It’s that time of year again! So, we at The Nerd Stash thought it would be timely to recommend these 10 underrated Christmas movies to your annual marathon lineup. Many Christmas movies get better with age, and that’s indeed the case with these pics. However, many of them have been forgotten. While they weren’t all critical or commercial successes, these films are special in their own way and deserve a second chance.
To be clear, most of these films aren’t cinematic masterpieces. In fact, the first film you’ll see listed is a bit of an ironic entry. However, the films are on here because they have a fanbase and give a little Christmas spirit to our hearts. So without further ado, here are the top 10 Christmas movies for you to watch.
10. Babes in Toyland (1986)
Did you know that a 22-year-old Keanu Reeves sang in a TV Christmas movie? Yes… John Wick, Neo, Constantine… that Keanu Reeves.
This 1986 TV movie stars an 11-year-old Drew Barrymore as Lisa, a girl who is from Cincinnati and annoyingly proud of it. Anyway, she falls out of a jeep on Christmas eve during a blizzard, hits her head, and wakes up in Toyland, where she meets a group of people (Reeves, Jill Scoelin, and Googy Gress) who look suspiciously like her sister and friends from home. Together, and with the help of a figure known as the Toymaster (Pat Morita), they must stop Barnaby Barnacle (Richard Mulligan) from taking over Toyland.
Okay, when we call this movie underrated, we mean it in a “so bad it’s good” way. The film is a little more than flawed. It’s cheaply made, has lousy acting, and its musical numbers are uninspired and forgettable (other than that annoying “Cincinnati” song that is an earworm you won’t be able to escape). That and the fact that it’s not only a cheap remake of a better movie, but it’s also taking numerous elements from The Wizard of Oz (right down to Barnaby being dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West). However, we loved it as kids, and the fact that we can roast it as adults makes it enjoyable in a different way. And while Barrymore and Reeves poked fun at it during a conversation on her talk show, Reeves acknowledged that the film has a good heart to it that does shine through the messiness.
9. Mrs. Santa Claus (1996)
We recently lost a real treasure with the passing of Angela Lansbury. While we know her for Murder She Wrote, and for Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, too few have seen her perfect portrayal of Mrs. Claus in this 1996 TV movie. Getting a bit tired of managing all the toymaking and getting no recognition from anyone, including her husband, Mrs. Claus takes the sleigh out to test out a new route she’s been suggesting.
However, things get complicated when she lands in New York City, and an injured reindeer forces her to take up temporary residence. During this time, she blesses the community in numerous ways. She helps a suffragette get women on board to march for voting rights, helps her find love with an immigrant stableman, becomes a role model for a lonely immigrant girl, and fights for children’s labor rights against a hard-hearted toy factory owner. Aside from touching on serious issues, the film’s performances and showstopping musical numbers make it a delight and a criminally underrated Christmas movie.
8. Prancer (1989)
If you want to see a Christmas movie that will inspire you to have the same faith, love, hope, and purity you had as a child, look no further than Prancer. Jessica (Rebecca Harrell) has lost her mother and is still trying to hold on to hope and her relationship with her heartbroken and hardened father (Sam Elliott).
When she encounters an injured and peculiarly unafraid reindeer in the woods, she becomes convinced he’s Santa’s reindeer Prancer. She goes to extreme efforts to save the creature and get him back to Santa. Those efforts become public knowledge, and she inspires the entire town with her kindhearted deeds. We won’t spoil how the movie ends, but we will say that it’s one of many moments in this movie where you better have a tissue box on hand.
7. A Christmas Carol (2009)
Director Robert Zemeckis has clearly had some Scrooges as critics, as this will not be his only appearance on this list. There have been more adaptations of A Christmas Carol than we have the time to watch, and while the best one remains the 1951 version with Alistair Sim, this motion picture capture version is still one of the better ones you’ll find. The film looks beautiful and takes you through every emotion the story is meant to present, and Jim Carrey is as impressive as Ebeneezer Scrooge.
The film also delivers some effectively dark moments, which some critics found a little off-putting. One father wrote a letter to Roger Ebert, who gave the film his highest rating, saying the movie terrified his eight-year-old son. While the film is not for everyone, including young kids, it effectively captures the spirit of a classic Dickens story.
6. Last Holiday (2006)
Queen Latifah stars as an aspiring chef who goes to the doctor after a bang to the head. She is told she has several tumors and has a few weeks to live. Realizing she’s lived an overly cautious life, she sets out to the Czech Republic for a dream vacation where she does many things she’s only dreamed of.
