Six ingredients of the perfect Christmas blockbuster

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without watching at least one film featuring sleighs, snow or the odd elf. But what makes a really top-notch seasonal movie?

A great Christmas movie is like a great Christmas pudding: a selection of sweet and savoury ingredients, skilfully blended and seasoned to perfection.

Here are some of the key components journalist and film critic Adam Smith thinks are essential for the perfect Yuletide film.


Santa banter. Sir Richard Attenborough in Miracle On 34th Street (1994)

Father Christmas, Santa Claus, Saint Nick… whatever you call him, the star of the holiday season is the guy in the red suit, so it’s no surprise he’s the centre of attention in some of the greatest Christmas movies.

Among the many actors doing the ho-ho-ho on film are Tim Allen in The Santa Clause (1994), Paul Giamatti in Fred Claus (2007), Tom Hanks (well, his voice) in The Polar Express (2004) and John Goodman in The Year Without a Santa Claus (2006).

But, for looks alone, king of the crop must be Sir Richard Attenborough in 1994’s remake of the 1947 classic Miracle On 34th Street. He didn’t even need to grow a beard.

A darker flavour

All ears. Musical monsters in Gremlins (1984)

Like the strong brandy that gives the Christmas pud its oomph, some of the most memorable Christmas movies have a surprisingly dark elements running through them - even though, since it’s a Christmas movie, we all know things won’t get too worrying.

Joe Dante’s hilarious Gremlins (1984) has mischievous monsters overrunning a small town, Home Alone (1990) pits young Macaulay Culkin against dastardly burglars - who don’t stand a chance - and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)… well, the title says it all, really.

An uplifting message

Maybe not such a Scrooge, after all! Sir Michael Caine and pals in The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Author Charles Dickens is often credited with having shaped Christmas as we know it today with his story A Christmas Carol. So it’s not surprising the classic tale of miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Future and Present, has been adapted dozens of times for the big screen - from the 1951 classic black and white film with Alastair Sim to The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), with Sir Michael Caine as Scrooge amidst a host of furry supporting players.

But the story’s uplifting theme, of Christmas bringing redemption and good cheer even to the hardest of hearts, and of it being a time where slightly magical things happen, runs through many great Christmas movies from It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) to How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). All thanks to Mr Dickens.

A hit Christmas song

A song for Christmas. Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn (1942)

It’s surprising how many classic Christmas earworms have their origins in a movie, and often old ones. White Christmas is from Holiday Inn (1942) starring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds, Silver Bells is from The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) with Bob Hope, while Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas is originally sung by Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis (1944).

And if a movie doesn’t have an original seasonal song, it can always borrow some, like this year’s surprise hit Last Christmas starring and co-written by Emma Thompson, which features the Wham! track of the same title.


Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan take a bough in When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Perhaps it’s because it’s so chilly outside, but heartwarming love stories are at the centre of many great Christmas movies. When Harry Met Sally (1989) has Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan seeing if a man and a woman can be ‘just friends’ (err, yes) and star-studded Brit-hit Love Actually (2003) follows 10 romances over the Christmas period.

And it doesn’t stop there: While You Were Sleeping (1995) has Sandra Bullock finding Christmas romance with Bill Pullman and A Christmas Prince (2017) sees Rose MacGyver falling for heartthrob Ben Lamb. Bring on the mistletoe!

A happy ending

All together: “Merry Christmas!” The title says it all in It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Christmas is no time for grumps or Grinches, and a happy ending is absolutely guaranteed in a great Christmas movie. But the happiest ending of them all must be George Bailey’s in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).

The film often tops Best Christmas Movie lists, and the heartwarming final sequence, which has George reunited with his family around the Christmas tree after being put through the wringer by evil bank manager Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), is one reason why.

But a shamelessly soppy ending is the hallmark of a great Christmas movie. After all, even The Grinch finally gives Christmas back…

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