The Elf Report 2020: Ranking the nation's favourite festive films, with science.

Year in, year out, since time immemorial, humankind has spent countless hours locked in fevered debate over one question:

'What is the best Christmas movie of all time, and why is it It's a Wonderful Life?'

Here, at last, the data elves present the definitive report - a groundbreaking analysis using cutting edge technology - to finally put the question to bed. And tuck it in nice and cozy to fall safely asleep before The Big Jolly arrives.

Seriously though, we went deep on this one...
(but if you don't mind spoilers you can jump straight to the results).

Table of contents:

  1. It's a Wonderful List Which films should we consider?
  2. Thinning the Reindeer Herd Shortening our longlist.
  3. Mistletoe and Datamining Collecting more data for comparison.
    1. Key financials
    2. Cast and crew
    3. Plot keywords
    4. Runtime
  4. Pie Hard Some preliminary findings, visualised.
  5. Do it Your Elf Which films are people actually watching?
  6. Netflix and Cheer The streamability report.
  7. The Elf Report 2020 Definitive Scientifically-Ranked Ultimate Christmas Films List Skip to this bit if you just want to see the winner.
  8. A Very Merry Listmas Conclusions and recommendations.

Section 1: It's a Wonderful List

Which films should we consider? Defining challenges and methodologies for efficient Yuletide comparison in a listicle-rich media landscape.

There's no shortage of 'Top 47 Christmas Movies EVER (Number 9 will make you wee!)'  lists floating around the internet these days. You literally can't doomscroll in peace for 30 seconds without being bombarded with them. They're a menace, frankly.

And the worst part is, they don't all agree.

father christmas naughty and nice list with christmas tree ad gifts father christmas naughty and nice list with christmas tree ad gifts

As genuine certified* Crimbo scienticians, we can't abide this inconsistency - so we decided to do something about it. We needed to know, definitively, which is the best. But where to begin?

Well, since so many list-writers have already done the legwork, and in the spirit of festive cooperation, we started by checking out a bunch of existing 'studies'. That's called meta-analysis and it's proper science.

We decided to meta-analyse the top 25 films from 25 published lists - that's 625 Christmas movies. And that's a lot of movies, Barbara.

*not certified

The Top 625 153 Christmas Films EVER (Number 1 will not shock you in the slightest!)

