Tom Hanks and more stars share their favorite Christmas movies


If you’re looking to crank up the nostalgia and holiday magic, there’s an endless list of Christmas classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle of 34th Street” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Plus, the more recent films that have earned a spot on everyone’s annual must-watch list like “Elf,” “The Polar Express” and “Klaus,” the last a personal favorite (strongly recommended).

The most popular genre for Christmas movie is comedy, according to IMDb. Topping the list for the category is the ’90s hit “Home Alone” with a 7.7 rating out of 10.

“No matter when they take place — modern era or period — Christmas movies and television specials are always about someone who has lost their faith in humankind, regaining it. Saved by other people being kind,” Tom Hanks, who stars in “The Polar Express” and “You’ve Got Mail” (yes, some put this romcom on the Christmas list), told CNN.

We polled Hanks and a few other celebrities, along with several CNN journalists, about their favorite Christmas movies. Here’s how some of their picks measured up against popular opinion.

Tom Hanks: ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’

  • Genre: Animation
  • Gross: Not listed
  • Release date: December 9, 1965
  • IMDb rating: 8.3
  • Fun fact: The TV special was put together in just a matter of weeks to meet broadcast demands. Some of the people involved in its production thought it was going to bomb, but it was an immediate hit.

“It probably lasts about 24 minutes, but time freezes when I watch Snoopy build his doghouse with all the ornaments on it, the lights, and he wins first prize. It’s great watching those kids rehearse their Christmas play. It just hits that Christmas is drawing near when you see Snoopy and Charlie Brown,” Hanks told CNN.

Ron Howard: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

  • Genre: Drama
  • Gross: Not listed
  • Release date: December 20, 1946
  • IMDb rating: 8.6
  • Fun fact: This Jimmy Stewart classic has the highest rating of any Christmas movie on IMBd.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve seen ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ I find it’s one of the most fascinating stories to revisit and I never ever watched it without taking a moment to consider that central thematic question: Are you aware of the way you can affect those around you and the ripple effect of it?

Who doesn’t cry when you see Jimmy Stewart rediscover himself and his desire to live? In a really complicated, difficult, frustrating world, a damnable world, there, the choice to engage and live matters and you can matter. And it was powerful then and it’s powerful now. In fact, it’s more powerful now,” Howard said.

Bobby Flay: ‘Elf’

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: $255 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: October 9, 2003
  • IMDb rating: 7
  • Fun fact: This movie’s tagline was: “This holiday, discover your inner elf”.

“My favorite holiday movie is ‘Elf.’ I think Will Ferrell is a comedic genius. My favorite scene in the movie is when he thinks he finds the greatest cup of coffee in the world,” Flay told CNN.

CNN’s Abby Phillip: ‘The Preacher’s Wife’

  • Genre: Family
  • Gross: $92 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: December 13, 1996
  • IMDb rating: 5.6
  • Fun fact: This film isn’t officially tagged as a “Christmas” movie by IMDb, but it is by The Movie Database.

“My favorite Christmas movie is ‘The Preacher’s Wife.’ It is the best Christmas movie. You got Whitney Houston, you got Denzel Washington, and you have a tale of an angel almost having an affair with the preacher’s wife. I mean it doesn’t get better than that.

I watch it every year, multiple times, during the Christmas season, but I love watching it on Christmas day and I love playing the soundtrack. The soundtrack for that movie is amazing. It is such a fun Christmas movie and it’s a little spicy as Christmas movies go,” Phillips said.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: ‘Home Alone’

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: $592 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: November 16, 1990
  • IMBd rating: 7.7
  • Fun fact: Home Alone is the most popular “Christmas” movie on IMDb, according to the site’s internal score that considers user searches and other metrics.

“The one that always makes me immediately think of Christmas is ‘Home Alone.’ It immediately takes me to Christmas. That’s the one that my three teenage girls and I will curl up on the couch and watch for sure,” Gupta said.

Dana Bash: ‘Love Actually’ (and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’)

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: $87 million
  • Release date: September 7, 2003
  • IMBd rating: 7.6
  • Fun fact: For the 20th anniversary of the film, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and Thomas Brodie-Sangster are taking part in the special reunion.

“I can’t even think about Christmas Eve without thinking about ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and Jimmy Stewart because it’s my childhood. It’s what our family would do. We would curl up on the couch — or when I was little I would get into the big chair with my dad — and we would watch the movie because it was my dad’s favorite movie.

More recently, my favorite Christmas movie is ‘Love Actually.’ It just makes me so happy the way it ends. It’s such a positive message. It’s so funny. It’s such a classic. If “Love Actually” is on TV and I happen to click on it, I’m done, I have to finish it. It’s just the best Christmas movie,” Bash said.

Jake Tapper: ‘Die Hard’

  • Genre: Action
  • Gross: $161 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: 1988
  • IMDb rating: 8.2
  • Fun fact: Die Hard is the highest-rated action movie on IMDb’s “Christmas list”.

“My favorite Christmas movie is without question ‘Die Hard.’ I know it’s controversial to say, but ‘Die Hard’ is obviously a Christmas movie. It takes place on Christmas and there are many themes throughout the movie about Christmas. His wife’s name is Holly for God’s sake.

It has all the elements you want in a Christmas movie: Homecoming, love and a lot of killing of terrorists,” Tapper said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci: ‘Miracle on 34th Street’

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: Not listed
  • Release date: June 4, 1947
  • IMBd rating: 7.9
  • Fun fact: This classic was remade in 1994 by director Les Mayfield. The follow up has a 6.6 rating on IMDb.

“My favorite Christmas movie is ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ It brings me back to my childhood because it was made when I was a child and you would see it every Christmas. It just had that innocent warmth of Christmas about it, the innocence of childhood,” Fauci told CNN.

Sara Sidner: ‘A Christmas Story’

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: $60 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: November 18, 1983
  • IMBd rating: 7.9
  • Fun fact: Peter Billingsley returns as a now-adult “Ralphie” in a sequel set for release this year.

“I watch it every year at least twice. I used to have it go 24 hours a day. ‘You’ll shoot your eye out, kid,’ is like a part of my life. It’s like the script of my life. I was a very active child and could just sort of see myself in the scenario with the bullies and the whole thing.

The narrator for that film is like the voice of God to me. It brings out every childhood wonder and hurt that you can imagine. I loved it so much that I went to Cleveland at one point and went to see the home where it was filmed,” Sidner said.

Kate Bolduan: ‘Scrooged’

  • Genre: Comedy
  • Gross: $154 million (adjusted)
  • Release date: November 22, 1988
  • IMBd rating: 6.9
  • Fun fact: IMDb tags this Bill Murray-led ghost tale as a comedy, but The Movie Database says it’s a fantasy film.

“There is only one and it cannot be debated. It is hands down the best holiday movie of all time, which is “Scrooged.” Bill Murray as Frank Cross: Delightfully horrendous, cyclical, horrible human being. And then in the classic Christmas carol fashion, turns it all around. Not lost on me is that Frank Cross is a TV executive. So, there’s hope for all of us,: Bolduan said.

Ana Cabrera: ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’

  • Genre: Animation
  • Release date: December 6, 1946
  • IMDb rating: 8
  • Fun fact: This beloved animated film — released as a television special — is among the shortest on IMDb’s “Christmas” list, with a runtime of just 47 minutes.

“Who doesn’t love Rudolph? I just remember growing up that was the one movie we had to make sure we watched. It’s one that just sticks with you. It’s such a feel-good movie: the characters, the message, the magic. Even as an adult, it’s the one I want my kids to watch every year because I still love it as much as I did then,” Cabrera said.



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