We’ve dug deep into the vast Warner Bros. archive for this one and pulled together 30 holiday-themed titles from our extensive film and television libraries (which, of course, includes classics from MGM and RKO). We're going all the way back to the 1930s right up to this decade. These titles (in no particular order) run the gamut of holiday emotions--some are naughty, some are nice, and others will get you teary-eyed with laughter or scrambling for that box of tissues...
A Christmas Carol (1938)
There’s been more than 20 film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novel, including parodies and musicals, but MGM’S 1938 version of A Christmas Carol (now part of the Warner Bros. film library), starring Reginald Owen in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge (pictured with the ghost of Marley), is the first classic representation and set the tone for all subsequent efforts. And just this month, the holiday favorite has finally been released on Blu-ray (hint, hint) from our friends at Warner Home Video. Interesting trivia: Lionel Barrymore was to play the role of Scrooge until falling ill and recommending Owen for the gig, and his support of the film and his friend continued when Barrymore took part in the movie's promotional trailer (watch it above).
A Christmas Story
We double-dog-dare ya to skip watching this 1983 Yuletide favorite in the coming weeks. Whether learning the lessons of life (the human tongue will stick to a frozen pole) or combating dismissive authoritative figures who don’t understand the importance of owning an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle (“you’ll shoot your eye out”), A Christmas Story remains a family comedy for the ages. Ironically, the film was not a major box-office success at the time of its theatrical release but annual television airings have turned it into a landmark coming-of-age tale that is often ranked as the #1 Christmas movie of all-time.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
The third saga of the Griswold family is also the Vacation franchise’s top box-office grosser and in the 25 years since its release, it has grown into arguably the most popular Christmas comedy of all. Putting a new level of dysfunction into the family dynamic, Chevy Chase and crew leave no traditional holiday ritual untouched and they do it with all the tricks of the humor trade, from slapstick and satire to farcical and sophomoric; all of which is frighteningly relatable. On a side note, filming began in October with Ed Helms (The Hangover) starring in the role of a grown-up Rusty Griswold who will commandeer his own family misadventures on a cross-country trip to Walley World, with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo appearing in their new role as Griswold grandparents. The movie is currently slated for release next October.
One thing we learned in 2003’s hit comedy Elf: Next time you find yourself in a snowball fight, call on an oversized elf named Buddy: the dude’s got an arm! Watch the clip above for proof. A major box-office hit, scoring more than $220 million worldwide, Will Ferrell’s turn as the naïve human raised among Santa’s elves is a modern day holiday classic. Directed by Jon Favreau and featuring a stellar cast, including the great Bob Newhart as Papa Elf, Elf even spawned a hit Broadway musical!
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Leaving behind the big screen for a moment, we recognize some of television’s most memorable additions to the holiday programming season. And you can’t go wrong by leading off with 1966’s classic animated TV special, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, directed by the legendary Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame. Voiced by iconic horror actor Boris Karloff (in one of his final works), the angry, green Grinch remains one of the most recognizable figures in animation history. Since its release, this 26-minute short has gone on to become a time-honored fixture of seasonal entertainment throughout the world. And we bet you didn’t know that the Soundtrack even won the Grammy for “Best Children’s Recording.”
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
This 1973 Emmy winner for Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz is family entertainment at its finest. From the famous opening scene of Lucy pulling the football away from wanna-be-kicker Charlie Brown to watching a lovable, yet temperamental beagle cook and eat a Thanksgiving feast with his feathery sidekick, it’s no wonder this one has stood the test of time.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Eight years before, in 1965, the Coca-Cola Company was looking for a television holiday special to promote their product and through a rapid series of events, TV producer Lee Mendelson and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz were given less than 24 hours to pitch a Peanuts Christmas special. Within six months A Charlie Brown Christmas was on the air and the rest is history. The Emmy-winning special was such a success that even Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score went on to sell more than three million copies and remains in the Top Ten best-selling Christmas albums in U.S. history, while entering the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007.
The Polar Express
With an eye-popping budget, 2004’s The Polar Express blended live action with animation or “performance capture,” in which human actors performed the movements, which were then translated into lifelike animation. Some felt the resulting animated characters were creepy while others reveled in the unique artistic imagery. There seemed to be little middle ground among the factions, but the underlying message of “the true meaning of Christmas is in your heart” overrides all such squabbles in the end.
Christmas in Connecticut
“Warner Bros. Invites You To Spend A Very Merry Christmas in Connecticut” is how this 1945 romantic-comedy was presented to audiences and it delivered the holiday goods, and still does all these years later (and now you can grab it on Blu-ray!). Barbara Stanwyck plays the nation’s leading food writer who has made a living dispensing cooking advice while writing about her life on a farm with her husband and child. Only one problem: she’s actually an unmarried, childless New Yorker who can’t even boil an egg. It’s all about to unravel when her magazine publisher sets up a Christmas event with a naval war hero on her farm. What could possibly go wrong?
