The best holiday movies to stream over the 12 days of Christmas

Home for the holidays takes on a whole new meaning this year. These movie picks will help you celebrate the season.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Netflix

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Most of us will be spending more of the holiday season at home than in years past. Rather than recommend films that might summon family complaints of “didn’t we see that last year,” we did a deep dive into a batch of 13 Christmas movies that are new—and new to us. Some of these are recent arrivals to popular streaming services; others are entirely new, having been released—like so many new movies in 2020—directly to home viewers. We hope you enjoy our picks.

A Bad Moms Christmas

★★★☆☆

Bad Moms Christmas STX Entertainment

Kiki (Kristen Bell), Amy (Mila Kunis), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) deal with their own bad moms in A Bad Moms Christmas.

Stream on Netflix

In this sequel to Bad Moms (2016)—which you don’t need to see in order to enjoy this—Amy (Mila Kunis), Kiki (Kristen Bell), and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) return, this time with their own “bad moms” on board. Amy wants to have a simple Christmas, but her disapproving mother Ruth (Christine Baranski) arrives to turn it into a complicated nightmare. Kiki’s lonely mother Sandy (Cheryl Hines) shows up for the holiday unannounced, hoping to be besties with Kiki, and hang out all the time. And Sandy’s mom, the ne’er-do-well Isis (Susan Sarandon), who is usually looking for handouts to finance her fast-and-loose lifestyle, turns up as well. A Bad Moms Christmas (2017) has its share of ridiculous, slapsticky moments, and it’s not exactly a laugh riot, but it digs into some genuinely organic mother-daughter relationships, all the more surprising given that it was written and directed by two men (Jon Lucas and Scott Moore). Justin Hartley plays a male stripper who makes a hilarious instant connection with Carla while having his privates waxed.

The Christmas Chronicles 2

★★★☆☆

Christmas Chronicles 2 Netflix

Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) and Santa (Kurt Russell) face more trouble this year in The Christmas Chronicles 2.

Stream on Netflix

At the very end of The Christmas Chronicles (2018), which starred Kurt Russell as a waylaid Santa Claus, [Spoiler:] Russell’s longtime life-partner Goldie Hawn made a neat little cameo as Mrs. Claus. Now she’s back in a lead role in this sequel, which is, happily, just as surprisingly enjoyable as the original. In The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020), Kate (Darby Camp) is bummed about spending Christmas on the beach in Cancun with her mother (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) and her mother’s new boyfriend Bob (Tyrese Gibson), so she escapes with Bob’s nerdy son Jack (Jahzir Bruno). Unfortunately, they are picked up by a renegade, now-human-sized elf, Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), and deposited at the North Pole. There, they must help Santa and Mrs. Claus defend the village from Belsnickel’s evil attacks. Russell and Hawn provide just the right kind of lift for this swift, silly fun.

A Creepshow Holiday Special

★★★★☆

Creepshow Holiday Special Shudder

Anna Camp and Adam Pally attend a group meeting for people with special abilities in A Creepshow Holiday Special.

Stream on Shudder

The Shudder original series Creepshow is a tribute to the 1982 horror movie written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero; the anthology series even uses the same comic book panel transitions and practical makeup effects. This new standalone A Creepshow Holiday Special (2020), which drops on December 18, is titled “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” Adam Pally stars as a man who begins finding strange things in his poop, such as buttons and pieces of clothing. He goes to a group meeting, wherein all the participants change into animals each full moon (one is a were-turtle, and another is a were-boar). From the group’s host (Anna Camp), he learns the history and culture of such outcasts, and then learns an even more bizarre secret having to do with Santa Claus himself. The episode is gory, but tongue-in-cheek, brightly decorated and fun. It’s directed by Greg Nicotero, based on a story by J.A. Konrath.

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan

★★★★☆

Crock of Gold Magnolia Pictures

Shane MacGowan performs on stage in his heyday as the lead singer of The Pogues, in Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.

Rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube… ($6.99)

In the documentary Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan (2020), filmmaker Julien Temple (The Filth and the Fury, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten) turns his camera on Shane MacGowan, the leader of the great Irish punk/pop band The Pogues. Known as a legendary, bruisingly hard drinker, MacGowan is still going in his sixties, now in near ruin, slumped in a wheelchair and sipping at pints. Rather than being interviewed, he speaks candidly with his close friends, including Johnny Depp, telling his stories. He began drinking as a child, discovered punk music, and found that the two went well together. His lyrics are often described as poetry, and he’s an irascible interviewee; Temple lovingly combines his footage with animation, archival material, and plenty of music—with special favor given to their all-time great Christmas song “Fairytale of New York”—to make a cautionary tale feel like a celebration.

