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 a classic Christmas movie. And while some of the most beloved Christmas films can sometimes lean sad or are made for the grownups — think David Harbour’s Violent Night — the best Christmas movies for kids focus on beloved characters and the spirit of the season.
Turning on a kid-friendly Christmas movie also happens to be 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. Each one includes a little lesson about what Christmas really means, about how you can carry that spirit in your heart all year, 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.
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. The story follows Buddy the Elf 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.
The Santa Clause
Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a dad who doesn’t exactly have his priorities in line, and follows 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 Santa Claus, the person, and the Santa Clause, a contract that requires Calvin to become 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. 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.
Stream The Santa Clause, rated PG, on Disney+.
For a fun look at the story of Santa, try watching this movie 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+.
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+.
The Polar Express
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.
If you’d like a sweet telling of The Nativity, this is a gorgeous 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 theme 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, on Amazon Prime Video.
Who didn’t stand in the mirror as a kid and recreate that iconic scene? 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 it’s 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 putting family above all else — even when they drive you crazy. Home Alone 2 is just as good if your kids can’t get enough of Kevin Mcallister and the Wet Bandits.
Steam Home Alone, rated PG, on Disney+.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
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 parts 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+.
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.
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 puppies? 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 no longer believe 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+.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
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+.
Frosty The Snowman
The 1969 TV movie Frosty the Snowman is a must-watch classic film for this time of year. (For the full movie experience in all its nostalgic glory, be sure to check your local cable listings to watch.) 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.
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Is it even December 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 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.
Buy Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, rated TV-G, digitally for $7.99 on Amazon Prime Video Prime.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol
Another adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, this 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+.
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 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.
Stream How the Grinch Stole Christmas, rated PG, starting at $3.79 on Amazon Prime Video.
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.
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.
The Christmas Chronicles
Kurt Russell as Santa Claus? Hubba hubba ho ho ho. 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.
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 about being yourself and loving who you are.
Stream The Nightmare Before Christmas, rated PG, on Disney+.
Enjoy a season of happy holiday watching, everybody!
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