12 Best Christmas Musicals
Sing into the season with our hand-picked list of holiday musicals, from the familiar to the random.
You know the usual suspects: White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the rest of the Christmas musicals you see ticked off on holiday listicles year after year. Most of them came out before your parents (or parents’ parents) were born.
What if we told you there are other Christmas musicals? We’ve compiled 12 of our favorite off-the-beaten-reindeer-trail musical yuletide movies and specials—and a couple of classics; we’re not complete hipsters—to stream this season.
A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
When his star-studded Christmas variety special gets canceled due to a snowstorm, Bill Murray (Bill Murray) sings it up with the staff and guests at his New York City hotel. A Very Murray Christmas’s crooning guest list includes Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Jenny Lewis, Maya Rudolph, Rashida Jones, and indie-pop band Phoenix. Murray and Lewis even turn in a non-creepy take on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in this new Christmas classic.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
Toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), in a creative slump years after being betrayed by his apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key), rediscovers his passion for inventing when he learns he has a like-minded granddaughter. The color-splashed Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey features all-new original music, as well as fanciful high-flying theatrics (the movie was meant to be a stage play). If you’re looking for something completely fresh for the season, check out Jingle Jangle.
The Mistle-Tones (2012)
Singer Holly (Tia Mowry-Hardrict) hopes to audition for a Christmas vocal group founded by her late mother, only to find out the spot has gone to tone-deaf Marci (Tori Spelling). Upset, Holly forms her own group, the Mistle-Tones, and challenges the other to a Christmas Eve sing-off—but not before falling for dreamy fellow Mistle-Tone Nick (Jonathan Patrick Moore). The Mistle-Tones has such a fervent cult following, it’s hard to believe there hasn’t been a sequel (yet).
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
OK, most everybody knows this one: Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is one of the most beloved Muppets-adjacent specials of all time. It holds up because of its central themes of friendship and putting others’ holiday wishes ahead of your own, not to mention a solid suite of original tunes by Paul Williams. Also, even though they’re technically the “villains” of the story, you can’t help but bang your head to the Riverbottom Nightmare Band’s theme song.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Of the hundreds (thousands?) of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol remains the most Muppet-y. Led by Michael Caine in unblinking dramatic mode as Ebenezer Scrooge, this Christmas Carol features all-original music and a full slate of Muppets in various roles: Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie, Animal, Sam Eagle, The Great Gonzo, Rizzo, Statler & Waldorf, and even the Swedish Chef (typecast as a cook).
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Is it a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? Why not be happy with both? The Nightmare Before Christmas, wildly inventive in ’93, was originally considered by Disney to be too “dark” for the kiddies—were they ever wrong. The stop-motion animated story of Halloween king Jack Skellington attempting a hostile takeover of Christmas is still visually stunning and features killer wall-to-wall Danny Elfman music. Again, don’t get hung up on the holiday specifics.
Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)
Like Shaun of the Dead meets High School Musical at Christmastime, Anna and the Apocalypse is a charming indie flick full of heart and catchy original songs—and blood and guts. Anna (Ella Hunt) and her high school friends stab, kick, and sing their way through a zombie horde that’s invaded their sleepy Scottish town of Little Haven, thoroughly ruining the holidays for everyone. If you like your Christmas movies a little weird, Anna and the Apocalypse is for you.
Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020)
Another twist on A Christmas Carol, Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square finds wealthy Regina (Christine Baranski) returning to her hometown to celebrate Christmas in her own way: by threatening to evict everybody and sell the land to developers. Fortunately, the aptly named Angel (Parton) shows up to help cold Regina warm-up through song and good ole Southern charm. Last year, Christmas on the Square became the first holiday movie in forever to win an Emmy.
Babes in Toyland (1986)
Victor Herbert’s 1903 operetta Babes in Toyland has been remade many a time; in 1986, NBC produced it as a TV movie with future superstars Keanu Reeves and Drew Barrymore. The story: During a Christmas Eve blizzard, 11-year-old Lisa (Barrymore) is magically transported to Toyland, just in time to help Jack Be Nimble (Reeves) stop the evil Barnaby Barnacle (Richard Mulligan) from taking the place over. Unfortunately, Reeves doesn’t get his John Wick on.
How Murray Saved Christmas (2014)
The town of Stinky Cigars is so named to keep out tourists because it’s actually the secret home of holiday stars like the Easter Bunny, Cupid, and Santa Claus. When Santa is injured on Christmas Eve, it’s up to Edison Elf (voiced by Sean Hayes) and cranky local deli owner Murray (Jerry Stiller) to get the sleigh job done—the logic being, Murray’s great at delivering sandwiches, so why not toys? Adults can have fun counting the subtle Seinfeld references.
South Park (1995–2014)
Don’t think raunchy cartoon South Park has the holiday spirit? The series has produced 10 Christmas episodes over 24 seasons, each featuring a mix of traditional and (offensive) original songs. They include “The Spirit of Christmas” (1995), “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo” (1997), “Merry Christmas Charlie Manson” (1998), “Red Sleigh Down” (2002), “It’s Christmas in Canada” (2003), and the classic “Woodland Critter Christmas” (2004). Maybe don’t let the kiddies watch.
Die Hard (1988)
Hear us out: not only is action classic Die Hard a Christmas movie, it could be argued that it’s also a Christmas musical. Soundtrack composer Michael Kamen sprinkles holiday-hinting bells and trumpets throughout the film and even throws in a sinisterly shrouded “Winter Wonderland.” You can also hear “Ode to Joy,” “Let it Snow,” and one of the greatest holiday hits of all time, Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis.” Yippee-ki-yay, Santa’s helper!