17 magical (and highly enjoyable) holiday movies for the whole family

Each film on this list is as enjoyable for a first grader as it is for their grownups.

holiday movies

With Christmas classics that have aged well, plus adorable newcomers not to miss, each film on this list is as enjoyable for a first grader as it is for their grownups. Special nods to A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), which most families will have already seen (so we didn't include them in this list).

Here are 17 of our favorite holiday movies for the family from new to old:


1. A Flintstone Christmas

When Santa has an accident at Fred's house on Christmas Eve, Fred and Barney have to continue his run for him.

2. A Christmas Carol

This adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1843 film starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge, is about an elderly miser who learns the error of his ways on Christmas Eve after visitations by three spirits.

3. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Part Hamilton, part Greatest Showman, this vibrant musical is full of dancing, bright costumes and the kind of heartache that comes with betrayal. Truth (and family) wins in the end.

4. Holiday in the Wild

Picture this: Rob Lowe is a pilot who volunteers at an elephant refuge in Africa. Kristin Davis is a heartbroken divorcee on her second honeymoon, alone. They save a baby elephant together and sparks fly. With magnificent shots of elephants and all that gorgeous African scenery, you can hardly blame them. Of all the Christmas movies where the main characters learn to love again, this is my family's favorite. Sometimes seasoned pros like Davis and Lowe are just best at this kind of job.

5. Kacey Musgraves Holiday Show

Careful. You'll be singing these songs in your head for weeks to come! But it's so fun, you won't mind a bit. This holiday musical conjures up variety shows from the seventies with tons of tunes, long hair, fringe dresses and campy skits. Adorable guests include Dan Levy, James Cordon and more.

6. Klaus

The star of this animated film that rhymes with "louse" is a spoiled young man (played brilliantly by Jason Schwartzman) who's sent to the furthest edges of civilization to prove himself as a postman. He inadvertently starts a series of good deeds that completely transforms a community formerly at war. All the while, the origins of the "Santa" story unfold before our eyes. The plot is so clever and the images so fresh, no wonder this picture was nominated for an Oscar.

7. Noelle

She's Santa's daughter but in real life, we call her Anna Kendrick. Bill Hader plays her older brother who's, you guessed it, next in line for the big guy's job. Similar to Elf, these siblings leave the North Pole and provide plenty of laughs as they struggle to manage in our modern world. It's funny and charming.

8. Christmas Chronicles

The only downside to this campy Christmas newcomer is how sassy the kids are. Aching after the death of their father, a brother and sister's adventure with Santa makes "true believers" out of even the most broken of hearts. You get Kurt Russell singing as Santa and Goldie Hawn makes an appearance as Mrs. Claus, which keeps adults interested. As for the sequel out this year, kids definitely enjoy but the CGI elves make it too weird for most adults.

9. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Clara has never been on an adventure like this. This artsy action movie is Alice in Wonderland meets Beauty and the Beast, with fantastical sets and incredible effects. Keira Knightley plays an evil Sugarplum Fairy, Helen Mirren shows up as a terrifying "Mother Ginger" and the only one dancing is none other than Misty Copeland, who offers as gorgeous a performance as you've ever seen. It's a little scary for small kids but most will enjoy the sheer spectacle—especially when a little girl saves the world in the end.

10. The Star

Through a series of escapes, near misses and accidents, a sweet little donkey named Bo becomes the traveling companion to a couple who are about to become very famous. Even with religious undertones (he is carrying the mother of Jesus after all), the vibe feels a lot like Shrek. Sidekicks, outcasts and becoming an accidental hero, none of it ever gets old. Bonus: Oprah Winfrey, Mariah Carey and Kelly Clarkson are only a few of the famous voices involved in this animated film.

11. Arthur Christmas

No, not the aardvark. This clever animated film, featuring the voices of British actors, is about Santa's human family whose last name is Christmas. (Get it?) When Santa is ready to retire, everyone assumes his eldest, hardworking and dependable son will inherit the job. But what about his other, albeit very goofy, kid with a heart of gold? Themes include modernization, succession, hilarious elves and saving the day.

12. Elf

Who else but Will Ferrell could play an oversized Elf who hilariously steals your heart from the first scene? As Buddy, he travels to New York City to find his real father, a cool customer played perfectly by James Kahn. This fish-out-of-water story was directed by Jon Favreau, who also brought us the first Iron Man movie with the same kind of moxie a few years later.

13. The Muppet Christmas Carol

Remember when big movie stars used to show up on The Muppet Show? Well, this full-scale production showcases Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. That's the genius of the Muppets: balancing kooky life-size puppets with dramatic heavyweights. Watching this feels nostalgic for adults, charming for kids and, thanks to Michael Caine, surprisingly tender and powerful for everyone.

14. Home Alone

When sassy Kevin McCallister is accidentally left behind on a family holiday to France, he fends for himself by out-witting a pair of bumbling burglars. This funny and unexpectedly sweet film is definitely a classic most kids will enjoy, no matter their age.

15. A Christmas Story

Of course, he'll shoot his eye out, but that doesn't stop our 9-year-old hero from pleading for a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas. Over and over again. This blast into the past shows kids how different life was for families only a couple of generations ago—and does it with so many laughs.

16. Mickey's Christmas Carol

Tiny Tim's story is told again in this Disney adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic. It's your basic mouse-tastic animated special, enjoyable for even the smallest viewers. Don't forget that a few spooky ghosts show up, but otherwise the story is easy on the eyes for all.

17. It's A Wonderful Life

What is there to say about one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time? Except that your kids might surprise you, as mine did, and thoroughly enjoy the whole thing. It's a little long for tiny kids who will also need plot points explained (including felony convictions and suicide), but still a film worth watching over and over.

Charity Curley Mathews is a former executive at Martha Stewart and HGTV who's now a family food writer, blogging at Foodlets.com. That's where you'll find quick & easy recipes (packed with fresh ingredients) plus tried-and-true advice about raising little foodies. She's been featured on Food Network.com, Huffington Post, WHUP radio, ABC 11-TV and more. The author of four cookbooks, including "Super Simple Baking for Kids", she lives on a small farm in North Carolina with her family of six, plus their rescue dogs, bunnies, chickens and bees.

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