20 Holiday Movies Starring Comedians

There are a whole lot of holiday movies starring comedians, either because they provide a great way for comedians to break into movies (with built-in "family" audiences) or because holiday movies are so busy getting stuffed with good cheer and warm feelings that they fall short on comic relief. Whatever the reason, check out this list to see which comics have created lasting classics and which ones should find a new holiday.

Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell proved he could carry a movie with 2003's Elf, perhaps the only holiday film of the new millennium to instantly achieve "new classic" status. Ferrell's character, Buddy the Elf, gives the comedian his most likable role to date and is a perfect showcase for his man-child approach to comedy. Though the movie softens too much in the third act -- giving up on the comedy in favor of some feel-good "family" stuff -- the first two-thirds are really enjoyable. Director Jon Favreau adds some nice touches (dig the stop-motion animation!), but it's really Ferrell's show here. This is one of his funniest movies.

If Elf gave Will Ferrell the perfect sweet-but-naive character vehicle, than 1988's Scrooged did the same for Bill Murray, only in the exact opposite direction. Consider it the anti-Elf. It would be hard to find an angrier, more black-hearted holiday comedy -- particularly one that's supposed to warm our hearts by the end. This re-telling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol updates the material for 1980s corporate America, making Bill Murray the crankiest, darkest Scrooge to hit the screen (at one point, he suggests stapling antlers to mice). Working for a script by pitch-black SNL patron saint Michael O'Donoghue, this is a movie that seems to hate everyone. Murray -- who often seems to hate everyone himself -- is perfectly cast.

After the dismal European Vacation, Chevy Chase and the National Lampoon crew bounced back with one of Chase's best movies in 1989's Christmas Vaction -- the second funniest film in the Griswold family franchise. More a series of set pieces than a coherent story, Christmas Vacation keeps the Griswold family at home for the holidays, where they're forced to confront sledding accidents, visiting in-laws, squirrels and disappointing Christmas bonuses. As far as comedians go, Chevy Chase pretty much owns Christmas; this one is on a short list of holiday films that deserves to be watched every year.

It may seem strange -- and a little sick -- that a holiday film be based around the premise that Santa Clause has died, but that's exactly the setup of the 1994 Disney film The Santa Clause. And, apparently, audiences didn't mind; the movie became a huge hit, spawned a successful franchise and made a (sort of) movie star out of comedian Tim Allen. He would return to the role -- a guy who accidentally kills Santa and has to take his place (it's a family film) -- twice more in The Santa Clause 2 (2002) and The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2000), the latter of which also starred comedian Martin Short as Jack Frost. Mostly kid stuff -- assuming kids don't mind finding out Santa has died and been replaced by the guy from Home Improvement.

Director Ron Howard and comedian Jim Carrey took it upon themselves to transform the much-loved Dr. Seuss book, , into a live-action feature film. The results are a strange mix of broad humor (thanks to Carrey), gooey family stuff and a look that's the stuff of nightmares. Carrey is buried under impressive makeup (courtesy of Rick Baker), but it limits his ability to be expressive (a lesson the filmmakers should have learned from The Mask). That means he's got to find other ways of mugging, which he does primarily with a vocal affectation that sounds nothing like the way you might expect The Grinch to talk.

It's rare that a holiday film celebrate anything other than Christmas, so you've at least got to give the 2002 animated Adam Sandler film Eight Crazy Nights for recognizing that people do celebrate in other ways. Unfortunately, the depiction of Hanukkah is the only thing this movie's got going for it -- unless you consider ugly animation, a loathsome central character, would-be sentiment towards a diminutive and annoyingly-voiced (also by Sandler) referee named "Whitey" checks in the "plus" column. Written, produced by and starring Sandler (sort of), this is a film that gets its biggest laughs from the sight of animated reindeer pooping -- a joke it repeats more than once. You kind of know how the reindeer feel.