This newfound zest for life and free-spirited nature charms everyone she meets, and she also charms the audience and inspires us to make the most of what life has to offer.
5. Annabelle’s Wish (1997)
This straight-to-video Christmas movie is largely forgotten and needs to be rediscovered. The premise is that on Christmas Day, Santa gifts animals everywhere with a single day of being able to speak. One of those animals is a newborn farm calf named Annabelle, who is fascinated by Santa’s reindeer and wants to be able to fly herself.
On Christmas day, her speaking ability is discovered by the farmer’s grandson, who, ironically and sadly, is mute. The two form a deep bond in this film that celebrates friendship, self-sacrifice, and how it is more blessed to give than receive. Warning, the last ten minutes of this underrated Christmas movie will have the waterworks going.
4. The Polar Express (2004)
Here is Robert Zemeckis’s second entry on our underrated Christmas movie list. While it’s now considered a classic, audiences and critics were initially thrown off by The Polar Express. Motion capture was relatively new at the time, and for some, the character designs almost seemed creepy. Even today, the eyes are a little terrifying to some.
However, the film about a boy who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus until he is taken to the North Pole on a magic train has become a favorite people love to visit year after year.
3. The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
As we said, there have been many adaptations of A Christmas Carol. But there haven’t been nearly enough movies about the man behind the beloved classic. Dan Stevens stars as Charles Dickens suffering from financial hardships after the failures of his last three books. After rejection from his publishers, he sets out to write and self-publish a new book. Garnering inspiration all around him, he ends up writing a story that, unbeknownst to him, will become a timeless classic.
While the film takes some liberty regarding history, it’s still a moving and impressive story. Stevens is excellent in the role of Dickens, and the late Christopher Plummer delivers a terrific portrayal of an imagined Scrooge haunting Dickens wherever he goes.
2. Arthur Christmas (2011)
This British sci-fi fantasy animated movie stands out for its unique take on the story of Santa Claus and for being a compelling underdog story. In Arthur Christmas, Santa is a hereditary title given to generations of gift-givers dating back to Nicholas. Malcolm (Jim Broadbent), the current Santa, is at retirement age and becoming more of a figurehead. On the latest mission, one child is left without a gift.
While Malcolm and his son and successor Steve (Hugh Laurie) opt to let the matter go for the sake of preventing a technical success error, Malcolm’s younger son, the clumsy but kindhearted and enthusiastic Arthur (James McEvoy) is determined to make sure that no kid is left behind on Christmas. So much so that he and his Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) stow away in the sled to ensure the gift is delivered. While it’s easy to ignore Arthur Christmas as just another cute animated holiday film, it is much more. It’s unique, it’s original, and Arthur is a protagonist you can’t help but love.
1. Klaus (2019)
If you haven’t seen this 2D animated Netflix original, you owe it to yourself to check it out immediately. In this movie, a self-centered mailman named Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) is sent to the cold and hateful town of Smeerensburg, where he must deliver 6,000 letters to get out. On his journey, he meets a reclusive toymaker named Klaus (J.K. Simmons), with whom he develops a letter-based delivery system for toys.
Initially birthed from selfish intent, the two become friends, Jesper’s selfishness begins to melt, and their actions cause a centuries-long clan feud to start dying. Moreover, through numerous sightings and word of mouth, rumors begin to form among children involving flying reindeer, lumps of coal, and more. All of these rumors eventually form a well-known Christmas mythos.
Nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards, Klaus ultimately lost to Toy Story 4, a decision many took issue with. But statue or no statue, the Christmas movie may be underrated now, but it’s destined to become a classic.
Honorable Mention: Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
While many may have heard Jim Varney is the voice of Slinky in Toy Story 1 & 2, he’ll always be slapstick icon Ernest P. Worrell to all ’80s and ’90s kids. When Santa travels to Florida looking for a successor, he leaves his magic sack in Ernest’s taxi cab. Ernest goes on a mission to get the sack back to Santa.
On this mission he manages to keep a Christmas icon from disappearing, helps a troubled teen find herself again, and as the title suggests, he saves Christmas. Dimwitted and clumsy as he may be, Ernest’s kindheartedness makes him a perfect Christmas hero.
Underrated Christmas Movies
These Christmas movies may have been cast aside, but they deserve a second chance. Give them that honor by adding them to your Christmas movie marathon.