Top Five Classic Christmas Movies

Updated on September 16, 2019
ajwrites57 profile image

AJ can't get enough of Christmas. He loves spreading the holiday spirit with all those around him.

Spirit of Christmas

Some might say that the Spirit of Christmas is "as dead as a door-nail," to quote Charles Dickens. I say, "Bah! Humbug!" (to quote Scrooge!). The Spirit of Christmas is not dead! At this time of year, it is customary to gather the family and watch the timeless Christmas movies we all love.

I decided to share my top five favorite classic Christmas movies out of the many I enjoy during the holidays. These movies take place at Christmas time and they capture themes that reflect the true Spirit of Christmas. My hope is that we can live out these themes and remember them throughout the year.

Top Five Classic Christmas Films

Top Five Christmas Movies
It’s A Wonderful Life
James Stewart
George Bailey
Frank Capra
White Christmas
Bing Crosby
Bob Wallace
Michael Curtiz
Albert Finney
Ebenezer Scrooge
Ronald Neame
Miracle on 34th Street
Maureen O'Hara
Doris Walker
George Seaton
The Bishop's Wife
Cary Grant
Henry Koster
Christmas Movies You Will Love
Frank  Capra  ~ Director  1946 By National Telefilm Associates
Frank Capra ~ Director 1946 By National Telefilm Associates | Source

1. It’s A Wonderful Life by Frank Capra

I did not come across this amazing movie until I was in my mid-20s. (It was a half-box-of-tissue movie for me.) The all-star cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. The movie has many shifts in mood. Lighthearted moments, outright comedy, drama, intrigue—it exhibits all the elements of a great movie. Released in 1946, the movie was produced and directed by Frank Capra. The drama is based on the short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern.

George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has big plans, which include leaving his hometown, Bedford Falls, to see the world. He is on the eve of leaving for good, getting ready to pack his suitcase. There is a family crisis; George gets stuck in this little town. Life intervened, so George didn't get to see the world. Instead, he discovered how big one person can be in a small world.

George and Mary Bailey With Zuzu in "It's A Wonderful Life"
George and Mary Bailey With Zuzu in "It's A Wonderful Life" | Source

George and Mary

He falls in love with Mary (Donna Reed) and begins a family. He takes over his father's savings and loan, coveted by greedy Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). He schemes to take over the family business. A series of events occur that leaves George in serious trouble.

He decides the only thing to do is to take his own life, so his family can get his insurance money. He concludes that "he is worth more dead than alive". The angel is named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) who appears in response to George's prayer for help (as it also happens in The Bishop's Wife). Clarence takes him on a journey and shows him what a world without George Bailey would be like.

Many surprises are in store for George and he learns much about himself. He discovers "It's A Wonderful Life"! After viewing this film, we can learn much about ourselves, too. The movie captures the Christmas Spirit by displaying the joy of self-sacrifice, redemption, friendship, love, family, loyalty and commitment.

Title screenshot from the theatrical trailer for the film White Christmas (1954)
Title screenshot from the theatrical trailer for the film White Christmas (1954) | Source

2. White Christmas

White Christmas (1954) is a feast of entertainment from start to finish. War buddies Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) and Danny Kaye (Phil Davis) sing, dance and act their way into your heart. Joining forces with sister act Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes) and Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), they take their show to a Vermont inn. The inn is owned by a general they served under during World War II which has hit hard times. When they attempt to help him save the inn, mad-cap escapades ensue.

The song, " White Christmas " is featured and was written by Irving Berlin. (First sung in the movie "Holiday Inn" released in 1942—another great seasonal movie.) Who doesn't know the words to this song and who doesn't reminisce about a family Christmas when they hear it?

The movie is filmed in such beautiful colors. If you enjoy singing and acting by Bing Crosby and humor and dancing performed by Danny Kaye, this film won't disappoint! The whole cast adds to the development of suspense that leads up to Christmas Eve. The rich red of the Santa costumes in the final number adds greatly to the film.

We learn the importance of telling the truth, not listening to busybodies and the danger of jumping to conclusions. The Spirit of Christmas is revealed in this movie by showing friendship, forgiveness, loyalty, commitment and love.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in "White Christmas"
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in "White Christmas" | Source
Ebenezer Scrooge—A Visit By Jacob Marley
Ebenezer Scrooge—A Visit By Jacob Marley | Source

3. A Christmas Carol

I have enjoyed all of the many movie versions of the book written by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, (written in 1843). Every Christmas, I look forward to sitting down with the book and reading it, uninterrupted, from start to finish.

Of all the movies based on this timeless story, I enjoy Scrooge the most (a version starring Albert Finney, which is a musical made in 1970). Two songs that I particularly enjoy from this movie are "Father Christmas" and "Thank You Very Much". There is much singing and dancing as the characters, dressed in Victorian winter garb, entertain us. Even though there is much humor, the movie manages to present the darker moments that are true to Dickens' story. This amusing musical tops my favorite version of A Christmas Carol.

