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The best holiday movies on Amazon Prime Video – The A.V. Club

Happy holidays from The A.V. Club to you! If you’re anything like us, the winter season is for curling up in front of your screen—and watching the best films for the occasion. Starting with Amazon Prime Video, we’re rounding up the best holiday movies to watch on each streaming platform. Minimize the searching and scrolling […]

Happy holidays from The A.V. Club to you! If you’re anything like us, the winter season is for curling up in front of your screen—and watching the best films for the occasion. Starting with Amazon Prime Video, we’re rounding up the best holiday movies to watch on each streaming platform. Minimize the searching and scrolling and read on for our recommendations for the best cinema for Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, which in this case includes classics like Miracle On 34th Street and It’s A Wonderful Life, plus off-the-wall-options like A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas, and even a horror movie. Continue to watch this space for more handy streaming guides throughout the season.
This list was updated on November 19, 2022.

2 / 13
Set during the Great Depression, [An American Christmas Carol] makes good on its title’s promise of offering an American spin on the Charles Dickens classic (despite being shot in Toronto and filled with Canadian actors). Under some impressive (for ’70s television) aging makeup—Rick Baker served as a consultant—[Henry] Winkler plays Benedict Slade, a miserly New Englander with little use for charity and an abiding fondness for sticking it to the poor. He has his reasons, though: For Slade, it’s simply a matter of principle. In business, a deal’s a deal, and if making good on that deal means riding around repossessing his debtors’ possessions on Christmas Eve, so be it. [Keith Phipps]

