With the countdown to Christmas already starting, movie lovers and film fans have started scouring their TV Guides — or more realistically online alternatives — for their favorite seasonal favorites.
To make life easy, we’ve looked ahead throughout the entire month of December, picking the best holiday films playing on TV throughout the month, with streaming alternatives for the days where only clunkers are airing.
Friday, Dec. 1
‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’
7:05 p.m. Freeform
There’s no better way to kick off your holiday season than by watching Chevy Chase frantically fail at celebrating his. This third entry in the Vacation series sees the return of writer John Hughes, and is the debut film of music video director Jeremiah Chechik, who had a minor hit with “Benny and Joon” before the critical and commercial tanking of 1999’s “The Avengers” — not the one with superheroes — torpedoed his film career.
Saturday, Dec. 2
‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’ and ‘Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas’
Plop the kids down for an early morning double feature of Disney classics. First, is the 1983 theatrical cartoon “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” which casts Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge, and Disney characters from throughout their library as other literary characters. The short, released alongside a theatrical re-release of “The Rescuers,” was Mickey’s first theatrical release in 30 years. The short is then followed by the 1999 collection of Disney’s holiday and winter-themed shorts.
Sunday, Dec. 3
‘My Christmas Prince’
8 p.m. Lifetime
No holiday season is complete without some original direct-to-cable Christmas movies, which bring the perfect blend of irony and sincerity to your holiday marathons. This year, Lifetime is premiering “My Christmas Prince,” a film where Alexis Knapp falls in love with a visiting European diplomat from the made-up country Madelvia. Will their love continue when she learns that he’s actually a Madelvian prince?
Monday, Dec. 4
‘Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town’ and ‘The Year Without a Santa Claus’
4:30 and 5:35 p.m.
Animation legends Rankin/Bass, were the holiday kings, creating nearly every stop-motion classic that gets played every holiday season, from Rudolph to the Little Drummer Boy. These are two of the best and most-loved animated specials, which oddly enough follow the progression of superhero sequels. “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” tells of Santa’s origin, while “The Year Without a Santa Claus” features the jolly old elf losing his faith in humanity and hanging up the coat, just like in “Superman 2,” “Spider-Man 2” and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.”
Tuesday, Dec. 5
9 p.m. Freeform
Nobody plays a better scumbag that Bill Murray, and his turn from cold-hearted curmudgeon to friend of the people is more believable here than in most “Christmas Carol” adaptations. “Lethal Weapon” director Richard Donner takes another go at Christmas and fills the edges of the film with some biting television satire surrounding the classic ghost story.
Wednesday, Dec. 6
Streaming on HBO Go
After only a year, Michael Dougherty’s “Krampus,” about a family stalked by Santa’s evil counterpart, is already staking its claim as a holiday favorite for those looking for a horrific night before Christmas. Christmas horror films have a long history — dating back to “Black Christmas” which kicked off the slasher craze in 1974 — but “Krampus” blends genuine scares with enough family-friendly content to make it appropriate for older kids.
When it was released, this holiday comedy, directed by Brian Levant of “The Flintstones,” “Beethoven” and “Problem Child 2” was another step in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fall from the A-list. Now, more than 20 years out, nostalgia has turned “Jingle All the Way” into a quaint time capsule, teaming a former governor with Sinbad, Phil Hartman and Jake Lloyd of “The Phantom Menace” for the perfect storm of ‘90s stars.
Friday, Dec. 8
‘A Christmas Carol’
8 p.m. TCM
Frankly, there are probably too many adaptations of Dickens’ classic tale, but if you can only watch one, you could do a lot worse than this 1951 adaptation starring Alastair Sim. Response to the film was mixed upon its initial premiere, but in the years since, Sim’s unique sympathetic portrayal of Scrooge has helped this rendition stand out among its imitators.
Saturday, Dec. 9
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
8 p.m. NBC
The Christmas classic of the holiday season, “It’s a Wonderful Life” actually didn’t reach audiences during its initial theatrical release. It was early television’s need for cheap programming that turned “It’s a Wonderful Life” into a holiday staple. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, losing out to “The Best Years of Our Lives” in four categories. The film did receive a special Technical Achievement Award for their new recipe for fake snow, replacing noisy painted cornflakes with a quieter soap-based recipe.
Sunday, Dec. 10
Robert Mitchum stepped outside of his niche of being a terrifying force in film noir and thrillers for this holiday romance also starring Janet Leigh. Leigh is a secret shopper who accidentally gets Mitchum fired from his department store gig. Despite the trouble at the start, the two begin to fall for each other.
Monday, Dec. 11
Streaming on Netflix and Hulu
Put the kids to bed before checking out this filthy, modern holiday classic. The film, with Billy Bob Thornton as a foul-mouthed mall Santa has a surprising amount of heart for a movie with this reputation.
