15 Humorous Christmas Motion pictures & Finest Vacation Comedies
’Tis the season to be jolly, and after the 2020 we’ve all endured, maybe it’s best to put aside the icky Christmas Horror movies and ironic Christmas Action for a year to focus instead on big Christmas laughs. Lucky for you, we have over a dozen classic Christmas comedies here to choose from. Some are perennial classics, others you may have forgotten about. All are more likely to make you laugh than a 100th viewing of the surprisingly depressing It’s A Wonderful Life.
So grab your hot cocoa, stock up on candy canes, and try a few of the following titles. Each of them ought to make your tummy shake like a bowl full of jelly. That really shouldn’t be jelly, right? Does jelly even shake? More like Jell-O. Now that that’s settled, on with the list!
The Thin Man (1934)
Image via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Thin Man works for any occasion. It takes place over the holidays, so it’s a Christmas movie. But everyone in it is drunk, so it’s also a good New Year’s Eve picture. But really, the rapid-fire wit between William Powell’s Nick and Myrna Loy’s Nora entertains no matter what holiday it is. As a Christmas film, it offers a look at how people celebrated almost a hundred years ago. It turns out, even then, booze was a necessity for getting through the holidays. On top of all the drinking and wit, the film also offers a great murder mystery and one of cinema’s all-time cutest dogs.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Image via MGM / UA
Maybe the most widely-beloved modern Christmas movie, A Christmas Story’s legacy is secure enough that you can still find channels marathoning it for 24 hours on Christmas Day. That is a lot of A Christmas Story. But the film is popular for a reason. It tempers its absurdist humor perfectly with a relatability that remains potent decades later, which makes it both mildly biting and super easy to digest. It’s just one of those films the whole family can enjoy, even if they’ve already seen it a thousand times.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Image via Warner Bros.
For families who take their humor with a bit more bite, there’s always National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which had got to be among the most treasured “Part 3” entries of all time. It’s ironic that a series built around travel has its best film when the central family decides to stay home, but it also lets the Griswolds play host to an onslaught of weirdos (headlined, of course, by Randy Quaid’s returning Cousin Eddy) toward whom they must be kind and patient. Everyone knows what it’s like to have your house overrun during the holidays, and everyone wishes they could explode the way Chevy Chase gets to here. Instead, we just watch Christmas Vacation and everyone goes home happy. And safe.
Home Alone (1990)
Image via 20th Century Fox
Home Alone is either a fantasy or a nightmare depending on your age. When you’re young, its tale of an unaccompanied minor defending his home from robbers is the kind of thing every kid goes to sleep dreaming about. When you’re old enough to have kids of your own, the idea of accidentally leaving one behind somewhere will haunt you forever. It all turns out fine in the end, so just kick back and enjoy the Looney Tunes antics of a child hilariously torturing Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.
Mixed Nuts (1994)
Image via TriStar Features
It’s possible you forgot about Mixed Nuts, Nora Ephron’s dark horse movie about guy who works for a suicide prevention hotline. If so, it’s time to right that wrong. Just look at this cast: Steve Martin, Robert Klein, Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber, Adam Sandler, and the incomparable Madeline Kahn. This is one of those darker Christmas comedies, focusing more on the loneliness some feel during the family holiday. But its comedy is even more biting and emotional because of it.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Image via 20th Century Fox
Oh, I’m sorry. You thought this list would somehow not include Arnold Schwarzenegger’s amazing turn as a normal, everyday dad just trying to get his kid a Turbo Man toy? Sorry, omitting this one is not possible. You either think the story’s antics are funny, or you think hearing Schwarzenegger repeatedly say Turbo Man is funny or you at least think Phil Hartman trying to steal Arnold’s wife (Rita Wilson, making her second appearance in a row on this list!) is funny. By golly, there is at least one thing for people to laugh with/at in Jingle All the Way and that automatically means it’s a Christmas Comedy Classic. Also, Arnold fights a nunchuck-wielding elf at one point. That’s all anyone needs to say, really.
