From ‘Love Actually’ to ‘Harold & Kumar,’ here’s your guide to the top Christmas movies of the 2000s
Here are the top holiday movies of the 2000s, ranging from Elf to The Holiday.
The holidays are back, which means it’s time for families to gather around the television to watch classic holiday films like Meet Me in St. Louis, A Christmas Story, and Home Alone. Much as we enjoy seeing those old favorites for the umpteenth time, the first two decades of the twenty-first century have given us a new canon of holiday classics that have played in theaters or on streaming sites like Netflix. In the spirit of the holiday season, here are Yahoo Entertainment’s recommendations for the top holiday movies released since 2000, all of which are currently available for streaming. Also, take in mind: A fantastic Christmas movie doesn’t have to be about Christmas, as the stone-cold Christmas classic Die Hard demonstrates. (They don’t always have to be for children.)
When Harry Met Sally rules New Year’s in New York, but Serendipity has Christmas on lock. Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack meet cute during a New York Christmas, but are unable to act on their feelings because they are in other relationships. So they part ways and decide to let the cosmos decide their romantic fate… at least until they decide to take a more active role in reuniting. Serendipity, directed by Peter Chelsom, is as sweet as one of the sweets offered at the titular café, making it a fantastic movie to watch while eating Christmas treats. In reality, this film is the reason why the lineups at Serendipity 3 are always so lengthy.
About a Boy (2002)
This fantastic adaptation of Nick Hornby’s terrific novel, which takes place over the course of a very eventful year, is framed by Christmas parties. Hugh Grant’s protagonist, Will, is especially haunted by the holiday since his father created an inane, irresistible Yuletide ditty called “Santa’s Super Sleigh,” which allows his man-child son to live a wastrel life. Will, like any good Christmas film, eventually transforms for the better owing to his own little angel, a 12-year-old youngster named Marcus, played by future Fury Road actor, Nicholas Hoult.
Bad Santa (2003)
No matter how much a person loves Christmas, there comes a point when they will go insane if they hear that Mariah Carey song one more time. That is why the world requires Bad Santa, the most Grinch-like of all Christmas films. Billy Bob Thornton stars in Terry Zwigoff’s comedy as a robber turned department-store Santa who is also a foul-mouthed, misanthropic alcoholic. True to the Christmas spirit, he finds redemption through the love of a child (Brett Kelly), but the film never softens, keeping its icicle-sharp edge from the first hilarious scene to the last. Let’s just pretend the sequel never happened.
“What is your favorite hue, Buddy the Elf?” There are traditional and contemporary Christmas movie classics, and this Jon Favreau-directed, Will Ferrell-starring gem may be the rare gift that fits in both stockings. It’s an uproariously humorous fish-out-of-water comedy, sweet family story, and passionate love letter to the Big Apple, following Santa’s most loving, most enormous helper as he leaves the North Pole for New York. We’re still relieved that Jim Carrey as Buddy was just a rumor.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
We’ll face it: there aren’t nearly enough Hanukkah-themed flicks on this Best Holiday Movies list. Because there aren’t nearly enough Hanukkah-themed films being produced — just ask Rita Moreno! This funny Shaft-inspired “Jewploitation” comedy about crime-fighting “Certified Circumcised Dick” Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) has slipped under the radar, but we’re fine with that.
Love Actually (2003)
Love Actually, although being a modest smash when the movie first came out in theaters, has since become the gift that keeps on giving for rom-com fans. One could argue that Richard Curtis’ modern favorite, which weaves together no fewer than ten narratives involving couples ranging from Prime Minister Hugh Grant and employee Martine McCutcheon to widower Liam Neeson and his stepson Thomas Sangster, is too much movie. But Love Actually’s excess is one of its admirers’ favorite aspects; after all, when it comes to holiday movies — and love — you might as well go big or go home.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Celebrate the holidays in anime fashion with Satoshi Kon’s third feature, his final picture. The film is loosely based on the 1913 novel The Three Godfathers (which was eventually adapted into a 1948 John Wayne Western), and takes place in modern-day Tokyo on Christmas Eve. After discovering an abandoned infant, three homeless city slickers set out to find the child’s parents, encountering plenty of excitement along the way. Tokyo Godfathers, with its PG-13 rating, isn’t the kind of holiday cartoon you’d watch with your kids, but it’s a great yarn for those who have outgrown Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Danny Boyle’s underappreciated masterpiece follows two brothers who discover a large sum of money that was stolen during a robbery. The criminals want it back, but Damian (Alex Etel), nine, feels the money is a gift from God and launches his own personal effort to aid the underprivileged. The film’s climax is a Christmas miracle that will have even the most jaded Scrooge wiping away tears.
