The top 20 contemporary holiday movie classics

Now that the smell of Thanksgiving turkey is fading away, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. For the next month, prepare to be inundated with holiday-themed cinematic fare at the multiplex and  at home, with theatrical releases like The Man Who Invented Christmas and A Bad Moms Christmas competing for your attention alongside oft-played classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story. Much as we love revisiting those vintage titles, there’s an emerging canon of new holiday favorites that are worth celebrating. So in the spirit of the season, here’s Yahoo Entertainment’s gift to you: our picks for the top 20 holiday classics released since 2000. And keep in mind: As that stone-cold Christmas classic Die Hard proves, a great Christmas movie doesn’t necessarily have to be about Christmas.

‘About a Boy’ (2002)

Christmas celebrations bracket this stellar adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel, which takes place over the course of a very eventful year. The holiday especially haunts Hugh Grant’s protagonist, Will, whose father wrote an inane, inescapable Yuletide ditty called “Santa’s Super Sleigh,” which affords his man-child son a wastrel life. But, like any good Christmas movie, Will ultimately changes for the better, thanks to his own little angel, a 12-year-old boy named Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). —Marcus Errico (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Bad Santa’ (2003)

No matter how much a person loves Christmas, there comes a moment when they will absolutely lose it if they hear that freaking Mariah Carey song one more time. That’s why the world needs Bad Santa, the Grinch-iest of all Christmas movies. Terry Zwigoff’s black comedy stars Billy Bob Thornton as a thief turned department-store Santa who is also a foul-mouthed, misanthropic alcoholic. True to the Christmas spirit, he finds redemption though the love of a child (Brett Kelly), but the movie never goes soft, maintaining its icicle-sharp edge from the hilarious first scene to the last. Let’s all pretend the sequel was never made, mkay? —Gwynne Watkins (Available on Hulu and Netflix)
(Photo: Dimension/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Elf’ (2003)

“Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” There are your traditional Christmas movie classics, and your contemporary Christmas movie classics, and this Jon Favreau-directed, Will Ferrell-starring gem might be the rare gift that fits in both stockings. Charting the journey of Santa’s most lovable, most ginormous helper as he leaves the North Pole for New York, it’s an uproariously funny fish-out-of-water comedy, charming family yarn, and heartfelt love letter to the Big Apple. —Kevin Polowy (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: New Line/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘The Hebrew Hammer’ (2003)

We’ll admit it: There aren’t enough Hanukkah-themed films on this list of “Best Holiday Movies.” That’s because there aren’t enough Hanukkah-themed films being made (or good ones anyway; sorry, Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights). Somehow this hilarious Shaft-inspired “Jewploitation” comedy about the crime-fighting “Certified Circumcised Dick” Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) has flown far under the radar, but we’re at peace with its “cult classic” status. —K.P. (Available on Amazon Prime)
(Photo: Strand Releasing/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Love Actually’ (2003)

Although it was only a modest hit when it premiered in theaters, Love Actually has since become the gift that keeps on giving for rom-com lovers. Weaving together no fewer than 10 storylines about couples ranging from Prime Minister Hugh Grant and staffer Martine McCutcheon to widower Liam Neeson and his stepson Thomas Sangster, one could argue that Richard Curtis’s contemporary favorite is too much movie. But Love Actually‘s excess is one of the things its fans adore; after all, with holiday movies — as in love — you might as well go big or go home. —Ethan Alter (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Millions’ (2004)

Danny Boyle’s underrated gem follows two brothers who stumble on a huge amount of cash that was lost after a robbery. The criminals want it back, but 9-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) believes the money is a gift from God and begins his own personal campaign to help the poor. The film’s climax is a Christmas miracle that will make even the most Scrooge-like viewer wipe away tears. —G.W. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Fox Searchlight/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Joyeux Noel’ (2005)

Here’s your rare Christmas-movie/warfilm hybrid. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2006 Academy Awards, French writer-director Christian Carion’s touching drama tells a fictionalized account of the real-life “Christmas truce” that took place among French, British, and German military forces on the front lines of World War I. Unfortunately, and in this case inevitably, truces only last so long. —K.P. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics/courtesy Everett Collection)

The Shane Black Christmas Trilogy (2005-2016)

It’s no secret the director is an unapologetic fan of Christmas, with the holiday playing a supporting role in all his films. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang finds desperate dad Robert Downey Jr. committing a crime to buy his kid the year’s hottest toy — an incident that launches a crazy caper involving a movie crew and gangsters. Iron Man 3 is set against the backdrop of the holiday, finding Tony Stark adrift and leaning on a young boy (whom Black has called Tony’s “Ghost of Christmas Past”) for redemption. (Bonus: There’s this great scene with Tony dancing around his lab to the soulful strains of Joe Williams’s “Jingle Bells.”) Finally, The Nice Guys features Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling buddying up in a retro neo-noir romp that climaxes at Christmas, minus the ribbons and bows. —M.E. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)

‘The Holiday’ (2006)

