Christmas has the ability to make even the lousiest filmmaking feel warm and brilliant. Movies that are treacly and embarrassing become festive traditions, loudly mocked in the living room with family, yet affecting enough to somehow be watched every year.
They’re similarly the perfect accompaniment to entirely shutting out the world. Nothing happens on Twitter, the news tends to be uneventful, and shopping centres across the land are hateful miniature apocalypses that no one with sense will dare to tread.
So you really have no excuse not to curl up on the sofa and indulge in wall-to-wall cinema.
To help plan your festive viewing, here are the most exciting films to watch over the Christmas season...
Saturday 21 December
Newsies: The Broadway Musical, BBC2, 9.50am
A filmed version of the hit Broadway show inspired by the 1992 movie, Newsies is covered in Disney gloss and given warmth and heart via a charming book written by theatre legend Harvey Fierstein. There’s no Christian Bale singing his little heart out, as in the original film, but there is equally fine work from Jeremy Jordan and Kara Lindsay.
Daddy’s Home 2, Channel 4, 9.20pm
While nothing screams Christmas less than Mel Gibson, Daddy’s Home 2 is most striking for being the last gasp of the Hangover era of comedies – where men compete with one another to be strongest, funniest and most masculine, and their improbably beautiful wives and girlfriends tut and finger-wag on the sidelines. Like stepping into a time warp, but mildly amusing all the same.
Basic Instinct, ITV, 11.10pm
If Mel Gibson is far too dark for the start of your Christmas festivities, why not try Sharon Stone as a Machiavellian murder suspect with an allergy to clothes? This 1992 psychosexual mystery kickstarted the erotic thriller boom at the start of that decade, and remains deliciously fun to this day.
Sunday 22 December
Freaky Friday, Channel 4, 6.05am
A rare terrestrial showing of the original Jodie Foster-starring Freaky Friday, in which the actor stars alongside Barbara Harris as a daughter and mother who swap bodies. The absence of Pink Slip, the genuinely brilliant pop-punk band fronted by Lindsay Lohan in the 2003 remake, is very much felt, though Foster is superb.
Sister Act, Channel 5, 3pm
Whoopi Goldberg’s famed gospel comedy sees the star play a lounge singer who goes undercover as a nun after fleeing a gang of crooks. It’s incredibly silly, but Goldberg is marvellous.
Office Christmas Party, Channel 4, 10pm
A not-very-good comedy that would likely go straight to Netflix today, Office Christmas Party is an ensemble holiday movie that feels as if it were produced in a lab – throw in a couple of TV actors everyone likes (Jennifer Aniston, Jason Bateman), a flavour-of-the-month comic who is now very much disgraced (TJ Miller), a gorgeous brunette (Olivia Munn) and a Saturday Night Live star (Kate McKinnon in a turtleneck Xmas jumper), and voila, instant mediocrity!
Monday 23 December
The Santa Clause, ITV, 2.15pm
There’s far more David Cronenbergian body horror to The Santa Clause than you might remember, with Tim Allen literally transforming into Father Christmas, belly and all. Still great, though.
Gremlins, ITV, 10.45pm
A perennial Christmas classic, Gremlins is dark and scary and burns with a manic, vaguely deviant energy. It’s no wonder it’s catnip to any child allowed to watch it from behind a cushion.
The Manchurian Candidate, BBC2, 12.25am
Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury and Janet Leigh make up the enjoyably oddball cast of this classic conspiracy thriller. Prescient, spooky and deeply satirical, it revolves around brainwashed soldiers, political assassinations and sleeper agents, and was remade in 2004 with Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep.
The Grinch, ITV, 12.40pm
Controversially dumped from Netflix right before the Christmas season, The Grinch is making up for his streaming-service absence with an enviable broadcast slot on Christmas Eve. Jim Carrey is the green meanie attempting to ruin everyone’s festivities, with future Gossip Girl star and smudged-eyeliner aficionado Taylor Momsen as the tiny child who melts his heart.