Dear Santa

★★★★☆

Dear Santa IFC Films

Children mail a Christmas letter in the documentary Dear Santa.

Rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube… ($6.99)

Filmmaker Dana Nachman, who makes uplifting, kid-friendly documentaries like Batkid Begins and Pick of the Litter, returns with this holiday delight, sure to inspire smiles and reaches for the tissue box. Dear Santa (2020) begins by looking at the hundreds of thousands of letters sent to Santa Claus each year, and then tells all about “Operation Santa,” in which kind, ordinary people read the letters and then do what they can to make the wishes come true. Nachman misses a chance to answer some basic questions about how the program really works, but some of the individual stories—one in which a boy wishes for a pet rabbit, and another for a ride in a limo—are truly special. The movie stays near kid level, with interviewees referring to the real Santa, so it’s safe for family viewing.

Emma.

★★★★☆

Emma Focus Features

Emma (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) share a dance in Emma.

Stream on HBO Max

Following in the footsteps of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale, who both played Jane Austen’s titular matchmaker in 1996, Anya Taylor-Joy takes on the role in Emma. (2020), with its own, defiant period added after the title. Emma befriends Harriet (Mia Goth) and then subtly tries to manipulate everyone around her into, and out of, love affairs and creating several intersecting triangles in the process. Fortunately, director Autumn de Wilde keeps it all bright and shiny and clear, and, for what could have been a stuffy costume piece, it’s remarkably entertaining. One brightly decorated sequence takes place at a Christmas dinner, making it a perfect holiday treat. Johnny Flynn plays the boy who finally wins Emma’s heart, and Bill Nighy steals every scene he’s in as Emma’s wry father, sitting behind an elaborate series of screens to prevent drafts from reaching him while he warms himself by the fire.

Fatman

★★★☆☆

Fatman Saban Films

Chris Cringle (Mel Gibson) struggles with a lack of good girls and boys in Fatman

Rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube… ($6.99)

In this unlikely Christmas cult classic, Mel Gibson plays the hard-drinking Chris Cringle, who takes out his frustrations in target practice on Christmas-themed cans. This year, his government subsidy check is alarmingly low—he gets paid for the number of gifts delivered, and more and more children are on the naughty list these days—and his workshop is in danger of closing down. Meanwhile, a nasty little rich kid (Chance Hurstfield) hires a hitman (Walton Goggins) to end Cringle’s life; the hitman is only too glad to oblige, given that he himself never received any gifts as a child. Directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms, Fatman (2020) is a strange thing, seemingly made up of used parts that don’t seem to fit together—until they do. It’s an odd combination of brutal violence and genuine holiday cheer that, taken with a glass of eggnog, kinda-sorta works. Marianne Jean-Baptiste, as a no-nonsense Mrs. Cringle, is a big part of the reason it does.

Happiest Season

★★★★☆

Happiest Season Hulu

Abby (Kristen Stewart) and her friend John (Dan Levy) pick up an engagement ring in Happiest Season.

Stream on Hulu

Clea DuVall wrote and directed this comedy-romance in an attempt to create a holiday perennial for the LGBTQ+ community. Happiest Season does fall into the old groove of being about a couple wherein one partner is out and the other isn’t, which usually makes for annoyingly formulaic, lie-based romcoms. But this time DuVall is aware of the trope, and she nonetheless makes it all feel emotionally true. While out one night admiring Christmas lights, Harper (Mackenzie Davis) is swept away in a romantic moment and invites her girlfriend Abby (Kristen Stewart) home for Christmas. On the drive there, Harper confesses that her conservative family doesn’t know about her relationship status, and can Abby please pretend to be her roommate? Stewart is the one who really sells this, balancing her fury at the situation and her genuine love for Harper. The cast is tremendous, with Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen as Harper’s parents, Aubrey Plaza as a potential temptation for Abby, and Alison Brie as Harper’s “perfect” older sister.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

★★★★☆

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey Netflix

Inventor Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) receives a Christmas visit from his granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills) in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.

Stream on Netflix

Of all the new 2020 Christmas movies, David E. Talbert’s wonderful Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020), a holiday blend of science and magic, towers above them all. Jeronicus Jangle is a brilliant inventor with a shop full of amazing things, until his apprentice Gustafson steals his latest invention, a sentient doll (voiced by Ricky Martin), as well as his book of inventions. Twenty years later, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) has become a wealthy and famous toymaker, but he’s used up everything in Jeronicus’s book and has nowhere left to turn. Meanwhile, Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) has turned his shop into a pawn service, and struggles to come up with just one more great invention. At this time, his clever granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills) comes to visit, and he helps Jeronicus with the one thing that has been missing from his work. The musical numbers are a delight, and the costume designs truly sparkle, especially Journey’s hairdo (with little gears embedded in her tufts). Lisa Davina Phillip plays a postal carrier who loves Jeronicus, and Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, and Hugh Bonneville co-star.

