(Photo by New Line, Warner Bros., Miramax, RKO, 20th Century Fox/ courtesy Everett Collection)

The Best Christmas Movies of All Time

From Home Alone and Elf to classics like Miracle on 34th Street, we’ve made our list of great holiday films and checked it at least twice. Now, to all you nice boys and girls out there, we present the Best Christmas Movies ever!

Christmas has come to represent different things to people over the years, and the movies here reflect that in kind. If you’re traditional and feeling nostalgic, you’ll be pleased to see where It’s A Wonderful Life and Holiday Inn made it on our list of top holiday films. If this time of the year reminds you of sitting around the TV, eagerly awaiting those annual specials, look out for A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. There’s horror (Black Christmas), comedy (Trading Places), horror and comedy (Gremlins), and even a superhero covered in tinsel somewhere (Batman Returns). For those with an independent streak to celebrate, check out Tangerine and Carol. Meanwhile, Netflix has made great strides in the Kris Kringle quadrant with The Christmas Chronicles and Klaus. And if Christmas means traveling somewhere you don’t want to be, stuck in a building with people you don’t like, have we got the ultimate movie for you: Die Hard! Ho ho ho, now we have a complete list of great Christmas movies.

Wondering how we put this Christmas movie list together? Every movie on the list is Fresh and plays around with the spirit of Christmas and the holidays as a central theme. Then we sorted them all by our ranked formula, which factors in the movie’s release year its number of reviews, to make the ultimate list of holiday films that melted even the most cynical critics’ hearts.

One movie you won’t see on this list: the Rotten-rated Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. On our podcast, we discuss whether ‘Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong’ about this sequel.

And now you’re ready to enter a wonderland of cinematic history, with the Best Christmas Movies ever!

Best Christmas Movies | Worst Christmas Movies
Best and Worst Christmas Horror | Best Foreign Christmas Movies
Rotten Christmas Movies We Love | Modern Christmas Classics

#69

Remember the Night (1940)
100%

#69
Adjusted Score: 49253%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Moved to pity by the Christmas season, New York District Attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) lets pretty shoplifter Lee Leander... [More]
Directed By: Mitchell Leisen

#68
#68
Adjusted Score: 61774%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Six-year-old Susan Walker (Mara Wilson) is skeptical of the Christmas myth surrounding Santa Claus, a trait she perhaps learned from... [More]
Directed By: Les Mayfield

#67
#67
Adjusted Score: 62222%
Critics Consensus: Solid performances and a steady directorial hand help The Preacher's Wife offer some reliably heartwarming - albeit fairly predictable - holiday cheer.
Synopsis: A cleric begins to doubt himself and is visited by an angel. The heavenly emissary is supposed to help the... [More]
Directed By: Penny Marshall

#66
Adjusted Score: 63598%
Critics Consensus: Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square isn't quite up to its star's standards, but its overwhelming good cheer and campy self-awareness may be just what viewers are looking for.
Synopsis: A woman who plans to sell a small town without regard for the people who live there receives a visit... [More]
Directed By: Debbie Allen

#65
#65
Adjusted Score: 64475%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Desperate to avoid his family's judgment about his perpetual single status, Peter (Michael Urie) convinces his best friend Nick (Philemon... [More]
Directed By: Michael Mayer

#64

Silent Night (2021)
64%

#64
Adjusted Score: 69254%
Critics Consensus: Spending time with these characters can be a lot to ask, but Silent Night peers into the abyss with admirable aplomb.
Synopsis: From producers Matthew Vaughn (Kingsman franchise), Trudie Styler (Moon) and Celine Rattray (The Kids Are Alright), Silent Night follows parents... [More]
Directed By: Camille Griffin

#63
Adjusted Score: 69376%
Critics Consensus: While it's missing some of the magic of the original, The Christmas Chronicles 2 serves up a sweet second helping of holiday cheer that makes the most of its marvelously matched leads.
Synopsis: Teenager Kate Pierce is reunited with Santa Claus when a troublemaker threatens to cancel Christmas -- forever.... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#62
#62
Adjusted Score: 69791%
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: Siblings Kate and Teddy Pierce hatch a scheme to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When the plan goes awry,... [More]
Directed By: Clay Kaytis

#61
Adjusted Score: 70463%
Critics Consensus: While Christmas Vacation may not be the most disciplined comedy, it's got enough laughs and good cheer to make for a solid seasonal treat.
Synopsis: As the holidays approach, Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) wants to have a perfect family Christmas, so he pesters his wife,... [More]
Directed By: Jeremiah S. Chechik

#60

Love Actually (2003)
64%

#60
Adjusted Score: 71836%
Critics Consensus: A sugary tale overstuffed with too many stories. Still, the cast charms.
Synopsis: Nine intertwined stories examine the complexities of the one emotion that connects us all: love. Among the characters explored are... [More]
Directed By: Richard Curtis

#59

Krampus (2015)
67%

#59
Adjusted Score: 70916%
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: ... [More]
Directed By: Michael Dougherty

#58
Adjusted Score: 71644%
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: Six years after their last adventure, stoner pals Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart and found... [More]
Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson

#57
#57
Adjusted Score: 72964%
Critics Consensus: The rare slasher with enough intelligence to wind up the tension between bloody outbursts, Black Christmas offers fiendishly enjoyable holiday viewing for genre fans.
Synopsis: As winter break begins, a group of sorority sisters, including Jess (Olivia Hussey) and the often inebriated Barb (Margot Kidder),... [More]
Directed By: Bob Clark

#56

Godmothered (2020)
68%

#56
Adjusted Score: 72342%
Critics Consensus: More bippity boppity than boo, Godmothered tweaks fairytale conventions with just enough self-aware humor to overcome a disappointing deficit of genuine magic.
Synopsis: Set at Christmas time, "Godmothered" is a comedy about Eleanor, a young, inexperienced fairy godmother-in-training (Jillian Bell), who upon hearing... [More]
Directed By: Sharon Maguire

#55
#55
Adjusted Score: 73343%
Critics Consensus: The Best Man Holiday manages honest laughs out of broad humor, and affects convincing drama from a deeply conventional plot.
Synopsis: Nearly 15 years after they were last together as a group, college friends Lance (Morris Chestnut), Harper (Taye Diggs), Candace... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee

#54

Scrooged (1988)
69%

#54
Adjusted Score: 72390%
Critics Consensus: Scrooged gets by with Bill Murray and a dash of holiday spirit, although it's hampered by a markedly conflicted tone and an undercurrent of mean-spiritedness.
Synopsis: In this modern take on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a wildly successful television executive... [More]
Directed By: Richard Donner

#53

Home Alone (1990)
68%

#53
Adjusted Score: 71393%
Critics Consensus: Home Alone uneven but frequently funny premise stretched unreasonably thin is buoyed by Macaulay Culkin's cute performance and strong supporting stars.
Synopsis: When bratty 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) acts out the night before a family trip to Paris, his mother (Catherine... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#52
#52
Adjusted Score: 74177%
Critics Consensus: Frosty the Snowman is a jolly, happy sing-along that will delight children with its crisp animation and affable title character, who makes an indelible impression with his corncob pipe, button nose, and eyes made out of coal.
Synopsis: A discarded magic top hat brings to life the snowman that a group of children made, until a magician, professor... [More]

#51
#51
Adjusted Score: 74140%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A retelling of the classic Dickens tale with Disney's classic characters.... [More]
Directed By: Burny Mattinson

#50

The Night Before (2015)
69%

#50
Adjusted Score: 74215%
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: For the last 10 years, lifelong buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gathered on... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Levine

#49

The Ref (1994)
72%

#49
Adjusted Score: 75276%
Critics Consensus: Undeniably uneven and too dark for some, The Ref nonetheless boasts strong turns from Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, as well as a sharply funny script.
Synopsis: Bickering spouses (Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey) annoy the cat burglar (Denis Leary) who takes them hostage in their Connecticut home.... [More]
Directed By: Ted Demme

#48

The Santa Clause (1994)
72%

#48
Adjusted Score: 75593%
Critics Consensus: The Santa Clause is utterly undemanding, but it's firmly rooted in the sort of good old-fashioned holiday spirit missing from too many modern yuletide films.
Synopsis: Divorced dad Scott (Tim Allen) has custody of his son (Eric Lloyd) on Christmas Eve. After he accidentally kills a... [More]
Directed By: John Pasquin

#47
Adjusted Score: 76157%
Critics Consensus: The Force isn't fully with this Lego Star Wars adventure, but its affectionate franchise callbacks and self-aware humor should please fans looking to spend their holidays in a galaxy far, far away...
Synopsis: "The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special" reunites Rey, Finn, Poe, Chewie, Rose and the droids for a joyous feast on... [More]
Directed By: Ken Cunningham

#46

Happy Christmas (2014)
75%

#46
Adjusted Score: 77759%
Critics Consensus: Intelligent, well-acted, and satisfyingly low-key, Happy Christmas marks another step in prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg's creative evolution.
Synopsis: An immature party girl (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother's family to get over a breakup and throws their... [More]
Directed By: Joe Swanberg

#45

Merry Christmas (2005)
74%

#45
Adjusted Score: 78335%
Critics Consensus: The poignant humanity on display in Joyeux Noel makes its sentimentality forgivable.
Synopsis: With the advent of World War I, Europe is thrown into a brutal and vicious chaos as men are forced... [More]
Directed By: Christian Carion

#44
Adjusted Score: 77941%
Critics Consensus: It may not be the finest version of Charles Dickens' tale to grace the screen, but The Muppet Christmas Carol is funny and heartwarming, and serves as a good introduction to the story for young viewers.
Synopsis: The Muppets perform the classic Dickens holiday tale, with Kermit the Frog playing Bob Cratchit, the put-upon clerk of stingy... [More]
Directed By: Brian Henson

#43

White Christmas (1954)
77%

#43
Adjusted Score: 81250%
Critics Consensus: It may be too sweet for some, but this unabashedly sentimental holiday favorite is too cheerful to resist.
Synopsis: Singers Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) join sister act Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen)... [More]
Directed By: Michael Curtiz

#42

Let It Snow (2019)
81%

#42
Adjusted Score: 81773%
Critics Consensus: Comfortably cliché, Let It Snow wears its influences on its sleeve, but works anyway thanks an excellent ensemble and just the right amount of holiday cheer.
Synopsis: A snowstorm brings a group of young people together.... [More]
Directed By: Luke Snellin

#41
#41
Adjusted Score: 82031%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Not even Santa Claus is safe from the evil that descends on Bailey Downs, a small town that is suddenly... [More]

#40
#40
Adjusted Score: 83815%
Critics Consensus: While You Were Sleeping is built wholly from familiar ingredients, but assembled with such skill -- and with such a charming performance from Sandra Bullock -- that it gives formula a good name.
Synopsis: Lonely transit worker Lucy Eleanor Moderatz (Sandra Bullock) pulls her longtime crush, Peter (Peter Gallagher), from the path of an... [More]
Directed By: Jon Turteltaub

#39
#39
Adjusted Score: 83903%
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

#38
#38
Adjusted Score: 85973%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Christmastime is here. Happiness and cheer. And for Peanuts fans everywhere, it just wouldn't be Christmas without this classic holiday... [More]
Directed By: Bill Melendez, Phil Roman

#37

Bad Santa (2003)
78%

#37
Adjusted Score: 85678%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
Synopsis: In this dark comedy, the crotchety Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) reunite once a... [More]
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff

#36

Batman Returns (1992)
80%

#36
Adjusted Score: 87238%
Critics Consensus: Director Tim Burton's dark, brooding atmosphere, Michael Keaton's work as the tormented hero, and the flawless casting of Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Christopher Walken as, well, Christopher Walken make the sequel better than the first.
Synopsis: The monstrous Penguin (Danny DeVito), who lives in the sewers beneath Gotham, joins up with wicked shock-headed businessman Max Shreck... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton

#35
#35
Adjusted Score: 87080%
Critics Consensus: The Bishop's Wife succeeds thanks to the strength of winning performances from a stellar cast, which includes Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
Synopsis: Dejected by his efforts to raise money to build a cathedral, Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) beseeches heaven for guidance,... [More]
Directed By: Henry Koster

#34

Trading Places (1983)
88%

#34
Adjusted Score: 88934%
Critics Consensus: Featuring deft interplay between Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places is an immensely appealing social satire.
Synopsis: Upper-crust executive Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) are the subjects of a... [More]
Directed By: John Landis

#33
Adjusted Score: 102151%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Stannie Dum (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy) rent rooms in Mother Peep's shoe in Toyland. When Mother Peep... [More]
Directed By: Gus Meins, Charley Rogers

#32
#32
Adjusted Score: 89363%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: While recovering in a hospital, war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) grows familiar with the "Diary of a Housewife" column... [More]
Directed By: Peter Godfrey

#31
#31
Adjusted Score: 89400%
Critics Consensus: The 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens' timeless classic is perhaps the most faithful film version -- and Alastair Sim's performance as Scrooge is not to be missed.
Synopsis: Crotchety Victorian businessman Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim) has no use for festivity, even at Christmas. After resentfully allowing timid clerk... [More]
Directed By: Brian Desmond Hurst

#30

Gremlins (1984)
85%

#30
Adjusted Score: 91135%
Critics Consensus: Whether you choose to see it as a statement on consumer culture or simply a special effects-heavy popcorn flick, Gremlins is a minor classic.
Synopsis: A gadget salesman is looking for a special gift for his son and finds one at a store in Chinatown.... [More]
Directed By: Joe Dante

#29

A Christmas Tale (2008)
86%

#29
Adjusted Score: 89998%
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: When steely French matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) learns she has leukemia, she asks her children and grandchildren at the family... [More]
Directed By: Arnaud Desplechin

#28

Elf (2003)
85%

#28
Adjusted Score: 90696%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

#27
Adjusted Score: 90662%
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: In 1843 London, author Charles Dickens finds himself in financial trouble after writing three unsuccessful novels in a row. Desperate... [More]
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri

#26

White Reindeer (2013)
90%

#26
Adjusted Score: 91434%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Suzanne struggles to put her life back together after a tragedy at Christmas time.... [More]
Directed By: Zach Clark