Beauty and the Beast, BBC1, 5.30pm
Probably the best of Disney’s many live-action remakes of its animated back-catalogue, Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as an ambitious bookworm who falls in love with the beast of the title, played by Dan Stevens.
Home Alone, Channel 4, 5.30pm
A bonafide nostalgic classic, with a star-making central performance from Macaulay Culkin that is blissfully devoid of discomfort now that no one is worried about his health anymore. His character, plucky burglar-destroyer Kevin McCallister, is still undoubtedly a budding sociopath, but all the bright lights and snow is enough of a distraction.
Moana, BBC1, 12.55pm
A cheery Disney musical deserving of a bit more of a legacy than the one that it has, Moana is the tale of a Polynesian girl called upon by the ocean to save her people. Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the film’s songs, including the Oscar-nominated “How Far I’ll Go?”, but more importantly: Dwayne Johnson sings!
Back to the Future, Channel 4, 2.35pm
An Eighties classic with an inventive, never-bettered premise and sterling work from Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future remains a must-see for all cinema completists.
Finding Dory, BBC1, 3.10pm
Considering how often sequels to classic films go awry, Pixar has a remarkable track record for ones that work. Finding Dory, the belated follow-up to 2003’s Finding Nemo, positions Ellen DeGeneres’s forgetful fish centre stage after she comfortably stole the show in the first film.
Paddington 2, BBC1, 7.20pm
A masterpiece on its own but practically built for the Christmas TV schedules, Paddington 2 embodies exactly the kind of joyous alternate universe we need right now. Marvellously written, packed with wonderful cameos and a career-best performance from Hugh Grant, it’s a colourful balm for all of our modern ills.
Florence Foster Jenkins, BBC2, 11pm
And if you want more career-best Hugh Grant, there’s also Florence Foster Jenkins a few hours later. He’s the compassionate husband to Meryl Streep’s society lady of the title, who is desperate to become an opera star despite being unable to hold a note. This is feather-light but still pleasing.
The Wolf of Wall Street, Channel 4, 11.05pm
Don’t let The Wolf of Wall Street’s reputation as a birthplace for incels and right-wing nu-capitalists deter you from checking out what remains one of Martin Scorsese’s modern masterpieces. Vulgar and shot with a frantic zippiness, it’s cinema’s greatest use of Leonardo DiCaprio, while Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey and the literal Joanna Lumley provide winning support.
Friday 27 December
Emma, BBC2, 4.05pm
The most sprightly and aggressively commercial of Jane Austen’s film adaptations but also secretly the best, 1996’s Emma features a wonderfully charismatic performance from the then up-and-coming Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s also surrounded by a winning cast of stars, among them Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette and Alan Cumming.
The Limehouse Golem, BBC2, 9.30pm
As spooky and slippery as the cobblestone streets on which its set, The Limehouse Golem is a treat for lovers of period murder mysteries. There are vague Jack the Ripper allusions to this Victorian London thriller, as well as a vaguely supernatural undercurrent that keeps you consistently gripped. Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Daniel Mays star.
Love Actually, ITV, 10.10pm
It’s Christmas, you know you want it.
Saturday 28 December
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, ITV, 8.30pm
Not quite as radically inventive as the first film but still reliably entertaining, this Marvel sequel sees our heroes propelled through the universe in search of Peter Quill’s absent father. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana and the voice of Bradley Cooper are among the names giving life to the Guardians of the title, with Kurt Russell, Sylvester Stallone and Elizabeth Debicki introduced elsewhere.
Mystify: Michael Hutchence, BBC2, 9.20pm
This Michael Hutchence documentary is a heartbreakingly intimate glimpse at one of our most tragic pop greats, comprised of home-video footage largely never seen before. For so long consumed by rumour and speculation, the INXS frontman is here finally granted humanity.
The Green Mile, Channel 4, 11.20pm
A glorious winter heartbreaker, The Green Mile is a reminder of Stephen King’s often underappreciated range, and a film that features a tremendously human performance from the late Michael Clarke Duncan.
