Elf. It’s a Wonderful Life. The Santa Clause. Home Alone. These are the holiday flicks we turn to, year after year, for seasonal family viewing. But this year especially, we’ve been watching more TV than we’ve ever watched before, so much that, perhaps, we’re getting right sick of the dumb thing. We need something more exciting than our old familiar favourites.
Here are some of our favourite holiday movies you probably haven’t watched for the lest 10 years running, and how to find them.
All I Want for Christmas (1991)
All I Want for Christmas is sort of like The Parent Trap at Christmastime, expect with baby Thora Birch and 13-year-old Ethan Embry. They play Hallie and Ethan, siblings who desperately want their divorced parents to get back together. Hallie turns to Santa (Leslie Nielson) for help orchestrating mum and dad’s Christmas Eve reunion.
Keep your eye out for the holiday party duet. Is it weird for Hallie to sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with her grandmother (Laura Bacall)? Obviously. But it’s sung so sweetly that the tune adds just the right amount of schmaltz to this early ’90s-era holiday flick.
When Jessica finds a reindeer in the woods near her house, she’s convinced it is Santa’s reindeer Prancer. Her father then almost hits Prancer with his car, and notices the animal is wounded. Dad sets off with his rifle to put down Prancer, who disappears. That night, Jessica hears Prancer in the barn with the other animals. She keeps him hidden from her father and convinces the local vet to help her tend to Prancer’s wounds.
I saw Prancer in the theatres as a 6-year-old. To be honest, I found it a little bleak. When I rewatched it a few years later, however, I fell in love with the heart of the story. Prancer might not appeal to your young children, but older kids and tweens — especially the animal-loving sort — should fall in love, too.
While you can’t see Prancer for free this season on Freeform, you can find its 2001 direct-to-video sequel, Prancer Returns, on the 25 Days of Christmas lineup, playing at such prime times as 7 a.m. and 11:55 p.m.
The Preacher’s Wife (1996)
To suggest a remake can be as good as the original is grounds for outrage in some circles. Regardless, the 1990s reimagining of 1948’s The Bishop’s Wife — called, instead, The Preacher’s Wife — absolutely stands up to the original.
Henry Biggs is a cleric who doesn’t think he can make a difference in his parishioners’ lives. Church finances are in trouble, and his marriage is shaky. Enter the answer to his prayers, Dudley (Denzel Washington), a witty angel sent to help.
Henry is dubious of Dudley’s claims, but Henry’s wife, Julia (Whitney Houston), is all kinds of on board (this probably goes without saying, but Dudley’s frickin’ dreamy — not that your kids care about that, but a happy FYI, if you’re interested).
The movie is full of magic and humour, with an extra beautiful soundtrack (remember “I Believe in You and Me”? Yeah, you do).
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
The titular Guardians are, in essence, a band of superheroes. They’re the mythical beings who keep kids safe: the sandman, the Easter bunny, the tooth fairy and, of course, Santa Claus.
Enter the evil Pitch, all darkness and claws and teeth. Pitch’s goal is to break children’s belief in the Guardians and lead the world through fear. For help, the Guardians reach out to Jack Frost.
Rise of the Guardians (PG), based on William Joyce’s book series The Guardians of Childhood, stands out because of its excellent cast of voice actors (Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Isla Fischer), its simple magic, and its sweet story of self-discovery.
The list of “Thanksgiving” movies out there is short, but if you are still looking for some turkey day-adjacent leftovers, Dutch will fill you up. The John Hughes-penned comedy stars Ed O’Neill (Al Bundy, Jay Pritchett) and, again, a 13-year-old Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait, That Thing You Do). It flopped upon release, but goes down easily enough nearly 30 years later.
O’Neill plays Dutch, a working class fellow who volunteers to pick up his girlfriend’s kid Doyle (Embry) from boarding school. Doyle is, unfortunately, a righteous arsehole. Definitely not the kind of kid you want on your Thanksgiving road trip from Atlanta to Chicago. The film follows the road trip formula of Hughes’ own (superior) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but skewed for the younger set.
I can’t for the life of me find Dutch streaming anywhere, sadly. But it’s great if you can track it down.
The 12 Days of Christmas (1993)
Clocking in at 22 minutes, The 12 Days of Christmas isn’t a movie. But it’s a short you will love to watch with your kids. It tells the origin story of the eponymous song: a mix-up that results in the cocky Sir Carolboomer forcing his squire Hollyberry (voiced by SNL fave Phil Hartman) to gather gifts for the grumpy Princess Silverbell. The gifts, of course, are wrong and ridiculous — So. Many. Dang. Birds. — but Hollyberry is relentless in his gift delivery.
In homage to the carol, the short features snippets of song sung by a variety of bears in costume: Elvis, anyone? Bob Dylan? How about Wayne Newton?
Find the full cartoon for free on YouTube Kids.