It’s an A-list Hallmark Christmas original, and we mean that in the best possible way. Writer-director Nancy Meyers doubles down and gives us two beautiful homes: the quaint English cottage and sleek L.A. mansion that two women — Kate Winslet’s heartbroken Iris and Cameron Diaz’s jilted Amanda — spontaneously swap for solo holiday vacations. Neither is looking for love, but they each find it when Jack Black and Jude Law show up on their respective doorsteps. Still, it’s the warm, supportive relationship between Iris and the aging screenwriter (Eli Wallach) who teaches her about “gumption” that turns out to be everyone’s favorite. —Mandi Bierly (Available on Hulu)
(Photo: Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Inside’ (2007)

Warning: Even though Inside is, at heart, a Yuletide mother-and-daughter story, it’s absolutely not a movie you should watch with your mother … or your child. Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s gnarly horror story unfolds on Christmas Eve, when a pregnant widow is assaulted in her home by another woman with whom she unknowingly shares a painful history. And we do mean painful; after watching Inside, you’ll think twice about picking up a pair of scissors to open up your Christmas presents. —E.A. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Showtime Network/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘In Bruges’ (2008)

The picture-perfect Belgian city is the setting for Martin McDonagh’s offbeat crime film about two hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) who go into hiding after a botched kill. It may be Christmastime, but there’s no heartwarming redemption in store for Farrell, who has committed a crime he can’t forgive himself for. The darkly hilarious story builds to a stunning, violent finale in the heart of the medieval city, which looks like a miniature Christmas village come to life. —G.W. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Focus Features/courtesy Everett Collection)

Arthur Christmas (2011)

Offering an entertaining glimpse behind the curtain and featuring an A-list voice cast (including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, and Jim Broadbent), Aardman Studios’ underappreciated CG-animated feature tracks three generations of Santa Clauses in this story of how the least likely hero winds up saving the (holi)day. Arthur Christmas deserves a slot in the holiday rotation alongside the Grinch, Rudolph, and Charlie Brown. —M.E. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Sony Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas’ (2011)

Released in glorious 3D in theaters, the third — and sadly final … for now — Harold & Kumar is just as funny in good old-fashioned 2D. In desperate need of a Christmastime miracle, the estranged pals (John Cho and Kal Penn) put their squabbling on hold to find a replacement for the valuable tree that Kumar burned down with a stray reefer. As always with the H&K franchise, the movie’s comic high point is Neil Patrick Harris’s self-aware cameo as the alpha male version of himself, this time leading a Christmas stage spectacular that’s trippier than anything playing at Radio City Music Hall. —E.A. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Darren Michaels/Warner Brothers Pictures)

‘Carol’ (2015)

Set in the winter of 1952, the love story between between glamorous older woman Carol (Cate Blanchett) and young photographer Therese (Rooney Mara) begins in a garland-decked department store and unfurls across a backdrop of holiday cheer: a crackling fireplace in Carol’s tony New Jersey home, a gentle snowfall when Therese takes her first picture of Carol, and shabby decorations in the lobbies of motels when the women escape the city together. Their hard-earned happy ending takes place after New Year’s Day, but at Carol’s warmly lit table in the Oak Room, it still feels like Christmas.—G.W. (Available on Netflix)
(Photo: Weinstein Company/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Krampus’ (2015)

In the grand tradition of Silent Night, Deadly Night, Black Christmas, and Gremlins, Krampus delivers some Christmas-based bloodletting to break up the typical holiday treacle. Based on the Euro folk legend of a goatlike demon that feasts on the naughty list, Krampus mixes jump scares and belly laughs to delightful effect. Think of it as a different kind of holly-jolly family flick. —M.E. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Steve Unwin/Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘The Night Before’ (2015)

It wasn’t the box-office hit it deserved to be, but do yourself a favor and give this raunchy Christmas Eve comedy a spin this season if you missed it the first time around. Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the continually underappreciated one-man comedy act Anthony Mackie play three best buds whose annual tradition of wreaking havoc on New York City every Dec. 24 comes to an end in glorious, hilarious fashion. —K.P. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Sarah Shatz/Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Tangerine’ (2015)

You haven’t seen a holiday movie quite like this before: Sean Baker’s vibrant portrait of life on the streets of downtown Los Angeles stars transgender actress Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as sex worker Sin-Dee Rella, fresh out of prison on Christmas Eve and eager to track down her cheating boyfriend/pimp, Chester (James Ransone). Rowdy, rambunctious, and full of heart, Tangerine is a Christmas carol for our day and age, preaching peace on earth and goodwill to all genders and races.—E.A. (Available on Netflix)
(Photo: Magnolia Pictures /courtesy Everett Collection)

‘Almost Christmas’ (2016)

One year removed from the death of his beloved wife, Walter Meyers (Danny Glover) attempts to carry on the tradition of hosting a large family Christmas, but finds himself stymied by squabbling and his own latent grief. Not that Almost Christmas is in any way a mournful dirge: Thanks to an ace ensemble that includes Romany Malco, Mo’Nique, and J.B. Smoove, there are plenty of laughs (and tears) to be found at this spirited family reunion. —E.A. (Available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube)
(Photo: Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

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