Definitive ranking of the best Christmas movies ever made

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes Christmas movies (Part 1)

Christmas Day is less than two weeks away!

Time to rank the best Christmas movies ever made.

Where does your favorite Christmas flick rank?

Let the countdown begin!

Ground Rules:

1) Only one film per franchise (“Home Alone,” not “Home Alone 2”)

2) Only one entry per story (only one version of “A Christmas Carol”)

3) No four-season films (“Holiday Inn,” “Meet Me in St. Louis”)

On the Bubble: “Christmas in Connecticut,” “The Bishop’s Wife,” “Jingle All the Way,” “Christmas with the Kranks,” “A Christmas Prince,” “Klaus”

Without further ado, on with the list!

25. ‘Die Hard’ (1988)

“Yippee-ki-yay!” Everyone’s new favorite holiday argument is whether or not “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. I’ll please the supporters by putting it on the list, but I’ll acknowledge detractors by putting it in the bottom slot. After all, it’s mostly an action movie set at Christmastime. Bruce Willis turned Det. John McClane into the greatest action hero of all time, while Alan Rickman turned terror mastermind Hans Gruber into the AFI’s No. 46 Greatest Villain. Arguably the biggest action blockbuster ever made, “Die Hard” is surprisingly covered in holiday spirit, be it Argyle blaring Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” in a limo or Reginald VelJohnson (“Family Matters”) humming Christmas tunes before a body lands on his windshield. Terrorist Theo even offers a rendition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” while “Let it Snow” magically ushers in the end credits.

Best Scene: Det. John McClane “surrenders,” hands behind his head, gun secretly taped to his back.

Best Line: “Shoot ‘ze glass.” -Hans Gruber

24. ‘Love Actually’ (2003)

If action movies qualify, so do holiday rom-coms. Nominated for two Golden Globes, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay, “Love Actually” is controversially beloved. It also boasts arguably the deepest cast of any holiday movie with a BAFTA-winning Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Rowan Atkinson and Billy Bob Thornton. Written and directed by Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”), it remains one of the most popular movies of the 21st century, providing a dash of humanistic optimism in our post-9/11 world, making it a feel-good selection for fans to bust out every holiday season and feel it “in our fingers and in our toes.”

Best Scene: A creepy romantic presents a collection of cue cards in the doorway — a la Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — giving new meaning to the term “Christmas cards.”

Best Line: “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” —Prime Minister

23. ‘Bad Santa’ (2003)

Putting the “naughty” in our naughty-and-nice list, “Bad Santa” is a profanity-laced, booze-drenched, sexed-up romp of a Christmas flick. In other words, it’s hilarious. Billy Bob Thornton earned a Golden Globe nomination as a sleaze-bag shopping mall Santa who hates his job and reluctantly mentors a troubled, pudgy kid. Thornton leads a stellar supporting cast, including the late Bernie Mac and the late John Ritter (in his last role). Not for the easily offended, the film features plenty of “no they didn’t” moments of the adult variety.

Best Scene: The Kid cuts his hand while making Willie a gift and screams bloody murder.

Best Line: “Should I fix you some sandwiches?” -The Kid

22. ‘The Polar Express’ (2004)

After penning the hit picture book “Jumanji” (1981), author Chris Van Allsburg followed up with the 1985 children’s book “The Polar Express” about a young boy who hops on a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. When it came time to adapt it for the big screen, Hollywood turned to Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who had demonstrated his visual effects wizardry in “Back to the Future” (1985), “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) and “Forrest Gump” (1994). This time, Zemeckis reunited with Tom Hanks, who voiced six roles, from The Conductor to Santa Claus, in the first all-digital capture film. The result earned three Oscar nominations, including for the goosebump-inducing song “Believe,” performed by Josh Groban.

Best Scene: The boy hears the ringing of the bell.

Best Quote: “Sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” -Conductor

21. ‘The Year Without a Santa Claus’ (1974)

After “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964) and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (1970), Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass delivered another classic of stop-motion animation based on Phyllis McGinley’s 1956 book. Mickey Rooney returns to voice Santa Claus, who comes down with a cold and considers taking a year off from the sleigh, while Shirley Booth voices Mrs. Claus, sending a pair of elves named Jingle and Jangle to find proof that people still believe in Santa. Along the way, they encounter Mother Nature’s bickering twin sons, Mr. Snow Miser (Dick Shawn) and Mr. Heat Miser (George S. Irving), who deliver a pair of show-stopping tunes.