Scoring: 1st to 3rd = 4pts, 4th to 10th = 3pts, 11th-20th = 2pts, >20th = 1pt

1It's a Wonderful Life (1946)2386
2Home Alone (1990)1960
3Elf (2003)1956
4A Christmas Story (1983)1851
5Die Hard (1988)1749
6Miracle on 34th Street (1947)1646
7National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)1646
8The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)1845
9The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)1543
10Gremlins (1984)1837
11Bad Santa (2003)1634
12Love Actually (2003)1434
13A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)1234
14White Christmas (1954)1532
15Scrooged (1988)1332
16The Santa Clause (1994)1431
17Scrooge (1951)928
18Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)822
19Carol (2015)722
20How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)721
21Trading Places (1983)1120
22Holiday Inn (1942)920
23Miracle on 34th Street (1994)818
24The Snowman (1982)718
25The Shop Around the Corner (1940)817
26Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)715
27Edward Scissorhands (1990)715
28Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)615
29Arthur Christmas (2011)1014
30The Polar Express (2004)713
31How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)713
32Tangerine (2015)413
33Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)612
34Joyeux Noël (2005)612
35The Apartment (1960)512
36The Holiday (2006)711
37Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)511
38A Christmas Tale (2008)511
39Black Christmas (1974)610
40Little Women (1994)39
41Nativity! (2009)48
42Tokyo Godfathers (2003)48
43Christmas in Connecticut (1945)48
44Happy Christmas (2014)47
45Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)37
46Christmas with the Kranks (2004)37
47Better Watch Out (2016)37
48Batman Returns (1992)37
49Remember the Night (1940)37
50Metropolitan (1990)46
51Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)36
52Christmas, Again (2014)36
53The Ref (1994)36
54Eastern Promises (2007)26
55A Christmas Carol (1938)35
56Jingle All the Way (1996)35
57Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)35
58The Best Man Holiday (2013)35
59Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)35
60Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)25
61Little Women (2019)25
62Klaus (2019)25
63The Christmas Chronicles (2018)25
64The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)25
65Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)25
662046 (2004)25
67Tuesday, After Christmas (2011)25
68A Christmas Carol (1984)24
69The Family Stone (2005)24
70Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005)24
71In Bruges (2008)24
72Frosty the Snowman (1969)24
73Prancer (1989)24
74The Bishop's Wife (1947)24
75La La Land (2016)14
76Holiday Affair (1949)33
77This Christmas (2007)23
78The Night Before (2015)23
79Krampus (2015)23
80Lethal Weapon (1987)23
818 Women (2002)23
82Four Christmases (2008)23
83Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)23
84You've Got Mail (1998)23
85Last Christmas (2019)13
86The Children (2008)13
87About a Boy (2002)13
88Dead End (2003)13
89A Christmas Horror Story (2015)13
90Christmas Evil (1980)13
91Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)13
92C.R.A.Z.Y (2005)13
93Comfort and Joy (1984)13
94Meet John Doe (1941)13
95The Day of the Beast (1995)13
96Jack Frost (1998)22
97The Family Man (2000)22
98Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (1999)22
99Frozen (2013)12
100A Christmas Carol (1999)12
101Red Christmas (2016)12
102Scrooge (1970)12
103The Santa Clause 2 (2002)12
104Paddington (2014)12
105Noel (2004)12
106Silent Night (2012)12
107Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)12
108Cast Away (2000)12
109Serendipity (2001)12
110Deck the Halls (2006)12
111Fred Claus (2007)12
112A Christmas Prince (2017)12
113Catch Me If You Can (2002)12
114Almost Christmas (2016)12
115Rise of the Guardians (2012)12
116Last Holiday (2006)12
117Eyes Wide Shut (1999)12
118Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)12
119Babes in Toyland (1934)12
120P2 (2007)12
121Sint (2011)12
122A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)12
123I'll Be Seeing You (1944)12
124It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)12
125Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol (1962)12
126Peace on Earth (1939)12
127Pieces of April (2003)12
128The Christmas Dream (1901)12
129The Gingerdead Man (2005)12
130The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)12
131Three Godfathers (1948)12
132We're No Angels (1955)12
133While She Was Out (2008)12
134Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971)12
135Wind Chill (2007)12
136ATM (2012)11
137Black Christmas (2006)11
138Silent Night (2002)11
139Shazam! (2019)11
140Jack Frost (1997)11
141While You Were Sleeping (1995)11
142When Harry Met Sally (1989)11
143Groundhog Day (1993)11
144Unaccompanied Minors (2006)11
145A Midnight Clear (1992)11
146I'll Be Home for Christmas (1998)11
147Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)11
148The Dorm that Dripped Blood (1982)11
149The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)11
150The Ice Harvest (2005)11
151The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)11
152The Preacher's Wife (1996)11
153The Railway Children (1970)11
Show All

As it turns out, there's quite a lot of overlap between lists. Once we plugged them all into our algorithm-machine, those potential 625 comfort-and-joy-fests actually worked out to a still-respectably-jolly 153.

We assigned each film a score based on the where, if at all, it ranked on each of the 25 lists. Hey presto, job done! A definitive list of the top cinematic Christmas crackers.


Except... is it? Really?

Who's to say the people writing all those lists even knew what they were on about? They could very well be a fiendish flock of festive fibbers.

Not to be tinsel tattle-tales, but one Joal Ryan of Metacritic had La La Land as the 2nd best holiday movie of the century. La La Land. Let that sink in.

Obviously we were going to need to sort the crimbly from the crummy. And to do that, we'd need to dig deep into the data.

Section 2: Thinning the Reindeer Herd

Shortening our longlist. Seeking statistical shears to prune the merry wreath of overabundant celluloid.

The problem with using other people's listicles as the building blocks of our definitive festive filmography is that we ended up with a lot of movies, many of which no-one's ever heard of. And worse, La La Land.

Our 153-film monstrosity needed trimming down.

reindeer christmas tree ornament with scissors reindeer christmas tree ornament with scissors

One possible cut would have been to lose any films that only made it onto one of our source lists. That brings the count down to a more-manageable 86, but it also ran the risk of throwing away a hidden gem-encrusted Christmas bauble.

Instead, we used our scoring system from the initial list - assigning points based on rankings within each of the source lists.

Cutting any film that scored below 2 let us keep any well-ranked rarities, while bringing our total down considerably.

Running Total: 95

It was a start, but we were going to need to be a bit more brutal to make real progress.

It would of course be very easy to just chuck away any movies we didn't like the look of, *cough*LaLaLand*cough*, but that would be prone to all kinds of biases and, in a matter of such consequence, borderline irresponsible.

