1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.