Charting the Years With the Most Holiday Cheer On Screen

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Howard Langston, rummaging through a ball pit.

Did you feel the same degree of Christmas cheer in 2021 as you did in 2011? The holidays don't always hit the same, which is apparently true in Hollywood. We have found that some years produce far more (and better) Christmas movies than others.

In ranking the best years for Christmas flicks, analysts at BestBettingSites considered the total number of holiday films released, the average IMDb rating for those movies, and the number of votes cast for the rating (indicating how impactful the film was with viewers).


Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

While certain calendar years feel like Winter Wonderland in movie theaters, others are the audio-visual equivalent of a lump of coal. 1990 was the former, with Home Alone serving as valedictorian of the class. Die Hard 2, which has a legion of cult followers and an IMDb score of 7.1, further bolsters 1990 as the top year for Christmas movies.

Though researchers considered only two Christmas films released this year, they were classics.

Is Die Hard 2 a Christmas movie, though? Debate to the death in the comments.

2. 1983

Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story (1983)
Image Credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Few films have pandered so successfully to the Christmas-crazed theater crowd than A Christmas Story. While researchers counted two total Christmas films released in 1983, Ralphie, Scut Farkus, and the rest of the motley crew in A Christmas Story are responsible for 1983's lofty rating.

As an annual reminder, be extra careful with your Red Ryder pea shooter this year. We wouldn't want you to shoot your eye out.

3. 1988

Die Hard with a Vengeance Movie (1995)
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

1988 received a high “Christmassy” score due to a large volume of Christmas films and a couple of standout flicks. Among the five total films researchers considered from 1988, Die Hard and Bill Murray's Scrooged are most recognizable. 

We have to ask: Die Hard…Christmas movie? Or no? Sound off in the comments, you filthy animals.

4. 2003

Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (2003)
Image Credit: Miramax Films.

Many of us stopped counting Christmas “classics” in the mid-1990s. Yet, 2003 serves as a reminder that holiday cheer made it through Y2K. 

The six recorded holiday films released in 2003 include Elf, Bad Santa, and Love Actually. While the core demographic of viewers who love Bad Santa and Love Actually are polar opposites, I might be the one guy sitting in the middle of that Venn Diagram. 2003 truly gave us our pick of Christmas movies. 

5. 1987

Frank Oz and Richard Hunt in A Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
Image Credit: Jim Henson Productions.

Researchers only considered two films in their 1987 Christmas movie slate. This was the year of the holiday special, with A Garfield Christmas and A Muppet Family Christmas among the notable releases. 

Lasagna and cookies for Christmas, it is.

6. 1989

Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The documentarians of the Christmas movie pantheon identified 1989 as a seminal year, thanks to Clark Griswold. Though researchers considered three-holiday films released this year, Clark & Co. is the reason for this high ranking.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation remains a masterclass in how the holidays can end up FUBAR. When the multi-colored bulbs don't light up, and the derelict uncle shows up unexpectedly, remember that you're not the first family to suffer these tests of patience.

Put on the Santa hat, take another large swig of eggnog, grit, and bear it—just like Clark taught you in 1989.

7. 1974

The Year Without a Santa Claus 1974 Rankin Bass Animated Entertainment e1702509919340
Image Credit: Rankin_Bass Animated Entertainment.

Out of the four films the data included from 1974, the television movies The Year Without a Santa Claus and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas are, by far, the holly jolliest. The fight film Black Christmas is highly rated (for what it is, which is a downer), but is less likely to be in the Christmas film rotation of fun-loving families seeking Christmas cheer.

8. 1993

The Nightmare Before Christmas Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas may be the most recognizable holiday film from 1993 and remains highly rated on IMDb. However, Tim Burton films are not everyone's cup of eggnog, and Frosty Returns and The Twelve Days of Christmas might pair better with your fire-roasted chestnuts. 

9. 1985

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Image Credit: TriStar Pictures.

Santa Claus: The Movie is the first result that returns when you Google “1984 Christmas movies,” and it is one reason why 1985 ranks in the top ten “Christmassy” cinematic years. Disney's One Magic Christmas is another holiday-centric film released in 1985.

While four Christmas-themed films released in 1985 performed respectably with critics, Rocky IV stole the holiday box office season.

10. 1982

A still frame of the Smurf Christmas Special (1982). A child and a mother are on the left of the screen, protected by Papa Smurf against a wolf on the right.
Image Credit: Hanna-Barbera Productions.

The 1982 television special The Snowman feels like a throwback to the silent film era, and it's as heartwarming as sipping a cup of hot cocoa next to the fireplace. The Smurfs' Christmas Special paired with The Snowman to make the 1982 release calendar (from which researchers considered only two holiday films) one of the most wholesome on record.

11. 2009

A Christmas Carol, Jim Carrey
Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

This year ranks highly, first and foremost, because of its sheer volume of Christmas movies. The data compilers counted eight holiday-themed movies in 2009, including A Christmas Carol (the animated Jim Carrey remake), 12 Men of Christmas, and A Dog Named Christmas

Again, volume—not necessarily quality—justifies this ranking.

12. 1971

Alastair Sim voicing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1971)
Image Credit: Richard Williams Productions.

