New Line/courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line/courtesy Everett Collection)

22 Modern Christmas Classics to Add to Your Holiday Movie List

When most people think of classic Christmas movies, their minds sleigh-ride back through the decades to films like It’s A Wonderful LifeA Christmas StoryMiracle on 34th Street, and Christmas Vacation. To movies that they’ve grown up with, movies they’ve spent dozens of holiday seasons sprawled out in front of, digesting Thanksgiving and Christmas and other holiday dinners. But there are a number of holiday-themed and holiday-set movies released in the last 20 years that are just as worthy of your Yuletide viewing as those tried-and-true favorites. These are the world’s modern Christmas classics – or should-be-classics – and we think that this year, once that bell rings and the angel gets its wings for the umpteenth time in your household, you should try something Fresh for your festive viewing.

We compiled this list of modern Christmas classics using a very simple set of criteria: the movies had to be about Christmas or set firmly during the holiday; they had to have been released after the year 2000; and they had to have a Fresh score with a minimum of 20 reviews. Some are titles you will no doubt be familiar with, movies from the earlier years of the 21st Century that have already assumed the “classic” label in the ensuing years – we’re looking at you Elf and the ever-divisive Love Actually. Others are Certified Fresh gems that have gone totally under-appreciated in our opinions. (Why Arthur Christmas, at 92% on the Tomatometer, isn’t every kid’s go-to holiday flick is beyond us.) Others still are off-beat foreign gems, like the scary, weird, and wonderful Finnish killer Santa movie, Rare Exports, or Japanese animation, Tokyo Godfathers. Some, like Die Hard before them, will inspire debate about whether they even are “Christmas movies.”

Could Paul Feig’s Last Christmas, which hits theaters this November, join this list one day?

If you’re looking for something different this season, slip a sack-full of these charming/hilarious/weird/heartwarming/scary flicks into your holiday rotation. Or, if you’re feeling more traditional, check our our list of the 50 Best Christmas Movies of All Time.

Adjusted Score: 68.693%
Critics Consensus: Viewers seeking a fresh holiday viewing option -- or those simply in the mood for Santa Kurt Russell -- should find The Christmas Chronicles well worth a yuletide stream.
Synopsis: THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES, a holiday adventure from producer Chris Columbus ("Home Alone", "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") and director... [More]
Directed By: Clay Kaytis


Love Actually (2003)

Adjusted Score: 70.38%
Critics Consensus: A sugary tale overstuffed with too many stories. Still, the cast charms.
Synopsis: All of London is in love -- or longing to be -- in Four Weddings and a Funeral writer Richard... [More]
Directed By: Richard Curtis


Krampus (2015)

Adjusted Score: 70.42%
Critics Consensus: Krampus is gory good fun for fans of non-traditional holiday horror with a fondness for Joe Dante's B- movie classics, even if it doesn't have quite the savage bite its concept calls for.
Synopsis: When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does... [More]
Directed By: Michael Dougherty


The Night Before (2015)

Adjusted Score: 73.606%
Critics Consensus: The Night Before provokes enough belly laughs to qualify as a worthwhile addition to the list of Christmas comedies worth revisiting, even if it isn't quite as consistent as the classics.
Synopsis: Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have been friends since childhood, and for a decade, their... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Levine

Adjusted Score: 71.629%
Critics Consensus: Still raunchy, still irreverent, and still hit-and-miss, this Harold & Kumar outing also has a Christmas miracle: The audience gets to see the sweeter side of the duo.
Synopsis: Following years of growing apart, Harold Lee (Cho) and Kumar Patel (Penn) have replaced each other with new friends and... [More]

Adjusted Score: 74.142%
Critics Consensus: The Best Man Holiday manages honest laughs out of broad humor, and affects convincing drama from a deeply conventional plot.
Synopsis: After nearly 15 years apart, Taye Diggs (television's Private Practice), Nia Long (Soul Food), Morris Chestnut (Kick-Ass 2), Harold Perrineau... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee

Adjusted Score: 77.371%
Critics Consensus: The poignant humanity on display in Joyeux Noel makes its sentimentality forgivable.
Synopsis: Scottish, French and German troops declare a spontaneous Christmas Eve truce in the trenches of World War I in this... [More]
Directed By: Christian Carion


Happy Christmas (2014)