#25

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
91%

#25
Adjusted Score: 91906%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful and substantive, Tokyo Godfathers adds a moving -- and somewhat unconventional -- entry to the animated Christmas canon.
Synopsis: Middle-aged alcoholic Gin (Toru Emori), teenage runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) and former drag queen Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) are a trio... [More]
Directed By: Satoshi Kon

#24
#24
Adjusted Score: 92176%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Synopsis: Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from... [More]
Directed By: Shane Black

#23
Adjusted Score: 92567%
Critics Consensus: Rare Exports is an unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror.
Synopsis: A young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think a secret mountain drilling project near... [More]
Directed By: Jalmari Helander

#22

Better Watch Out (2016)
89%

#22
Adjusted Score: 93103%
Critics Consensus: Carried by its charismatic young cast, Better Watch Out is an adorably sinister holiday horror film.
Synopsis: Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to baby-sit their 12-year-old son Luke at Christmastime. She must soon... [More]
Directed By: Chris Peckover

#21
Adjusted Score: 93638%
Critics Consensus: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey celebrates the yuletide season with a holiday adventure whose exuberant spirit is matched by its uplifting message.
Synopsis: Decades after his apprentice betrays him, a once joyful toymaker finds new hope when his bright young granddaughter appears on... [More]
Directed By: David E. Talbert

#20

The Apartment (1960)
93%

#20
Adjusted Score: 100882%
Critics Consensus: Director Billy Wilder's customary cynicism is leavened here by tender humor, romance, and genuine pathos.
Synopsis: Insurance worker C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lends his Upper West Side apartment to company bosses to use for extramarital affairs.... [More]
Directed By: Billy Wilder

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 94141%
Critics Consensus: Both warmly nostalgic and darkly humorous, A Christmas Story deserves its status as a holiday perennial.
Synopsis: Based on the humorous writings of author Jean Shepherd, this beloved holiday movie follows the wintry exploits of youngster Ralphie... [More]
Directed By: Bob Clark

#18

Little Women (1994)
93%

#18
Adjusted Score: 94168%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to a powerhouse lineup of talented actresses, Gillian Armstrong's take on Louisa May Alcott's Little Women proves that a timeless story can succeed no matter how many times it's told.
Synopsis: In this 1994 adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic, the March sisters confront growing pains, financial shortages, family tragedies and... [More]
Directed By: Gillian Armstrong

#17
#17
Adjusted Score: 94230%
Critics Consensus: The first collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands is a magical modern fairy tale with gothic overtones and a sweet center.
Synopsis: A scientist (Vincent Price) builds an animated human being -- the gentle Edward (Johnny Depp). The scientist dies before he... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton

#16

Happiest Season (2020)
82%

#16
Adjusted Score: 95284%
Critics Consensus: A jolly good time with heartfelt performances and more than enough holiday cheer, all you'll want for Christmas is Happiest Season.
Synopsis: This romantic comedy is about longtime lesbian couple Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis), who made plans to go... [More]
Directed By: Clea DuVall

#15
Adjusted Score: 96158%
Critics Consensus: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a yule-tide gem that bursts with eye-popping iconography, a spirited soundtrack, and a heart-warming celebration of difference.
Synopsis: This stop-motion animagic version of the classic Christmas tale adds a bit of a twist when Rudolph encounters an abominable... [More]
Directed By: Maury Laws, Larry Roemer

#14

Klaus (2019)
94%

#14
Adjusted Score: 97596%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful hand-drawn animation and a humorous, heartwarming narrative make Klaus an instant candidate for holiday classic status.
Synopsis: A desperate postman accidentally brings about the genesis of Santa Claus.... [More]
Directed By: Sergio Pablos

#13

Arthur Christmas (2011)
92%

#13
Adjusted Score: 98272%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: Everyone knows that, each Christmas, Santa Claus delivers presents to every last child on Earth. What everyone doesn't know is... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith

#12

Die Hard (1988)
94%

#12
Adjusted Score: 99257%
Critics Consensus: Its many imitators (and sequels) have never come close to matching the taut thrills of the definitive holiday action classic.
Synopsis: New York City policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and two daughters on Christmas... [More]
Directed By: John McTiernan

#11

Tangerine (2015)
96%

#11
Adjusted Score: 102208%
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: After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a hooker and her best friend set... [More]
Directed By: Sean Baker

#10

Carol (2015)
94%

#10
Adjusted Score: 106072%
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: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department... [More]
Directed By: Todd Haynes

#9
#9
Adjusted Score: 104347%
Critics Consensus: A disarmingly sweet musical led by outstanding performances from Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien, Meet Me in St. Louis offers a holiday treat for all ages.
Synopsis: "Meet Me in St. Louis" is a classic MGM romantic musical comedy that focuses on four sisters (one of whom... [More]
Directed By: Vincente Minnelli

#8

Little Women (2019)
95%

#8
Adjusted Score: 120904%
Critics Consensus: With a stellar cast and a smart, sensitive retelling of its classic source material, Greta Gerwig's Little Women proves some stories truly are timeless.
Synopsis: In the years after the Civil War, Jo March lives in New York and makes her living as a writer,... [More]
Directed By: Greta Gerwig

#7
Adjusted Score: 103700%
Critics Consensus: The Nightmare Before Christmas is a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation.
Synopsis: The film follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, Halloweentown's beloved pumpkin king, who has become bored with the same annual... [More]
Directed By: Henry Selick

#6
Adjusted Score: 100735%
Critics Consensus: How the Grinch Stole Christmas brings an impressive array of talent to bear on an adaptation that honors a classic holiday story -- and has rightfully become a yuletide tradition of its own.
Synopsis: This made-for-TV Christmas special is a classic. Based on a Dr. Seuss book, it is about a Christmas-hating Grinch who... [More]
Directed By: Chuck Jones

#5
Adjusted Score: 103997%
Critics Consensus: Deftly directed by Ernst Lubitsch from a smart, funny script by Samson Raphaelson, The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy in the finest sense of the term.
Synopsis: Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) are employees at Matuschek and Company, a general store in Budapest.... [More]
Directed By: Ernst Lubitsch

#4

Holiday Inn (1942)
100%

#4
Adjusted Score: 100120%
Critics Consensus: With the combined might of Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin working in its favor, Holiday Inn is a seasonal classic -- not least because it introduced "White Christmas" to the world.
Synopsis: In this Irving Berlin musical, Jim (Bing Crosby) and Lila are members of a performing trio who plan to quit... [More]
Directed By: Mark Sandrich

#3
#3
Adjusted Score: 101833%
Critics Consensus: Irrefutable proof that gentle sentimentalism can be the chief ingredient in a wonderful film, Miracle on 34th Street delivers a warm holiday message without resorting to treacle.
Synopsis: In this Christmas classic, an old man going by the name of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) fills in for an... [More]
Directed By: George Seaton

#2

8-Bit Christmas (2021)
82%

#2
Adjusted Score: 82654%
Critics Consensus: For viewers seeking an undemanding and sweetly nostalgic ode to yuletide seasons past, 8-Bit Christmas boots up without a glitch.
Synopsis: A humorous and heartfelt look back at the adventures of childhood. Set in suburban Chicago in the late 1980s, the... [More]
Directed By: Michael Dowse

#1
#1
Adjusted Score: 104757%
Critics Consensus: The holiday classic to define all holiday classics, It's a Wonderful Life is one of a handful of films worth an annual viewing.
Synopsis: After George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he had never been born, an angel (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to... [More]
Directed By: Frank Capra


New Line/courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line/courtesy Everett Collection)

25 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 the anime  Tokyo Godfathers

And with our most recent update, we’ve added Klaus, Jingle Jangle, and the 2018 Grinch, which is just barely Fresh. Because we can’t make green meanie too happy, right?

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.

Best Christmas Movies | Worst Christmas Movies
Best and Worst Christmas Horror | Best Foreign Christmas Movies
Rotten Christmas Movies We Love | Modern Christmas Classics

#25
#25
Adjusted Score: 70400%
Critics Consensus: The Grinch gives the classic Seuss source material a brightly animated update that's solidly suitable for younger viewers without adding substantially to the story's legacy.
Synopsis: The Grinch and his loyal dog, Max, live a solitary existence inside a cave on Mount Crumpet. His main source... [More]

#24

Love Actually (2003)
64%

#24
Adjusted Score: 71836%
Critics Consensus: A sugary tale overstuffed with too many stories. Still, the cast charms.
Synopsis: Nine intertwined stories examine the complexities of the one emotion that connects us all: love. Among the characters explored are... [More]
Directed By: Richard Curtis

#23

Krampus (2015)
67%

#23
Adjusted Score: 70916%
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: ... [More]
Directed By: Michael Dougherty

#22
#22
Adjusted Score: 69791%
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: Siblings Kate and Teddy Pierce hatch a scheme to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. When the plan goes awry,... [More]
Directed By: Clay Kaytis

#21
Adjusted Score: 71644%
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: Six years after their last adventure, stoner pals Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) have grown apart and found... [More]
Directed By: Todd Strauss-Schulson

#20

The Night Before (2015)
69%

#20
Adjusted Score: 74215%
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: For the last 10 years, lifelong buddies Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gathered on... [More]
Directed By: Jonathan Levine

#19
#19
Adjusted Score: 73343%
Critics Consensus: The Best Man Holiday manages honest laughs out of broad humor, and affects convincing drama from a deeply conventional plot.
Synopsis: Nearly 15 years after they were last together as a group, college friends Lance (Morris Chestnut), Harper (Taye Diggs), Candace... [More]
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee

#18

Merry Christmas (2005)
74%

#18
Adjusted Score: 78335%
Critics Consensus: The poignant humanity on display in Joyeux Noel makes its sentimentality forgivable.
Synopsis: With the advent of World War I, Europe is thrown into a brutal and vicious chaos as men are forced... [More]
Directed By: Christian Carion

#17

Happy Christmas (2014)
75%

#17
Adjusted Score: 77759%
Critics Consensus: Intelligent, well-acted, and satisfyingly low-key, Happy Christmas marks another step in prolific filmmaker Joe Swanberg's creative evolution.
Synopsis: An immature party girl (Anna Kendrick) moves in with her brother's family to get over a breakup and throws their... [More]
Directed By: Joe Swanberg

#16
#16
Adjusted Score: 83903%
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

#15

Get Santa (2014)
79%

#15
Adjusted Score: 79300%
Critics Consensus: With a bombastic performance from Jim Broadbent, Get Santa brilliantly captures the joys of the Christmas holiday.
Synopsis: After crashing his sleigh, Santa Claus (Jim Broadbent) asks a father (Rafe Spall) and son (Kit Connor) for help to... [More]
Directed By: Christopher Smith

#14
Adjusted Score: 90662%
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: In 1843 London, author Charles Dickens finds himself in financial trouble after writing three unsuccessful novels in a row. Desperate... [More]
Directed By: Bharat Nalluri

#13

Bad Santa (2003)
78%

#13
Adjusted Score: 85678%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
Synopsis: In this dark comedy, the crotchety Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) reunite once a... [More]
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff

#12

Ben Is Back (2018)
81%

#12
Adjusted Score: 93199%
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: Nineteen-year-old Ben Burns unexpectedly returns to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve. Ben's mom, Holly, is relieved and welcoming... [More]
Directed By: Peter Hedges

#11

Elf (2003)
85%

#11
Adjusted Score: 90697%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

#10

A Christmas Tale (2008)
86%

#10
Adjusted Score: 89998%
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: When steely French matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) learns she has leukemia, she asks her children and grandchildren at the family... [More]
Directed By: Arnaud Desplechin

#9
#9
Adjusted Score: 92176%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Synopsis: Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from... [More]
Directed By: Shane Black

#8

Better Watch Out (2016)
89%

#8
Adjusted Score: 93103%
Critics Consensus: Carried by its charismatic young cast, Better Watch Out is an adorably sinister holiday horror film.
Synopsis: Ashley travels to the suburban home of the Lerners to baby-sit their 12-year-old son Luke at Christmastime. She must soon... [More]
Directed By: Chris Peckover

#7

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
91%

#7
Adjusted Score: 91906%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful and substantive, Tokyo Godfathers adds a moving -- and somewhat unconventional -- entry to the animated Christmas canon.
Synopsis: Middle-aged alcoholic Gin (Toru Emori), teenage runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) and former drag queen Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) are a trio... [More]
Directed By: Satoshi Kon

#6
Adjusted Score: 92567%
Critics Consensus: Rare Exports is an unexpectedly delightful crossbreed of deadpan comedy and Christmas horror.
Synopsis: A young boy named Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his friend Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) think a secret mountain drilling project near... [More]
Directed By: Jalmari Helander

#5

Arthur Christmas (2011)
92%

#5
Adjusted Score: 98272%
Critics Consensus: Aardman Animations broadens their humor a bit for Arthur Christmas, a clever and earnest holiday film with surprising emotional strength.
Synopsis: Everyone knows that, each Christmas, Santa Claus delivers presents to every last child on Earth. What everyone doesn't know is... [More]
Directed By: Sarah Smith

#4
Adjusted Score: 93638%
Critics Consensus: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey celebrates the yuletide season with a holiday adventure whose exuberant spirit is matched by its uplifting message.
Synopsis: Decades after his apprentice betrays him, a once joyful toymaker finds new hope when his bright young granddaughter appears on... [More]
Directed By: David E. Talbert

#3

Klaus (2019)
94%

#3
Adjusted Score: 97596%
Critics Consensus: Beautiful hand-drawn animation and a humorous, heartwarming narrative make Klaus an instant candidate for holiday classic status.
Synopsis: A desperate postman accidentally brings about the genesis of Santa Claus.... [More]
Directed By: Sergio Pablos

#2

Carol (2015)
94%

#2
Adjusted Score: 106072%
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: Therese Belivet (Rooney Mara) spots the beautiful, elegant Carol (Cate Blanchett) perusing the doll displays in a 1950s Manhattan department... [More]
Directed By: Todd Haynes

#1

Tangerine (2015)
96%

#1
Adjusted Score: 102208%
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: After hearing that her boyfriend/pimp cheated on her while she was in jail, a hooker and her best friend set... [More]
Directed By: Sean Baker

WALL-E

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection. Thumbnail image: 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.; Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection; MGM.)