Best Scene: Mr. Snow Miser and Mr. Heat Miser deliver dueling dance numbers.

Best Quote: “Oh, come now! If Santa stayed home, why, there would be no Christmas!” -Mrs. Claus

20. ‘A Garfield Christmas Special’ (1987)

Everyone’s favorite feline smartass contributed a classic cartoon in the Christmas canon with this Emmy-nominated TV special. As Jon brings Garfield and Odie to his grandmother’s house, Jon and brother Doc Boy become kids again waiting for Christmas morning. The cynic Garfield throws internal monologue jabs at the giddy family, but comes to embrace the giving spirit as he finds a stack of old letters and delivers them to the grandmother in her rocking chair.

Best Scene: Odie gives Garfield a homemade back-scratcher.

Best Line: “Permit me one sentimental moment here, will you? I have something to say. Christmas: it’s not the giving, it’s not the getting, it’s the loving. There, I said it. Now get outta here.” -Garfield

19. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ (1974)

Five years after Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. brought us “Frosty the Snowman,” they brought us another classic of holiday hand-drawn animation. Joel Gray follows his wild Oscar win for “Cabaret” (1972) by providing the calm voice of Joshua Trundle, a struggling clockmaker assigned to build a special clock tower to win back Santa Claus after an anonymous letter causes Santa to ban the town from his list of Christmas Eve stops. Things go awry when a genius kid mouse (Tammy Grimes) meddles with the gears and breaks the clock, but Father Mouse (Emmy-winner George Gobel) steps in and teaches him a lesson, inspiring the boy to fix the clock before the titular storybook night arrives.

Best Scene: The Trundles sing “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand.”

Best Line: “You don’t know as much as you think, because you only think with your head.” -Father Mouse

18. ‘Christmas Eve on Sesame Street’ (1978)

Winner of the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program, this timeless “Sesame Street” TV special is an underrated classic. Big Bird worries when Oscar the Grouch tells him Santa can’t fit down the chimney; the gang performs a chain whip at the skating rink; Bert and Ernie fret over finding each other presents (i.e. The Gift of the Magi); and Kermit and Grover learn that kids say the darndest things. By the end, you’ll remember to “Keep Christmas with you all through the year” — a reminder that holiday charity shouldn’t be relegated to a single day — and if that isn’t a true-blue miracle, I don’t know what one is.

Best Scene: Cookie Monster writes a letter to Santa, but devours his pencil, typewriter and telephone.

Best Line: “I’m freezing my giblets.” -Big Bird

17. ‘A Muppet Family Christmas’ (1987)

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) may be Jim Henson’s most famous Christmas effort, but his finest is the 1987 TV special “A Muppet Family Christmas.” IMDB voters agree, voting it a stellar 8.1, compared to 7.7 for “A Muppet Christmas Carol.” Here, Kermit anxiously waits for Miss Piggy to battle a blizzard en route to Fozzie’s mother’s farm, where Fraggle Rock jams in the basement. The “Sesame Street” gang even makes a surprise visit for some rare cross-promotion, creating unique pairings like Swedish Chef trying to baste Big Bird with his signature gibberish, or Animal finding a wild soulmate in the Cookie Monster. Tying the whole thing together is a running gag of an icy patch at the front door, sending each new entrant for a spill.

Best Scene: Dr. Teeth & Electric Mayhem interrupt Kermit’s wholesome rendition of “Jingle Bells” with their own upbeat version of “Jingle Bell Rock.”

Best Line: “Look out for the icy patch!” -Various Muppets

16. ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)

Tim Burton’s stop-motion classic tells the tale of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), King of Halloweentown, who stumbles across Christmastown and doesn’t understand the concept. That is until he wins the love of Sally (Catherine O’Hara) while thwarting a Santa kidnapping attempt. Thus, Jack and Sally became the perfect alternative romance for ’90s youth listening to Fiona Apple, who memorably covered “Sally’s Song.” Other homages followed — Amy Lee, Blink 182, Korn and Marilyn Manson — but nothing compared to Danny Elfman’s vocals on the insanely catchy number “What’s This?” The film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects and would have surely won if it weren’t the year of “Jurassic Park” (1993).