Last Christmas

★★★☆☆

Last Chrismas Universal

Enigmatic Tom (Henry Golding) changes things at Christmastime for worker “elf” Kate (Emilia Clarke) in Last Christmas.

Stream on HBO Max

Opening to poor reviews in theaters (remember those?) last year, Last Christmas (2019) deserves a second look. Aspiring singer Kate (Emilia Clarke) works as an “elf” in a year-round Christmas shop, and her life is a wreck. She can’t hang onto a place to live and is loath to go back and stay with her controlling mother (Emma Thompson). But then she meets Tom (Henry Golding), and everything changes. As they spend time together, she learns to “look up” and see things in the city that she has never noticed before and learns to think of others. While the story looks romantic, and it is in some ways, romance is not actually what this movie is about. Various songs by George Michael and Wham! pepper the soundtrack in appropriate ways, especially Wham!’s radio-friendly 1984 tune “Last Christmas,” which gives a clue to the movie’s real motivation. Michelle Yeoh is hilarious as the Christmas shop owner, who makes Kate call her “Santa.”

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special

★★★☆☆

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special Disney

Finn and Rey (left) try to get ready for “Life Day” on the planet Wookiee, in Lego Star Wars Holiday Special.

Stream on Disney+

Anyone who remembers, or has seen a muddy, fuzzy bootleg version of The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978) might salivate at the idea of an all Lego parody of that misfire, but the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) is something else. It goes in a new direction while drawing upon some of the old special’s ideas, notably the Wookiee holiday “Life Day.” (It’s not strictly a “Christmas” special, but it still features plenty of Christmas colors and good cheer.) The plot here focuses on Rey (voiced by Helen Sadler) who is having trouble training Finn (voiced by Omar Miller) in the ways of the Jedi. She finds a time key and begins traveling to certain moments throughout the entire Star Wars series, and even The Mandalorian, where she finds inspiration. Running only 44 minutes, and with a quick wit and bold colors, this one is a holiday must for any Star Wars fan that can handle a little messing around with canon.

Let It Snow

★★★☆☆

Let it Snow Netflix

Julie (Isabela Merced) has a Christmastime run-in with pop star Stuart Bale (Shameik Moore) in Let It Snow.

Stream on Netflix

At a glance, Let It Snow (2019) looks like one of those thousands of annoying, syrupy Christmas romance movies, but it’s actually surprisingly heartfelt and sweet. It tells several intertwining stories of troubled, yet hopeful teens as they try to figure out life. Julie (Isabela Moner) has been accepted at Columbia University but is reluctant to leave her sick mother. She meets pop star Stuart Bale (Shameik Moore) and makes a connection with him while eating at a run-down restaurant called “Waffle Town” (the “W” has fallen off the sign; say it out loud). Waffle Town employee Dorrie (Liv Hewson) is having girl trouble, as well as best-friend trouble. Tobin (Mitchell Hope) is secretly in love with his best friend “Duke” (Kiernan Shipka). And aspiring DJ Keon (Jacob Batalon) hopes to throw a huge party in Waffle Town as a snowstorm approaches. Joan Cusack co-stars as a strange woman who drives around wearing tin foil, and who helps out brokenhearted Addie (Odeya Rush). D’Arcy Carden appears as Stuart’s snippy publicist.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

★★★☆☆

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure Disney

Sentient snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad, center) goes on a quest to find a Christmas tradition in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

Stream on Disney+

This 22-minute long short caused quite a ruckus when it debuted in theaters in front of Coco in 2017; much longer than the usual Pixar short cartoon, it tested the patience of many moviegoers who sat through several unexpected songs, wondering when the feature was going to start. Now Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017) can be viewed all by itself on Disney+, and it’s a sweet, silly little treat, thanks mostly to Josh Gad’s funny, lovable voice performance as sentient snowman Olaf. When Olaf discovers that sisters Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) have no Christmas traditions of their own, he sets out with Sven the reindeer to find one. He eventually gets himself into trouble and must be rescued, and the finale is pretty darn heartwarming. It takes place after the events of Frozen (2013) and might make a decent wintertime double feature for anyone willing to hear “Let It Go” again.

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