Christmas traditions are vast and varied, but one thing most people agree on to guarantee capturing and spreading the Christmas spirit is music. While some people argue over exactly when Christmas music should be played, as soon as the first leaf falls or not until the turkey has been carved, it really isn’t Christmas without Christmas music. So, what better way to spread Christmas spirit than a good old-fashioned Christmas musical? Here’s our – possibly contentious – top 5!
#5 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1964/1970)
Published in 1964 and 1970 respectively, these two made-for-television Christmas movies manage to still hold up after decades as Christmas staples.
While made at different times, both films are the result of the Rankin/Bass duo of Christmas entertainment of the time. Both are usually shown together and are the perfect 1-2 combo to put anyone in the Christmas mood.
Rudolph’s message about acceptance and being true to yourself, and Santa’s tale of everyone being worthy of love, plus singing greats like Fred Astaire and Burl Ives capture the snowy, holiday spirit of the season.
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#4 The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
There have been countless versions of Dickens’ Christmas classic tale of Scrooge, but the musical treatment by Henson and Company of The Muppet Christmas Carol is by far the most entertaining.
Narrated by Gonzo as Dickens and a mouthy rat sidekick named Rizzo, they keep the story moving forward.
Michael Caine is the perfect Scrooge, uttering “Humbug” at any mention of Christmas. He is visited first by the ghosts of the Marleys, played by the infamous crotchety old men, Statler and Waldorf, who love to insult everyone and then laugh at themselves.
Ebenezer is then visited by the traditional three Christmas spirits, past, present, and future, with plenty of catchy, original songs along the way. Standouts are ‘One More Sleep Til Christmas’ sung by Kermit as Bob Cratchit; ‘It Feels Like Christmas’ by the Ghost of Christmas Present; and ‘Bless Us All’ by Kermit and Miss Piggy and the rest of the Cratchit family, complete with Robin the Frog as Tiny Tim.
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#3 Elf (2003)
Before Jon Favreau became a Mandalorian legend, both writing and producing the hit series, he directed this holiday must see.
While not technically a musical by the traditional formula, this movie is jam packed with wonderful Christmas music – and who doesn’t love a grown man parading around New York City in an elf costume?
The backdrop of New York City at Christmastime serves as the palette that Will Ferrell uses to paint the story of Buddy the Elf attempting to find and connect with his long lost biological father (James Caan). Spoiler – he’s on the naughty list!
Zooey Deschanel captures perfectly the typical New Yorker ‘just trying to get through the holidays’ while having to dress as an elf working at Macy’s. Deschanel and Farrell’s impromptu version of ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ will put a smile on anyone’s face (if it’s too much, watch Netflix’s Love Hard for a more politically correct version.) Regardless of how you feel about the 1944 song, the central message of this movie is all about Christmas music, stating, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”
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#2 Rent (2005)
Adapted for the screen from the Broadway musical that ran for twelve years from 1996 to 2008, this is not your typical feel-good Christmas musical, but instead follows a group of lost twenty-somethings on the streets of New York City on Christmas eve, at a time where homelessness and AIDS were dominating the landscape.
Jonathan Larson wrote the story and lyrics, but in a cruel twist right out of a Hollywood flick, Larson would suffer from an aortic aneurysm on the eve of the musical debuting, and die suddenly.
Rent was his third attempt at writing a musical, and had only seen failure up to this point. However, with the revival of his second auto-biographical musical recently being released as a full-length musical movie, directed by Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame and named Tick Tick BOOM!, this classic should definitely be revisited.
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#1 White Christmas (1954)
While not the first movie to contain the number one Irving Berlin Christmas classic, White Christmas is absolutely the must-see Christmas musical.
This movie doesn’t just have singing, it has singing by the great Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. The dancing isn’t just dancing, it’s Vera-Ellen, all long legged and graceful. Danny Kaye rounds out the cast for some comic relief, and holds his own with singing and dancing as well.
This flick is perfect to curl up with on the couch, with some hot cocoa, and your honey under a blanket, and watch the old timey tale of two men trying to save an inn that belongs to their old commander, and falling in love with some beautiful ladies at the same time.
This is the type of movie that set the bar high for musicals on the big screen that had story, song, huge choreographed musical numbers, and big-time names to pack the seats. It was an enormous hit, pulling in $12 million back in 1954 (that would be over $115M+ today), and still to this day ‘White Christmas’ is one of the most listened to Christmas songs every year.
As both a Christmas lover and a musical lover, this list was difficult to narrow down to just five. Honourable mentions are Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), Holiday Inn (1942), and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966); and musicals that aren’t necessarily Christmas-themed but are watched every year at Christmastime, Babes in Toyland (1961), The Sound of Music (1965), and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Which Christmas musicals are part of your family’s tradition to watch every year?