HBO Max’s movie selection features a wide range of genres and eras, and that’s reflected in its Christmas-themed offerings as well. From vintage classics to modern adaptations, here are the best Christmas movies to stream on HBO Max.
The third take on this particular Christmas horror concept, 2019’s Black Christmas keeps the college campus setting of the previous two versions, while adding a more supernatural twist. This time, the sorority sisters being killed over winter break are targets for an elaborate ritual by an entitled, misogynistic fraternity determined to reassert traditional male dominance on campus. Filmmaker Sophia Takal delivers pointed commentary about rape culture and toxic masculinity while also staging creative and festive kills.
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So ubiquitous in pop culture that many of its lines have become holiday catch phrases, A Christmas Story is a warm coming-of-age comedy based on memoirs by Jean Shepherd. Shepherd himself narrates the tale of young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), who wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, but must navigate bullies, surly department store Santas, and his parents’ disapproval in order to realize his dream.
The nostalgic but sometimes sarcastic tone, the hilarious performances, and the endearing characters have made A Christmas Story nearly universally beloved.
Will Ferrell brings his boundless enthusiasm to the title role in Elf, playing a human who’s been raised by Santa’s elves at the North Pole. Ferrell’s Buddy leaves Santa’s workshop to seek out his birth father in New York City, where his childlike understanding of the world clashes with big-city cynicism. Elf has plenty of heartwarming moments as Buddy helps his curmudgeonly dad (played by James Caan) appreciate Christmas, but it’s the bizarre, off-kilter humor and Ferrell’s dedication to his absurd character that really make the movie memorable.
Devious little creatures disrupt a picturesque small town’s Christmas in Gremlins. A traveling salesman buys his son a cute little pet called a mogwai for Christmas, but when naive Billy (Zach Galligan) fails to follow the rules for mogwai care, friendly Gizmo spawns terrifying offspring that wreak havoc. Part old-school monster movie, part family comedy, Gremlins balances gruesome effects with sardonic humor, held together by expert genre filmmaker Joe Dante.
Janet Leigh plays a war widow torn between two suitors in the charming romantic comedy Holiday Affair. Leigh’s Connie is an undercover comparison shopper who has a meet-cute with military veteran and clerk Steve (Robert Mitchum) in a department store. She’s dating a dependable lawyer, but of course she’s going to end up with the romantic dreamer instead. It’s a delightful, low-key Christmastime romance, focusing on genuine emotional connection over wacky misunderstandings.
A makeshift family of vagrants, veterans, and undercover rich people comes together to celebrate Christmas at the climax of the lovely comedy It Happened on Fifth Avenue. In post-World War II New York City, a pair of squatters in the empty mansion of the world’s second-richest man are inadvertently joined by the owner’s daughter, posing as a fellow down-on-her-luck job-seeker.
Struggling dreamer Jim (Don DeFore) and secret heiress Trudy (Gale Storm) fall in love, while Trudy’s wealthy industrialist father learns the true value of family, just in time for the holidays.
One of Judy Garland’s signature musicals, Meet Me in St. Louis covers an entire year in the life of the Smith family in early 20th-century St. Louis. But the movie is still best remembered for its Christmas segment, including the melancholy musical number “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which has become a holiday standard. The four Smith daughters deal with the ups and downs of growing up, while their father weighs a potential move to New York City for the family. It’s a warm and sometimes bittersweet drama, with gorgeous musical set pieces.
The very existence of Santa Claus is put on trial in Miracle on 34th Street. A man who claims to be the true Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn) is working as a department-store Santa, and when authorities try to commit him, he’s forced to prove his assertion in court. It’s a silly premise that’s made workable thanks to impressive performances from Natalie Wood as the little girl who needs to have her faith in Santa restored and Maureen O’Hara as her strong-willed mother.
The third movie in the Vacation series chronicling the hapless Griswold family, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation may also be the best. The Griswolds decide to stay home for Christmas, but that just means that the chaos comes to them, in the form of various visiting relatives. Family patriarch Clark (Chevy Chase) just wants to have the perfect family Christmas, but everyone from his stingy boss to crazy cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) seems to be standing in his way. The more frustrated Clark becomes, the more hilarious the movie gets.
A classic romantic comedy from master filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, The Shop Around the Corner stars James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering co-workers who don’t realize they’re each other’s romantic pen pals. Alfred (Stewart) and Klara (Sullavan) squabble by day and swoon over each other’s letters by night. Lubitsch creates a vibrant, funny world in the Budapest general store where Alfred and Klara work, bringing together multiple storylines, including the romance, during the sweet Christmas Eve climax.
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