What is the best Christmas movie ever made? I think that there are two things that a movie must do in order to earn that title, and both of those things are in the phrase itself: Be a good movie about Christmas, and be a good movie.
A litmus test for whether or not someone is cool is asking them if they think Die Hard is a Christmas movie (it is), and I think that subgenre is a good place to start. Gremlins, Batman Returns, and yes, Die Hard, are great movies that also just happen to be Christmas movies. I would say that the most iconic Christmas movie ever, It’s a Wonderful Life, is a part of this category. Many say It’s a Wonderful Life is the best Christmas movie of all time, and I’m honestly not inclined to disagree. It is a phenomenal, timeless, wonderful movie that holds up very well nearly 80 years later, but when you watch the movie, you’ll notice that it being Christmas is incidental to the plot, only playing a direct role in the final moments of the film. While the emotions it brings out of viewers embodies that Christmas feeling, I think It’s a Wonderful Life almost transcends being a Christmas movie, so let’s talk about movies that are a bit more Christmas-centric.
Everyone loves movies like Elf, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story and Home Alone, so I’m probably going to have to tread lightly when I talk about them, as well as add a disclaimer that yes, I like them a lot too. While many Christmas comedies have iconic moments that have become synonymous with the season, I would argue that most movies like this function solely as Christmas movies, and not just as movies. Since that is mostly the intention of the movies, the subjective quality of the movies will strongly hinge on whether or not you personally find them funny. A contender for my favorite Christmas movie is Christmas Vacation, but if someone doesn’t find it funny, I can see it falling completely flat because there is not as much in terms of directing or story there as there is in something like It’s a Wonderful Life, and I think the same can be said for most Christmas comedies. Where I think they make up for that however, is having the Christmas spirit radiate from every frame of the movie, like Clark Griswold’s house that is so bright it can be seen from outer space.
Claymation TV movies such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are staples of the season. For many, simply seeing a still image from one of these movies is enough to bring a wave of warm, nostalgic Christmas feelings. Maybe it’s the fact that every character kind of looks like an ornament, or the classic songs, or the often-quaint animation, but these movies radiate Christmas from every frame, and that leads directly into my pick for best Christmas movie. In my opinion, The Nightmare Before Christmas checks off all the boxes for what it means to be a great Christmas movie, as well as a great movie, making it the best Christmas movie of all time. While it blurs the line between being a Christmas movie and a Halloween movie, the energy and sense of wonderment that it radiates firmly places it in the Christmas movie category for me.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of those movies where it’s hard to talk about without just saying absolutely everything about it is perfect, but I’ll try my best. It has everything that classic Christmas movies work with absolutely none of the shortcomings. With a 76-minute runtime, not a single moment is wasted, the story comes in like a train barreling at a hundred miles an hour. In less than 80 minutes, it is able to pack a story and character arc just as fulfilling as George from It’s a Wonderful Life, humor just as funny as Christmas Vacation, and songs that blow Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer out of the water. Every single song in this movie is incredible, coming out swinging with “This is Halloween” and delivering memorable song after memorable song until the movie comes to a triumphant conclusion. The animation is stunning, often feeling like the animators are flexing their stop-motion animation skills, creating an elaborate, imaginative and fully immersive world that feels just as real as live-action. The character designs are just as well thought out and distinct as their character traits.
Jack Skellington is the heart of why I think this movie works so well for Christmas. Despite his spooky exterior, Jack is a delightful, cheerful character who looks at the world with the wonderment and curiosity of a child, learning what Christmas is and learns more about himself as a person as he goes along. Not only does he as character embody what it feels like to experience Christmas for the very first time, falling in love with it and obsessing over it. That is why I think it is the best Christmas movie. Not only is the presentation of the animation a perfect extension of a style that is synonymous with Christmas for me, but Jack’s entire reaction to Christmas symbolizes what I think is so special about Christmas for so many people. The traditions of the holiday have the ability to bring out childlike wonder and excitement in everyone. Even though Jack ultimately learns that he should not be the king of Christmastown, that just enforces Christmas a that special time of year everyone looks forward to, because if it was year-round, it would not be as special.