The 10 Funniest Christmas Movies of All Time
It’s the holidays, which means Christmas songs are on the radio and in every store you enter. And when you flip on the TV, yuletide movies are omnipresent, whether it’s places like Hallmark pumping out a ton of new cheesy wintertime films or cable channels endlessly repeating classic Christmas flicks. But how many of them are actually funny?
Myriad Christmas movies are billed as comedies, but few are especially great. Sorry to lovers of Love Actually or The Holiday or Jingle All the Way, but those seasonal staples just don’t do much for me. Are they a pleasant way to kill a couple hours with your family when you all need something to do? I guess, but in terms of legitimately good comedies, I think we can do a lot better.
With that in mind, I’m presenting my very subjective list of the 10 funniest Christmas movies. While putting these rankings together, I was surprised that a few recent holiday films ended up making the cut: one, a goofy musical; the other, a wonderfully violent action film. But beloved older chestnuts are here, too. Some of my picks are appropriate for all ages, while some you’re gonna have to wait to watch once you put the kiddies to bed. Also, I can practically guarantee that one of your favorites will not be on here, which will probably lead you to suspect I am a horrible grinch with no yuletide spirit. (It’s okay: I’ve been accused of worse.) But maybe I can help turn you onto a funny, terrific Christmas movie you haven’t discovered yet.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Although not as popular as the original Vacation, this third installment in the Clark Griswold saga gets to the heart of how excruciating it can be to have family around over the holidays. Chevy Chase went full Homer Simpson — back before Homer Simpson was a cultural icon — in Christmas Vacation, smacking into things, falling down, forced to deal with his and his wife’s nutty relatives. Whatever your feelings on the divisive comic — John Hughes, who penned Christmas Vacation’s screenplay based on a piece he wrote for the National Lampoon in 1980, later grumbled, “(T)hose movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage” — there’s great satisfaction in watching Clark suffer so. Also, let’s be fair: Clark did get a shitty holiday bonus — anybody would be well within their rights to lose it in front of the in-laws after something like that.
Violent Night (2022)
With apologies to Bad Santa fans, when I want a jaundiced yuletide comedy, I’m going with an even badder Santa, this one played by David Harbour. Except, here’s the thing: He actually is the real Santa, who gets trapped Die Hard-style on Christmas Eve in a rich family’s compound, going toe-to-toe with a bunch of well-armed bad guys who have taken over the joint. Bloody, profane, really funny and — here’s the craziest part — actually oddly touching, Violent Night celebrates the true spirit of Christmas while delivering myriad shootouts and compiling a massive body count. Gratuitous gore has rarely been so hilarious. Who knew Santa kicked so much ass?
A holiday comedy-musical starring Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds sounds like it would be a tiresome smirk-fest. Imagine my surprise, then, when Spirited proved to be a sweet, touching Christmas movie in which the song-and-dance numbers were actually taken seriously. Ferrell plays the Ghost of Christmas Present, who every year visits Earth to teach one coldhearted human about the importance of being good — and this year, that human is Reynolds’ cynical ad exec Clint. That premise might seem predictable, but director and co-writer Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home) comes up with some clever twists, encouraging his smart-aleck stars to, mostly, play it straight. So if you go into Spirited assuming it will be a snotty parody of Hallmark fare, you may be caught off-guard by how gleeful and generous (and very, very funny) it is.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Based on the writing of Jean Shepherd, who viewed Ralphie’s obsession with getting a Red Ryder BB gun as a metaphor for Vietnam, A Christmas Story wasn’t a hit initially, eventually becoming a cable staple. The film’s appeal is obvious: Here’s a nostalgic look back at a quaint, uncomplicated small-town America, full of gentle humor about family dysfunction and schoolyard bullies. The dreadful sequels have only demonstrated how difficult it was to achieve A Christmas Story’s delicate charm. And that it was directed by Bob Clark, who’d previously made the slasher flick Black Christmas and the infamous horndog comedy Porky’s, may be the film’s best joke.