From Gremlins to It's a Wonderful Life: a list of the best Christmas movies to stream on Netflix, Amazon and iTunes

1. MouseHunt (1998)

<br> Gleeful chaos from Gore Verbinski, before he sank into the neverending mire of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, this is essentially Home Alone with a mouse: it only briefly touches down at Christmas time, but it’s very much a film to get you in a deck-the-halls kind of mood. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are the desperate brothers trying to make a sale on their late father’s crumbling mansion, but thwarted at every turn by a cute, furry nemesis. Bonus points for a virtually silent Christopher Walken cameo that’s just sublime. (Amazon)

Home Alone with a mouse: Nathan Lane and Lee Evans in MouseHunt

2. Trading Places (1983) 

Probably the closest an Eddie Murphy comedy has ever come to being rather sophisticated, this is evergreen seasonal farce, pulled off with wicked vim by John Landis. Murphy is a homeless street hustler, Dan Aykroyd a snooty commodities broker – until the latter’s two cold-hearted bosses (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) make a mischievous bet to switch their lives around. Jamie Lee Curtis’s sassy prostitute and Denholm Elliott’s dry butler are major assets. (Netflix/Amazon)

Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places Credit: Rex

3. A Christmas Tale (2008) 

If it’s arthouse cheer you need, check in with French director Arnaud Desplechin, who concocted this gloriously eccentric Yuletide-reunion drama in the vein of Bergman's Fanny and Alexander. Catherine Deneuve heads the fractious Vuillard clan, who can’t agree on how to help her get well; a great, dishevelled Mathieu Amalric plays one of her sons. Stockings are stuffed with literary references, puppet theatre, and manic bickering – you don't curl up with this breathless tribe so much as survive them. (Amazon)

Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve in A Christmas Tale Credit: Film Stills

4. Gremlins (1984) 

Joe Dante’s brilliantly anarchic monster-mash goes from gooey-cute to ferocious literally overnight, when Zach Galligan accidentally breaks the rule about feeding his new pets in the witching hour. It also has soul. Galligan’s puppy-love with Phoebe Cates is delightful, and her tragic monologue about why Christmas gives her the blues is a real heart-breaker. It manages the tricky feat of being both a wicked, cackling respite from seasonal sentiment, and a haven full of it. (Amazon/iTunes)

Credit: Everett Collection/Rex

5. Paddington (2014) 

Heads up: Paddington has nothing to do with Christmas. But it feels like it does, since the message of goodwill towards mankind, bearkind, and Peruvian immigrants resonates like glad tidings. What a sprightly job Paul King did reupholstering this story for a new generation, without stinting on the Home Alone-esque chaos of bathroom mishaps and sellotape-based house destruction. Nicole Kidman’s frosty baddie is ideal, Ben Whishaw’s voice is pure marmalade, and Hugh Bonneville’s cross-dressing heist sequence beats most seasonal pantos into a cocked hat. (Amazon)

6. Black Christmas (1974) 

Dim the lights for an underrated Canadian horror, pre-dating Halloween in the slasher cycle, about a sorority house fending off Yuletide attacks from a mad stalker. A solid B-list cast – Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder – make it a cult curio. Just try not to watch the 2006 remake by mistake. (Netflix)

Keir Dullea in Black Christmas Credit: Rex Features/Everett

7. Batman Returns (1992) 

“Merry Christmas!” are the first words spoken to the Cobblepots, parents of a newborn they’re about to fling into the sewer, in Tim Burton’s return to Gotham, which sports the Yule-gone-crackers dark mischief of both Gremlins and its own creator’s Nightmare Before Christmas. (iTunes)

Michael Keaton in Batman Returns Credit: Rex Features/Warner Bros

8. Die Hard (1988)

“Oh the weather outside is frightful,” pipes up Vaughn Monroe at the start of John McTiernan’s corking high-rise combat flick. It’s not exactly cosy indoors, either, what with Alan Rickman and his goons terrorising the Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza. Every beat of the story amps up tension and thrills, especially the part where Rickman’s Hans poses as an oblivious hostage, and we wait for Bruce Willis to twig. (Amazon/iTunes)

Bruce Willis in Die Hard Credit: Rex Features

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) 

The nightmare before Christmas is actually Halloween: and what if they were merged? That’s the conceit in this gleefully ghoulish animated comedy, recognisably from the stable of producer Tim Burton, but also from the eccentric stop-motion imagination of gifted director Henry Selick (Coraline). The plan of pumpking king Jack Skellington to kidnap Santa and lord it over the chirrupy Christmastown is strangely heroic – and Danny Elfman’s song score is a lugubrious treat. (Amazon)

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Credit: Rex Features/Moviestore

10. The Ref (aka Hostile Hostages) (1994) 

Nothing says Christmas like Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis engaging in toxic marital strife while both tied to chairs, by a jewel thief (Denis Leary) who has no idea what he’s let himself in for. A tart script (co-written by Richard LaGravenese and his sister-in-law, Marie Weiss) gets this bitchy comedy flying, though the idea of Spacey and Davis lasting one day as a couple is snigger-worthy in itself. (Amazon)

Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis in The Ref

11. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) Netflix

Home Alone pratfalled its way to becoming the most successful comedy of all time, catapulting Macaulay Culkin to global stardom for a year or two. Its underrated sequel does a slick job of upping the ante: the contrivances by which the McCallister clan contrive not only to lose Kevin this time, but to pack themselves off on entirely different flights have a cartoon fatalism that’s irresistibly OTT. So here he is again, fending off Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, and worse, even bumping into Donald Trump in the foyer of the Plaza Hotel.

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York Credit: Rex Features/20th C.Fox

12. Happy Christmas (2014) 

The best film yet from prolific indie director Joe Swanberg, this is also his warmest: it’s a plausible comedy about a real family setting their differences aside, not one of those squawking concoctions where dysfunction levels go through the roof. Anna Kendrick is the hellraising 20-year-old whose Christmas stay with her brother (Swanberg) and his wife (a wonderfully weary Melanie Lynskey) becomes a wake-up-call for them all. (iTunes)

Lena Dunhum Anna Kendirck in Happy Christmas

13. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Amazon (or Netflix from 25th Dec)

Outdone at the box office by Home Alone 2, this was the first Muppet enterprise after the death of Jim Henson, whose idea it originally was. Such a good idea, too, especially in its commitment to adapting Dickens faithfully, and using the entire Muppet cast as repertory actors in his fable (with the addition of an adorable mini-Kermit as Tiny Tim, alongside the adult one as Bob Cratchit). Michael Caine’s blisteringly sour star turn as Scrooge is one of his richest and eventually most moving performances. (Amazon, Netflix - from Christmas Day)

Michael Caine with his muppet castmates in The Muppet Christmas Carol Credit: Alamy/Moviestore collection Ltd

14. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

So often misremembered as pure Christmas schmaltz, Frank Capra’s beloved parable takes us to some dark, dark places first. To the brink of suicide, in fact, as financially desperate George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) contemplates leaping to his death off the Bedford Falls bridge. Capitalism has wrought this despair, and the film is rare for its day in representing it as spiritually destructive, even a poison to American living, before the tearful embrace of family welcomes this prodigal father back. (Netflix)

James Stewart and Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life Credit: Snap Stills / Rex Features