Image via Paramount Pictures
All the cool kids list this as their go-to favorite Christmas comedy and with good reason. It’s the A Christmas Carol you know and love, just with ‘80s yuppie cynicism dialed up to eleven, all focused around a wild and manic Bill Murray performance. There are so many great jokes here, from the pinpoint media satire to Murray’s grumpiness, to the amazing support performances (Carol Kane is always ready to steal a scene). You don’t finish Scrooged thinking you just watched some lame bit of Christmas season pandering. It’s a fully realized classic movie all by itself.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Image via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
What? Two A Christmas Carol adaptations in a row? Sorry, that’s just how it shook out chronologically and there’s no way this later Muppet entry is missing the party. While Scrooged keeps its comedy pretty dark, The Muppet Christmas Carol obviously goes in a different direction, one filled with songs and an unbearably cute Tiny Tim. Michael Caine’s superbly vile Ebenezer Scrooge manages to keep things just salty enough despite acting against a bunch of felt weirdos half his height.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1998)
Image via Buena Vista Pictures
Ernest started as kind of a cult figure, famous for local advertisements. The character became his own punchline and ended up in a series of direct-to-video films that didn’t do much for anyone. But in his heyday, we got some pretty good Ernest movies, not the least of which is this Christmas entry, which finds Ernest saving Christmas by making sure Santa’s replacement gets the gig when the old Santa retires. The main story is more heartwarming than funny, but that’s what Ernest is there for. Jim Varney is amazing and his series of bizarre characters will never not be hilarious.
Image via New Line Cinema
When it comes to Christmas comedies to rival A Christmas Story’s legacy as America’s #1 Christmas Movie, this is the biggest contender out there. Elf has been growing in popularity since it came out, to the point where now it has 24-hour broadcast marathons as well. It’s easy to see why. Casting Will Ferrell as a childlike man who grew up around Santa and his elves was a stroke of genius. Star Wars and Marvel guru Jon Favreau’s genius, that is. Aside from all the great comedy, you can see Favreau’s touch in the Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer-Inspired stop-motion animation that kicks the film off. At the end of the day, Elf is fun, funny, and great for the whole family.
Bad Santa (2003)
Image via Dimension Films
If you think Elf is maybe a bit too “great for the whole family,” 2003 also had you covered with Bad Santa, which is about as mired in ribald filth as you can get without an NC-17. Director Terry Zwigoff makes sure we aren’t getting some watered-down version of an unfortunate mall Santa. This is a movie you can smell. It’s also amazingly funny thanks to Billy Bob Thornton, in basically the part he was boring to play. It’s possible he’s not even acting for some of it. If you need a heartfelt angle, the film also offers great turns from late actors Bernie Mac and John Ritter. But for real, maybe don’t come to Bad Santa with a need for heartfelt entertainment.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures
Like all Shane Black films, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a lot of things: a buddy movie, a detective story, an action film. But it is also two very specific things: funny and set during Christmas. That means it counts! Again, pretty much any Shane Black film could be on this list, but Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is arguably the funniest and Christmasiest (it’s a real word; don’t look it up). If you want a little action in your Christmas Comedy, look no further. Especially if you have any fondness for Val Kilmer, who absolutely steals this one.
Fred Claus (2007)
Image via Warner Bros.
Everyone knows about Santa Claus. He’s easily Christmas’ most well-known icon, and we all rely on him for gifts. Nevertheless, Fred Claus asks us to look past Santa and focus instead on his ne’er do well brother Fred, played by Vince Vaughn doing his Vince Vaughn thing, It’s kind of like Elf, if Buddy were into misdemeanors. The irony is that Fred Claus once again steals all the credit for Santa. Vince Vaughn is funny but this is truly the Paul Giamatti show as his Santa Claus rules. Despite the premise, Fred Claus keeps its comedy warm and saccharine sweet for the whole family.
A Madea Christmas (2013)
Image via Lionsgate
Some of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies are better than others. This, one of the last he made, is among the good ones. Everything just works here. Madea herself is in top form. The melodramatic side stories aren’t too out of control. And, above all, Larry the Cable Guy provides a surprisingly warm and funny performance. That probably needs repeating: Larry the Cable Guy is really good in this movie. Watching him riff with Tyler Perry’s Madea is certainly one of cinema’s most unexpected treats, but somehow it manages to be one worth experiencing.
Once Upon a Deadpool Christmas (2018)
Image via 20th Century Fox
Here’s the deal. Deadpool movies are hilarious. But Deadpool is a very R-rated character. So for Christmas, we got a PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 with added scenes of Deadpool in a Santa cap reading his own story to Fred Savage in a movie-long parody of The Princess Bride. Now, Deadpool 2, even with fewer swears, still isn’t much of a Christmas movie. And the new scenes are merely Christmas-flavored. Nevertheless, this one is more like a Christmas present we were lucky enough to get one year. And if you need to watch Deadpool with kids after opening all your gifts from Santa, now you can without traumatizing them! It’s a win-win.
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About The Author
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In addition to writing for /Film and Collider, Evan’s probably best known for his time as Senior Editor of Birth.Movies.Death. His passions include dumb action movies, not-dumb action movies, Shakespeare, and Tyler Perry. While he claims to understand that people don’t always get what they want, he nevertheless believes it would be “cool” if he could become more like Danny DeVito with age.
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