To avoid making a mockery of the scientific method (and fools of ourselves), we next sought guidance where any sensible science-human in search of robust, empirical film-brain-knowledge would... We asked the Experts.

The Critics Choice

1The Shop Around the Corner (1940)96%100%98%
2Carol (2015)94%94%94%
3The Apartment (1960)94%93%94%
4Little Women (2019)91%95%93%
5La La Land (2016)94%91%93%
6It's a Wonderful Life (1946)89%94%92%
7Miracle on 34th Street (1947)88%96%92%
8Tangerine (2015)86%96%91%
9C.R.A.Z.Y (2005)81%100%91%
10Little Women (1994)87%92%90%

The Audience Choice

1It's a Wonderful Life (1946)92%95%86%91%
2How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)-98%83%91%
3The Apartment (1960)91%94%83%89%
4Klaus (2019)89%97%82%89%
5The Snowman (1982)-91%82%87%
6The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)86%91%80%86%
7The Shop Around the Corner (1940)-91%81%86%
8Edward Scissorhands (1990)88%91%79%86%
9Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)-90%81%86%
10Scrooge (1951)-89%81%85%

Into our cutting-edge listbox, we placed the critics and audience ratings of each of the remaining movies, courtesy of MetaCritic, RottenTomatoes and IMDB.

We turned first to critical analysis - thinking that surely film critics would be able to illuminate the way to a rational answer. We fired up our list machine and waited with bated breath.

Alas. Any hopes for sanity from the critical discourse were dashed the moment we saw it there, once again, glorying in it's impropriety like an Easter bonnet on a shelf of Santa hats. La La Land. A film so unchristmassy that The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw called it "a sun-drenched musical masterpiece".

Audience ratings looked a bit healthier but, scientifically speaking, they couldn't be given too much weight. We all know that normal people don't know what's good for them.

However, if we combined the averages from both Critics and Audiences, and cut any films that score under 50%...

Running Total: 91

Bah humbug.

Section 3: Mistletoe and Datamining

Collecting more data for film comparison. Identification and collation of key jolliness-markers in search of Christmas consensus.

If we were to get any further in our epic Christmas quest to whittle down our list, there was something missing. We simply needed more data.

mistletoe with matrix code overlay mistletoe with matrix code overlay

Data is the lifeblood of any legitimate scientific study and THIS IS DEFINITELY ONE OF THOSE, so let's dive in and see what we discovered...

Money Money Money.

As any true connoisseur of the arts knows, the key metric for measuring a movie's greatness is how much cold hard cash it made. Surely adding this data to our model would shed some light.

We tracked down all the financials we could for each film. Then we adjusted for inflation because that's a thing people do when they want to sound like they know what they're talking about. Science.

We subtracted each film's budget from its worldwide box-office takings to get a rough idea of profitability, et voila!