Sunday 29 December
Power Rangers, Channel 5, 4.05pm
Far better than it has any right to be, this 2017 reboot of the brilliantly woeful Nineties children’s programme is made genuinely fun via a campy performance from Elizabeth Banks as villain Rita Repulsa, and a lovely awareness of its own silliness.
Eddie the Eagle, Channel 4, 8pm
Three years before he impressed as Elton John in Rocketman, Taron Egerton first embodied underdog pluck in this feel-good comedy. He is the real-life Eddie the Eagle, who becomes the unexpected sensation of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Hugh Jackman is a riot as his trainer.
Knocked Up, ITV, 10.45pm
A tad overlong, as Judd Apatow comedies tend to be, Knocked Up is otherwise an eternally sweet comic diversion. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are the unlikely pair who have a drunken one night stand and prove to have remarkable chemistry once they decide to keep the resulting baby.
Monday 30 December
Edward Scissorhands, Channel 4, 12.20pm
Made long before Tim Burton lost it and Johnny Depp became awful, Edward Scissorhands is the dreamy, surreal and deeply romantic fantasy we all adored when we were 13. It still holds up, too, with Winona Ryder at her effervescent best and Depp so pale, pouty and tortured that you almost forget everything that came after.
The Apartment, BBC2, 1pm
Vintage romcom glory, with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine fighting and falling in love with each other over the festive season.
Secret in Their Eyes, Channel 5, 10pm
A not enormously successful remake of the 2009 Argentinian thriller, but worth catching in order to see a staggeringly good performance from Julia Roberts. She is a police officer driven to possible insanity in the search for her daughter’s killer, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Nicole Kidman desperately attempting to rein her in.
New Year’s Eve
Spectre, ITV, 8pm
With No Time to Die right around the corner, why not remind yourself of everything that happened in the last Bond movie? Released in 2015, Spectre sees Daniel Craig investigating the mysterious criminal organisation of the title and going up against Christoph Waltz. It’s not quite Bond at its best, despite a striking if annoyingly brief performance from Monica Bellucci, but it passes the time.
New Year’s Eve, Channel 5, 9pm
To prepare yourself for throwing up in a pub stall somewhere around 2am, why not spend your pre-drinks watching its cinematic equivalent? Filled with the hottest names of 2011 (including Lea Michele, Katherine Heigl, Ashton Kutcher and Sofia Vergara), along with people with far too much talent for this kind of thing (including Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert De Niro), New Year’s Eve is an interconnected-people romcom that operates like Rob Marshall’s Valentine’s Day, only somehow more grim.
Point Break, BBC1, 2am
2019 was the year of Keanu Reeves, who retained his title of Internet Boyfriend and turned in wonderfully charismatic turns in the likes of Toy Story 4 and John Wick: Chapter 3. To celebrate his eternal wholesomeness, why not revisit Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break – the film that, more than any of his others, best distilled Reeves’ zen glory.
New Year’s Day
Pete’s Dragon, BBC1, 11am
Eyebrows were raised when David Lowery, director of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and later A Ghost Story, signed on to direct this Disney reboot of the classic animated film. But it all made sense in the end, Lowery injecting his Pete’s Dragon with a swoon-worthy humanity while populating his film with earnest stars like Robert Redford and Bryce Dallas Howard. It’s an underrated gem.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Channel 5, 9pm
Perhaps a bit too festive for New Year’s Day, but one of the most reliably warm comedies of the 21st century in any case. Renee Zellweger is the iconic unlucky-in-love singleton, who pledges to pull herself together and find Mr Right once and for all. The very-English charm of Richard Curtis’s script and a gloriously ebullient performance from Zellweger compensates for some of the film’s more regressive qualities.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Channel 4, 9pm
A stunningly good entry in the franchise, and truthfully its best, Fallout is the Mission: Impossible series at its most confident and high-octane. Tom Cruise remains intimidatingly brave when it comes to stunts, Henry Cavill (to everyone’s surprise) makes for a captivating foil, and Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby comfortably steal their scenes. An unbearably tense finale set on a cliff edge is a particular highlight.