The Most Underrated Christmas Movies to Watch This Holiday Season

The Most Underrated Christmas Movies to Watch This Holiday Season

featured image all i want for christmas

The holiday season is upon us. It is a time to spend with family and friends, listen to carols, and find a gift for your loved ones. For movie lovers, it's also the time to indulge in our favorite Holiday films. Everyone has their list that they watch every year, but there are often worthwhile films that go unnoticed and underappreciated.

While everyone reveres the classics like It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, the modern comedies such as National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Elf, the rom coms like Love Actually and The Holiday, and family favorites such as A Christmas Story, Home Alone, The Santa Clause and The Polar Express, there are many, many other holiday-themed films that deserve a spot of that list. Here is a list of 15 of the most underrated Christmas movies to watch this holiday season. Don't forget to check it twice!

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

15. One Magic Christmas (1985)

Underrated Christmas Movies

A very affecting film, One Magic Christmas follows a down on their luck family that's fallen on hard financial times: a brother and sister who are hoping for a nice Christmas but have their doubts, a kind and optimistic father who wants his kids, and the kids of his neighbors, to have the best Christmas, and a cynical mother who has lost her Christmas spirit and much or her faith and optimism. When Santa Claus entrusts the Christmas angel Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton) to help out the Grainger family, especially mother Ginny (Mary Steenburgen), find her faith again, what follows is a heart trending story akin to It's A Wonderful Life with moments that showcase the importance of compassion and generosity.

Folks should have tissues ready when watching this one. A family drama from the 80s, don't let the fact that this is a Disney film give you any preconceived notions. This isn't whimsical or light-hearted as we come to expect from Disney films now. Before it reaches its happy conclusion, this has some very dark and serious moments. However, the blend of fantasy and grounded drama creates a touching story worthy of a watch this season.

Available on DVD, to rent, and to stream on Disney Plus.

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures. 

14. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

the man who came to dinner

When one thinks of a self-centered, egotistical, even at times heartless curmudgeon of a character in classic holiday tales, one immediately thinks of Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol or Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. If there ever were another character to add to this list, it would be Sheridan Whiteside in this lesser-known holiday gem. After falling on some ice in front of the home of the Midwestern Stanley family, the guilt-ridden household offers to let the critic Mr. Whiteside (Monty Woolley) and his long-suffering and ever-patient assistant Maggie (Bette Davis) stay with them during the holidays while he recovers from his hip injury.

Turning their home upside down and creating havoc every moment, Whiteside has to learn to put aside his own needs and wants, especially when he interferes with the love life of Maggie and the kind and handsome reporter she meets. Featuring a colorful cast of character actors including Billie Burke, Jimmy Durante, and Ann Sheridan, this film, based on the acclaimed stage play of the same name, is sharp, witty, lively, and in the end, heartwarming.

Available on DVD, to rent on Prime, or to Stream on HBO Max.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

13. The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

the bells of st marys

Set during the holiday season, this sequel to the film Going My Way follows the kindly and unconventional priest Father O'Malley, portrayed by Bing Crosby, as he has some clashes with Sister Benedict at a school on the brink of financial hardship. Both have different opinions and often respectfully disagree as they work together to help the students and the institution. A standout moment is seeing the young children put on a play of “The Christmas Story” that will have you laughing at their innocent interpretations. It's a gently told and poignant classic film.

Available on DVD or stream it on Tubi.

Image Credit: RKO Radio Pictures. 

12. Bachelor Mother (1939)

bachelor mother

If you are looking for the perfect film to watch just after Christmas to ring in the New Year, this light-hearted and often hilarious comedy starring Ginger Rogers, David Niven, and Charles Coburn is the way to go. Following a kind, confident, but lonely shop girl Polly Parish, her life forever changes when she witnesses a baby being left on the doorstep of a foundling home and is mistaken for the baby's mother by not only the people at the home but also by her employer, who gives the recently dismissed Polly her job back.