Meet Me in St. Louis
While perhaps not as straightforward a holiday film as the others on the list, there is one Christmas scene that is more than enough for this heartwarming 1944 musical to make our list. Let’s face it, when you have screen icon Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (which also became a hit single, by the way) to her troubled younger sister (Margaret O’Brien), you now have a holiday movie. And just to clarify the photo above, while they made a lot of movies together and the size is right, that’s not Mickey Rooney sandwiched between O’Brien and Garland.
Moving to the far other end of the tonality spectrum, Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are pictured displaying their own brand of family togetherness in the holiday farce, Four Christmases. With no less than FIVE Oscar-winning actors on display (Reese Witherspoon, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen) and Vince Vaughn’s sardonic comedy skills in high gear, this 2008 comedy is not one for those looking for a joyous family film, but if you’re looking for raunchy laughs this one’ll do the trick.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
And speaking of raunchy humor, A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas probably takes the cake amongst holiday flicks. The third outing for the two heroes of the stoner comedy community—John Cho and Kal Penn—find themselves on another adventure…. this time to replace Harold’s father-in-law’s prized Christmas tree after accidentally burning it down (doesn’t take much to figure out how that happened). Neil Patrick Harris is back and as out-of-Doogie-Howser-character as ever. In the end, there’s actually a sweetness that was not present in the first two films--but maybe that’s just us thinking of the munchies.
Released on Christmas Eve in 1949, Holiday Affair saw the gruff film noir star Robert Mitchum breaking character as a light-hearted drifter who falls for recently engaged war widow Janet Leigh (who wouldn’t!). While the romantic comedy didn’t gain much notice upon its release, it has developed a strong cult following among holiday viewing enthusiasts. Rumor has it that this comedic role for Mitchum was an attempt by RKO Studios to offset the negative publicity surrounding his marijuana bust the previous year. Funny, Harold and Kumar never had that problem!
The Shop Around the Corner
Shot in sequence and in less than a month, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan were magical as real-life adversaries who unbeknownst to them are also secret pen-pals in love (Note for our younger visitors: Pen pals were somewhat like social media friends without all the typing and texting. Yep, people actually used to send letters that were HANDWRITTEN!). 1940's The Shop Around the Corner was remade in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and a little more modern tone (and actual computers), but this original remains a classic and is #28 on AFI’s Top 100 list of cinematic love stories.
Moving back to the boob tube, we have the 1977 Emmy winning TV Movie, The Gathering, one of the most heart-wrenching and, ultimately, heartwarming telepics ever produced. If you like some tears in your eggnog this Edward Asner/Maureen Stapleton melodrama will do the trick. Asner is a workaholic businessman who has neglected and estranged his wife and four grown children over the years. Now with a fatal diagnosis he attempts to bring the family together for Christmas one final time in an attempt to repair the emotional damage he has caused.
Miracle in the Wilderness
Adapted from Paul Gallico’s short novel, The Snow Goose, this 1992 TV Movie starring Kris Kristofferson and Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall tells the story of a frontier couple and their child who are kidnapped by hostile Indians whose chief is bent on revenge against Kristofferson. During their captivity the woman relates the story of Christ in terms her captors can understand making for a touching and unique holiday tale that crosses cultures with compassion and understanding.
The Nativity Story
And for those looking for a more overt religious tone, this 2006 film follows the life of Mary and Joseph as they are thrust into a two-year period of unimaginable responsibility that culminates in their leaving Nazareth and journeying 100 miles to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown) directed The Nativity Story with a grand scope that never manages to lose the intimacy and humanity of the characters.
King of Kings
This biblical epic from 1961 was actually the first major theatrical release in the post-silent movie era to dare show the face of Christ on-screen (well, of the actor Jeffrey Hunter playing him anyway). King of Kings follows the Nazarene’s birth to his nomadic ministry and crucifixion, detailing the key events (such as the Sermon on the Mount pictured above) of the 33 years that changed the world. Interesting to note that the voice of this pic’s narrator belongs to none other than an uncredited Orson Welles.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards, including “Best Picture,” this 1951 epic follows the early years of Christianity in Rome through the lives of three people: a Roman commander (Robert Taylor) who falls in love with a Christian woman (Deborah Kerr), while Nero’s (Peter Ustinov) persecution of the Christian population develops into atrocities including the burning of Rome itself. Filmed in Rome, the scope of Quo Vadis remains impressive to this day: 30,000 extras reportedly appeared in the movie (including an uncredited Sophia Loren) with 32,000 costumes being used. It all paid off as it was the top grossing movie of the year and is rumored to have saved MGM from bankruptcy. Warner Bros. now owns the film and has released it on Blu-ray.