In the story, four ghosts appear to Ebenezer Scrooge: his old partner Jacob Marley and The Spirits of Past, Present and Future. Each visit forces Scrooge to re-evaluate the choices he has made in his life. Each ghost tries to convince Scrooge of the error of his money-loving, selfish ways and how much he has missed in life

The movie reveals the Spirit of Christmas in redemption, charity, sacrifice, commitment and love. This movie displays with tender emotion how much good one can do for one's fellow man. May it be said of us as it was about Scrooge "that he knew how to keep Christmas well".

Cartoon of George C. Scott as 'Scrooge', starring in the 1984 film "A Christmas Carol"
Cartoon of George C. Scott as 'Scrooge', starring in the 1984 film "A Christmas Carol" | Source
Natalie Wood, an Amazing Child Actress
Natalie Wood, an Amazing Child Actress | Source

4. Miracle on 34th Street

The Miracle on 34th Street was released in 1947. The all-star cast includes John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, a very young Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. In this lighthearted film, a romance builds between Payne and O'Hara as he tries to defend Kris Kringle and legally prove, with the help of the US Postal Service, that Kringle is indeed the true Santa Claus. Natalie Wood is such a delight as she struggles to believe in Santa Claus.

Suzie Walker (played by the sweetest Natalie Wood) has been taught by her single mother not to believe in Santa Claus or fairy tales or even use her imagination. Suzie's mother, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) is event coordinator for Macy's Department Store on 34th Street. At the Thanksgiving Day parade, she hires Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to play Santa Claus to replace a drunken Santa on a parade float. Kris believes he really is Santa Claus.

Fred Gailey (John Payne), a lawyer interested in Doris, enjoys Suzie and defends Kris Kringle as he spends a good part of the movie trying to prove he really is Santa. For the rest of the movie, we are persuaded to believe in him, too.

The movie, in black and white, takes us back to the post-war world, when the country was trying to forget the horrors of war. In the movie, we are reminded of the innocence of the struggle to believe in something; in this case, it is Santa Claus. Do you remember when you believed in Santa Claus?

This movie captures the Spirit of Christmas by love, belief, friendship and giving.

Maureen O'Hara
Maureen O'Hara

5. The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife, released in 1947, stars Cary Grant who plays an angel named Dudley (who doesn't yet have his wings, like Clarence, in It's a Wonderful Life). He appears in response to a prayer by an Episcopal Bishop, Henry Brougham (played by David Niven). The Bishop's wife, Julia Brougham is played by Loretta Young. In his single-minded drive to build a towering cathedral for the Lord, Henry forgets the importance of his relationship to his wife. Dudley intervenes and helps the Bishop prioritize his life, but not without a few laughs and tears.

Henry's preoccupation with the cathedral has resulted in loneliness for Julia. Dudley appears and tries to convince Henry he is an angel. Henry doesn't believe it and becomes jealous when Dudley begins to spend time with the lonely Julia. Meanwhile, Dudley (Cary Grant) exudes his usual charming, virile, sympathetic manliness that attracted most women to him! However, he plays the role with humor and respect worthy of an angel.

In one scene of this movie, there is a group of boys having a snowball battle. One of the boys is an actor that portrayed George Bailey as a child in It's a Wonderful Life named Bobby Anderson. It is a delightful surprise because in one of the scenes of that movie, he was sled riding (on a shovel) in the snow.

I wonder how we would react if an angel appeared to us in response to a prayer. Would we believe it? Have you ever had an angel appear to you in response to a prayer?

This movie reveals the Spirit of Christmas by showing the importance of prayer, love, marriage, commitment, and faith.

A Cathedral for the Lord

The Bishop's Cathedral
The Bishop's Cathedral | Source
Cary Grant
Cary Grant

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition.
Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. | Source

The Christmas Spirit All Year Long

The top five classic Christmas movies I have selected reflect The Spirit of Christmas. These themes embody this Spirit: prayer, love, marriage, commitment, faith, belief, giving, redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.

In the version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim from 1951, The Spirit of Christmas Present makes a statement I'd like to include here.

He says to Scrooge: "Mortal, we spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of the year. We live the whole 365. So it is true of the child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men's hearts only one day of the year but in all the days of the year. You have chosen not to seek him in your heart."

May we seek Him in our hearts all the year long. May we find these themes in our lives at this time of year and, if we practice these qualities for a month at Christmas, maybe we can live them throughout the year!

As Tiny Tim exclaimed: "God Bless Us, Every One!"

Have You Watched These Movies?

Which of these movies have you watched?

