It’s the eve of Christmas Eve, which means there’s no time like the present to cancel all your plans, wrap yourself in a down comforter, and perch yourself in front of the television for a good, old-fashioned movie marathon. Sure, you could rewatch The Holiday or Elf for the umpteenth time, but why not look to the golden classics of decades past? Here, we’ve rounded up 11 of our favorite vintage films to dust off for Christmas.
1. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Our personal favorite — the film is set in 1903, the year before the St. Louis World Fair, and tells the story of the wealthy Smith family and their four daughters. The inimitable Judy Garland stars as 17-year-old Esther Smith, who is completely love struck by the boy who moves next store. Not long after she wins his affections, with song and dance numbers that will make you yearn for days of yore, the family is rattled by the news that their father, Mr. Smith, plans to uproot the family from St. Louis and move to New York. The girls make the best of their final months in St. Louis, but find that come Christmas their luck turns around.
Our Favorite Scene: Esther sings ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to her youngest sister, Tootie, who is devastated about leaving St. Louis. This was the holiday classic’s debut.
2. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck stars as journalist Elizabeth Lane, who has made a name for herself as one of the most famous food writers of her time. In her column, she claims to be a farm woman, but in reality she’s a single New Yorker who gets all of her recipes from a friend. Her cover is threatened when he boss invites himself, as well as a returning World War II hero, over to stay at her farm for a traditional family Christmas. City-dwellers will get a kick out of watching Lane make her best attempts at domesticity, while romantics will watch closely as relationship unfurls between her and the visiting war hero, Jefferson Jones, who is played by Dennis Morgan.
Our Favorite Scene: Jefferson sings and plays “The Wish That I Wish Tonight” on the piano, while Elizabeth trims the tree and contemplates her deception.
3. The Apartment (1960)
This Billy Wilder (director of Some Like It Hot) classic tells the story of C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, who looks to distinguish himself at his company by offering up his Central Park West apartment to high-level executives for their extramarital trysts. All is peachy until he finds out that that girl he’s smitten with, elevator girl Fran Kubelik (Shirley Maclaine) who is considered a “jackpot” among the executives, is carrying on an affair with the director of his company. Fran tries to commit suicide after her lover fails to divorce his wife and ends up living with C.C. while she recovers. When he falls in love with her, he has to decide between love and career success. The rollicking romance between C.C. and Fran will tug at your heart strings, especially since you’ll inevitably be crushing on Fran with all her girlish charm.
Our Favorite Scene: From the Christmas party up until New Year’s Eve, watching the plot unfold amidst the holiday scenery makes it all the more exciting.
4. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Based on short story “The Greatest Gift” by Phillip Van Doren Stern, Frank Capra’s It’s Wonderful Life has not only become a Christmas favorite, but an American classic. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who tries to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. His near death experience brings about his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who shows him all of the lives he has touched in his community. Despite starting on a somber note, it’s the ultimate sappy, feel good.
Our Favorite Scene: It’s not a Christmas scene, but Stewart’s flashback to George meeting his love interest Mary while dancing the Charleston at dance party-turned-pool party will always be most memorable to us.
5. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
We’re suckers for Cary Grant, so him playing an angel makes perfect sense to us. In The Bishop’s Wife, he’s an angel named Dudley who provides spiritual guidance to Henry Brougham (David Niven), an Episcopal bishop who is raising money to build a new cathedral. This project has consumed him and served as a strain on his marriage to his wife Julia (Loretta Young). As Christmas approaches, things get more complicated as Dudley begins to develop a certain fondness for Julia.
Our Favorite Scene: Dudley and Julia go ice-skating on a frosty pond, where a live orchestra is playing rink side. Dudley is a world-class ice-skater, naturally.
