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A Festive Guide to the Best New Holiday Movies and TV Specials to Watch

Christmas trees, eggnog, candy canes, zoning out in front of the TV — there’s something about December that makes people long for what could be called easy entertainment, whether it’s a formulaic but fun Hallmark movie or a Hollywood classic they know by heart. The streaming services that run the entertainment world know that this is a time of year when people want to just let go, and so they provide more new family-driven choices every year. Here are ten of the new 2023 options we cheerily endorse, plus five more alternatives, and then a list of where to find some of your all-time faves.

The 10 Best New Holiday Movies and Specials and Streaming in December

The Bad Guys: A Very Bad Holiday

The 2022 Universal Pictures adaptation of the Aaron Blabey graphic novels The Bad Guys was a pretty massive hit ($250 million worldwide), and so it makes perfect sense that it would be spun off into a series of TV specials (although you’d think this would be on Peacock, but whatever). A Very Bad Holiday is a prequel to the film, allowing the now-reformed creatures to still be in their bad phase, although this one too plays with the “criminals with a heart of gold” idea when the characters accidentally destroy a Santa Claus balloon during a heist, canceling Christmas. The Bad Guys need to fix that to pull off their plan. The voice cast is different, but the tone is largely the same in this 25-minute special.

Now streaming on Netflix.

Candy Cane Lane 

Reginald Hudlin (Marshall) directs the legendary Eddie Murphy in one of the few 2023 holiday offerings with some real star power. The brilliant comedian is in family-film mode here (think Daddy Day Care) as Chris Carver, a man who makes his own Christmas decorations for a local competition. His desire to win this year is amplified when poor Chris is fired just before the holidays, leading to some overly competitive Christmas spirit. Tracee Ellis Ross, Jillian Bell, Trevante Rhodes, Ken Marino, David Alan Grier, and Nick Offerman co-star.

Now streaming on Prime Video.

Dashing Through the Snow 

Tim Story (Barbershop) directs this goofy Christmas comedy produced by Walt Disney Pictures for its streaming service that casts the incredibly likable Lil Rel Howery as St. Nick himself. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays Eddie Garrick, a social worker who has a bad history with Santa from a childhood incident, and, well, adulthood hasn’t gone much better. Dealing with a separation from his wife Allison (Teyonah Parris) and away from his daughter, he’s having trouble feeling the spirit of the season until he runs into the real Santa.

Now streaming on Hulu and Disney+.

Doctor Who: The Church on Ruby Road

BBC and Disney+ are following an acclaimed trio of specials that saw the return of Russell T. Davies, David Tennant, and Catherine Tate to the iconic sci-fi series with a Christmas special that drops worldwide on Christmas Day itself. After the fun trio of 60th-anniversary specials, the world will finally meet the Fifteenth Doctor, played by Ncuti Gatwa in an episode written by Davies himself. For Doctor Who fans, it’s all they want on Christmas morning.

Streaming December 25 on Disney+.

Family Switch

McG directs a holiday-set twist on the Freaky Friday formula in this Netflix original family movie. Critics don’t seem to dig it much, but that hardly matters this time of year. Based on the children’s book Bedtime for Mommy, it stars Jennifer Garner and Ed Helms as a couple of parents exhausted by the holiday-season crunch that descends on families this time of year. Their distant, too-cool teenagers aren’t helping. Everything changes when a rare planetary alignment forces a body switch between the parents and kids. Wacky high jinks ensue.

Now streaming on Netflix.


Legendary rom-com screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) updates his own 1991 British TV film Bernard and the Genie in this version starring Paapa Essiedu as a man whose life falls apart around the holidays: losing his job, separating from his wife, and falling out with his daughter. He stumbles on a genie in a lamp, played with forceful glee by Melissa McCarthy. Think Aladdin meets one of those Booking.com commercials, and you have some idea what to expect from Peacock’s most prominent late-2023 original offering.

Now streaming on Peacock.

Hannah Waddingham: Home for Christmas

Apple doesn’t have as many high-profile new Christmas offerings as some of the competition, but it did get Emmy-winning Ted Lasso star Hannah Waddingham to star in a new special for the streaming giant. No, this is not a Lasso spinoff — it’s a showcase for the multitalented star, hosting a variety show at London Coliseum to celebrate Christmas. Guest stars include a lot of her Lasso teammates, including Juno Temple, Phil Dunster, Brendan Hunt, and Nick Mohammed. Waddingham sings classics like “O Holy Night” and gets to hang again with her best friends. It sounds joyous.

Now streaming on Apple TV+.

The Holdovers

Sure to be a darling during awards season — co-star Da’Vine Joy Randolph has already won a couple — this Alexander Payne comedy is still in theaters but dropped on VOD for anyone who wants to watch what feels like is already a holiday classic. Paul Giamatti is phenomenal as a professor who is forced to stay at an elite boarding school over holiday break to watch the kids who have nowhere to go. One such kid (Dominic Sessa) ends up bonding with the old man in a movie that’s lovely, tender, and truly humanistic. People are going to be warming up to it like a fire every holiday season for generations to come.

Now streaming on VOD.

It’s a Wonderful Knife

It’s hard to believe this wasn’t a movie title earlier, right? Tyler MacIntyre directs a Shudder exclusive that works from the classic 1946 film about George Bailey and the angel Clarence that inverts the formula a bit. If that film was about the value of life, this one is a lesson in death as Winnie (Jane Widdop) discovers how many deaths she’s prevented in a town beset upon by a serial killer. Joel McHale and Justin Long co-star in a film that’s been compared to other fun meta horror films like Scream and Happy Death Day.

Now streaming on Shudder.

Merry Little Batman

It’s indicative of how weird things are over at Max that perhaps the best DC content of the season isn’t on the service owned by Warner Bros. Discovery but over at Prime Video, which launched this sort of family-oriented version of the Dark Knight, a Christmas special that’s practically a pilot for the in-development Bat-Family. It centers Damian Wayne, a.k.a. Little Batman (and Robin in the comics), who gets stuck in the cold estate of Wayne Manor on Christmas Eve and has to protect it from supervillains like the Joker, Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, and Poison Ivy. Clever and cute in ways that DC too rarely allows itself to be, this is a pleasant Christmas season surprise.

Now streaming on Prime Video.

5 Holiday Alternatives to Watch

Best. Christmas. Ever! (Netflix) — Heather Graham, Brandy Norwood, Matt Cedeno, and Jason Biggs star in a story of a woman who suspects her college friend’s holiday newsletter is full of, well, something that looks like coal.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever (Disney+) — Another original film based on the book series by Jeff Kinney that adapts the 2011 sixth book in the franchise into a Christmas flick.

Frog and Toad: Christmas Eve (Apple TV+) — Awww. An old-fashioned animated special with the classic literary characters of Frog and Toad, wearing cute holiday sweaters.

The Naughty Nine (Disney+) — A kid ends up on the naughty list and gets together with other bad eggs to stage a holiday heist in this Disney original.

The Velveteen Rabbit (Apple TV+) — The classic children’s novel gets an update in this live-action/animated hybrid TV special over on Apple. Reviews have been very positive.

10 Beloved Classics and Where to Watch Them

Arthur Christmas — Max

A Christmas Story — Max

Die HardStarz

Elf Hulu, Max

Home Alone — Disney+

It’s a Wonderful Life — The Roku Channel (free), Prime Video

Miracle on 34th Street — Disney+, Hulu, Prime Video

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — Hulu, Max

The Nightmare Before Christmas — Disney+

The Santa Clause Disney+


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Brian Tallerico , 2023-12-08 20:00:01

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