The original A Christmas Carol stands out among the two films researchers considered Christmas movies in 1971. The animated take on Dickens' classic aired on ABC that year and is the only Christmas Carol film (and there are many) to win an Oscar.

13. 1984

Gremlins Movie (1984)
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

If you pick two films to release during a holiday season, Gremlins and A Christmas Carol are solid choices. One draws on Charles Dickens' source material in presenting a cautionary tale about being miserly. The other film is about small, cute furballs who arrive in wrapped, bow-topped boxes to ruin Christmas Eve with unfathomable mischief.

What more could you want in your holiday film selections?

14. 2019

Luke Macfarlane and Merritt Patterson in Chateau Christmas (2020)
Image Credit: Crown Media United States, Hallmark

The streaming explosion has given undue weight to recent years, as researchers counted 71 films in its 2019 roundup. Studios are shamelessly copy-pasting Christmas-themed romantic comedies, hoping that something sticks. Seriously, just Google “2019 Christmas movies,” and you'll find abominations like Chateau Christmas, Christmas in the Highlands, and Christmas on the Range.

Noelle might be the best of the Great Christmas Movie Glut of 2019, and that says it all.

15. 1992

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

This year should undoubtedly rank higher on this list based solely on the inclusion of Home Alone 2. It's one of the rare sequels that is arguably more enjoyable than the original. Who doesn't live vicariously through Kevin McAllister as he orders endless sundaes and pizza to his suite at The Plaza?

The Muppet Christmas Carol is just the cherry on top of this year, from which researchers considered five total holiday films.

16. 2002

Eight Crazy Nights Animated Movie (2002)
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

2002 is one of the strongest years on the modern record for Christmas movies. The five films researchers considered include The Santa Claus 2, Adam Sandler's Eight Crazy Nights (a polarizing but popular one), and It's a Very Muppet Christmas Movie.

Even Ice Cube's R-rated comedy Friday After Next adopted a Christmas theme to capitalize on viewers' hunger for holiday pageantry. 

17. 1977

Orson Welles, Cloris Leachman, Marlo Thomas, and Wayne Rogers in It Happened One Christmas (1977)
Image Credit: Daisy Productions;
Universal Television

This year gets extra credit for having ten Christmas movies, as most weren't good. The poorly-rated It Happened One Christmas garners the most internet attention, making this another year where quantity prevailed over quality.

18. 2000

how the grinch stole christmas
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

While researchers only counted one Christmas film in 2000, that film was the polarizing How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Ron Howard's campy take on the Dr. Seuss classic is beloved by many but detested by those who find Jim Carrey (and the film's general aesthetic) over the top. 

19. 1999

A Christmas Carol (1999) Movie
Image Credit: TNT.

Of the six Christmas films counted in the study, Patrick Stewart's version of A Christmas Carol may be the most known and loved. Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas and A Season for Miracles are also well-regarded flicks to watch as the snow falls and the hearth blazes.

20. 2020

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two (2020)
Image Credit: 1492 Pictures; 20th Street Pictures; Wonder Worldwide

It's almost impossible to wrap one's head around the sheer number of movies released on streaming platforms. The fact that there are 83 Christmas films released in 2020 shows how oversaturated entertainment has become, and you probably can't name even one of the Christmas movies from 2020.

How about A Royal Corgi Christmas? Yes, that's a real thing.

21. 1996

Jingle All the Way Movie (1996) comforting christmas
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Though it was never going to win any Oscars, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way remains one of the kid-centric Christmas movies from the '90s that millennials still watch fondly. Sufficiently silly with an Arnold-strength embrace of holiday consumer culture, Jingle All the Way is one of five Christmas movies that make 1996 memorable.

22. 1970

Santa Claus is Comin to Town 1970 Rankin Bass Productions 2 e1701703166903
Image Credit: Rankin Bass Productions.

The highest-rated Christmas flicks from 1970 include the animated Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, the musical Scrooge, and The Juggler of Notre Dame. These are three of the four films researchers counted when ranking 1970 as the 22nd merriest film season of all time.

23. 1995

Susan Lucci and Elan Ross Gibson in Ebbie (1995)
Image Credit: Crescent Entertainment; Maverick Productions; Victor Television Productions.

1995 was an amazing year for film, but the four-film holiday slate was relatively modest. The TV movie Ebbie is yet another rendition of A Christmas Carol, and it is one of four fairly forgettable offerings. 

24. 1973

A still frame from the 1973 animated short 'The Nutcracker'.
Image Credit: Bernard Sofronski

The Soviet-produced short The Nutcracker is the most renowned holiday release from the three-movie field of 1973. That tells you that the list is starting to fall off considerably, as we've bypassed most of the holiday classics that will be playing this Christmas season.

Author: Sam Mire

Title: Popular Culture and Film Writer

Expertise: Film and Television, Life Advice, Comedic Writing, Movies, DIY Handiwork, Books, Current Events and Popular Culture


Sam Mire is a freelance writer with over seven years' experience writing about entertainment, global events, American law, and sports. With a Journalism degree from the University of South Florida, Sam focuses on popular culture, film and television, and general life advice in his role for Wealth of Geeks.