Inflation-adjusted Budget, Box-Office and Estimated Net Profit

Net $
1Home Alone (1990)$36,360,000$963,667,490$927,307,490
2Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005)$243,000,000$1,005,767,705$762,767,705
3Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)$52,640,000$686,491,272$633,851,272
4La La Land (2016)$33,000,000$492,149,327$459,149,327
5Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)$78,750,000$537,175,755$458,425,755
6Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)$37,250,000$420,075,395$382,825,395
7Gremlins (1984)$27,940,000$390,218,341$362,278,341
8Batman Returns (1992)$150,400,000$501,777,740$351,377,740
9How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)$188,190,000$528,066,347$339,876,347
10You've Got Mail (1998)$105,300,000$406,330,822$301,030,822
11The Santa Clause (1994)$39,160,000$337,903,375$298,743,375
12Love Actually (2003)$57,200,000$350,257,596$293,057,596
13Elf (2003)$47,190,000$316,990,635$269,800,635
14Die Hard (1988)$63,000,000$318,335,173$255,335,173
15Lethal Weapon (1987)$34,800,000$278,880,535$244,080,535
16The Polar Express (2004)$229,350,000$435,765,602$206,415,602
17Trading Places (1983)$39,600,000$238,668,672$199,068,672
18Little Women (1994)$41,200,000$223,099,250$181,899,250
19The Holiday (2006)$111,350,000$269,652,869$158,302,869
20Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)$246,000,000$400,102,575$154,102,575
21About a Boy (2002)$43,800,000$190,602,204$146,802,204
22The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)$32,760,000$166,498,303$133,738,303
23Edward Scissorhands (1990)$40,400,000$173,774,958$133,374,958
24The Family Stone (2005)$24,300,000$125,393,979$101,093,979
25Last Christmas (2019)$25,750,000$125,197,273$99,447,273
26National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)$57,240,000$154,134,910$96,894,910
27Bad Santa (2003)$32,890,000$109,379,111$76,489,111
28Scrooged (1988)$72,000,000$135,739,256$63,739,256
29The Best Man Holiday (2013)$19,210,000$82,304,352$63,094,352
30Little Women (2019)$32,040,000$89,148,836$57,108,836
31Arthur Christmas (2011)$117,000,000$172,480,782$55,480,782
32Krampus (2015)$16,650,000$68,319,065$51,669,065
33This Christmas (2007)$16,510,000$63,218,761$46,708,761
348 Women (2002)$16,060,000$61,942,811$45,882,811
35A Christmas Story (1983)$8,712,000$54,433,413$45,721,413
36Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)$69,600,000$114,910,250$45,310,250
37It's a Wonderful Life (1946)$42,930,000$82,764,720$39,834,720
38The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)$22,560,000$60,760,318$38,200,318
39Carol (2015)$13,098,000$44,702,070$31,604,070
40The Night Before (2015)$27,750,000$58,159,556$30,409,556
41Eastern Promises (2007)$41,910,000$71,256,286$29,346,286
42In Bruges (2008)$18,300,000$41,584,614$23,284,614
43Black Christmas (1974)$11,790,000$28,179,215$16,389,215
442046 (2004)$16,680,000$27,063,632$10,383,632
45Metropolitan (1990)$464,600$5,980,194$5,515,594
46Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)$2,904,000$4,875,055$1,971,055
47Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)$20,250,000$21,309,950$1,059,950
48Tangerine (2015)$111,000$920,050$809,050
49The Ref (1994)$19,580,000$20,361,764$781,764
50Happy Christmas (2014)$77,700$33,646$-44,054
51Joyeux Noël (2005)$29,700,000$23,907,359$-5,792,641
52Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)$25,449,000$7,274,402$-18,174,598
53The Apartment (1960)$26,730,000$1,586,007$-25,143,993
Show All

Predictably, the big blockbusters win the day on profitability - all of the top ten are recognisable - but some of them really don't seem all that christmassy.

It's also interesting to note that none of the critic or audience favourites even broke the top ten, with the notable exception of La La Land, about which we will say no more.

At the other end of the scale, The Apartment, beloved by both critics and audiences, apparently made a whopping loss of over $25m.

Clearly, money alone was not the indisputable indicator of yuletide yumminess we had hoped for.

(Also, we couldn't actually find financial data for nearly half of our films, so it was a dead end anyway)

People People People?

We needed to rethink. If Christmas wasn't all about money, what else could it be?

Of course! Christmas is about family. And who are the family of a film, if not directors, writers and stars?

The next christmas morsel to feed our hungry data machine would be people. A lot of people.

Top Directors

Click a name to see credits
#Director# Films
1Chris Columbus3
2Robert Zemeckis3
3Jules Bass3
4Arthur Rankin Jr.3
5Frank Capra2
6Tim Burton2
7Bob Clark2
8Michael Curtiz2
9Richard Donner2
10Paul Feig2
11Harold Ramis2
12John Hughes1
13Jon Favreau1
14Henry Selick1
15Chuck Jones1

Top Writers

Click a name to see credits
#Writer# Films
1Charles Dickens10
2John Hughes4
3Romeo Muller3
4Dr. Seuss3
5Chris Columbus2
6Tim Burton2
7Caroline Thompson2
8George Seaton2
9Valentine Davies2
10Miklós László2
11Robert Zemeckis2
12William Broyles Jr.2
13Jeffrey Price2
14Peter S. Seaman2
15Roy Moore2

Top Actors

Click a name to see credits
#Actor# Films
1Sarah Edwards5
2Brooks Benedict4
3Brick Sullivan4
4Joe Ranft4
5Frank Welker4
6Bob Harks4
7Jim Broadbent4
8Tom Hanks4
9Jack Mower4
10Arnold Montey4
11Stanley Andrews3
12Charles Halton3
13Wilbur Mack3
14Bert Moorhouse3
15Bob O'Connor3

In fact, across all of our movies, our intrepid data-hunters tracked down an impressive 159 directors and 276 writers, alongside a frankly ridiculous 7639 actors.

In it's raw state this data didn't reveal any obvious metrics we could use to reduce our watery stock of movies down to a thick, delicious Christmas gravy.