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Even the biggest Muppets enthusiasts have to admit that, after 1979’s The Muppet Movie, Jim Henson’s endearing critters’ big-screen excursions could be a mixed bag. But who can deny the humor and smarts of their take on Charles Dickens’ yuletide chestnut? Michael Caine is wonderful as Scrooge, bringing the necessary gravitas to the role without forgetting he’s acting alongside Kermit and the gang. The Muppet Show often ingeniously riffed on classic narratives, but Christmas Carol, as well as being a hoot, understands why this poignant story has stood the test of time. The film, which was the first Muppets movie made after Henson’s passing, is funny and sincere, goofy and serious, all at once. Henson would have been proud.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Yes, it’s a heartwarming film about the importance of believing in things, but Miracle on 34th Street is far from sappy. And a big reason for that is Edmund Gwenn, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar playing a man who swears he’s the real Santa Claus, which nobody in New York City buys. But he’ll prove to them he’s telling the truth, all the while delivering a series of tart one-liners to cynics and greedy jerks who have lost their Christmas spirit. Decades later, Gwenn remains the Kris Kringle most of us imagine — not just because he’s so kind but also because he seems like he’d be a very fun hang.
Christmas in Los Angeles is so weird: There’s no snow, the sun is out, and it’s usually kinda warm. No movie has ever captured that seasonal strangeness better than indie auteur Sean Baker’s breakthrough film, which cast Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee Rella, a transgender sex worker in the City of Angels who gets released from jail on Christmas Eve, determined to track down her no-good, two-timing lover (who’s also her pimp), who cheated on her while she was in the clink. Teaming up with her best pal (and fellow transgender sex worker) Alexandra (Mya Taylor), Sin-Dee goes on a wild SoCal odyssey, resulting in an uproarious, R-rated comedy. Baker went on to make the higher-profile The Florida Project and Red Rocket, but Tangerine may still be his funniest and best film.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)
After the disappointing Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, it seemed like maybe it was time for John Cho and Kal Penn to move on from their lovably irreverent stoner characters. Then came this follow-up, which is nearly as sharp and stupid as the unimpeachable original. Initially presented in 3D — for, hilariously, no good reason — A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas pulls off the nifty trick of chronicling Harold Lee and Kumar Patel as they navigate becoming legitimate grown-ups, all the while maintaining their mischievous side. Neil Patrick Harris returns for another great cameo, but the movie’s scene-stealer is Wafflebot, the most impractical kids’ toy ever that I am still mad does not exist.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Writer-director Shane Black has a thing about setting his movies around Christmas. His scripts for Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight take place then, and Iron Man 3 (which he directed) does as well. But I’m going with his raucous buddy-comedy in which a private dick (Val Kilmer) is assigned to show an actor (Robert Downey Jr.) the ins and outs of his job for a film role. (There’s a twist, though: The actor isn’t really an actor but, in fact, a thief who, because of a wild misunderstanding, has been confused for a thespian.) Black’s trademark rat-a-tat dialogue is combined with some pretty great action scenes. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang largely rules because of the endlessly comedic combustion between Kilmer and Downey, who do such a fabulous job of playing guys who must work together to solve a mystery — despite delightfully, profoundly hating each other’s guts.
Still Will Ferrell’s biggest commercial smash as a leading man, Elf was something of a risk for both him and director Jon Favreau. Neither had established themselves yet as major Hollywood players, but they hit the jackpot with this fish-out-of-water comedy about a human (Ferrell) who mistakenly thinks he’s one of Santa’s elves — it’s a long story — and heads to New York to hunt down his birth father (James Caan). Ferrell has arguably never been more appealing in big-kid mode than he was here, and Caan (a superb dramatic actor never known for comedy) is a gas as a kids’ book publisher who can’t figure out who the hell this weirdo is. Some Christmas films take a while to become classics — Elf was instantly. If anything, it gets better over time.