Every holiday season, families gather round the table, fill their bellies to the brim, snuggle close by the fire and double over with laughter as Clark Griswold fails once again to light his home from top to bottom in Christmas lights.
Whether it’s a romance, a comedy or a kid-friendly tale, many families make movie-watching a holiday tradition as much as opening gifts and dozing off after a heaping helping of Christmas dinner. Those of us with a touch of wanderlust love to cozy up while watching tales of foreign lands and romances blooming across the pond. Add a holiday element and you’ve got the perfect way to while away a winter’s night.
Here are five “merry” movies that celebrate travel, and how they rate, with 9 reindeer being the best (in honor of Santa’s reindeer: Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen, Cupid and Comet):
1. Home Alone
In my family, Christmas isn’t complete without a screening of Macaulay Culkin in “Home Alone” (1990), a movie my son used to lovingly call “Kevin and the Two Bad Guys.” (That about sums it up, doesn’t it?!) There’s just something about the impeccably decorated red brick suburban Chicago home, the choir singing in the church and the fighting siblings that evokes the perfect holiday mood.
While 8-year-old Kevin doesn’t get the joy of traveling with his family to France when he is accidentally left home alone, we watch as his mom struggles to make her way back to her son in time for Christmas, with the help of funnyman John Candy.
In the meantime, young Kevin fights off two thieves through one ridiculous antic after the next, even staging a fake Christmas party complete with a Michael Jordan cutout to fool the fiends. And who can forget the classic scene when he joyfully tries his father’s aftershave only to slap his hands on his cheeks and scream in pain?
This is a great movie for all ages that never seems to get old.
Holiday Travel Ranking: 5 tiny reindeer
2. The Holiday
This movie will make you long for a cozy little cabin in the midst of the snow-blanketed English countryside. In “The Holiday” (2006), Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz arrange a holiday house swap in the midst of similar romantic crises.
Set in the Cotswolds, England, and sunny Los Angeles, the two seem worlds apart but follow parallel paths when each finds a new love soon after arriving at her destination. Winslet, who plays Iris, meets a film composer, and Diaz, who plays Amanda, meets Iris’ charming British brother, played by the handsome Jude Law.
Grab a loved one, a hot cup of cocoa and a soft blanket for this one! You’ll be online looking for your own house swap before it’s over.
Holiday Travel Ranking: 9 tiny reindeer
3. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Pairing Steve Martin as Neal Page and John Candy as the lovable but annoying Del Griffith, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) is the consummate holiday travel movie for anyone who loves a good laugh.
Two days before Thanksgiving, Neal learns that his flight is delayed and then detoured to Wichita, where he meets shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith. The pair struggle to make their way home – literally by planes, trains and automobiles -- in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Along the way, they bunk together in a queen-size bed, end up going the wrong way on the interstate, lose all of their money and set their car on fire. Neal, already an impatient type, endures Del’s endless jokes, poor hygiene and long-windedness and ultimately allows him to have Thanksgiving with his family when he learns Del has no one to spend it with.
Our favorite line? Tough choice between: “You’re going the wrong way!” and “Those aren’t pillows!”
Holiday Travel Ranking: 9 tiny reindeer
4. Love Actually
If drama is your thing, you’ll get your fill in “Love Actually,” released 10 years ago. The movie follows the crazy love lives of a host of couples in England, all leading up to Christmas Eve. You’ll find lots of well-known stars like Hugh Grant (who must be in all good English romantic comedies!), Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, January Jones and more.
As the film opens, Grant describes the scene at Heathrow Airport, where people welcome their loved ones with “pure, uncomplicated love.” The movie then tells the stories of eight different couples and their “love stories.” Firth decides to head to Wisconsin in his search for love, where he must choose between three women. Daniel (played by Liam Neeson), who fantasizes about Claudia Schiffer but who is still mourning the loss of his wife, meets a look-alike Schiffer. David (played by Hugh Grant), the British prime minister, finds love with one of his staffers despite many miscues.
The characters’ lives weave in and out of one another’s, all coming together on Christmas Eve, where each has progressed in love, though in their own unique ways. It ends appropriately with scenes of people arriving at Heathrow to bring the story full circle.
Holiday Travel Ranking: 6 tiny reindeer
5. Christmas Vacation
Finally, who can spend a holiday without catching at least part of “Christmas Vacation” (1989), starring Chevy Chase? While the Griswolds aren’t the ones doing the traveling in this movie in the National Lampoon series, they welcome plenty of guests traveling to and from their home, from the lovable family mess-up Eddie to dear old Aunt Bethany, who wraps up her cat as a gift.
Poor Clark Griswold just wants to have a nice Christmas for his family, but the harder he tries the more his efforts fail. The lights he’s strung across every section of his home won’t turn on after much fanfare, the in-laws drive him crazy and he doesn’t get the Christmas bonus he’s been expecting to build the family a pool.
Classic moments include taking off like a bullet after greasing up his sled or after agreeing to help Eddie pay for his Christmas gifts, Eddie promises to get Clark something “really nice.” His wife Ellen sums it up with this line: “I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas and we're all in misery.”
Everyone can relate to this story of exasperating relatives who stay past their welcome, take more than their share and bicker from sunup to sundown. From the opening scene to the “Christmas Vacation” song that plays as the credits roll, this is a Christmas classic for ages.
Holiday Travel Ranking: 8 tiny reindeer
Lyn Mettler is a freelance travel writer based in Indianapolis, Ind.