Joyeux Noel (2005)
Here’s a unique Christmas story/war film mashup. Christian Carion’s moving drama, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Academy Awards, presents a dramatized version of the real-life “Christmas truce” that took place between French, British, and German military personnel on the frontlines of World War I. Sadly, and in this case, predictably, truces only last so long.
The Shane Black Christmas Trilogy (2005-2016)
Shane Black is an unrepentant Christmas enthusiast, with the holiday having a supporting part in all of his works. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang finds desperate father Robert Downey Jr. committing a crime in order to buy his child the year’s greatest toy — an incident that sets off a wild adventure involving a film crew and criminals. Iron Man 3 is set over the Christmas season, with Tony Stark adrift and relying on a young child — whom Black refers to as Tony’s “Ghost of Christmas Past” — for atonement. (As an added bonus, there’s a terrific moment in which Tony dances around his lab to the soulful strains of Joe Williams’ “Jingle Bells.”) Finally, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling star in The Nice Guys, a throwback neo-noir frolic that culminates around Christmas without the ribbons and bows.
The Holiday (2006)
We mean that in the best conceivable way: it’s an A-list Hallmark Christmas original. Nancy Meyers, the writer-director, doubles down and gives us two magnificent homes: the quaint English cottage and the sleek Los Angeles mansion that two women — Kate Winslet’s devastated Iris and Cameron Diaz’s jilted Amanda — spontaneously switch for lonely holiday vacations. Neither is looking for love, but when Jack Black and Jude Law show up on their respective doorsteps, they both find it. The pleasant, supportive relationship between Iris and the aging screenwriter (Eli Wallach) who teaches her about “gumption” is, however, everyone’s favorite. It’s no surprise that everyone was ecstatic at the potential of a sequel to The Holiday… and then disappointed when the gift was unwrapped and shown to be a rumor.
In Bruges (2008)
Martin McDonagh’s eccentric crime film about two hitmen (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who go into hiding after a botched killing takes place in the picture-perfect Belgian city. It may be Christmas, but there will be no joyous redemption for Farrell, who has committed a crime he cannot forgive himself for. The darkly humorous plot progresses to a dramatic, violent conclusion in the heart of the ancient city, which appears to be a little Christmas hamlet come to life.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
In Aardman’s animated classic Arthur Christmas, James McAvoy plays Arthur. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection) Aardman Studios’ undervalued CG-animated film traces three generations of Santa Clauses in this narrative of how the least apparent hero ends up saving the (holi)day and features an A-list voice cast (including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, and Jim Broadbent). Arthur Christmas deserves a position in the festive rotation with the Grinch, Rudolph and Charlie Brown.
A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (2011)
The third — and regrettably final — Harold & Kumar film, which was released in spectacular 3D in theaters, is just as entertaining in good old-fashioned 2D. In desperate need of a Christmas miracle, the estranged friends (John Cho and Kal Penn) put their feuding on hold in order to find a replacement for the costly tree that Kumar burned down with wayward marijuana. The movie’s hilarious high point, as with the H&K franchise, is Neil Patrick Harris’ self-aware cameo as the alpha male version of himself, this time commanding a Christmas stage extravaganza that’s trippier than anything playing at Radio City Music Hall.
The love story between glamorous older woman Carol (Cate Blanchett) and young photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) begins in a garland-decked department store and unfolds against a backdrop of holiday cheer: a crackling fireplace in Carol’s tony New Jersey home, a gentle snowfall when Therese takes her first picture of Carol, and shabby decorations in hotel lobbies when the women escape the city together. Their hard-earned happy ending occurs after New Year’s Day, yet it still feels like Christmas at Carol’s brightly lit table in the Oak Room.
Krampus presents some Christmas-based bloodletting to break up the regular holiday treacle, in the noble tradition of Silent Night, Deadly Night, Black Christmas, and Gremlins. Krampus, based on the Euro folk mythology of a goat-like monster that feasts on the naughty list, is a delicious blend of jump scares and belly chuckles. Consider it a different kind of holiday family film from the same journalist that made a pumpkin-masked youngster a Halloween symbol.