Best Scene: Jack and Sally realize they are “simply meant to be.”

Best Line: “What’s this? There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads?” -Jack Skellington

15. ‘White Christmas’ (1954)

When Clark Griswold insists, “We’re gonna have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f’n Kaye,” this is the Christmas classic he’s referencing. With the exception of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), you won’t find a male dancing duo as charming as this one. Add Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt) and Vera-Ellen (“On the Town”) and you have a fabulous foursome dropping some of the fanciest footsteps ever to hit the silver screen. Directed by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca”) and choreographed by Bob Fosse (“Cabaret”), the film was the first ever shot in widescreen VistaVision — Paramount’s answer to CinemaScope — and its vibrant Technicolor shows off the costumes of Edith Head (“Vertigo”). Still, the biggest contributor is songwriter Irving Berlin (“Top Hat”), who provides a string of gems, including “Sisters,” “Snow” and the Oscar-nominated “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” not to mention a reprise of “White Christmas,” which Crosby first sang to Oscar-winning effect in “Holiday Inn” (1942). The result is a fireside family flick summed up by Crosby himself: “A lot of schmaltz and plenty of heart.”

Best Scene: Crosby teaches Clooney to “count her blessings” at an empty piano bar in a Vermont lodge.

Best Line: “When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.” -Phil Davis

14. ‘The Shop Around the Corner’ (1940)

In the heartwarming original version of “You’ve Got Mail” (1998), Jimmy Stewart left handwritten notes in post-office parcels for Margaret Sullavan. The two play unsuspecting secret admirers working at Matuschek & Co., a Budapest gift shop run by Frank Morgan in a memorable role just a year after “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). As the shop gears up for the Christmas rush, tensions flare and romance buds between two hearts that are pen pals by night and work rivals by day. The film is an undisputed classic not just for the Christmas season, but all year long, thanks to the trademark “Lubitsch Touch” of director Ernst Lubitsch, who reunites with screenwriter Samson Raphaelson after “Trouble in Paradise” (1932) to provide an adorable window into holiday shopping.

Best Scene: Stewart realizes the identity of his pen pal as he arrives for a face-to-face meeting.

Best Line: “My heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there.” -Klara

13. ‘Frosty the Snowman’ (1969)

The song “Frosty the Snowman” may have been first recorded by Gene Autry in 1950, but the version that plays in our heads is Jimmy Durante’s rendition from this 1969 hand-drawn animation by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. Durante also narrates as a group of school kids witness a magic hat bring a snowman to life one day. They dub him Frosty — with a corncob pipe and a button nose — as Karen embarks on a mission to bring Frosty to a colder climate to prevent him from melting, while failed magician Professor Hinkle nips at their heels in an attempt to steal back his hat. When Frosty turns “wishy washy” in a greenhouse full of poinsettias, it’s up to Santa to save the day. As Frosty declares, “He’ll be back again someday,” we know we only have to wait a year to see this TV classic again.

Best Scene: Frosty and Karen escape Hinkle by Frosty’s belly slide “over the hills of snow.”

Best Line: “Happy Birthday!” -Frosty’s first words

12. ‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’ (1970)

After landing hits with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964) and “The Little Drummer Boy” (1968), the legendary stop-motion duo of Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. followed up with another Christmas classic. Narrated by the incomparable Fred Astaire, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” tells the origins of countless Santa traditions: how the big man got his name, his “ho ho” laugh, his flying reindeer and his stocking-stuffer habit. Along the way, Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney) wins the heart of schoolteacher Jessica (Robie Lester), melts the heart of the Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn) and routinely outsmarts the toy-banning Burgermeister Meisterburger (Paul Frees). Featuring some fabulous tunes, including “Put One Foot In Front of the Other” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the film was so successful that Rooney reprised his role four years later in “The Year Without a Santa Claus” (1974).