Though Rogers is perhaps best known as one half of the dancing duo Astaire and Rogers, she is also a brilliantly comedic and dramatic actress. This gem lets her, as well as Niven, Coburn, and others, show off their comedy chops, as romance and hijinks ensue when Niven and Coburn's David and John Merlin question the child's parentage. This sweet-natured comedy may not be the most Christmassy on the list, but it's certainly the most charming and humorous.

Available on DVD, to rent, and to stream on Vudu.

Image Credit: RKO Radio Pictures. 

11. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

the man who invented christmas 1

A Christmas Carol has been told countless times since it was first published in 1843. Plays, musicals, numerous theatrical films, some classic, some contemporary, it's one of the most touching and timeless stories ever created and truly the inception of the joyous and generous nature of the holiday season, where even the grumpiest of grumps (or in this case Scrooges) can be overcome with a sense of goodwill and happiness. But how was the story created?

Well, this film portrays the life of Charles Dickens as he writes the classic tale, told in a beautiful, moving, and creative way as the beloved characters he creates appear before him as the story unfolds in his mind. Featuring a wonderful cast including Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, with a feeling akin to the equally wonderful Finding Neverland, this period film is a unique take on a classic story.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, to rent, or Stream on Hulu.

Image Credit: Elevation Pictures.

10. Remember the Night (1940)

remeber the night scaled

Before Barbara Stanwyk and Fred MacMurray starred in the dark noir classic Double Indemnity, they starred together in something completely different. This moving holiday drama follows a by-the-book but fair and sympathetic attorney that takes home a shoplifter over the holiday weekend, so she doesn't have to stay in jail before her trial. As one might expect, romance blossoms as the two truly get to know each other and must deal with the harsh reality of the situation while not giving up hope for one moment. If the scenario and tropes sound familiar, it's because of classic films like this. Tender performances and a heartfelt story make this little-known film worth checking out.

Available on DVD.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

9. Eloise at Christmastime (2003)

eloise of christmastime

This TV movie, a sequel to Eloise at the Plaza, is not only superior to its predecessor but should be a holiday staple for families right alongside The Grinch, Charlie Brown and The Polar Express. A colorful and sweet movie, this story is about six year old Eloise, who lives at the Plaza Hotel with her nanny (the indelible Julie Andrews) while her mother is away working and is as precocious as they come, getting into everyone's business, much to the exasperation of the hotel staff.

A simple and romantic story, Eloise becomes entangled in the romantic life of her bell boy pal Bill who works at the hotel, and his former sweetheart, who has returned with a new fiancé. Broadway star Gavin Creel sings and charms, Christine Baranski and Jeffery Tambor provide laughs as the exacerbated Plaza Hotel staff, while Eloise herself (Sofia Vassilieva) and her nanny Julie Andrews truly sparkle. If there ever was a holiday film to be called as sweet as sugar plums, it's this true delight.

Available on DVD or to buy on Amazon.

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures. 

8. Fred Claus (2007)

fred clause

What if Santa Claus had a brother, or more specifically, a brother who did not get along with him? Well, this hilarious and heartwarming film tells the story of Fred Claus, the older brother of Kris Kringle himself. After an early childhood misunderstanding, Fred begins to resent his saintly brother and grows up to be a cynical opportunist who hates Christmas and never visits his family. He has a good heart deep down, but after getting in trouble with the law, and a breakup with his loving but long-suffering girlfriend, he travels up to the North Pole to work with his brother Saint Nick, who is having troubles of his own.

Unique and funny, Vince Vaughn provides his usual charm, while Paul Giamatti is a different but likable Santa in this tale of brothers learning to understand each other. With a star-studded cast including Rachel Weiz and Kathy Bates, this film mixes raucous humor with deeply heartfelt themes about the true meaning of Christmas. It will make you laugh and maybe even shed a tear.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, to rent, or stream it on TBS and HBO Max.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

7. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

while you were sleeping scaled

One of Sandra Bullock's earliest films is this delightful romantic comedy set during the holidays. Following Lucy, a lonely woman who works at the train station in Chicago, she admires Peter from afar, but one day saves his life after he falls onto the tracks after a mugging. After he ends up in a coma, a misunderstanding leads the nurse and his family to believe that she is his fiancée.

