Actor Will Ferrell with Ed Asner in scene from film
Actor Will Ferrell with Ed Asner in scene from film "Elf".

Cult favourite Christmas movies you have to watch

FROM overgrown elves to safe-cracking Santas, Christmas movies come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them improve with repeated viewing.

A handful have gone on to become yuletide traditions in their own right. Here's a selection of our all-time favourites.

While the list spans more than seven decades, one year in particular stands out.

Three seasonal classics were released in 2003, each with a very different variation on the theme.

 

ELF (2003)

Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. Classic.
Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. Classic.

One shot of Will Ferrell's outsized man-child squeezed into his bright-yellow elf tights is enough to put you in touch with your inner Christmas spirit. Under the unobtrusive direction of Jon Favreau (The Jungle Book), Ferrell captured just the right note of optimistic innocence in the role of Buddy Hobbs, a human foundling who quite literally doesn't fit in at the North Pole, where he has been raised by elves, but who finds mankind's cynicism just a much of a challenge when he travels to New York in search of his father (James Caan). A sweet Christmas comedy undercut with wry humour. Who could forget the scene in which Buddy mistakes the quick-tempered children's author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage) for an elf?

 

BAD SANTA (2003)

Actor Billy Bob Thornton in scene from film
Actor Billy Bob Thornton in scene from film "Bad Santa".

Billy Bob Thornton's obscenely funny Christmas comedy borders on Santa sacrilege. For Willie T. Stokes (Thornton) - misanthrope, conman, alcoholic and lech - the season of goodwill represents a prime opportunity for plunder. As soon as the decorations go up, he and his elf-sized partner-in-crime (Tony Cox) head for the shopping malls to stuff their Santa sacks with all the treasure they can carry. This year, however, Stokes can't seem to shake the strange, defenceless, and extraordinarily gullible teenager (Brett Kelly) who believes him to be the real deal. Bad Santa spawned a string of imitators (Bad Teacher, Bad Moms, Bad Grandpas) but none of them matched the tone of the original, directed by the king of the anti-social misfits, Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World).

 

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)

Actor Hugh Grant in scene from film Christmas favourite
Actor Hugh Grant in scene from film Christmas favourite "Love Actually".

British filmmaker Richard Curtis wrote this heartwarming rom-com after watching a series of emotional reunions at a Los Angeles airport arrival gate. Set in the frantic lead-up to Christmas, Love Actually launched the international film career of Bill Nighy, who plays has-been rocker Billy Mack, who is shamelessly seeking a comeback hit with a seasonal reworking of The Troggs' Love Is All Around. Interweaving 10 separate stories, Love Actually boasts a who's who of British acting talent, including Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson and Keira Knightley. But Emma Thompson steals the film with a soul-crushing scene in which her character learns that her husband has been unfaithful.

 

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

Disney executives thought Tim Burton's macabre, stop-motion fairytale - about a Halloween character who stumbles through a portal into Christmas - would be too spooky for their regular audience, so they released it under the Touchstone Pictures banner instead. Despite its soft, sweet centre, the ghouls, ghosts and goblins in this animated family fantasy are indeed likely to disturb very tiny tots. The studio also tried to persuade the producer and director Henry Selick to fill in Jack Skellington's empty eye sockets to make him seem more "human". But the filmmakers withstood the pressure and their critically acclaimed holiday musical went on to become a surprise sleeper hit.

 

HOME ALONE (1990)

Who doesn’t love Home Alone?
Who doesn’t love Home Alone?

It's the ultimate Christmas underdog story: An eight-year-old boy, accidentally abandoned by his parents, takes on a pair of bumbling burglars - and gives them a good butt-kicking in the process. The slapstick Tom and Jerry-style violence is unusually intense for a family movie. But that's mitigated by Macaulay Culkin's charming performance as the quick-thinking and resilient youngster (in fact, Culkin did such a good job, studio executives agreed to pay the then 12-year-old $US4.5 million to reprise his role in the sequel.)

 

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)

Pretty much everyone could relate to this family.
Pretty much everyone could relate to this family.

More guilty pleasure than bona fide yuletide classic, this silly, seasonal comedy gets funnier with repeated viewings. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong when suburban family man Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) decides to host an old-fashioned Christmas. Two surly teenagers (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki), four squabbling grandparents, a surprise visit from a hillbilly cousin (Randy Quaid) and a couple of snooty, Saab-driving neighbours (Nicholas Guest and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) further escalate the tension in John Hughes's affectionate send-up of middle-class holiday traditions. No humans suffer lasting injuries but a pet cat is electrocuted.

 

DIE HARD (1988)

Bruce Willis with cigarette in a scene from the film 'Die Hard', 1988. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
Bruce Willis with cigarette in a scene from the film 'Die Hard', 1988. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

For those who need a bit of adrenaline-pumping action to jolt them from their food coma, Die Hard is sure to fit the bill. Ranked No.20 on Empire Magazine's 2017 list of the 100 greatest movies of all time, Bruce Willis's franchise starter isn't what would be traditionally considered festive fare. But it's set on Christmas Eve, jam packed with yuletide jokes and loner cop John McClane's high-stakes attempt to reconcile with his wife (Bonnie Bedelia), impeded by a dozen heavily armed terrorists, is right on message. Die Hard 2 also takes place on Christmas Eve.

 

GREMLINS (1984)

This wickedly funny cult classic can be read as a sharp-witted satire on the rampant consumerism of Christmas or a cautionary tale about the responsibilities of pet ownership. It can also simply be enjoyed as wildly entertaining, startlingly inventive comedy-horror about cute little critters that turn into monsters with the addition of water, causing mischief and mayhem in a Norman Rockwell-like American town.

Chris Columbus wrote the screenplay about a struggling inventor who finds the unique gift for his son at an antique store in Chinatown. He is now working on a reboot.

 

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966)

Hands down one of the greats.
Hands down one of the greats.

Forget the hyperactive Jim Carrey version. Benedict Cumberbatch's deliciously droll interpretation of Dr Seuss's Christmas curmudgeon, currently screening in cinemas, is closer in spirit to the original text. But Chuck Jones's zippy, 26-minute animated special, starring Boris Karloff as the green monster with a heart "two sizes too small," did it best.

 

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

The 1946 movie
The 1946 movie " It’s a Wonderful Life".

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without an eleventh-hour epiphany from James Stewart, cinema's favourite everyman. Frank Capra's black-and-white tear-jerker tells the story of a decent bloke who is about to end it all when an angel steps in to show him what the world would have looked like without his contribution. It's A Wonderful Life was the first movie Stewart made after serving as a bomber pilot during World War II. Capra had also put his career on hold to join the war effort, enlisting at the age of 44 to make educational documentaries for the army. Their collective experiences might go some way to explaining the surprisingly dark heart of this feel-good classic.


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