Perhaps a more thorough analysis would help, but first - more data!

Plot is the keyword.

Of course, what really makes a film pop or flop is the plot!

But how could we turn 91 movies' worth of storylines into a tasty data dish for our Christmas algorithmatron to devour?

The answer would lie in IMDB's 'plot keywords' feature.

We painstakingly recorded every plot keyword for each of our remaining films, discarding those that were only found once. We were left with a nice bitesized chunk of delicious data: 1795 keywords. Nom.

Top Plot Keywords

Click a keyword to see associated films
Keyword# Films
christmas tree58
christmas eve45
husband wife relationship30
mother son relationship30
santa claus29
mother daughter relationship27
family relationships27
father son relationship26

No big surprises at the top, but a nice clear-cut way to reduce our pile-o'-films a little further.

It ought to go without saying that to qualify for consideration in the Christmas film rankings, a film must feature Christmas. So we wave bye-bye to any festive fakers, they're outta here.

Running Total: 85

A taste for violence?

Further down the keyword rankings we find some... oddities.

christmas violence home alone guns christmas violence home alone guns

During our exhaustive analysis, the data-elves couldn't help noticing a somewhat violent trend. In fact, we identified over 250 violent plot themes:

Violent Plot Keywords
Click a keyword to see associated films

Keyword# Films
punched in the face12
christmas horror10
face slap9
suicide attempt9
blood splatter7
shot to death6
machine gun5
shot in the head5
shot in the chest5
attempted suicide4
home invasion4
throat slitting4
shot in the back4
shot in the leg4
shot multiple times4
dead body4
car crash4
stabbed in the eye4
booby trap3
woman punches a man3
murder of a police officer3
attempted murder3
police shootout3
hand to hand combat3
shot in the arm3
exploding car3
evil santa3
child abuse3
kicked in the crotch3
grindhouse film3
child murder3
evil woman3
exploding building2
bloody nose2
held at gunpoint2
knocked out2
fight to the death2
falling to death2
swat team2
sniper rifle2
assault rifle2
terrorist group2
police brutality2
pistol whip2
neck breaking2
shot in the forehead2
kicked in the face2
rocket launcher2
body landing on a car2
pointing a gun at someone2
kicked in the groin2
tied to a chair2
gatling gun2
double barreled shotgun2
attempted suicide by gunshot2
pushed through a window2
angry mob2
stabbed in the chest2
crime spree2
murder spree2
slasher killer2
homicidal maniac2
serial murder2
mass murder2
slasher flick2
murder of a child2
bloody violence2
body count2
severed finger2
electrical torture2
fall to death2
reckless driving2
breaking and entering2
shot in the shoulder2
Show All
Keyword# Films
dead boy2
evil child2
killer child2
bloody body of child2
tape over mouth2
organized crime2
head butt2
severed hand2
bound and gagged2
suicide by jumping2
trail of blood2
hit on the head2
hit with a shovel1
accidental shooting1
police officer killed1
beaten to death1
death threat1
bloody footprint1
police officer shot in the head1
gash in the face1
blood on shirt1
hit in the crotch1
crushed to death1
physical abuse1
freezing to death1
psycho thriller1
psychopathic killer1
psycho killer1
characters murdered one by one1
teen slasher1
sadistic psychopath1
head wound1
dead woman1
mysterious death1
mystery killer1
murder by strangling1
knife murder1
deeply disturbed person1
stabbed to death1
hidden corpse1
dead woman with eyes open1
dead child1
unknown killer1
death by strangulation1
accidental killing1
broken neck1
abusive father1
world war one1
german army1
woman hits a man1
burning car1
duct taped to a chair1
stabbed in the face1
duct tape gag1
duct tape over mouth1
police chase1
woman murders a man1
exploding body1
spitting blood1
threatened with a gun1
traumatic experience1
domestic violence1
stealing a car1
self mutilation1
stabbed in the back1
stabbed in the stomach1
pursued by wolves1
bow and arrow1
animal attack1
man punches a woman1
murder of a priest1
child abuser1
head blown off1
attempted robbery1
extreme violence1
disposing of a dead body1
eye gouging1
stabbed in the head1
finger cut off1
kicked in the stomach1
murder of father1
killing an animal1
death of child1
bloody body of a child1
framed for murder1
broken leg1
serial killer1
body bag1
severed head1
serial killing1
serial murderer1
killer santa claus1
axe murder1
burned alive1
severed arm1
stabbed with a fork1
video nasty1
murder of family1
Show All

Incredibly, 61 of our 85 remaining titles had at least one of these fearsome flavours somewhere in the mix.