50 Essential Movies For Kids

Looking to enrich your kid’s viewing habits? Or if you’re under 13 yourself, love movies, and you want to watch some of the best ever made, take it from us when we list 50 Essential Movies For Kids!

These are not just great children’s movies, but movies that play well for the curious and growing mind. While all these movies are classics and can be seen at any age, some have stronger themes than others that would play better during upper years. So, we separated the movies in suggested age categories:

Ages 1-5: Kids may not actively recall everything from this age, but a good baseline is fundamental in developing a healthy appetite for movies. Here we feature colorful classics (The Wizard of Oz), fun adventures (Chicken Run), and tales as old as time (Beauty and the Beast).

Ages 6-9: As more time is devoted to school and outside life, movies become more of an escape, and their power to transport starts to become apparent. Don’t miss out on epic quests (Star Wars), wish fulfillment (Home Alone), and dazzling fantasies (Spirited Away).

Ages 10-12: The magic window, the time in life when movies can move and change tweens, and stick for the rest of time. A good era for the classic portrayals of youth (The 400 Blows), face-melting action (Raiders of the Lost Ark), and romance (Romeo & Juliet).

Whether you’re a parent looking for a moral, entertaining movie night with your kids, or you’re a young student of movies making the leap on your own, check out these 50 Essential Movies For Kids!


Ages 1-5

#50
#50
Adjusted Score: 103577%
Critics Consensus: Enchanting, sweepingly romantic, and featuring plenty of wonderful musical numbers, Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney's most elegant animated offerings.
Synopsis: An arrogant young prince (Robby Benson) and his castle's servants fall under the spell of a wicked enchantress, who turns... [More]
Directed By: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

#49

Chicken Run (2000)
97%

#49
Adjusted Score: 103668%
Critics Consensus: Chicken Run has all the charm of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit, and something for everybody. The voice acting is fabulous, the slapstick is brilliant, and the action sequences are spectacular.
Synopsis: This engaging stop-motion, claymation adventure tells the story of an American rooster who falls in love with a gorgeous hen... [More]
Directed By: Peter Lord, Nick Park

#48

Frozen (2013)
90%

#48
Adjusted Score: 100194%
Critics Consensus: Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs, Frozen adds another worthy entry to the Disney canon.
Synopsis: When their kingdom becomes trapped in perpetual winter, fearless Anna (Kristen Bell) joins forces with mountaineer Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and... [More]
Directed By: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

#47
#47
Adjusted Score: 98717%
Critics Consensus: Kiki's Delivery Service is a heartwarming, gorgeously-rendered tale of a young witch discovering her place in the world.
Synopsis: In this anime feature, 13-year-old Kiki moves to a seaside town with her talking cat, Jiji, to spend a year... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

#46
#46
Adjusted Score: 98719%
Critics Consensus: Alfonso Cuarón adapts Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel with a keen sense of magic realism, vividly recreating the world of childhood as seen through the characters.
Synopsis: When young Sara (Liesel Matthews) is sent to a boarding school by her well-meaning World War I-bound father (Liam Cunningham),... [More]
Directed By: Alfonso Cuarón

#45

The Muppet Movie (1979)
88%

#45
Adjusted Score: 92295%
Critics Consensus: The Muppet Movie, the big-screen debut of Jim Henson's plush creations, is smart, lighthearted, and fun for all ages.
Synopsis: After Kermit the Frog decides to pursue a movie career, he starts his cross-country trip from Florida to California. Along... [More]
Directed By: James Frawley

#44
#44
Adjusted Score: 95573%
Critics Consensus: My Neighbor Totoro is a heartwarming, sentimental masterpiece that captures the simple grace of childhood.
Synopsis: This acclaimed animated tale by director Hayao Miyazaki follows schoolgirl Satsuke and her younger sister, Mei, as they settle into... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki

#43

The Red Balloon (1956)
95%

#43
Adjusted Score: 96991%
Critics Consensus: The Red Balloon invests the simplest of narratives with spectacular visual inventiveness, making for a singularly wondrous portrait of innocence.
Synopsis: A red balloon with a life of its own follows a boy around Paris.... [More]
Directed By: Albert Lamorisse

#42
Adjusted Score: 99232%
Critics Consensus: With its involving story and characters, vibrant art, and memorable songs, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs set the animation standard for decades to come.
Synopsis: The Grimm fairy tale gets a Technicolor treatment in Disney's first animated feature. Jealous of Snow White's beauty, the wicked... [More]
Directed By: David Hand

#41

Toy Story (1995)
100%

#41
Adjusted Score: 106146%
Critics Consensus: Entertaining as it is innovative, Toy Story reinvigorated animation while heralding the arrival of Pixar as a family-friendly force to be reckoned with.
Synopsis: Woody (Tom Hanks), a good-hearted cowboy doll who belongs to a young boy named Andy (John Morris), sees his position... [More]
Directed By: John Lasseter

#40

WALL-E (2008)
95%

#40
Adjusted Score: 105657%
Critics Consensus: Wall-E's stellar visuals testify once again to Pixar's ingenuity, while its charming star will captivate younger viewers -- and its timely story offers thought-provoking subtext.
Synopsis: WALL-E, short for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last robot left on Earth. He spends his days tidying... [More]
Directed By: Andrew Stanton

#39

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
98%

#39
Adjusted Score: 115182%
Critics Consensus: An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old.
Synopsis: When a tornado rips through Kansas, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto, are whisked away in their house to... [More]
Directed By: Victor Fleming


Ages 6-9

#38

Babe (1995)
97%

#38
Adjusted Score: 101437%
Critics Consensus: The rare family-friendly feature with a heart as big as its special effects budget, Babe offers timeless entertainment for viewers of all ages.
Synopsis: Gentle farmer Arthur Hoggett (James Cromwell) wins a piglet named Babe (Christine Cavanaugh) at a county fair. Narrowly escaping his... [More]
Directed By: Chris Noonan

#37
#37
Adjusted Score: 103089%
Critics Consensus: Inventive, funny, and breathlessly constructed, Back to the Future is a rousing time-travel adventure with an unforgettable spirit.
Synopsis: In this 1980s sci-fi classic, small-town California teen Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) is thrown back into the '50s when... [More]
Directed By: Robert Zemeckis

#36

Coco (2017)
97%

#36
Adjusted Score: 123816%
Critics Consensus: Coco's rich visual pleasures are matched by a thoughtful narrative that takes a family-friendly -- and deeply affecting -- approach to questions of culture, family, life, and death.
Synopsis: Despite his family's generations-old ban on music, young Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de... [More]
Directed By: Lee Unkrich

#35
Adjusted Score: 110804%
Critics Consensus: Playing as both an exciting sci-fi adventure and a remarkable portrait of childhood, Steven Spielberg's touching tale of a homesick alien remains a piece of movie magic for young and old.
Synopsis: After a gentle alien becomes stranded on Earth, the being is discovered and befriended by a young boy named Elliott... [More]
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

#34

Elf (2003)
85%

#34
Adjusted Score: 90697%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

#33
#33
Adjusted Score: 102151%
Critics Consensus: Fantastic Mr. Fox is a delightfully funny feast for the eyes with multi-generational appeal -- and it shows Wes Anderson has a knack for animation.
Synopsis: After 12 years of bucolic bliss, Mr. Fox (George Clooney) breaks a promise to his wife (Meryl Streep) and raids... [More]
Directed By: Wes Anderson

#32

The Goonies (1985)
77%

#32
Adjusted Score: 80849%
Critics Consensus: The Goonies is an energetic, sometimes noisy mix of Spielbergian sentiment and funhouse tricks that will appeal to kids and nostalgic adults alike.
Synopsis: When two brothers find out they might lose their house they are desperate to find a way to keep their... [More]
Directed By: Richard Donner

#31
Adjusted Score: 89062%
Critics Consensus: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone adapts its source material faithfully while condensing the novel's overstuffed narrative into an involving -- and often downright exciting -- big-screen magical caper.
Synopsis: Adaptation of the first of J.K. Rowling's popular children's novels about Harry Potter, a boy who learns on his eleventh... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#30

Home Alone (1990)
68%

#30
Adjusted Score: 71393%
Critics Consensus: Home Alone uneven but frequently funny premise stretched unreasonably thin is buoyed by Macaulay Culkin's cute performance and strong supporting stars.
Synopsis: When bratty 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) acts out the night before a family trip to Paris, his mother (Catherine... [More]
Directed By: Chris Columbus

#29
#29
Adjusted Score: 105999%
Critics Consensus: Boasting dazzling animation, a script with surprising dramatic depth, and thrilling 3-D sequences, How to Train Your Dragon soars.
Synopsis: Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is a Norse teenager from the island of Berk, where fighting dragons is a way of life.... [More]

#28

Inside Out (2015)
98%

#28
Adjusted Score: 113968%
Critics Consensus: Inventive, gorgeously animated, and powerfully moving, Inside Out is another outstanding addition to the Pixar library of modern animated classics.
Synopsis: Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents... [More]
Directed By: Pete Docter

#27

The Karate Kid (1984)
89%

#27
Adjusted Score: 91184%
Critics Consensus: Utterly predictable and wholly of its time, but warm, sincere, and difficult to resist, due in large part to Pat Morita and Ralph Macchio's relaxed chemistry.
Synopsis: Daniel (Ralph Macchio) moves to Southern California with his mother, Lucille (Randee Heller), but quickly finds himself the target of... [More]
Directed By: John G. Avildsen

#26

The Iron Giant (1999)
96%

#26
Adjusted Score: 101306%
Critics Consensus: The endearing Iron Giant tackles ambitious topics and complex human relationships with a steady hand and beautifully animated direction from Brad Bird.
Synopsis: In this animated adaptation of Ted Hughes' Cold War fable, a giant alien robot (Vin Diesel) crash-lands near the small... [More]
Directed By: Brad Bird

#25

The LEGO Movie (2014)
96%

#25
Adjusted Score: 105889%
Critics Consensus: Boasting beautiful animation, a charming voice cast, laugh-a-minute gags, and a surprisingly thoughtful story, The Lego Movie is colorful fun for all ages.
Synopsis: Emmet (Chris Pratt), an ordinary LEGO figurine who always follows the rules, is mistakenly identified as the Special -- an... [More]

#24

Little Manhattan (2005)
77%

#24
Adjusted Score: 77385%
Critics Consensus: Little Manhattan is a sweet story of young love that provides an enlightening if pragmatic view on love and courtship.
Synopsis: Gabe (Josh Hutcherson), a sixth grader, is partnered with Rosemary (Charlie Ray) in his karate class. Though he's known her... [More]
Directed By: Mark Levin

#23

Matilda (1996)
90%

#23
Adjusted Score: 90503%
Critics Consensus: Danny DeVito-directed version of Matilda is odd, charming, and while the movie diverges from Roald Dahl, it nonetheless captures the book's spirit.
Synopsis: This film adaptation of a Roald Dahl work tells the story of Matilda Wormwood (Mara Wilson), a gifted girl forced... [More]
Directed By: Danny DeVito

#22
#22
Adjusted Score: 82898%
Critics Consensus: A magical journey about the power of a young boy's imagination to save a dying fantasy land, The NeverEnding Story remains a much-loved kids adventure.
Synopsis: On his way to school, Bastian (Barret Oliver) ducks into a bookstore to avoid bullies. Sneaking away with a book... [More]
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen

#21

Paddington 2 (2017)
99%

#21
Adjusted Score: 113870%
Critics Consensus: Paddington 2 honors its star's rich legacy with a sweet-natured sequel whose adorable visuals are matched by a story perfectly balanced between heartwarming family fare and purely enjoyable all-ages adventure.
Synopsis: Settled in with the Brown family, Paddington the bear is a popular member of the community who spreads joy and... [More]
Directed By: Paul King

#20
#20
Adjusted Score: 103682%
Critics Consensus: A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.
Synopsis: A fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a... [More]
Directed By: Rob Reiner

#19

The Sandlot (1993)
64%

#19
Adjusted Score: 68719%
Critics Consensus: It may be shamelessly derivative and overly nostalgic, but The Sandlot is nevertheless a genuinely sweet and funny coming-of-age adventure.
Synopsis: When Scottie Smalls (Thomas Guiry) moves to a new neighborhood, he manages to make friends with a group of kids... [More]
Directed By: David Mickey Evans

#18

Spirited Away (2001)
97%

#18
Adjusted Score: 103390%
Critics Consensus: Spirited Away is a dazzling, enchanting, and gorgeously drawn fairy tale that will leave viewers a little more curious and fascinated by the world around them.
Synopsis: 10-year-old Chihiro (Daveigh Chase) moves with her parents to a new home in the Japanese countryside. After taking a wrong... [More]
Directed By: Hayao Miyazaki, Kirk Wise

#17

Spy Kids (2001)
93%

#17
Adjusted Score: 97787%
Critics Consensus: A kinetic and fun movie that's sure to thrill children of all ages.
Synopsis: Two young kids become spies in attempt to save their parents, who are ex-spies, from an evil mastermind. Armed with... [More]
Directed By: Robert Rodriguez

#16
Adjusted Score: 105728%
Critics Consensus: A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same.
Synopsis: The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in... [More]
Directed By: George Lucas

#15
Adjusted Score: 95392%
Critics Consensus: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is strange yet comforting, full of narrative detours that don't always work but express the film's uniqueness.
Synopsis: The last of five coveted "golden tickets" falls into the hands of a sweet but very poor boy. He and... [More]
Directed By: Mel Stuart


Ages 10-12

#14

The 400 Blows (1959)
98%

#14
Adjusted Score: 104216%
Critics Consensus: A seminal French New Wave film that offers an honest, sympathetic, and wholly heartbreaking observation of adolescence without trite nostalgia.
Synopsis: For young Parisian boy Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), life is one difficult situation after another. Surrounded by inconsiderate adults, including... [More]
Directed By: François Truffaut

#13
#13
Adjusted Score: 90717%
Critics Consensus: A warm, family-friendly underdog story, featuring terrific supporting performances from Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, and Angela Bassett.
Synopsis: Akeelah, an 11-year-old girl living in South Los Angeles, discovers she has a talent for spelling, which she hopes will... [More]
Directed By: Doug Atchison