This 1934 musical comedy starring legendary comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy isn't one of their best films, but is still well-loved and considered a holiday classic. The plot, loosely based on a 1903 operetta, is a little needlessly complicated, but the scope and ambition of the comedy are impressive -- particularly for the time period. Re-released in 1948 as March of the Wooden Soldiers, the movie exists in many alternate versions (including different edits and a computer colorized version), so be wary of which one you seek out -- especially because it's now in the public domain and can be put out by just about anyone.

Acerbic comic Denis Leary stars in this under-appreciated 1994 comedy, directed by the late Ted Demme and co-starring a then fairly unknown Kevin Spacey. The movie is a perfect vehicle for Leary's comic persona in the 1990s; he's a misanthropic burglar who gets trapped on Christmas with a feuding family. This is a holiday movie for people who may not like traditional holiday movies, and unlike, say, Scrooged, it tempers its black comedy with some genuine emotion. It's not all just misery and hatred. Leary wouldn't find another role this well-suited for him until TV shows like The Job and .

This 1994 Steve Martin comedy is a mess, but notable because it features a whole mess of comedians including Robert Klein, Madeline Kahn, Adam Sandler, Garry Shandling and Jon Stewart. About a group of wacky characters working at a suicide-prevention hotline on Christmas Eve, it's obvious that writer/director Nora Ephron was going for the kind of dark comedy that something like The Ref achieved far more effortlessly. It's mostly unpleasant and unfunny, but you do have to appreciate that cast of comedians.

Comedian Jack Black is cast waaay against type in Nancy Meyers' 2006 romantic comedy The Holiday. Normally a shaggy, hard-rocking comedic anarchist, here Black is a less-shaggy, sensitive and lovable composer romantically paired with fish-out-of-water Kate Winslet over a Christmas holiday. The notion that he's the "guy least likely" is exactly why Black is cast, but he dials down his energy so much that he comes off like a noodle of a nice guy. Wouldn't it have been more interesting to see Winslet -- who carries most of their scenes together -- fall in love with the usual Jack Black? That's a movie worth seeing. The Holiday is pleasant enough (but criminally overlong) as a love letter to movies, but cuts the balls off its chief comic asset.

Sure, little Macauly Culkin is the real star of 1990's classic Home Alone, but it's the performance of SCTV veteran Catherine O'Hara that lends the movie any sense of plausibility. O'Hara, a gifted comedic actress, is saddled with the straight role, but at least infuses her worried mother character with a reasonable amount of realism and gravity. Plus, she gets some assistance from comedian John Candy late in the film. Home Alone remains ridiculous, but another on the list of holiday films to be watched year in and year out. O'Hara wouldn't return to the holiday genre until Surviving Christmas in 2004, which was that rare Christmas film released in October (though it's not quite as disastrous as everyone would have you believe).

There's a good idea at the center of the 1996 holiday comedy, Jingle All the Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a harried dad desperately trying to buy the love of his son by tracking down the most in-demand toy of the season on Christmas Eve. It's good concept for satire that's thrown away in favor of lame sentiment and nonexistent credibility (without ruining anything, Schwarzenegger eventually straps on a jetpack and flies). Stand-up comic Sinbad is Arnold's nemesis, a frustrated postal worker desperate for the same toy. His part is wholly unnecessary and, to make matters worse, he pitches his performance as broadly as the rest of this misconceived movie. Another comedian, the late Phil Hartman, does score laughs as a slimy neighbor.

Terry Zwighoff's 2003 comedy Bad Santa goes out of its way to be the anti-Christmas movie, but the title is still the best thing about it. Billy Bob Thorton stars as a degenerate department store Santa who takes up with a misfit kid. There are a lot of funny, obscene humor to be found, but the movie's not nearly as shocking as it thinks it is. The late Bernie Mac co-stars as the department store security officer who tries to blackmail Thorton and his partner (played by Tony Cox). Mac is fine, but the movie doesn't make much use of his gifts; it's mostly Thorton's show. Still, as a comedian, you've got to be happy that this is the holiday movie on your resume.