Whether it be murder, rampage or rocket launchers, clearly a good helping of violence is essential to keep us satisfied at Christmas!

A Runtime reduction

Our final nugget of data, for now, is runtime. Let's review the figures.

Longest Christmas Movies

1National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)157
2Miracle on 34th Street (1947)156
3Bad Santa (2003)152
4A Christmas Tale (2008)152
5The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)145
6Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005)143
7The Holiday (2006)136
8Love Actually (2003)135
9Little Women (2019)135
10Meet John Doe (1941)135

Shortest Christmas Movies

1A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)25
2Frosty the Snowman (1969)25
3The Snowman (1982)26
4How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)26
5Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)26
6Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)47
7Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970)48
8The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)51
9Miracle on 34th Street (1994)64
10A Christmas Carol (1938)69

According to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, any film under 40 minutes is classified as a 'short film'.

That's fine for them, but seriously, if you can't stick the kids in front of it and ignore them for a solid hour, what's even the point?

On that sound scientific basis, the only rational course of action was to cut anything under 60 minutes. And that's exactly what we did. Sorry Rudolph.

Running Total: 77

Section 4: Pie Hard

Charts illustrating points of interest. Charting a more Christmassy understanding of the cinematic arts.

We read somewhere that the key to an effective scientific report is data visualisation, so we made some charts. You wanted pie, you got pie:

box-office of adaptations pie charts
Fig 1. Chart comparing cumulative gross box-office takings of three oft-adapted literary works.
number of christmas films per decade
Fig 2. Chart quantifying highly-rated Christmas films by decade of release.
keyword trends over time
Fig 3. Chart correlating drunkenness and violence in Christmas films over time.

Section 5: Do it Your Elf

Which films are people actually watching? Incorporating novel festive pathways on the well-trodden route to the grotto of listing excellence.

bulldog dressed as christmas elf bulldog dressed as christmas elf

Our feast of festive data dishes was nearly complete, but at 77 films, our list was still a smidge crowded.

However, looking at the remaining selection, some titles raised suspicion. Yes, they passed the Christmas keyword check, and yes they got the critics' approval, but...

Are any Brits in 2020 really tracking down a copy of Christmas in Connecticut (1945) for a festive funtime?

And for all that Tangerine (2015) may be undeniably fantastic; an "exuberantly raw and up-close portrait of one of Los Angeles' more distinctive sex-trade subcultures"; the question remains: is anyone really popping it on for a cosy crimbly afternoon in front of the telly?

Our hypothesis? Probably not.

Unfortunately we had no way of obtaining accurate viewing figures for our movies, but maybe we could do the next best thing. Enter Google Trends.

google trends report comparing elf and home alone google trends report comparing elf and home alone

Handily, Google lets us compare the frequency of search terms in the UK over a given period.

To get a snapshot of which films folk actually want to watch around Christmas, we checked trends for all of our films between 14th - 28th December 2019.

To get comparable data, we had to compare each film against one benchmark - and for that honour we chose Elf (2003), because elves are totes christmassy. The North Pole ones, not the tall fighty ones. Just go with it.

We took the average score for each movie over the Christmas fortnight and returned it as a percentage of Elf's score for the same period. It sounds more complicated than it is, honest.

In fact it's so simple, while we were there we even found time to check the trends for our cousins across the pond too.

UK Most Searched at Christmas

1Home Alone (1990)127
2Elf (2003)100
3Love Actually (2003)84
4Carol (2015)84
5Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)68
6The Holiday (2006)59
7Die Hard (1988)56
8The Santa Clause (1994)50
9This Christmas (2007)50
10Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)45
11A Christmas Carol (1938)41
12A Christmas Carol (1984)41
13Little Women (1994)39
14Little Women (2019)39
15The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)38

USA Most Searched at Christmas

1Elf (2003)100
2Home Alone (1990)68
3The Holiday (2006)48
4Die Hard (1988)44
5Carol (2015)44
6The Polar Express (2004)44
7A Christmas Story (1983)40
8Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)36
9A Christmas Carol (1938)30
10A Christmas Carol (1984)30
11Love Actually (2003)26
12White Christmas (1954)20
13The Santa Clause (1994)20
14Little Women (1994)20
15Little Women (2019)20

Observant readers may note that this method isn't without its pitfalls: there's no easy way to differentiate between duplicate films of the same title, since people are unlikely to search for a specific year when hunting down a stream of their festive fave.

