20 'Modern' Christmas Movies That Are Quickly Becoming Classics 

Martha Sorren | Nov 22, 2019 Movies
20 'Modern' Christmas Movies That Are Quickly Becoming Classics 

Kurt Russell in The Christmas Chronicles
Michael Gibson/Netflix

There are so many classic Christmas movies to watch every holiday season. Films like It's a Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas all came out decades ago, and they're still total movie night go-tos for the holidays. Same with movies from the '90s, like Home Alone, The Santa Claus, and I'll Be Home For Christmas. But, over the last few years, many new Christmas movies have become classics in their own way. 

After all, just because something came out in 2017 doesn't mean audiences don't already know they're gonna rewatch it every Christmas from then on. Sometimes we just know that we love something right away, OK?

Rotten Tomatoes, a movie and TV show review aggregator site, recently compiled a list of modern Christmas movies that have scored high with critics. The site uses a percentage ranking to determine how "fresh" or "rotten" a film is. Anything over 60% is considered "fresh" -- better than average. All of these modern Christmas movies scored over that 60% threshold, and many of them scored much, much higher. There are even a couple of 90% rankings here.

The most recent movie on this list came out in 2018, and the oldest is from 2003. But they all go to show us that a Christmas movie doesn't have to be old to be a classic. It seems like the ones that are most popular break the conventions of what it means to be a Christmas movie. Critics and audiences alike seem to have responded to holiday horror films, musicals, and movies that use the holiday season as a backdrop rather than a whole plot point. 

  • 'Carol'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%

    Set in 1952, this movie follows the love story between a young female photographer and an older woman at a time when their relationship was frowned upon by society. Much of this movie takes place during the Christmas season. The holiday is not the focus of the film, but it's a noticeable enough backdrop to make this an unconventional Christmas film, but a Christmas film all the same.

  • 'Arthur Christmas'


    Rated: PG

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 92%

    This animated tale follows Santa's son Arthur's quest to deliver a lost Christmas present to a young child. Critics praised the film for its humor but also its genuine heart. 

  • 'Better Watch Out'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

    Christmas and horror movies may not seem like they'd go together, but they can. In this film, a babysitter is tasked with keeping her charge safe from terrifying intruders, and critics adored the modern, scary take on the holiday season.

  • 'The Christmas Chronicles'


    Rated: TV-PG

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 64%

    Kurt Russell stars in this Netflix film about a sister and brother who try to capture Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Critics praised Russell's take on the Santa Claus role, and the audience loved it even more. The movie has a 78% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

  • 'Get Santa'


    Rated: PG

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%

    A father and son team up to rescue Santa from the police who have wrongfully imprisoned him. Much like with The Christmas Chronicles, viewers responded well to the portrayal of Santa Claus in this movie. He played by Game of Thrones and Harry Potter star Jim Broadbent.

  • 'Ben Is Back'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 82%

    Julia Roberts plays a mom whose son returns home for Christmas after a lengthy struggle with addiction. This is not the most cheerful of holiday movies, but it does show the strength of a mother's love. 

  • 'Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

    When children star disappearing from town, a group of men hunt and trap the suspect, who seems to be an evil, twisted version of Santa Claus. Soon, people may see a whole new side of Jolly Old Saint Nick.

  • 'Happy Christmas'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 75%

    Christmas is not the happiest time of year for some people, and that is on full display in this movie about marriage, relationships, family, and the struggles we all go through during the holidays. Critics have praised the acting in this film from its stars like Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, and more.

  • 'Elf'


    Rated: PG

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%

    Elf originally premiered in 2003, and it became almost an instant classic. Will Ferrell's unironic depiction of Buddy, a human raised by elves, is the definition of Christmas spirit. This film is start to finish hilarious, and it has some real heartwarming moments as well. Everyone will leave watching this film a little happier of a person.

  • 'The Best Man Holiday'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 71%

    The Best Man Holiday is the Christmas-themed sequel to the 1999 hit The Best Man. In the follow-up film, a group of college friends reunites after 15 years apart. But all the drama between friends, lovers, and exes that occurred way back when starts up again when they spend the holiday together.

  • 'Bad Santa'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 78%

    This movie may star Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham, but it is definitely not family friendly. In it, two thieves pretend to be a mall Santa and his elf so they can rob the joint, and they're as unjolly as a Saint Nicholas could be. This raunchy film charmed critics, though, with one praising it on Rotten Tomatoes as "an antidote to forced holiday cheer."

  • 'Tangerine'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 96%

    Tangerine wowed viewers with its cinematography, even though it was all filmed on the iPhone. This unconventional but heartwarming and hilarious holiday tale follows a sex worker who wants revenge on a boyfriend. It's Rotten Tomatoes' highest ranked "modern" Christmas movie with an almost perfect score.

  • 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 85%

    Robert Downey Jr. stars in this crime action movie as a man running from the scene of a toy store robbery job. When he accidentally happens upon a movie audition, he lands the role, and that's not even the half of the wild adventure he's about to go on. Christmas is the backdrop for this film, but not the central story line.

  • 'Love Actually'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 64%

    Love Actually is a beloved holiday film that follows several different story lines that all intersect in interesting ways around the holidays. It's neither all happy nor all sad, and viewers tend to re-watch it every year. The Rotten Tomatoes audience ranking for this movie is even higher than the critics' one, at 72%.

  • 'Krampus'


    Rated: PG-13

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 67%

    Another scary Christmas film! This one starts when a boy accidentally summons a demon for the holidays. Makes our in-laws seem like absolute pleasures to host, huh? 

  • 'The Night Before'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 67%

    Three childhood friends land tickets to the hottest Christmas party in town. Along the way, they decide to have one last night of debauchery before admitting to themselves that they're adults who need to grow up a little bit. The balance of humor and heartwarming moments was a win for critics and audiences alike.

  • 'Anna and the Apocalypse'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 78%

    Not only is this a movie about a zombie apocalypse at Christmas, it's a musical about a zombie apocalypse at Christmas. It really doesn't get any more out of the box than that, which is always the recipe for a movie's success. So many Christmas movie plot lines are overdone, which makes this one extra fresh and fun.

  • 'Joyeux Noel'


    Rated: PG-13

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 74%

    This heartwarming movie is based on a true story of when the World War I troops stopped fighting for one day to celebrate Christmas. Its audience ranking on Rotten Tomatoes is a whopping 89%, and it doesn't get much better than that.

  • 'A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas'


    Rated: R

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 68%

    Harold and Kumar joined forces again for this holiday film, where they almost immediately cause trouble by burning down Harold's father-in-law's Christmas tree. What could possibly go wrong after that? Oh just wait ... 

    Also Neil Patrick Harris makes a fun musical cameo!

  • 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'


    Rated: PG

    Rotten Tomatoes score: 79%

    A Christmas Carol is one of the most well-known Christmas stories of all time, but how did it come to be? This movie dives into Charles Dickens' real life and his writing of the tale. Now, his real life story has become a holiday classic all its own.

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