#12
#12
Adjusted Score: 99265%
Critics Consensus: Louis Malle's autobiographical tale of a childhood spent in a WWII boarding school is a beautifully realized portrait of friendship and youth.
Synopsis: In 1943, Julien (Gaspard Manesse) is a student at a French boarding school. When three new students arrive, including Jean... [More]
Directed By: Louis Malle

#11

Hugo (2011)
93%

#11
Adjusted Score: 100995%
Critics Consensus: Hugo is an extravagant, elegant fantasy with an innocence lacking in many modern kids' movies, and one that emanates an unabashed love for the magic of cinema.
Synopsis: Orphaned and alone except for an uncle, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of a train station in... [More]
Directed By: Martin Scorsese

#10
#10
Adjusted Score: 78235%
Critics Consensus: A charming, quirky, and often funny comedy.
Synopsis: In small-town Preston, Idaho, awkward teen Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) has trouble fitting in. After his grandmother is injured in... [More]
Directed By: Jared Hess

#9
#9
Adjusted Score: 89484%
Critics Consensus: Pee-Wee's Big Adventure brings Paul Reubens' famous character to the big screen intact, along with enough inspired silliness to dazzle children of all ages.
Synopsis: Pee-wee Herman (Paul Reubens), an eccentric child-like man, loves his red bicycle and will not sell it to his envious... [More]
Directed By: Tim Burton

#8

Queen of Katwe (2016)
94%

#8
Adjusted Score: 104629%
Critics Consensus: Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie of uncommon smarts and passion, and outstanding performances by Lupita Nyong'o and David Oyelowo help to elevate the film past its cliches.
Synopsis: Living in the slum of Katwe in Kampala, Uganda, is a constant struggle for 10-year-old Phiona (Madina Nalwanga) and her... [More]
Directed By: Mira Nair

#7
#7
Adjusted Score: 102224%
Critics Consensus: Featuring bravura set pieces, sly humor, and white-knuckle action, Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most consummately entertaining adventure pictures of all time.
Synopsis: Dr. Indiana Jones, a renowned archeologist and expert in the occult, is hired by the U.S. Government to find the... [More]
Directed By: Steven Spielberg

#6

Romeo and Juliet (1968)
95%

#6
Adjusted Score: 98016%
Critics Consensus: The solid leads and arresting visuals make a case for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet as the definitive cinematic adaptation of the play.
Synopsis: In the Italian city of Verona, the Montague and the Capulet families are perpetually feuding. When Romeo (Leonard Whiting), a... [More]
Directed By: Franco Zeffirelli

#5

Rudy (1993)
78%

#5
Adjusted Score: 81459%
Critics Consensus: Though undeniably sentimental and predictable, Rudy succeeds with an uplifting spirit and determination.
Synopsis: Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin) wants to play football at the University of Notre Dame, but has neither the money for... [More]
Directed By: David Anspaugh

#4
Adjusted Score: 121255%
Critics Consensus: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse matches bold storytelling with striking animation for a purely enjoyable adventure with heart, humor, and plenty of superhero action.
Synopsis: Bitten by a radioactive spider in the subway, Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales suddenly develops mysterious powers that transform him into... [More]

#3

Time Bandits (1981)
90%

#3
Adjusted Score: 92686%
Critics Consensus: Time Bandits is a remarkable time-travel fantasy from Terry Gilliam, who utilizes fantastic set design and homemade special effects to create a vivid, original universe.
Synopsis: Young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock) can scarcely believe it when six dwarfs emerge from his closet one night. Former... [More]
Directed By: Terry Gilliam

#2

West Side Story (1961)
93%

#2
Adjusted Score: 103958%
Critics Consensus: Buoyed by Robert Wise's dazzling direction, Leonard Bernstein's score, and Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, West Side Story remains perhaps the most iconic of all the Shakespeare adaptations to visit the big screen.
Synopsis: A musical in which a modern day Romeo and Juliet are involved in New York street gangs. On the harsh... [More]

#1

The Witches (1990)
93%

#1
Adjusted Score: 95740%
Critics Consensus: With a deliciously wicked performance from Angelica Huston and imaginative puppetry by Jim Henson's creature shop, Nicolas Roeg's dark and witty movie captures the spirit of Roald Dahl's writing like few other adaptations.
Synopsis: While staying at a hotel in England with his grandmother, Helga (Mai Zetterling), young Luke (Jasen Fisher) inadvertently spies on... [More]
Directed By: Nicolas Roeg

This August, Rotten Tomatoes turns 21 and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating the 21 Most Memorable Moments from the movies over the last 21 years. For this special video series, which we’ve been publishing over the last four months, we spoke to the actors and filmmakers who made those moments happen, revealing behind-the-scenes details about how the moments came to be and diving deep into why they’ve stuck with us for so long. You’ll find big ’90s twists – yep, he sees dead people – as well as super-recent cliffhangers, like Thanos’s universe-halving Snap. There are laughs (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Elf, Bridesmaids) and romance (The Notebook, Spider-Man) and more than a few scares (The Blair Witch Project, 28 Days Later…). But which moment is the single most memorable of the last 21 years? Well, that’s where you come in. We’re asking you to watch the below videos and then vote on your favorite movie moment of the last two decades (and a bit).

Voting is open now and runs until midnight Friday August 16 and we will announce the winner on August 19. Fans get a single vote – so choose wisely – and moments are listed in the order they were published over the past few months, most often to tie in with anniversaries and relevant occasions.

Take me to the voting!


“Remember Me!?” from Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) 97%

Director George Miller: “It’s a moment by the way, I think, is available only to her. I don’t think any other character could have done it. I remember the line. I remember Charlize on that day said that she wanted to say the line. It wasn’t a written line. She said, ‘Look, I feel like I really want to say it. OK by you?’ I said, ‘Great.’ It just hit a sweet spot in amongst that action, and it was a little pause before the brutality of the moment and the continuation of the action that was to come.”

Read director George Miller’s full interview about the “Remember me!?” moment.


The Snap from Avengers: Infinity War (2018) 85%

Co-director Joe Russo: “Anth and I, through our entire experience at Marvel, always tried to make very disruptive choices with each film. The end of Winter Solider, good guys and the bad guys, we flip everything on its head. In Civil War we divorce the Avengers. With Infinity War we knew we wanted to make a strong narrative choice. There’s an adage where you write yourself into a corner, and you try to figure out how to get out. That usually creates really dramatic moments for the audience. There’s no bigger way to write ourselves into a corner than killing half the characters.”

Read directors Joe and Anthony Russo’s full interview about the moment Thanos devastates the universe.


Satine’s Entrance from Moulin Rouge (2001) 76%

Director Baz Luhrmann: “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we put her in a circus trapeze and we did a trapeze number, but we’ll have to have a stunt person. But Nicole being Nicole was like, ‘No way.’ So she trained with a circus person for a good, I would say, two weeks to do that number and when you see her swing around that’s her. It’s her all the way through that footage. She’s on the trapeze, she’s being swung around, she comes down, she falls into all those guys. So she was 100% stunt-free on that moment.

Read director Baz Luhrmann and production and costume designer Catherine Martin’s full interview about Satine’s big moment.


The Joker from The Dark Knight (2008) 94%

Makeup artist John Caglione Jr.: “Heath [Ledger] was great in the chair. Special actors like Heath – and my experience with Al Pacino over the years – these actors help you relax so that you can bring your game… I always got the feeling that [Heath] had already worked it out in his head, from what I remember. He knew where he was going. Early on, in first meeting Heath and playing around with the makeup, he already kind of had it all figured out. It was my job to just basically gild the lily and try to catch up with him, really. That’s what I felt.”

Read makeup artist John Caglione Jr. and marketing company 42 Entertainment CEO Susan Bonds’ full interview about this iconic take on the Joker.


Heather’s Confessional from The Blair Witch Project (1999) 86%

Co-writer and co-director Eduardo Sánchez: “The direction was: You’re not going to make it out of here. This is like an internal monologue. We were directing these actors to almost be like their conscience speaking to them. For Heather, it’s like, ‘You’re responsible for this. You’re the one who brought them out here. You didn’t heed the warnings. You knew this is dangerous and you brought these guys out here. Say your goodbyes. If you want to apologize to people, apologize to people, just basically say goodbye.’ We called it a confessional, your last confessional before you’re going. You’re not going to get out, and hopefully, somebody will find these tapes and will be able to tell your story, but tell your mom goodbye, and tell your family goodbye.”

Read writer-directors Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick’s full interview about Heather’s confessional.


The Upside-Down Kiss from Spider-Man (2002) 90%

Director Sam Raimi: “In the rain while he was doing the scene, I remember, he was slightly drowning because he couldn’t wipe his nose and the water was falling down into his upside-down nose, into his nostrils. So he was kinda drowning, and the only way he could breathe was through his mouth. It doesn’t look un-pleasurable, but I think it must’ve been.”

Read Sam Raimi and stunt coordinator Jeff Habberstad’s full interview about the upside-down kiss.


London is Deserted from 28 Days Later (2002) 87%

Director Danny Boyle: “One of the technical advantages of using these smaller cameras is that you could shoot a location, not multiple times, but you could shoot it from multiple viewpoints simultaneously. Cillian was in no rush, he could just walk across. But you don’t get much time at these locations free of people even at four o’clock in the morning when we shot. So what happened was we hired a lot of students, because they’re cheap, to be our traffic marshals.”

Read Danny Boyle’s full interview about creating an eerily deserted London for the opening moments.


A Kiss in the Rain from The Notebook (2004) 53%

Director Nick Cassavetes: “There was something built up between these two kids, and it has nothing to do with directing. Because when we turned the cameras on, the scene was like: He’s mad at her, she’s mad at him, and then he says that he wrote her every day, and that’s the key that unlocks the door. And when that door got unlocked, I didn’t need to direct nothing. They wound up together for many years after the movie, which is…I don’t know if I’m proud of it, but I think it’s fantastic that they found each other like that. And I think that was the moment, because they weren’t together before that kiss. But they were together after that kiss, so maybe that was one of the deciding moments.”

Read Nick Cassavetes’ full interview about the kiss in the rain moment.


Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma (2014) 99%

Representative John Lewis: “I truly believe that Oprah, Ava, and the staff working on the film sought my involvement because they knew my history. Selma represented an attempt to redeem the soul of America, to help us move closer to the participation of all people in the political process. This film can educate and inform the mind of hundreds and thousands of young people around America and around the world.”

Read Representative John Lewis and actor Stephan James’s full interview about the final bridge-crossing moment.


“Cars don’t fly!” from Furious 7 (2015) 82%

Actor Vin Diesel: “And it was that moment where we realized that Fast and Furious didn’t need to be restricted in any way. That we were so thorough about story and character, and it’s so much a tale of brotherhood and family, right, that we were allowed these kind of outrageous and fantasy-filled moments, and flying through the air was playing to that. Flying from building to building was playing to that. It was one of those solutions to the riddle, or answers to the riddle, ‘How do we one-up the spectacle of each film?’”

Read Vin Diesel’s full interview about the skyscraper-jump moment.


Juan teaches Chiron to Swim in Moonlight (2016) 98%

Cinematographer James Laxton: “When Barry alerted us to the storm approaching, we gathered our equipment together as quickly as possible, ran out into the water, and in some respects… I don’t want to say improvised, because what is in the script is on camera, if not in the exact way it was depicted. But we had a lot more shots in our shot list, and [were going to be] much more organized about capturing it. We had to really get out there and… let Mahershala as Juan guide this young man, and [have] me out in the water, as well, trying to capture this swimming lesson as it came. It [was shot] almost like a documentary, less so like a film in some respects. Sometimes your reaction to moments is as good as a well detailed plan might be. Sometimes it’s even better.”

Read James Laxton’s full interview about the swimming lesson moment.


Carl and Ellie in the Opening of Up (2009) 98%

Director Pete Docter: “There’s one moment in that montage where Ellie has to go to the doctor and it’s implied that they can’t have children for whatever reason. That raised some eyebrows even here at work as we were developing the film. So, we did experiment with taking it out. And we thought, ‘Well, maybe [the sequence] could still work [without it] because there’s some really charming stuff.’ But the strange thing was, not only did we not feel the emotion as strongly in that one little sequence, but as we watched the rest of the film the whole film lost a little bit. I can’t really fully explain that other than to say it was a real dark, low moment for them that I think made that relationship feel more real. The sort of pain and loss of that situation bonded those characters together and made you empathize more with them.”

Read Pete Docter’s full interview about Up‘s opening sequence.


Gollum Talks to Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) 95%

Actor Andy Serkis: “I’d never considered myself a voice actor, just a regular actor, and I had to kind of think my way into it. I started to work on this notion that he’s called Gollum because of the way he sounds – and what would make his voice sound like that? I started to think about constriction of the throat, and as I was doing that, I was actually fortunate enough to witness my cat throwing up a fur ball. It suddenly gave me this idea that the whole physicality of the role would be determined by this force within, which is kind of built out of guilt and torment – this involuntary physical action is what caused this sound coming out of his mouth. The cat throwing up a fur ball is actually what generated the idea for this involuntary spewing out of words.”

Read Andy Serkis’s full interview about the Gollum-Smeagol moment.


The Bridesmaids get Food Poisoning from Bridesmaids (2011) 90%

Co-Writer Annie Mumolo: “We [originally] had a fantasy sequence where they go into the dress shop, and Kristen’s character tries on this dress and she has this fantasy that when she wears this dress, she’s all of a sudden in a castle. And all the men at the wedding are fawning over her. There’s so many of them wanting her so badly [that] just to escape from the castle she goes running out into this field and runs into the forest. And she naturally sees Christian Bale there, who’s chopping wood without a shirt on. And they end up on a bearskin rug, and he was combing her hair, and it was this expansive sequence of her little love affair with Christian Bale. In the meantime, [back in the real world] Helen gets the women to get the dress she wants because Annie is caught up in her fantasy. So that was the original [scene]. And then I think Judd said at one point we’ll never get Christian Bale to do this. And then we tried to put in Matt Damon and then we’re like, ‘As if we’re going to get Matt Damon to do this.’ He was concerned we weren’t going to get anybody to do it. And also he felt it needed harder comedy there, rather than what we had. So, we sadly let that go. We did not want to let that go. We loved that sequence.”

