Everyone loves curling up with their favourite Christmas classic. But what about those lesser-known gems we often forget about?
We all have our go-to holiday favourites — everything from It’s a Wonderful Life to Home Alone. But what about those other seasonal movies that don’t get the same attention we give to others around this time of year? There’s a wealth of other holiday-set movies out there — so many, in fact, that we often forget they exist.
For those looking to try something new this year, we took some of your all-time best holiday picks and paired them with an equally enjoyable alternative.
Here, some memorable holiday movie alternatives.
If you love: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Try: The Bishop’s Wife (1947) or The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
Frank Capra’s 1946 gem It’s a Wonderful Life is a holiday staple: Christmas just isn’t Christmas unless you’ve watched George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) joyously running through the snow. It’s also the rare holiday flick that earned itself a trip to the Academy Awards with five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. With a premise that pulls some of its themes of redemption from A Christmas Carol, a suicidal George Bailey is shown (with the help of an angel) what life would have been like had he never existed. Its heartwarming climax could warm even the grinchiest of Grinches.
In keeping with the idea of kindly angels who miraculously arrive in time to help humans sort out their earthly business, we also have The Bishop’s Wife. Released close on the heels of It’s a Wonderful Life, this film often gets lost in the holiday shuffle. But we think any movie that features the always-charming Cary Grant as an angel (named Dudley, no less) who helps a bishop repair his fractured marriage just in time for Christmas is a must-watch.
And, in a similar vein to The Bishop’s Wife, there’s the popular 1996 remake, The Preacher’s Wife. This time around, Reverend Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance) is the charming pastor of a small struggling Baptist church in a New York City neighborhood. With membership declining and bills piling up, Henry is under pressure from real estate developer Joe Hamilton (Gregory Hines) to sell the church’s assets. As a result, Henry has become neglectful of his wife, Julia (Whitney Houston), and their son. Henry, in a moment of desperation, prays to God for help, which comes in the form of Dudley (Denzel Washington), a witty angel. This charmer, directed by Penny Marshall, was an instant holiday classic.
If you love: A Christmas Carol (1951, or any of the other countless adaptations)
Try: 3 Godfathers (1948)
When it comes to A Christmas Carol, you can take your pick of the litter as to which one is your favourite. (But can anyone really top Alastair Sim in the lead role of the 1951 version? Unlikely.) At last count, there are a whopping 46 screen incarnations of the Charles Dickens classic, be it TV specials, silent movies, short films or big screen adaptations. It’s hard not to love watching Ebenezer Scrooge find love, respect and a renewed purpose in life, just in time for the chiming bells on Christmas morning.
Looking to change it up a little this year? Pair your annual screening of A Christmas Carol with this under-the-radar John Wayne western, set during the holiday season. Loosely based on the story of the Three Wise Men, this John Ford film follows three bank robbers, led by Wayne, as they struggle to safely cross the desert with an orphaned newborn baby whose life they saved. Watching three criminals rally together — and better themselves in the process — to protect the life of an infant is heartwarming to watch.
If you love: White Christmas (1954)
Try: Babes in Toyland (1934 or 1961)
Nothing rings in the holiday season better than Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen gathered together at the lodge in Pine Tree to sing “Snow” and “White Christmas.” With catchy songs written by the legendary Irving Berlin, vibrant costumes and exciting choreography, White Christmas is often heralded as the must-watch holiday musical.
If you want to keep your toes tapping, follow up a viewing of White Christmas with one of the big screen adaptations of Babes in Toyland. Whether you prefer the 1934 Laurel and Hardy original or the candy-coloured 1961 Disney version, the films both centre around Mother Goose and other popular nursery rhyme characters as they scramble to help the Toymaker get Santa’s gift order right in time for Christmas Eve.
If you love: A Christmas Story (1983)
Try: A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987)
“You’ll shoot your eye out!” At least, that’s what little Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) is told whenever he asks for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. But Ralphie’s one Christmas wish is thwarted at every turn, by everyone from his mother to the department store Santa. With scenes involving family outbursts, puffy snowsuits and tongues frozen on flagpoles, A Christmas Story became an instant holiday classic for its nostalgic portrayal of early childhood in a simpler time.
If you’re looking for more anecdotal retellings of Christmastime from the viewpoint of a small child, check out A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Based on Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ 1952 illustrated book, this made-for-TV special is loosely based on his own childhood recollections of the holidays — and it’s bound to bring a (happy) tear to your eye.