The Best Holiday Movies on HBO and HBO Max

By | December 18, 2020

The joyous season is here! Families across the country are settling in at home, kids are eyeing presents under the tree, and relatives are calling to see how you’ve been. Sounds like the perfect time to ignore all of that and watch some holiday movies, and HBO Max has plenty to cozy up with this winter.   

Revisit the celebrations of yesteryear with a few trusty classics or take a chance on some newer additions to the holiday canon. We searched through the HBO Max library and found the best movies to watch by the fire. If you need a break from the hubbub, a good movie always does the trick. 

So kick back this season with old friends like Judy Garland and Fred Flintstone, and check out a few rising stars like Emilia Clark and Carrie Underwood. If you’re looking for some cinematic comfort food, here are movies to take you back to those starry nights, rosy noses, and one-horse sleighs. 

You can also look at our massive collection of recommendations, or our list of suggestions of what to watch next based on shows you already like

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Last Christmas

Named for the classic 1984 song by Wham! we all know and love, this romcom stars Emilia Clarke as Kate Andrich, a young Londoner who aspires to be a singer while working as an elf in a year-round Christmas store. Kate falls on hard times and moves back in with her parents, but her chance encounter with a handsome stranger named Tom, played by Henry Golding, alters her life forever, though not in the way viewers might expect. It’s a fun and lovable holiday movie for anyone who still believes in Christmas miracles. 

A Christmas Carol

The 1938 screen adaption of Charles Dickens’ seminal novella offers the ageless tale of hope during the holidays. Reginald Owen stars as the original Christmas curmudgeon: the one-and-only Ebenezer Scrooge. Set on Christmas Eve in Old London, Scrooge does his best to sour the holiday mood of everyone he meets. But when a certain trio of ghosts decides to pay Scrooge a visit in the early hours of Christmas morning, the miserly Scrooge views his life in a new light. There have been many retellings over the years, but this film still stands as a holiday essential everyone should see at least once. (Even if you force your kids to watch it.)

Rise of the Guardians

Dreamworks’ 2012 animated feature portrays well-known holiday figures as a team of superheroes tasked with keeping dark forces at bay. These holiday avengers include a boomerang-toting Easter bunny, a powerful tooth fairy named Toothiana, and, of course, the tough and tattooed Nicholas St. North, aka Santa Claus.  

Creator William Joyce told TV Guide: “When my children were little they asked me, ‘Do the Easter Bunny and Santa know each other?’ I’m supposed to know everything as the dad so I said, ‘Yes, they do.’ I thought they’d have to work together, and it would be a grand partnership lasting for centuries. That these characters exist in the minds of so many children is amazing. But I realized there’s not a lot of mythology on them. So I wanted to help with that.” 

Meet Me in St. Louis

Filmed in fabulous “Technicolor,” this whimsical holiday musical was a smash hit for MGM in 1944. Starring the great Judy Garland at the height of her fame, Meet Me in St. Louis takes audiences through a series of delightful vignettes set in the months leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. Garland plays Esther Smith, whose chance at true love is jeopardized by her family’s impending move to New York City. This film also features an excellent ensemble cast, and anyone who’s never watched the famous scene where Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” should give this one a shot.

A Flintstone Christmas

The 1977 animated Christmas special featuring everyone’s favorite stone-age yuksters still holds up in modern times for kids young and old. The story opens with the people of Bedrock getting ready for Christmas when disaster strikes. It turns out Santa has a cold and a sprained ankle, so good ol’ Fred Flintstone has to step in and save the day. The second Flintstones Christmas special, 1993’s A Flintstone Family Christmas is also available to stream on HBO Max. 

The Family Man

The chronically odd and always watchable Nicolas Cage leads this romantic dramedy set in Manhattan during Christmastime. Thematically inspired by It’s a Wonderful Life, the film portrays Cage as Jack Campbell, a bachelor working on Wall Street who has everything he seemingly desires. After a chance encounter, Jack is thrown into another timeline he might’ve had if he made different choices. Jack begins to adjust to his new life of middle-class bliss where he learns about all the things he never knew before. Téa Leoni also stars in a double role in this feel-good holiday film. 

It Happened on 5th Avenue

This old-school Christmas romantic comedy from 1947 tells the story of an unlikely group of New Yorkers who have nowhere to sleep. Victor Moore stars as Aloysius T. McKeever, a wise hobo who winters in a wealthy tycoon’s mansion while the tycoon is away for the holidays. McKeever is soon joined by an assortment of characters in his borrowed mansion, including a lovable veteran and a mysterious woman who is more than she appears. High jinks and romance ensue.

My Gift: A Christmas Special from Carrie Underwood

Anyone looking for something on the contemporary side will appreciate the dazzle and high-value production of this holiday special from country music queen Carrie Underwood. It’s an original special made just for HBO Max, with Underwood taking the stage with a stunning orchestra and choir. Viewers can expect a few all-star guests, including John Legend. It’s the perfect holiday accompaniment to Underwood’s album of Christmas songs released earlier this year.

Grumpy Old Men

After co-starring in 1968’s The Odd Couple, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau became famous for irritating one another on the silver screen. Decades later the two returned as John Gustafson and Max Goldman, a pair of retired next-door neighbors who are still getting on each other’s nerves. When a sultry widow (played by Ann-Margret) moves in across the street during the holidays, the two rivals get back at it again in this 1993 buddy comedy/romance. Most of the film is fine for kids, though there are a few risqué moments and some harsh language.

Die Hard

When it comes to Die Hard, there are two mindsets: It’s a Christmas movie, or it’s not. That being said, we’ll just stick to the facts. This is a classic film from 1988 starring Bruce Willis as Detective John McClane; it takes place during Christmastime, and it’s streaming right now on HBO Max. Is it a Christmas movie? You decide. Willis himself weighed in on the controversy a while back. On a similar note, no one ever argues about whether or not Batman Returns is a Christmas movie (it’s also streaming on HBO Max). Whatever your verdict may be, Die Hard is packed with thrills and well worth your time this holiday season.

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