See results

© 2012 AJ Long


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    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I hope to watch all 5 this year; missed a few last year. Niven, Grant, Young and Woolley gave 5 star performances. And so did God!

    • peternoahthomas profile image

      Peter Noah Thomas 

      7 months ago from Wyoming, U.S.A.

      I love The Bishop's Wife more every time I see it. It has become my favorite and a "must-watch" every Christmas season. All of the movies listed are some of my favorites.

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      4 years ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Yes, AJ, I did mean A Christmas Story. I was just writing a little too quickly for my own good. Thanks for catching that.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      4 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks Mills P. Did you mean A Christmas Story? Yes, that's a good one! And I've seen and enjoyed Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, although it has been awhile. Not sure I've seen the Mexican-made, English-dubbed Santa Claus picture. Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      4 years ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      If you want to go a little more lighthearted, I always liked A Christmas. For camp lovers, I recommend Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and the Mexican-made, English-dubbed Santa Claus picture.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks kindly for the +'s fpherj48!

      Hope your holiday viewing is special.

      Merry Christmas! =D

    • fpherj48 profile image


      5 years ago from Carson City

      You'll get no arguments from me on these fabulous classics you have shared with us. Each one of these movies, viewed possibly every year, continue to bring us happiness and the feelings of the true and lasting meaning of this Special time of year...Up+++ Peace, Paula

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 

      5 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

      I've watched Scrooge so many different times and in so many different versions that he has become a friend I wait for every Christmas but my favorite version is the old Hollywood one with Alaster Sims and of course I watch all the others too. Passing this on.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      So true Michelle! Glad you can bond with your son as you watch these meaningful films! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

    • profile image

      Michelle Stanley 

      5 years ago

      These are timeless classics which I loved watching when I grew up , and fondly remember the actors. Now I get the opportunity to relive my happy memories with my son each time we watch the movies. Love the post!

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks Squid! So many of the scenes are so well done! Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      squid McFinnigan 

      6 years ago

      Miracle on 34th st is the one for me

    • PaoloJpm profile image

      John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 

      7 years ago from Philippine

      Im sure I'll be, I like those old classic movies since it has a different and fascinating way to express the sense of the film.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      PaoloJpm they good old American classics but I believe they each have a special message for us all! I hope that you find them enjoyable if you get to view them! Thanks for commenting!

    • PaoloJpm profile image

      John Paolo B.Magdaluyo 

      7 years ago from Philippine

      I don't know why. But I am not familiar with those :( Shame on me, but, I will be exploring to find those.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      wilderness--thanks for reading and commenting! For me, watching these movies is part of the Christmas season. Yes, A Christmas Carol is probably my favorite, too. And i do watch several versions eachyear. I love Michael Caine's Scrooge in "A Muppet's Christmas Carol. Have you seen that one?

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      While I have watched all of these at one time or another, and most every year, I think A Christmas Carol will always be my favorite. I can't pick which version, but I enjoy that movie more than once every year.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks for commenting! These movies used to be on throughout the year on different channels. Now, if you are lucky, you can see them once maybe twice around Christmas. Guess they are trying to promote DVD sales! Yes--all are top stars! In January they showed a series of Loretta Young's (The Bishop's Wife) movies--most I had never seen. I've seen most of Jimmy Stewart's, Cary Grant's, Bing Crosby's and Danny Kaye's movies. I just love movies! Thanks again for stopping by!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      One thing I noticed in your reviews is that all these films have some very good top actors. I have not watched Christmas movies much in recent years. However, I saw to versions of "Miracle on 34th Street," because my wife said she never saw it. I don't think I've ever seen "the Bishops wife." I'll have to see it next year.

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks so much Annette. I wish we could live the Christmas spirit all year--sometimes watching these movies in June helps!

    • Annette R. Smith profile image

      Annette Smith 

      7 years ago from Ocala, Florida

      I love those memorable movie lines, A.J., and I've shed a few tears during the heartwarming moments, too. I've seen many classic Christmas movies through the years, yet each time feels fresh and new. Happy New Year!

    • ajwrites57 profile imageAUTHOR

      AJ Long 

      7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you for your touching comment pstraubie48. Yes, I, too have some lines memorized and have shed a few tears during the more heartwarming moments in these films. Here's to mixing liverwurst sandwiches and buttermilk with fairy-tales! Sending Zuzu's petals to you--Merry Christmas!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      7 years ago from North Central Florida

      These are movies that I have watched so many times that I have some of the lines memorized. Whitie Christmas is my favorite mainly because for four years my husband was stationed in Japan. We had tv but it was in Japanese of course. But at Christmas time one year White Christmas came on and it was in English. I cried all the way through it.

      Enjoyed this walk down memory lane. Sending Angels to you :) ps


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