That said, it's definitely interesting to note some taste differences between British and American googlers. Could this be indicative of deeper malaise, a worrying portent of a breakdown in anglo-american relations? Diplomats, take note.

And, more importantly, we have a new metric by which to shorten our list.

We can say with some confidence that films with an ElfScore of zero, though they may be critical darlings, are statistically unlikely to be the best Christmas movie of all time, and thus can be gleefully cast into the fireplace like so much used wrapping paper. Bye guys.

Running total: 51

Section 6: Netflix and Cheer

Where is best to stream Christmas Movies? Recontextualizing merriment-vectors towards a democratization of Christmas viewership.

watching the grinch on tv watching the grinch on tv

Having delved into the data of people's christmas film-watching habits, it made sense to check which of our films are easily available to stream.

Now, we know there are a million streaming services these days, but for the purposes of maximum-usefulness, and because we'd already spent far too long on this project, we limited our checks to the UK's big four.

UK Streaming Availability

1The Holiday (2006)
2Scrooged (1988)
3The Best Man Holiday (2013)
4This Christmas (2007)
5It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
6Home Alone (1990)
7The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
8Die Hard (1988)
9Bad Santa (2003)
10Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
11The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
12Love Actually (2003)
13The Santa Clause (1994)
14Trading Places (1983)
15Arthur Christmas (2011)
16Holiday Inn (1942)
17Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
18Carol (2015)
19The Polar Express (2004)
20Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
21Nativity! (2009)
22Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
23Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
24Batman Returns (1992)
25Dr Seuss' The Grinch (2018)
26The Night Before (2015)
27Krampus (2015)
28Klaus (2019)
29Lethal Weapon (1987)
30The Family Stone (2005)
31Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe (2005)
32The Children (2008)
33About a Boy (2002)
34La La Land (2016)
Show All

The results are pretty conclusive - with 18 of our films available, the NowTV Sky Cinema Pass is the best bet for anyone wanting to binge on christmas cheer this festive season. It's on the pricey side at £11.99/month - but there's a 7 day free trial, so if you timed it right that could be one very movie-packed week.

Netflix came in second with 8 christmas movies, Prime had 7 and Disney brought up the rear with 6.

So, if your personal favourite is on our list, you know where to turn for streaming.

We could only find 34 of our 51 remaining on these mainstream platforms - though of course many more are bound to end up broadcast on live telly.

Section 7: The Elf Report 2020 Definitive Scientifically-Ranked Ultimate Christmas Films List

We did it. We found the one true best christmas movie rankings list to end them all.

Let's recap: we started off with a list of 153 festive films, each ranked in the top 25 of 25 previously published 'best Christmas films' lists.

We assigned scores based on those initial rankings, and trimmed the lowest scoring movies.

We checked audience and critic's ratings and cut films rated below 50%.

We analysed our movies' storylines and dropped those that don't actually feature Christmas.

We discarded films less than an hour long.

And finally, we analysed people's search behaviour and got rid of the films that no-one's actually watching.

Running total: 51

With all of our highly methodical and scientific tinkering and filtering, we've finally whittled our list down to a not very elegant 51. And if there's one thing we know about science, it's that it's meant to be elegant.

And worse, somehow, despite all of our efforts, our list still includes a stirring musical romance that Tom Charity of Sight and Sound called "a rhapsody in blue, red, yellow and green". This cannot stand.


la la land in the bin with a christmas tree la la land in the bin with a christmas tree

Final total: 50

The Christmas Algorithm

Our final hurdle is to decide which order we put these certified christmas crackers in. We've proved they're all good - but which is the best?

Luckily, we are, and writing sophisticated algorithms to compare stuff and pick the best is sorta our forte. Not to toot our own Christmas horn or anything.

For instance:

( Initial Ranking Score > 2 )
AND ( Average Critic/Audience Rating > 50% )
AND ( Runtime > 60mins )
AND ( ElfScore > 0 )
AND ( Title =/= "La La Land" )
{ Final Score = ( Average Rating + ElfScore + 2(Initial Score) )/3; }

Really, what could be simpler?