6. Holiday Inn (1942)
We love ourselves some camp, especially around Christmas, and Holiday Inn is filled to the brim with just that.The film stars two of the greats, Bing Crosby as Jim Hardy and Fred Astaire as Ted Hanover, alongside Lila Dixon as Virginia Dale. Their three characters have a popular vaudeville act in New York City. On Christmas Eve, Jim plans to give his last performance before marrying Virginia and moving to a farm in Connecticut. Out of nowhere, Virginia reveals that she’s in love with Ted and isn’t ready to stop performing. A heartbroken Ted follows through with his plan, but eventually decides to turn his farm into the “Holiday Inn,” an entertainment venue which is only open during the holidays. As the story goes one, the love triangle turns into a web
Our Favorite Scene: When Jim and Virginia introduce “White Christmas,” singing it together at the piano, we fall in love with the song all over again.
7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Set at the iconic Macy’s at 34th street, this is the tale of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), an actor playing Santa Claus who claims he is, in fact, Santa. He was hired by Macy’s event director Doris Walker, played by Maureen O’Hara, who becomes worried that Kringle is delusional. When he’s committed after a run-in with Macy’s in-store psychologist, Doris’ lawyer friend Fred Gailey (John Payne), promises to defend him at a hearing to secure his release. He must do so by proving that Kringle is the real Claus. We’re not going to give away anymore, but just know that Kringle and a young Natalie Wood will warm even the coldest of hearts.
Our Favorite Scene: When Kris Kringle calls out his predeceasing fake Santa for being drunk. What can we say, we love us a little Bad Santa action.
8. White Christmas (1954)
Loosely based on Holiday Inn, Casablanca director Michael Curtiz takes on the holiday musical genre with Bing Crosby as his leading man. This time around, Crosby plays Bob Wallace alongside Danny Kaye who plays Phil Davis. The two are war buddies who team up as a musical act. They duo eventually gets hitched up with another entertainment pair, sisters Betty and Judy. The foursome starts performing together and eventually finds itself with a gig at a Vermont lodge, which is coincidentally owned by the boys’ old commander. To help out the General, who has invested his life saving’s in the lodge, the group stays a while and has a few romantic hiccups along the way.
Our Favorite Scene: As magpies, we don’t mind the over-the-top, closing performance of “White Christmas” with all the stagy fixings.
9. It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)
Victor Moore plays the protagonist Aloyisius T. McKeever, a homeless man in New York City who takes up residence in a boarded-up mansion on 5th Avenue. The home belongs to “the second richest man in the world” Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) who is vacationing in the South. Moore uses the home to take in others who are down and out, such as ex. G.I. Jim Bullock and 18-year-old runaway Trudy “Smith” who unknown to him, is O’Connors daughter. The two guests end up falling in love and when her father demands to meet him, she convinces him to pretend to be a a panhandler named Mike. Things get more complicated as the truth reveals itself, but not without helping each of the characters, both rich and poor, along the way.
Our Favorite Scene: Trudy plays the piano and sings “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” for everyone in the house on Christmas Eve.
10. Holiday Affair (1949)
In the days leading up to Christmas, Robert Mutchum plays department store clerk Steve Mason who ends up helping Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), a commercial spy cloaked as a big-spending shopper. Mason outs her and ends up fired, but seeks solace in a date with Connie following their initial meeting. Connie’s boyfriend, Carl, doesn’t take too kindly to Mason, but is a welcomed replacement in the eyes of Connie’s young son Timmy. As Steve and Connie’s feelings grow for each other, the love triangle grows more and more tricky.
Our Favorite Scene: Steve and Connie’s meet-cute in the opening scene amidst a crowded department store during the holiday shopping season.
11. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
Jimmy Stewart (who also starred in It’s a Wonderful Life) stars as Alfred Kralik, a sales clerk in a Budapest gift shop. In serendipitous fashion, a woman named Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) walks into the shop desperately seeking a job. After she’s hired, her and Alfred butt heads immediately and come to loathe each other. What they don’t realize is that they are each other’s anonymous pen pals. Later that year, around Christmas time, Alfred plans to meet his unnamed love interest. When he realizes that it’s Klara, his illusion of his betrothed his shattered. But it doesn’t end there….
Our Favorite Scene: Alfred and Klara come together on a snowy Christmas Eve at the end.