Best Scene: The Kringles discover baby Kris on their doorstep and refer to each other by their rhyming names: Ringle, Dingle, Zingle, Tingle and Wingle.

Best Line: “Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful and anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon!” -Burgermeister Meisterburger

11. ‘Elf’ (2003)

The very same year Will Ferrell went streaking in “Old School” (2003), he donned a green suit and pointy shoes as Buddy the Elf. In a classic “fish out of water” story, Buddy is an adult-sized elf who literally doesn’t “fit in” at the North Pole. He packs his bags for New York City, but has trouble adapting to the real world. Ferrell plays the part with superior innocence, backed by a stellar supporting cast: Ed Asner (“Mary Tyler Moore”), Bob Newhart (“The Bob Newhart Show”), James Caan (“The Godfather”) and Zooey Deschanel (“500 Days of Summer”), who recorded her own duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for the soundtrack. Director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) later reunited with “Swingers” co-star Vince Vaughn for the inferior “Four Christmases” (2008) before launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Iron Man” (2008).

Best Scene: Buddy freaks when he learns Santa is coming to the department store.

Best Line: “It’s just like Santa’s workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they wanna hurt me.” -Buddy upon seeing the mail room

10. ‘The Santa Clause’ (1994)

On TV’s “Home Improvement” (1991), Tim Allen always delivered best around the holidays, whether it was watching a church choir misspell “NOEL” or battling Doc Johnson in neighborhood lighting contests. It was only fitting that Allen’s first foray into movies — a year before Buzz Lightyear — would cast him as Kris Kringle. Here, the grunting Toolman plays single father Scott Calvin, who accidentally kills Santa on Christmas Eve. To please his son, he puts on Santa’s suit, but forgets to read the fine print, thus falling victim to “the Santa clause.” It’s a magical pact that forces him to assume St. Nick’s identity, freaking out his boss and ex-wife, but bringing him immeasurably closer to his son. With a supporting cast that includes Judge Reinhold (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Peter Boyle (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), “The Santa Clause” was such a hit that it launched an entire trilogy that grossed more than $473 million in worldwide box office.

Best Scene: A doctor’s stethoscope hears Scott’s heartbeat beating to the tune of “Jingle Bells.”

Best Line: “Who gave you permission to tell Charlie there was no Santa Claus? I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions, I should be a part of it.” -Scott Calvin

9. ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (1947)

Fifty years after a New York Sun editorial declared, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” Hollywood captured the same magical reassurance in “Miracle on 34th Street.” The Oscar-winning script follows a New Yorker named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), who’s put on trial for insanity because he insists he is Santa Claus. The only one who believes him is young Susan Walker (Natalie Wood), who tries to convince both her mother (Maureen O’Hara) and lawyer neighbor (John Payne) to defend his case. The film was nominated for Best Picture, won Gwenn the Oscar, launched Wood’s career and memorably featured Gene Lockhart (“His Girl Friday”) and William Frawley (“I Love Lucy”). Voted No. 9 on the AFI’s 100 Cheers, the tale romanticized the notion of shopping at Macy’s and ensured the staying power of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The pop culture impact continues decades later, from the opening scene playing on a kitchen TV set in “Home Alone” (1990) to the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough (“Gandhi”) and Mara Wilson (“Matilda”).

Best Scene: Kringle’s defense lawyers dump baskets of “Letters to Santa” onto the judge’s bench, a time capsule to a lost era of the U.S. Postal Service.

Best Line: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial; it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.” -Fred Gailey

8. ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ (1966)

The Ron Howard remake may be one of the highest grossing Christmas movies of all time, but much of its success came from the public’s adoration of the 1966 animated original. Despite the hilarity of Jim Carrey, critics ranked the remake a mediocre 49% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the public gave it a measly 6.2 on IMDB. Those scores don’t hold a Christmas candle to the original’s 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.3 on IMDB. Narrated by Boris Karloff (“Frankenstein”) and directed by the legendary Chuck Jones (“Looney Tunes”), the famous Dr. Seuss story rhymes its tale of the grumpy Grinch, who lives atop a snow-covered mountain and hates the joyful sounds of Whoville below. He becomes so fed up with holiday cheer that he sabotages Christmas Eve for the Whos, only to realize Christmas means more to them than presents. The montage of the sabotage has become legendary for its song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” performed by Thurl Ravenscroft and written by Albert Hague and Seuss himself.