Read Annie Mumolo and director Paul Feig’s full interview about the food-poisoning moment.


Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort Duel from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) 96%

Director David Yates: “Harry sort of carries the spirit of Voldemort, in part, and they have this unity, and I had this idea that Harry and Voldemort are at the top of a school tower, and as they confronted each other… Dan would grab Ralph, and actually pull him off this tower, and they would apparate around the school together, and as they apparated around the school together, we’d explore this weird visual synthesis that exists between the two of them, and they’d eventually tumble down into the courtyard.”

Read David Yates’ full interview about the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort.


Avengers Assemble in New York from Marvel's the Avengers (2012) 91%

Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige: “The moment I realized that this could be an iconic moment, not just for the MCU, but for these kind of films, was on the mix stage. When the effects were final and when Alan Silvestri’s amazing score was coming in, and the timing, and the experience of watching the whole movie up to that point… That[‘s when] I got chills and I realized Joss had pulled it off.”

Read Kevin Feige’s full interview about the Avengers Assemble moment.


The government lobby scene from The Matrix (1999) 88%

Stunt double Chad Stahelski: “So Keanu and I both had to back up to our number one marks and pretty much try to do all the choreography and the one-handed cartwheel and all the shooting with your eyes closed. Because once the squibs started going off, you couldn’t see anything. You had to count your steps and kinda go into it. And I remember looking at him and going ‘Uh, OK, this could be a little tricky.’ And he’s like ‘Eh, OK.’ And he nailed it first take. So that was pretty cool.”

Read Chad Stahelski’s full interview about the government lobby moment.


“I See Dead People” from The Sixth Sense (1999) 86%

Actor Haley Joel Osment: “There was an even-more morbid element to that scene that actually ended up getting cut out: When I tell Bruce my secret, [at] the last shot of the scene they pull back from my bed and you look out the window where you can see another entire wing of the hospital and in every window there is a person with some horrible injury or someone who’s gone pale because, you know, being in a hospital is a pretty heavy place for a ghost to linger around in this world. So, you pull back and you see all these people lined up on the other side of the frame.”

Read Haley Joel Osment’s full interview about the “I see dead people” moment.


The Chest-Waxing Scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) 85%

Writer-director Judd Apatow: “I basically set up four cameras and we had some basic beats we wanted to hit. We knew that we had to get Steve’s real reactions, so we shot it like a documentary. We wrote out tons of curses, because we did plan the main joke to be that he would just curse right into her face. And we also made lists of words that weren’t real curses that sounded like curses. That’s how we got to Steve screaming ‘Kelly Clarkson!’ Off to the side, Seth Rogen had made this enormous list of curses, and I would just yell them out to Steve, and each time they ripped the hair off of something he would scream out one of the curses.”

Read Judd Apatow’s full interview about the chest-waxing moment.


“No Man’s Land” from Wonder Woman (2017) 93%

Director Patty Jenkins: “I think that the biggest reason I was obsessed with [the scene] was really from a character place. From Diana’s point of view, it is: What is the birth of a superhero? Just like Superman pulling his shirt open the first time and revealing the ‘S,’ these are definitive, incredible moments, and so I knew that Wonder Woman needed an incredible moment and because we were doing her origin story, it really needed to be the moment that she made the decision to go from being a younger person who was hopeful and idealistic to one who decides to be a hero despite knowing more. And so in this story, that was what I cared about.”

Read Patty Jenkins’ full interview about the No Man’s Land moment


“Santa, here? I know him!” from Elf (2003) 85%

Actor Will Ferrell: “That kind of exclamation of ‘Santa!’ and screaming it, that was just my articulation of Buddy literally taking that piece of news [that Santa is coming] at face value and [thinking] what would be his literal reaction. A man without a country in this strange land finally getting to see someone he knows really well – it would just be the most jubilant reaction ever. I know that the first couple takes really took people by surprise, that I would go that big with it. And all of that, ‘Santa, I know him,’ all of that playing around we did, that was all improvised there.”

Read Will Ferrell and director Jon Favreau’s full interviews about the “Santa, here?” moment. 


Watch: Chad Stahelski on the making of The Matrix above.

In 2019, Rotten Tomatoes turns 21, and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating the 21 Most Memorable Moments from the movies over the last 21 years. In this special video series, we speak to the actors and filmmakers who made those moments happen, revealing behind-the-scenes details of how they came to be and diving deep into why they’ve stuck with us for so long. Once we’ve announced all 21, it will be up to you, the fans, to vote for which is the most memorable moment of all. In this episode of our ‘21 Most Memorable Moments’ series, stunt double Chad Stahelski recalls working with Keanu Reeves to create some of the most memorable action sequences ever seen on screens.

VOTE FOR THIS MOMENT IN OUR 21 MOST MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS POLL


The Movie: The Matrix (1999) 88%

It was 20 years ago when the world stood on the cusp of digital revolution. A new Star Wars was coming out, ditching handmade green puppets in favor of shellacking a movie in CG. The internet was still a sparse superhighway, stretching empty in-between frontier cities of anonymity and information gardens. A new millennium nested beyond the horizon, yet persistent trembling hinted that something awful would befall humanity when the clock struck midnight on December 31st: Y2K. The news cycle warned connected online systems would fail, banking accounts were to shatter, airlines would have to ground all planes as modern life as we knew it screeched to a halt.

No movie captured this zeitgeist of exhilaration and paranoia more than The Matrix, which opened in U.S. theaters on March 31, 1999. Like peak-James Cameron, the Wachowskis used state-of-the-art filmmaking techniques to pit man against the sleek, technological hell of our own creation. Perhaps we were slaves to our own comfort and science. And perhaps there would be a way to escape it. Enter Neo – the pale, withdrawn hacker played by Keanu Reeves – who discovers the true nature of our world: A shared simulation we processed in our minds as we slumbered in oozing pods, generating energy for the sentient machines that had turned our race into cattle. It would take a red pill, some kung fu, and guns, lots of guns, to wake up and win this war.

The Matrix combined existentialist philosophy with anime-inspired visual wizardry, wrapped with the perfect mix of CG and practical effects to make this wild world feel grimy, tactile, and lived-in. Chad Stahelski was among the chief operators in selling this new reality as Reeves’ stunt double, with first-hand experience in witnessing how the Wachowskis crafted this remarkable film. His working relationship with Reeves started here and has never ended, with the duo upholding The Matrix‘s legacy of high-impact filmmaking with the Stahelski-directed John Wick movies. Stahleski here recalls the enlightening, bone-crunching trip.

(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)

“Holy s–t, this is something pretty different.”

“I wasn’t hired initially at the beginning. I came on right after they started principal photography. At the time it was a script that read pretty crazy and didn’t make a lot of sense on paper. It filmed in Sydney, Australia. I get there, I get off the plane, I meet Yuen Woo-ping and his fight team, and within about four hours of being there it’s like, ‘Holy s–t, this is something pretty different.'”

“The Wachowskis somehow, through force of sheer will and creative genius, got those shots.”

“If you had seen the storyboards we’d been given before we shot even a frame of the movie, and see how close they were to the final edited product, [you’d see] the genius of the Wachowskis. No matter what the adversities were on The Matrix, the Wachowskis somehow, through force of sheer will and creative genius, got those shots. Got exactly what they wanted. Got the framing they wanted, and molded each and every one of us, both performers and department heads, to get their vision. It was one of the most precise, arduous things I’ve ever done in my life. [They had] attention to detail, complete nuance of every scene. In between takes they’d watch the fashion channel, they would do research in martial arts films. I’ve never seen two directors that had such an all-encompassing knowledge of every single department and aspect of the film.”

The Wachowskis. (Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)

“They actually made breakdowns of other kung fu movies.”

“[The Wachowskis would] take an old Jet Li or Jackie Chan movie, download it on their computers, and re-edit it just to understand why those edits worked, or understand the moves. They actually made breakdowns of other kung fu movies. They weren’t martial art or stunt people, but they went in and actually learned, through experience and exposure, different martial arts or different styles of kung fu so they could put them in.”


The Moment: The Government Lobby

In a movie that drips with coolness like cascading lines of green code, you’d think it’d be tough to pull out the moment. But there was little debate that it wouldn’t be the lobby scene, where leather-clad Neo and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) stage a full assault to rescue resistance leader Morpheus from capture. The set literally explodes in a hail of bullets, shot with signature slo-mo and kinetic gunplay and combat, all to a pulsating techno soundtrack. In 1999, it was the apex of style.

“There’s about 4,000 squibs in the walls, so when we yell action, you’re probably not going to be able to see anything.”

“It was literally walking in off the plane, drop bags off at the hotel, go stretch at gym, [and then] going into the government lobby choreography pieces. The Wachowskis — very quiet, very soft-spoken directors — had come in and said, ‘We’re gonna do this, we wanna do this, and there’s about 4,000 squibs in the walls so when we yell action, you’re probably not going to be able to see anything.’ Nowadays, we do it all digitally so it’s pretty quick resets, but it was pretty impressive at the time [what] went into it.

The first time when Keanu runs down the hallway and the guns are going off and everybody’s shooting at him – that was a week of prep just for the special-effects guys laying in all the squibs. So every time you do a take, it’s a half-day. So you get one go at it and if you miss, everybody goes home and they spend another day resetting the new panels in to blow it up again.”

(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)

“Keanu nailed it first take.” 

“So Keanu and I both had to back up to our number one marks and pretty much try to do all the choreography and the one-handed cartwheel and all the shooting with your eyes closed. Because once the squibs started going off, you couldn’t see anything. You had to count your steps and kinda go into it. And I remember looking at him and going ‘Uh, OK, this could be a little tricky.’

And he’s like ‘Eh, OK.’ And he nailed it first take. So that was pretty cool.

The government lobby was a difficult sequence stunt-wise, but it probably wasn’t the hardest thing we did there. I mean, figuring out bullet time. The dojo fight was probably physically the toughest for Keanu. Logistically, the subway probably had a lot more stunt work and wirework than the government lobby. But then again you had Carrie-Anne walking on a wall, which was probably her most difficult wire move in the whole film. And Keanu doing an aerial cartwheel over an M16, picking it up, and shooting three guys.”

(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)

“You can copy it, but it’s not the same as putting all those little pieces together.”

“A lot of guys can try and copy The Matrix, meaning you do a low angle thing here and you cover this kick in a wide. You can copy it, but it’s not the same as putting all those little pieces together. What the Wachowskis taught us the most was [how] you build a world. I’ll relate this to John Wick so maybe it’s a little bit easier to understand. The color, the wardrobe, the suit, the house, the pajama bottoms, the way the gun style works. The emotional hook with the dog and the puppy. All that comes from working with the Wachowskis. Every little thing builds the world. You never blink. You never let the audience think, ‘Oh they’re just kinda doing a cool move, they’re just kinda doing a cool color.’ Every little thing goes into building the world. Every little aspect, on camera, off camera, how you train the cast, what the dialogue rhythm is, know your editing style, just really, really immersing people.”


The Impact: A New Standard in Action

The Matrix broadened the tastes of audiences, and what they expected out of action movies. It officially signaled the end of the burly macho stars of the ’80s, who had hung on for dear life past the mid-’90s, and into more fluid fights, elaborate maneuvers, and lighter-than-air wirework. Fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping’s name was literally used in marketing future movies he worked on, the highlight being the Best Picture-nominated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The Matrix had a fetishistic obsession with its own action sequences, something you’ll see later in Wanted, Kick-Ass, or Zack Snyder movies. Meanwhile, spoofing The Matrix became its own kind of cultural cred, as seen in movies and shows like Scary Movie, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, The Simpsons, Spaced, Shrek, and Kung Pow, or the Nintendo 64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and beyond.

But for the people who made the movie, it’s the camaraderie that endures, and the gift of knowing that they got to participate in one of the most beloved, influential movies of the last 21 years.

“To work on it, to be part of it, it is by far my favorite film.

“We use Laurence Fishburne [in the John Wick series], and I bumped into Carrie-Anne, and I bumped into Hugo Weaving the last couple of years and they still… Every single person, including department heads and cast that worked on that movie, still f–king cheer when it comes on. Everyone’s very proud of it. They can actually step outside their own performances and go ‘That’s f–king cool.’ For people in the business, that’s not a normal thing you can do. We all count ourselves as incredibly fortunate to have worked on that. Keanu and I see each other about every day, so we watched [The Matrix] again and had a nice talk about it yesterday. I don’t necessarily want to speak for Keanu, but it’s, like, still one of his favorite films of all time. To work on it, to be part of it, it is by far my favorite film.”

Reeves and Stahelski. (Photo by Christopher Jue/Getty Images)

“I’m both proud and somewhat ashamed to say it, but without the Wachowskis we couldn’t have done John Wick.”

“The Wachowskis wanted to immerse us in a world that was both real and extreme. And when you sit and watch The Matrix, you are wrapped up in that movie. You are wrapped up in the real-world part of it, you’re wrapped up in the matrix part of it. You buy it all. They thought it down to  a molecular level of detail. I’m both proud and somewhat ashamed to say it, but without the Wachowskis we couldn’t have done John Wick. We took a lot of lessons from them and hopefully tried to honor what they taught us by doing what we could with that.”

“How cool is it that I get to watch The Matrix with Keanu Reeves?

“Because of my relationship with Keanu, because we still work together and all that stuff…I mean how cool is it that I get to watch The Matrix with Keanu Reeves? And we still laugh, and we still cheer! And to see Keanu Reeves, the actual Neo sitting in a chair, where we’re both having a scotch watching The Matrix like that, or just to pull up a scene to fucking relive old times or something, or to get an idea, and to see Keanu Reeves jump up and go ‘F–k yeah! That’s awesome!’ I mean, I’m not gonna lie to you, that’s pretty cool!”


The Matrix was released on March 31, 1999. Buy or rent it at FandangNOW.

