We all have our holiday staples, the movies we turn to time and time again. But before you break out Elf for the 42nd time, spend another week trying to convince people Die Hard is a holiday movie, or press your luck with NBC’s version of The Grinch musical (although I wouldn’t), maybe give some of these special holiday flicks a try instead.
Netflix’s Jingle Jangle may be the newest addition to this list, but it’s the one I’m going to fight for the hardest. Written and directed by playwright David E. Talbert, Jingle Jangle is a musical fantasy about a toymaker (Forest Whitaker) who loses his gift after being betrayed by someone very close to him. It isn’t until his estranged granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills), an inventor in her own right, comes to stay with him for the holidays that he starts to realize the good he was doing and why the science (and magic) needs to return. It’s a beautiful, heartwarming adventure with gorgeous songs and a wonderful message about family, like a modern Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
No, this isn’t that HBO Max reality dating show. 12 Dates of Christmas is an ABC Family original holiday movie from 2011 that was basically a seasonal version of Groundhog Day. Unable to get over her ex-boyfriend and having seen her life take a sharp downhill spiral, Kate (Amy Smart) finds herself living Christmas Eve over and over, which gives her several opportunities to get to know her holiday blind date Miles (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). It’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it’s silly holiday fun that stars two genuinely charismatic people. 12 Dates of Christmas is available to watch on Disney+.
Black Christmas isn’t just a terrifying holiday movie, it’s the terrifying holiday movie. It’s the story of a sorority house terrorized by a serial killer picking them off one-by-one. It might sound clichéd nowadays, but back then this type of horrific tale was not the norm. Even though it received a kinda chilly reception when it first came out, it’s now considered one of the most-influential slasher films in modern history, inspiring Halloween, When a Stranger Calls, and countless other flicks. There was also a modern reimagining that came out last year, which turned the tables and made it more of a revenge thriller.
Klaus was Netflix’s first foray into animated films—which makes it kind of surprising that they went with a holiday feature about the origin of Santa Claus, especially one that embraced classic 2D animation. Written and directed by Sergio Pablos, it tells the story of a woodcutter named Klaus (J. K. Simmons) who tasks a postmaster (Jason Schwartzman) with secretly delivering his handmade toys to the children of Smeerensburg. It’s not the best Santa origin story out there, but what makes this one stand out is the animation, which is absolutely gorgeous and even garnered the film an Academy Award nomination. If you’re looking for a sweet family flick that’s also a feast for the eyes, this is a solid choice.
If you’ve been looking for a gateway into the Netflix Holiday Movie Universe, look no further than the fantastical (and fantastically bizarre) The Knight Before Christmas. It stars Vanessa Hudgens as a schoolteacher (and possible clone) who falls in love with a 14th-century knight who time traveled to the future to find “the meaning of Christmas,” which in this case means a girlfriend. This movie is incredibly stupid and I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but there’s something deliciously decadent about this interconnected world of Hallmark copycats. It’s like eating one of the candy canes off the tree—it’s not going to be good, but at least it’s going to be sweet.
Arthur Christmas might seem like another run-of-the-mill 3D-animated holiday film trying to give the tradition a “modern edge,” but it’s actually a touching story about family relationships, the pressures we put on ourselves to meet others’ expectations, and what happens when we realize our elders are fallible. The film centers around Santa’s high-tech enterprise, one that still failed to deliver one little girl’s present. Santa’s younger son Arthur (James McAvoy) is determined to make sure she gets her gift—putting him at odds with his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie), a strong but cynical leader who’s determined to take the mantle at any cost.
This is not a genre movie but we’re allowing it here because everyone needs to see this film. It’s the story of a young woman (played by Tia Mowry) who dreams of joining her town’s famous acapella group that her mother founded before she passed away. After getting rejected by the group’s new leader, she forms her own with some of her coworkers and convinces the local mall to host a holiday talent show. It’s got (mostly) great performances, a cast with great chemistry, and a surprisingly sharp script. It’s available to watch on Disney+.
I know this is not technically a movie, but in so many ways it feels like one—not just because of the length, running around 75 minutes. “White Christmas” is a perfect encapsulation of everything that made the early episodes of Black Mirror so powerful (there have been some standout episodes on Netflix, of course, but the original Channel 4 run is something special). It starts as a quiet reflection between two men in a cabin—played by Rafe Spall and Jon Hamm, the first American to be cast on the show—then turns into a treatise on artificial consciousness, cyberstalking, and how we as humans decide what punishment should fit a crime. It’s dark and dreary, yes, but it also makes you think.
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