The Top 50 Best Christmas Films EVER (as proven by science)

1Home Alone1990103PG25
3It's a Wonderful Life1946130U25
4Die Hard19881321525
5Love Actually20031351525
6The Nightmare Before Christmas199376PG25
8A Christmas Story198394PG0
9The Muppet Christmas Carol1992145U25
10Miracle on 34th Street1947156U25
12The Santa Clause199497U25
13White Christmas1954120U0
14Bad Santa20031521525
16The Holiday200613612A75
17Holiday Inn1942100U25
18Little Women1994115U0
20Dr Seuss' The Grinch201885U25
21Little Women2019135U0
22A Christmas Carol193869U0
23Trading Places19831161525
24Home Alone 2: Lost in New York1992120PG25
25The Polar Express2004100U25
26A Christmas Carol1984100U0
27Arthur Christmas201197U25
28The Apartment1960125PG0
29This Christmas200711712A50
31Miracle on 34th Street199464U25
32Black Christmas197498180
33Kiss Kiss Bang Bang2005103150
35How the Grinch Stole Christmas2000104PG0
37Bridget Jones's Diary2001971525
38The Night Before20151011525
39Lethal Weapon19871091525
40Batman Returns199212612A25
41In Bruges2008107180
42About a Boy200210112A25
43Better Watch Out201689150
44The Christmas Chronicles2018104PG0
458 Women2002111150
46Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe2005143PG25
47The Best Man Holiday20131231550
49Happy Christmas201482150
50The Family Stone2005103PG25
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Section 8: A Very Merry Listmas

Conclusions and recommendations And the real meaning of Christmas was all the film trivia we learned along the way.

family hanging star on christmas tree family hanging star on christmas tree

No-one ever said that definitively proving the best Christmas films of all time was going to be easy. Would we have done things differently if we'd known just how difficult it would be?

Perhaps. Perhaps. But we are scientists, and sometimes science is about sacrifice. Other times it is about really boring data entry. Sometimes both.

Anyway - let's review a few fun and festive things we learned along the way:

• The British Public are Liars.

A 2018 Radio Times survey of over 7000 Brits found that, It's a Wonderful Life was Britain's favourite Christmas film. In fact, the 1946 classic tale of suicide and second chances tops almost every similar list we could find.

But for all that the collective consciousness seems to have decided it's our fave, the fact is, very few people are actually trying to stream it around Christmas.

True, it could simply be that we all know it's guaranteed to be on telly, so we don't bother searching for it - but perhaps there's a more insidious explanation.

Could this be a mass cover-up to hide the embarrassing fact that we all just really love Macaulay Culkin?

In any case, our findings suggest that we're far more likely to turn to modern laugh-out-loud festive comedy than weepy sentimental classics.

• Literary Adaptation Showdown: Limeys vs Yanks.

Our study showed that the British and American taste for Christmas movies differs somewhat, with Brits favouring Home Alone  while Elf  leads the pack in the USA.

In the red-white-and-blue-sortof-criss-crossed corner, Charles Dickens is by far the most adapted writer - with no fewer than 10 adaptations of A Christmas Carol  in the top 100 films, raking in a cool $797 million at the box office.

But when it comes to the most successful Christmas literary adaptations, the also-red-white-and-blue-but-with-stars-and-stripes corner may have the upper hand.

Dr Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  has only 3 adaptations, but blows Dickens out of the water with over $1 billion in inflation-adjusted worldwide box office.

• NowTV Wins Christmas Battle of the Streaming Services

We analysed the streamability of all of the top 50 best Christmas films and the results were somewhat surprising.

It may not be the most popular, or the cheapest, but at least as far as Christmas movies goes, NowTV's Sky Cinema Pass blows the competition out of the water.

Viewers looking for the ultimate curl-up and cosy-down are best advised to plump for the nestle-up-and-NOW experience rather than Netflix-and-chill this festive season.

Family, snow, dogs and... rocket launchers?

Our study of Christmas movie plot keywords found a bewildering array of ingredients that go into making the perfect Christmas film.

It was easy to predict that family relationships would feature prominently, and the fact that snow shows up in 41 of the best Christmas movies will surprise no-one.

Perhaps more surprising is the fact that dogs (27 films) feature almost as heavily as Santa (29 films), and that characters getting punched in the face (12 films) has been a consistent theme since as far back as 1944.

Rocket launchers appear in two christmas movies in the top 25, and murder in no fewer than 12 of our listed movies.

In all, a shocking 74% of our final top 50 deal with violent themes - proving that even (especially?) in the season of goodwill, there's nothing we love more than a good rampage.

And finally...

We have proved beyond doubt, using indisputable scientific methodology, backed with mountains of highest-quality data:

La La Land is not a good Christmas film.

Merry Christmas everyone.