If your family is anything like mine, Christmas movies are near and dear to the heart. It’s the only movie genre that is practically defined by its rewatchability, and being able to enjoy certain holiday classics (often times at very specific points in the holiday season) form some neat family traditions.
We can debate endlessly on which holiday movies are the “best”, but I had another idea. What Christmas movie characters are the best? Which ones are the most memorable? Which ones seem to transcend their particular movie and seem essential to the holiday experience by themselves?
This…is my list of the Top 15 Christmas Movie Characters. Enjoy!
Honorable Mention: Mr. Narwhal, Elf
Talk about making your one line count. Mr. Narwhal, may we all have friends that encourage as you do.
Honorable Mention: Bruce Willis, Die Hard
Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Controversial? Perhaps, but it’s true. And if Bruce Willis is in a Christmas movie, he’s making the list.
“Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho”. Classic.
Honorable Mention: Ted Maltin, Jingle All The Way
Phil Hartman is that perfect neighbor/friend that we all love to hate. They’ve got it all put together, and seem to enjoy watching the rest of us struggle (or so we imagine). Though Ted loses a few points for the creepy plays on Ah-nold’s wife, his smug character is still my favorite part of the movie. Anytime someone prompts the greatest Schwarzenegger line ever, they deserve recognition:
#15. Hokus Pokus, Frosty the Snowman
One of two characters on this list to get zero lines, Hokus Pokus starts the list at #15. My childhood was full of titular characters, who were blissfully ignorant of their sidekick doing all the real work. Scooby Doo, Inspector Gadget, Hong Kong Phooey…to name a few.
But in Frosty the Snowman, Frosty may have been the worst. He decided to take a school-age girl to the freezing North Pole, realized halfway there that it’s cold, and then melts trying to get her warm. Thankfully for Frosty and Karen’s sake, they have a third member of their group who saves the day. Not only does Hokus Pokus remind Frosty that Santa exists in the first place, but he also convinces a bunch of wild forest animals to build a fire. I mean…if you can inspire creatures to that degree, how do you not make this list?
#14. Oogie Boogie Man, Nightmare Before Christmas
This movie may be the most controversial inclusion here, but I hold that Tim Burton made a good one here. It may not have the charm and the brightness of other holiday films, but it certainly has the heart. Halloweentown’s misguided attempts to celebrate and discover Christmas reminds us all of how we can sometimes “miss the point” too.
But who am I kidding? This movie is great because of the music. “This is Halloween” is the big standout, of course, but when Santa is kidnapped by the Oogie Boogie Man, his crazy entrance and introduction catapults him into my top 15 list.
#13. Mr. Duncan, Home Alone 2
Home Alone 2 is my favorite of the series. There is something mesmerizing about experiencing the grandeur of New York City through the eyes of Kevin McCalllister. As Darlene Love’s “All Alone On Christmas” plays, Kevin snaps Polaroids of the city and seems to be more and more impressed by everything he sees. However, it’s all large, impersonal, and seems too much for a kid to really understand and appreciate.
So when Kevin enters Mr. Duncan’s Toy Chest, we are all taken back to that point in our childhoods where we just felt lost in the anticipation of Christmas. When Kevin walks through the store, we gasp along with him, as he sees wall-to-wall toys, and are immersed right with him as the outside world fades throughout his walk through the store.
But Mr. Duncan himself deserves special recognition. It would be easy to just get lost in the lights and sounds of the store, but Mr. Duncan himself gives Kevin an amazing gift: two turtle doves to be shared with a friend. And it’s his words to Kevin that give him the courage to yet again stand up to those infernal Wet Bandits…or Sticky Bandits…or…you get the point.
#12. Tom Hanks, Polar Express
It’s Tom Hanks in a Christmas movie…of course he makes the list. But his multiple roles as the Young Boy, Father, Santa, and the Conductor make the decision even easier. It’s the Conductor role that I think is the most memorable (even if he does comes across as heartless at times). The overall story of the enduring spirit of Christmas prevails here, and the timeless charm of Hanks makes this an easy inclusion.