This stop-motion film directed by Henry Sellick — no, Tim Burton didn’t direct, he was too busy finishing “Batman Returns” to be on set for this — almost immediately became a holiday classic both for children and angsty teens who have fallen in love with the iconography. The film features some of our most underrated actors including Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara and songs from former Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman.
Wednesday, Dec. 13
‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’
Streaming on HBO Go
Another day, another “Christmas Carol” adaptation. This one is worth seeing just for the sheer dedication Michael Caine brings to emoting opposite a bunch of sacks of felt. If you can find it, the out-of-print “Muppet Family Christmas” is also worth a watch, as it brings together the Muppets, Sesame Street characters and Fraggles for the first time.
Thursday, Dec. 14
‘A Very Murray Christmas’
Streaming on Netflix
This Sophia Coppola special isn’t big on plot, but its amiable chill vibe is perfect for late-night viewing. Murray plays himself snowed into a hotel on Christmas eve and he’s joined by an eclectic mix of stars including George Clooney, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Jason Schwartzman and Miley Cyrus.
Friday, Dec. 15
‘The Shop Around the Corner’
8 p.m. TCM
Somehow less dated than the ‘90s remake, “You’ve Got Mail,” this film features Margaret Sullavan and Christmas legend James Stewart. In 1999, the romance was added to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, preserving it for future generations.
Saturday, Dec. 16
8 p.m. Hallmark Channel
Nobody puts people on the ground churning out Christmas content like the Hallmark Channel. With dozens of TV movies released each year, it can be hard to figure out which ones are worth your time. “Christmas Shuttle” has a more novel premise than most, with a child traveling alone who decides to set up an attractive flight attendant with his single dad.
These live remakes of popular films have been popular since NBC released “The Sound of Music Live!” in 2013. Half genuine expression of joy, half ironic fodder for live-tweeting, these specials perfectly blend the old and the new in terms of media consumption. This musical adaptation of the classic film features Matthew Broderick, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and Jane Krakowski.
Monday, Dec. 18
9:50 p.m. Freeform
Before kicking off the most recent superhero wave with “Iron Man,” Jon Favreau got his big-budget start with this modern holiday classic. The film combines live action and stop motion elements with equal ease as its blend of cynicism and heart.
Tuesday, Dec. 19
‘Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’
Streaming on Netflix
One of the most joyous and creative holiday specials of all time, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse invited more counter-culture guest stars to their Christmas party than just about any John Waters film. This special features Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, the Del Rubio Triplets, Charo, Magic Johnson, Grace Jones, k.d. Lang, Little Richard, Joan Rivers, Dinah Shore, Oprah Winfrey and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Wednesday, Dec. 20
‘The Santa Clause’
8:50 p.m. Freeform
Single-handedly responsible for making a generation of folks unable to spell Santa Claus correctly, “The Santa Clause” screenplay was originally saddled with the unwieldy title “Arose Such a Clatter.” A clever update to the Santa mythos — minus the murdering Santa angle from the first act —“ The Santa Clause” takes a very distinct corporate ‘90s look at the big guy.
Thursday, Dec. 21
‘Toy Story that Time Forgot’
6:20 p.m. Freeform
Holiday specials aren’t just based on the well-loved properties of the past. The new generation gets a chance to see their favorite characters in the Christmas season as well. This short film starring the “Toy Story” characters debuted after the release of “Toy Story 3” and has grown into a minor classic.
Friday, Dec. 22
‘I Love Lucy Christmas Special,’ ‘Dick Van Dyke Special’
Introduce the kids to some of the funniest comedians of the early-television era with these back-to-back specials airing on CBS. The “I Love Lucy” special pairs “The Christmas Episode” flashing back to the birth of Little Ricky and “The Fashion Show” best known for Lucy’s enormous headdress. The special will be followed by two episodes of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” prominently featuring Mary Tyler Moore who passed away in January. Caution to purists, all four episodes have been digitally colorized to convince younger folks to give them a shot.
Saturday, Dec. 23
Streaming on Netflix
This Christmas classic is one of the most beautiful films of the ‘50s, with artistically artificial matte paintings lending the entire picture a dreamlike quality. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are one of the best comedy duos in film and Vera-Ellen’s dancing must be seen.
Sunday, Dec. 24
‘The Bishop’s Wife’
8 p.m. TCM
There’s no better way to end Christmas Eve than with a black and white classic from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The Bishop’s Wife features Cary Grant playing against type as an angel — though he brings his usual charm to the proceedings — aiding a bishop through a spiritual crisis at Christmastime.
Producers fought creator Charles Schulz on nearly every aspect of this Christmas classic, from the experimental jazz score, to the use of actual children’s voices for the Peanuts gang to the decision to end the special with a Biblical sermon. Time has proven the genius cartoonist right, as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” stands up as one of the most artistically satisfying pieces in the Christmas special canon.