#1

The Matrix (1999)
88%

#1
Adjusted Score: 95178%
Critics Consensus: Thanks to the Wachowskis' imaginative vision, The Matrix is a smartly crafted combination of spectacular action and groundbreaking special effects.
Synopsis: Neo (Keanu Reeves) believes that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can... [More]

Watch: Jon Favreau and will Farrell on the making of Elf above.

In 2019, Rotten Tomatoes will turn 21, and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating the 21 Most Memorable Moments from the movies over the last 21 years. In a special video series launching next year, we will speak to the actors and filmmakers who made those moments happen, revealing behind-the-scenes details of how they came to be and diving deep into why they’ve stuck with us for so long. Once we’ve announced all 21, it will be up to you, the fans, to vote for which is the most memorable moment of all. As a special preview of the series, we’re dropping our first ‘21 Most Memorable Moments’ video right now: Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau take us behind the scenes of Elf.

VOTE FOR THIS MOMENT IN OUR 21 MOST MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS POLL


The Movie: Elf (2003) 85%

Fifteen years after its release, Elf is a bona fide Christmas classic – arguably the only Christmas movie released in the last 20 years to truly deserve that title. Don’t believe us? Turn on your TV this month. Or take a look at a T-shirt rack this week and marvel at the number Elf-inspired memes plastering the seasonal tees.

A Christmas classic is exactly what director Jon Favreau, who initially came on board the project for rewrites, wanted to make. Inspired by Rankin Bass Christmas specials, as well as the joy and energy emanating from his fresh out-of-SNL star, Favreau hit the streets of New York City – less than two years after 9/11 – to craft a long-lasting piece of seasonal joy from the simple tale of an Elf named Buddy and his journey to the big smoke to find his dad.

“My pitch was to make it feel like Buddy was a human that grew up in a ’60s Christmas special.”

Jon Favreau: “I was actually hired on to do rewrites. There was an original script that was quite different in tone. It was a much harder comedy. My pitch when I was hired to write was to make it feel like Buddy was a human that grew up in a ’60s Christmas special. And I brought it down from a harder PG-13 to a PG film. The innocence was something that I really wanted to lean into as I worked on it. He was always an innocent character, but he was a bit more of a foil to the action and to the comedy. I tried to strike a balance that was a bit sweeter.”

Elf

(Photo by © New Line)

“There’s this impression where, when you leave a show like SNL, you just have all these things lined up – and I really didn’t.”

Will Ferrell: “I [had] left Saturday Night Live. I think there’s always this impression where, when you leave a show like that, you just have all these things lined up – and I really didn’t. I had Old School, that was finished, but they were holding onto it. They weren’t releasing it quite yet, which is usually not a good sign. And then I had this script about a guy playing an elf…a human being raised by elves. And that was really all that was percolating. [But] this idea that a human is raised by elves at the North Pole, it just felt like something you’d never seen before. A classic fish-out-of-water story.”

“We shot a lot of that stuff independent-film–style with a van and a camera.”

Favreau: “Instead of hiring a lot of extras, we shot a lot of that stuff [Buddy on the streets of New York] independent-film–style with a van and a camera. Went out there and then we got people to sign releases. Of course, Will has really good comedic concentration so he was able to stay in character the whole time, and we used what worked. He’s really the key to the whole thing. He’s got such a wonderful energy and presence, and just him wearing that outfit was so inherently funny anyway because of his size.”

Elf

(Photo by © New Line)

“I was running around the streets of New York in yellow tights thinking to myself, Boy, I do hope this works.”

Ferrell: “I was kind of known at Saturday Night Live for – yes, for sketches like the [Spartan] Cheerleaders and things like that – but also for a lot of really edgy stuff. For every grandmother that came up to me and said, ‘I love this,’ I had the rowdy frat guy who was citing something he liked from the show. So here I was running around the streets of New York in yellow tights thinking to myself, Boy, I do hope this works, for a number of reasons. But this could easily be my last movie.”


The Moment: “Santa, here? I know him!”

Picking one moment from Elf was nearly impossible. Would you go with the scene in which Buddy tells the Gimbel’s mall Santa, “You sit on a throne of lies”? (We almost did.) Perhaps his syrup-and-spaghetti feast? (The look on James Caan’s face: Priceless.) We landed on the moment when Buddy hears that Santa will be arriving at Gimbel’s and just about explodes with excitement. Perhaps no other moment in the film better captures Buddy’s infectious joy and innocence.

“We originally hoped to shoot in Macy’s…the one stipulation was that we could not say that there was a fake Santa in Macy’s.”

Favreau: “We’d originally hoped to shoot in Macy’s. And Macy’s was actually really open to the idea of us shooting there, and even saying that maybe we could participate in the parade. However, the one stipulation was that we could not say that there was a fake Santa in Macy’s. So that’s part of their brand and people go to their Santaland every year, and they didn’t wanna blow it for young kids. Which I get. So, we kept thinking about, what could it be? [When] I grew up there was always Macy’s and Gimbel’s. Of course, Gimbel’s is featured in Miracle on 34th Street, so it’s a bit of an Easter egg for Christmas movie fans.”

Elf

(Photo by © New Line)

“I know that the first couple takes really took people by surprise, that I would go that big with it.” 

Favreau: “I remember the scene in Gimbel’s where Faizon Love makes the announcement that Santa is coming, and he just screams, ‘Santa!’. [Will] just loves to commit. He really knows where the laugh is in the scene. And then the reaction of [Faizon] being the manager, looking, thinking his employee is screaming in his face, is probably one of my favorite moments of the movie.”

Ferrell: “That kind of exclamation of ‘Santa!’ and screaming it, that was just my articulation of Buddy literally taking that piece of news [that Santa is coming] at face value and [thinking] what would be his literal reaction. A man without a country in this strange land finally getting to see someone he knows really well – it would just be the most jubilant reaction ever. I know that the first couple takes really took people by surprise, that I would go that big with it. And all of that, ‘Santa, I know him,’ all of that playing around we did, that was all improvised there.”

Elf

(Photo by © New Line)

“My biggest job on that film was to sort through all the various takes.”

Favreau: “Will just did lots of different choices for lots of different moments. My biggest job on that film, along with the editor Dan Lebental, was to just sort through all the various takes. We didn’t have a lot of time, it wasn’t a big-budget movie. But there was always room to play and to have fun and try different alts. And then [we had to] string all of the great different performances or improvisations together into a cohesive performance that served the story, while still taking full advantage of all the laughs that he was able to find.”

Ferrell: “It’s funny. James Caan, we were at the premiere, and I took this as a great compliment…he was like, ‘Great job. I thought you were too over the top the whole time.’”


The Impact: A Seasonal Favorite

Go online and you can buy Elf snow globes. And Elf jack-in-the-boxes. And Elf costumes, of course. And many, many Elf storybooks. Meanwhile, Elf: The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2010 in a testament to just how popular the film had become, is still touring the country. Elf, it’s fair to say, has become a pretty big deal since it premiered in 2003. But you don’t need merchandise and musicals to tell you that – just ask a friend. Or go up to Will Ferrell or Jon Favreau on the street and ask them how frequently people go up to them on the street to talk about the movie? You probably won’t be the first to do so that day. The duo set out to create a seasonal hit with legs, and they hit their mark.

“I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie.”

Ferrell: “[At the L.A. premiere] I knew it was working at that moment where Buddy is in the back of the sleigh and everyone’s singing in Central Park and there’s enough Christmas spirit to get it lifted off, and he’s waving goodbye. I’m like, Oh, I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie. I was like, Oh gosh, this is working on a level that I didn’t anticipate, and that was pretty cool. I remember getting a call from Nora Ephron, because we were just starting the sit down to get to do Bewitched. And during that opening weekend, she was like, ‘You really should enjoy this because this doesn’t happen a lot, where you have a movie that everyone is talking about.’ And she’s like, ‘I hope you enjoy it. Just really.’ So I remember her words, I was like, ‘OK, yeah. You’re right. This is crazy.'”

Elf

(Photo by © New Line)

“It wasn’t too long after 9/11, it was filmed in New York, I think it brought some nice energy to us at a challenging time.”

Favreau: “When it came out what we really wanted a movie like that. It wasn’t too long after 9/11, it was filmed in New York, I think it brought some nice energy to us at a time when – if you think back that far – it was a really challenging time and it was nice to bring a nice breath of innocence to the world and especially to the city at that time. I’m really proud of it. If it’s ever in a theater or playing on television, I love to check in on it. And I can tell through social media that it’s something that people have made a tradition of. I’ll see pictures online of people saying, ‘Hey I’m introducing my son or my daughter to this movie for the first time.’ And they’ll post a picture of Elf on television and there’s a little three-year-old sitting there looking up at the screen. And that really makes me happy and it’s the best part of the job.”


Elf was released on November 7, 2003. Buy or rent it at FandangNOW.

#1

Elf (2003)
85%

#1
Adjusted Score: 90697%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau
New Line courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

On November 7, 2003, Buddy the Elf “passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gumdrops, and then walked through the Lincoln Tunnel” and right into our hearts.

Written by David Berenbaum and directed by Jon Favreau, Elf was the holiday hit of the year, taking in more than $200 million worldwide, and earning equal praise from critics (it’s Certified Fresh at 84%) and audiences (it sports a 74% Audience Score).

Since then, Elf has become a holiday TV stalwart, spawned a hit Broadway musical and a stop-motion animated special, and turned into one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time.

Even now, at 15 years old (old enough to doubt the existence of Santa), Elf is still full of Christmas cheer. So, why has this film earned a place on the Nice List for life?


It Turned Jon Favreau into a Director… and May Have Kickstarted the MCU

New Line courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

Prior to Elf, Jon Favreau was recognizable actor, but a relative unknown as a director. Granted, true Favreau-heads (Favr-ites?) might look to his 2001 independent film Made (Fresh at 71%) as Favreau’s directorial coming out party, but he was better known as one of the “money men” from Swingers and Monica’s millionaire boyfriend from Friends. But that all changed when he stepped behind the camera for Elf.

With his innovative and charming direction, Elf would go on to make nearly seven times its budget, and Favreau would go on to direct Iron ManIron Man 2, The Jungle Book, and the upcoming The Lion King.

But, if Favreau hadn’t taken on Elf (or if it hadn’t been quite a critical and commercial success), would he have been trusted to direct Iron Man? And if he hadn’t directed Iron Man, would the movie still have had the same vibrancy that made it such a hit? And would it then even spawn a sequel and set the stage for Captain America, The AvengersGuardians of the Galaxy, and the rest of the blockbuster behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Thankfully, Jon Favreau is so money, and Elf made sure we all knew it.


It Made Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel into Stars

New Line Cinema

(Photo by New Line Cinema)

In 2003, Will Ferrell had already notched his name in TV lore with an impressive run on Saturday Night Live and stolen scenes in classic grown-up comedies like Old School, Austin Powers, and Zoolander, but it wasn’t known if the rambunctious man-child actor could carry a movie as a leading man, let alone a family film. Until, that is, everyone saw Elf.

The risk to cast Ferrell paid off, and launched him from recent SNL departee to Hollywood’s next great comedy star. In the following years, Ferrell continued to rack up hits with both adult-oriented comedies like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys and family-friendly fare, including Kicking & Screaming, The Lego Movie, and Daddy’s Home.

Elf also marked a coming-out party for Ferrell’s co-star Zooey Deschanel. After small yet memorable parts in Almost Famous and The New Guy, Deschanel was dangerously close to being known better as “that girl” than as “Zooey Deschanel.”

But playing the role of reluctant mall elf and Buddy’s reticent love interest, Jovie, Deschanel delivered a star-making performance, showcasing the charm, singing talent, and adorkable-ness that would make her into a darling of the indie film world and a staple of the sitcom one.


It Excels in Physical Humor

Will Ferrell has always been a larger-than-life performer, but Elf took that quality and ran with it.

As the only human in the North Pole (and a 6’3″ one at that), Buddy the Elf stands out amongst the diminutive elves of Santa’s workshop, but Ferrell needed some movie magic to truly look like a fish out of water.

Thanks to forced perspective, which manipulated the set to make the other actors appear smaller, Ferrell managed to tower over his elfin counterparts without having to resort to CGI or green screens. Favreau called this process “painstaking,” but the end result looks seamless and allowed the actors to appear as normal as possible.


It’s Super Quotable, All Year Round

Who can forget “He’s an angry elf,” “You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa,” or “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear?”

Those are all well and good, but unfortunately, they’re only really well and good for about two months a year. But, you know what’s good almost all the time? Every other quote in the movie!

Answering the phone? “Buddy the elf. What’s your favorite color?”

Taking a trip to Northern California? “Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…”

Watching Cersei Lannister plot a scheme? “You sit on a throne of lies!”


Elf Goes Retro

New Line Cinema

(Photo by New Line Cinema)

Unlike many Christmas movies of the 21st century, which sought to bring a modern sheen to the holiday, Elf went the opposite direction, drawing artistic inspiration from campy stop-motion holiday classics from Rankin/Bass like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Jack Frost to give a “timeless” feel to the whole film.

In an interview with 20/20 in 2017, director Jon Favreau said, “We used stop-motion animation… so when you watch it, it doesn’t feel like it ages the same way that a film that has a lot of digital effects does.” And even when Elf featured CGI, it used it to mimic the same classic stop-motion feel.

And it worked. Compared to other CGI-filled Christmas movies from the 2000s — including The Santa Clause 2 and 3 (55% and 17% on the Tomatometer, respectively), The Polar Express (55%), and Disney’s A Christmas Carol (54%) — Elf’s Certified Fresh 84% ranks on top. And fans agree as well, as last year Elf was selected as the Best Christmas Movie of the 21st Century by FandangoNOW users.

GWEN STEFANI: YOU MAKE IT FEEL LIKE CHRISTMAS (Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

A holly, jolly holiday season kicks off now with our guide to the most festive TV coming in December. Read on to find out which network is airing those famous Rankin and Bass stop-motion television classics and where you can find all sorts of seasonal programming fare from Gwen Stefani to Bruno Mars to fragile leg lamps, the Grinch, and more.

(We will update this list with more holiday programming as new information becomes available.)


