stream Santa Buddies: The Legend Of Santa Paws, rated G, on Disney+

12

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

‘90s kids, this one’s for you. Better suited for older kids, but full of laughs, this ‘90s treasure trove of a movie features Jonathan Taylor Thomas playing a college kid whose father has convinced him to come home for Christmas in order to receive a vintage car for Christmas. Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds, and major adventure ensues (along with, you guessed it, the true meaning of Christmas). Jessica Biel also stars as JTT’s girlfriend, stealing all of our Tiger Beat magazine dreams.

Stream I’ll Be Home For Christmas, rated PG, on Disney+

13

Frosty The Snowman

The 1969 TV movie Frosty the Snowman is one of those classic films that the holiday season just wouldn’t be the same without watching it at least once. (For the full movie experience in all its nostalgic glory, be sure to check your local cable listings to watch.) I can fully admit that even as a little kid, I was totally thrown off by the “happy birthday!” line at the end of the song, but the movie feels so quintessentially Christmas now that it has to be on your list to watch, at least once.

Stream Frosty the Snowman, rated TV-G, on YouTube

14

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer

I mean, is it even the Christmas season if you haven’t watched this classic TV movie? This just-under-an-hour film is one of the sweet claymation stories the world has come to know and love at Christmas time. Released in 1964 and narrated by Burl Ives, it tells the story of darling Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and how he is pushed away by his own father and friends because he’s “different.” When he finds himself at the Land of Misfit Toys, he meets up with an elf named Hermey who is also ostracized because he doesn’t want to build toys — he wants to be a dentist. A fun cast of characters joins the two on their adventures and, as always, the end has a lesson on loving people no matter what, and how even those we think are too “different” for the world can make a big difference.

Rent Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, rated TV-G, for $1.99 on Amazon Prime Video

15

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, this computer animated one is super popular and super realistic. Starring Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Robin Wright Penn, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins, and Cary Elwes, it’s a bit darker and more dramatic than traditional child-like retellings of A Christmas Carol, but it’s so good. Robert Zemeckis brought this one to life after directing The Polar Express, so if you love that Christmas movie, this is a definite must-see for your holiday family movie night.

Stream Disney’s A Christmas Carol, rated PG, on Disney+

16

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Released in 2000 and starring Jim Carrey, this adaptation of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is pretty amazing. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and, again, very subtle jokes that your kids won’t get, but you totally will. (“I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored, and sell it to make glue!”) It’s a pretty classic retelling of the story, but with some fun added bits (the chair of cheer never fails to make me laugh) and adult humor. This is a great one for family movie night. Make some fudge while you’re at it, just like the citizens of Whoville.

Rent How the Grinch Stole Christmas, rated PG, for $3.99 on YouTube

17

A Christmas Story

The holiday classic airs each year for a full 24 hours on Christmas Day, but if your kids can’t wait that long, you can stream the movie all December long on HBO Max. From the ‘80s, this one is an adaptation of a book, and tells the story of little Ralphie and his deep desire for an “official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.” Everyone is against it, including the mall Santa, but Ralphie persists with his wishes and along the way, has lots of Christmas boyhood adventures, like watching his friend get his tongue stuck to a frozen pole and defeating the school bully. The end never fails to make me cry.

Stream A Christmas Story, rated PG, on HBO Max.

18

Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer

If you love a movie with star power, this Christmas tale has Martin Short, Samantha Bee, and John Cleese telling the story of a miniature horse who has just three days to audition for Santa Claus and join his reindeer fleet after Blitzen’s retirement. It’s not exactly known as a powerhouse of ratings, but for little kids who love reindeer and a story of determination, it’s a very cute Christmas movie to share as a family.

Stream Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer, rated PG, on Netflix

19

The Christmas Chronicles

Look, I’m not saying to watch this one with your kids because you should see Kurt Russell as Santa Clause (hubba hubba ho ho ho), but I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it for that reason either. The movie is very lovely and endearing, and focuses on a family trying to get through the holidays after losing their dad. Mom is overworked, overtired, and grieving, while the kids are stumbling along themselves. When they try to catch Santa coming in on Christmas, an adventure begins, and Kurt Russell is there to take them along for the ride. Please watch until the end for a special Goldie Hawn appearance.

Stream The Christmas Chronicles, rated PG, on Netflix

20

The Nightmare Before Christmas

There’s a lot of debate over whether The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie, but Jack Skellington winds up in a place called Christmas Town and the actual word “Christmas” is in the title, so it totally counts. Maybe you’ve been watching it since October 1 or maybe you haven’t turned it on yet, but Tim Burton’s classic movie has all the creepy, weird, fun Christmas vibes you could want. As Jack tries to turn himself from The Pumpkin King into “Sandy Claws,” things go terribly, terribly wrong, and he has to learn a valuable lesson in being yourself and who you are.

Stream The Nightmare Before Christmas, rated PG, on Disney+