13 holiday movies that we promise aren't cringey
These streaming selects hit just the right note
I've never been more excited about snuggling up with a hot cup of tea in the glow of our family Christmas tree with a delightful holiday movie.
The only challenge? To find holiday movies that are cheerful but not cringey. I mean, let's be honest, holiday movies have a tendency to veer into serious eye-roll territory. We're talking movies that are literally made by greeting card companies and feel sweeter than a frosted sugar cookie, following an outdated cookie-cutter format and sprinkled with tons of tropes.
While I'll admit that I love my annual viewing of The Holiday, there are plenty of holiday movies that are heartwarming without being hard to watch. Here are some new and classic go-tos:
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (Netflix)
"The pandemic, the political shenanigans, the racial unrest, we're right smack dab in the middle of all three. And if we ever needed something to remind us that there's hope it's this film," writer-director David E. Talbert told Fast Company.
This soon-to-be-classic tells the story of genius toy inventor Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) who falls into a rut after his apprentice, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key), steals his most magical invention. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is stacked with talent — including Anika Noni Rose, Ricky Martin and scene-stealing newcomer Madalen Mills — and filled with holiday cheer, gadgets, gizmos and Broadway-worthy dance numbers that require more than one viewing to fully appreciate.
Last Holiday (Amazon)
If this year has made you rethink what it means to live life to the fullest, add this movie to your holiday watch list. Queen Latifah stars as a woman who learns she only has three weeks left to live and opts to make the most of what, according to her doctor, will be her last-ever holiday in a fancy European hotel. Watching Latifah say yes to life, whether it's base jumping or trying literally everything on the hotel menu, is an absolute delight that still resonates 14 years after this movie's original release.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (CBC Gem)
This 2017 spin on A Christmas Carol, starring Christopher Plummer and Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens, takes a meta approach to the classic tale, following Charles Dickens as he battles the ghosts of his own past while writing one of his most famous novels. "Before A Christmas Carol, you'd never ask questions about the meaning of Christmas, and we now ask it all the time," Canadian screenplay writer Susan Coyne told TIME. "I think that's because of what Dickens' book suggests. It has this magical idea that in spite of all our differences, we can make something good happen — something which, in this day and age, it's important to remind ourselves of."
The Best Man Holiday (Crave)
The sequel to The Best Man (also available on Crave) brings a long-time group of friends back together after 14 years to celebrate the holidays and, in the process, rebuild their frayed friendships. The original cast, which includes Regina Hall, Terrence Howard and Taye Diggs, will take you from laughing to crying and back again. As my father put it, this film is "a rollercoaster of emotions," but it's well worth the ride (especially for the incredible air band scene).
About a Boy
Before Nicholas Hoult charmed audiences as a charismatic zombie in Warm Bodies or a self-centred emperor in The Great, he stole hearts as the lovable Marcus Brewer in About a Boy. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, this film strays from the sappy holiday movie formula and instead explores issues of loneliness, mental health and what it really means to be there for others. When it came out in 2002, Roger Ebert called it "one of the year's most entertaining films," and nearly two decades later, it is still just as enjoyable.
Home Alone (Disney+)
The concept of being stuck at home, alone and not being able to spend time with family may be a bit too real this year. But let's hope that our time indoors is less eventful than Kevin McCallister's infamous battle against two determined holiday burglars. With a mansion full of booby traps, there are a few moments that might make you squirm (stepping barefooted on broken ornaments always gets me), but it still manages to be riotously entertaining.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Disney+)
From the wonderfully twisted mind of Tim Burton, this Halloween-meets-Christmas film breaks all the rules in the best way. Follow Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, as he discovers Christmas Town and attempts to bring holiday celebrations to his hometown. In a genre where the same stories are remade over and over, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a fantastical ride that is festive while also entirely unique.
The Sound of Music (Disney+)
There may be some debate about whether or not this is a true holiday movie, but it has all the staples: great music (including My Favorite Things, which has appeared on multiple Christmas albums), beautiful scenery and a finale hinging on a Christmas concert. All that, and none of the cringey tropes. That's why this film will always be one of my favourite holiday things.
Murdoch Mysteries holiday specials (CBC Gem)
There are plenty of holiday movies about big family gatherings gone awry or snowy rom coms, but this genre is truly lacking in murder mysteries. Enter Canadian TV show Murdoch Mysteries. With three holiday movies (Home for the Holidays, Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas, and A Merry Murdoch Christmas) this series shakes things up by adding a bit of crime and intrigue to Christmas. To be fair, these films can be cheesy, but they're still a gentle viewing option that hits the right tone for these days.
The Preacher's Wife
When a pastor is struggling to keep his church away from the hands of developers, he asks God to help him and in response, gets an angel in the form of Denzel Washington. Like many holiday movies, this remake of 1947's The Bishop's Wife is a reminder about the importance of community and family, but what makes this extra special is Whitney Houston's multiple performances. It will give you goosebumps in the best way.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (CBC Gem, Amazon)
It's a story that's been remade over and over, but the 2000 version of this classic Dr. Seuss tale goes all out. The world of Whoville is brought to life with elaborate sets, festive tunes that have since become staples on holiday playlists, and Jim Carrey stepping into a head-to-toe green suit as the charismatic curmudgeon "The Grinch." Plus, in a year where big holiday gatherings and vacations are not possible, Dr. Seuss' message about the true meaning of Christmas hits a little closer to home.
The Night Before
Let me preface this pick by saying if you don't find Pineapple Express, This Is The End or Superbad hilarious, then this may not be the movie for you. The Night Before brings together three lifelong friends (Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie) for the ultimate holiday party (remember those?!). Prepare yourself for a whole lot of debauchery, celeb cameos (including Miley Cyrus, James Franco and Mindy Kaling), and a wildly good time.
Little Women (Amazon)
Louisa May Alcott's classic about four young women, forging their own paths is timeless. It was made into a star-studded movie in 1994, a mini-series in 2017 and reimagined once again in 2019 by Greta Gerwig with a cast including Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet. Whether it's Jo coming to terms with her ambition and her loneliness or Amy explaining unique economic aspects of marriage, Gerwig's award-winning adaptation gives these women depth and complexity that is too rarely seen in holiday movies, and honestly, Hollywood movies in general.
Ishani Nath is a freelance entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She has appeared as a pop culture expert on CBC, CTV and Global Radio and has bylines in Maclean's, FLARE, Chatelaine and more. Follow her @ishaninath.