The Night Before (2015)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anthony Mackie in The Night Before. (Photo credit: Sarah Shatz/Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection) It wasn’t the box-office smash it deserved to be, but if you missed it the first time around, do yourself a favor and watch this raucous Christmas Eve comedy again this season. Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Anthony Mackie play three best friends whose annual tradition of wreaking havoc on New York City on December 24 comes to an end in a magnificent, hilarious way.
Tangerine stars Kitana, Kiki Rodriguez, and Mickey O’Hagan. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures/Everett Collection)
You’ve never seen a holiday film quite like this before: Sean Baker’s colourful depiction of life on the streets of downtown Los Angeles stars transgender actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as sex worker Sin-Dee Rella, who was released from prison on Christmas Eve and is desperate to find her unfaithful boyfriend/pimp, Chester (James Ransone). Tangerine is a Christmas carol for our time, advocating peace on earth and goodwill to all genders and races. It’s rowdy, exuberant, and full of love.
Almost Christmas (2016)
Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) seeks to carry on the tradition of having a huge family Christmas one year after the death of his loving wife, but is thwarted by fighting and his own latent grief. Almost Christmas isn’t a somber dirge, though: thanks to an all-star cast that includes Romany Malco, Mo’Nique, and J.B. Smoove, there are plenty of laughter (and tears) to be had during this raucous family gathering.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Anna and the Apocalypse stars Malcolm Cumming, Excuse me, Jack Skellington: The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t the only musical film that works for both Halloween and Christmas. When zombies overrun the idyllic English town of Little Haven, the town’s youths sing and slash their way through an army of the undead. With pleasant tunes like “Human Voice” and “What a Time to Be Alive,” Anna and the Apocalypse is a far cry from your average brain dead zombie cash grab.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018) and The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020
Snake Plissken is the perfect choice to play Santa Claus. Kurt Russell plays the gift-giving globetrotter in these endearing Netflix fables, which are produced by Chris Columbus, the man behind two of the best Christmas movies of all time: Gremlins and Home Alone. Russell’s real-life partner, Goldie Hawn, plays Mrs. Claus in both films, in a gift of casting that keeps on giving.
Since 1992’s Batman Returns, we’ve had to wait three decades for another Christmas film set in the DC Universe. Shazam!, however, is not a lump of coal under the proverbial tree. In reality, here is a superhero film that gets the reason for the season, delivering a moving story about families lost and found, and how the best gift you can give someone else is your love and trust. Not to mention superpowers… don’t forget about superpowers.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Story (2020)
When Jingle Jangle director David E. Talbert couldn’t persuade his kid to watch any of his childhood favorites, he created a classic Christmas musical for a new generation. Jeronicus Jangle, a toymaker, is played by Forest Whitaker, who rediscovers the enchantment of the season when his granddaughter enters the family business. Jingle Jangle is set to be played on repeat for decades to come, thanks to its catchy tunes and outstanding performances.
Happiest Season (2020)
The first mainstream Christmastime rom-com to center on a lesbian pair, played by Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, Clea DuVall recruited an all-star cast for her quietly subversive holiday film. While it borrows plot elements from Meet the Parents and The Birdcage, Happiest Season has its own comic energy and builds to a climactic holiday party that is both tragic and entertaining. Already a huge sensation on Twitter, the film is sure to continue spawning memes long after the calendar flips to January.
8-Bit Christmas (2021)
We’re still puzzled as to why Warner Bros. buried 8-Bit Christmas on HBO Max; we didn’t see any advertising for it, did you? But it’s a shame since we could be looking at a possible contemporary Christmas classic not seen since Elf. The yuletide comedy, clearly tailored for ’80s babies, is recounted in flashbacks as a dad (Neil Patrick Harris) remembers his action-packed escapades in attempting to obtain a Nintendo for Christmas. It’s razor-sharp, hilarious, and emotionally moving, and it’s well worth seeing every Christmas season.
Christmas with you
Netflix has a treat in store for Freddie Prinze Jr. fans. The former adolescent heartthrob stars in his first Christmas picture… and the first in which he gets to fully embrace his Latino background. Prinze plays a single father who has a Christmastime romantic connection with a pop singer (Aimee Garcia) who is looking for a new beginning. It’s not the most original story, but Prinze and Garcia are a charming couple-to-be, and the holiday vibes are just right. Continue making films like this, and we’ll gladly spend another Christmas with you, Freddie.