Holiday movie and TV favorites

Holidays are filled with memories and few are as strong as the movies and TV shows we've grown up with and watched again and again with our families and friends. They're what make us laugh and make us cry, what give us thrills and help us chill. Here are some of our favorite holiday fare, along with links to rent or download them from iTunes. Some of them might also be available on Netflix and other streaming services. All of them are well worth a look.

Holiday laughs

Ally: In our family, A Christmas Story is a classic and something we watch each and every year at least once. Here in the US, it's typically played for 24 hours straight starting on Christmas Eve, so we get in at least one full rotation on Christmas Day. It's a movie my brother and I both grew up watching. Not only that, it was filmed about 30 minutes from where I live and really does depict the classic Indiana lifestyle, so I think that makes it even more special to us.

Another movie that I couldn't go without watching each and every holiday season is the original Home Alone. Not only does it have a great soundtrack, it's light hearted, funny, and something everyone can enjoy together.

Ren: I can't get through the holidays without at least one go-through of A Muppet Christmas Carol. As the name suggests, it's one of many, many, variations on A Christmas Carol, but with the traditional Muppet spin. Rizzo and Gonzo are your hosts for a wild ride through the life of one Ebeneezer Scrooge, played with panache by Michael Caine. Kermit's son as Tiny Tim and singing rats. That's all you need to know.

Peter: It's as much a Christmas movie as it is a Halloween movie - my vote goes to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Jack Skellington decides he's sick and tired of ruling over Halloweentown and wants to give Christmas a try instead. What happens is horrifying and hilarious. Nightmare is filled with brilliant stop-motion animation, a nod to Christmas classics TV movies from Rankin Bass. With a soundtrack by Danny Elfman, Nightmare includes some brilliant musical moments, as well.

Rene: I can watch Elf over and over again. No one abandons themselves to naivete like Will Ferell, and never has he done it so well as Buddy. He knows Santa. He knows we sit on thrones of lies and stink of meat and cheese. And he knows how to make us laugh.

While I hold deep, abiding affection for the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials, I can't help but throw a curveball here: Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas. It's an episode of Community that also shows deep, abiding affection for Rankin/Bass as well.

Chris: It's a holiday classic and gets watched at least 2-3 times over the holidays in my family. Nine-year-old Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle but everyone keeps telling him no, even Santa. "you'll shoot your eye out, kid." I won't spoil it for you (if that's possible) but it's a barrel of laughs.

Holiday heartwarmers… and heartbreakers

Ally: There are two movies that come to mind around the holidays that we watch often in our house, and those two are Love Actually and The Holiday. The first is a great story that weaves together the lives of many different individuals around the holidays. It's also got a great cast including Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and many more. The second features both Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, both of which have failed relationships and heartbreak around the holiday. One lives in Los Angeles while the other in London. They end up swapping houses and lives for a few weeks in order to figure out life after their significant others. I won't ruin the movie, but it's definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it already.

Ren: How have none of you crazy people mentioned It's a Wonderful Life yet? Yes, it's one of the older Christmas movies out there — made in 1946 with Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, and Lionel Barrymore — and yes, it's black and white. But that doesn't mean there's any less to relate to or love. It's a film about family, ambition, and the way our choices shape our lives — with angels and Christmas songs and Jimmy Stewart wishing happy tidings to a vast number of inanimate objects. See this one in the theater if you can — a lot of cities like to show prints around this time of year — or curl up in front of your TV and enjoy it yourself.

Peter: Featuring some great performances from all-star cast, Love Actually is a rom-com from the same folks who brought us Bridget Jones' Diary and Notting Hill. This Christmas-themed movie is utterly delightful, interweaving multiple storylines together exploring the very title of the film: Love in all its splendor — passionate, romantic, familial.

Rene: In Family Man, Nic Cage has everything money can buy but no one to enjoy it with. In a twist of fate, he's given a glimpse into another world, one where he's struggling to make ends meet, but one where he's doing that struggling with Téa Leoni, the one who got away, and with kids — the family and home — that they have together.

The West Wing: In Excelsis Deo is one of the strongest episodes of one of the strongest TV shows ever to air on the U.S. networks. The power of the presidency is wielded, without permission, to right a very small, but very important wrong. And in Sorkin dialog.