Adjusted Score: 78.433%
Critics Consensus: Intelligent, well-acted, and satisfyingly low-key, Happy Christmas marks another step in prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg's creative evolution.
Synopsis: When Jenny (Anna Kendrick), a hard partying 20-something moves in with Kelly (Melanie Lynskey), a budding novelist, her film director... [More]
Directed By: Joe Swanberg


Bad Santa (2003)

Adjusted Score: 85.346%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
Synopsis: The Christmas season just got a lot less joyous in this very dark comedy. Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton)... [More]
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff

Adjusted Score: 81.618%
Critics Consensus: Anna and the Apocalypse finds fresh brains and a lot of heart in the crowded zombie genre - not to mention a fun genre mashup populated by rootable characters.
Synopsis: A zombie apocalypse threatens the sleepy town of Little Haven -- at Christmas -- forcing Anna and her friends to... [More]
Directed By: John McPhail


Get Santa (2014)

Adjusted Score: 79.276%
Critics Consensus: With a bombastic performance from Jim Broadbent, Get Santa brilliantly captures the joys of the Christmas holiday.
Synopsis: It's days before Christmas and reindeer are found running loose through the streets of London. Meanwhile an astonished 9 year-old... [More]

Adjusted Score: 85.855%
Critics Consensus: The Man Who Invented Christmas adds holiday magic to the writing of A Christmas Carol, putting a sweetly revisionist spin on the story behind a classic yuletide tale.
Synopsis: The Man Who Invented Christmas tells of the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer),... [More]
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri


Ben is Back (2018)

Adjusted Score: 89.982%
Critics Consensus: Refreshingly understated, Ben Is Back subverts family drama stereotypes - and provides a forum for terrific performances from Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.
Synopsis: 19 year-old Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) unexpectedly returns home to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve morning. Ben's mother,... [More]
Directed By: Peter Hedges


Elf (2003)

Adjusted Score: 89.508%
Critics Consensus: A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers.
Synopsis: For his sophomore stab at directing, actor/writer/director Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made), took on this holiday comedy starring Saturday Night Live-alum... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

Adjusted Score: 91.92%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Synopsis: A murder mystery brings together a private eye, a struggling actress, and a thief masquerading as an actor.... [More]
Directed By: Shane Black

Adjusted Score: 90.6%
Critics Consensus: A sharp black comedy about a chaotic family holiday gathering, A Christmas Tale is always involving, thanks to an impressive ensemble cast.
Synopsis: The devastating reverberations of a profound tragedy echo through generations of a long-suffering French family in this emotional family drama... [More]
Directed By: Arnaud Desplechin


Better Watch Out (2017)

Adjusted Score: 90.94%
Critics Consensus: Carried by its charismatic young cast, Better Watch Out is an adorably sinister holiday horror film.
Synopsis: This holiday season, you may be home, but you're not alone... In this fresh and gleefully twisted spin on home-invasion... [More]
Directed By: Chris Peckover

Adjusted Score: 92.619%
Critics Consensus: Rare Exports is an unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror.
Synopsis: It's the eve of Christmas in northern Finland, and an 'archeological' dig has just unearthed the real Santa Claus. But... [More]
Directed By: Jalmari Helander


Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Adjusted Score: 91.415%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful and substantive, Tokyo Godfathers adds a moving -- and somewhat unconventional -- entry to the animated Christmas canon.
Synopsis: Tokyo Godfathers, the acclaimed holiday classic from master director Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue), returns to theaters in a brand-new... [More]
Directed By: Satoshi Kon, Shôgo Furuya


Arthur Christmas (2011)

Adjusted Score: 96.982%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: The 3D, CG-animated family comedy Arthur Christmas, an Aardman production for Sony Pictures Animation, at last reveals the incredible, never-before... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith, Barry Cook


Carol (2015)

Adjusted Score: 105.958%
Critics Consensus: Shaped by Todd Haynes' deft direction and powered by a strong cast led by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, Carol lives up to its groundbreaking source material.
Synopsis: In this adaptation of the novel "The Price of Salt" by Patricia Highsmith, Therese (Rooney Mara), a young department-store clerk... [More]
Directed By: Todd Haynes


Tangerine (2015)

Adjusted Score: 101.564%
Critics Consensus: Tangerine shatters casting conventions and its filmmaking techniques are up-to-the-minute, but it's an old-fashioned comedy at heart -- and a pretty wonderful one at that.
Synopsis: A working girl tears through Tinseltown on Christmas Eve searching for the pimp who broke her heart. (C) Magnolia... [More]
Directed By: Sean Baker (II)

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