#11. Harry Lime, Home Alone
As a kid watching Home Alone 1 and 2 practically every year, I always thought of Joe Pesci as a goofy comedic villain. So when I saw Goodfellas as an adult…my world was rocked. Thankfully, there is this unbelievable gem just sitting there on YouTube to remind us all that Joe Pesci is the “wisest guy” we know. Even if he can’t outsmart a young boy given two tries, Harry is still the coolest burglar we all know.
#10. Susan Walker, Miracle on 34th Street
Natalie Wood knocked it out the park with her performance here. Susan Walker is a skeptical child struggling to reconcile the notion of a magical Santa with the commercialized world around her. She has to be taught the concept of imagination, and as she plays “zoo” with Kris Kringle, she reminds us all to never take ourselves too seriously. And that sometimes, having high expectations of those around you pays off (though I don’t think Santa will be bringing too many entire houses to kids this year).
#9. Jovie, Elf
In an era practically defined by people being impossible to please, Zooey Deschanel is truly unique in that everyone loves her. Her sense of humor is so down-to-earth, and it’s as if even Zooey herself is unsure that those around her find her charming. Well, we certainly do…and her role as Jovie in the movie Elf is my favorite.
As the “down on her luck” girl in New York City, she is clearly too talented/gifted to be at the job she’s in worrying about paying her utility bills. But like so many of us, she struggles to find the courage to take action. Questions swirl in her head: Who could possibly find me appealing? Is this all my life will be? Is there a storybook ending for me or not?
Well, even if our lives don’t exactly take the sudden whimsical turn Jovie’s does, we can all take solace that there is someone out there who will make us feel this way:
#8. Mary Hatch/Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life
Donna Reid’s impeccable performance as Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life is truly remarkable. More than any other character on this list, Mary really makes the audience feel her emotions from their screens. We are dismayed when we learn that Mary (in a George-less world) has become an “old maid”. We desperately want to know Mary’s wish after she throws the rock during her and George’s first date. We are amazed when a bride suddenly deprived of her honeymoon makes the best of the situation, and makes a leaky dump into the enchanting “Waldorf Hotel”.
But really, it’s the human element that she bring to the film that makes her the #8 pick. She is effected just as much as anyone else by the events of the film, but unlike the other characters, she does not have much control (if any) to alter these events. Ultimately though, she reminds us of an absolutely massive truth: it’s the way you choose to react/view difficult situations in life that truly defines who you are.
#7. Bernard, Santa Clause
This was the toughest decision as I made this list. As I looked at Bernard and the 6 characters that will follow, it was tough to decide which one would miss the Top 6. Ultimately, through no fault of David Krumholtz, I went with the 6 best movies to break the deadlock. So sorry Bernard, you’re top 6-worthy, but Santa Clause just isn’t as good as the Christmas movies that follow.
Bernard is like the “Boba Fett” of this series. He may not get the most screen time, he may not be the title character, he may not be the “cute kid” in the film…but he’s everyone’s favorite. His surly, yet enduring, personality is what makes him so memorable. And I think (maybe Zooey excluded) he’s the character on this list we would most want to hang out with in real life.
He reminds us of all the good that the Christmas season stands for, but manages to communicate it in a way that isn’t cliche. And in a genre that is practically defined by that, that’s no small feat.
#6. Cousin Eddy, Christmas Vacation
Of all the characters in the top 15, Eddy is probably the most memorable. His grotesque character, combined with his incredibly misguided efforts to befriend Clark Griswold, remind us all of “that family member” that we see during the Christmas season. As he unexpectedly shows up during Clark’s greatest accomplishment, the film’s signature brand of humor is truly unveiled, and the movie never lets go until “The Star Spangled Banner” plays at the end.
Eddy and Clark’s interactions throughout the movie are the priceless moments: the scene when Clark realizes that Eddy has just shown up (“Eddy?…Eddy?…Eddy?), the scene when Clark offers to help Eddy out with his kids’ Christmas (“I’d like to get something for Clark, something…real nice”), and the list goes on. Suffice to say, Randy Quaid’s performance catapults an already-great Christmas movie into an instant holiday classic.