MARATHONS

The Nutcracker by The Royal Ballet (Tristram Kenton/Ovation TV)

(Photo by Tristram Kenton/Ovation TV)

Turner Christmas Classics — Set your DVRs for these lesser-known black-and-white seasonal options starting with 1947’s Bush Christmas. It’s a family adventure film about a group of children who set out across the Australian bush to get back their horses from thieves. Airs Friday, Dec. 1 at midnight ET/PT on TCM followed by Tenth Avenue Angel at 1:30 a.m. ET/PT. Angela Lansbury stars in this 1948 drama about a child who helps an ex-con find love for Christmas. The triple feature ends with the hour-long documentary Night at the Movies: A Merry Christmas, which traces the history of Yule inspired movies at 3 a.m. ET/PT.

Nutcracker Overload — Ovation TV will air its 11th annual “Battle of the Nutcrackers,” a five-day marathon beginning Monday, Dec. 11 at 7 a.m. ET with Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker from the Australian Ballet. The latter is considered one of the world’s most beautiful renditions. Viewers can decide by voting on Ovation’s Facebook page. This will be followed by Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 7 a.m. ET, as performed by the Dutch National Ballet. The Nutcracker Semperoper Ballet will do the honors Wednesday, Dec. 13 at 7 a.m. ET with the Berlin State Opera performance airing Thursday, Dec. 14 at 7 a.m. ET. The Royal Opera House will close out the competition Friday, Dec. 15 at 7 a.m. ET.

A Christmas Story — Remakes are cool, but there is nothing like the original. Relive the fun from the 1983 holiday classic A Christmas Story when it airs around the clock like it does every year. The fun kicks off Sunday, Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.

Big Laughs — Enjoy the biggest and funniest pranks when the Impractical Jokers Christmas Day marathon spotlights some of Sal, Q, Joe and Murr’s best work. It airs all day Monday, Dec. 25 on truTV.

Harry Potter: The Entire Adventure — Every Harry Potter movie airs on HBO in handy binge-format Jan. 1, 2018.


SPECIALS 

Charlie Brown Christmas

(Photo by ABC)

A Charlie Brown Christmas —Celebrate the holidays with this digitally-re-mastered hit, which originally aired in 1965. It airs Thursday, Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration — Join Emmy winner Julianne Hough and multiplatinum recording artist and TV personality Nick Lachey, as they host the two-hour show from the Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. The special airs Thursday, Nov. 30 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

A StoryBots Christmas — The StoryBots are headed to the North Pole in this all-new Netflix original holiday offering. The animated special begins streaming Friday, Dec. 1 on Netflix and stars Ed Asner and Judy Greer.

Masters of Illusion: Christmas Magic — Illusionist Michael Grandinetti will add his own brand of magic to the holidays in this new special. It airs Friday, Dec. 1 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW.

Miss Me This Christmas — The “perfect couple,” Regina (Erica Ash, Survivor’s Remorse) and Franklin (Redaric Williams), celebrate a fairy-tale Christmas wedding anniversary and seem to have it all. Yet their marriage is on the rocks. Can mistletoe and holly save their love? Find out when this made-for-TV offering airs Sunday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. ET on TV One.

Psych: The Movie — Catch up with fake psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his best friend, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill) in this two-hour movie set three years after the series finale of the popular USA Network detective show. A mystery assailant brings the duo together during the holidays. Airs Thursday, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on USA.

Freshly Baked: The Robot Chicken Santa Claus Pot Cookie Freakout Special: Special Edition — The Robot Chicken holiday special kicks off season 9 of the series. St. Nick meets his idol Jared Leto and more in the special, which airs Sunday, Dec. 10 at 11:30 a.m. ET/PT.

The Nightmare Before Christmas — Jack Skellington, Halloweentown’s popular Pumpkin King, becomes obsessed with bringing Christmas under his control in this 1993 hit. It airs Friday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform and repeats Saturday, Dec. 2 at 3:10 p.m. ET/PT and Wednesday Dec. 13 at midnight.

Will Ferrell in Elf (New Line Cinema)

Elf – Buddy the Elf goes looking for his biological father in this hilarious holiday movie from 2003. It airs Friday, Dec. 1 at 9:15 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. Look for re-airings at Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m. ET/PT and Sunday, Dec. 24 at 9:15 p.m ET/PT.

The Chew: Snowed In For the Holidays — Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly and Carla Hall whip up festive dishes and crafts, while pop vocal group Human Nature sings fun holiday carols. It airs Sunday, Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m. PT  on ABC and re-airs Christmas Day at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT.

The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special — Tune in to this 50th anniversary celebration of the award-winning comedy series The Carol Burnett Show, which premiered on Sept. 11, 1967. The tribute airs Sunday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Christmas at Holly Lodge — A business owner falls in love with a real-estate developer who wants to buy her lodge. The problem is, the lodge isn’t for sale. It stars Alison Sweeney, Jordan Bridges and Sheryl Lee Ralph and premieres Sunday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on the Hallmark Channel.

My Christmas Prince — Alexis Knapp (Pitch Perfect) stars as Samantha, a dedicated teacher in Manhattan who returns to her small Wyoming hometown every year for Christmas. This year, she’s thrilled when her boyfriend Alex, a European diplomat, joins her. But when Samantha discovers Alex is actually a prince destined for the throne, her entire world is turned upside down. It airs Sunday, Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

The Holiday — Cozy up to this adorable 2006 romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black when it airs Monday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

Toy Story That Time Forgot – Woody, Buzz and more beloved Toy Story characters return for this holiday treat, which features Trixie the triceratops (Kristen Schaal) as the hero. The animated offering airs Dec. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town — Feel warm and fuzzy with Rankin and Bass’ perennial favorite from 1970, which airs Monday, Dec. 11 at 1:35 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform.

Gwen Stefani’s You Make It Feel Like Christmas — The Grammy winning singer will perform holiday classics from her album of the same name including “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” It airs Tuesday Dec. 12 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

TARAJI'S WHITE HOT HOLIDAYS - Taye Diggs, Taraji P. Henson, Tituss Burgess and Jay Pharoah (Michael Becker/FOX)

Taraji’s White Hot Holidays — The star behind Empire’s heroine Cookie is back to host another star-studded affair full of caroling and classic holiday songs. Special guests include Chaka Khan, Leslie Odom Jr., Salt-N-Pepa and more. It airs Thursday, Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Boris Karloff narrates this classic 1966 animated favorite, which airs Saturday, Dec. 16 at 9:15 p.m. ET/PT and Saturday, Dec. 23 at 9:20 p.m. ET/PT on Freeform. NBC is also airing the movie Christmas Day at 8:30 p.m ET/PT.

(Photo by Tommy Garcia/Fox)

A Christmas Story Live! — Enjoy this three-hour live musical television event, which like the original movie focuses on 9-year-old Ralphie (Andy Walken), a boy who incessantly dreams of getting a Red Ryder Range Model Carbine Action BB Gun for Christmas. It premieres Sunday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

Last Tango in Halifax Holiday Special — The drama follows Celia’s daughter Caroline as she moves the family to a less-than-desirable farmhouse in time for Christmas. It airs back-to-back Sundays, Dec. 17 and 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.

Decorating Disney: Holiday Magic — Tap into your inner child with this inside look at how Disney destinations are turned into winter wonderlands just in time for the holidays. It airs Monday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. ET on Freeform.

I Love Lucy Christmas Special — This one-hour special features back-to-back classic and colorized episodes of the beloved sitcom. It airs Friday, Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

The Dick Van Dyke Show – Now In Living Color — Series creator Carl Reiner selected this pair of newly colorized episodes as two examples of the late great Mary Tyler Moore’s best work. They air Friday, Dec. 22 beginning at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

How Murray Saved Christmas — Laugh along as Murray (Jerry Stiller), a very unlikely hero, saves the big day. The animated special airs Sunday, Christmas Eve at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

It’s a Wonderful Life  Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings in this beloved holiday classic from 1946. It airs Sunday, Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

Christmas Eve with Fairfield University This hour-long Christmas special features musical performances from the University Glee Club, an ensemble of jazz musicians and the alumni band Lionfish. Fairfield University is located on a 200-acre campus on the Connecticut coast. The special airs Sunday, Christmas Eve at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

Call the Midwife Holiday Special — Neither a thick blanket of snow nor the coldest winter in 300 years can stop this group of dedicated midwives from helping their patients. Tune in when this special installment airs Monday, Christmas Day at 9 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.

Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration — This holiday showcase will be brighter and bigger bringing together the beloved Christmas Day parade, magical musical performances and surprise celebrity guests. It airs Monday, Christmas Day at 10 a.m. ET/ 9 a.m. PT on ABC.

Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time — Get into the holiday spirit when the Doctor comes face to face with the Doctor in this epic finale to the Peter Capaldi era. In “Twice Upon a Time,” the twelfth Doctor (Capaldi) still refuses to change but starts to see the light when he goes on an adventure with the first Doctor (David Bradley, Game of Thrones). Pearl Mackie and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock) also star. It airs Monday, Christmas Day at 9 p.m. ET on BBC America.

Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day — Peter, a young boy in a red snowsuit, jumps off the pages of this beloved children’s book and right into our hearts in this animated special. It begins streaming Tuesday, Dec. 26 on Amazon Prime Video.

Pete the Cat: A Groovy New Year — Pete the Cat needs a New Year’s resolution but first he must figure out what a resolution is. The animated special starts streaming Tuesday, Dec. 26 on Amazon Prime Video.

Great Performances — From Vienna: The New Year’s Celebration 2018 — Ring in the New Year with the Vienna Philharmonic as they perform a selection of beloved Strauss Family waltzes with guest conductor Riccardo Muti. It airs Monday, Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. ET/PT on PBS.


 SERIES 

Homicide for the Holidays — Season 2 of this perennial series features a whole new batch of holiday crime stories with interviews from the detectives who worked the cases as well as the friends and family of the victims. The five-part program premieres Saturday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.

The Great Christmas Light Fight  Nothing punctuates the holidays like Christmas lights and fights about Christmas lights especially when there’s a $50,000 prize. Season 5 of the holiday offering airs for three consecutive weeks beginning Monday, Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.

Happy! — Based on the graphic novel of the same name, this dark comedy follows Nick Sax (star Christopher Meloni), an intoxicated, corrupt ex-cop who becomes a hit man. After an assassination gone wrong, his inebriated life is permanently changed by an imaginary but relentlessly positive blue-winged horse named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). The series kicks off Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SyFy.

The Great American Baking Show — Feast your eyes and stomachs on this two-hour season premiere, which kicks off Thursday, Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.


HOLIDAY EPISODES 

The Powerpuff Girls - "You're a Good Man, Mojo Jojo" (Cartoon Network)

(Photo by Cartoon Network)

Teen Titans Go! — “TTG v. Santa,” Dec. 1, 6 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network

We Bare Bears — “The Perfect Tree,” Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network

The Powerpuff Girls — “You’re a Good Man, Mojo Jojo,” Dec. 3, 5:30 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network

Will & Grace — “A Gay Olde Christmas,” Dec. 5, 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC

Superstore  — “Christmas Eve,” Dec. 5, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC

Dynasty —”The Best Things in Life,” Dec. 6, 9 p.m. ET/PT on The CW

Bob’s Burgers — “The Bleakening Christmas Special Pt. 1” and “The Bleakening Christmas Special Pt. 2,” Dec. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Fox

Family Guy  — “Don’t Be A Dickens At Christmas,” Dec. 10, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on Fox

(Photo by Eddy Chen/Fox)

Lethal Weapon — “Wreck the Halls,” Dec. 12, 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox

Little Women: LA —”A Little Festive,” Dec. 13, 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime

Steven Universe — “Dewey Wins” and “Gemcation,” Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon Network

Great News — “A Christmas Carol” and “Sensitivity Training,” Dec. 21, 8 and 8:30 p.m ET/PT on NBC

Saturday Night Live — “Christmas Special,” Dec. 21, 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC

Peppa Pig — “Father Christmas,” Dec. 22, 12:30 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon

The Rap Game — “Holiday Remix,” Dec. 22, 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime

The Simpsons — “The Nightmare After Krustmas,” Christmas Eve, 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox

Married at First Sight — “Holiday Game Night,” Dec. 26, 9 p.m. on Lifetime

Cyberchase — “A Reboot Eve to Remember,” Dec. 29, air times vary so check your local listings, PBS

The list of Saturday Night Live cast members who have made us laugh is long — but the number of SNL vets who have managed to make a successful go of it on the big screen, especially over the long term, is much smaller. With over a billion dollars in global box office receipts to his name — a total that will expand when he returns to theaters with Amy Poehler in The House this weekend — it’s safe to say Will Ferrell is part of that exclusive group, and in honor of his achievements, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to his 10 best-reviewed movies. Get off the shed, because it’s time for Total Recall!


Use the up and down arrows to rank the movies, or click here to see them ranked by Tomatometer!

A race-swinging horror movie directed by a guy known for his sketch comedy…and it’s getting rave reviews? Get out! No, really, it’s Get Out, the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, one-half of comedy duo Key & Peele. It’s no secret many stars harbor dreams of one day directing. Few get to do it, fewer are any good at it. In this week’s gallery, here’s 24 Certified Fresh movies directed by actors on their first try!

Alice Through The Looking Glass may not be getting critics supremely high off caterpillar smoke (neither did the Tim Burton-directed original), but don’t let that stop you from having a lauded fantasy movie weekend with your family: simply check out this gallery list of 24 Certified Fresh PG and below fantasy classics and modern hits!

Some Santas want to spread joy to the world…and others just want to watch the world burn. As Christmas approaches, take some time to this week’s special extra 24 Frames gallery, looking at the variations of jolly St. Nick across movie history.

The list of Saturday Night Live cast members who have made us laugh is long — but the number of SNL vets who have managed to make a successful go of it on the big screen, especially over the long term, is much smaller. With over a billion dollars in global box office receipts to his name ? a total that will expand when he returns to theaters with Kevin Hart in Get Hard this weekend — it’s safe to say Will Ferrell is part of that exclusive group, and in honor of his achievements, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to his 10 best-reviewed movies. Get off the shed, because it’s time for Total Recall!