The family embraces her with open arms, including Peter's charming brother Jack. Lucy falls in love with having a family again and doesn't know how to tell them the truth. And, of course, romance and hilarity ensue. Well-written with a top-notch cast including Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Jack Warden, Glynis Johns, and Peter Boyle, this rom-com may have an unlikely scenario but feels authentic in its characters and feelings of loneliness and love of family.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, to rent, or stream on Disney Plus.

Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures. 

6. Holiday Affair (1949)

holiday affair

One of the first holiday romantic comedies, much like Remember the Night, the tropes and scenarios we know and love from the modern romance film abound in this classic gem. Following a widowed woman who loves her son and likes her boyfriend Carl very much, her life becomes a bit of a whirlwind when she inadvertently gets a kind and handsome stranger fired, and their friendly talks become something more. Set during Christmas, this romance is about learning to take risks and being honest with your feelings and is about truly good-hearted people. Featuring the beautiful and graceful Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum in one of his gentlest performances ever, fun holiday cheer, Christmas trees, toy trains, and one of the cutest little kids ever to grace the screen, this film truly shines.

Available on DVD, to rent, and to stream on HBO Max.

Image Credit: RKO Radio Pictures. 

5. The Shop Around the Corner/in the Good Old Summertime (1940/1949)

the shop around the corner scaled

When a story is strong and its themes timeless, it can be told more than once, each with lovely results. Such is the case with the story of two people who write to each other anonymously without knowing they are rivals in real life. Modern audiences know this as You've Got Mail, and the only reason it's not included here is that very rightly so, it is much beloved. However, the original film and its subsequent musical remake are criminally underrated.

The Shop Around the Corner is set in post-war Budapest with a small shop of Leather Goods, Matacheck and Co, and stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as two co-workers who constantly are at odds, whilst unknowingly are dear friends who have been writing each other anonymous love letters. There are both funny and quite serious moments in this superbly written and earnestly performed film. The story is retold in almost a carbon copy of a scenario only nine years later. Still, it's lighter, filled with music, set in turn-of-the-century America, and stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson as real-life rivals and anonymous would-be lovers. Every bit as charming as the original, do not let the film's title confuse you as most of the plot takes place during the Christmas season, with colorful and sweet songs and imagery set against this truly romantic and well-told tale.

The Shop Around the Corner is available on DVD, to rent, and to stream on HBO Max. In The Good Old Summertime is available on DVD and to rent.

Image Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

4. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Christmas in Connecticut

If there ever were a film that could be titled the coziest and most romantic holiday movie, it would be Christmas in Connecticut. The plot is simple: Elizabeth Larsen is a renowned food journalist known for her recipes of culinary delights and descriptions of her farm in New England, where she supposedly lives with her husband and baby. The conundrum is that Elizabeth is, in actuality, a single woman who gets all her recipes from her friend Felix, the cuddly owner of a restaurant with his namesake, and who has no intention of marrying anytime soon despite her would-be, but thoroughly unromantic, beau always asking. And when her editor asks her to host a soldier and war hero at her home for Christmas, she must scramble to keep up appearances and her job.

As is expected, love soon forms between Elizabeth and the soldier, made complicated, of course, by her “marital status.” What is undeniably lovely about this film is the warmth it radiates, the charm it exudes, and the humor it employs. Barbara Stanwyck is luminous in her sweetest role ever. Dennis Morgan is charming as the visiting soldier, while S.Z. Sakall and Sydney Greenstreet chew the scenery and steal every scene they are in. With sleigh rides, barn dances, and pancake flipping lessons, it will make you long for a Christmas spent in a quaint town of the past.

Available on DVD to rent and stream on Spectrum.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

3. White Christmas (1954)

white christmas

One may be surprised to see this classic movie musical based on the music of Irving Berlin, as it has gained more favor and attention in recent years. Despite that, this film remains criminally underrated compared to other classics like Miracle on 34th Street. White Christmas should be crowned the most beautiful Christmas film based on visual aesthetics alone. This film is brimming with oversaturated colors, especially in the musical sequences. But not only is White Christmas a visually gorgeous affair, but the music is also divine and the story as sweet as they come.

