In the years before basic cable, decades before the streaming age, Christmas movies were an annual tradition on the broadcast networks. Every year, families or even solo holiday enthusiasts could take comfort in the fact that they would be able to watch some of their favorite Christmas films for free — assuming they were home in time to watch them. In the present, free movies are becoming scarce among the streamers. But YouTube is filling that void with a plethora of free Christmas movies that you can watch at any time.
Since the holiday season is upon us, we’ve updated our list of the best free Christmas movies that you can find on YouTube in 2023. The selection may change between now and 2024, but like Santa, we’ll be back at least once a year to make sure that everything is still here, while adding even more Christmas cheer from one of the world’s biggest streaming platforms.
By now, you surely know the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by heart. It’s only one of the most famous Christmas stories ever told. But if you want to see it in a new light, with music by The Little Mermaid’s Alan Menken, then A Christmas Carol: The Musical should be on your watch list.
Kelsey Grammer stars as Ebenezer Scrooge, the infamous miser who has no love in his heart for anything or anyone. That’s why the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley (Jason Alexander), comes knocking with a warning that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits: The Ghost of Christmas Past (Jane Krakowski), the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jesse L. Martin), and the Ghost of Christmas Future (Geraldine Chaplin), all of whom bring a dire warning to Scrooge to change his ways. Jennifer Love Hewitt also appears as Emily, the woman whom Scrooge once loved and lost.
Almost every modern Christmas movie is a romance in some way, and not even The Santa Box is immune to that. But the heart of this movie isn’t about romance, it’s about a young girl named Kallie Watts (Cami Carver) who has given up on Christmas after a number of personal tragedies occur around the holidays.
After recently losing their apartment to a fire, Kallie’s mom, Rachel (Tatum Langton), moves them to a small town that’s overflowing with Christmas spirit. Kallie soon finds an ornate Santa Box on her doorstep that invites her to make a Christmas wish. Although Kallie is initially dismissive of the Santa Box, it will have a profound impact on her life, as will Kallie’s friendship with their elderly neighbor, Otto (Shawn Stevens), who is shunned by most of the town.
Christmas in Evergreen seamlessly fits into the traditional modern Christmas movie mold. But you’ll probably enjoy it anyway. Ashley Williams stars as Allie, a veterinarian who is finally ready to move away from her small hometown, Evergreen, if it means that she and her long-distance boyfriend, Spencer (Marcus Rosner), can save their failing relationship.
Meanwhile, a widower named Ryan (Teddy Sears) and his young daughter, Zoe (Jaeda Lily Miller), pass through Evergreen with their own holiday plans in mind. However, fate conspires to keep Ryan and Zoe in Evergreen, where they can meet and bond with Allie, and potentially find the things they’ve been looking for in each other.
Hannah Morris (Sarah Drew) is a woman who has just been dumped before the holidays. But don’t worry, Christmas Pen Pals is a romance movie that can’t wait to set Hannah up with her next relationship. While visiting her family in their hometown, Hannah’s father, Ted (Michael Gross), convinces her to sign up for a Christmas Cupid matchmaking event.
Much to Hannah’s surprise, she is completely overwhelmed by the beautifully written letter she receives from her cupid match. Could it have been written by Hannah’s high school boyfriend, Sam Watson (Niall Matter)? That’s a rhetorical question, because of course it was. Whether Hannah and Sam can get past their previous heartache with each other remains to be seen.
Is it really the holiday season without John McClane (Bruce Willis) crawling around in an air duct? Die Hard is available for free on YouTube right now, and it remains our go-to-holiday film. There’s even a touch of romance, as McClane realizes that the best way to win back the heart of his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), is by fighting his way through an elite group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). But there’s far more to Gruber’s agenda than McClane or even the LAPD suspect.
As an action film, Die Hard is impeccably well-made and one of the all-time greats. As a Christmas movie, it’s even better.
Even though Lifetime is known for salacious made-for-TV thriller movies such as Death of a Cheerleader and Devil’s Pond, it also has lighthearted films akin to those seen on the Hallmark Channel. Case in point is A Gift Wrapped Christmas. This 2015 Christmas movie stars Meredith Hagner as Gwen, a bubbly personal shopper who has a knack for knowing exactly what people want.
Gwen’s latest client is Charlie, an uptight businessman who lost his wife and has been neglecting his son as a result. So Gwen makes it her job to lift his spirits during the holiday season. Hagner’s performance makes the movie feel warm and cozy. She would later star in movies and shows that aren’t as family-friendly, such as the Hulu film Vacation Friends and the TBS-turned-HBO Max series Search Party.
