When it comes to the title of “Christmas Classics,” modern audiences tend to think of more contemporary titles. While movies like Home Alone, The Santa Clause, and even movies like Love Actually make many viewers’ lists, there’s nothing wrong with going back a few decades for some holiday cheer.
Some of the holiday’s best and brightest have been around long before the invention of technicolor. Thanks to the magic of streaming services like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, movie buffs can gather around the glow of their screens and enjoy these black-and-white throwbacks all through the season.
Updated on December 7, 2022 by Colin McCormick:
Even with new holiday releases this year like Spirited and Violent Night, there are plenty of fans who like returning to the older black-and-white Christmas classics every year. From the beloved favorites that are iconic traditions for the season to some gems that might have been overlooked, there are still more great black-and-white movies that fans young and old can revisit this year or discover for the first time.
The Apartment (1960)
Available on DIRECTV and TCM
While this romantic comedy from director Billy Wilder might not be a Christmas movie in the literal sense, it does go on a lot of binge lists. When a businessman has to lend his bosses use of his swanky apartment for their various love affairs, it’s only a matter of time before things start to go south.
A comedy about extramarital flings might not be everyone’s cup of tea for the holiday season, but it does feature outstanding performances from the likes of Jack Lemon, Fred MacMurray, and Shirley MacLaine. There’s an office Christmas party and plenty of seasonal moments, too.
The Thin Man (1934)
For most individuals, murder is only something that’s contemplated when spending the holidays with too many people. In the case of The Thin Man, happy holidays and murder mysteries go hand in hand. William Powell plays Nick Charles, a retired detective who is suddenly called back into the line of duty when a young woman’s father mysteriously disappears.
The interesting combination of murder-mystery and Christmas movies will definitely get a few viewers’ attention, and keep them invested until the reveal. As a bonus, the sequel After the Thin Man is regarded by some as one of the best detective movies of all time.
The Bells Of St. Mary’s (1945)
Available on Roku and Tubi
Like The Apartment, The Bells of St. Mary’s might not focus on Christmas, but the season does play a part in the film’s mood and setting. When a parish school is on the verge of being condemned, the pious and faithful Sister Mary Benedict must lock horns with the eccentric Father O’ Malley in order to win the favor of a local businessman and save the school.
Bing Crosby is definitely no stranger to Christmas movies, and he makes for a charming lead in this drama while being joined by fellow screen legend Ingrid Bergman. This story of faith, hope, and charity is a lovely movie for the season.
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
Available to rent on Amazon
Not many modern audiences might be familiar with The Lemon Drop Kid, but they are most definitely familiar with the song “Silver Bells,” which originated in the film. In this Bob-Hope-led comedy, a slick conman makes the mistake of cheating a notorious mob boss and is forced to come up with $10,000 by Christmas or else he “won’t make it to New Year’s.”
It is great to see the kind of screwball comedy from the old Hollywood days with a legend like Bob Hope bringing the holiday hijinks. It is an exciting adventure with a festive twist that packs some solid laughs in its winning story.
The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
Available on HBO Max, DIRECTV and TCM
Though James Stewart has another black-and-white Christmas movie he is better known for, The Shop Around the Corner deserves some airtime this holiday season as well. The movie follows two employees at a gift shop who can’t stand each other but are unaware the anonymous pen pals they are falling in love with are each other.
Fans might recognize the story by its remake You’ve Got Mail and there are plenty of modern Christmas romantic comedies that are more popular. But The Shop Around the Corner is a charming little love story that might surprise a lot of fans.
Holiday Inn (1942)
Available to rent on Apple TV
Nearly a full decade before White Christmas premiered, it was Holiday Inn where Irving Berlin’s iconic Christmas tune premiered. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire play a song-and-dance duo who turn an old retreat into an entertainment venue open primarily during the holidays. Easily a yuletide classic among film buffs, casual viewers will at least want to stay for the music alone.
It captures that old feeling of the musical era of Hollywood that has since vanished. Fans will be enchanted by the music and comedy. While the captivating and musical White Christmas is arguably the more popular of the two Berlin films, there’s no reason not to include this toe-tapping entry to the Christmas binge list.
Christmas In Connecticut (1945)
Available on HBO Max and TCM
A common theme present in many Christmas movies seems to involve secret identities being revealed, and Christmas In Connecticut is no exception. When a columnist masquerading as a housewife on a Connecticut farm must suddenly throw together a charade when she’s asked to entertain a returning war hero. As with many of these ’40s rom-coms, romance and situational humor are soon to follow.
There is an easy charm to the movie as it tells its funny and intriguing story with a nice holiday flavor. It is the kind of cozy old Christmas movie that is perfect to enjoy this time of year even if its endearing spirit is perfect year-round.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Available on Prime Video, Roku, Tubi, Kanopy, Pluto TV and Plex
A rare Christmas fantasy movie without Santa involved, The Bishop’s Wife stars Cay Grant as a debonair angel who comes to Earth to help a bishop who is caught up in the building of a new cathedral. As Christmas approaches, the bishop begins to grow jealous of the angel’s charms being used on his wife.
The movie is a light and endearing comedy with a great cast of old Hollywood talent. It is always fun to look back on these older comedies and find that they still have lots of heart and laughs after all these years.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
Available on Paramount+, HBO Max and Roku
It doesn’t get more classic than A Christmas Carol, and the 1938 production starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge is definitely worth a watch. As one of the first feature-length-film adaptations of the Dickens classic, viewers can’t go wrong in including it in their Holiday lineup.
Owen gives a solid performance as Scrooge, though he does give himself over to the holiday spirit a touch easier than other incarnations. But his redemption and mirth are nothing if not infectious, reminding fans why this story is such a mainstay of the season.
Before the introduction of George C. Scott or Sir Patrick Stewart to the list of great Scrooge performances, the golden standard was Alastair Sim in the 1951 adaptation. Following the same formula as most versions of the Christmas Carol mythos, nothing in the script really changes except for Scrooge himself, but that’s a good thing.
Sim is absolutely wicked in this role, and his version of Scrooge is possibly one of the most villainous portrayals of the character. That being said, it makes it all the more worth it to see the old miser redeemed at the end. Though there is plenty of competition, Sim’s performance alone makes this one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
Available on Prime Video, Disney+, fuboTV, Peacock Premium, AMC+ and DIRECTV
There may be more powerful versions of Santa Claus in the movies, but perhaps none as beloved as the one presented in Miracle on 34th Street, and it’s definitely a timeless classic that many viewers continue to ritually watch each year. Half holiday comedy, half courtroom drama defending the existence of St. Nick, all jolly and joyful when everything is soon revealed.
Santa is easily a must-have figure in any Christmas movie collection, and there’s certainly something to be said for Edmund Gwenn’s performance of Kris Kringle. He brings a warm-hearted and gentle vibe to the movie that will have many fans convinced they are watching the real Santa Claus within this charming Christmas story.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s a Wonderful Life is an unmistakable timeless treasure. The subject of the impact one person’s life has on an entire community is something pretty deep for a family-friendly Christmas movie to tackle, yet it continues to be aired and streamed year after year.
Not only is it a heartfelt character exploration, but it’s a thought-provoking narrative that continues to strike an emotional chord with every new generation of fans that watches it. The saga of George Bailey losing and finding his will to live is a rollercoaster of intense emotions that not only entertains but grants a merry life lesson on a yearly basis. It is a Christmas movie that endures year after year.