Best Scene: The Grinch ransacks Whoville, stealing everything including the roast beast.

Best Line: “The Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” -Narrator

7. ‘Home Alone’ (1990)

Written by John Hughes (“The Breakfast Club”) and directed by Chris Columbus (“Mrs. Doubtfire”), “Home Alone” took the simple premise of a child pranking robbers and turned Macaulay Culkin into a cheek-slapping child star. Catherine O’Hara and John Heard are perfectly frantic parents; John Candy propels a good Samaritan subplot recalling “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987); and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Wet Bandits are the most lovable crooks ever to hit the screen, the same year Pesci won his Oscar for “Goodfellas” (1990). The film also features the best Christmas soundtrack around with Chuck Berry’s “Run Rudolph Run,” The Drifters’ “White Christmas” and Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” all on top of an Oscar-nominated John Williams score. Not only was “Home Alone” the top-grossing movie of 1990, but it also remains the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time (adjusted for inflation), inspiring numerous sequels, including “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992).

Best Scene: A church choir sings “O Holy Night” as Kevin has a “Boo Radley” moment, learning that Old Man Marley isn’t the boogeyman he thought he was.

Best Line: “Keep the change, ya filthy animal.” -Kevin quoting a gangster flick

6. ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989)

When we think of John Hughes, we think of the Brat Pack, from “The Breakfast Club” (1985) to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). Too often we forget he also delivered a “trilogy” of holiday flicks. Sandwiched between “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” (1987) and “Home Alone” (1990) was “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” a sequel to Hughes’ original script for “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983) that sent the Griswold family to Wally World. Six years later, he had them stay home, as Clark (Chevy Chase) hosts a “full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency.” How does one choose a favorite scene? Clark stringing Christmas lights. The waxed saucer sled. Aunt Bethany’s senile comments. The tree squirrel. The exploding turkey. Along the way, we’re greeted by a powerful supporting cast, namely Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, the ultimate example of trailer park trash with a heart of gold.

Best Scene: Aunt Bethany says the Pledge of Allegiance instead of grace, who “passed away 30 years ago.”

Best Line: “Hallelujah, holy sh*t! Where’s the Tylenol?” -Clark Griswold

5. ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ (1965)

Charles M. Schulz invented the Peanuts gang in 1950, but the cartoon group didn’t hit prime-time until this 1965 CBS special. It was so successful that the network aired a follow-up, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (1966), making Brown the original king of Halloweentown and Christmastown (take that Jack Skellington). Filled with legendary music by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, from “Christmas Time is Here” to the de-facto Peanuts theme song “Linus and Lucy,” the program won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award for its artful presentation. It has aired every Christmas since, cementing a number of priceless moments in our memories, from Snoopy decorating his doghouse to the entire gang bobbing to Schroeder’s piano. Three years later, Schulz would break new ground by creating the Black character Franklin in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968.

Best Scene: Linus takes his blanky on stage to explain: “That’s what Christmas is really all about.”

Best Line: “I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” -Charlie Brown

4. ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (1964)

The greatest of all the Rankin/Bass stop-motion classics, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” could very well be the favorite of many a Christmas viewer. The iconic shiny-nosed character was invented for a Montgomery Ward catalog in 1939, before being popularized by country singer Gene Autry a decade later. Yet it was this 1964 TV special that cemented its version of the story in our minds with Rudolph’s parents trying to cover his shiny nose, Clarice thinking he’s cute, Rudolph meeting Hermey the dental-aspiring elf, the arrival of loudmouthed prospector Yukon Cornelius, their stop on the Island of Misfit Toys and their dangerous encounter with the Abominable. Above all, Burl Ives is a charming guide as the snowman narrator, singing “Silver and Gold,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Best Scene: The misfit toys sing about their fatal flaws, including a Charlie in the Box and a cowboy who rides an ostrich.

