This is the first installment of a three-part series about holiday movies. The first two parts of this series will break down the best classic and indie holiday movies. Readers will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite films from each category via a poll on The Heights’ Instagram. The results from each poll will inform the third and final installment of the series: the best all-around holiday movie.
It’s finally that time of year again.
Improperly dressed freshmen from warm areas of the country are complaining about decreasing temperatures and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is playing from radio stations everywhere. The holidays are here.
Here are four candidates for the best classic holiday films.
Elf was an instant hit upon its 2003 release, grossing over $200 million at the global box office. The film follows one of Santa’s wayward helpers, Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), as he travels to New York in search of his real father. Along the way, Buddy is tasked with saving Christmas through drawing out the holiday spirit in skeptical New Yorkers.
Elf is comedy gold, as it capitalizes on the fact that Buddy is a human-sized elf. He can’t fit in at the North Pole because of his size, and he fails to blend in once in New York because of his lack of exposure to life outside of Santa’s workshop. The lighthearted comedic energy surrounding Elf sets it up to be an enjoyable laugh for audiences of all ages.
Elf references have become widespread in pop culture, and Buddy’s unique green and yellow elf outfit is instantly recognizable. The film spawned a Broadway musical, an animated special, and even a video game.
Home Alone has captivated audiences since its release in 1990 and made over 25 times its budget at the global box office. It’s a unique alternative take on the heist genre, giving audiences plenty of opportunities to laugh throughout its runtime. Home Alone stars Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister, a young boy who defends his house from thieves when he’s accidentally left home alone for the holidays.
Most of the fun in Home Alone comes from Kevin’s wit and sarcasm. He’s 8 years old, yet he has the mouth and maturity of a middle-aged man. As Kevin defends his home from burglars, he finds that he can easily outsmart them with homemade booby traps, which are hilariously entertaining to watch unfold.
And who can forget Kevin’s mom (Catherine O’Hara) frantically screaming “KEVIN!” on the airplane?
Home Alone spawned five sequels, but the only one that is comparable to the original is the direct sequel, in which Culkin returns as Kevin.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
It was only a matter of time before Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book was turned into a live-action film in 2000. Critics tend to bash How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but Jim Carrey’s rendition of the misunderstood Grinch has become a household staple of the holiday season. As the Grinch hatches a plan to ruin the holidays for a nearby village, he learns to love the holidays himself, thanks to his interactions with the lovable Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen).
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is unique in its interpretation of Seuss’ art from the original book. The costumes and colors are stunning in a way that was groundbreaking for holiday movies—the film won the Academy Award for “Best Makeup and Hairstyling” in 2001 and was nominated for “Best Costume Design” and “Best Art Direction.” Any recognition from the academy is rare for a holiday film in the first place, with two exceptions being It’s A Wonderful Life, which earned five Oscar nominations in 1947, and Miracle on 34th Street (1947), which won three Oscars in 1948.
Carrey’s unsettling Grinch smile and signature sayings such as “Help me … I’m feeling” have become iconic within pop culture. The practice of calling someone “a Grinch” is common throughout the holidays and indicates someone who’s grumpy during the festive season.
The Polar Express
The Polar Express draws its inspiration from Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 book of the same name. It follows the young Hero Boy, an avid Santa denier who is proved wrong once a magical train takes him to the North Pole.
The Polar Express was a groundbreaking animated feature when it came out in 2004. It was the first movie filmed entirely using motion capture technology, meaning the movements of real people were recorded and then translated into animation in post-production. This allowed for a new and unique type of emotional expression in the film.
The movie’s soundtrack won a Grammy for “Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media” in 2006.