It wouldn’t be a Christmas movie list without at least one Hallmark original, and that Hallmark original is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Released in 2008, this film stars Baywatch actress Brooke Burns as Jennifer Cullen, a hard-working single mother who hates Christmas until her Uncle Ralph, played by Henry Winkler of all people, brings a Christmas-loving stranger named Morgan (played by future Bruce Wayne actor Warren Christie) into her house.
In all fairness, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year isn’t groundbreaking, and this premise would only work for a Hallmark movie. Still, it has some charming moments that even non-Hallmark fans may get a kick out of. Plus Winkler steals the show as the kind of crazy, but nonetheless well-meaning Ralph. He not only delivers several funny moments, but also some emotional ones as well. And yes, this movie is directed by Michael Scott, but not the same Michael Scott who directed Threat Level Midnight.
Not to be confused with the 1983 holiday classic A Christmas Story, 2007’s Christmas Story is a Finnish movie that tells the epic origin of everyone’s favorite jolly old man, Santa Claus. The film starts with seven-year-old Nikolas losing his parents before deciding to secretly make presents for all of the families that took care of him — and eventually for the whole world.
You probably already know how this story ends. But it’s still a worthwhile film with great production design and a heartwarming message about giving back to the community. Keep in mind, however, the only version that’s free on YouTube is the English dub, which features the voices of Noah Emmerich (The Americans) and John Turturro (Barton Fink).
Mary Christmas is another made-for-television holiday film. The movie centers on a Californian reporter named Mary who is forced to give up her snowy vacation in Vermont so she can cover a story about a wealthy widower and his young daughter, the latter of whom wants a new mother for Christmas.
This premise might sound generic, but the story takes quite a turn later on. Also, Jenna Boyd gives a surprisingly great child performance as the daughter. She is not only charming, but she also delivers on the emotional moments too. It’s no wonder Boyd would grow up to score a recurring role on the critically acclaimed Netflix series Atypical.
Inspired by a true story, Christmas for a Dollar centers around a poor family of five children struggling to get by during the Great Depression. Their widower father tells them that he has saved up a dollar, which was a lot at that time, and that he will divvy up the money between his kids in order for them to buy (or make) Christmas presents.
This film won the International Christian Visual Media (ICVM) 2015 Silver Crown Award for Best Drama under $250,000, so it doesn’t have the best production values or even the best acting. However, that may not matter to the families who watch it for the heartwarming messages.
As the title suggests, An American Christmas Carol is a new take on an old classic. The story is set in Depression-era New Hampshire and centers on Benedict Slade, a grumpy old man who seizes the possessions of people who haven’t paid their loans. One night, however, Slade is visited by three spirits, all resembling people he hurt, who each make him see the error of his ways.
An American Christmas Carol does a great job of modernizing Charles Dickens’ iconic novella while keeping its spirit alive and well. Despite presumably not having a big budget, this film successfully implements its source material’s supernatural elements with neat editing and camera tricks. Also, Henry Winkler shines as the Ebenezer Scrooge stand-in, and he certainly looks like an old man thanks to the work of legendary make-up artist Rick Baker. This is truly a worthwhile film for all ages.
From the director of First Blood and the Academy Award-winning screenwriters of Witness comes one of CBS’ most-watched movies at the time, Borrowed Hearts. The film centers on a factory worker and divorced mother named Kathleen, who along with her young daughter, pretends to be the family of her rich boss so that he can sign a deal with a mysterious financier just in time for Christmas.
Like most other made-for-TV Christmas movies on this list, Borrowed Hearts isn’t new or groundbreaking, but it still has a lot of heart, as well as some great performances, especially from Eric McCormick (Will and Grace) as Kathleen’s rich boss and Héctor Elizondo (Pretty Woman) as the mysterious financier. Also, this film looks great for a TV movie, which isn’t that surprising considering director Ted Kotcheff’s feature film background.
Who knew that one of the earliest entries in the slasher genre takes places during the festive season? Black Christmas centers on members of a sorority who are being targeted by a psychotic killer who is teasing them with deranged phone calls. In addition to being a tense horror movie, Black Christmas is ahead of its time due to its handling of relevant feminist messages, specifically how male authorities don’t take crimes against women seriously and even how men want to control women’s bodies. Above all, the movie is one of the few entries on this list that shouldn’t be watched by children. So take note, parents! Watch this only after the little ones have gone to bed.
Get Santa is a British holiday film that centers on Steve, a former getaway driver and absentee father who is out on parole and wants to rekindle his relationship with his son. But in a twist of fate, Steve is inexplicably chosen by Santa Claus to bust him out of prison and save Christmas.
Even though the premise may sound farfetched, Get Santa is a touching story about a father trying to make things right with his son. The film features some great performances, specifically from Rafe Spall as Steve and the ever-lovable Jim Broadbent as Santa Claus. Warwick Davis also makes an appearance if you weren’t already convinced about watching it.
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