Chris: While You Were Sleeping, starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman, tells the tale of Lucy, a lonely subway worker, who becomes smitten with a handsome stranger. But when she saves his life after he's been mugged and fallen into a coma, his nutty family mistakes her for his fiancee. After that, things get crazy and and when Lucy falls for his charming brother she has a bit of a hole to dig herself out of.

Holiday thrillers

Ally: I love Bond movies. And typically around the holidays I end up watching at least one or two. I have no idea why since they aren't holiday themed. Perhaps I received one for Christmas one year and subconsciously started watching one each year. Either way, two of my favorites are GoldenEye (I know Brosnan isn't the best Bond but it's a great flick either way), and Skyfall. Both are action packed from start to finish and can be watched over and over again. If you haven't seen either, you're missing out.

Peter: Batman Returns, Tim Burton's 1992 sequel to Batman, is set during the Christmas season, and is one of my favorite straight-up holiday-themed movies. Michael Keaton as Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as The Penguin, and Christopher Walken doing his scene-stealing best as the over-the-top Max Shreck. What's not to love about this dark, twisted action movie?

Rene: Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever. I mean, what could be better than Bruce Willis trapped in a building with Alan Rickman, trying to save his wife, and trying to save himself in more ways than one. It's the reinvention of the action movie, and it's got everything I need to lose myself for an evening. Even a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Arrow: Year's End isn't as cliched, but it's also a first season episode… and that was a tough year. Still, it's Arrow, and seeing Ollie try to come to terms with what his time on the island did to his family and their holiday traditions is worth a look.

Ren: I adore Die Hard and it's one of my favorite Christmas movies, but rather than repeat Rene, I'm going to an offer an alternative holiday action flick that's also set in Los Angeles: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Featuring one of the best on-screen teamups pre-Avengers, Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr star as a gay cop and a petty thief who get inadvertently tangled up together and must solve a murder (over the holidays, naturally). It's a ridiculously fun ride full of quips from both Kilmer and Downey Jr, and more than worth a rewatch this week.

Chris: The Doctor Who Christmas specials have been ongoing since 2005 but not all of them revolve around a Christmas theme but 2011's The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe certainly does. It tells the tale of Madge Arwell, who once helped an injured spaceman who promised to repay her kindness, some day. Now, that day has come on Christmas after the loss of her husband in the war. One of the greatest tales for Matt Smith's Doctor.

  • Doctor Who Christmas Special 2011: The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe - Download Now

Holiday timewasters

Ally: Everyone who reads iMore on a regular basis is fully aware that I love Harry Potter. I regularly re-watch all the movies when either there's nothing else on TV, or if I just want noise in the background while working. If you haven't caught any of them yet, the 8 movies that make up the series are sure to fill in quite a lot of time that needs wasting.

Peter: SyFy has made it a tradition to show episodes of the classic series The Twilight Zone as a marathon for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I hate having to sit through endless commercial breaks, though. The good news is The Twilight Zone is available for download from the iTunes Store, which sells them as individual episodes or complete season passes.

Rene: Every year my family and I sit down and watch Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition from beginning to end. I'm quite sure it takes like 9 days to finish, but it's so, so, worth it each time. This year, I'm skipping the end to the horrible Hobbit follow up and losing myself once again in its much better predecessor.

Broadchurch is so much better than the terrible U.S. remake. For 8 episodes, David Tennant stalks the English coast trying to find out who killed a young boy, and shattered a small community. The performances are terrific and the tension almost unbearable. Binge away.

Ren: Doctor Who is always worth a good holiday marathon, especially with the Christmas special airing concurrently on BBC America. I tend to marathon the most recent season while cooking with my folks, so as to properly catch up in advance of the special's airing — with all the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly continuity, it helps to recap the previous season in order to get on the same page.

Chris: 'A fun-filled magical story, Rise of the Guardians features Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy all together for the first time! When the evil boogeyman Pitch threatens to take over the world, it's up to our beloved heroes to protect the hopes and dreams of all children.' Probably one of the most underrated Dreamworks films ever and certainly worth a watch if you've never seen it. It has a tattooed Santa Claus, that alone makes it worth it.

What are you watching?

We asked Twitter for more recommendations, and have them ready and Storified for you. We're also always on the lookout for more, so please drop your recommendations in the comments below, because the popcorn — and eggnog! — is ready!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.