For almost as long as there have been movies, there have been Christmas movies. And in the century-plus since that time, watching a handful of your very favorite Christmas movies has become as traditional a part of the holiday season as decking the halls, trimming a tree, and arguing about whether or not Die Hard is indeed a Christmas movie (more on that later).
Whether you’re looking to watch an old-timey favorite, a contemporary classic, or a total oddball pick, Amazon Prime boasts an impressive array of choices, making it one of the more solid yuletide libraries out there. Here are 11 of the holiday movies you can stream right now (in chronological order… because the holiday season is stressful enough without being forced to pick favorites).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Run Time: 130 min | IMDb: 8.6/10
It’s a Wonderful Life has become The Christmas Movie against which all other Christmas movies are measured, but no one would have likely guessed that when it was first released. While director Frank Capra and stars James Stewart and Donna Reed all went on record as saying it’s their favorite film in their respective (and impressive) filmographies, the movie began its life as a box office bomb. And it might have been forgotten completely if someone had remembered to renew its copyright. As a result of that little oopsie, the film entered the public domain in 1974 and remained there — making it free to anyone who wanted to air it or play clips from it in their own movies. Which is why it has always seemed to be everywhere. And if you’re only experience with the movie is through those clips, you’re probably thinking it’s one big sappy drama in which Stewart runs down a snowy street declaring his love to inanimate objects and impossibly precocious kids talk about bells ringing and angels’s wings. While those things do happen, the bulk of the movie is much darker, with Stewart drunkenly despairing over the choices he’s made and the opportunities he let pass him by, then nearly offing himself before realizing — just in time — that life isn’t so bad after all.
Jack Frost (1979)
Run Time: 48 min | IMDb: 7.0/10
With a running time of just over 45 minutes, Jack Frost is a great way to introduce kids with short attention spans to the magical wonders of the Rankin/Bass filmography. Buddy Hackett voices a kindly groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete, who makes a deal with winter sprite Jack Frost to extend winter by six weeks so that Pete can get a little more shut-eye and Jack can attempt to woo the woman he loves. If Jack succeeds, Father Winter will turn him into a human — but he only has until Groundhog Day to do it. Hackett, as Pete, narrates the tale, which is one of the lesser-known entries in the Rankin/Bass catalog, but no less charming.
Die Hard (1988)
Run Time: 132 min | IMDb: 8.2/10
Oh yes, we went here. Disagree all you want, as many of you likely will. Though a 2018 poll determined that only 25 percent of movie fans consider Die Hard a Christmas movie, there are many reasons why the three-quarters of the population who don’t believe that Bruce Willis’ John McClane belongs in the same breath as Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey, the film’s screenwriter, Steven de Souza, is with the minority on this one—as is director John McTiernan, who says the movie was in fact inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life.
A simple plot summary alone makes it clear why we’re including it here: NYPD officer McClane (Willis) travels to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays with his kids, who are living on the other coast with his estranged wife. McClane travels with a giant stuffed animal (a gift for his daughter), and heads straight to his estranged wife’s office Christmas party, where a terrorist plot is unfolding and he’s forced to save the lot of them. There are Christmas trees and decorations, egg nog and presents, holiday tunes (including a perfect usage of Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”) and Hans Gruber’s (Alan Rickman) quotable delivery of one of the movie’s most memorable lines: “Ho, ho, ho.” When else could this movie happen if not the yuletide season?
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Run Time: 104 min | IMDb: 7.9/10
While Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is not necessarily about Christmas, it takes part during the Christmas season and brings the magic of the yuletide season to life. When Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) comes knocking on the door of the imposing Gothic mansion that overlooks her family’s picture-perfect (if not cookie-cutter) suburban neighborhood, she finds Edward (Johnny Depp), a confused young man with razorblades for fingers who has no experience with the world beyond his doors. So Peg takes Edward home with her, much to the horror of her family, friends, and neighbors. But as he acclimates to the real world, he also begins to find his way in it — both as a hairstylist and as a topiary designer. Along the way, the spirt of the season, and Edward’s gentle, childlike ways, catch the attention of Peg’s teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). One of the key “hey, maybe this is a holiday movie” moments comes when Edward uses his hands to create an ice sculpture of Kim, with the leftover shavings creating a Christmas snow.
