Here are 4 classic Christmas movies in English

Whether you celebrate or not, watch these four movies to experience Christmas over the decades

Today's expression: Fend off
Explore more: Lesson #532
December 26, 2022:

Christmas-themed movies are almost as old as the movies themselves. In today's lesson, you'll hear about four classic Christmas movies from four different decades (and two movies that don't count!). Plus, learn the English expression "fend off."

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Merry day-after-Christmas! Here are four classic movies to watch in English

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff. JR is the producer, and this is lesson 532 of Plain English. You can find the full lesson at PlainEnglish.com/532.

I hope you had a nice Christmas, if you celebrate. For many of you, you still have decorations up, maybe still a Christmas tree, and you’ve opened your gifts. But maybe you don’t quite want the fun to end just yet. If that’s you, then you might want to put on a Christmas-themed movie this week.

And if it’s not you—if you don’t celebrate Christmas—then you can still watch these movies to get a little glimpse into the Christmas culture. Today’s expression is “fend off,” and we have a quote of the week.

Four Christmas movies in English

What is a Christmas movie? First of all, it has to take place around the Christmas holiday. That’s a given. But it also needs to include some Christmas themes. These could be religious themes, directly tied to the holiday, or to more general themes like generosity, gratitude ,family, morality, community, things like that.

So here are four Christmas movies from four different decades:

It’s a Wonderful Life – 1947

First: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Most lists of best Christmas movies put this one near the top. It’s the oldest movie on my list and it’s also one of my favorites. “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out in 1947. It stars Jimmy Stewart as a small-town banker. And there’s a run on the bank—meaning everyone loses faith in the bank and they want their money back all at once. The bank is at risk of failing.

And George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character, is ready to end his life. But a guardian angel stops him. The angel shows him what the world would be like without George Baily in it. And of course, it all takes place at Christmas time. This is one of the best classic movies of all time, and certainly one of the best—if not the best—Christmas movies in English.

A Charlie Brown Christmas – 1965

Next up, 1965, this was an animated special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It was the very first television special to be based on Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” characters. Charlie Brown is not in the Christmas spirit at the beginning of this special. His pal Lucy has an idea for how to cheer him up: Charlie Brown should produce a Christmas pageant, like a small play. He decides to do that, but the Christmas tree he selects for the pageant is small and sickly—everyone makes fun of him for it. It’s so weak that it can’t support the weight of a single ornament. But his friends later band together to bring the tree back to life and decorate it properly.

This was a huge hit when it first aired, and it’s a staple on television in the U.S. during the Christmas season.

Home Alone – 1990

Now for one of my favorites growing up—Home Alone. It takes place in the Chicago suburbs. A huge family is getting ready to go on vacation. They rent a van to take them to the airport, but they forget Kevin, an eight-year-old boy, who’s sleeping in the attic. He wakes up to find that he’s “home alone”; his family forgot him. While he’s waiting for his family to get back, he has to fend off two robbers. There’s good music in this one, too.

Elf – 2003

Next up, “Elf” from 2003. This is a great one! A small human boy accidentally falls into Santa’s sleigh, and he rides with Santa back to the North Pole. There, Santa’s elves raise him as one of their own—they name him Buddy. And he’s a human, so he’s much bigger than the other elves. One year, Santa sends him to New York City, where he can look for his biological father.

This is a comedy, of course, about a clash of cultures and expectations. How does a human adult male, raised as an elf, fare in New York? He combines spaghetti with M&Ms (and eats it all with his hands). He treats a revolving door like an amusement park ride. But he also knows how to put together some beautiful decorations.

Die Hard: Not a Christmas movie!

One movie not on the list is “Die Hard.” This is kind of a joke, at least in America, where people argue about whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie or not. On the one hand, yes, it features an office holiday party. It takes place around Christmas time. Christmas decorations appear in the film.

But it’s an action thriller about German bank robbers who kidnap a cop’s daughter! This is not in the spirit of the season, I don’t think. But people love to debate it. As one article said , “setting alone is not a sufficient condition for genre classification.”

Oh and for the record, “Lethal Weapon ” isn’t a Christmas movie either!

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Expression: Fend off