#5. Max, How the Grinch Stole Christmas
As the Grinch’s faithful companion, Max remains loyal to his owner, even as we see Max’s unease with the Grinch’s plans. Ultimately though, as all good dogs tend to do, Max makes his owner a better person in the end. He is probably the “simplest” character on this entire list, but his devotion to his friend (even as we see him sadly look on as the Grinch hatches his grand scheme) is a reminder to the viewers to always keep faith in those we love.
#4. Linus, Charlie Brown Christmas
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is my single favorite Christmas movie. Grinch and Christmas Vacation are certainly close, but this is the only movie that I feel is required viewing every year. It’s a poignant reminder of how commercialism seeps into every fiber of Christmas…if we let it. As Charlie Brown tries everything to get in the Christmas spirit, we feel his frustration right there with him: how are we supposed to embrace the true meaning of Christmas in a world so noisy and busy?
And it’s in Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus that we find our answer. As the thumb-sucking, blanket-toting “baby” of the group, it’s Linus that actually has the courage to speak out. As he shares the Gospel message from the school auditorium stage, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Linus believes what he is saying. Though many may not agree themselves, Linus’ conviction and faith is so refreshing in a holiday season marked by so much greed and stress. As he delivers his climactic speech, he finally drops his blanket and boldly stands between the secular (stage left) and the seekers (stage right)…and declares a better way.
#3. Old Man Parker, A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story just overflows with charm and nostalgia. Everyone who watches the film is instantly teleported back to their childhood, and to that Christmas gift we just had to have. Though Ralphie takes the center stage, I think it’s Darren McGavin as his father (who never even gets a name) that gets the title of “Best Character” in a movie packed with them.
His seemingly endless struggle with the furnace, his negotiating skills, his major award…the list goes on. Old Man Parker is the quintessential “Christmas movie Dad”: he does everything he can to give his family the perfect Christmas. Is he perfect? Of course not. Does he make his fair share of mistakes? Absolutely. But in the end, he works with what he’s got and comes through for his son in the end.
#2. Little George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life
I seriously debating putting Bobbie Anderson’s “Little George” character at #1. Think about it. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of the greatest Christmas movies ever, and for the beginning (practically 1/3 of the entire movie), it’s this guy that carries the film. We love George Bailey almost immediately…and it’s not James Stewart we’re falling in love with. It’s the charming, down-to-earth local boy who does numerous heroic acts without even really realizing it.
From saving his little brother from the ice to preventing a terrible poisoning from his alcoholic boss, it’s “Little George” that opens our eyes to the incredible small world of Bedford Falls. Despite the movie’s star-studded cast, none of it would matter if Bobbie’s performance in the first part of the movie wasn’t exceptional.
The director, Frank Capra, one said: “I thought it was the greatest film I ever made. Better yet, I thought it was the greatest film anybody ever made. It wasn’t made for the oh-so-bored critics or the oh-so-jaded literati. It was my kind of film for my kind of people.”
If this is Frank Capra’s favorite film, many peoples’ favorite Christmas movie of all time, and it’s “Little George” that is practically solely responsible for about 1/3 of its content…then how can he not be among the absolute greats of the genre?
#1. Lucy Moderatz, While You Were Sleeping
First off, if you just read the above name/movie title, and said “What movie is that?”. Then stop reading, close this browser, and watch the movie immediately. This is one of my five favorite movies of all time, and it is Sandra Bullock absolutely at her best.
Lucy is a low-key, quiet, and alone subway worker in Chicago. She has no family, works all the time, and seems trapped in her own life. I won’t spoil the story here (as many of people reading may not have seen it yet), but Lucy’s journey to finding a family is truly one worth experiencing. She is shy and unsure of herself, and as you watch, you can’t help but find yourself rooting for her.
The movie is full of memorable characters and lines, but it’s really the aura of Sandra Bullock that makes the movie so captivating. Her sweetness and charm permeate every scene, even when she’s not in it. She makes everyone around her appreciate what they have more, challenges those around her to grow, and through her actions, she challenges even herself. The movie is an amazing ride, and should not be missed by anyone.
And that’s it folks! Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!