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3 / 13
For some reason, Arthur Christmas flies its Santa sled under the radar, even though it’s a charming holiday film. It’s produced by Aardman, the same geniuses who brought us the Wallace & Gromit canon, so it has that same dry sense of humor enjoyable for any age. Coming from a world similar to the Prep & Landing specials, in Arthur Christmas, the delivery of gifts is also a high-tech operation. Three generations of Clauses are behind it: a retired, doddering old Santa; the current beloved figurehead; Steve, the heir who runs the operation behind the scenes; and his brother Arthur, who reads the Christmas letters. Arthur seems like the most ineffectual one of the bunch until a single present fails to get delivered, and he and his grandpa have to go old school to make sure no child gets forgotten at Christmas. Their caper is thrilling and delightful, helped along by a furiously gift-wrapping elf and some eye-rolling reindeer. And the message that sometimes traditional is better than technological is a great one for your screen-addicted offspring. Whether you’ve heard of it or not, Arthur Christmas would make for a welcome addition to your family holiday canon. [Gwen Ihnat]
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4 / 13
When Bishop Henry Broughman (David Niven) puts up a prayer for help with building a new cathedral, he receives an answer in the ever-charming guise of Cary Grant as the angelic Dudley. Dudley hasn’t come to Earth to pitch in on construction, though: He’s there to help patch up the cracks forming between Henry and his family—an unstated mission that grows complicated when the heavenly visitor starts falling for the titular bishop’s wife, Julia (Loretta Young). [Erik Adams]
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5 / 13
Holiday movies typically focus on the fundamentals: the importance of home; the safety and comfort of family and friends; and the assumption that, the occasional Grinching aside, peace and goodwill will triumph in the end. Black Christmas sets to work dismantling these assumptions with ruthless efficiency. The movie opens near the end of a sorority Christmas party. As the various partygoers mingle in the warm yellow light indoors, the camera switches to the point of view of a stranger approaching the house, spying on the party from the bushes, and then using a convenient trellis to climb up to an attic window and slip inside. [Zack Handlen]
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6 / 13
At this point, seemingly everybody who’s written about Wonderful Life in the period after its resurgence in the ’70s (when it fell into the public domain and started popping up every Christmas on dozens of channels) has noted that the film is far darker than its reputation. Where most other classic Christmas films are steeped in warmth and nostalgia—see also: A Christmas StoryWonderful Life is steeped in melancholy for a world that was and an uncertainty about what life had become. It’s the reverse of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, wherein a good-hearted, middle-class man is warped and frustrated by his inability to live any of his dreams. The movie’s closest thing to a Scrooge figure—Potter—wins out time and again, cackling gleefully about his dominance of the town’s economic affairs, and every victory George wins is simply a victory to keep existing. He, too, has a Christmas epiphany, but it’s not one that convinces him the best thing in life is to live unselfishly. He’s already seen where that got him. No, he realizes the best thing in life is simply to live. [Emily VanDerWerff]
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7 / 13
Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass’ big animated effort for the 1979 Christmas season is a TV special that a ruthless capitalist/avowed objectivist like Bert Cooper would have to love. Never pledging allegiance to a single holiday, the wintry fable of Jack Frost maximizes its programming potential. It could be a Christmas special, or it could commemorate the winter solstice. And with Buddy Hackett narrating in the form of Pardon-Me-Pete, “the world’s most revered groundhog,” it could also count as Rankin/Bass’ salute to that least-revered of February celebrations: Groundhog Day… [Erik Adams]
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8 / 13
Yes, Miracle On 34th Street is pure Hollywood hokum, a blatant piece of sub-Capra populism designed to advance the controversial proposition that Santa is real and children should be allowed to let their imaginations run free. (How did Fox keep the protestors at bay?) But the film is pretty savvy too, getting a jump on mounting anxieties about the post-war cult of consumerism, soon to be savaged by beatniks, cartoonists, and underground stand-up comics. The story of a real “Kris Kringle” (played by the inimitable Edmund Gwenn) earning the trust of upper management at Macy’s and teaching young Natalie Wood and her progressive mother Maureen O’Hara to believe in Christmas again is really an object lesson in how to put one over on the buying public. What does the Macy’s customer say when Santa sends her to another store to buy her son a fire truck? She congratulates Macy’s on “this wonderful new stunt you’re pullin’.” [Noel Murray]
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9 / 13
What could be better than a reunion of Julie Andrews and James Garner? The Americanization Of Emily and Victor/Victoria co-stars reunite in the 1999 made-for-TV film One Special Night, a humble holiday classic guaranteed to warm the heart. Playing two perfect strangers forced to hole up together amid a raging snowstorm, this is the kind of film you watch snuggled up with a steaming cup of cocoa, and preferably a loved one. There’s a reason Andrews has built a career out of filling audiences with merriment and delight. “I only believe what I see,” she says in the film—we’ll see about that, Dame Andrews! Christmas is the time for believing, after all. [Jack Smart]
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10 / 13
In Planes, Trains & Automobiles, John Hughes pulls off one of the most ambitious gambits of this sort I can recall—a scene so indelible that it threatens to permanently yank the movie off its axis. His previous film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, had squandered a big chunk of its third act on Cameron’s daddy issues (“Who do you love? You love a car!”), and perhaps Hughes recognized that the intensity feels grafted on, just a way station en route to Ferris’ frantic race back home. Planes, Trains & Automobiles is even more broadly yuk-heavy, with Steve Martin using John Candy’s underwear as a washcloth and both of them screaming in unison as they realize they’re driving on the wrong side of the highway, but Hughes nonetheless wants us to see these two bickering travelers as human beings, not merely as punchline factories. When the two are forced to share a hotel room after their flight is cancelled, they do the expected odd-couple routine for a while, with Candy scoring laughs via endless exaggerated throat-clearing. Then shit suddenly gets kinda real. [Mike D’Angelo]
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11 / 13
This plot will likely sound familiar: Two coworkers who openly hate each other carry on an anonymous love affair through the mail, and neither of them know the other’s pen-name identity. Set in a small store in Budapest where curiously only one of the employees has any sort of a native accent, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around The Corner peaks during the holiday shopping season. Real-life friends Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan play Alfred and Klara, the star-crossed lovers unaware that their loathed co-worker is the person who’s been writing them those lofty letters. The charm and chemistry of the young leads—headstrong Sullavan and lovestruck Stewart—transcends this picture as they battle and flirt, often simultaneously. Just check out the scene when Alfred has figured out that Klara is the writer he loves, and courts her in the shop on Christmas Eve, lit only by holiday lights. You may love this store and its employees so much that you’ll be tempted to check out the 1949 Judy Garland/Van Johnson remake In The Good Old Summertime, which is fine. But by all means, avoid the hackneyed 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan version, You’ve Got Mail. It’s Christmas, for God’s sake. [Gwen Ihnat]
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12 / 13
Right from the jump, the [Harold And Kumar] franchise’s third installment makes a quantum leap in both visual and comedic inventiveness. For one thing, it makes relentless fun of 3-D, a running gag that arguably works even better if you’re watching the movie at home in 2-D. For another, director Todd Strauss-Schulson demonstrates more formal panache in any random 30 seconds than the previous films do in their entirety, from a musical Claymation interlude to lightning-quick flashbacks that demonstrate how gross-out humor should be done. (Get ready to duck Danny Trejo’s overly excited reaction to a Christmas tree.) And the film’s general sensibility is radically different: a freewheeling, anything-goes surrealism more reminiscent of Community than of Cheech & Chong. It’s always nice to see Neil Patrick Harris spoofing his public image, which he does even more aggressively here than in the first two films, but it’s also nice to laugh during the long stretches when he isn’t onscreen at a commercial for a waffle-making robot called WaffleBot. Because the plot for 3D Christmas pivots on Harold and Kumar no longer being friends, their easy rapport is mostly missing; if a fourth film adds that chemistry to this tone, look out. [Mike D’Angelo]
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13 / 13