Little Women (1994)
Run Time: 118 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
Winona Ryder strikes again in Little Women — yet another movie that isn’t all about Christmas, yet many of the story’s key moments take place on and around the holidays. Though Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s famed novel might now be the gold standard among adaptations, Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film — featuring Ryder as the headstrong aspiring writer Jo March and Christian Bale as Laurie, the Marches’s neighbor and Jo’s BFF — is a well-made and gorgeously shot celebration of family and the sacrifices one makes in order to spread joy both during and outside of the holiday season.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Run Time: 89 min | IMDb: 5.7/10
In between Eraser and Batman & Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped away from the action game long enough to make this seminal ‘90s Christmas movie. He plays against type as a workaholic dad who is determined to get his son a Turbo Man, the biggest toy of the season. Unfortunately, he waits until Christmas Eve to find one, which means that they’re impossible to find. His task is made even more impossible by Myron (Sinbad), a postal carrier who is on the same quest as Arnold. Things get nasty, and a jetpack is involved.
Note: The 2014 sequel, starring Larry the Cable Guy, is also on Prime... but might be best saved as a last resort.
Jack Frost (1997)
Run Time: 89 min | IMDb: 4.6/10
If you do decide to watch the aforementioned Rankin/Bass film Jack Frost, be sure that you’re pressing play on the stop-motion animation film before you leave the room. Because this campy, cult classic horror movie is definitely NOT a remake of the family-friendly 1979 holiday special. Instead, it’s the story of a serial killer whose soul is transferred into the body of a snowman. Which is a much different thing altogether.
Elvira’s Movie Macabre: Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (2010)
Run Time: 93 min | IMDb: 5.2/10
If you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax, then Elvira’s yuletide celebration of the beloved B-movie Santa Claus Conquers the Martians could very well become your new holiday tradition.
All Is Bright (2013)
Run Time: 107 min | IMDb: 5.6/10
Newly anointed Sexiest Man Alive Paul Rudd and not-yet Sexiest Man Alive Paul Giamatti are always enjoyable to watch, even if the material they’re working with isn’t grade A stuff. But for anyone who has ever experienced sticker shock after buying a Christmas tree in New York City, this comedy about two con men pushing overpriced evergreens on unsuspecting New Yorkers is a pleasant-enough diversion.
Better Watch Out (2017)
Run Time: 89 min | IMDb: 6.5/10
Somewhere between Halloween and Home Alone is Better Watch Out, in which a babysitter and her 12-year-old charge are forced to defend the tween’s house from what turns into a rather bizarre — and surprisingly bloody — home invasion. If you really want to indulge in a top-tier Christmas horror movie, Black Christmas (1974)—which is free with Amazon’s Shudder add-on or available to rent from $1.99 — is the best of the best. Adding to its intrigue: It was a direct inspiration for Halloween and written and directed by Bob Clark, who would later go on to make A Christmas Story. And we all know where to find that one.
Santa Jaws (2018)
Run Time: 88 min | IMDb: 3.9/10
If you’re having trouble deciding between watching a classic holiday movie like White Christmas, or turning on Jaws for the thousandth time, let us suggest a compromise: Santa Jaws tells the story of a wanna-be comic book writer who receives a magical pen that brings his doodles to life. Which is most unfortunate when he decides to create a character named Santa Jaws, who spends the rest of the movie attempting to consume the artist and his family. Which, if you like, you can take that to be a metaphor for best-laid plans around the holidays and how they often backfire and lead to your downfall. Or not!