It’s 2020 and there are more streaming services than ever offering up Christmas movies, so many that you may not be able to sort through all the modern Christmas comedies, Hallmark holiday romances, and Netflix originals to find the classics of yesteryear.
Here’s our guide to finding eight Hollywood Christmas classics, from the obvious to the unexpected, available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max, and Peacock.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – They say that every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings. I think the same thing goes for this film every time you watch it. At once one of the most life affirming pictures of all time and a nightmare of small town America gone bad. In the history of film noir no character suffers a worse fate than Jimmy Stewart – just look into those tortured, terrified eyes at the end of his nightmare. Yet he so passionately embraces life in that final scene that I can’t help but tear up. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, and Henry Travers co-star in Frank Capra’s greatest film, which was a flop on it original release but is now considered THE Christmas classic. (Amazon Prime)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) is a warm, engaging modern fairy tale that manages to be both a slick Hollywood artifact and a quirky character based comic drama. Edmund Gwenn is particularly fine as the bearded old man hired by Macy’s for their department store Santa who thinks he’s the real St. Nick. John Payne is the sincere young lawyer who defends him in court when the State of New York tries to have him committed and cute little Natalie Wood is sweet and genuine as the skeptical prodigy who wants to believe in Santa Claus more than anything. (Disney+)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) – The ultimate in Hollywood Americana, Vincent Minelli’s first Technicolor film is a masterful musical that turned Judy Garland into a true leading lady. A celebration of old fashioned values in song, dance, and family melodrama in turn-of-the-century St. Louis, the glowingly nostalgic tale follows a year in the life of a family. It’s so much a Yuletide movie as a film for all seasons, but it does contain the immortal “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in one of the most bittersweet Christmas scenes of all time. (HBO Max)
White Christmas (1954), starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as song and dance men who throw a fundraiser to save a failing Vermont country inn, costars Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, features plenty of musical numbers, and of course features Irving Berlin’s iconic Christmas ballad. This 1954 holiday classic is corny, sentimental, funny, colorful, and pure Hollywood hokum and it charmed its way to become the biggest hit of its year. There are better musicals but this is a beloved classic and a slice of Hollywood innocence. (Netflix)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) – James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan argue by day but unknowingly woo one another as pen pals during the holiday season in Ernst Lubitsch’s delightful romantic comedy. The master of dry wit plays his irony with a soft, sentimental touch here and creates a community of fellow employees with just as much sensitivity, especially Frank Morgan as their fatherly boss, who hides the pain of his private life with a generous and comforting exterior. One of the great romantic comedies from the master of dry wit. (HBO Max)
Holiday Affair (1949) – Widowed mom Janet Leigh is wooed by stable nice guy Wendell Corey when unpredictable dreamer Robert Mitchum drops into her life at Christmas. Mitchum was the bad boy of the movies in the 1940s but he’s all charm here with just a touch of hint of insolence, a guy looking for his place in the world and realizing that it might just be with this young beauty and her son. It not as well-known as other Hollywood Christmas romances but thanks to annual screenings on Turner Classic Movies it’s become a new holiday classic. (HBO Max)
Remember the Night (1940) – Barbara Stanwyck is a shoplifter in custody and Fred MacMurray the Assistant District Attorney who is assigned to prosecute her. But it’s Christmas and rather than let her spend the holiday in a cell, he invites her to spend the holiday with him and his two doting aunts, who see the sparks of romance between them. Preston Sturges wrote the script but the quiet sweetness comes from the underrated director Mitchell Leisen and the understated chemistry between MacMurray and Stanwyck seals it. Their next screen partnership could not have been more different: partners in murder in Double Indemnity. (Peacock)
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) – The great Preston Sturges stirs slapstick, saccharine romance, sex, and small town values into the most audacious comedy to deliver a Christmas Day nativity. Betty Hutton is the fun-loving, wonderfully named Trudy Kockenlocker, a war-era party girl who finds herself knocked-up after a wild party. Sturges’ barreling pace and madcap humor are so engaging you may not even notice its brilliantly subversive revision of the nativity and the virgin birth. It’s such a wildly funny satire on moral hypocrisy and idealized Americana that you may forget just how blithely brazen it really is. (HBO Max)