Holiday Movie Guide – American Film Institute


Holiday Movie Guide

There’s no better way to get into the spirit than with a holiday movie marathon! Check out our Holiday Film Guide on what to watch, featuring films from the AFI 100 Lists and AFI Movie Club. Share your favorite holiday movies in the comments section!


AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986), produced by AFI Life Achievement Award winner Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and directed by Don Bluth, is the heart-warming story of Fievel Mousekewitz, a young immigrant mouse from Russia lost in late-19th century New York City. The animated adventure film was honored with an Oscar® nomination for Best Original Song for “Somewhere Out There,” performed by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram. Learn more about AN AMERICAN TAIL in the AFI Catalog.


Starring Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Sanaa Lathan and more, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (2013) reunites a group of college friends over the holidays as friendships and marriages are tested and long-simmering tensions reemerge. Director Malcom D. Lee and cinematographer Greg Gardiner took AFI “Behind the Scene” for AFI Movie Club. Learn more about the film and watch the exclusive AFI videos for THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY.


Narrated by AFI DWW Alum Maya Angelou, THE BLACK CANDLE (2008) traces the growth of Kwanzaa out of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in the 1960s to its modern-day incarnation as a Pan-African holiday celebrated by millions around the world. Watch director M.K. Asante go “Behind the Scene” in this exclusive AFI video about filming THE BLACK CANDLE.


Directed by Bob Clark, the holiday classic A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) follows Ralphie who is looking to navigate the all-important Christmas season so he can get the “Holy Grail” of Christmas presents. Watch actor Peter Billingsley and production designer Reuben Freed talk about making this iconic film. Learn more about A CHRISTMAS STORY in the AFI Catalog.


A quintessentially New York love story set against the backdrop of a Jewish bookstore, CROSSING DELANCEY (1988) stars Amy Irving and Peter Riegert and was directed by Joan Micklin Silver, whose directorial debut HESTER STREET was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry. Listen to this exclusive AFI conservation of Silver sharing her experiences with AFI Fellows on the making of CROSSING DELANCEY.


In 1988, director and AFI Conservatory Alum John McTiernan (AFI Class of 1975) gave movie lovers a thrilling holiday gift with the high-octane, enduring Christmas classic, DIE HARD, starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman. And in 2020, he finally settled the debate in this exclusive AFI video – DIE HARD is a Christmas movie. Learn more about DIE HARD in the AFI Catalog.


In director Jon Favreau’s heartwarming and hilarious holiday classic, ELF (2003), Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, a misfit raised by Santa’s elves who travels to New York in search of his father, played by James Caan. ELF cinematographer Greg Gardiner spoke about filming the holiday classic ELF in this exclusive AFI conversation. Learn more about ELF in the AFI Catalog.


Writer/director Clea DuVall shares a universal story from a new perspective in HAPPIEST SEASON (2020) – featuring cinematography by AFI Alum John Guleserian (AFI Class of 2005) and production design by Theresa Guleserian (AFI Class of 2006). The holiday rom-com broke records as the most-watched original film on Hulu during its opening weekend. Learn more about HAPPIEST SEASON.


With original songs by famous composer, songwriter and lyricist Irving Berlin, HOLIDAY INN (1942) stars Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds. The film’s most enduring song, “White Christmas,” written by Berlin, is ranked #5 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list of the greatest songs in cinema. Learn more about HOLIDAY INN in the AFI Catalog.


HOME ALONE (1990), written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, is celebrating 30 years of holiday hijinks. This memorable comedic classic features the timeless music of AFI Life Achievement Award recipient John Williams. Learn more about HOME ALONE in the AFI Catalog.


“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) was named #20 on AFI’s Top 100 greatest American films of all time and # 1 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list. James Stewart, who starred as George Bailey, was named by AFI as one of the greatest stars in cinematic history. Go “Behind the Scene” with Jimmy Hawkins who starred as Tommy Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in this exclusive AFI video. Learn more about IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in the AFI Catalog.


Featuring interlocking love stories in the days leading up to Christmas, LOVE ACTUALLY (2003) stars Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Keira Knightley and Alan Rickman, among others in Richard Curtis’ witty and charming treatise on love in all its shapes and forms. Learn more about LOVE ACTUALLY in the AFI Catalog.


Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor, Lucille Bremer, Tom Drake and Marjorie Main, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) – a Christmas musical based on the writings of Sally Benson – is ranked by AFI as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, with “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” landing on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list of the greatest movie songs in cinematic history. Learn more about MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS in the AFI Catalog.


Starring Natalie Wood, Maureen O’Hara and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle himself, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET is ranked #9 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list honoring the most inspiring movies of all time. The film won Academy Awards® for Best Screenplay and Best Original Story, and when Edmund Gwenn accepted his Oscar® for Best Supporting Actor, he said, “Now I know there’s a Santa Claus.” Learn more about MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in the AFI Catalog.


THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992) gathers the Muppets – and Michael Caine! – for a magical reimagining of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. Watch director Brian Henson – who made his directorial debut with the film – talk about making THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL in this exclusive AFI “Behind the Scene” conversation. Learn more about THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL in the AFI Catalog.


In search of the elusive perfect family Christmas, the Griswold’s holiday uproariously goes awry in NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) with the unexpected arrival of some obnoxious relatives. Starring Chevy Chase, the film was cast by AFI Conservatory Faculty and Alum Heidi Levitt (AFI Class of 1987) who spoke with AFI in this exclusive “Behind the Scene” video for AFI Movie Club. Learn more about NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION in the AFI Catalog.


Directed by Penny Marshall and starring Whitney Houston and AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Denzel Washington, THE PREACHER’S WIFE (1996) follows an angel who arrives on the wings of a prayer to help a good reverend whose Baptist church is struggling, as is his marriage. Actor Courtney B. Vance, who plays Reverend Henry Biggs in the film, joined AFI in an exclusive conversation on the making of THE PREACHER’S WIFE. Learn more about THE PREACHER’S WIFE in the AFI Catalog.


THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) stars Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as two co-workers who intensely dislike each other and have no idea the other is their secret pen pal. Based on the Hungarian play “Parfumerie” by Miklós László, which was also the inspiration for YOU’VE GOT MAIL directed by Nora Ephron, this quintessential romantic comedy from Ernst Lubitsch was named to AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions list celebrating the greatest love stories of all time. Learn more about THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER in the AFI Catalog.


Set on Christmas Eve, independent filmmaker Sean Baker’s breakout hit TANGERINE (2015), starring Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, is an authentic story about the friendship between transgender sex workers in Los Angeles. Watch an exclusive AFI video with the director about the making of the film. Learn more about TANGERINE in the AFI Catalog.


Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) follows a song-and-dance team who put on a Christmas show for the ages to help a down–on–his–luck general save his inn in Vermont. The festive favorite marked the first Paramount film photographed in VistaVision, the studio’s new widescreen process that used single-strip Eastman color film with a 70mm (or double 35mm) frame. Learn more about WHITE CHRISTMAS in the AFI Catalog.


YENTL (1983), the musical drama of a brave young woman who poses as a boy to pursue her passion for studying Jewish Talmudic Law, features the talents of AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Barbra Streisand – who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film. In an exclusive AFI conversation, Streisand said, “I couldn’t wait to show this and share this movie with women, because this was a celebration of the ability of women to be spiritual.” Learn more about YENTL in the AFI Catalog.

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