The Bishop's Wife
Silver Screen royalty Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young teamed together in 1947’s classic romantic comedy The Bishop’s Wife, which can still turn any day into a holiday. Grant is an angel who joins us mortals on a mission to steer a bishop back to his neglected wife. One little problem: the devilish angel may just want the beauty for himself. The three leads share an undeniable chemistry that translates outside the movie as well, judging by the charming trailer above.
It Happened on 5th Avenue
That same year Don DeFore and Gale Storm starred in this whimsical comedy about a homeless man (the incomparable Victor Moore) who moves into a wealthy family’s New York mansion after they flee the Christmas winter for Florida sunshine. Nominated for the “Best Writing” Academy Award, this is one of those holiday treats that has been sorely ignored in more recent years. Definitely worth a look for classic era holiday fans who may have missed this one altogether.
Tenth Avenue Angel
Margaret O’Brien (pictured with Tenth Avenue Angel co-stars George Murphy and television’s future mystery writer Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury) was one of American cinema’s most popular child stars throughout the 1940s. And while Tenth Avenue Angel didn’t do much at the box-office in 1948, it has found a bit of a holiday following over the past 60+ years. One for the perpetually young at heart.
Michael Keaton stars in this Yuletide dramedy of a musician, name of Jack Frost, who dies in a car accident one Christmas and returns a year later in the form of a snowman (come on, go with it) to be with his son. The film did little to nothing at the box-office in 1998 and some critics had a field day with far too serious reviews, but the movie still has legions of vehement supporters who make it mandatory viewing each holiday season. Plus, classic rock fans will LOVE the soundtrack (well, aside from the Hanson covers)!
Nicholas “Nick” Claus (aka Santa Claus) has an older brother, Fred, and he’s nothing like his little bro. In fact, while Nick gives things away, Fred works as a repo man taking them back. With Paul Giamatti as Nick and Vince Vaughn as Fred, the results are hilarious in this 2007 box-office topper. The question is, will the siblings come together when an efficiency expert arrives at the North Pole, hell-bent on shutting down Christmas forever? And for all those who have ever been in the shadow of a sibling, the scene at Fred’s “Siblings Anonymous” Group featuring the likes of Roger Clinton, Frank Stallone and Stephen Baldwin is a classic!
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
Based on the 1902 children’s book by L. Frank Baum (of The Wizard of Oz fame), this stop-motion-animated TV special from the legendary Rankin/Bass arrived in 1985 and remains a family favorite as it depicts the celebrated holiday gift-giver from his days as a literal “babe in the woods” through his metamorphosis to the jolly fellow that children around the world know today.
Frosty's Winter Wonderland
This 1976 television sequel to the 1969 TV Special Frosty the Snowman is another Rankin/Bass effort; a 25-minute holiday treat that remains a solid family favorite. Narrated by Andy Griffith and shot in “animagic” (aka “stop motion animated puppetry”…. got all that?), Frosty’s Winter Wonderland continues to capture the imagination of each new generation.
And here’s one from 2006 for all the kids who can imagine being stuck in an airport on Christmas Eve with no parental units around. Forced into isolation (not as barbaric as it sounds), the young-ins with little in common on the surface soon find they’re not all that different after all, especially when it comes to combating the airport guards and reminding us that the holidays aren’t about who you are, but who you’re with.
What’s worse than getting laid-off from your job on Christmas Eve? If you’re Ginger Rogers in 1939’s Bachelor Mother, it might be helping an abandoned infant and then having everyone assume that the baby is yours, which also leads your boss’s son (David Niven) to get your job back out of concern for the now single mother. A fun little romantic comedy that takes place during the holiday season and dances effortlessly through it.
Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
With a title culled from a biblical passage, this 1945 tearjerker starring Margaret O’Brien (in her third entry on our list) and the legendary Edward G. Robinson (playing against his gangster trademark roles) had been largely forgotten for decades until our friends at the Warner Archive Collection brought it out on DVD a couple of years ago. An old-fashioned melodrama depicting the residents of a small farming community in Wisconsin, Our Vines Have Tender Grapes is one of those small movies that can make a big impression. Classic era fans will want to watch this old trailer we found featuring Spencer Tracy and O'Brien doing a promo for the film.
For Your Consideration
While Purim is a Jewish holiday that doesn’t exactly fall this time of year, we couldn’t resist listing this holiday-themed parody of today’s entertainment industry from the comedic troupe that gave us such classics as This is Spinal Tap and Best in Show. And while For Your Consideration may not reach those heights, the tale of the making of a small independent film (Home for Purim) and the subsequent internet rumors of an “Oscar buzz” that turns the members of the cast and crew even more narcissistic than they already are is irresistible. So if you feel like making fun of Hollywood types around the dinner table this holiday season, For Your Consideration will give you plenty of laughs and points for discussion.