The story follows the musical pair of Bob Wallace and Phil Dais, two soldiers turned musical superstars, and the equally talented Haynes Sisters, whom they meet as a favor to an Army pal and soon travel to the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, unknowingly owned by their former commander in the Army, General Waverly. While dealing with the lack of customers due to uncharacteristically warm weather, the quartet of singers proposes to put on a musical show to entice guests to the Inn and save the establishment from ruin.

Colorful and romantic, its light-hearted but also touching story is matched by the talent of the superb cast, including the quintessential Christmas crooner Bing Crosby, affable Danny Kaye, stunning singer Rosemary Clooney, and dancer extraordinaire Vera-Ellen. If you want a film that feels as comforting as a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day, White Christmas is the perfect treat.

Available on DVD/Blu-Ray, to rent, or to stream on Netflix.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

2. The Bishop's Wife (1947)

the bishops wife

In this heartfelt and poignant dramatic film, a kind but harried bishop prays for guidance as raising money for his church is stressful, especially dealing with a difficult benefactor. It leads him to neglect his wife and children and ultimately his true role as a bishop to his parishioners. His prayer is answered in the form of Dudley, an utterly dashing angel who charms everyone he meets, including the bishop's wife, Julia. Soon, the angel Dudley begins to like his role as stand-in family man and friend to everyone a little too much, while Bishop Brougham must remember the true meaning of the season and what really matters in his life and those who look to him for guidance.

The most overtly religious film on this list has a specific target audience. Still, in truth, The Bishop's Wife is a warm and beautiful gem of a film about love, generosity, and faith not only in the religious sense but in that we must always have faith in our fellow person. Starring Loretta Young, Cary Grant, and David Niven, who coincidentally filmed a few weeks in each other's roles before director Henry Koster proposed they switch parts and start filming over again (and thank goodness they did), The Bishop's Wife is equally heartwarming and moving.

Available on DVD and to stream on Amazon Prime.

Image Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Productions. 

1. All I Want for Christmas (1991)

all i want christmas

One of the greatest family holiday films ever, this movie has never received the notoriety it deserved despite its sweet-natured story and fine cast. It's not difficult to understand why it was overlooked upon release, as it competed with another Holiday film, the understandably immensely popular and successful comedy Home Alone. But over the years, All I Want for Christmas has never reached the pinnacle of popularity and thus is the most underrated Christmas movie of all.

The film follows brother and sister Hallie and Ethan O'Fallon (Thora Birch and Ethan Embry), who conspire to get their divorced parents back together by Christmas Eve. Hallie, being the feisty and true believer that she is, marches herself down to Macy's to ask Santa himself to bring her parents together again, while older brother Ethan is more tactful and a bit of a prankster devising a parent trap of sorts with the help of a new friend. The unknowing adults in the film, including Jaime Sheridan, Harley Jane Kozak, Kevin Nealon, and the great Lauran Bacall, are none the wiser to the intelligent schemes of these siblings and hilarity and, of course, romance ensues.

A film that will make you long to spend Christmas in New York City, All I Want for Christmas boasts a wonderful cast, genuine and naturally comedic and heartfelt performances, and what Christmas should truly be about. It's not about the perfect gift, or seeing The Nutcracker, or having a fancy dinner, as wonderful as those are. It's about being with the ones we love because family and friends are the greatest gifts of all.

Available on DVD, to rent, and to stream on Kanopy.

Image Credit: Paramount Pictures. 

Honorable Mentions

Christmas with the Kranks

I'll Be Seeing You, Christmas with the Kranks, It Happened On 5th Avenue, The Christmas Chronicles, Noelle, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

Image Credit: Revolution Studios Distribution Company. 

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Featured Image Credit: Elevation Pictures.


Marianne Paluso is a freelance artist and writer inspired by her favorite films, television, theme parks and all things pop culture. She especially loves Disney, classic films, fairy tales, period dramas, musicals, adventures, mysteries, and a good rom-com. She also partakes in the occasional Disneybound, cosplay, and YouTube video.