Comedian Katt Williams and his Perfect Holiday co-star, comedian Charlie Murphy (of Chappelle's Show fame) are two guys that deserve a funnier, edgier holiday comedy than this one. Essentially a tepid romantic comedy where Williams is relegated to the sidelines (as the manager of Murphy's rapper character), there is little opportunity for the comedian to show his fast-talking, streetwise side. A more grown-up holiday comedy starring these two comedians could pretty much right itself and would probably resemble something more like The Ref or Bad Santa. The Perfect Holiday doesn't do them justice.
Saturday Night Live veterans Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz play the dimwitted brothers to Nicolas Cage in 1994's dopey Trapped in Paradise. They play three brothers who rob a bank, then find themselves stuck in the town where they committed the robbery due to a snowstorm. Then they learn the true meaning of Christmas. Lovitz fares okay, but Carvey confirms that he shouldn't be acting in movies (a fact later driven home with Master of Disguise) with his obnoxious caricature of a stupid person. At no point does he resemble a real person -- or a funny one. The holidays deserve better. Bill Murray also did the same plot to far, far greater effect in the underrated and non-holiday Quick Change.

Ok, so the real star of 2004's Christmas With the Kranks is Tim Allen, but since he's already represented here with The Santa Clause it only makes sense to recognize another comedian in this holiday film. SNL genius Dan Aykroyd seems to be willing to appear in just about any movie for a paycheck, as evidenced by his participation in Kranks, a comedy based on a book by John Grisham -- who is known for his comedy. He stars as a guy who insists his neighbors (Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) participate in holiday festivities. This is a movie about sociopaths, and Aykroyd is their leader. For every good holiday movie released, there are two or three like Kranks. It's a shame the talented Aykroyd couldn't have found himself in one of the good ones.

A hybrid between crass commercial capitalization on nostalgia and a holiday film based around that obnoxious Chipmunk Christmas song, 2007's Alvin and the Chipmunks boasts a surprising supporting turn from edgy comic David Cross. Cross got into a sort of public debate with fellow comic Patton Oswalt for participating in the movie, which he claims he did so he could buy a house or something. I don't suppose it's really the kind of movie anyone does because they really believe in the project -- especially a comedian like Cross, who can often be too cool for school. This one might entertain non-discerning little kids, but doesn't have much lasting power.

British comedian Rowan Atkinson -- best known for his silent Mr. Bean character -- doesn't have much to do in writer/director Richard Curtis' episodic 2003 romantic comedy Love Actually. In fact, it feels like he was cast (in a small role as a department store salesman) because the movie reads like a who's who of British talent. Sure, he's plays a part in one of the movie's better stories (the marital woes of Emma Thompson and the late, great Alan Rickman), but isn't called upon to be very funny. Comedians are usually cast in holiday movies to be funny; Atkinson seems to be on hand for recognition alone. Still, it's a really likable movie and has an original take on the spirit of the holidays.

Back in 2006, comedian Lewis Black took a stab at being a movie star with supporting roles in Accepted and this holiday comedy, Unaccompanied Minors (the first feature directed by future Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters director Paul Feig). Essentially a variation on Home Alone set in an airport, the movie finds Black cast as a grouchy airport employee with little tolerance for precocious pre-teens. In short, he was cast pretty much to play himself. You can't blame the guy for trying, but not surprisingly Minors failed to find Home Alone's holiday classic success, and Black didn't do much acting after that. Like David Cross, he may just not be the kind of guy that belongs in kids' movies.

Yes, it's a stretch, but the 1983 comedy Trading Places does take place at Christmas and features at least one very funny scene of Dan Aykroyd drunk in a Santa suit. But, since Aykroyd is already represented here, it makes sense to show some love for Eddie Murphy back when he was one of the funniest guys on the planet. While Trading Places is more a movie that happens to take place at Christmas than an actual Christmas movie, it remains one of Murphy's best and rightfully deserves a place on this list.