10. Curious George (2006) 70%


Any movie that comes with a tagline as corny as “Show Me the Monkey!” is deserving of skepticism, particularly if the film in question is an animated adaptation of an old series of children’s books — but 2006’s Curious George proved a worthy big-screen extension of H.A. and Margaret Rey’s beloved bestsellers, giving the furry little rascal a spiffy 21st-century makeover without losing any of the sweet charm that made the character an icon in the first place. As the voice of George’s longtime foil The Man in the Yellow Hat (here named Ted Shackleford), Ferrell certainly wasn’t the film’s chief draw for its target demographic, but he did add a bit of marquee value to a cast that included Drew Barrymore, David Cross, Eugene Levy, and Dick Van Dyke, helping George swing its way to a mildly surprising $69 million worldwide gross. The movie’s gentle spirit and extensive use of traditional animation couldn’t compete with the louder, flashier CGI fare prevalent at the box office, but they weren’t meant to; as Colin Colvert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote, “the makers of Curious George have figured out how to make an innocent cartoon that will amuse knee-nuzzlers without hitting adults like a liter of chloroform.”

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9. Blades of Glory (2007) 70%


Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Will Ferrell has a knack for finding (or writing) scripts built around concepts so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh — and 2007’s Blades of Glory, a comedy about a pair of competitive skaters who are forced to form an ice dancing team after an awards ceremony brawl leaves them barred from men’s singles, is a perfect case in point. Ferrell’s brand of fearlessly stupid comedy is perfect for any script that requires him to spend time in a unitard, and Jon Heder’s sleepy-eyed hostility made him a worthy foil for his louder, hairier co-star. Although Ferrell had already done more than one sports-themed comedy, Blades of Glory still packed enough laughs to satisfy most critics — it earned a 69 percent Tomatometer rating, thanks to reviews from writers like the Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Rechtshaffen, who praised it as “one of those rare comedies that puts a goofy smile on your face with the premise alone, and keeps it planted there right until its wacky finale.”

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8. Dick (1999) 71%


By the late 1990s, Ferrell had emerged as the next Saturday Night Live cast member to make the jump to movies — both within the SNL family, in projects like Superstar and A Night at the Roxbury, and also in non SNL-affiliated fare, such as the first two Austin Powers movies, the independently released The Suburbans, and 1999’s Dick. Supporting Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in this 1970s-set comedy about a pair of teenage girls that exposes the nefarious deeds of Richard Nixon (Dan Hedaya), Ferrell appears as a bumbling, thin-skinned version of Bob Woodward opposite Bruce McCulloch’s equally incompetent Carl Bernstein. Though the allegedly investigative duo is more interested in insulting each other than cracking a story (in one memorable exchange, Ferrell tells McCulloch that he smells “like cabbage”), they’re eventually pointed in the right direction by Dunst and Williams; similarly, although audiences seemed not to know what to make of Dick, critics applauded it for being, in the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, “a gaily funny, shrewdly inventive satire.”

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7. Stranger Than Fiction (2006) 73%


For many comics, branching out from lighthearted comedies to more dramatic fare is seen as a rite of passage; Bill Murray had The Razor’s Edge, Jim Carrey started nudging away from straight comedy with The Cable Guy and The Truman Show, and even Dane Cook has popped up in serious films such as Mr. Brooks and Dan in Real Life. For Will Ferrell, the chance to flex his dramatic muscle came with Stranger than Fiction, a 2006 dramedy about an IRS auditor who slowly realizes that the events taking place in his life are the result of an unseen author who may be leading him to a rather unhappy ending. It’s the sort of heady premise that Ferrell’s detractors would say he lacks the depth or breadth to carry — but they’d be wrong, as evidenced by Fiction‘s Certified Fresh status and 72 percent Tomatometer rating. Though he was certainly surrounded with top talent — such as a supporting cast that included Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal — Ferrell’s performance was singled out by critics like Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, who wrote that he “delivers a moving and surprisingly delicate — though not so surprisingly funny — turn as the lonesome bureaucrat bedeviled by a voice only he hears.”

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6. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) 71%


Part buffoonish comedy, part NASCAR fable, Talladega Nights sped past all the cries of “not another Will Ferrell sports comedy” to an impressive $162 million worldwide gross — and, more importantly, a 73 percent Tomatometer rating and Certified Fresh status. Though the none-too-bright Ricky Bobby was essentially just another variation of the same character Ferrell had been playing for years, Talladega proved that character could still be funny — starting with the trailer and TV spots, in which an underwear-and-helmet-clad Ricky engages in a panicked run around a racetrack, screaming for Tom Cruise to “use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me.” In the words of Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe, Talladega Nights is “the sort of cheerfully asinine comedy that twists your arm until you submit. So, to Will Ferrell — clown, freak, bully — I scream, ‘Uncle!'”

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5. Everything Must Go (2011) 73%


If you’re going to adapt a Raymond Carver short story about an alcoholic loser who reacts to losing his job and being kicked out of his home by camping out in his front yard and selling off his possessions, you could do a lot worse than hiring Will Ferrell to play your protagonist. Case in point: 2011’s Everything Must Go, in which writer-director Dan Rush affords Ferrell plenty of room to explore the premise’s dramatic depths while lending a healthy amount of laughs to a situation that probably wouldn’t seem all that funny if it happened to any of us. Unlike a lot of forays into more thoughtful territory by actors known for their comedic chops, Everything earned a surprising number of critical accolades along the way, including Simon Gallagher’s review for What Culture, which deemed the movie “a pleasantly engaging, entertaining human portrait — a journey that doesn’t physically stray very far, but which treads a million metaphorical miles within its main character as he attempts to go from broken man to redeemed man.”

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4. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013) 75%


Long after even its most ardent and/or munchies-tormented fans had given up hope of ever seeing a sequel, Ferrell and his frequent creative partner Adam McKay managed to get a follow-up to 2004’s cult classic Anchorman off the ground, reuniting the original’s brilliant cast (many of whom had been bumped up several pay grades in the interim) to show audiences what the endearing blowhard Ron Burgundy and his largely incompetent news team had been up to over the ensuing nine years. Surrounded by a gifted comedic team that included Anchorman vets such as Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and Christina Applegate as well as new additions like Kristen Wiig, Ferrell helped make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues another dose of dada bliss ? and one of the rare sequels whose reviews manage to surpass those of its predecessor. “Maybe McKay and his cast simply captured another bolt of lightning in Ron’s empty scotch bottle; more likely, they were just as inspired this time around as they were during the first film,” wrote Cammila Collar for TV Guide. “Regardless, they’ve definitely kept it classy.”

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3. The Other Guys (2010) 79%


For much of his film career, Ferrell has scooped added helpings of laughs out of being placed alongside well-chosen comedic foils. John C. Reilly has gotten particularly good mileage out of matching him guffaw for dunderheaded guffaw, but Ferrell can also be brilliantly funny when his bozo routine has a fussy, tight-lipped straight man to bounce off, and 2010’s The Other Guys is a perfect example. By placing Ferrell’s knuckleheaded Detective Allen Gamble opposite Mark Wahlberg’s desperately straight-laced Detective Terry Hoitz, Guys pumped a few extra chuckles into the well-worn buddy cop formula ? and worked in a little savvy bailout-era social commentary in the bargain. “Just go and see it,” ordered Nigel Andrews for the Financial Times. “And send me the bill if you don’t laugh.”

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2. Elf (2003) 85%


You could put pretty much any 6’3″ actor in an elf suit and get some chuckles, but casting Will Ferrell as an orphan raised at the North Pole — by Bob “Papa Elf” Newhart, no less — was a stroke of comic genius. What tends to get lost in all the shouting and inappropriate nudity is that Ferrell excels at playing gentle, childlike men whose open-heartedness is exceeded only by their oafishness, and in Elf‘s Buddy Hobbs, he found a role that perfectly highlighted that skill. And the casting genius didn’t end there — Elf also includes inspired turns by Newhart in an elf’s cap, Ed Asner as Santa, James Caan as Ferrell’s gruff, exasperated biological father, and, for Pete’s sake, Leon Redbone as a talking snowman. Singling out holiday movies for critical beatdowns has becoming something of an annual tradition, but in this case, our top scribes were left filled with holiday cheer — such as Roger Ebert, who beamed, “this is one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece.”

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1. The LEGO Movie (2014) 96%


Will Ferrell’s finest films are the ones that take full advantage of both sides of his on-screen persona, allowing him to indulge his gift for playing a belligerent man-child as well as displaying some real sensitivity. It’s fitting, then, that The LEGO Movie ended up at the top of our list of Ferrell’s 10 best movies: While he’s a dangerous buffoon for most of it, lending his voice to the maniacal, order-hungry Lord Business during the animated portion of the story, he’s also on hand for some of LEGO‘s most poignant moments during the part at the end where ? well, we won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that although we tend to take a hard look at animated features on most of these lists, this is one case where top honors are deserved. “It’s one of the few movies based on a toy with no explicit story behind it,” observed Katey Rich for Vanity Fair. “And it is, so far, the only one that’s really good.”

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Finally, here’s Ferrell in the crystal verdant waters of the Mississippi searching for catfish and the American Dream:

Saturday Night Live celebrates the premiere of its 40th season this weekend, and to celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of critically-acclaimed films featuring SNL alums. The movies listed here aren’t necessarily the best or the best-reviewed movies from these stars; rather, we wanted to give a sense of the range and versatility of the not-ready-for-primetime players. Featuring those who rose to prominence during their time on the show (Eddie Murphy, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig) and a few you may have forgotten about (Robert Downey Jr., Julia Louis-Dreyfus), our list is a testament to SNL‘s continuing relevance as an incubator for some of the entertainment world’s brightest talents.


Adventureland
89%

Full of humor and nostalgia, and featuring wry supporting turns by Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, Adventureland is a sweet, insightful coming-of-age comedy that will resonate with teens and adults alike.


Best in Show
93%

A fine example of writer-director-star Christopher Guest’s gift for improv comedy, Best in Show boasts an appealingly quirky premise and a brilliantly talented cast.


Bridesmaids
90%

A marriage of genuine characters, gross out gags, and pathos, Bridesmaids is a female-driven comedy features star-making performances from Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph.


City Slickers
91%

With a supremely talented cast (led by Billy Crystal) and just enough midlife drama to add weight to its wildly silly overtones, City Slickers uses universal themes to earn big laughs.


Elf
85%

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.


Enough Said
95%

Wryly charming, impeccably acted, and ultimately quite bittersweet, Enough Said is a grown-up movie in the best possible way, and it offers a chance to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus play an intriguingly complex character.


48 Hrs.
93%

Marking an auspicious feature film debut for Eddie Murphy, 48 Hrs. is a briskly paced action comedy that succeeds largely due to the outstanding chemistry between its two leads.


Ghostbusters
97%

An infectiously fun blend of special effects and comedy, Ghostbusters derives many of its biggest laughs from Bill Murray’s hilarious deadpan wit and Dan Aykroyd’s enthusiastic geekiness.


God Said, Ha!
86%

God Said, Ha! plumbs poignant depths, but Julia Sweeney’s sharp, graceful wit makes this one-woman monologue a wise, big-hearted burst of uplifting — and perhaps therapeutic — entertainment.


Good Hair
95%

Funny, informative, and occasionally sad, Chris Rock’s Good Hair is a provocative look at the complex relationship between African Americans and their hair.


Groundhog Day
97%

Smart, sweet, and inventive, Groundhog Day highlights Bill Murray’s dramatic gifts while still leaving plenty of room for laughs.


Innerspace
82%

A manic, overstuffed blend of sci-fi, comedy, and romance, Innerspace nonetheless charms, thanks to Martin Short’s fine performance and the insistent zaniness of the plot.


Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
86%

Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and a spot-on comic performance from Robert Downey Jr. in this dark, eccentric film noir homage.


Mean Girls
84%

Sharper and darker than the average teen comedy, Mean Girls benefits from refreshing honesty and a terrific cast that includes Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Tim Meadows.


National Lampoon’s Animal House
90%

The talents of director John Landis and Saturday Night Live‘s irrepressible John Belushi conspired to create a rambunctious, subversive college comedy that continues to resonate.


National Lampoon’s Vacation
93%

Blessed by a brilliantly befuddled star turn from Chevy Chase (as well as strong supporting work from Randy Quaid and a young Anthony Michael Hall), National Lampoon’s Vacation is one of the more consistent — and thoroughly quotable — screwball comedies of the 1980s.


Nebraska
91%

Elegant in its simplicity and poetic in its message, Nebraska is boosted by a poignant, bittersweet dramatic performance by Will Forte.


Obvious Child
90%

Tackling a sensitive subject with maturity, honesty, and wit, Obvious Child serves as both a showcase for Jenny Slate and a promising debut for writer-director Gillian Robespierre.


Punch-Drunk Love
79%

Odd, touching, and unique, Punch-Drunk Love is also delightfully funny, utilizing Adam Sandler’s comic persona to explore the life of a lonely guy who finds love.


School of Rock
92%

Full of high spirits and loads of heart School of Rock into a hilarious, rocking good time, thanks in part to sharp supporting work from Joan Cusack and Sarah Silverman.


Shrek 2
89%

Topical humor and exuberant vocal performances from Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy help to make Shrek 2 a funny, smart animated tale for audiences of all ages.


The Skeleton Twins
86%

Led by powerful performances from Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, The Skeleton Twins effectively mines laughs and tears from family drama.


This Is Spinal Tap
95%

Smartly directed, brilliantly acted, and packed with endlessly quotable moments, This Is Spinal Tap is an all-time comedy classic, and represents a high water mark for stars Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer.


Trading Places
88%

Featuring deft interplay between Eddie Murphy and Dan Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places is an immensely appealing social satire.


The Truth About Cats and Dogs
85%

Sharp, witty, and charming, The Truth About Cats and Dogs features a standout performance from Janeane Garofalo.


Wayne’s World
79%

An oddball comedy that revels in its silliness and memorable catch phrases, Wayne’s World is also fondly regarded because of its endearing leads — played with infectious goofiness by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey.


Whip It
84%

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut has enough charm, energy, and good-natured humor to transcend its many cliches — and it features fine supporting performances by Kristen Wiig and Jimmy Fallon.

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