Best Line: “Hermey doesn’t like to make toys!” -Santa’s Elves

3. ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1951)

Over the years, there have been so many great versions of the classic Dickens tale, including the early 1938 talkie with Reginald Owen, the 1962 animation with Jim Backus as Mr. Magoo, the 1970 musical with Albert Finney, the 1983 Disney animation with Scrooge McDuck, the 1984 version with George C. Scott, the 1988 spinoff with Bill Murray, the 1992 Muppet rendition with Michael Caine, and the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart. Still, none have nailed the role of Ebenezer Scrooge quite like Alastair Sim, whose “bah humbug” is as cold as they come and whose “second chance” jubilation will never be topped for making viewers smile. For some reason, this version rarely airs on television, perhaps because it’s a 1951 British production, but do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy. To these eyes, it’s the definitive version of one of literature’s greatest works, painting the fullest picture of Scrooge’s past, present and future in gritty black-and-white, a true depiction of Dickensian inequality on the cold streets of London.

Best Scene: The terrifying arrival of Jacob Marley’s ghost with clocks tolling and spirits moaning.

Best Line: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” -The Ghost of Christmas Present using Scrooge’s own words against him.

2. ‘A Christmas Story’ (1983)

“Stand by Me” (1986). “The Wonder Years” (1988). “The Sandlot” (1993). Each is a coming-of-age classic in its own right, but all three pull their nostalgic voice-over from their unrivaled predecessor “A Christmas Story.” Writer/director Bob Clark and writer/narrator Jean Shepherd crafted the story from semi-autobiographical events, following young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) in 1940s Indiana as he tries desperately to convince his parents, teachers and Santa Claus that all he wants for Christmas is a “Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.” One by one, they tell him the painful truth about his elusive BB gun: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Starring Darren McGavin (“Billy Madison”) and Melinda Dillon (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) as the lovable parents, the film is full of priceless moments: Randy’s stubborn approach to meatloaf; Flick’s tongue on a frozen playground pole; Ralphie’s Orphan Annie decoder ring; the arrival of the “fragile” leg lamp; Ralphie whipping bully Scut Farkus; a grouchy department store Santa’s slide; and a “pink nightmare” pajama gift. The pop culture impact is everywhere, from Jeff Daniels sticking his tongue to a pole in “Dumb and Dumber” (1994) to ESPN featuring the leg lamp on the set of “Pardon the Interruption.” Since 1997, the Turner networks have aired 24-hour marathons on Christmas Day, meaning you could conceivably watch the film 12 times in a row. For this reason alone, you could easily call “A Christmas Story” the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It’s the only flick I would consider swapping for the top spot.

Best Scene: Ralphie spills his father’s lug nuts and says, “Fudge.” Only he doesn’t say “fudge.”

Best Line: “Schwartz created a slight breach of etiquette by skipping the Triple Dare and going right for the throat.” -Ralphie’s narration

1. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)

For a film that has become such a fixture in our homes each holiday season, it’s amazing how much “It’s a Wonderful Life” still surprises viewers with the same reaction: “I forgot how dark it is.” That’s because director Frank Capra uses the holidays as a framing device for an in-depth character study into one man’s life of disappointment, exploring the dark depths of his fears, dreams and regrets in order for him to appreciate his very existence. As critic David Thomson writes, “The film that had failed in 1947 had become a token of uplifting fellowship, yet it was a film noir full of regret, self-pity and the temptation of suicide. How could so many people convince themselves that it was cheery?”

The answer can only be that Capra shines through the darkness with such blinding truth. It’s a fable of mankind’s interconnectedness, where each of us is an irremovable cog in a wheel where you can only take that which you have given and where no man is a failure who has friends. The proverbial “Capra-corn” is dished out in proper doses, proving we need the darkness to see the light; the lows to feel the highs; the despair to feel the inspiration. A teary-eyed Steven Spielberg once called it “a five hanky movie,” one of three he watches before shooting every film, while the AFI named it the most inspirational film of all time. What better tribute than the fact that Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart always considered “It’s a Wonderful Life” the best movie either of them ever made?

Best Scene: George realizes he wants to live again, finds Zuzu’s petals in his pocket and races down the streets of Bedford Falls shouting, “Merry Christmas!”

Best Line: “A toast to my big brother George, the richest man in town.” -Harry Bailey

WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes Christmas TV specials (Part 2)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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